Life goals: the diagram explained

Life goals diagram
Life Goals idiagram

So what does this rather inelegant diagram mean? Well, at its heart is the notion that the central preoccupation of most people is to secure and strike an acceptable balance between wellbeing and livelihood. Even the waitress or bank teller who sees the pay cheque at the end of the week as the only reward for a service sullenly dispensed, is exercising some kind of aspiration towards this balance of goals. Wellbeing versus livelihood is at the centre of their conscious and unconscious efforts and aspirations. More fundamentally, as complex dynamic systems far from equilibrium, human beings engage with their fellows and their environment essentially with these two issues as motivators of activity. Wellbeing is a complex of enjoyed conditions and experiences that are at least in part dependent on the effective achievement of an adequate livelihood. Bluntly, we work so we can play! For luckier souls the two merge and work is play or vice versa. Our wellbeing draws on a much broader range of goods, however, than those we have to purchase, extending from the needs and appetites of the moment, through a prudent concern for longevity, to deep yearnings for immortality. Hence the flanking boxes.

There are two further immediate influences on wellbeing. The first is ‘a sense of order’. This is an often overlooked motivation and criterion for engagement with and appreciation of experience. Often sidelined because it is central to our aesthetic sensibilities, it also embodies our appreciation of the true, good and just. It has an abstract, impersonal and moral tone to it and so in the diagram is placed opposite the more visceral social drivers: conviviality, dynasty and competition.

The word dynasty is used here to stand for not only the intimacy of immediate family life but also the longer term alliances of the extended family and social networks and concerns both for ancestors and future generations. The dynastic sensibility has fallen away for many who tend to lead the  increasingly fragmentary modern essentially anti-family existence. Travel and the metropolis have nurtured the fragmented and nomadic life style in which the participant seeks the freedoms of anonymity, but within an impersonal (sometimes virtual) quasi-social context.

The aristocracy once held dynastic values dear and sometimes still do and this has often lead to longer term thinking than the vast majority indulge in. If under or over indulged dynastic sensibilities lie at the centre of our animal and social drives, the polar extremes are conviviality and competition, which might be seen as placeholders also for the even more extreme human conditions of altruism on the one hand and violence and war on the other. Just as with other lifeforms, we humans can act in collaborative or competitive ways and our social mores anticipate that we indulge in both. To some extent the stability of our social order is based on the extent that individual competition is allowed to reign within an essentially collaborative structure. Ravaged by the emotion of the moment or seeking the sublimation of some eternal spirit life we vacillate also between the raw animal drives of dynasty and the intellectual need for a sense of order through justice, ethics and aesthetic fulfilment. These are the most immediate and powerful sources of our motives and motivations.

Looking beyond our immediate social/dynastic predicament, our tendency towards conviviality or competition, we see the value of the three ambitions that promote our social standing beyond our immediate circle or friends & family: centrally the aspiration to power and its flanking trophies, wealth and celebrity. Our educational system encourages these three aspects of the search for the ‘fame & fortune’ that we go out into the world to seek. It is accepted that a the striving for power, wealth and celebrity may often override our more immediate concerns already outlined as we reframe the will to achieve wellbeing and livelihood on a grander scale. Indeed, these aspirations are deeply woven into our culture and can either reinforce or distort both our inner lives and attitudes to others. At the highest level of all through the agency of success in the realms of wealth and celebrity, but mostly through the pursuit of power we seek a kind of dominion over our fellow beings, the sentient and living word and its supportive earth systems. Power and dominion are achieved for some through politics or war- through persuasion or violence.

Just to re-centre now on specifically that starting point of the search for wellbeing through an acceptable livelihood. The point of attention and appreciation that seeks dynastic poise and a sense of order may also vacillate between a need for excitement and a need for tranquility. An excess of either may lead to un-wellbeing, but that is not to say that individuals may not be predisposed one way or the other and may change their predisposition at different stages of life and nether does it exclude a search for extremes of either state.

It only remains, now, to refer to the box that in the idiagram lies beyond a sense of order and is to some extent the antidote to a too ordered and comfortable state and that is the drive of human curiosity. Which includes our addictive dependence on novelty as well as our more creditworthy drive to explore, discover and understand. Can this be seen as the opposite of the striving for dominion, or is it harnessed to that quest?

Can a single diagram encapsulate the notions reviewed in these few paragraphs? Probably not without the danger of oversimplification or formalism. But on the other hand it offers a really succinct road map into deeper territories of human thought, emotion and activity.

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