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Awakening Our True Potential
04-12-2019, 06:53 AM
Post: #1
Awakening Our True Potential
Man is born an unfinished creature. He cannot walk or talk or feed himself. Long years of care are required to bring him to even the most minimal levels of self-sufficiency.

And yet even after the typical person has reached the stage of functioning that we call adulthood, something still seems to be missing. In a sense, of course, something will always be missing; there are always new horizons to discover and new skills to attain. But the lack may go further. There is a sense in which even the mature human being is incomplete. The Freemasons allude to this when they speak of the candidate for initiation as a “rough ashlar.” An ashlar is a block of stone; in its rough state it fits only approximately into its intended setting. Some kind of process is needed to adjust and polish it so that it is perfectly suited to its function.

Some may balk at this description – are we, after all, nothing more than raw materials to be sent down some assembly line to be made into identical pieces of manufactured goods? That is the kind of transformation society as a whole seems to envisage. And we would do well to mistrust it. The process to which the Masonic initiations allude has something more than mere conformity as its goal; it is not a matter of circus horses trying to break themselves in. It is the opposite: it is a matter of having access to our own potential, developing it, and offering to the service of higher aims.

This process has been discussed often, sometimes (as in Masonry) allegorically, sometimes in more straightforward terms. But even so it has rarely been presented in a reasonably honest and lucid way. Most of the time, developing human potential is portrayed as a kind of hypertrophy – the exaggerated development of certain functions at the expense of others.

Recently I read a magazine profile of a prominent Oxford philosopher. He had written a fourteen-hundred-page treatise on moral philosophy, in which he had examined and refuted all possible criticisms and objections to his thesis. Yet the article said he wore the same clothes each day (white shirt, black trousers) and did not like to look at any building that was not adorned with columns. His capacity for human interaction sounded rather primitive. In the end I was left with the impression of a gigantic cerebrum attached to a vestigial body.

Is this what is meant by developing our human potential? For many people it is. The abstracted philosopher is only one specimen. Others are the athlete who is nothing more than his sport, the painter who can do nothing more than paint. Some of the greatest achievements of the human race have been attained by such people. But the overdevelopment of talents can and does turn into a Faustian bargain. Breakdowns, crises, and collapses seem to dog these individuals. We may envy their achievements, but their fragility warns us against imitating them.
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