In many different contexts, it seems as if things are continually increasing, rising, expanding or growing. We are told the universe grows as though the galaxies are placed on the outside of a balloon that is being blown up indefinitely (until it pops?). We are also told that if you are able to save even a little bit of money, that over time, it will grow through the magic of compounding interest. The human population continues to grow as well, currently estimated to be around 7.9 billion people on earth, as though Covid-19 has not made a dent.
And yet there are constraints as well, some things that do not grow or expand, like natural resources or land mass capable of supporting human life. If we lose sight of these constraints and continue to feel (as we do in the US, anyway) that we are entitled to an ever-growing/expanding income, status, ownership, lifestyle, we will eventually run into these constraints with full force. Adaptation to what will quickly become a new normal will not go down lightly, as we are already witnessing with the rise of racial scapegoating and anti-democracy movements in America’s right-wing, as well as in Europe.
We must take on this responsibility ourselves, each of us. Challenge yourself to live with less. Expand your definition of what “growth” and “expansion” and “more” actually mean. Do not limit yourself to the goals of an outward image-projecting society. We cannot build/grow/gain financially or spatially forever, but we can experience unlimited growth psychologically and spiritually. You may never own a bigger house, but you can choose to increase your wisdom and understanding of the world around you.
At the onset of the pandemic, people at my place of work were generally of one of two minds. The extroverts were all upset and went absolutely bonkers about having to stay in their house even a few days, much less these 15 months we have now endured. These people have adjusted, but are absolutely bursting at the seams to get back to “normal,” which means everything as it was in the before times.
The introverts, on the other hand, took to working from home, pajama days and afternoon naps like a bunch of bosses. Needless to say, I’m on Team Introvert. Most of these folks are looking forward to the company no longer requiring them to go to the office even part time and don’t really care to see their coworkers in the flesh again at all. Some are even planning on moving out of state.
The problem is that, even with all this change and upheaval, where long-entrenched habits and patterns of thought and behavior were completely upended, I have only heard from very few people in either camp who took the time to learn or grow or challenge themselves in any way. We have all retreated into our own comfy place. Every disruption is an opportunity for growth and many have simply let the opportunity pass them by as they cling either to the hope of something old returning or something new not being taken away.
So do I believe growth is inevitable? No, I do not. Growth is a choice. Growth can be a habit or a practice as well, in good ways (continuous learning/improvement) and in bad ways (over-consumption, misallocation of resources, metastasis). If we choose to challenge our own biases, assumptions and patterns, we can make conscious choices and shrink our ecological footprint while growing our knowledge and caring of other beings on the planet.
Indeed, it is an imperative and we have almost missed what will be the greatest opportunity for reflection and redirection in our lifetimes.