Discover more from Letters from a Luftmensch
Toward a vision of human flourishing
A call to collectively reimagine our world
My interest in human flourishing began as an effort to understand despair. It had been a companion for most of my life, one that I glimpsed in different flavors and forms but lacked the language to describe. All I had was a gnawing feeling that the world was deeply wrong — that despite humanity’s progress and prosperity, people were suffering in ways we did not know how to address, or even fully comprehend.
It is evident now why I felt so profoundly unnerved. I grew up in an era marked by mass shootings, perpetual wars, and the looming spectre of climate catastrophe; I came of age during a global pandemic. Even closer to home, I saw evidence that our way of life was misaligned with our well-being. My freshman year of high school, four students in my school district took their lives, the second “suicide cluster” in my town within a decade. Tragedy after tragedy, crisis after crisis, I heard angry cries for change that eventually dissolved into a state of cynical resignation.
But I couldn’t seem shake the questions that arose as I tried to make sense of the world. What is the cause of our despair? Why is there so much suffering if we supposedly live in the best age of human history? How should we live with each other? Where do we go from here?
What I was reaching for was deeper and more complex than happiness or well-being, but human flourishing: the ability for every individual to live well and actualize their fullest potential. But the longer I spent seeking answers on how to flourish, the more I recognized that the challenges we face are both systemic and philosophical. People cannot flourish if our institutions, structures, and beliefs are hostile to it — and yet, the onus is placed on individuals to resist pernicious incentives in order to craft a good life for themselves.
The very way our world is structured — from the built design of our neighborhoods, to the materialistic definition of success we sell our children — disconnects us from ourselves, each other, and the natural world that sustains us. We have begun to see the deleterious effects of this: depression and anxiety run rampant among youth; deaths of despair are on the rise; loneliness is characterized as an epidemic. Marriage rates are falling; global fertility has collapsed. The general sentiment of our time seems to be one of disenchantment and despair.
We can point to many causes, but I believe they stem from one source: we lack a shared vision of human flourishing to guide us, as individuals and as a collective. In losing sight of what we ought to aspire toward, we have become preoccupied with implementing band-aid solutions and alleviating symptoms rather than diagnosing and curing the underlying maladies. We see this in the technologies we create, which seek to fill the void in our lives caused by social disintegration rather than empowering us to become more loving and attentive to each other. The ultimate end is not to create a world of fully autonomous cyborgs, but to weave stronger webs of human interdependence that can connect us to each other and steward us through the great transformations of our time.
To flourish, we must recognize that we are embedded in a greater whole — not only within humanity, but ecologically and technologically. We must collectively reimagine a world that reflects this. It is a world in which each person lives with dignity and agency; in which the technologies we create elevate and ennoble the human spirit; in which we spend our time exercising our innate creative powers toward meaningful ends.
How can we get there? Crafting this future calls us to find fertile middle ground between science and spirituality so we can craft new stories for how to live. It calls us to recommit to timeless virtues — love and care, awe and wonder, courage and compassion, beauty and dignity — even while knowing we may fall short of our ideals. It calls us to reconsider age-old questions in the context of our time: What does it mean to be human? How ought we to live? What do we owe each other, our planet, and our posterity?
Each of us holds a piece of the answers to all that remains unsolved. My hope is that, as more and more of us join in this collective reimagining, we will begin to compose a constellation of visions of human flourishing, one that will uplift us from the limits of our time and turn us toward a future worth striving for.
P.S. I’m spinning up a new initiative that aims to explore and create the conditions for human flourishing. If this piece speaks to you, I invite you to subscribe to this newsletter or follow me on Twitter to hear when it launches. 👀
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