The concept of vertical ascension and my problems with it

I am currently in the process of developing my personal philosophy of life. Right now, I do not have many conclusions. However, there are some things I have come to believe in the last few years –

– Happiness is within. While external factors and our interactions/transactions with the world govern our minds, true joy or freedom from turmoil can only be found inside.

– Money is not the answer. If it were, the rich would never commit suicide, and the tribes that still dwell in jungles would never sing or dance.

– Society is a bad master. If a man submits to the rules of the society, it will destroy him. The current social setup demands complete obedience, frowns and punishes disobedience, but when the disobedient rise to power, worships them. In essence, the rules of the society dictate confirmation and compliance, which is inherently stifling for a free human spirit.

All these reasons make me ponder the way my life, and of those around me, is currently playing out. A deeply ingrained problem with my generation is the idea of “vertical ascension” – of growing vertically in power, wealth and eminence. In the totem-pole of society, we are told to climb up from the very first day of our lives. Secure the first rank in school, win the gold medal on sports day, go to the best university you can, find the highest-paying job you can, make the most money you can, and then find your corner and defend it till you die. Pardon the morbid outlook, but I really believe this is the current societal model. It also works perfectly well for the collective society – towns grow richer, people are able to live in bigger houses, and enjoy a higher standard of living.

But the casualty is the human spirit. In our schools, there is never an instance where a teacher tells a student –

– “The poor can also be happy”

– “There is great joy in seeing the world and meeting new people”

– “If you do what you love for a living, life acquires a whole different meaning”

In the absence of such teaching, children grow to believe there is only one road to happiness and contentment – that of vertical ascension. Over time, this leads to serious loss – writers are lost to workshops, poets are lost to desk jobs and engineers who enjoy chip design get pulled into reconciling ledgers for large banks. Over time, millionaires become role models, and artists, teachers, chefs, firemen, plumbers are forgotten – it’s almost that the society reveres nothing that is not at the top of the financial totem-pole.

My problem is not with the pursuit of money. It is with an outlook that looks at the pursuit of money as the only model of happiness. I believe it is one of the many, many methods that can lead to a wholesome life. I also believe that the change needs to come from the education system. Teachers need to tell children that the world is bigger than finding employment. That taking risks is important, and so is failing. And that the only defeat is stopping to explore yourself, and abandoning pursuing what you love.

“Man’s needs are infinite, and infinitude can be achieved only in the spiritual realm, never in the material.” —E. F. Schumacher (Economist)


2 thoughts on “The concept of vertical ascension and my problems with it

  1. Someone asked the Dalai Lama what surprises him most. This was his response.

    “Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; He lives as if he’s never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived”

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