Comment on Dr. Esa Saarinen´s paper “The Paphos Seminar: Elevated Reflections on Life as Good Work” at The Good Project

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The Paphos Seminar: Elevated Reflections on Life as Good Work” is a stimulating intellectual journey into what constitutes some of the fundamental elements of deep-seated well-being and happiness. It brings together in an eloquent manner the theoretical fibers of Dr. Saarinen´s  personal reflection on elevation (and good life), and the insights that arise from the practical work performed at Paphos seminars over the past 10 years. Saarinen is not an ordinary philosopher – he is all about rolling up his sleeves and exploring the practical implementation of theories. I wholeheartedly concur with Dr. Howard Gardner in stating how sincerely grateful I feel for having this brilliant intellectual among us. Dr. Saarinen can not only envision a way to a more meaningful human future, but is able to deliver his wisdom in a compelling yet uncomplicated manner. Delightfully, he is also a person who embodies his thinking in his own personal life.

I am thrilled that Dr. Saarinen´s work is reaching wider audiences, as it has the potential to offer building blocks for sustainable and deep-seated happiness. His work should not be a national secret reserved for Finns alone, but instead should be available for the benefit of all (I´m sure we will see an English language sister-event for Paphos very soon, and I volunteer to be in the organizing committee!) Saarinen´s work on elevation and the descriptions of its practical implementation serve a vital purpose of adding empowering narratives into the cultural repository of good life. Our era is in dire need of people like him, and the work done by the Good Project. I feel immense joy that our beloved Finnish philosopher and systems-thinker is part of the beautiful Good Project effort, striving for a more positive human future (and that through Saarinen´s work I also became aware of this brilliant global effort!).

Dr. Saarinen has made it his life mission to tangibly improve the world, as well as to reduce ´emotional negativism´ by creating practical tools for supporting individual´s capacity for creative thinking. “The point is to activate the mind  by feeding its various resources in a way that is subjectively convincing, rewarding and forward-looking.” Saarinen´s approach builds on what is good in us by focusing on the fundamental constituents of elevated reflection of one´s reality and possibilities, and in the individual´s capacity to leverage this freshly unearthed inspiration.

Dr. Saarinen does not treat well-being or Good Life as separate elements of human life, but instead ties them to the construct of work (Life as Good Work). “More than efficiency in performance, the (Paphos) seminar cultivates mastery in life; more than brilliance, it seeks to encourage wisdom, judgment and moderation.” Similarly, The Good Project builds on the idea of Good Life as a result of individuals and institutions striving for moral excellence and socially responsible action within all realms of human experience and performance.

Well-being and flourishing could and should, indeed, be viewed as a work ethic, which derive from the conscious effort of adhering to morally correct choices. The key to well-being therefore, would be to promote a life of virtue (through elevated reflection), which leads to more ethical choices and altruistic, socially responsible behavior, as well as acknowledging the significant role we each play within the systems of social networks in which we are embedded. The road to measuring the contribution of an individual or an institution is to evaluate how much good they have done, and how much value they have added to their surrounding environment: positive thinking should manifest itself as positive action. The focus then becomes the cultivation of ethical actions which benefit us as a society. Changing the world requires cooperative effort and we may likely have to learn a new, more altruistic way of communicating with each other. Getting serious about the vision for a more flourishing world will require us to tap into what is good in everyone of us, cultivate it for its own sake, and facilitate and measure its spread through social networks. Dr. Esa Saarinen´s work and that of The Good Project are both a call to acknowledge not only our responsibility, but also the immense power we have to improve the world. It is a gentle call to tap into what is good in all of humanity and let those merits ripple through the entire system.

“Such is the Paphos seminar as a “good work” project of sorts, devoted to increasing excellence, ethics and engagement in peoples’ lives, and operating through the vital dimension of human endowment – the fourth “E”, elevation.      Esa Saarinen

View more comments and join the inspiring conversation at The Good Project, originally founded by psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, William Damon and Howard Gardner. The Good Project is a large scale, multi-site effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work—work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners—and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.

2 thoughts on “Comment on Dr. Esa Saarinen´s paper “The Paphos Seminar: Elevated Reflections on Life as Good Work” at The Good Project

  1. This is really forward thinking work and I look forward to reading the entire paper. This was the part that really stuck with me and I believe is the true catalyst for any positive and meaningful change in the world.

    “The road to measuring the contribution of an individual or an institution is to evaluate how much good they have done, and how much value they have added to their surrounding environment: positive thinking should manifest itself as positive action. The focus then becomes the cultivation of ethical actions which benefit us as a society. Changing the world requires cooperative effort and we may likely have to learn a new, more altruistic way of communicating with each other.”

    The truly enlightened people who chose to utilize their elevated states to better the world understood this at the core (Ghandhi and MLK Jr.). I believe that positive action does require an intervention from the ego. Altruism alone cannot create a person to act, at least initially. Sometimes even just the longing to be considered a good and virtuous person can stir a person to act in an ethical way. I believe the line between a consumptive ego that possesses a “win at all cost” mentality (Lance Armstrong) and a person who strives to move the world from a moral high ground is razor thin. Curious what your thoughts are on that. Thanks for posting and I look forward to diving deeper into Saarinen’s work.

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  2. Matt, I´m so glad to have you in this conversation. You are such a wise and deeply thinking individual (as well as being a living embodiment of sisu).

    The wish to appear virtuous or good in other people´s eyes can indeed propel action. However, I´m not sure how sustainable this kind of extrinsic motivation is on the long run, or whether one would eventually feel some kind of cognitive dissonance (perhaps feeling fake or a hypocrite). On the other hand, practicing virtuous deeds might lead to forming good habits (which virtues are according to Plutarch and Aristotle) and therefore become something we wish to engage with for its own sake.

    You wrote: “I believe the line between a consumptive ego that possesses a “win at all cost” mentality (Lance Armstrong) and a person who strives to move the world from a moral high ground is razor thin.” Could you elaborate on this a bit? These examples seem to be in the other ends of the spectrum and I don´t quite yet get the connection : ) The other one of a person aiming for individual gain at any cost (and not contributing to higher moral standards but perhaps even lowering them. If anything, Lance was a hypocrite), and the other one is the exact opposite. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thanks for being here, Matt!

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