Every person has a natural built-in tendency to grow. Personal growth is something like physical growth. When we look at the body of a small child, we know that all the child needs is time and the proper nourishment. In time, the small child’s body will grow into its full development. Likewise, when we find another human being somewhere in the course of his or her personal process or progress, we have to have faith that with time and the proper nourishment that person will grow into full maturity.
The proper nourishment for personal growth is a loving acceptance and encouragement by others, not rejection and impatient suggestions for improvement. Human beings, like plants, grow in the soil of acceptance, not in the atmosphere of rejection. We have said that personal growth resembles physical growth: all the energies and tendencies are there.
If you will accept me wherever I am, all my energies and desires to grow will be released and energized. If you will reassure me that it is all right to be where I am now, I will have courage to move beyond where I am. With your loving acceptance of me, I will gradually grow into the fullness of life.
I keep thinking about all the great men and women in our human history. Imagine Joan of Arc whimpering, “But I can’t ride a horse, let alone lead an army!” What if Christopher Columbus had said, “I can’t be right and all those people wrong. What if I fail and get lost on the high seas? What will other people say about me then?” Suppose that Thomas Jefferson had caved into his fears: “Write a declaration of independence for a new country? You’re kidding. I’ve never written a declaration before.”
Now you might react by saying: “Yes, but they were great and famous people. I’m neither great nor famous.” To which I am inclined to reply, “Right. But neither were they before they stretched.”
The whole process of maturation depends on how we react to the difficulties or challenges of life. The immature person sees only the difficulties: they are so close to their near-sighted eyes that they can see only the problems and pay very little attention to their own reactions which is, in fact, the critical and definitive thing. Difficulties pass, but our reaction to them does not. Each reaction, mature or immature, lingers on in us as the beginning of a habit. Repeated mature reactions tend to produce the formed habits of maturity which define us. Repeated immature reactions dig their own grooves.
Fully alive people are those using all of their human faculties, powers, and talents. They are using them to the full. These individuals are fully functioning in their external and internal senses. They see a beautiful world. They hear its music and poetry. They smell the fragrance of each new day and taste the deliciousness of every moment. Of course their senses are also insulted by ugliness and offended by odors.
To be fully alive means to be open to the whole human experience. It is a struggle to climb a mountain but the view from the top is magnificent. Fully alive individuals have activated imaginations and cultivated senses of humor. They are alive, too, in their emotions. They are able to experience the full gamut and galaxy of human feelings – wonder, awe, tenderness, compassion, and both agony and ecstasy.