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Many people have floated theories about the secret of success in life: Woody Allen said that 80 percent of life is just showing up. James Taylor sang that the secret to life is enjoying the passage of time. Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, proposed that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, was … 42. Unfortunately no one knows what the question is, so an enormous planet-sized organic supercomputer ferrets out the question over a period of 7.5 million years, and the computer was named “Earth.”
On some level, I could get behind all of those theories. But I now have one that, after my own forty-something years, I’m completely convinced is true. I hasten to add that I have not discovered it in the way that Newton discovered gravity or Einstein relativity. No heads were harmed by apples in the making of this theory. I am claiming this theory in the way I also once learned that stoves can be hot. That is, I have now discovered for myself something that many, many others discovered before me. And here it is …
Success in life, whether at the individual level or at the collective, comes from honoring, above all else, process. Doesn’t really get your blood pumping, does it? The word ‘process’ conjures bureaucrats at their desks stamping files and consulting thick binders of regulations, hardly the stuff of inspiration. But hear me out.
The history of humanity largely tells the story of people striving for goals and, naturally enough, striving for them in what they see as the most efficient way possible. “Our goal is to have more food. That tribe over there has more food. Therefore the most efficient way for us to get more food is to move over there and kill them.” Instead of “food” we can substitute the words “gold,” “silver,” “horses,” “oil,” “land,” “power,” “votes,” and we can substitute the word “kill” with “defeat,” “marginalize,” or “disadvantage.” But the pattern is all the same: we’ll get what we want in the most efficient way, and often at someone else’s expense.
This wouldn’t surprise an alien observer of our species, as we evolved up through nature and this ruthless efficiency is just the way nature works: in nature, the end *always* justifies the means. Nothing in nature would even consider the means and the ends to be separate things, and so neither did we — until relatively recently. Most people, when pressed, now will concede that there are some areas in which the end does *not* justify the means: the end of gaining food would not justify the means of harming someone else to get it, for example.
The radical position I have come to over many years and as the result of having my nose bloodied many times by life is this: not only does the end sometimes not justify the means, but that the end never justifies the means. And what the Universe is trying to teach us throughout history over and over again until we get it, is that there are no caveats to this, no end-runs, no short-cuts. It’s a spiritual law that is as hard and fast as any physical law.
Here’s a framework for understanding this idea. Think of all of our actions as the product of ideas and processes, each of those falling into good or bad categories, like this:
- Bad idea + wrong process = bad outcome
- Good idea + wrong process = bad outcome
- Good idea + right process = good outcome
Finally — and this is the kicker:
- Bad idea + right process = good outcome
In other words, process is king. Process is all. But if process is all, then we’d better have a good way of discerning what constitutes right process. How do we know when we’re adhering to the right process and when we’re not? Because in this way of looking at human success, that’s the key to everything – the key to the kingdom.
After many years of thinking about this (and many failed attempts to be happy using other more popular ideas) it seems irrefutable to me that the Universe rewards humans for only one thing in the long run: acting in the spirit of unity. This is the grand unifying theory (not coincidentally) of spirituality and therefore of ultimate success. And of course, it is the central theme and whole purpose of the Baha’i Faith:
The world of existence is like unto an orchard and humanity is like unto the trees. All these trees are planted in the same orchard, reared through the heat of one sun, watered with one rain. We must be the cause of the adornment of this orchard…. I request that each one of you work for this great end and hold fast to every means of harmony, – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 183.
Read the next article in the series: How Do We Overcome War, Politics and Greed? – Coming Soon