source:Composing a Life: Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson on Our False Mythos of Achievement and the Messy, Nonlinear Reality of How We Become Who We Are – Brain Pickings
Composing a Life: Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson on Our False Mythos of Achievement and the Messy, Nonlinear Reality of How We Become Who We Are
“The knight errant, who finds his challenges along the way, may be a better model for our times than the knight who is questing for the Grail.”
BY MARIA POPOVA
“Living has yet to be generally recognized as one of the arts,” proclaimed a 1924 guide to the art of living while, across the Atlantic, Bertrand Russell was contemplating what the good life really means. And yet as the twentieth century wore on and consumption eclipsed creativity, our ideals of and ideas about what constitutes a good life grew increasingly fogged by the cult of having, to which we submitted the art of being as a sacrificial offering.
In the mid-1970s, the great humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm turned to the problem of setting ourselves free from the chains of our culture. Fromm was a seer of a different order — so much so that legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead would turn to him for advice on the most challenging aspects of living — and insisted that “the full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation.” But it took more than a decade for this sobering spark to kindle the light of awareness in the hearth of culture.
Few people have been more instrumental in this awakening to the authentic life than anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson (b. December 8, 1939), Mead’s daughter. Her 1989 treatise Composing a Life (public library) endures as an immensely insightful inquiry into our culturally conditioned mythologies of achievement and success, and what it takes to transcend them in order to live an authentic, meaningful life — a life that is invariably far messier and more strewn with contradiction than our misleading cultural mythos of self-actualization allows.