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If ten years ago (Referring to 1981 as the essay is from 1991; PP) someone had asked me what I meant by ‘the good life’, I would have been unable to give a sincere answer. From my childhood I learned that it was counterproductive to contemplate such questions. My parents were first generation Americans from poor emigrant families. What was vital for them was ‘to have’ rather than ‘to be’ – therefore they wanted to help me to have a better, i.e. a more secure, life than they themselves experienced. They taught me that the preconditions for such a life were a higher education, ambition and achieving. This world-view was strongly supported all the way up the educational system. Therefore I suppressed existential questions, including the fundamental ‘who am I?’ query and unconsciously identified ‘the good life’ with security, close personal relationships, enjoyment, a good job, material well-being etc. Although I still value these characteristics, neither individually nor collectively are they able to encompass what I now know that I mean by ‘the good life’.

Some turbulence in my personal situation in the mid-1980s slowly but surely led to a change in my values and a new world view began to take form. Earlier I focused on economic effectiveness, both as the leader of a successful international consulting company and as a university professor in economic planning. My academic approach was traditional and highly analytical. I described and explained an economic system based on analyses of its components and their internal relationships. However, intellectual reflection supported by some eye-opening consulting experiences helped me realize that this method, which has been so effective in solving technical problems, was not only inadequate to model complex systems – it could even be destructive, particularly with respect to social systems. ‘Wholes’ have qualities which may not be visible if one attempts to model them by describing their components and the relationships between the component parts; ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Concomitant with this change in orientation from analysis to synthesis I changed fields and was appointed professor in the new, holistic discipline Systems Science. And it was no longer economic systems that dominated my interests; I became increasingly focused on social systems – and the most wonderful of all systems, the human being, ‘I’. The suppressed existential queries from my childhood surfaced once again – and this time I was able to shake off the imprints of my upbringing. A more mature and deeply personal answer began to evolve: To live the good life is to seek one’s self and to live in accordance with what you find.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2009

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