What is the Great Work? What endeavors are most worthy of our lives, and what higher purposes do we choose to serve? There are many ways in which various individuals across the ages and in different cultures have endeavored to respond to these questions? I take it for granted that there is wisdom in many different paths and fulfillment in many different human ends. Therefore, I don’t expect others to answer the question about The Great Work in the same way that calls to me. Indeed, I embrace our complementary and even incommensurable differences that make for a more complex, ambiguous, fascinating and intriguing world. In any case, that is the world we live in.
For me “The Great Work” is to “realize my potential” by being a life-long learner who is passionately compelled to reflecting upon the perennial human questions, exploring the vital domains of knowledge, living a fully human life, and encouraging others along the way.
The Great Work includes the challenge of cultivating the full spectrum of human intelligences. Howard Gardner has written profoundly about the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and I will not cover the ground that he has skillfully surveyed. Suffice it to say that our entire educational system would undergo a revolution if all the human intelligences were consciously and systematically developing in the teaching-learning environments that we provide for young people and adults.
Expanding upon Gardner’s list, I would posit the following twelve basic human intelligences that need to be cultivated and integrated into a differentiated yet cohesive whole:
(1) Natural (or Ecological), (2) Physical (or Sensory), (3) Emotional (or affective), (3) Social (or Relational), 5. Aesthetic (or Artistic), 6. Creative (or Imaginative), 7, Rational (or Cognitive), 8. Empirical (or Observational), 9. Volitional (or Purposive), 10. Ethical (or Principled), 11. Intuitive (Perceptive), and 12. Spiritual (or Transcendental).
Developing these twelve intelligences is obviously the work of a lifetime, and much of our growth in these various intelligences will happen spontaneously. We will tend to focus on cultivating different intelligences during the changing seasons of our lives.
The Great Work not only involves cultivating these twelve intelligences in our own lives but also assisting others to develop their full creative human potential along the way. A commitment to the Great Work can be expressed either through service to other individuals whom we seek to mentor, teach, partner and collaborate with; Or it can be expressed through service to various groups, associations, organizations and social collectives. It is a commitment that transcends utilitarian, commercial and monetary values in so far as it recognizes the intrinsic uniqueness and worth of individual human beings, the innate potential we each have to become more than we ever imagined. At its heart the Great Work is the mythic “Hero’s Journey” and “The Grail Quest” to integrate all those values that foster human flourishing and the harmonious ecology of “all our relations.”
There are those who have not found any Great Work that is worthy of their lives and that challenges them to become all that they can be. Perhaps part of the Great Work for those whose hearts and minds have “caught fire” is to share that flame with others.