Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Summary In the last three centuries, western culture has emphasized initiative as a way of life. This trend has resulted in extraordinary progress in many aspects of life, though at the same time created a frightfully specialized lifestyle. We have moved far from the ancient Greek principle “Meden agan,” “don't overdo anything.” Initiative, not intelligence or motivation, is what sets apart western culture. Initiative is a self-activating force that, while not initially goal-directed, drives western man to constant achievement and accumulation. It is therefore strange that initiative has not been seriously studied while intelligence and motivation, with both seem less important to western culture, have been exhaustively researched. The importance of initiative can be clearly seen by studying non-western cultures. In my years working in northern Canada and Zululand, South Africa, and from stories from my colleagues, I have seen many examples of traditional culture inhibiting initiative. Culture, ethnicity, religious and racial factors may each play a role in curtailing the development of initiative. The inhibiting role of some traditional cultures may be a key to the social stratification than many western cultures, including the U.S., now face. Perhaps we should be looking at initiative as a determining factor in the development and continuation of slums and the exclusion of whole sectors of the population from the “American Dream”. One thing is absolutely clear. Initiative is integral to the success of the individual in western culture. As such, it deserves to be studied. Initiative is not as easily quantifiable as intelligence or motivation, but that should not prevent us as social scientists from studying it. It is too important to be ignored.
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