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"Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing towards what will be", (Kahlil Gibran). My interpretation.

Updated on February 17, 2013

Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing towards what will be (Kahlil Gibran)

The simplest literal translation of the statement under scrutiny will be that progress, which refers to moving forwards and achieving a better status, requires advancement to the future, thinking ahead and thinking of what’s ahead. Enhancement, which is to improve something already present, is not actual progress. This statement has a deep and complex interpretation. Progress means to move forward and achieve ones goals and desires. It is to attain a higher status and become better. A question here arises that enhancement is, simply put, an improvement of something already present; therefore should it not be considered progress? In my opinion and according to Kahlil Gibran’s quotation enhancement is not real progress but rather an illusion of progress.

Two Scenarios

If enhancement is not real progress then what is in fact actual and real progress? This statement and the concept of progress and development it offers can be applied to two different scenarios: Progress in terms of science, and in terms of a nation or country.

Scientific progress

Scientific enhancement is improvement of already present inventions or scientific phenomenon and as such, logically speaking, enhancement will not offer any progress. It may temporarily better some machine or improve a scientific theory but in the long run it leads to stagnation. One can only improve and alter an object to a limited extent. Innovations, inventions and scientific discoveries, in the scientific realm, are the basis for progress. Innovation means to invent new machines and scientific discoveries are the findings of previously unknown scientific facts and phenomenon. Scientific discoveries, inventions and innovations help move forward mankind in the technological perspective forming the basis for actual progress.

Human History of Progress

Human history is filled with breakthrough inventions and discoveries which provided the necessary momentum for positive development. Progress began only after a revolutionary invention or discovery was made, enhancements of these inventions were mere catalysts that quickened the pace of development. A catalyst is never the cause of a reaction, similarly enhancements may improve the pace of progress but they will never initiate it. Several examples may prove and illustrate my stance. Invention of the steam engine was the primary reason for the industrial revolution. It was the primary impetus which drove forward Europe and placed it at the leading spot of the world order. Manufacturing industry experienced a rapid period of growth after the development of Ford’s assembly line manufacturing process. Electricity itself is a discovery without which the world of today may not exist. Inventions, discoveries and innovations have always been the real and actual cause for the initiation of a period of rapid growth and as such even today are basic requirements for progress and development.

Second perspective

The second perspective on which I believe Khalil Gibran’s statement is applicable is the general growth and development of a nation or country. In terms of a country, my interpretation of the statement suggests that development and progress for a nation will occur only after focus on the future. Enhancement for a nation will be focus on its ‘now’; it will mean improvement of the present and as such it will not lead to development. Proponents argue that enhancement of today is said to build strong foundations for the future, a contradiction of Gibran’s words. However, my understanding suggests otherwise. I believe that this statement implies that progress will occur only if today’s work is done with an aim towards the future. It means that any enhancements made today with reference to future needs will lead to progress while blindly doing work on our present without any heed of what awaits us in the future will bear negative results. Ideally speaking today’s needs should have been fulfilled yesterday and tomorrow’s needs should be fulfilled today.

Today's Issues, Yesterday's causes.

Observe some of today’s issues and you will find that the roots of these problems lie in the past. In 2012 Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, both cities of Vietnam, experienced heavy flooding due to rain. What was thought to be caused by climate change was in fact due to poor city planning of the past. Many of Hanoi’s lakes were filed for real estate projects while 80% of water surface area of Vietnamese capital Ho Chi Minh is today covered; these were the actual causes of heavy flooding. This was blind enhancement in the past which has manifested today as a big problem.

Scientific progress is essential for a nation's general progress and scientific progress can only be achieved by education
Scientific progress is essential for a nation's general progress and scientific progress can only be achieved by education | Source

Scientific Progress and Country's Progress

One must also bear in mind that countries progress with scientific progress. Scientific progress, as suggested before, is not caused by enhancement but by inventions and scientific discoveries and as such since scientific progress results in growth for a country, innovations and scientific inventions become a necessity in order for a country to develop. History stands witness to the fact that countries which have led on the scientific horizon have also at the same time commanded the world politics.

British Mughal Comparison

Compare the Mughal Empire of India and the British. Mughals of India are today most famous for their magnificent tombs and forts such as the Taj Mahal, Badshahi Mosque and Red Fort, whereas the British are famous for universities of Cambridge and Oxford, Edinburgh and others. Around seven universities existed on the British isles before 1600s, at the same time none existed in India. These universities were the de facto centers of scientific progress and learning during the Renaissance period and paved the way for British and European revival. The Mughals spent their resources building tombs and forts while the British were establishing great centers of learning and scientific knowledge. The results became evident later on when the British easily defeated the Mughal Empire and colonized India in 1857. The British Empire covered about a quarter of the world’s land area by 1922 which was made possible by the superiority of British weapons and technology. As such a nation willing to invest in education, the necessary core for scientific growth will most assuredly progress.

British empire was well deserving of their victories over the Mughals of India.
British empire was well deserving of their victories over the Mughals of India.

Conclusive statement

In conclusion this statement implies and I believe that success today requires that countries focus on education, as scientific progress accounts for a country’s actual progress, and develop and build according to future needs. Enhancement as such is a necessity irrespective of whether it is needed for progress or not but enhancement should always be done with a thought for future needs and requirements otherwise it will lead to catastrophic consequences in the future. In order to progress we must bear in mind the need for scientific innovations and knowledge and the need for excellent future planning.

Have you ever read any of Kahlil Gibran's works ?

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Khalil Gibran's books


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Progress does not always equal sustainment but only increases dependency. Education may not teach you how to grow or preserve your own food. Progress can cost you lot of money and if you can not earn it, then you stay poor. Moving into the future progress may very well destroy us.

    • M Zees profile imageAUTHOR

      Muhammad Zeeshan 

      5 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan

      Haha sure and thank you for commenting.

    • brownella profile image


      5 years ago from New England

      Great hub. I've never read any of Gibran's work but I've now officially added him to my reading list. Thanks for introducing him.

    • M Zees profile imageAUTHOR

      Muhammad Zeeshan 

      5 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan

      Thanks I look forward to posting more.

      Although I am personally not a fan of philosophy but his works/words are the only that have have ever grabbed my minuscule interest in the field.

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image


      5 years ago

      This is an interesting article and I agree with you about education. After food, education is the most important thing in our life.

      I have read the Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and reading his words is like reading the truth. I often dip into this book.

      I look forward to reading more of your work.


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