What is Thriving?

This question is surely one of humankind’s most enduring concerns. At its most basic: thriving is about realizing our fullest potential as individuals and communities. This starting point has immediate practical implications.

Thriving shifts thinking from conventional deficit perspectives to an asset orientation, empowering leaders and citizens to see beyond common problems to collective possibilities. This starts by securing a basic threshold of material security and civic empowerment, which then underwrites deeper prospects for both the good life and the public good. In this way, thriving rests equally upon the fullest realization of internal capacities as on having the necessary external circumstances in which those capacities can become realized. Thriving means both doing and faring well.

What does it mean and take to thrive in my city?

While it is not always easy to see, a concern with thriving reminds us of the benefits and obligations that come with belonging to a commonweal. Thriving cannot be accomplished alone. From cradle to grave, we rely upon countless others—people and institutions—in order to flourish. Thriving is a holistic endeavor that is impossible outside relationships of reciprocity and interdependence and outside shared contexts of opportunity. In these ways, thriving unites under one word a number of other critical concepts such as prosperity, health, sustainability, social equity, and happiness. In subtle but essential ways the language of thriving is at once more comprehensive and more explicitly moral and ethical than these common synonyms.

Thriving and The Good Community

Critically, reaching our fullest potential requires us to pay attention to the ends of living and not just the means and necessary conditions. This fact unavoidably attunes us to the deep human need not only for social connection and dependence, but for meaning and purpose. Thriving foregrounds what we believe constitutes the nature of the good community and the life well-lived.

Every debate over a land-use policy or affordable housing initiative or effort at closing the achievement gap in education, each contribution to a local charity or hour spent volunteering, is a de facto referendum on how closely the status quo of a community reflects our ideals of what the good community does or does not look like.

This is an inescapable facet of human societies at all times and places. To be sure, in modern, liberal, and highly pluralistic communities there is often little consensus about those ends and the visions of the good life and society they presuppose. But that does not mean that modern people ever cease to live without some operative sets of ends in view, or a concern with what they hold in common.

You might succeed; I might falter. We can only thrive together.

Asking what it means and takes to thrive does not require an appeal to the Platonic ideal of the good community. Rather, it depends upon something more like a Socratic dialogue: a commitment both to deepening our understanding of what such a question entails and to working out ways to engage the question through conversation with others similarly concerned over time. In this, the question of what it means and takes to thrive has the character of a common endeavor or quest.