Adapted from John’s forthcoming book, The New Human: Consciously Evolving to Civilization 3.0
2010 © John Renesch
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke used a phrase I love when it comes to changing our thinking about how things have to be. In a 2004 interview in Leaders magazine the experienced diplomat was asked about people in the world he most admired. He replied, “The greatest person I ever met, bar none, is Nelson Mandela, and I have gotten to know him very well. No man is perfect, not even Mandela, but he took history by the throat, seized it, and changed its course through a combination of moral authority, vision, strategic sense, practical genius, and a remarkable capacity for forgiveness toward the thugs who ran South Africa under Apartheid.”
It is time for us all to “take history by the throat” and change from a mindset that tells us the best predictor of the future is the past, an attitude that dooms us to being slaves of our history, to a transformed mindset that creates a future based upon what we envision for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world. A powerful vision that can change the course of history is being called for. We need to assume that “moral authority, vision, strategic sense, practical genius, and a remarkable capacity for forgiveness” toward the people running things so far.
Vaclav Havel, the artist who became president of the Czech Republic after the fall of the Soviet Union, has something powerful to offer us on this as well. He writes, “Planetary democracy does not yet exist but our global civilization is already preparing a place for it. It is the very Earth we inhabit linked with Heaven above us. Only in this setting can the mutuality and the commonality of the human race be newly created with reverence and gratitude for that which transcends each of us and all of us together.” This sounds incredibly similar to the vision of the framers of the Declaration of Independence and subsequently the U.S. Constitution which laid the foundation for the American Dream.
It’s About “Livingry,” Stupid
Twenty five years ago, American futurist, architect and inventor R. Buckminster (“Bucky”) Fuller stated that it was now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a “higher standard of living than any have ever known.” Here we are decades later and we are still struggling with the same problems. He writes:
It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival. War is obsolete….It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry. The essence of livingry is human-life advantaging and environment controlling. With the highest aeronautical and engineering facilities of the world redirected from weaponry to livingry production, all humanity would have the option of becoming enduringly successful.
All previous revolutions have been political–in them the have-not majority has attempted revengefully to pull down the economically advantaged minority. If realized, this historically greatest design revolution will joyously elevate all humanity to unprecedented heights.
Bucky’s term “livingry” signifies a new sort of revolution, not one steeped in guns and violence but one in which we take responsibility for the future we are leaving for our children.
Changing the Context
Let me say a few things about context, a subject that plays a key role in transformational change, the kind of change I’m referring to throughout this book. It might be useful to define it since it has come to be so widely misused by so many. Context is the mental framework from which we think.
Because the word “transformation” got popular in the 1970s, many people have come to think of it as synonymous with change. But transformation is far more than mere change. It references a shift from one context to another, from one worldview to another. The shift that physicists went through when they realized that energy fields and quantum mechanics were more accurate descriptions of how things worked was a transformation in thinking.
The primary transformation we’re addressing now is a shift from having our collective thinking based upon the material domain to one being inspired by the more generative spiritual domain. This requires us to transform our thinking about reality, cause and truth.
Shifting the framework from which we think allows all the content to shift as well. It is not unlike sea birds that get caught up in an oil spill in the ocean. You can rescue and clean all the gulls and pelicans you want but if you release them before the spill is cleaned up they will most likely get covered in sludge again. In this example, the oil polluted ocean represents the context and the birds the content. You can change the content all day long but if the context remains unchanged there’s little lasting improvement.
Context is not something widely discussed in the West. We are far more used to and comfortable talking and living in the domains of form. Since form is what we are familiar with and comfortable discussing, we tend to constantly change, improve or expand the form but rarely examine what the underlying context may be. Context includes form as well as all the underlying assumptions, conscious and unconscious, attitudes, perceptions and beliefs. So if we simply find an oil-soaked pelican and clean it up for release back into the wild without locating and cleaning up the oil spill in which it got contaminated we could be wasting lots of work, expectations, and time. And the pelican would likely die next time!
Form supports context but shouldn’t be confused with it. For example, the context for democracy is individual liberty and empowerment. A democracy also requires laws and rules for everyone to get along with one another. Laws and rules are forms, like elections and the structure of the government. In a totalitarian state, there are still rules and laws but they support the context of totalitarianism. They are designed to empower the state, not the people. Both contexts need form to support their existence.
Some think that purpose is part of the context for things, and sometimes it can be. If the purpose of a system is to amass wealth, for instance, the structure of the organization and the rules for operating will be different than if the purpose is to serve the public welfare. Some forms can be the same, such as the use of a corporate charter. Again, form supports the context or purpose so if it works then it can be used. “Context provides the meaning to content,” writes Mel Toomey who heads the Center for Leadership Studies.
Context provides meaning for people in their work and in their personal lives. When one’s life context is love and connection, one has fewer tendencies to seek refuge in distractions. Trust prevails. People make conscious choices based on the desire for something positive rather than avoiding something negative.
What if the grand context of all civilized humanity were to shift to one of caring and acceptance of everyone, recognizing we are all interconnected and interdependent? What if we could learn to rely on one another, like family, instead of building isolated islands of independence? What if we could see ourselves as one big global family, different in form but the same in spirit, “all for one and all for one”?
When this happens, there will be great changes in content. Sharing will replace hoarding. Trust will replace suspicion. Love will take the place of indifference. Dialogue and conflict resolution will replace war. Heart-felt ideas will rank equally with rationality. Free choice will replace desperation. Compassion will replace hatred. Natural knowing will replace fundamentalism. Sufficiency will replace extravagance. As Toynbee writes, “Compassion is the desire that moves the individual self to widen the scope of its self-concern to embrace the whole of the universal self.”
An Extraordinary Confluence
I recall the opening line from The Tale of Two Cities – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” This is certainly a time when that line is quite an accurate descriptor, for while we have plenty of reasons for alarm about our future, there is also a basis for optimism about a shift in our consciousness – a shift like the one Albert Einstein referenced half a century ago when he said we’d never solve our problems from the same thinking that created them.
As Indian businessman once said to me, “It is wonderful to have a lofty vision that pulls you toward it but it helps if you are being chased by a tiger.” Certain forces in the world, largely our own doing, represent the tiger – pushing us closer and closer to a society divorced from its humanness, a future comprised of conditions and circumstances that may have been unintended and unwanted but nevertheless are appearing in our reality.
Our vision for what we can be, and our continuing evolution toward a higher destiny, is what pulls us ever closer to the Great Dream. We are motivated to flee from negative forces while we are attracted to more positive ones, like a long train with locomotives at either end – one pushing us and another pulling.
There was another historic confluence in the mid-1700s – each event a major element in the confluence became a major influence in the founding of the first modern democracy. Thomas Paine wrote one of the most influential works on this radical idea for governance in his 1776 booklet Common Sense, which remarkably sold 500,000 copies, which would rank it as a “blockbuster” bestseller nowadays. In 1775, James Watt perfected his steam engine – an invention that marked the beginning of the Industrial Age. In the very next year moral philosopher Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations – his famous treatise on free market economics that has since become the “bible of capitalism.” In the same time period, the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings” – which had legitimized autocratic dictatorship for much of human history – was coming to an end. All of these milestones occurred on the coattails of what became known as the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th Century.
The age of the machine, modern democracy, free markets, and thinking for ourselves were all significant milestones in humanity’s evolution – all converging in historic alignment. We are at another such milestone. Let us not squander the opportunity.