by Duncan Autrey
Published here on October 13, 2022
The United States and the whole world are in a time of deep conflict, and we're simultaneously facing serious challenges to our ongoing existence. Despite the current framing of our challenges, this is not a situation where one side will win while the other side loses.
We all win, or we all lose.
We have been here before, yet this time we have a rare opportunity. We face the potential collapse of empires, civilization, and maybe even humanity, but we (collectively, not individually) actually know what's going on this time. We know where we are in time and space. We can see more clearly now than ever before that it is us, the sentient beings on this planet, that are going to have to figure out together how to survive on this planet sustainably. It is up to all of us, and no one else, to make the course correction.
Even now, over half of the world has relatively easy access to the sum of all human knowledge. It is essential to acknowledge that an intrinsic part of existence is having a unique perspective on our world. We are all living with a different set of information. We have all have experienced different things and seen them through various lenses. We all live in different cultural and geographic contexts. We have all learned and been taught a different set of knowledge about how the world works and how to understand what this place is. We each live on our unique branch on the great family tree. We each receive a unique set of lessons and advice from our parents that is the product of a long chain of lessons and advice from previous generations. Each generation clings to and rejects the advice of their parents. With each cultural transmission from one generation to the next, the advice is always slightly outdated because the only thing anyone can see is the past, and things are constantly changing.
That is the tension that we all feel.
On the one hand, it seems clear that we would know just how to act if things could stay the same. There must be ways to make life more predictable, more value-driven, and more stable. It seems that we could thrive if we could have confidence in how the world works and not risk trying to change it. It seems that if we could only stay the same, we could avoid all of the new problems happening in the world. And if nothing else, we need to protect all that is good about what got us here.
On the other hand, it seems clear that we can improve upon the past (and the present). There must be ways to make life more inclusive, more free, and more loving. It seems like we could make significant improvements if we could only untether ourselves from the past and move freely forward. If we could only change, we could be free of all the things that caused these problems.
That debate is not one that we are going to resolve. It has always been with us, and it always will. The obvious problem of this debate is that we can't prevent change from happening, and we cannot (and don't want to) abandon or ignore the treasures we've acquired along the path that got us to where we are today. Yet, we seem to be dancing at the edge of a civilizational catastrophe, whether through nuclear war or environmental collapse. At the time of writing (Feb 8, 2018)1, a board of scientists and experts have just set the Doomsday Clock to 11:58, the closest to midnight (the end of humanity) that it has ever been since its creation in 1947.
We know that civilizations have collapsed before. We can look to the ruins left by the Egyptian, Mayan, Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Assyrian, Khmer, and many more civilizations and empires. They thought they would last forever and didn't. We now know that there have been at least five mass extinctions on Earth, each killing over 75% of all life on Earth. One killed over 96% of the species on the planet. The last one made space for mammals to take over the Earth.
This doesn't have to be bad news. We have something going for us that we have never had before: we know what's happening, and we can choose to act differently. Our collective human knowledge puts us in the position to understand the gravity of the threats we face, to realize that total catastrophe is possible, and our knowledge allows us to learn from our past and not respond in the same way. We can see now that the question we've been asking is not the right one. We are not facing a choice about whether to go forward or backward. We are not facing a situation where one side will win, and the other side will lose. All apparent wins and losses are merely temporary. In the end, we all win, or we all lose.
We are facing the question: How will we, the 7+ billion people on planet Earth (or even the 320+ million U.S. Americans), work together right now to co-create a future we can all live in? How can we learn from our past and integrate the lessons from our successes and failures while also creating the space to proactively and continually improve our situation? How can we make the ongoing transformation process of ending and beginning, grief and hope, be less painful, less divisive, less destructive, and less terrifying? Or even better, how can we make this ongoing process more joyful, inclusive, generative, and easeful?
To do that, we need to remember another fundamental truth of existence, that we all see things from a unique perspective and with different information. That is our greatest asset. That is the gift that we were given. Through all of our different experiences, we have all the information we need to understand what's happening. We already know what we need to know. In the process of our great differentiation, humans have branched out from our origins to explore the whole planet. All along, we've been actively exploring and asking questions about life. We have learned so much.
What's more, we all are aware of each other's existence, and we know that we are all connected, interdependent, sharing a small planet in a vast universe. Many of us have traveled far and returned home. There is an opportunity for us to have deep empathy for the collective human endeavor. We cannot unlearn, forget, or unsee the vastness and complexity of the situation that we are in.
There seems to be a growing global consensus that cuts across nationality, culture, class, race, religion, and political worldview: Things aren't working. The status quo seems to be fundamentally broken. Our civilizational strategies (representative democracy, authoritarianism, protest, revolution, and traditional values) are no longer adequate to ensure we thrive.
We need to stop asking what we need to do and start asking how we are going to do it.
It's time to see how we can begin to have the complex and vital conversations on deck for us. We need to have these conversations with the people who see things differently from us. Only with all of our voices in the room can we begin to build something that serves all the people. We need to recognize that we all are limited in our perceptions. We are unaware of parts of our minds, and not one of us has all the information. We need to look at and see our own (individual and collective) flaws. To heal, we need to make amends and begin to forgive ourselves. We're invited to learn how to embrace, integrate, and love the long human journey that got us here, to find compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness for the journeys of our ancestors that brought each of us to this point. We need to learn to love ourselves and our journeys.
From there, we can listen closely to those who see things differently than we do with the same compassion that we give ourselves.
If it seems like we're (you're) not ready for that yet, we can remind ourselves that we don't have a choice. And guess what, there are a ton of people who are prepared to help us. The world is now swarming with skilled facilitators who are trained and ready to help us have these intricate and important conversations in practical, healing, and generative ways.
The first step is for us to admit that we can't heal the world alone. We all have to do it together, and each one of our perspectives and dreams is vital and irreplaceable. We need you in the game, and you need everyone else.
Team humanity. That's us. Now, let's get out there and start building a world we can all be proud of. Let's win together.
Here's a song that inspires me on this journey: "One Day" by Matisyahu (Performed by Koolulam et al.)