The way ahead: transcend or devolve?

Our world is changing, perhaps with speed and intensity like we’ve never known.

The institutions, systems, beliefs and our ways of behaving and thinking – the ones that have gotten us this far – may not take us much further. When you look around, you can see these cultural cracks. Bank bailouts. The Occupy movement’s response. A stagnant economy that needs some serious re-imagining in a world of limited resources and exploding population. An education system that’s not producing the kind of workers we need to propel our country forward to a prosperous future. Political paralysis that benefits no one, especially not the people government is intended to serve. The list isn’t short, but don’t let that get you down.

As noted management consultant Peter Drucker once famously said, “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its key institutions – rearranges itself. We are currently living through such a time.”

In times like these, when the status quo is failing and a new way hasn’t yet clearly emerged – there are two ways to go. You can transcend the status quo with big dreams, new systems, radical innovation, and a higher level of thinking and interpreting the world. Or you can simply wait until the bottom falls out and rebuild out of what little is left standing.

This is a time of great opportunity and great responsibility for some, and a time of entrenchment for others as they try to hang on to what they know in spite of its approaching expiration date.

And that produces a lot of friction.

In this context, it’s easy to understand the increased polarization of our country and our culture. But polarization won’t move us forward – it will only cause us to lurch from one wild swing to another, moving up and down instead of ahead.

That’s why now is the time for empathy and understanding.

But here’s the trick about empathy and understanding: not everyone values it, practices it, or is interested in extending such civility to people they consider “the dreaded other.” We live in a time of egocentrism and ethnocentrism – we care more about ourselves and those like us than the greater whole.

And right now, the greater whole needs some attention.

So how do we transcend instead of devolve? We begin to adopt a more humanistic and systemic way of thinking and looking at the world. We start to care more about humankind as a big family and restoring balance and vitality to a system that’s not working so well. Truth is, society will take both paths, but we’re more optimistic and hopeful than those who will stand by and maintain the status quo because its all they know.

We’re going to talk about some of those hopeful ways here, and some of the ways we can begin – as individuals and a community – to create a future where we all consciously push the envelope of human potential forward.

Enjoy the day.


About Karen Barnes

To change the world we live in, we first must change ourselves. Insightful cultural commentary and innovative approaches to behavior change all in service to a more sustainable, equitable, peaceful world.
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One Response to The way ahead: transcend or devolve?

  1. sunjufish says:

    My father-in-law has two favorite sayings, Karen: 1) “Change or be changed 2) “Evolution or extinction.” Those that cannot change are in for a big disappointment and, as you’ve stated, many of them are in positions of power that will be challenged in the near future. No doubt that interesting times are in front of us.

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