Religion aside, about two-thousand years ago a radical idea was born, presaged by a star that guided wise men to a cave in Bethlehem. “Love they neighbor” is a simple admonition, admired by many but so challenging that, after all these years, humanity is still having trouble putting it into practice. As with physical evolution, the evolution of human consciousness has been and continues to be a very long process, punctuated by crises that lead to relatively sudden leaps forward, largely due to shifts in perception introduced by great thinkers, visionaries, mystics and prophets. I recently heard someone say that a shift in social/political consciousness takes three generations, that long for a dysfunctional idea or policy to die off.
In the current era, the rapid development of communication technologies and the widening gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has been precipitating a compounding of crises worldwide in nearly every domain. People everywhere are getting the impression—and the experience in many cases—that humanity seems to be taking a step backward rather than forward. Systemically, because crises precede and give rise to transformation, it gives me some comfort to see breakdowns as a single force, a nudge from the universe that offers us the choice to individually and collectively grow in consciousness or revert to the values and thinking of the past, ideas and policies that are unsustainable in a world that’s increasingly interdependent. By “grow” I mean to actualize the injunction to love our neighbors and expand our circle of caring to include everyone and the planet.
While it may seem strange to contemplate crises in a blog focused on appreciation, contextualizing breakdowns as opportunities to make better and more sustainable choices can somewhat ease our discouragement and impatience, ideally promote compassion. So in a sense, we can appreciate evolutionary drivers because they eventually lead to positive change. What are these negative forces? And in what are the positive energies that heal them?
It’s been said that humanity’s greatest challenge has always been and continues to be ignorance—we don’t know who we are. By whatever name, we haven’t connected to the animating spark within that is our essence. We don’t realize how powerful we are, and we don’t know the purpose of our personal and collective power. Individually, socially and politically the narrow and erroneous assumptions we’ve made about ourselves and the world have led to ego-satisfying values and short term approaches to complex, whole-system challenges. Me first; as long as I get mine; make a quick buck and get out; let someone else clean it up; no one will be the wiser; if it’s legal it’s alright; if it can be done it should be done are attitudes that are choking civilization. One example is how world leaders are ignoring, refuting or pushing aside the realities of climate change, environmental quality and disease control when any one of these could threaten their survival. They don’t seem to realize that, even minor catastrophes along these lines, would squelch their ability to attend to implementing a political vision. Ultimately, the healing of ignorance at every level is light—balanced perception, illumination—which comes as a consequence of whole-person education. Beyond “subjects” and “skills,” education of the whole person informs, encourages and empowers a life of meaning and grace, ethics and integrity, right-relationship, lifelong learning, contribution and fulfillment.
Arguably the most significant consequence of ignorance is intolerance. It’s human nature to notice and respond negatively to differences. They present a potential threat. But taken to extremes in acts of violence, whether personal, social or political, the bulk of humanity is learning that in order to not live in a world where violence is commonplace, each and every child has to be loved, respected and valued for who they are, as they are. Children and adults need to be healthy physically and emotionally, be well educated and have skills that enable them to contribute and be the best they can be—for themselves, their families and the world. As I’ve often noted, the way to maintain the viability and vitality of a living system—nation and world—is to insure that the needs of each member are being met. Only then can a person be in right-relationship with the other members of the system. Ultimately then, the healing of intolerance is love they neighbor.
Another driver that’s a consequence of ignorance is the illusion of separation. Because living systems at all levels are constituted of cells within cells, they are social and interdependent, unable to survive for very long on their own as individuals. To the extent that any member is isolated, his work and worth to the system is diminished. In time, isolation is a slippery slope toward “equilibrium,” a whole-system’s term for death.
Separation fosters fear and promotes greed. And the compounding of acts that advantage self without regard to other can carry devastating consequences for the whole—as when legislators turn a blind eye so companies practicing fracking in areas suffering earthquakes as a result, can continue to operate. The stresses brought on by the illusion of separation are teaching us that life, throughout the universe, is one whole, interconnected and interdependent system. Ultimately then, the healing of separation is the perception that we are one. We all have skin in the game. No matter one’s status or wealth, we rise and fall together.
The force that divides and promotes division is fear. Human beings can’t come together to collaborate, create or celebrate—in a climate of fear. Of the drivers mentioned above, fear is perhaps the most widespread, difficult to overcome and trending, particularly when the mass media feed unhealthy and daily doses of possible threats into the social body. And fanning the flames of fear now, are both false news stories appearing on social media and cyber-warfare perpetrated against corporations and nations as well as individuals. While I wouldn’t say that the commercial mass media systems are purposefully fostering ignorance and fear, in my opinion they are doing very little to assuage them. While it’s understandable that, as businesses, they are driven by competition and profit, it is also possible for them to realize a profit by providing programs and other services that uplift, inspire, encourage and empower. The major networks even demonstrated this in their sudden turnaround in programming and practices for the weeks following the 9/ll attacks.
It seems to me, from a whole-system’s perspective, that by realizing the consequences of what and how we communicate, we’re beginning to see the value of responsible communication. What are we putting out and taking in? Is it harmful or helpful? False or true? Mindless or meaningful? As consumers we’ll have all these choices and more. So what will we choose? And do we understand that our choices constitute a vote for more of the same? Ultimately, the healing of fear is love. And that, at the very least, requires the perception that human beings are good and intend to do good.
These “healings” may appear to be far off. Perhaps they are—for some. But for those of us who have learned the lessons, even a little bit—and understand that we are the architects of our lives—we can live these values immediately, and through the quality of our presence and communication, live them into the world, one day at a time, one “neighbor” at a time. While Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus for a variety of religious reasons, persons of all persuasions can rejoice in the birth of the paradigms he established—universal unconditional love and forgiveness. Indeed, at this time of year we celebrate both his birth and the gifts he gave to the world. Also, we acknowledge that our story is a birth. We’d prefer that it be painless, but many of us won’t change until we experience pain.
May the leaders and wise ones of our time, perhaps by looking at images from space telescopes, gain a sense of the vastness and beauty of the universe beyond, and perhaps by encountering the right person at the right time, gain a perception of the goodness and higher potentials that reside within us all.
When human society practices agape, the promotion of the well-being of one another, the cosmos will be performing, on this very complexly organized level itself, a divine act. By its consciousness and its caring the cosmos will become ecstatic—transcend itself and its investment in individual or group ‘self-interest’—and its ecstasy will give birth to divine life.
ABOUT THIS IMAGE
With the studio in darkness, I photographed a penlight about twenty feet away, aimed at the lens. A tiny aperture and long exposure resulted in the streaks. The original was photographed on black & white film, so I created a layer in Photoshop to give it the yellow tint.