All being, inanimate and living, without exception, follows the cycle of life. What comes into existence sustains for a time then succumbs to entropy. Knowing this and that the important factor for human beings is time, we can look within the process of change to find opportunities to slow the process of entropy as much as possible—physically and socially.
Breakdowns are an indication that the old is losing its vitality and viability. The parts in mechanical and electronic systems can be repaired or replaced by their owner. Human beings and nations, however, have to make a host of decisions to sustain their functioning. And it matters greatly how those decisions are made, especially the nature of the response.
Our response results in either peace or suffering. Life provides the stimulus, but we provide the response—acceptance of what is brings peace; resistance, which we learned as a way to feel safe and avoid pain, more often brings suffering because the desire is for something other than what is. In social systems, a compounding of crises is a clear indication that the status quo is dysfunctional. Rather than resist, we can appreciate that what looks and feels like chaos and collapse is actually life calling for us to assess, reorganize and evolve. For any response to be appropriate and sustaining personally and socially, the assessment needs to begin with an examination of how we think.
What is breaking down and why is it happening? The answer points to the area where attention is needed. In human systems, because thought precedes action, attention must above all be paid to the thinking that caused and sustains the breakdown. Civilizations have died because their responses were based upon traditional thinking. According to Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” He also said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
When people are suffering the consequences of breakdowns, their dissatisfaction with the status quo moves them to “think outside the box,” to discover a more viable, life-enhancing way to live. As a social system becomes increasingly dysfunctional, “emergents”—social innovators and activists—provide the direction and become a model for what works. In the realm of governance worldwide, the pendulum of change tends to swing between extremes in leadership, philosophies and policies. Ultimately though, no matter the form of government, because the quality of life is at stake the power to affect positive change lies with individuals at the bottom of the social pyramid. What it takes is an emergent leader willing to risk everything and lead by example. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and John Lewis were such leaders.
In the moment of rejection of domination lies the seeds of transformation and liberation.
What can we do socially? Witnessing social breakdowns, we can look for and lend our support to the emergents—individuals who put service above personal gain, who associate and collaborate with experienced and intelligent experts and whose actions point the way toward making a better life for all. Where there is separation, they plant seeds of unification. Where there’s conflict, they facilitate communication to find common ground. Where there’s ignorance, they foster increased education and experience. Where there are unreasonable and destructive gaps, they work to close them. Where there are walls, they build bridges. Where there’s prejudice they facilitate and encourage shared experiences between adversaries. Where there’s hate, they work to disarm it with compassion and love. And when other nations attempt to undermine a nation’s core values, they shore up their defenses and assert their values ever more strongly—by example.
Locally, we can bring our lives into balance and live what we preach. In class, I sometimes advised students to do something every day, however small, to realize their dream—if even to just think about it. In this context, we could pick the crisis that concerns us most and decide to do something about it—if even to pray or think about what ought to be done. Importantly, we can vote our conscience and encourage others to vote.
When just one person takes on the challenges of becoming more accepting, allowing, and strong, a ripple effect is created. Everyone in that person’s sphere is now touched with the new possibility. Even if the reasons are unclear, anyone who plays by new rules will be noticed by others. Individuals functioning from this level of transformation are the pioneers of the new community, planting new seeds of the future.
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