Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Facing Reality

As we’ve experienced for some time, the world is quickly and immutably changing.  If you seriously believe in the end times, this may not a problem.  If you don’t, then you’ve probably wondered what the lives of your children and grandchildren, and all young people everywhere will be like two, five, ten decades from now.  You may feel frightened, confused, overwhelmed and want to turn your back on it all. 

That’s natural – so don’t feel bad if you do.  The future is difficult to imagine, cognitively and emotionally, because of the magnitude, speed, and breadth of change that is happening.  A 2009 Sony shareholders’ video states, “More unique information was generated in 2008 than the previous 5,000 years,” and, “Today’s top 10 most desirable jobs in the U.S. didn’t exist 20 years ago,” and, “Those students starting a four-year technical degree will find half of what they learn in their first year outdated by their third year.”   How do we respond to this juggernaut? 

First, we must understand our limitations.  Our brains developed when we were hunter-gatherers.  We relied on a small, insular, somewhat mobile familial group. Short-term thinking was more relevant than long-term vision.  We honed the instinct to quickly spot and protect against danger.  Today, more primal than not, we struggle with fear, knee-jerk reactions, tribal instincts, and a narrow scope of thinking.  Our brains do not easily fathom the inner workings of, for example, the technologies we’ve so easily adopted or the vast scenes of far-reaching natural and human-caused destruction plastered over our media. With self-understanding, we can work to control and channel our fear, traits, and instincts, remembering the problems are not all “out there;”  they lie also within us.

Next, we must stop talking simply in statistical facts:  “Global population will surpass seven billion this year.”  “Thirty-three nations are at risk of food-related strife.” “By 2025, 2.6 billion people will live in countries without adequate water resources.”  And, here’s one of the best: “If America's autos were a separate country, they would be the world's fifth largest global warming polluter.”   “Wow,” you might think.  “That’s a lot.”   But how easy is it for most of us to wrap our heads around the numbers and feel confident that something can be done to improve the situation?
We need to adopt language that makes facts more personal.  Perhaps, regarding the water resources statistic, further elaboration such as “If New York City were a Somalian village, its residents would have to walk to Trenton, N.J. (or wherever) to draw household water.” 

We also must move beyond rewarding dramatic, fear-invoking, helplessness-inducing words and imagery.  Rather, we must accompany the discussion of problems with our best ideas, suggestions, and information to solve them.  No one, from President Obama to members of Congress to media pundits to reporters, and maybe even the average citizen, should consider emphasizing a problem unless they can suggest at least one, if not more, solutions.  In other words, let’s limit just 15% of our time to hearing about and discussing problems; let the other 85% be devoted to constructive thinking and building on each others’ ideas for ways to solve them.  We won’t get anywhere if we don’t do this!!  

Finally, we must act creatively in light of our limitations. Consider: If our brains are primal, yet our technology is expanding exponentially, how can we close the gap between the two?  What methods can we implement to achieve a more “human” pace?  What education is necessary to provide us with a greater sense of empowerment and hope, emotions that fear undermines?  We have come a long way but the deepest parts of our brain still have more power over our behavior than the more recent, rational parts. 

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