Everybody loves a crisis
About to travel to a remote part of China, to the mountains where T’ai Chi was cultivated and Lao Tzu (the architect of Taoism) ascended to the Jade Emperor / heaven, I felt a strong sense of very unusual trepidation. My wife and child are staying at home and my nomadic tendencies have finally been tempered by what it’s possible to lose.
When we have something to lose, change comes very slow. During the boom times – with house prices, stock markets and wages all a-risin’ (and 2nd homes a-comin’) – people have no incentive to change. Now we see to be a few years away from the eye of a perfect storm – and are starting to feel the warning breezes down our necks – and suddenly people are starting to talk about change all of the place.
In Chinese, the word for crisis is made from two separate elements. The first is ‘danger’. So much, so obvious. But the second thought contained within the word crisis is ‘opportunity’. In other words, crises or shocking ‘events’ (as French political philosopher Alain Badiou calls them) come from without and open up the potential for change, whether within the individual’s psyche, in an organization or in the entire geo-political system. To borrow from chemistry, when the bonds between us (or parts of us, as in the mind) start to vibrate under the stress of a crisis or two, the energy put into the system can bring about the reconstitution of the parts into a new order.
As we start to encounter the early warning signals of this perfect storm of social, economic and environmental crises (at root driven by unsustainable population increases and erroneous world views that privilege egotism, hedonism and individualism in all their various guises) we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use this time to reformulate the foundational myths that run our world. We can move beyond consumerism to focus on co-creation (see a Politics of Expression). We can transcend partisanship to focus on co-operation. We can overcome greed and excess by focusing on contribution.
The answers don’t lie with our politicians or with our brands. Even if they were visionary and committed enough, the complexity of these crises can never be understood by a group of individuals who owe their jobs, livelihoods and reputations to the old system that put them in positions of power and which are driving the problems. The revolution has to come from each one of us, from within our minds and our hearts – as it did in the home-grown, organic, deeply-rooted ‘Green Revolution’ that blossomed in Iran this summer. Only we can walk through the approaching, fittingly globalized, ‘dark night of the soul’ to reach a new sense of illumination that we can put to use in the school yards, malls and living rooms of our everyday life. Each one of us has to search out solutions to the challenges of our existence – and bring to life innovations in our lives that usher in a new age in place of the old.
As James Joyce and Joseph Campbell tell us, the great myths of many traditions – that are such a source of inspiration in times such as these – offer us much hope. They tell of heroes and heroines banding together to find the gift of the gods that can open up a new beginning for their motherland – assuming they can conquer the demons and monsters and get that ‘boon’ home.
Myths tell us in vibrant words of deep, inner processes of transformation that the brave and the noble engage in… often whether they want to or not. They respond to the call and, albeit reluctantly, embark on a journey to discover their own talents, their own ‘boon’, to work out how they can contribute to the rebuilding of their world.
We are all facing that call now. If you listen, you can hear it in the roar of the polar bears clawing for ice and in last gasps of so many species as they becomes extinct. You can hear it in the percolations of the browns-sites filled to the brim with non-biodegradable plastic and in the murmurings of the kids who rummage through them all day looking for food. And you can hear it in the yelps of our youth as they binge drink in our city centers, and in delighted gasps of the relentless waves of consumers obeying orders to spend their way out of the problems.
Ultimately the best way to find the new ideas that will change our world in the radical way the future is begging to demand, is to talk, work and think together. In doing so we can discover the new frameworks, metaphors and innovations that might just save the species and the globe. Homo sapiens sapiens will truly be tested to the limits of her being in the coming years – and will have to dig deep into her eponymous potential and finally co-create a worldview that works for all the planet’s inhabitants.