With the coming generation, education will become more closely aligned with cultivating intuitive decision- making. By incorporating a wide range of sources of knowledge and perspectives, a more holistic approach to education will synthesize old traditions with new capabilities to instill a greater sense of integrity and possibility into public and private institutions.
Over the past thirty years, consumer lifestyle has gradually become oversized and unsustainable. In the next thirty years, popular lifestyle will be less about ego and more aligned with nature’s cycles to establish balanced ecosystems.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” — Arundhati Roy
Common everyday items, that quickly come in and out of our lives, can be realigned with more lasting principles. In many ways, some of the simplest changes are also the most widely effective. The question of “paper” or “plastic” for grocery bags is better replaced by the question of do you need to bring another bag into circulation at all, or can you simply reuse one? Same goes for straws. Paper has replaced plastic, but that still accounts for a lot of straws going to waste. Why are straws so important anyway? Many of the novelties of modern life have become unnecessary conveniences. In order to create more integrative systems of engagement, we can begin to make more conscious efforts to better use the abundance of resources we already have at hand.
The idea of a closed loop of goods has been around for some time. One example of mainstream sustainability that doesn’t require a huge shift in perspective is Patagonia’s Worn Wear. With this program for keeping perfectly-wearable used clothing in rotation, the clothing manufacturer is helping out the environment by stretching out the lifecycle of products that would normally be turned to trash sooner. As the company reasons on their website, “the best thing we can do for the planet is get more use out of stuff we already own, cutting down on consumption.”
“The more you know, the less you need.” — Yvon Chouinard
The world doesn’t really need any more sneakers. There’s actually enough of everything, if only the balance of distribution can reach greater alignment between supply and demand. As public discussion focuses more and more around the topic of sustainability, humans will increasingly find ways to redistribute and conserve resources to better integrate themselves within the natural world.
In another effort to diminish our collective trash, a recent joint venture between Italian healthcare group Angelini, and Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest diaper supplier, set out to investigate what to do with the end product of a $4 billion-a-year diaper market. These conglomerates have begun a potentially pivotal, new program that looks to recycle absorbent hygiene products like diapers, incontinence pads, and feminine hygiene products, with a plan to roll out in ten cities by 2030. For 2035–2050+, the company’s vision of products and packaging consists of 100% renewable or recycled materials. The products being developed from these recycled materials range from school desks to playgrounds to bottle tops. In addition, recycled cellulose can be turned into fabric or paper, while super-absorbent polymer has potential applications in gardening, or creating flood barriers.20
The more that companies and individuals prioritize reusing, recycling, and repurposing objects, the more that potential applications will evolve. The most significant change we have in mind is recycling and reinventing materials that are already in existence and transforming them into imaginative new forms. We believe that pursuing this approach will lead to a larger, sustainable tradition of more conscious, connected, and integrative systems.
Let go of our determined fixation on mechanical time and other rigidly self-referential systems detached from nature’s cycles. Let go of IQ. Let go of bias and prejudiced expectations.
Our most common units of measurement—time, money, and intelligence —are all in need of revision. The way that time is arranged and manipulated is mostly in the interests of economic factors. Money is made up by humans and disconnected from any principle of nature. Global markets are based on feelings, predictions, and an ever-changing flux of information. Is confidence in a debt-based market really our best option for determining wealth? Many important parts of life cannot be calculated and scheduled. The most significant moments in life often happen serendipitously. And, as has been said many times, the best things in life are free. So why are we still measuring value in monetary terms?
Researchers at MIT have proposed a redesign of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) called GDP‑B (the B is for benefit) to include consideration of value made by free digital goods and services. As professor Erik Brynjolfsson explains, upgrading GDP provides a “realistic idea of what creates value in society and what doesn’t. A lot of digital goods we’ll find are creating a ton of value…” The professor goes on to say, “It’s not that production and spending aren’t important, but they aren’t everything. To measure the economy you need a dashboard with different metrics. What we’re measuring are the benefits you get even when you spend nothing on the good.”21
It’s said that time is money. This adage certainly holds true within our current economic system. But where do we look for a more secure sense of measurement in the absence of centralized economic authorities? How long will big banks continue to control the flow of money? Blockchain showed the possibility for crypto-currencies to transform monetary exchange. The promise of blockchain’s incorruptibility unfortunately cracked.22 In setting up society for a fairer future, it feels wise to prepare for the inevitability of an economic system aligned with principles of sharing, nurturing, and impermanence.
The way we measure our intelligence is another part of society worthy of revision. Over the last decades, IQ has been used to validate racist, sexist, and otherwise biased classifications. A recent study by scientists disproved IQ as a measure of intelligence.23 They showed that intellectual ability occurs along three distinctive nerve circuits in the brain guiding interactions between short-term memory, reasoning, and verbal agility. In other words, there’s no singular indicator like IQ that can really account for a person’s intellectual ability across various categories. Our self-identities do not need to be confined into singular assessments. Intelligence is really a matter of one’s ability to interact with others in the world with grace, care, and effectiveness.
In his book, The Mismeasure of Man, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould showed how intelligence is not based on genetic inheritance. In taking stock of fairer measurements by which to assess how environmental conditions impact individuals, Gould gave focus to the idea of relative frequency. This concept describes how meaning in people’s lives increases the more that a particular action or exchange takes place. For example, think about how the more that people smile at one another in passing, the more palpably uplifting the net effect of those fleeting interactions between strangers becomes. You can feel the different energy that exists in a room when people are being kind to one another and how, conversely, different that energy is when people are angry at each other. Gould wrote about the high relative frequency of human decency he noticed between people in NYC in the weeks after 9/11.24 With great humility, Gould remarked in his book, Wonderful Life, an inspiring thought about humanity:
“Homo sapiens, I fear, is a ‘thing so small’ in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event well within the realm of contingency. Make of such a conclusion what you will. Some find it depressing; I have always regarded it as exhilarating, and a source of both freedom and consequent moral responsibility.” — Stephen Jay Gould
As Gould mentions, the chance at life that we all receive can be incredibly motivating. We are here for the purpose of living. While the interpretations of what it means to live are virtually endless, relationships that show respect for life will always contribute to an overall sense of meaningful participation.
Be mindful of how we speak to objects as much as one another. How we work together, share space, and even develop identity is increasingly influenced by how we interact with mechanical technologies.
“The digital revolution began when stored-program computers broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Numbers that do things now rule the world. But who rules over the machines?” — George Dyson
“The new system listens to you, observes you, understands you, and gives you what it knows you want.” — Adam Curtis
In their best versions, technologies help humans become more empowered. In their worst versions, technologies are coercive, addictive, and oppressive. Our relationships with the machines we make are shaped by how we intend to incorporate those machines and technological abilities
into our lives. If the impetus is control, then power becomes abused. If the impetus is co-creation, then we can make anything we imagine.
The digital ability to transcend borders and limitations makes tech an ideal force for change. Yet, the popular notion of technology as a disruptive force needs to be realigned as a creative force for good. So don’t yell at your digital assistant. Don’t yell at any assistant. If you want something, ask for it nicely. Offer gratitude in return. Contribute to a culture of kindness. We can think of the machines we involve in our lives as extensions of ourselves, and act accordingly.
When it comes to the role of technology in our lives, we have to continually ask ourselves: Is the technology we’re using helpful or harmful? The more we come to rely on our phones to be our cameras, grocery delivery service, remote home thermostats, matchmakers, or sleep monitors, the more our attention is absorbed by these devices and the more we become exposed to the potential for influence and exploitation.
We are not well served by technology becoming a synthetic replacement for natural systems like community. We have become painfully aware these last few years of how technology can exacerbate alienation and how that can lead to social networks becoming hotbeds for extremism.25 Radicalization notwithstanding, since the inception of smart phones, thirteen years of hyper engagement has led to a public health crisis of screen-based addiction. The current generation of young adults raised with phones in their faces since birth is also the generation featuring the most pronounced rates of anxiety and burnout. The current generation of teens experiencing addiction to the dopamine kick of phone activity, has been compared to teenagers in the 1960s who suffered a public health crisis of smoking-related addictions and illnesses.26 We must ensure that if children are going to receive recommendations for what they should have or utilize, that those products and services are helpful and healthy.
Technology is a tool, but when it controls us, then we become the tools. As users of technology, we must have agency to choose when and where we decide to use the tools of our trades. We need to not have the conditions of involvement dictated by the companies which create those technologies and profit from our use.
A new set of standards must evolve in which technology is not encouraged to create co-dependency for its adopters. The technologies we incorporate in our lives must ascribe to better ethical considerations. As we connect more of our everyday objects to each other and the Internet, we need to ensure that the flow of information streaming between us, the objects, and environment is in the best interests of humanity and the planet, and not the interests of one company or another. We believe that learning to better use certain technologies, like our phones, actually means using those technologies with more conscious intention.
The interactions we have with technologies that enable and empower us will continue to help us move toward a future of greater ability. Along the way, we must continually remember that the values we hold will continue to guide the way we interact and the experiences we have.
Ongoing climate crises continue to reaffirm how out of alignment we are with nature. A mix of human activities is making our habitats inhospitable.
As coastlines vanish, where will the 10% of the global population who live in these areas go?27 And how will we accommodate intensifying waves of displacement?
On a collective level, we need to prepare with empathy and practicality for a new wave of mass migration by putting appropriate systems in place to help environmental refugees before this crisis hits fever pitch. An uptick in environmental refugees is all but guaranteed within the coming years, even if we begin to rein in our emissions. This does not need to be a humanitarian crisis, however.
We need to change the pattern of how countries continue to fail to install systems to aid the current flow of refugees from humanitarian crises of war and genocide. The common refrain that makes receiving those in need so difficult has to do with securing borders. In this sense, the problem has to do with placing a priority on borders to begin with. The logical response to this conflict would suggest we de-emphasize the importance of borders in order to emphasize the importance of humanity in need.
Common decency would suggest that those fleeing from violence would be treated with humaneness and fairness. Unfortunately, these individuals are often criminalized rather than cared for, and deemed a threat to stability. Migrant “detention centers” are really not so distinct from concentration camps. In contrast, the open doors of sanctuary cities aim to soften this harsh and unwelcoming cultural climate. They vary, but sanctuary cities tend to practice some form of dissent against immigration enforcement, aiming to shelter people from the most punitive practices. This current political moment of anti-migrant sentiment and xenophobia must be fought throughout the public sphere. We must defend, support, and care for human life, and replace fear of the other with love.
National borders are undergoing a contradictory shift. Although hardened by nationalism, conceptually they have been made more permeable. Information and communication now flows freely and instantaneously without any consideration for country borders.
This is especially true amongst the younger generation. Their identities are shaped by digital interactions as much as their physical surroundings. Many borders are largely arbitrary, drawn up long ago by colonial conquerors who had no regard for the social ties that connected the native inhabitants together. The enforcement of national borders is entirely incompatible with a humane response to both current and future flows of people.
A redefinition of borders can positively contribute to de-escalating hostilities. Borders can be eased to allow for common sense and decency. The way that kids who live on the Mexican side of the national border but go to school in Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona, have to wait hours in immigration line breathing the fumes from idling engines just to get home after class is an outrage to basic levels of respect.
In making maps to demarcate owned territory, humans ended up emphasizing the lines drawn between one another, while the definition of borders has historically shifted through force and power. Yet, nature doesn’t adhere to these borders. A wildfire rips across state lines, and floods erode the distinction between districts. We should look at borders as more of natural boundaries and less as rigid and fallible, human-made limits. Hopefully, that acknowledgement can help serve to decrease fear and place the power of compassion at our borders, and everywhere in between.
According to political scientist Erica Chenoweth at Harvard University, when just 3.5% of a population participates in cohesive non-violent activism, massive change occurs. The ability for relatively small groups to affect change through nonviolence reveals the true power of this approach.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
The world is full of good, decent people doing what is right when no one is looking. And those are not the stories that typically get attention on local or national news. It’s the tragedies and disasters that grab attention. Yet those events are outliers. Most of the time, people are working together. And we mustn’t forget that it only takes a small percent of a population to generate impressive outcomes.
Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, examined hundreds of nonviolent campaigns for change from the last 100 years, and found that, overall, nonviolent campaigns were twice as likely to succeed in achieving their goals as violent campaigns. Analysis regarding the results of violent force showed violence to effect change about a quarter of the times it was applied.28 This is a crucial reminder that most of the time the softer touch is the most effective means of movement.
One of the main advantages to nonviolence is its widespread accessibility. Nobody needs to take up arms, to be trained in combat, or get in physical shape for fighting. Nonviolence garners supporters and participants across all demographics, and can therefore also affect more sweeping change.
“Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” — Susan B. Anthony
Chenoweth’s work honors the victories of peaceful protests. One of the most influential moments of nonviolence is the example of how Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi led India to independence in 1947. A trained lawyer turned activist, Gandhi’s guiding principle was what he called satyagraha, a word derived from Sanskrit (satya: “truth”, āgraha: “insistence” or “holding firmly to”), meaning a holding onto truth, or truth force. In this specified form of political resistance, Gandhi advocated for India defining its own destiny, rather than being subject to oppressive and dehumanizing British colonial rule. In his book, Indian Home Rule, Gandhi promoted a self-sufficient citizen, able to source one’s own food, shelter, clothing, and not be subject to the taxes and over-ruling of racist foreign interests.
In 1930, Gandhi led a 24-day march over 240 miles to the coastal village of Dandi to pick up and eat the naturally occurring salt from their deposits in a show of political resistance to the British salt monopoly. Once Gandhi lifted a finger full of salt to his lips, he effectively broke the salt laws in bypassing any tax or payment to British control of the spice. This simple act set off a large-scale snowball effect of resistance as millions of Indians rallied against the British Raj salt laws, thus placing pressure on the ruling elite as never before experienced.
At the front lines of political resistance and change, Gandhi met many victories and setbacks along his fight for Indian sovereignty. Ultimately, the Indian Independence Act of 1947 constituted an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that granted India independence, which arrived in part due to Gandhi and his demonstration of nonviolent resistance.
On another continent, 8500 miles away and two decades later, Martin Luther King Jr. was interpreting satyagraha himself, this time for segregated America in his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement. Suffering beatings, imprisonment, and ultimately assassination, Dr. King’s long, difficult nonviolent fight for black equality in white America resulted in the Civil Rights Act, signed in 1964, which ended the policy of segregation.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” … “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” — Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham City Jail, 1963
The nonviolent movements described above occurred with the tremendous sacrifice of the individuals associated with these decades-long acts of resistance. These different, yet connected, chapters of history also depict a blueprint for how change occurs in the face of centuries-old oppression. In the end, the force of love and truth prevailed, as we believe it always will. Communities, companies, countries, and all individuals are well served to remember that peace is more effective than violence. With this awareness, we are all more incentivized to be respectful and principled when engaging conflict.
We believe that the key to unlocking a greater capacity for change in our personal patterns, and in terms of policy, comes from better understanding the underlying mechanisms for peace. From our earliest ages, we benefit from learning conflict resolution through means of empathy, shared resources, and common responsibility. Interpersonal problem-solving and diplomacy can be significantly improved with a common commitment to teaching peace in educational settings as well as workplaces. We wonder: What might the underlying mechanisms for peace be and how might they differentiate across different communities and cultures? Placing more thought into this kind of question will lead to a more balanced state of inter-personal, as well as geo-political, relationships.
While violence spreads like a virus and has been institutionalized over generations, perspective can skew as oppressors keep redefining what it constitutes.
Violence is typically attributed to the oppressed, while the actions of the oppressors are deemed natural, or sanctioned. What a mistake and misappropriation of reality. Nonstate, and substate, actors are held to different standards than the states standing over them. Violence should not be a subjective weapon. Violence is harmful wherever it occurs, and has the effect of spreading like a virus.
In 2013, the National Academies of Science released a report, “The Contagion of Violence”, that shows how violence acts like a disease.29 The positive implication from this report is that diseases can be cured through prevention to exposure as well as interventions. We can explore new policies to heal from state-sponsored violence, like eroding the prison-industrial complex to make amends for generations of mass incarceration of disproportionate numbers of men and women from minority communities.
In addition to these changes, a shift in focus from punishment to rehabilitation will be a necessary fresh start. In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner has been campaigning to end mass incarceration through a multi-faceted approach to rethinking criminalization. With three decades of experience as a public defender, Krasner now prosecutes cases informed by his background of fighting against the lies and misconduct of police officers. In his new, more expansive position overseeing more than three hundred prosecutors, Krasner takes a whole-systems-wide perspective on the economic, education-based, and environmental conditions that exacerbate rates of incarceration. This view is inspired by Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, which provides analysis on the disproportionate numbers of people of color who are imprisoned. Krasner acknowledges that in his role as D.A. he serves the commonwealth, which means all the citizens of the city.30
Meanwhile, Marilyn Mosby, the State’s Attorney for Baltimore, has made a bold decision to not bring criminal charges against individuals arrested for possession of marijuana. As she said in a statement in January 2019, “Prosecuting these cases have no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources.”31 Mosby’s approach hinges upon leveraging accountability, exposing injustice, and being much more open with her community in terms of trust. In an interview with NPR, Mosby explained that she doesn’t need to open the news to find out what’s going wrong in her community, she only needs to open the door. This is the kind of blunt honesty and direct connection with the realities of what’s happening all around us that can help us begin to work on resolutions to some of the widespread conflicts that affect our communities.
Leave behind imperialism and colonialism. Learn to love and respect that which we do not fully understand, from new cultures to life itself.
It’s not easy to leave behind patterns we’ve become so accustomed to repeating. According to biologist Bruce Lipton, about 95% of our automatic responses to everyday encounters, events, and inputs are shaped by what we experienced from birth to age seven.32 And all of that input emerged through generation after generation of family patterns along with even earlier evolutionary influences.
Tracing the human family tree back to the time of our reptilian brains puts a little perspective on how far we’ve come. And yet, how readily we regress to our animal instincts. Fear is the oldest emotion, and it gets easily activated in the parts of our brains that connect back to our reptilian roots. When we communicate directly to our lizard brains, we can become trapped in mistaking each other for enemies and committing evils against one another.
The evils of colonialism continue to play out through systems of enclosure. In this nasty trick, access to resources like water and land for growing food were confiscated by invading communities. This group of people then claimed ownership and taxed the original inhabitants of that land to use what was always previously free to all. Enclosure creates violence against nature and human rights. De-enclosure—or restoring the environment and revising policies to ensure access to common necessities, like clean water, healthy food, and adequate shelter, for all—is the response to a history of unfair and unjust behavior that we believe must receive greater attention. How might we align societal priorities such that everyone might benefit from the dignity of living with the necessary conditions to thrive?
We might begin to improve ourselves simply by resolving the mistake of believing humans to be separate from the rest of life on Earth. We now live with the shadow of so many of our past failures. Who was the first man who decided that nature should be controlled? Who first cut holes into the Earth to extract its minerals? Who began throwing away products never bothering to contemplate recycling those materials to make something new? And how did we come to not even know how we got to this state?
Because we’re not incentivized to pay attention. Instead, we’re incentivized to play “the game” of modern life. We might not ever know who the first man was that lead us down these ugly roads we now find ourselves too entrenched in to escape, but we do know that men and women are now standing up to demand accountability from the people who look to determine our future. And as authority for how our future is built becomes better shared between greater numbers of people, we will honor the lessons from past mistakes, and do what is right together.
- The Power of Humility
- Healthy Habits
- Environmental Actors
- Economic Priorities
- Lessons Ahead