We all face the abyss of three great divides: ecological, social, spiritual. Instead of turning backward—by “making X great again”—we can lean forward and access our sources of curiosity, compassion, and courage. That’s the choice each and every one of us faces today. Otto Scharmer has some advice on how to reconnect with yourself.
As an action researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I have worked for the past 20-plus years helping change makers in companies, governments, and civil society organizations to innovate on the scale of the whole system in order to address three major divides: the ecological divide, i.e., the disconnect between self and nature; the social divide, i.e., the disconnect between self and other; and the spiritual divide, i.e., the disconnect between self and self.
Looking at what is emerging now, I am struck by two observations. One, the solutions to all our pressing problems are already prototyped, somewhere, on a small scale. The future is already here. And second, there are powerful meta-trends that prevent us from scaling these innovations. These fall into three main categories: post-truth, post-democracy, and post-human.
Post-truth refers to the dynamics that create a world of confusion, which ultimately serves to keep us trapped inside our digital echo-chambers. According to the Washington Post, President Trump has told 2,436 lies or misleading statements (as of this writing) during his first 15 months in office. Additionally, according to a recent MIT study, false news is 70% more likely to be shared on Twitter than real news.
Add to that the armies of trolls and bots (funded by the Russian government and by U.S. billionaires) that are designed to amplify confusion, hate, and fear, and you have a good sense of the current post-truth condition.
The second meta-trend is the move toward a post-democratic world. To take just one example: according to a Quinnipiac University poll, more than 97% of Americans support universal background checks for anyone who wants to purchase a firearm; and 67% support an assault weapon ban. But despite this widespread support, in Congress these initiatives routinely go nowhere. This illustrates how a small special interest group (the NRA) has hijacked our democratic institutions to keep in place policies that serve few and harm many.
Our politicians need to put the lives of their constituents over money. Tell them to be a part of the change and sign the @noNRAmoney pledge. If that is too hard for them, in November, we’ll make it easy and #VoteThemOut https://t.co/AjdXy8a6mo
— March For Our Lives (@AMarch4OurLives) April 27, 2018
Other examples include Trump’s tax cuts (payback to the right-wing billionaires who funded Trump) and pulling out of the Paris Agreement (backed by the fossil fuel industry). Add the rise of autocratic strongmen around the world, and you have a good sense of our current post-democratic condition. It’s a world of societies breaking apart, of blaming others and exacerbating the disconnects.
The third meta-trend, toward a world that is post-human, may well be the least visible and most dangerous cultural shift. One key number here is 56. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media. The real scandal around Facebook is not just about the company’s blatant disregard for the ownership rights of users and citizens in regard to their own data worldwide.
"The real scandal is Facebook’s continued ignorance of its full role in undermining the human and democratic foundations of our society."
The real scandal is Facebook’s continued ignorance of its full role in undermining the human and democratic foundations of our society. The post-human condition is a world in which the human being is under attack—which is precisely what is happening now. It’s a world in which we are losing our connection to nature, to others, and to ourselves, to our dormant spiritual essence. In such a scenario what’s left is a future in which we humans are relegated to being the pets of the AI machine overlords.
Three voices and barriers
Living in the 21st century means facing these three voices that keep us in the grip of the old:
- The first one says: You can’t know. Nobody knows. (Post-truth)
- The second one says: You can’t connect. Nobody can. (Post-democracy)
- And the third one says: You can’t transform. Nobody can. (Post-human)
The three voices confront us with a choice in how we connect with the emerging future: we can either turn backward or lean forward. Moving backward means to close the mind, the heart, and the will. Leaning forward means to open the mind, heart, and will.
The three voices and barriers are not new. But what is new today is that these forces that keep us in the grip of the old are much more powerful than they used to be. Much of that is due to an approach to investing and coding that is blind to the negative externalities that it generates for people outside of Big Banks (Wall Street) and Big Tech (Silicon Valley), respectively.
How can we face today’s disruption by not turning backward (“making X great again”) but by leaning forward, by sensing and actualizing the future as it emerges?
The call of our time
At the core of any profound transformation is the awakening of curiosity (open mind), compassion (open heart), and courage (open will) as powerful antidotes to the self-limiting voices of doubt, cynicism, and fear that tend to keep us in the grip of the old.
Although this awakening is happening in many small communities and networks around the world, we do not yet see it transforming the larger systems. What’s missing today is a mechanism that allows the global eco-system of change makers to collaborate and co-create across sectors more intentionally.
What’s missing today are enabling collaborative infrastructures in three critical areas of society:
- new social media and learning infrastructures that blend inspiring stories from the viewpoint of the change makers with deep listening practices and tools, effectively transforming the meta-trend of post-truth into a new culture of collaborative learning that integrates head, heart, and hand;
- new democratic infrastructures that link rule makers and citizens through novel formats of direct and dialogic modes of participation, effectively transforming the meta-trend of post-democracy into a new distributed practice of whole systems co-sensing and dialogue;
- new economic infrastructures that connect diverse constellations of economic actors working to create sustainable well-being for all, effectively transforming the post-human meta-trend into new economic and civilizational institutions and practices.
That’s the threshold that we face today. We face the abyss of the three divides: ecological, social, spiritual. Looking into the abyss makes us aware of the post-truth, post-democratic, and post-human conditions of our time. These conditions keep us in the grip of the past. Looking into the abyss we have a choice: we can either turn backward—by “making X great again”—through amplifying ignorance, hate, and fear. Or we can lean forward—by accessing our sources of curiosity, compassion, and courage. That’s the choice each and every one of us faces today. As individuals. As organizations. And as societies.
"We face the abyss of the three divides: ecological, social, spiritual."
To support and amplify the many efforts that are leaning forward, we at u.lab and the Presencing Institute, with our partners at HuffPost, have just launched a free platform: the Transforming Capitalism Lab, with monthly conversations and interactive live-broadcast events that feature pioneers of new economic, political, and learning infrastructures that are reshaping their systems around the world. For more information, visit the Lab and bring your own intentions, ideas, and initiatives into the conversation.