We seem to be living through a time of constant crises - on every front, in every part of the world: environmental, political, economic, social and technological. We’re all too familiar with the various manifestations of these crises - the media feed us a never-ending diet of bad news. We need, however, to get away from the language of gloom and doom (catastrophe, apocalypse, extinction etc.). My aim is not to dwell on these crises, real though they undoubtedly are, but to try to look at things from a different perspective and examine what actually may be happening if we look deeper. Is it actually breakdown, OR could it be breakthrough?
We know from our own lives that crises are often the making of us. It seems to be that it’s through crises that we grow as human beings. We evolve, generally learning from what has happened to us, and tend on the whole to grow wiser. Crises on a global scale are perhaps no different. They too can be seen as part of evolution. Chaos always precedes transformation.
Things may look as if they are breaking down, but as the old structures of our world disintegrate because they are no longer working, could it be that we are breaking through collectively to a new kind of existence? The crises are wake-up calls. We know from our own experience that things have to get really bad for us to pay attention!
Underlying all these crises is a single crisis - a crisis of consciousness.
What do I mean by ‘a crisis of consciousness’? It’s as if there’s a disconnect in our approach and in our understanding. We’re trapped in a paradigm that no longer serves us. We’ve created a world that works for the few rather than for all, or for future generations, and are doing a great deal of damage to the planet in the process.
Could it be that the chaos is part of the process of moving towards an entirely new paradigm, a change of worldview.
Our current worldview is mechanistic and scientific, with the emphasis on logic and reason, not on feeling or intuition. This paradigm has dominated our culture for over 350 years. Though not without benefits - clearly there has been amazing progress in a relatively short space of time - this way of viewing the world has resulted in separation and disconnection. Nature, seen as separate from humanity, was something to be tamed and conquered. Individuals were seen as separate from each other, resulting in alienation, the exploitation of nature solely for our benefit, and the ill-treatment of those who subscribed to a different worldview - the indigenous peoples of Africa, Australasia and America. Increasingly there has been a preoccupation with self rather than with any sense of collective responsibility and the common good.
With the new worldview that is emerging now, and confirmed by discoveries in modern science (both quantum physics and biology), everything is seen as connected. We are all like interdependent cells within the great super-organism that is the planet, Gaia. Earth is a single living system, a biosphere or a living globe. We are not separate, but inextricably interlinked. This is not unlike our own bodies where trillions of cells live and work together, able to communicate with each other and work together in co-operation.
New paradigms, or worldviews, tend to be slow to emerge, co-existing with the old paradigm until it becomes accepted as the one we all live by. If we look at the broad sweep of the history of humanity across thousands of years and across many different cultures there are universal cycles of creation, maintenance and destruction that are bound up with myth, religious practice and psychology. Our troubled times need to be viewed in this larger context.
The good news is that we are waking up to the need to behave differently. Perhaps we are even at a new stage of evolution. Maybe we can adapt and mutate collectively as human beings in response to crisis. Evolution could well be unfolding in such a manner that we are maturing as a species, and moving towards a higher order of being.
As we become more aware and conscious, we will be less ego-driven, less competitive, not thinking just of our own needs, but the needs of the whole. Recognising that everything is interdependent and that we are all connected, we can create a future that works for everyone, for all life forms, as well as for future generations. We can create a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.
Evolution and change is slow, but let’s remind ourselves of the transformational movements and shifts in consciousness that have occurred since the 1960s:
The civil rights movement
The counter-culture revolution and the human potential movement
The various waves of the feminist movement
Changing attitudes to workers’ rights
Greater emphasis on human rights and social justice
More respect for indigenous peoples and their way of life
Changing attitudes to the body and gender
POSITIVE CHANGE IS HAPPENING!:
A move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy supplies
A big increase in recycling and less use of plastic
More mindful consumption and ethical spending - Fairtrade/free-range/organic/vegan food and drink is booming. To a lesser extent - eco-tourism, ethical clothing
The growth of thrift and collaborative consumption, exchanging, sharing, bartering, lending
New patterns of living and working are emerging - different lifestyle choices, getting work-life balance right
Changing business attitudes towards the environment and towards wellbeing of employees
Ethical investment and fundraising
Greater openness about mental health, the growth of psychotherapy, meditation and yoga etc.
Learning to value community once again
A few examples:
Renewables - wind, solar power, electric vehicles
Reforesting - organisations around the world are reforesting at an amazing rate, planting millions of trees each year across Africa, India Nepal, Brazil, China, Indonesia…
Our own Woodland Trust in the UK with its Big Climate Fightback launched in September 2019 hopes by 2025 to have planted a tree for every person in the country - all native broadleaf varieties such as oak, birch and hawthorn.
New developments in farming - eg. Grow Bristol which uses hydroponics and a controlled environment to produce high-quality local produce all year round without pesticides and without harming the environment
Banishing plastic - we’ve seen all sorts of initiatives from getting rid of plastic bags, encouraging consumers to buy unpackaged goods, making the plastic bottle, cup, straw, etc a thing of the past, trying to get parents to ditch disposable nappies etc etc. I recently read of a a pre-school nursery, New World Nursery in Washington Tyne and Wear, which claims to be the first to be plastic-free. The children’s behaviour has apparently improved after all synthetic toys were removed.
The Transition Movement, now a global network - started in 2006 with Totnes, with the aim of increasing self-sufficiency. Community-led, it aims to strengthen the local economy, reduce environmental impact and build resilience for the future, reducing energy costs and carbon emissions etc.
The Slow Movement, which has become the Slow Revolution. It began with Carlo Petrini’s protest against the opening of a fast-food chain restaurant in Piazza di Spagna in Rome, and this resulted in slow food, slow gardening, slow travel etc. New proponents have since appeared, including Carl Honore with his book In Praise of Slowness. He advocates a cultural shift towards slowing down the pace of life, which has become fashionable with everybody from business executives to parents.
Environmental entrepreneurs have increased in number, eg. TOMS shoes, which has been operating for a decade now and aims to provide a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of TOMS shoes purchased.
The number of entrepreneurs producing eco-friendly products is growing -eg. Ananas Anam, a company based in London but with teams in the Philippines and in Spain, has created Pinatex, a natural sustainable textile produced from pineapple leaves; London-based Worn Again Technologies uses polymer recycling technology to produce raw materials; in India I’ve found on my trips there that there are many small entrepreneurs, eg. Bandana Jain with her Sylvn Studio sells eco-friendly handcrafted furniture using corrugated cardboard, made by women in rural areas on the outskirts of Mumbai.
A vast number of cleaning, beauty and cosmetic products that are organic, chemical free etc.
Increase in volunteering - helping to create better lives for others - through food banks, caring in hospices, visiting in prisons, working with illiteracy, cleaning up the environment, forming community farms and gardens, joining together to instal a rural community broadband.
Borrowing/sharing initiatives - eg. Zipcar (the largest and most flexible car-sharing service; Zilok, a centralised online rental marketplace which allows users to rent their belongings to other people for a fee - from tents to lawnmower to bouncy castles; Ecomodo similar; AirBnB etc.
Eco-friendly housing developments, eg. Hockerton Housing Project in Nottinghamshire with its sustainable eco-housing and living, including renewable energy, water harvesting and sustainable food; in London, the architect Peter Barber has been designing terraces of tiny brick cottages for Camden Council and Genesis Housing Association as well as studio houses for homeless people in Kentish Town; In Shropshire architect Bob Tomlinson built 40 energy efficient houses, The Wintles, outside Bishop’s castle. Now involved with The Living Village Trust, he is designing custom-built homes at Great Oakley in Essex.
In the arts - there are many examples of rubbish being turned into artworks:
Plastic Forever Project collects plastic objects on the beach and after being cleaned and categorised uses them for making sculptures and jewellery.
H. A Schutt, with 30 assistants, created trash people from crushed cans, computer parts and virtually anything else he could find. His installations have travelled the world from New York to the Great Wall of China
An exhibition in 2020 at the Royal Academy in London - Eco-Visionaries - brings together artists, architects and designers who suggest a more harmonious future relationship between humans and the planet
In music - The Recycled Orchestra is the inspiration of Favio Chavez, an ecologist and a musician. Taking oil cans, wood and cutlery from a landfill site in Paraguay, he transformed them into something that could produce musical sound and taught the children living in a nearby slum how to play music.
Cultural and behavioural change has therefore been happening on a huge scale. People all over the world, from all walks of life, young and old, are changing their attitudes and lifestyle
Above all it is our willingness to change and grow, our intention to become better human beings that matters. Hope for the future rests in our ability to transform ourselves. We need to remain grounded and balanced amidst all the chaos and confusion that accompanies monumental change. We create the future every moment in how we live our lives and with the choices we make. We have to be optimistic about the future. We have to hope that each one of us can make a difference by changing our attitude and behaviour. As Pope Francis put so well in his TED talk in April 2017:
“Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way round. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you’, and another ‘you’, and it turns into an ‘us’. And so, does hope begin when we have an ‘us’? No. Hope began with one ‘you’. When there is an ‘us’, there begins a revolution…."