My last blog spoke about self awareness. Self awareness is the first step. An important first step, but only the first step. This is when you pull your head out of the sand, realize what is inside you and the greatness that can be achieved with your skills, attention, and focus. Looking outwards and applying them is what comes next. And it’s a doozy.
The world is your oyster once you know yourself. What does that even mean, the world is your oyster. Have you ever really wanted an oyster? Is there anything you can do with an oyster but take it’s pearl, eat it and make some jewellery out of the shell? I guess that’s not a bad start for a shellfish. On to the point.
Become a dark hand – one who is comfortable with what they bring to the table enough that they don’t need to prove it to anyone. When you can do this, you will be able to recognize the potential of a dark hand in others around you. If you are somewhere along the journey of self awareness, you will find it easy to spot others of this mindset. They are the people with smiles on their faces, sparks in their eyes, the people who don’t take life or themselves too seriously. They are the people who listen instead of speaking all the time, they are the people who truly experience and thoroughly enjoy life from moment to moment, the ones that seem to have a secret that you just want to pick their brain to find out. They are the people who are above personal vindictiveness and judgement of those around them, the people who see good in all that is before them. The people who realize that, were they of the same mind and in the same situation as anyone they were observing, they would probably be acting in just the same way. Find these people and collect them as your friends. They will be part of the next step, because they more than anyone will realize the importance of what you are aiming for.
There is more to life than personal achievements, and as much as winning that medal or being the top of your class may be admirable goals, I would encourage you to take a step back and look at the whole forest once again. I would never imply that improving yourself physically or mentally is not a worthwhile pursuit, but if your sole aim is a piece of gold or a letter at the beginning of the alphabet, you may find that once you achieve your dream, it doesn’t pan out like you thought. I think more valiant and noble long term goals persist in evolving our social consciousness as a whole, and all the efforts and benefits that come along with that. Our generation faces challenges like none before on our planet. We have socially evolved from individuals in families to tribes, to religions, to empires and nations. Our ability to work together has evolved along with us (imagine a point in our past where every stranger was an enemy who threatened your food supply and must be dealt with!), although the hardware we are running on is painfully outdated. We use each other to further our own gain, for better or for worse, and there are 2 million years of hard wired psychology that is difficult to resist but it is imperative that we must if we are to survive in our rapidly changing world. We are now at a stage where we need to work together as a species. In an age where our habitation spreads from the harshest environments on the planet to their bitter extremes and everywhere in between, our age old strategy of “use up everything useful and move on when it’s done” will no longer work for us. It is time we reached our anthropological maturity and learned to be responsible stewards of our planet, our societies, and ourselves.
I look at ants, each working hard in different roles, all with the central aim of improving their society. They are more like us in many ways than other animals on this planet. They display unprecedented (except in humans) foresight in their techniques of farming, maintaining livestock, teaching each other various jobs, building roads, and constructing impressive cities. Each ant works for the good of society, and yet there is no central directive as to how each should contribute. They merely understand their role of contributing to the betterment of where they live, and each ant selflessly and tirelessly gives their all to see that the society succeeds and thrives. It is this communal directive that we need to become more in touch with if we hope to tackle the problems that face our species as a whole.
For how much longer can we claim to be caring human beings while billions in the world are without adequate food, water, medicine, or other essentials that we take for granted? How much longer can we deny foreign aid of 7 cents for every $100 of GDP that would so dramatically change the state of human affairs on our planet? How much longer can we go on drilling resources out of our planet and discarding them when we are through with their uses, without adequate thought of our effect on our environment and our health?
This problem spans communities, cities, nations, our entire planet. What is good for my country may not be what is good for your country. Trade agreements, climate controls, immigration laws, all of these things put countries at odds with each other. At this point, who will win is determined by the relative wealth of the countries in question. We face these same problems on a national level – the bigger the country, the more varied its population, the more difficult it is to bridge that divide. Take Canada for example – the central prairies benefit exorbitantly from the presence of oil, yet it is the rest that have to deal with the environmental impacts without the benefit of the influx of money – pipelines are the most recent controversy. What is good for Alberta may not be what is good for BC, where the pipelines have to be run through rare and sensitive temperate rainforest to reach the Pacific. Does Alberta care about BC’s ecological concerns? Does BC care about Albertan profits? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle of these two sides…but it is only by coming together over the problem, realizing the problems and the solutions on a larger scale, how it will affect each of us and the other, that we can come to a reasonable solution. I believe the problem lies in the empathy we feel towards others. The empathy problem is easier to deal with at a smaller scale – families are good at sacrificing for each other to ensure success. But our empathic range is limited to those in our near social vicinity – our family, friends, clergy, neighbours, and most recently (as in the past few thousand years, although to a very limited extent) our countrymen.
Is our ability to cooperate merely a trend of humanity banding together in larger and larger groups only to contend against another group of large humans? Is our capability of belonging to a group dependent on our reliance on that group to keep us safe from outsiders? Were the first kingdoms and countries formed merely to rally against invading kingdoms with value systems not in tune with local inhabitants? In that case, will we be able to increase our empathic range to include all of humanity before some external force contends us? Will we ever be linked in a world government, or have we become too complex and divided? We need to expand our empathy to a global level to survive some of the greatest challenges ever faced – and hell, we’d be a lot nicer to each other at the same time. The question is whether we can manage that without being challenged by aliens a la Bill Pullman in Independence Day.
Nature is another facet of the equation that must be commonly considered in this empathic relationship as well. We are intricately tied up with our environment and if we are not proper stewards of our planet, we will rob it of it’s ability to sustain us. We acknowledge that unsustainability in business and relationships is silly – why do we persist in unsustainable practice pertaining to the environment? Perhaps we need to treat it as a separate business relationship entirely. The external costs of pollution, climate change, health risks, and fresh water depletion need to be internalized into any new business venture. Yes, this will cause prices to rise. But this is merely a more accurate picture of what you are truly paying for while being accountable for your whole production system. We live in a closed system, and we may as well pay for it as such.
Perhaps our societies have grown to large and stratified to come up with a solution at all – perhaps it is not possible to achieve a win-win-win-win scenario. But it can’t hurt for us to open up our social consciousness a bit and try to see it from the other point of view. As a good friend of mine once said, “I believe the need and conviction to fight for humanity in our world has never been greater. I Believe there is good all around us, sometimes we just stop looking for it.” This is a grand calling, and it is about time for us to awaken to it.
Edit: Some of these thoughts still need some work, so comments are more than welcome. I just didn’t want to procrastinate on publishing this one anymore!