State of the Future

YES! assembles a dozen visionaries to look ahead... in its very first issue. This was first printed in December 1996

There's an old Sufi story about an elephant in a dark room and the people who describe the elephant by detailing the parts of the elephant that they can touch.

Their experiences are so different that they have a hard time believing that they are all touching the same elephant. One describes a thick pillar; another a rope; a third a curved hard horn. This story is very similar to one I heard growing up, with one exception.

The people in this story aren't blind – they're in a dark room, and when they all light candles they are able to illuminate the full shape, dimension, and movement of the elephant.

There isn't any one person who can grasp the breadth and depth of the change that's permeating our culture – it takes the light of many candles to perceive the whole.

The following thoughts, drawn from conversations with each of these people, provide an outline of the shift that we're experiencing and some indicators of the challenges and opportunities ahead

The Re-enchantment of Politics
by Marc Luyckx
Decadence Holds No Shine
Like Real Life

by Eben Carlson
Conservation for Survival
by Vandana Shiva
Finding Unity in Diversity
by Elaine Gross
On Finding a Voice
by Juliet Schor
Sustainability Lives!
by Fritjof Capra
Being Responsible for the Future
by Don Edwards
Compassion as a Force for Change
by Ram Dass
Revolution from the Ground Up
by David Morris
The Future of Learning
by Dee Dickinson
People Who Are Indigenous to the Earth
by Rebecca Adamson
Out of Chaos:
Finding Possibility in Complexity

by Sarah van Gelder

The Re-enchantment of Politics
by Marc Luyckx

The change we're seeing is a drastic, profound, and very important change. The political leaders are not the organizers of change; we are caught up by the depth and the rapidity of the change. We had not foreseen that. Nobody has mastery over the change. No one. The image that comes to my mind is that we are in a big truck, and the steering is not responding, the accelerator is pushed to the floor and won't release, and the brakes are not functioning. And a lot of indicators are flashing red: ecological, social, industrial, also violence in the streets, problems in schools and universities.

Now beside the steering wheel that's not working is another steering mechanism, a post-industrial one, that's still in its package. No one has dared unwrap and use it. Our challenge is to learn quickly to use it, otherwise the truck could go off the road.

Living partly in an industrial society and partly in a post-industrial society is not comfortable. You have to master your own anguish as a politician to be able to tell people the truth about that, and it's not easy. It's also difficult to talk about these issues and still get votes.

We shouldn't expect politicians to be prophets, but what is clear is that political leaders in this time of crisis must care, must be a kind of incarnation of the common good. That means being involved in personal, spiritual growth, and that's a fantastic challenge for the average politician. It's very difficult for me, for you, for everybody.

Re-enchantment begins when the people feel they can reconcile nature, time, meaning, soul, spirit, and body. When there is hope for wholeness and for reconciliation. 

Perhaps Teilhard de Chardin was right when he said that the evolution of today requires us to make an ethical, positive leap. Naturally, we can fail that challenge; nothing is fixed. There are many reasons to be worried. Out of the six billion people on Earth, four billion are really not happy. The common good of the majority is not satisfied at all. The common good of nature is not satisfied at all. The management of the globe is not satisfying anyone; even the well-off know that very well. When you have an imbalance like this, it could end with an explosion.

So there are a lot of reasons to be worried, but there are a lot of reasons also to be hopeful. The first is that humanity has a sense of self-protection and survival, and I believe people are beginning to think that if we don't change and adapt to the change, we are in danger.

Second, women, who have been silent for thousands of years in this patriarchal society, are beginning to realize the situation is life-threatening, and they are bringing their visions, dedication, and love, not only to their families and their own countries, but also to international affairs.

Third, people's ethical expectation of leaders in politics, in business, in teaching, is rising like a tide. Nobody knows why. Politicians are not better or worse than before, but the expectations have risen.

And finally, there is a search for meaning and spirituality. In a certain sense, the consuming society is fading out, silently. Nobody says, “You should not buy anymore,” but people know they will not be more happy by having three cars, four cars, five cars – if they can afford it.

Modernity has disenchanted people in their beliefs, in their vision of the world. It's no longer possible for a modern believer to say, “The skies are telling me about the greatness of God, about the glory of God.” We have lost the glory. We have lost the beauty. We have lost the sacredness of time and place.

What is coming up is not a return to the past, but a kind of re-enchantment. Re-enchantment begins when the people feel they can reconcile nature, time, meaning, soul, spirit, and body. When there is hope for wholeness and for reconciliation. Re-enchantment will not be organized by politicians. That would be a contradiction. But we could be – and this is my dream –we could be elements of hope.

Let me tell you a story that was told to me by the president of the World Business Academy. In the north of Australia, some reporters tape-recorded two policemen insulting an Aboriginal person, and then printed the transcript on the front page of the newspaper.

The chief of police was an intelligent and open man, and had been trying to reshape his police force. He was to be interviewed on television about the incident. The Minister of Justice told the police chief to fire the two policemen and warned him to be careful of what he said publically or he would be fired.

But the police chief said in front of all the cameras, “I must tell the truth, and the truth is this: those two policemen are not an exception. The rest of the police could have done the same. But I will tell you more. The rest of the population of my region of Australia could have done the same as well. We are becoming racists.”

There was an explosion in the press, on television, and the police chief was fired the next day. But this firing had to be approved by the Parliament, and in the Parliament the opposition party applauded him for one full minute for telling the truth in public. So the government party had to applaud as well. In the end, the minister was fired and the police chief was reinstated.

But that is not the most important part. The most important part is that after this story, the police in that area became the best in Australia because the truth had been spoken. And after the truth has been spoken, there is a place for spiritual growth and for human authenticity.

Marc Luyckx is a member of the Forward Studies Unit of The European Commission, a think-tank within the administration of the EU in Brussels. His opinions here do not represent an official position of the Commission.

Conservation for Survival

by Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva
India has been hit by globalization. One of the results is that movements are developing at every level – around agriculture, around seeds, around fisheries, around aquaculture, around our forests and pastures. These ecosystems support our life, and these movements are saying that the water, the land, the biodiversity belong first and foremost to the communities that take care of them.

In India most people are farmers, so one of the very important areas of organizing has been to say “no” to ownership monopolies in seeds, “no” to forms of agriculture that push farmers off the land, destroy the earth, and our water resources, our biodiversity.

But we don't merely say no. For instance, I started a program for seed conservation – a program called Navdanya, which means nine seeds. The name came to me while traveling in a tribal area where a farmer had nine crops growing together in a field. It instantly clicked because in India at birth, at death, and at marriage we have ceremonies using nine seeds, which reflect the cosmos and planetary constellations. So the name symbolizes the relationship between the cosmos, the seed, and the human situation. 

Navdanya is now a very active movement. We started with three community seedbanks where farmers rejuvenate their own seed rather than depending on company seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides, and then getting into debt to pay for these inputs. Now the program has spread to five new states in about eight new locations from the north in Kashmir and Ladakh to the south in Tamilnadu. My dream is that by 1997 we will be able to cover every region of the country with community seed banks. This would save biodiversity and stop the extinction of the varieties that remain. A lot has already been lost. We used to have a hundred thousand rice varieties. Our program has already saved up to 600 varieties of rice, 100 varieties of kidney beans, and hundreds of varieties of millet.

"Our program has already saved up to 600 varieties of rice, 100 varieties of kidney beans, and hundreds of varieties of millet."

For us, conservation is not separate from providing a base of survival for people, especially poor people. Conservation makes possible a means of livelihood for communities that are poor and who don't have other resources. It protects bio-diversity as well as human society.

Now we are connecting that with issues of consumption. I recently organized a huge exhibition in which I brought farmers from each region who are in this seed conservation program to connect with urban groups. We brought the grains produced from this conserved seed, and the farmers cooked their local recipes. In India we have so much diversity of food; every area has a different cuisine. The farmers' cooking just blew people's minds; they couldn't believe it! The farmers were so thrilled at the reaction to what was considered low-level eating. The women peasants went home saying, “My God, they loved our mumus. They were from Lodakh, and did you see how quickly they lapped up the jungurah dessert that I had cooked?”

Over the next few years, I'm going to be working on increasing the awareness among consumers and urban groups about the fact that they need to support such conservation efforts, both because they have an obligation to those who produce food for them, and because they have an obligation to themselves to eat better than those pesticide-laden foods that are reaching their tables.

So in a way, this is a politics of connection –  connection between the earth, its biodiversity, producers who use the biodiversity as farmers, and consumers who need that biodiversity to eat healthy diets.


 Vandana Shiva, a physicist, philosopher, feminist, and ecologist, is director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in Dehradun, India; director of Navdanya, a seed conservation project; and co-chair of Women, Environment, and Development Organization. Vandana Shiva is also the author of, among others, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development, and Monocultures of the Mind.

On Finding a Voice
by Juliet Schor

Juliet Schor

I've been studying down-shifters, and I've found increasing numbers of people rejecting the system as the costs of “making it” get higher. Opinion polls show high levels of anxiety about the extent of materialism in our culture, particularly materialism of youth. So there's a real possibility for a wedge into the culture that didn't exist before the 1980s.

Where I differ from some of the more optimistic people in the voluntary simplicity movement is that I'm less convinced that this represents a rejection of consumerism and concern for the environment. I think that the vast majority of people who downshift do so in order to balance their time and reduce stress, and that means they have to spend less. The issue of time is a crucial entry-point for people. People see the connections, the whole package of life-style change that includes changes in work life, in time-use patterns, and in consumption.

I see this happening most with those who can afford to make it happen and for single younger people who can live alternative life-styles on their own. Where it's really hard is in the lower parts of the middle-class and below because they don't really have anywhere to downshift to; they're already down. So one of the key things to building a movement is to build something that links those people up with the higher-income down-shifters.
Where it's really hard is in the lower parts of the middle-class and below because they don't really have anywhere to downshift to...
The other big question for me is, how do you move this from individual life-style changes to something that leads people to both transform their own lives and

demand that the society around them is also transformed?

There's a potential to give people the power to resist lousy workplaces, lousy structures of other kinds, lousy families; it gives them an ability to resist oppressive, dehumanizing, alienating institutions in other parts of their lives, and that's good. It's an “exit strategy,” and it can work very well for the individual. But an “exit strategy” is not a “voice strategy”; it generally doesn't transform the institutions that people are exiting from. For example, an exit strategy would only transform the workplace if the employer were unable to get new workers to substitute for those who are leaving.

Individual change may be a first step, but in the end, it won't change our society unless it leads to collective action.

I think there are really exciting things happening. But the fact that there's a lot of alternative stuff happening in no way suggests that it will win out in some sense – that it's even going to survive. This simple living movement could get co-opted and incorporated. Without a strong political analysis, that's pretty likely.

This movement is in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. It's thrown out all politics, and it hasn't figured out a way to construct a politics that's consistent with its values, but it needs to do that fairly quickly, I think, to become a serious force as an alternative model for the majority of Americans.

Juliet Schor is the author of the Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure and other books and papers that provide new macroeconomic policies for the changing world economy. She is a professor of the economics of leisure at TilburgUniversity in Holland, while on leave from her post as a senior lecturer at Harvard.

Being Responsible for the Future
by Don Edwards

don edwards

There is in this country a re-awakening and a re-embracing of spirituality. I think there are a lot of baby boomers who are comfortable with expressing spirituality – not necessarily through mainstream religion, but with the knowledge that there is some consciousness, some power, and the need for a much more balanced and humble relationship with that greater power, whether they call it God, Mother Nature, the Biosphere, or Gaia.

We have moved from the premise that our position is one of “dominion” into one of “partnership.” As a concrete illustration of where our society is, let me use the example of the Million Man March. That march was a watershed event in this country. A lot of people have not owned it because they see it as an African-American thing and thus not related to them, and I think that's an error.

 There's a changing relationship between men and women; post-feminist men and post-feminist women are coming into a different relationship with each other.

I could go so far as to say that the Million Man March launched or initiated a new period of real transformation in the African-American community. It's a sustainability movement, although it's not defined in those terms. It goes back before the 1960s, to a period when most African-Americans were living under Jim Crow if they were in the South, or under similar circumstances psychologically if they were in the North. In those times, they believed in the capacity of the African-American community to define itself, to sustain itself, and take care of its own. These are beliefs that the ‘60s, without exception, did away with.

The march gets right to the central linking issues that we, as a country, are facing. In the Million Man March, you found the group of Americans who evoke the strongest, most diverse opinions, attitudes, and behaviors – African-American men – who are themselves very diverse. At the same time, you saw played out the issue of whether the march was anti-women. What is going on in the African-American community is also going on in the rest of this country; there's a changing relationship between men and women; post-feminist men and post-feminist women are coming into a different relationship with each other. Family is being reasserted. I'm not talking about the “family values” idea of family, but there is a more thematic idea about the role and significance of family within village, within community.

In the papers for a period of about a month after the Million Man March, crime statistics in major cities plummeted and you read about fathers returning to their children. You read about entrepreneurship at the local level being initiated and sustained.

In my personal experience I am seeing many examples of the kind of effects that message has had over the year since it happened. My daughter goes to an independent Christian school, and we created a men's group within the school as a direct result of the Million Man March. Because many Christian ministers are in opposition to Minister Louis Farrakhan, most of the fathers of children attending that school did not endorse the march. But it did make them come together as a group of men around a specific institution to which they can make a practical contribution. It moved us from an ideological debate around religion and around certain individuals, to the principle of participation, of lifting up and building institutions.

What's really significant is that the Million Man March marks the end of a period of incredible anger on the part of black people. One of the main messages was, “Stop blaming your condition on white people, on racism. Take responsibility for your condition.” Now that's a very powerful message and not just for black people. It's a fundamentally democratizing message, and, in many ways, it's a revolutionary message.

Don Edwards is president and CEO of Don Edwards and Associates, an international network of consultants on sustainable development issues based in Washington, DC. He has also been national director of the US Network for Habitat II and was a national co-chair of the Citizens Network for Sustainable Development. Don is also on the YES! editorial advisory board.


Revolution from the Ground Up

 by David Morris

david morris

In the last couple of years we've seen two trends: one negative, one positive. Let's start with the bad news. The depressing fact is that economic globalization and homogenization is occurring faster than ever. All political parties and most, if not all, nations on Earth now accept globalization as both inevitable and beneficial. And that diminishes the prospects for strong, self-conscious, and sustainable communities.

A subset of the trend toward globalization is the equally dismal loss of our confidence in our abilities to exercise collective authority. Americans have always had a love/hate relationship with big government, often falling on the hate side of the equation. But in recent years we find this disaffection with big government spreading to all forms of governance, even at the local level. Many people in this country now believe we are competent only to act individually as consumers but not to act collectively as citizens. This is a dangerous attitude, reflected, I think, in the recent election returns.

It is interesting to view parts of the new right as direct descendants of the new left of the 1960s. In the 60s the slogan was “question authority.” In the 1990s the right wing says, “eliminate authority.” But with the elimination of public authority comes the complete domination of private authority. Coupled with the dynamic of globalization we end up with a situation in which those who make the decisions are not those who feel the impact of those decisions.

In the 60s the slogan was “question authority.” In the 1990s the right wing says, “eliminate authority.” But with the elimination of public authority comes the complete domination of private authority. 

I should modify this generalization a bit. Conservatives do seem to believe in the exercise of collective authority when it comes to personal habits. For them the government should regulate what we do with our bodies – drugs, abortion, sex, music, movies. But anti-trust, environmental regulations, big-box retail restrictions, progressive taxes, welfare, restrictions on the power of corporations – these are issues the conservatives prefer to leave to the marketplace.

Enough bad news. Real good news exists. All around the world people are insisting on a new sense of place. At the same time as we have an increasing globalization of economies, we have an increasing localization of politics. People want to influence their futures, whether that be from inside a corporation, or a neighborhood, or a region, or a nation. In Europe we see side by side the phenomenon of the European Union and the rise of regional politics within nations. In Canada, Quebec stands on the verge of secession. In the United States the rhetoric embraces devolution, and Staten Island threatens to secede from New York City. In the last two years, the profound disconnect between the scale of economics and the scale of politics has become clear.

This political revolution from the ground up is coming at the very moment that technological advances make possible a significant decentralization of productive capacity. At the end of the 19th century, one could argue that technology was inherently centralizing. As we shifted from wood to steel, from water power to fossil fuel-based power, from cottage industries to mass manufacturing, we shifted almost inevitably from small to big.

But now we're talking about a new technological dynamic – whether it's nano-technology, or photovoltaics, or flexible manufacturing, or biological processing – that makes possible decentralized forms of production. It doesn't make them inevitable – that requires politics and genius – but it does enable them.

And then there is the technological advance in information systems. Information technology allows us to be cosmopolitan and planetary in our orientation while we stay at home and build rooted    communities. It allows a horizontal linking of communities and building of networks at extraordinarily low cost. We literally can have neighborhoods in Chicago link with villages in India to try to understand each other's perspectives and, in ideally, actually work together. This also allows producers of information-intensive products to sell directly to consumers.

The localization of politics, the re-emergence of a sense of the importance of geographical communities, the potential decentralizing impacts of technology, and the potential for a new information system based on horizontal rather than vertical transfers all give me reason for hope.

David Morris is vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and director of the institute's project, Reclaiming Community. He is the author of Self-Reliant Cities,The Carbohydrate Economy, and other books and articles.

Decadence Holds No Shine Like Real Life

 by Eben Carlson

If we look around in our own lives and find too much tranquility, too much niceness, too much accommodation, then we had better be post-meditational buddhas, because the pre-enlightened version of tranquility has nothing but anxious questions. If we pretend we already have the answers then we have defeated the process of learning, defeated the true answers themselves, and just mutated our egos into new less reproachable forms – like the yoga teacher captivated by his new position of power.

If we pretend we already have the answers then we have defeated the process of learning...

I think what we will find, after all the trying to change, looking for something else, striking out anew, latching on to powerful people, and shopping for better workshops and books, is that we didn't need anything but attention and courage to get better at being our fragile selves, demanding our due, letting others be, and identifying what stands in our way. And if we do it often and long enough it will become our culture, and the history books will proclaim loudly that decadence holds no shine like real life.

Eben Carlson is a graphic designer, one of three owners of Three, a company that sells clothes and gives away ideas. The Three web site is:

Finding Unity in Diversity
by Elaine Gross

elaine grossWe are seeing a coming together of democracy issues, environmental issues, economic issues, and justice issues, as well as very powerful issues of community and quality of life, which have to do with place and rootedness.

Consider, for example, the Sustainable America story. Among the very diverse groups involved in Sustainable America are membership organizations in the tradition of community organizing; various coalitions and networks focused on electoral and policy issues; research or think-tank types of organizations; religious groups; organized labor; and people concerned with popular education. All have come together for different reasons to create an organization which will, in the long run, provide an infrastructure for building a broader movement.     

We are seeing a coming together of democracy issues, environmental issues, economic issues, and justice issues, as well as very powerful issues of community and quality of life, which have to do with place and rootedness.

These groups are really utilizing an integrated approach to problem solving. For example, one group is working to promote recycling strategies by trying to stop incineration or other destructive practices, and at the same time advocating municipal policies and manufacturing strategies that utilize recycling.

I see it as quite remarkable, that many people who haven't worked together before and are not all of the same mind can come together, share their disagreements, and still move forward with a consensus.

I recently held a number of regional meetings as part of the organizing process. I would hear people who are from an environmental group, for example, begin to espouse the importance of living wages. Then I'd hear people who have been concerned about economic justice issues begin to talk about environmental concerns. I think it's a real sign that people are starting to internalize and see this movement as a whole. They are beginning to see the relationships and understand that all of these issues are their issues ?– that they're all interconnected.

Elaine Gross is the executive director of Sustainable America, a new, multi-racial, geographically diverse, national organization that is developing sustainable economic development models for the US.

Sustainability Lives!
by Fritjof Capra

Fritjof CapraThe key challenge of our time is to create sustainable communities. If we don't attain sustainability by the year 2030, according to the Worldwatch Institute, then we are not going to survive as a human race. So this is very serious.

How do we do that?

I see three important areas: education, business, and politics, not necessarily in that order. At the Center for Eco-Literacy, we've been surprised at the acceptance of  ecological literacy among educators. We're working with the California Department of Education on a book that will go to all the state's public schools to show K-12 teachers how to teach ecology. I think the book is going to have a tremendous impact.

In business, I talked to managers about systemic approaches to management 10 or 15 years ago, and they were very interested in it. But they didn't want to hear about ecology because they associated ecology with Greenpeace and EarthFirst and radicals. Now this has changed dramatically. When I talk about ecology now, I no longer need to persuade the managers. Sustainability is now very widely accepted as a legitimate issue.

When I talk about ecology now, I no longer need to persuade the managers. Sustainability is now very widely accepted as a legitimate issue.

In the area of politics, I've just come back from Europe where a number of countries have already started implementing ecological tax reform, which is a shift of the tax burden from income tax to a tax on energy and raw materials. [See report from Germany on eco-taxes on page 47.] I believe that once this is put in place in Europe, then Japan will follow very quickly, and then the US will have to follow, too. Once this happens, it will change the whole business climate.

I also have great hopes for Al Gore because he's going to run for President in 2000, and I cannot imagine any other platform but an environmental platform in the year 2000. I think we'll see more emphasis on the environment in the next four years as Al Gore works out in detail what sustainability means in politics.

Fritjof Capra is a physicist, the author of The Tao of Physics, The Turning Point and, more recently, The Web of Life. He is co-director of the Center for Eco-Literacy in Berkeley.

Compassion as a Force for Change
by Ram Dass

ram dassIt fascinates me to see where new things come into culture. We're all part of a web, and what's interesting to me is the role of individual human consciousness within the web.

We think change is going to happen through big institutional decisions, world forums, and so on, but what I see historically, is that when any human being is able to extricate themselves from the existing acculturation, or the existing way of looking at reality, to stand outside of it and be clear enough and strong enough and have their vision pure enough, they come from a place that resonates with other human hearts. And that fascinates me.

To the extent that we are all looking to each other for assurance, “Am I all right? Do you love me? Am I good enough? Will you pay me? Will you support me?” we just keep spinning and reinforcing the same issues. Then we are the problem, not the solution. To extricate ourselves from that takes a certain kind of inner work. It takes an ability to stand back to the place where compassion exists, as opposed to self-interest. What excites me is the increasing appreciation in society of the need for that.

Now a lot of the motivation for needing that inner work is being marketed as a way to do the competitive game better. For example, they're teaching meditation to employees at Monsanto. What's Monsanto going do with it? Are they going to make better horrible things for society?

I've been very disturbed about the obscenity of the CEO salaries and the way in which society applauds that. It hurts my heart very deeply as to the depth of the sickness we face. And that's really where compassion is lacking.

I've had serious questions as to whether or not it's a wise use of my energies to remain involved in the business community as a place where there can be real change ...

I'm on the board of the Social Venture Network, which is attempting to figure out how to be sustainable and just in business, how to deal with the bottom line, “quarterly report” mentality in business. What I see is that a lot of people want to integrate their inner values. Many of the people who are now running major corporations come out of the ‘60s. I'm intrigued to bring into consciousness the tensions that exist in individuals between their values and the demands of business, because the lack of integrity in their lives is going to motivate change.

So far, though, I don't think there's been much movement. The climate isn't as bad as it was in the ‘80s, but it's not a hell of a lot better, not a hell of a lot better. I've had serious questions as to whether or not it's a wise use of my energies to remain involved in the business community as a place where there can be real change because of the constraints within the game. But that's true of every social part of the structure; the constraints in politics are too tight, as are the constraints in the media.

In a way you have to function outside of the system to bring about change within the system, but then you don't have your bully pulpit to speak from.
I've been very involved with the AIDS community now for 15 years, and I help people die. One of the things that interests me is the depth of appreciation of other human beings that has emerged in that community, in the doctors, the nurses, the AIDS patients, the communities around the AIDS patients. It is quite extraordinary. I think the intensity of the trauma forced a kind of consciousness shift that allowed these people to be in the face of suffering without getting hysterical, averting their gaze, or going into major denial.

And to me, that's a clue. The clue is how the society deals with suffering. With the AIDS epidemic, large numbers of people are dealing openly with the suffering, and starting to bear the unbearable, and that forces consciousness to move into a different level of compassion.

So maybe the trauma has to be great enough for the consciousness to shift, and, in a way, I wonder how unstable a situation has to become for the seeds of real change to be present. I think that things will get much worse before they get better. I'm sorry. I wish I could see it otherwise, but I see that.

Ram Dass, originally Richard Alpert, is the author of Be Here Now, Grist for the Mill, and Journey of Awakening. He is a co-founder of the Hanuman Foundation, which promotes spiritual well-being through education and service, and he is on the board of the Social Venture Network.

The Future of Learning

by Dee Dickinson

Dee Dickinson

In the last 25 years more has been learned about the human brain than in the past history of mankind. Through the use of new technologies such as PET and CAT scans and functional MRI's, it is now possible to see and learn much about the human brain while it is in the process of thinking.

The research of neuroscientists, such as Marian Diamond, has demonstrated that the brain changes physiologically as a result of learning and experience – for better or worse – and that plasticity can continue throughout life. It appears that there are particular kinds of environments that are most conducive to the development of good mental equipment. They are positive, nurturing, stimulating, and encourage action and interaction. Many of the most effective schools and training programs have created such high-challenge, low-threat environments.

It is also very clear that intelligence is not a static structure, but an open, dynamic system that can continue to develop throughout life. This understanding is being utilized not only in school systems but in the workplace, where training programs show that even at the adult level people are able to develop their intelligence more fully. Corporations such as Motorola have implemented programs in which they are training their employees, managers, and executives to think, problem-solve and create more effectively using strategies developed by such educational innovators as Reuven Feuerstein and Edward de Bono.

...intelligence is not a static structure, but an open, dynamic system that can continue to develop throughout life.

A most recent development is in the new kinds of technology that make it possible for people to take responsibility for their own learning as they access and process information through the Internet, communicate with experts anywhere in the world, and use software that facilitates higher order thinking and problem-solving.

Computers are in no way replacing teachers, but rather these new tools allow them to spend more time being facilitators, mentors, and guides. As a result, teachers and students are able more often to collaborate on creating new knowledge as well as mastering the basics.

As technology becomes more ubiquitous, there is growing recognition of the importance of the arts in humanizing the curriculum. “More high-tech, more need for high-touch” is becoming the byword of many schools. They recognize that the arts are not only culturally important and civilizing influences, but they can facilitate the learning of almost any subject.
I believe that these four concepts – the plasticity of the brain, the modifiability of intelligence, the use of technology as a powerful tool for learning, and the renaissance of the arts in education – have major implications specifically for educational systems and generally for the future of our world.

In this time of rapid change, leading-edge educators are equipping people with the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn continually. They are giving students meaningful opportunities to apply what they have learned in order to turn information into knowledge. And – of critical importance if any of this is to lead to a healthy future – they are helping students learn to use knowledge responsibly, ethically, and with integrity. They are involving students in experiences that develop compassion and altruism. Our complex world urgently needs people who have developed their fullest potential in mind, body, and spirit.

Dee Dickinson is CEO of New Horizons for Learning, an international education network focused on effective teaching and learning. PO Box 15329 Seattle WA98115. Tel: 206/547-7936 E-mail: [email protected] Web:

People Who Are Indigenous to the Earth

by Rebecca Adamson

rebecca adamson

What gives me the most hope is that people seem to be seeking a deeper spirituality. People are reassessing their lives and what they stand for, and coming to understand that we all are here together.

We may still have to face institutional implosions or collapses, but I think that there's a creative force afoot now, and that we can bring the creative spirit of human nature to bear on today's problems.

I'm seeing a reaffirmation of ancient wisdom. In the Indian understanding of the world, you have a fundamental belief that all things are related. And now, through the rapidly unfolding new fields in science – the Heisenberg Principle, theories of chaos, the study of subatomic particles – there's a broader sharing of this understanding. We are coming to see that we can no longer view ourselves as individuals, detached from everything else. We are recognizing that what happens in Bosnia affects us; what happens in Peru affects us. Relationship is becoming an integral part of our understanding.

We also are coming to understand how the relationships and values of our economic system drive the other aspects of our lives. These values of individual, accumulation, and property are directly at odds with other values that we hold important: family, community, and a quality of life.

We are coming to see that we can no longer view ourselves as individuals, detached from everything else. 

While everyone espouses their importance, communities are being dismantled through practices of corporate takeovers. Families are getting the short end of federal policy and programs. We need the integrity to redesign our system to protect and preserve communities and family.
An example of a different value system as a basis for economics can be seen in my culture. In traditional Cherokee society, if the mother and father were divorced – which was perfectly acceptable – the property remained with the children; it was the children's future that was most valued.

In traditional native American economic systems, land and the natural resources of the territory would be shared; one clan could gather, another could camp, while a third clan could hunt on the same land. There was a fluid and common usage right rather than an individual property right. The value was on sharing and reciprocity, on the widest distribution of wealth, and on limiting the inequalities within that economic system through very sophisticated redistribution mechanisms, like the potlatch.

The only mechanism we have in today's economy is taxation and welfare, which are very unsophisticated, very clumsy, and poorly implemented.
But there are some examples in today's economy that show an increasing value on relationship and community. New models of loan funds have taken off at an accelerated rate. In the welfare debate, people haven't given up the hope that we can alleviate poverty; we are getting much more sophisticated in our analysis of the problems. And there is the trend toward assessing the environmental costs of doing business.

One thing I find especially remarkable is happening in the financial market, where Moody's and Standard and Poor's now rate municipal bonds based in part of the long-term health of the community – its parks, quality of schools, roads, its sense of community. It's fascinating to understand that healthy finances really are linked to the health of a community.

There is still backlash in political and other sectors of the community, but that backlash is by and large a fear of the unknown. People realize we can't continue to polarize around these issues, that the solution is going to be in a coming together for dialogue.

So I'm very hopeful because in the end it's not about being Native American; no one is going to get on a space ship and leave the planet any time soon. We truly are all indigenous people of this Earth, and in that there is hope that we will get along with each other and with the planet itself.

Rebecca Adamson, a Cherokee, is founder and president of the First Nations Development Institute, an organization that promotes “indigenous economics – economics with values added.” Address: 11917 Main Street, Fredericksburg, VA22408 Tel: 540/371-5615.

Out of Chaos: Finding Possibility in Complexity

 by Sarah van Gelder

sarah van gelder

There are times in history when two eras – with their respective world views, cultural patterns, and predominant means of livelihood – run in parallel. One may be exhausting itself while the other is still in its infancy. This can be a confusing and divisive time as different sets of cultural assumptions compete to give meaning and direction to life. And the decay of the dying era can seem to overwhelm the formative one. But these are also times ripe with possibilities. Small actions and choices can have major, although unpredictable, effects in determining what comes next.

Among the possibilities is that the thousands of experiments and millions of choices to live more consciously will coalesce into a new civilization that fosters community, provides possibilities for meaning, sustains us while also sustaining life for the planet.

Like natural evolution, human cultural evolution thrives in a context rich in diversity and complexity, in which there are myriad opportunities for interaction. 

But that is far from preordained. A time of chaos and transition can be terribly frightening and lead to a retreat into simplistic solutions and fundamentalism. Fundamentalism – which can happen on either the left or the right, in secular and spiritual realms – is characterized by a rigid belief system and a widening of the polarity between “us” and “them.” Because it is founded in fear and divisiveness, it cannot tolerate diverse views and backgrounds, and is far less capable of creatively discovering answers within a context of complexity.

Fundamentalism, which has become all too prevalent in political discourse of late, is not up to the challenges of these times. Instead, the next stage in human evolution will grow out of creative, self-organizing innovations that offer sustainable and meaningful ways of living and inter-relating.

Like natural evolution, human cultural evolution thrives in a context rich in diversity and complexity, in which there are myriad opportunities for interaction. In such a setting, self-organizing innovation can emerge out of the search for ways of living that sustain us in every sense of the word.

These innovations become “attractors” that draw us out of the chaotic soup into further experimentation with sustainable communities, education, new means of livelihood, and new international connections. The most powerful attractors are those that respond to people's basic needs for survival and to their deepest yearning for such things as connection, meaning, transcendence, and wholeness. When these attractors resonate among large numbers of people, society shifts.

An “attractor” can only attract if people are aware of it, however. When people discover voluntary simplicity, sustainable communities, and the many other efforts we write about in YES! they often are surprised and elated to find that they aren't alone – that they are part of something larger which resonates with their deepest values.

The media often ignores these efforts or sees them as blips in an overall downward spiral – when you only see the dying era, things that are full of life appear either irrelevant or poignant. What the media and many others have yet to realize is that these are not anomalies – they are indicators of a much greater dynamic that is allowing us to become whole. And while many of these efforts may now be separate and seemingly unrelated, awareness is growing and connections are developing rapidly.

The shift that is emerging out of these connections draws on the ancient wisdom traditions that have nourished human souls for eons while also building on the strengths of the modern era and our new global awareness. These complex times are rich with possibilities.

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