What It's All Really About
“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long possessed that he is set free—he has set himself free—for higher dreams, for greater privileges.” ― James Baldwin
All that's going on right now? It’s all really about this:
The world is changing,
and the loss of all we’ve known
has left us uncertain and afraid.
What’s been lost? On the deepest level, our story; or, rather, our stories. We’ve lost the stories that we've depended on to explain the world to ourselves. The universe grew larger and more complex while we weren't looking, and now we're just waking up to the realization that our stories can't hold our reality anymore. New awareness about the nature of reality has rendered our current paradigms obsolete. Even though it's been that way for over 100 years, we are just now feeling the effects because the changes are accelerating.
We all feel it—this curious and unsettling sense that we are speeding up, drawn by a kind of increase in the gravity of the future, hurtling toward an unknown destiny. We're in the middle of a cliff hanger, and the tension is terrifying us, so it's as if we are reading faster and faster, trying to get to the resolution, whatever that might be…
An A.I. apocalypse
Another world war
A new Renaissance
A spiritual awakening
A new, better way to be human
An encounter with E.T.
Whether our resolution is tragic or sublime, we seem unconsciously driven to get there as quickly as possible. Anything, we think, is better than lingering in the disorientation of this liminal unknown. Why? Because we don't know how to live without a story. We depend on stories to keep us sane, to make sense of the world, to stave off nihilism and madness. Historically, it hasn't mattered if the stories were true. All that mattered is that we believed them.
These stories not only provide us a way to feel safe, they give us a way to navigate the world. They tell us what life is for, and therefore, how to live it properly. More than that, our stories, when shared with others, give us a deep sense of belonging. They are powerful enough to create worldwide societies, and hold them together. Without a common story, we remain alien to one another, like actors in different dramas that don't fit together. If our stories are different enough, we become threatening to each other, because we recognize that “your story” and “my story” cannot both be true, and the fact that your story exists threatens the veracity of mine. We call this having enemies, and it is the primary reason we go to war.
It's all a complicated mess, as one might imagine, because even though it hasn't mattered much historically whether our stories are true, it is clear that some of our stories are more humane than others. Some stories bring more dignity to human existence. Others bring more suffering. Some promote a reciprocal, sustainable relationship with the Earth. Others rape it, to the point of bringing on our own self-destruction. We live in a world of competing stories, each with their peculiar pros and cons, and all of them fighting for dominance.
The issue in the West, and in the East, and in the Middle East, is that our stories have collapsed under the weight new discoveries about the universe, and new awareness of the implications of these discoveries. Our theology, our philosophy, our social agreement as a species are all in dire need of an upgrade. But while some of us recognize this and are willing, even eager, to make it happen, most of us are terrified at the prospect of losing the story we have known. We’re unwilling to let go of our foundational understanding of what life is all about, and we are reacting to this change as we would any external threat—with defiance and violence.
The problem is, this change isn't due to any external threat. It's all internal. It's all us. What’s worse, the change has already happened. We started crossing that threshold over 100 years ago, with the discovery of relativity. The reality of it is only just now sinking in, but there is no going back again. We can't unsee what we have seen. We have no choice but to rewrite our stories in a way that integrates this new awareness. We must craft a better story, a bigger and more comprehensive story, one that can hold all we now know, yet still leave room for all we don’t.
We need a story that can effectively redefine…
our relationship with mystery and the unknown,
our relationship with safety and risk,
our relationship with difference,
our relationship with evil,
our relationship with ourselves as a species (including our collective shadow),
our relationship with the earth,
our relationship with technology,
our relationship with each other.
Our most immediate concern is this: we are behaving self-destructively because we are afraid. We're all caught up in instinctive, reactive behaviors because we don't feel safe. We sense danger and don't know what to do about it. So we start pointing fingers and yelling and building new walls, both metaphorical and material. So the first need we all share is this: We need to stop reacting. Stop pointing and demanding and yelling and virtue signaling and digging in our collective heals.
Instead, we need to recognize that the fear we feel isn't coming from “those people over there" (they are us, after all). It's coming from the loss of our story, or the fear of losing it.
Once we recognize that, the path forward becomes surprisingly simple—LISTEN. Listen to one another. What's it like over there? What's important to you? What are you most afraid of losing? What have you already lost? What do you want me to see that you're afraid I don't? What do you want to preserve and carry with you into whatever the new story is?
We must listen to our collective deep desire. What is everyone longing for? What is it to have a rich full life in this brave, new, expanding world? What's the new dream for us as a species, as a society, as the miracle of life we are?
We must listen to the Earth, the way our ancestors did. We must listen to science, the way our best minds do. We must listen to Spirit, the way the great mystics always have.
We need a new story. A bigger story, one that cannot only hold the ever-expanding ocean of what we know and all that we don't, but can also hold all of us together as one, human race.
All our voices are needed to make this real. Including yours. So, maybe start there.
How would you answer the questions above?
Share your thoughts in the comments below, if you like. I’ll listen.