Be healthy. Be kind. Respect the environment.
Sounds simple enough, so why don’t we do it? We don’t do it because we have competing sets of survival instincts. These account for opposing worldviews and the epic struggle that goes on daily for the evolution and survival of humanity. Curiously, both these instincts are the products of evolution.
Our first set of survival instincts is perfectly normal, natural, organic, and . . . disastrous. These are our short-term survival instincts. Like all creatures, we are programmed, genetically predisposed, “hardwired,” to make it to tomorrow, i.e., to survive and reproduce. These short-term survival instincts generate behavior that is characterized by fear, greed, power, control, immediate gratification, self-centeredness, authoritarianism, denial of inequalities, and the like.
This is a set of survival instincts that can and is
Evolution has also given us another set of survival instincts. These occur as a result of our large and evolved brains. Unique among all species, we are able to reflect on our behavior and project to where our behavior is taking us. It’s not a pretty picture. We are like an airplane flying overhead with someone out on the wing popping rivets until the plane crashes.
We are beginning to understand that our short-term behavior for survival is destroying us. We want to survive for the long-term, not the short-term. We want to sustain humanity and advance our civilization. The word “sustainability” has come into wide usage. We understand its meaning: that we must leave this planet as we found it or improve it so those who follow us will have the same opportunities that we have had.
We are a species, perhaps the first on this planet, who has an opportunity to advance beyond short-term survival instincts.
We are beginning to understand that our behavior must be characterized not by fear, greed, power, control, immediate gratification, self-centeredness, authoritarianism, denial of inequalities, and the like. It must be characterized instead by health in all of its dimensions: physical, mental and emotional. By kindness toward each other and other nation-states. By respect for our environment, our ecological systems, and our biosphere as we inhabit a very narrow and fragile band within our solar system that enables life as we know it to exist.
These long term survival instincts and associated behavior can sustain humanity and advance our civilization.
Each of these sets of survival instincts, the older short-term ones and our emerging long-term ones, generates powerful belief systems in the areas of politics, economics, social interaction, and religion.
Our old short-term instincts generate adversarial, hostile and belligerent politics focused on the destruction of one’s perceived opposition whether that is an individual, organization or a nation-state. It is politics that favors unilateralism and pre-emptive war. Our long-term instincts and emerging worldview are about politics that are non-adversarial and seek to find the common ground. It is a worldview that recognizes that we don’t have the time, resources, or energy to squander fighting with each other, that we have severe and complicated problems on our planet (energy, environment, water shortages, disease, etc.) that must be addressed urgently in a constructive multilateral manner, and that all of our challenges are compounded by the addition of in excess of 1,500,000 people to our global population every week.
In the area of economics (business, commerce), our old way of thinking is about short-term gain. We maximize profits in the short-term and exploit people and our environment. Our emerging worldview is about long-term gain and sustainability. It’s about a “triple bottom line”: people, planet and profits. Simply put, it’s socially responsible business. It’s the understanding that life is a far more complex phenomenon than a race to see who can accumulate the most money and material possessions in the least amount of time.
In social interaction, the old worldview is about “we versus them,” exclusivity, and segregation. The emerging worldview recognizes that social interaction must, above all, be inclusive and integrated as to mirror the interconnected phenomenon and structure of life itself.
Old religious thinking positions one’s truth and tribe against others’ truths and tribes. The result is never ending conflict and chaos, the antithesis of peace. Emerging spiritual thinking focuses on kindness and universal benevolence in all relationships, and an intelligent understanding of the origins of ancient belief systems and of the phenomenon of religion.
In summary, our old worldview is characterized by separation, exclusivity, segregation, and unilateralism. Our emerging worldview is about togetherness, unity, inclusiveness, integration, and multilateralism.
Many of us are predisposed as a consequence of our genetics (“hardwired”) and/or our life experiences to think and act in our old, destructive, and unsustainable ways. This requires unlearning and evolution of thought and behavior, all of which are daunting tasks. The new way of thinking, the paradigm that seeks to, and must, emerge in our world, is one that requires learning. What is it that we must learn?
We must learn that we exist as a tiny fragment of an immensely larger interlocking whole in which all of the parts are interconnected and dependent upon each other for survival. Simply put, everything is connected to everything else. We exist not separately but in communion with all living things. Life is an interrelated interdependent phenomenon. Everything is in relationship. Everything is linked. That is the nature of life – the web of life. That is the nature of the reality in which we exist.
This reality has behavioral implications. These can be summarized in seven words, which together form three simple rules for living: Be healthy. Be kind. Respect the environment. These seven words have the power to change life as we know it: the way that we govern and the laws that we enact; the way we do business, the products that we create, the services that we offer, how we treat our employees and the manner in which we interact with our environment.
Be healthy. Be kind. Respect the environment. Leaders must model this behavior. Teachers must teach it. We must exhibit it. That is, if we wish to sustain our species and advance our civilization.
To do so requires entering into a completely new way of thinking about the reality in which we exist and its behavioral demands. Our window of opportunity to accomplish the necessary and monumental transition in thinking is small compared to the large obstacles within our current belief systems that must be dissolved. Yet, we ,must do this if we and all the life forms that share this jewel of a planet are to survive.
Be healthy. Be kind. Respect the environment. Why are these seven words so critical and powerful? Because we exist as a tiny fragment of an immensely larger interlocking whole (the operative words) in which all of the parts are interconnected and dependent upon each other for survival. We exist not separately but in communion with all living things.
This interlocking whole is the inescapable foundation that supports both the architecture of life and our civilization. If we continue to destroy the relationships (with ourselves – our health, each other, and our environment) that form the foundation of this interlocking whole, our house, our structure, and our civilization will collapse.
Conversely, if we honor these relationships, we will succeed and prosper in every way. The choice is ours. Our future lies in our own hands. As it always has. The difference today is that we understand a great deal more about what sustains and optimizes life. It is time to apply our knowledge, to honor what we know. Only then will we reverse our destructive and unsustainable momentum, end our needless suffering, prosper together, find peace, sustain humanity, and advance our civilization.