Approaching the End of 2017
As we look back in anger/weariness/concern/anxiety/happiness at 2017, my audiences and readers frequently ask the same questions: What is going on and what does this mean in the years ahead?
The world is changing rapidly and in big ways. The technologies that were pure science fiction a decade ago are moving into our lives. America is losing its way. Our public discourse has become an oxymoron; there is no discourse, we have lost the art of open listening and just yell at each other.
What is my future? What is the future of my business and occupation? What is America’s future? What can I expect for my children and grandchildren?
Globally, the world is undergoing incredible changes. The Middle East continues its unceasing conflict but with new dynamics. Historic changes are occurring in the governments of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Zimbabwe, France, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Japan and, yes, the United States. The fabric of the past is being torn. The middle is not holding. Autocratic regimes are rising to take advantage of all the uncertainty and anxiety.
Climate change has shown its planetary, catastrophic and accelerating power with unprecedented damage caused by seemingly endless extreme weather events happening all over the world. I gave a speech in August in Santa Rosa, California, an exurban city north of San Francisco. Much of the city has burned since then. Fires in Montana, catastrophic fires in California, floods across the southern states, erosion of all of the coasts, a record number of deaths in monsoon season in Asia, Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean islands devastated.
It can feel overwhelming. I try to create humor and some levity when I speak to groups because there are so many grim faces and stressed voices. I try to provide contextual and conceptual frameworks to help people find ways to understand all the unsettling changes going on. Remember this: Most people don’t like change, but the only constant in the universe is change.
It is hard to fight the universe, so find your pace of flow and go with it.
Some ideas to reflect upon:
First, as I’ve written in this space over the last two years, we have entered a historically significant period of transition. The 20 years from 2017 to 2037 will be packed with as much change as any 50-year period before. The speed of change has accelerated to the point where it is now environmental. We have entered the second half of what I call the Shift Age. The Shift Age is loosely congruent with the first third of this century. It is the transition between the historical reality up to 2000 and the reality we will be living in starting in the 2030s. This is a period of unprecedented change that cannot be avoided. Know this as the larger picture and use it to frame your unease and concerns.
Second, we live in an attention economy. Businesses make money once they have our attention. There is an almost infinite amount of incoming data, so one has to choose what to focus on. I recently spoke at an event at the Ringling College Lifelong Learning Academy. The theme was how to know what is true in media and how to discern truthful news from fake news.
At the outset, I asked the audience to hold up their hands if they were concerned about truth in media and fake news. About two-thirds of the audience raised their hands. Then I asked them to keep their hands up if they were regular users of Facebook. Only four to five hands went down. So that meant that the overwhelming majority of the people who were upset about fake news were Facebook users. The obvious point was that people should either stop going on Facebook or to limit their contacts to true friends and family, delete all the rest and stop paying attention to their news feed.
Third, particularly as we enter the holiday season, pay attention on those you love, those who make you laugh or think and those who give you a sense of community. It’s times like these when human connections matter. If government and institutions are not promoting happiness, friendship and cooperation we must do so ourselves.
If friends or family members have strongly held political positions different from yours, agree to be friends and family first. The constant conversations about “us” and “them” do not help when we all are having to constantly adjust many aspects of our lives. If the “center is not holding,” we must step up for what unifies us and not what divides us.
Easy to say, harder to do, but do it we must for a more positive future. Do not get drawn into negative, confrontational arguments because they never change anything but they disrupt our emotional state.
When change is relentless and accelerating, we must all find our comfort zones, places that give us a sense of both being and purpose. The older you are, the less you will have your life disrupted by the next 20 years of creative destruction and the birth of a new reality. But if you are under 60, it is imperative that you understand that the realities you thought would exist for the rest of your life will be different than you expected.
We are close to the beginning of 2018. If you thought 2017 was disruptive and disorienting, know that it was to prepare us for even more in 2018.
As a country and as humanity we can’t go back. The past is gone. The only choice we have is to face the future and create the future. Many people say they don’t like change. Well in a universe where the only constant is change, avoiding change will be ever more painful in the years ahead. The only state of being where one cannot feel change is to be in a constant state of change. Then you are aligned with the changing universe.
OR, to quote Noam Chomsky:
“If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion”
If you choose to stay in the illusion of the comforting past reality, sometime in the future you will be bludgeoned into a world that will seem unreal and upsetting. At times, I sense that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who are increasingly finding comfort in illusion. We have a collective, mass illusion.
When will you wake up and accept new realities rather that hang out in the comfort of illusion?