Currents and Futures
[This article is based on a talk given this year at the West Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship…]
It would be very convenient if all the problems of our society fell into the lap of the Wall Street criminals, or environmental polluters, or politicians… The “Inconvenient Solution” is recognizing that we can’t solve any of our problems, or respond to any of our challenges, without envisioning, and acting upon, the “Big Idea”.
Every shift in human behavior started with a Big Idea, a big concept, an overarching vision. The impetus may be a problem, but the problems spawned the Big Idea. If you keep focusing on the problems… you get more problems, not the Big Idea.
Many of those who supported the candidacy of Barack Obama were hoping to see the dawning of the “Big Idea” within mainstream American politics. The million-plus who crowded into Chicago’s Grant Park on Election Night, 2008 were joyfully anticipating that Big Idea.
Regardless of your current opinion of him, I think it is safe to say that the Big Idea is still lacking in American politics.
Our Next “Big Idea”
For me, our next Big Idea is simple, yet audacious: That we create a world that works for all. A world that works for all living beings. That we can create political and economic systems that serve ALL LIFE. Not just Americans. Not just humans. That we can create systems that enhance Life, instead of money.
Most important: The Big Idea will not be found with your “head”, your intellect. There are no college courses that can teach it. The Big Idea will emerge from your heart.
We must start from the Big Idea, then use that Big Idea to create new systems and structures. Most of us, (including most “Progressives” and “Conservatives”), are really “status quo-ists”. We take the existing systems and structures as given, and then try plugging reformist ideas into them. We do this, because we don’t want to give up our comfort zone. We don’t want to give up our “Progressivism” or our “Conservatism”, or whatever “ism” driving your life. We don’t want to be inconvenienced.
At some point, we will let go of our present toxic society. The only question is WHEN. Will we open our hearts to the possibilities of a transformed society NOW, consciously, voluntarily? Or, we wait until the society completely fails, and then go scurrying around, in desperation, looking for answers. (I’m opting for the former!)
I suggest that we let go of the status quo now (at least in energy, if not in action), and open our hearts to the “Big Idea”. When we do that, when we open our hearts, we are going to see that there is something waiting for us. We won’t need to go searching for it, it’s WAITING for us. It’s there, right now. It’s been present the whole time. It’s waiting for us to slow down a little, look beyond our comfort zone, and pay attention. Our Big Idea is simply waiting for us to wake up.
We Hold LIFE to be SACRED
From our hearts, we’ll see new, self-evident Truths — truths that are understood first with our hearts, then later with our heads:
We can create “The Society of the Big Idea”. We can stop supporting, rationalizing and condoning behaviors that negate Life. Instead of burdening our children with increasing debt, increasing despair, hopelessness and anger, instead of handing them a toxic environment, instead of numbing them with digital gizmos that catch their eyes and empty their hearts… we can give them a world that makes their hearts sing. We can give them a world that works for all.
My friends in the “sustainability” movement have it ALMOST right! Sustainability IS a very important value… but it must DERIVE from even higher values. “Sustainability” as a marketing ploy to make more money, or “sustainability” out of fears of climate change or fear of pollution or fear of ANYTHING… are little, tiny ideas. And, as we have seen, tiny ideas lack the capacity to stir our souls.
I advocate “sustainability” based on the values above – a “heart-centered, Life-centered sustainability”.
A Living Example of the “Big Idea”
My birthplace, the City of Philadelphia, started as a Big Idea, a truly HUGE idea. William Penn had a notion: That a city could be based on human kindness and brotherly love.
Well, Penn’s Big Idea was a failure — in its urban form. However, in its rural form, Penn’s ideas were (and still are) a rousing success! William Penn’s experiment, the “Pennsylvania Dutch Country“, has been a place where brotherly love and respect for the Earth can be experienced and practiced. It has been a model of sustainability — for over 300 years. It is a place where people act like Life (not money) is their highest value. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit there, to have an experience of a society where human beings are in balance with each other, and in balance with nature. [Note: I am not suggesting one needs to don a long black beard and become an Anabaptist in order to practice heart-centered sustainability!]
Like Penn, our Big Idea will not be a utopian fantasy, but a practical application of our highest values and aspirations. We can, and we must, transit into the new society. The transition is not optional. The caterpillar doesn’t really have a choice in its transformation into a butterfly. The caterpillar’s “choice” is simple: transform or die. It can’t say “I like crawling around and eating all day! I think I’ll keep doing that, and skip the flying part”.
The transformation of human societies is inevitable; the only question is when. Right now, we are entering our societal chrysalis. Our caterpillar-like systems and structures are breaking down. Our society is turning into goo.
This breakdown is a necessary step in our transformation. However, many of us deny that our human systems and structures are breaking down. Many of us cling to the status quo. Inside the chrysalis, some of us are trying to hold onto our caterpillar-ness! “Come on boys! Let’s hold together! We can walk out of this chrysalis as a caterpillar!” [Spoiler alert: That’s never happened.]
We must build a new society, with the same level of preparation and dedication it takes to build anything else. It takes heart-centered vision. It takes hard work and dedication. It takes faith.
Birthing a heart-centered, Life-centered society is the most important thing that we have to do. There is NOTHING more important. IT’S WHY YOU’RE HERE. This is our moment.
Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will honor YOU as one of the Founders of our new society. The society that works for all.