Let’s explore together our times of crisis and opportunity, a vision of a new civilization, the movement of movements that can take us there and the innovative leadership and sustaining practices that will be required.
Our Times of Crisis and Opportunity
We are living in the most critical time in all of human history. Why do I say that? Never before in the past 5,000 years have we faced such colossal danger and such exhilarating possibility. We are at the brink of either mass extinction or a whole new way of being human on planet Earth. Which it will be depends on what you and I do with our lives.
Climate chaos and degradation of ecosystems are upon us. We thought fossil fuels were a brilliant solution for our energy needs. It turns out that they have been destroying our life support systems of air, water, ice, soil, plants and animals. This is because of the release of carbon dioxide from the extraction and burning of coal, oil and natural gas. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere are warming the planet and melting the ice around the planet, causing sea levels to rise, flooding coastal areas and will submerge many islands. In addition global warming is causing mega-storms and wild fires, desertification and water shortages, collapse of food production, loss of biodiversity (the sixth extinction) and acidification of the oceans, and could result in human mass migrations and social and economic volatility. I remind you of this not to frighten you but to sound the alarm that we must and can change our ways right now.
Patriarchy and Misogyny
For thousands of years it has been understood that men are dominant and should control and lead women. This view is called patriarchy and has been strengthened by the world’s religions which predominately have male gods, male saviors and male priests. Some men fear and even hate women. This is called misogyny. The problems with these views are not only that they harm women but that they have kept women from exercising their rightful leadership in society at all levels. Without honoring women’s views, knowledge and wisdom, societies have become overly masculinized with the destruction of the natural world and the promotion of militarization, win-lose competition and a culture of violence. I remind you of this not to frighten you but to sound the alarm that we must and can change our ways right now.
Oligarchy, Plutocracy and Corporatocracy
Even though democracy has been around for over three hundred years, we see today that democratic elections and representation around the world have been greatly weakened by a few powerful people. Did you know, for example, that only 158 families have provided half of the money supporting presidential candidates for the 2016 US elections? When a few families control a country it is called an oligarchy. When a few wealthy people control a country it is called a plutocracy. Corporations are controlling elections, legislation and the mass media as a way to control society. This is called corporatocracy. One of the problems with this trend is that the needs, voices and wisdom of middle class and poor people are being ignored and they are suffering. I remind you of this not to worry or frighten you but to sound the alarm that we must and can change our ways right now.
Systemic Poverty and Social Deprivation
2.5 billion people live on less than $2 per day. 2.6 billion lack access to sanitation. 1 billion have no access to safe water. 10 million preventable child deaths occur each year. We cannot escape old age, sickness and death, but we can relieve our suffering in so many ways. In the past 30 years income inequality has skyrocketed. One percent of the world’s population owns 50% of the world’s wealth. And in the US, the top one percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90%. The number of poor people has expanded and the middle class has been significantly weakened. Most people don’t have adequate income or access to quality education and health services. This is because the economic system based on accumulation and greed is designed to favor the wealthy. If you have money you can make money with money. If you don’t have money you have to work for wages that are often inadequate to support you and your family. One of the many problems with this situation is that the majority of people are suffering and do not see how they can sustain their lives. I remind you of this not to make you feel guilty but to sound the alarm that we must and can change our ways right now.
Prejudice, Nationalism and Militarism
People who are different are often looked down on and often harmed. This includes people of different races, ethnic groups, religions, economic classes and sexual orientations. This of course is called bias or prejudice. People in different countries are often feared and attacked with massive use of armaments. This is militarism. People think that their country is always right and is the only one that is important. This is called nationalism. These views are based on ignorance, fear and hatred. The problem with these views is that they cause many people to suffer. I remind you of this not to make you sad but to sound the alarm that we must and can change and help others change their views and behavior.
Today the dominant style of leadership is command-and-control. The leader is seen as superior and to be obeyed. He is usually male. Leadership is seen to be about strength, authority and control of others. One of the problems with this approach to leadership is that it does not seek or value the views, intelligence and participation of other people. It is therefore less intelligent and does not reflect the ideas and needs of other people and causes them harm. I remind you of this not to make you angry or depressed but to sound the alarm that we must and can change and help others change their views and behavior.
A Vision of a New Civilization of Compassion
Yes, a global citizen needs to be clear on these crises, problems and challenges, but we also need to dream of a new world that is so attractive that it beckons us and motivates us to create it. What are your greatest hopes for the future? What is indeed possible? What is necessary? What would a new civilization of compassion look like? Remember, compassion is not only feeling someone else’s pain but is vowing to relieve their suffering.
Compassion in the first instance is not religious or even spiritual. It is a natural response of living beings who have empathy for each other and want to help each other. Parents are one of the best examples of compassion. A parent will do anything to help relieve the suffering of their children and to help them be happy. A compassionate civilization is the universalization of this quality of compassion directed toward all beings everywhere. Or it can be called love, or care, or being neighborly, or helpful.
What might a new civilization of compassion look like? It will be based on six principles: sustainability, equality, justice, participation, tolerance and nonviolence.
The new civilization of compassion will embody environmental sustainability at its very core. As Naomi Klein says: “Climate change isn’t just a crisis. It’s a chance to build a better world.” People will realize that there can be no human life without healthy ecosystems of air, water, soil, plants and animals. We will keep the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. All energy will be from renewable sources such as sun, wind, water, geothermal and algae. We will protect the natural environment. The new economy will be 100% environmentally friendly.
A compassionate civilization will embody gender equality in every facet of human society. Women will be leaders at every level of society. Women will be paid the same as men for the same work. The voices, views and wisdom of women will be honored and celebrated. Men will respect and protect the sovereignty of women’s bodies and minds. Gender and sexual orientation will be understood and accepted as taking a multiplicity of forms.
A compassionate civilization will embody participatory governance. The needs, voices, views and wisdom of all people will set the policy agendas for society through new processes and institutions of direct democracy. This will include face-to-face and online policy dialogue.
A compassionate civilization will embody socio-economic justice. Everyone will have meaningful engagement, adequate income and access to high quality education and health services.
A compassionate civilization will embody cultural tolerance. It will be understood and accepted that all people of every race, ethnic background, religion, economic class and nationality should be respected and free to exercise their rights as human beings. People will enjoy learning from others who have a different background and orientation to life.
A compassionate civilization will embody innovative leadership. Leadership will have evolved beyond the authoritative, bureaucratic and pragmatic to principled leadership honoring multiple perspectives. Leadership will be understood as an art of human behavior and interaction that can be practiced by anyone in any position. Leadership will be facilitative, participatory, inspiring, systemic and creative.
At this point you may be saying to yourself, but all this sounds utopian. Is it really possible to achieve? I would say to you that if we do not head for utopia we will be left in endless dystopia of environmental degradation and social misery. Let’s go for it!
The Movement of Movements
How will we get from our current situation of crisis to a new civilization of compassion? Fortunately there are already many forces moving us in that direction. These are the many movements that each promote a particular vision. If they can work together, these movements will become a powerful movement of movements that will help humanity realize its full potential.
Environmental, Climate and Green Energy Movements
There are the environmental, climate and green energy movements. The environmental movement is committed to protecting the natural environment. The climate movement is motivated to help us mitigate and adapt to climate chaos. The green energy movement is promoting the rapid transition to an energy system of 100% renewable energy from sun, wind, water, geothermal and algae. This includes networks and organizations such as 350.org, Greenpeace and Transition Towns.
Women’s and LGBTQ Movements
We also have the women’s movement and the LGBTQ movement. The women’s movement promotes the rights, voice, leadership and protection of women. Women gained the right to vote only 95 years ago, and must be paid the same as men for the same work. The LGBTQ movement is concerned about the safety and freedom of LGBTQ youth and adults. Groups in these movements include the National Organization of Women (NOW) and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and others.
Direct Democracy and Decentralization Movements
Then there are the direct democracy movement and the decentralization movement. The direct democracy movement promotes the formation of new democratic processes and institutions that allow the views and needs of citizen to be the basis for policy formulation. Two important signs of hope in the USA are Democracy Spring and the "political revolution" of Sen. Bernie Sanders.The decentralization movement helps move power, decision making and service delivery beyond national and state capitals to towns and villages throughout a country. Cities and associations of local authorities are often more progressive than their national governments.
Labor Union and Transformed-Capitalism Movements
There are also the labor union movement and the transformed-capitalism movement. The labor movement helps workers organize into unions that can negotiate their salaries and benefits so that they are not taken advantage of by management. Workers must be paid a living wage. The transformed-capitalism movement is promoting the creation of a new economic system that values the wellbeing of all the people and all of nature over profits for a small elite. Recent books by Robert Reich and Naomi Klein clarify that we need a capitalism for the many not the few and we must change the form of capitalism that is endangering life on Earth through climate change.
Human Rights and Peace Movements
We also have the human rights movement and the peace movement. The human rights movement is committed to realizing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for every women, man and child. The peace movement is working hard to promote nonviolence, diplomacy and negotiation, to stop wars and to delegitimize war as an acceptable manner for resolving conflict.
Group Facilitation and Social Artistry Movements
Finally there is the facilitation movement and the social artistry movement. The facilitation movement is promoting the power of group facilitation as a way to involve all of the people of an organization or community in its own decision making. This includes the IAF – the International Association of Facilitators, and the ToP Network – the Technology of Participation, created by the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA). This week is International Facilitation Week celebrating the power of group facilitation. The social artistry movement trains educators and leaders in organizations and communities to enhance people’s creativity and passion in ways that create a world that works for all. This includes the work of the Jean Houston Foundation.
Of course there are many other movements as well. The point is that when these movements work together they are unstoppable. They can and will create a new civilization of compassion. The UN is among those at the forefront of this movement of movements. Last month the 193 countries of the UN launched 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. Achieving these goals will take us a long way towards a new civilization of compassion.
Which movement is your favorite? Which one are you already part of? Which one do you want to become part of?
Innovative Leadership and Self Sustenance
In order to move from our time of crisis towards a new civilization of compassion, we need to provide innovative leadership of the movement of movements and in governments, corporations, NGOs, academia and media. There are many methods of effective and innovative leadership. I would like to share four that I have found to be particularly powerful. They are 1) integral systems thinking, 2) group facilitation and participatory planning, 3) social artistry and 4) mindfulness, ethics and servant-leadership.
Integral Systems Thinking (4 Quadrants)
The innovative leader engages in integral systems thinking in four dimensions – the interior (consciousness) and exterior (the material world) and the individual and collective. By analyzing and planning within four quadrants at the intersection of these dimensions, the innovative leader is aware of and is addressing all aspects of any issue or situation. She/he knows that every situation has an interior-individual dimension, an exterior-individual dimension, an interior-collective dimension and an exterior-collective dimension. The interior-individual dimension includes people’s mindsets, attitudes, values and assumptions which as a leader you must be aware of and help evolve. The exterior-individual dimension includes people’s behaviors, speech and interpersonal relations that need new skillful means. The interior-collective dimension includes culture, myths, symbols, rituals and norms that influence people some of which need to be transformed. The exterior-collective dimension includes systems, policies, institutions, organizations and communities that need to continually evolve. For example, in dealing with climate change the innovative leader must employ strategies to change individual mindsets and behavior as well as collective culture and systems. When at the UN I used integral systems thinking to help design new policies and programs.
Group Facilitation and Participatory Planning (ToP)
The innovative leader uses group facilitation techniques and processes to enable people to engage in participatory conversations and planning. The facilitator asks question after question provoking the best thinking and cooperation of the group. For example, in the ToP (Technology of Participation) methodology, the innovative leader facilitates group conversations in a four part sequence called ORID: Objective, Reflective, Interpretive and Decisional. This allows the group to go from an objective appreciation (what do you notice?), to delve into their emotions and memory (how do you feel about it or what does it remind you of?), to telling a story or identifying the meaning (what is the significance?) and finally to making a decision concerning what actions are needed (what is your decision?). In participatory strategic planning the facilitator leads the group in 1) articulating their future Vision, 2) analyzing current Obstacles to the vision, 3) creating Strategies to deal with the obstacles and move toward the vision, and 4) deciding on Actions and a timeline for realizing the strategies. This week I am facilitating an online conversation on the power of facilitation using the ORID method. When I was in UNDP I used the participatory strategic planning method to develop policies and projects around the world.
Social Artistry (SA)
The innovative leader uses social artistry techniques and processes to enhance people’s creativity and commitment. The social artist enables people to become aware and involved in social change on four levels: sensory/physical, psychological/historical, mythic/symbolic and unitive/integral. At the sensory/physical level people deepen their awareness of the physical situation using their five senses. At the psychological/historical level people look at their memories, feelings and associations. At the mythic/symbolic level people explore the stories and symbols that give meaning to their lives and they also create new stories concerning new possibilities. And at the unitive/integral level people experience the sense of unity or at-oneness with the group or reality that they are dealing with. If the social artist can expand and deepen people’s awareness at these four levels, there is greater likelihood of achieving breakthrough, creative, inspiring and lasting change. When I was in UNDP I trained people in several countries in social artistry so that could be more effective in decentralizing the MDGs in their countries by enhancing their human capacities.
Mindfulness, Ethics and Servant Leadership
The innovative leader uses mindfulness exercises and ethical practices to call people to a profound sense of being servant-leaders. Mindfulness exercises include relaxation, meditation and contemplation. By enhancing and deepening their awareness, people gain detached-engagement, understanding, compassion and wisdom. Ethical study and practice help people live lives based on their deepest values and principles such as compassion, truth, justice, equality and understanding. Learning to be a servant-leader is a life long journey of letting go of ones ego and focusing ones energies on helping and serving others. I meditate daily and teach my NYU grad students all four of the above leadership methods.
These four approaches to innovative leadership, among others, are needed to propel organizations, movements and the movement of movements toward the realization of a compassionate civilization. These innovative leadership methods can be learned, practiced and applied in organizations, communities and whole societies.
Let's shock the world with compassionate, sustainable development for all!
Note: This essay is part of a talk I gave in NYC in October 2015.