Friday, November 12, 2010

The Bridge Generation

The low sun of December casts a long shadow. There’s more darkness than light. But the darkness holds a promise. Something is waiting to be born.

I’ve been thinking about the twentieth and twenty first centuries, how we are the bridge generation between the two – born in one, living and dying in the next, one foot in the old world, one foot in the new.

It was only ten years ago that the great twentieth century – the most violent century, the most inspiring century – came to a close. A time of unprecedented brutality and catastrophic environmental degradation, the twentieth century stands forever as a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when we put a narrow sense of tribe and short-term profits before the needs of the earth and the human family. Yet the twentieth century was also a time of hard-won gains in basic human rights, a time when entire categories of people began to emerge from centuries of oppression, a time when the sciences and the humanities joined forces to envision and manifest a world that works for everyone – in short, a time of awakening.

What will the twenty first century bring? We’re ten years in, and it’s still too soon to tell. If we’ve learned anything, it’s the complete unpredictability of the future.

Yet here, in the early morning of the twenty first century, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re awakening from a long dream, and in the gradual dawning of our new awareness, we are re-imagining our core values and the social structures and institutions that emerge from those values. We are redefining success. We are redefining peace. We are redefining prosperity. We are learning how to let our vision lead and our practicality follow. We know that a small group of people can change the course of history – we’ve seen it happen too many times to ignore. And we know that no matter how dire the situation, no matter how dark the night, there is within every human heart enough light to illuminate the whole world.

We don’t trust government as much as we used to. We know that we cannot wait for others to solve our problems. We know that within each of our homes, our families, our neighborhoods and our spiritual communities, it is we who lead, it is we who set priorities, it is we who articulate values, it is we who vote with our dollars to support businesses that uphold our vision of the good.

It is our growing conviction that each of us has wisdom within us, wisdom that emerges as insight, intuition and compassionate action each time we are faced with injustice and needless suffering. It is drawn out by our increasing awareness of the tremendous need around the world. We no longer think of ourselves as just Americans or just Mexicans or just Canadians, but as citizens of the world proud of our local affiliations, but not bound by them. Old institutions are crumbling and new institutions are taking their place. New technologies are shattering barriers that used to keep us apart. We are no longer beholden to powerful information distribution systems however well-meaning they may have been. Just as in the twentieth century the train, then the automobile and then the airplane closed great distances, today the internet (and whatever’s next) has destroyed the very concept of distance itself. With each cataclysmic change much was lost, and much was gained. We have had to learn to let go, over and over again. And we have struggled to adapt new technologies to the service of our humanity, not the other way around. With each change, the underlying constant remained – us. It is the indomitable human spirit that springs forth forever new from the dissolving forms of the past.

And here we are ten years into the new century, on the verge of the teenage years. I believe we have a choice. I believe that each of us has the power within the privacy of our own conscience, our own decisions, our own actions, to co-create with those around us the world we hold in our visions. We know that our intentions have creative power. We know that evolution isn’t over. We know that something is emerging, and we get to decide what that is.

Evolution has been going on for a long time. It’s absurd to think it has stagnated or that we have reached the end. If anything, we are in a period of accelerated change. This is not the final stage. As we continue to fall forward into the ever-new world, we carry with us the values and convictions that serve our deepest sense of the good. We let the old ways fall by the wayside. We take what we need and leave the rest. We buy less and give more. We move into smaller houses. We drive smaller cars. We consume fewer resources. We finally believe that there’s nothing more we really need, and that our wants are often born from the wound of spiritual dissatisfaction, and so we learn to feed ourselves not at the mall, but at the well that springs from the sacred source deep within us and all things.

Maybe you’re discouraged. Maybe you’re moved to despair by the endless bad news streaming into our awareness. Make sure you’re looking in a balanced way at the information you use to reach your assessments. Yes, there is abundant evidence of brutality and misery. But there is also ample evidence that we live in a time of great transformation where change-agents famous and obscure are working tirelessly around the world and making real progress. Find a place to lean in and help us push away the debris of the old forms that no longer serve us. Make a decision: stay caught in the disease or be a part of the healing.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world,” wrote Margaret Mead. “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

We won’t always agree about how to change the world. But we share the conviction that it is our sacred duty to do so. If not us, who? If not now, when?

We are the people born in a time of great pain and promise. We are the people born in an age of unprecedented change. We are the people who remember where we came from, and hold a vision of where we are going. We are the people who know in our bones that it is possible to give birth to a world that is environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just. We have been given all the tools we need. We have each other. We have trust, faith, hope, love and wisdom. We can span the distance between the world we imagine and the world we behold. We are the connection between what was and what will be. We are the bridge generation.