LEADING IN CHAOS: CHARACTER COMES FIRST

Leadership is about the character of a person: The intellectual and moral texture into which all our life long we have been weaving up the inward life that is in us (Oxford dictionary).

After the 2016 presidential election, someone asked how I made my decision on who to vote for. I replied that I assess a presidential candidate first by character and then by talent, experience, and policy positions.

A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. They are wise, brave, and emotionally mature. The character of a leader stands alone as the primary and essential requirement for presidential leadership. Donald Trump showed us no integrity as a candidate, and he has gone on to demonstrate his hollowness day after day for three years.

The Coronavirus threatens us. We see Trump try to lead the country in a real-time crisis. His performance does not inspire us as his deep flaws as a human being are illuminated. He’s not a person of character he’s not a leader, he’s not risen to the challenge, he has no moral authority, and he’s not worthy of our trust.

First, he denied the virus. Then he minimized the level of threat. A critical time for containing the virus was lost. He blamed others. He said he took no responsibility for the massive issues that face us and the nation’s lack of preparedness. He lied to us. He rates himself a “10” in his handling of the catastrophe. I don’t think so.

A reporter asked him what he would say to the millions of Americans who feel afraid—a softball of a question. This question was a perfect opportunity to connect with and speak from his heart to the American people. Instead, he angrily attacked the reporter and showed us that he is unable to speak from his heart or show empathy for suffering people.

D.H. Lawrence wrote that “the great virtue in life is real courage that knows how to face facts and live beyond them.”

Leaders of character like Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gavin Newson of California, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Jay Inslee of Washington State, and Tim Walz of Minnesota do not attempt to run and hide from painful truths or frantically conceal symptoms of systemic problems with lies, cosmetic solutions, and empty words. They face difficulty with moral courage and honesty and transform the dangers they see into creative actions. Each is a unique combination of an eco-warrior, a servant, an artist, a teacher, a facilitator, and a philosopher. They have risen to the occasion. We trust them and others who model for us how to lead in a crisis.

Perhaps the most exceptional leader in these times is Dr. Anthony Fauci: Trump lies and says idiotic things, and Dr. Fauci stands up and speaks the truth to Trump and the rest of us. Dr. Fauci puts his 80-year-old life at risk trying to eradicate the virus and mitigate suffering.

Under high stress, many people regress to earlier stages of their development. We can choose to reject that response. We everyday people can make significant contributions to the future of humanity by doing what we can, no matter how small, to stand tall against the pandemic.

No one will rescue us; God won’t save us. We are responsible. We can rise to the occasion by being our best selves.

CHAOS, COVID-19 & CREATIVITY

In simple terms, chaos is order without predictability. That is, there are systems, physical and social, that are well understood and yet are fundamentally unpredictable. Thus, chaos is not anarchy or randomness. Chaos is order, but it is order that is invisible.  T.J. Cartwright

 

This piece, written in 1998, fits the times in which we live. Look for the dynamics all around us in the Coronavirus Pandemic that threatens us. I am heartened by the emerging leadership at all levels of our nation, the creativity of the people on the front lines, and the scientists we can trust and believe.

All living systems, including nature, families, organizations, institutions, and communities are chaotic. Chaos is creativity in process; the place between the breakdown of the old, and the formation of the new. Living systems interact internally and with their environment, connections are made, relationships are formed, information is created, and “choices” are made. This dynamic interaction is messy and constant.

Chaos is not the random, lawless, and meaningless behavior it appears to be. Instead, chaos is stable globally while unpredictable locally. The behavior we observe is bounded by invisible rules, and an overall pattern exists (a strange attractor). When we step back, observe over time, from different perspectives, and from multiple frames, the patterned order may be seen. Although specific behaviors cannot be predicted, if the rules were understood, the behavior would be understood.

The disturbance of chaos can be from near stable to incomprehensibly complex and energized. At the extremes of order and chaos, dynamics are counterproductive to the system. Too much order and change will not cross impermeable boundaries. Too much chaos and the system loses its organization. Along this continuum of chaotic behavior is a place called the “edge of chaos” a location of the maximized activity, balanced order and chaos, and enhanced creativity where new patterns, processes, and structures emerge from self-organization.

A chaotic system is sensitive to small changes. A slight difference at the beginning of a history can have a huge effect at the end of the history. This dynamic is called the “butterfly effect” the notion that a butterfly stirring the air today in Beijing can transform storm systems next month in New York ( formally called sensitive dependence on initial conditions). Butterfly effects, large and small, are prevalent throughout all scales of living systems and produce the rich diversity and creativity in natural systems.

On a human level chaos is present (metaphorically) as long as people are alive. Chaos is the space between endings and new beginnings. At first, this is a place of fear, anger, boredom, anxiety, loneliness, restlessness, a sense of inadequacy, and a loss of the familiar. Many of us try to avoid these feelings because we feel so uncomfortable. Avoidance is a mistake because this is the place and time of freedom where creativity can happen. This is an opportunity to grieve and wander, and a time to quest for a new vision for our lives.

The “edge of chaos” is entered into fully when new possibilities burst through the turmoil. Creativity is in full bloom, synchronicity abounds, and we feel fully alive. We forget ourselves and focus totally on what we are doing. We are in “flow,” and self-organize. The uncomfortable emotions are replaced by anticipation and excitement about new possibilities. Anxiety may be high “at the edge of chaos,” and we need to maintain our discipline and work through the fear. This is the emergence of new growth.

In organizations, chaos is the time when people feel crazy, confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed with data they don’t understand. Old ways of doing things don’t work anymore. The path forward is not clear. People try to return the organization to its comfort level. They clam up, seek experts, try to fix the turmoil, and do what is expected. They try to control others, events, and themselves and individual shadows become externalized. People hope for magic, lie to themselves, and look for quick-fixes.

This avoidance of chaos is a mistake. Organizations and people can get “stuck” in this ugly place and will die eventually. Transformation cannot occur without chaos; chaos is health. The task is to bring forth the emotion of the organization, to put people together with other people, and to provide and generate information. Creativity will emerge if people explore, receive constant feedback, sort out conflicting beliefs, and make choices.

For example, a self-managed team was in conflict and relationships and performance were suffering. I met with them. Afraid they would be criticized, they were apprehensive and distrustful. We talked for two hours we discussed feelings, shared information, confronted inauthentic behavior, and supported one another. Ideas came forth, and plans were made and responsibilities assigned. Pent-up energy was released. At the end of the meeting, everyone felt stimulated and enthusiastic; the team was ready to move forward. This intervention was not a quick-fix. The group worked through their differences and discovered new possibilities. Groups need help at times. This is a facilitation role for leaders to assume.

In organizations, we take advantage of the chaos by providing freedom, sharing information, having permeable boundaries, creating a deeply held and shared vision, and putting diverse and authentic people together in different settings. The many connections increase the possibility of “butterfly effects” in the direction of the shared vision. Experiments, trial and error, and mindfulness of opportunities result in disproportionate outcomes small actions lead to large changes. Leaders utilize judgment to amplify and dampen the “butterflies” that make a difference.

Absent freedom, information, shared vision, permeable boundaries, and participation, butterfly effects (and self-organization) will still happen, but the dynamic will be restricted, fragmented, and driven underground. Outcomes will probably be incongruent with the organization’s objectives. Under these conditions, the fears of letting go are realized.

How can we trust “letting go”? The study of self-organization teaches that when systems undergo a transformation, and behavior appears random, ordered patterns emerge, and they emerge quickly. Every organism, at every level, moves toward constructive fulfillment of the system’s inherent potentials. A natural tendency toward growth and development exists. Outcomes may not be what is expected—they probably will be better. On the other hand, the organization might get “hit by a train.” Life offers no guarantees, but proceeding in harmony with natural dynamics increases the probability of sustainability.

The leadership principle of chaos: Leaders welcome (and sometimes create) disturbance because they understand that creativity and order will not be far behind. They understand that the suppression of chaos, and the accompanying emotions, as taught by Newtonian thinking, is exactly the wrong thing to do. Leaders develop the skills to guide the “chaotic” process (and the accompanying anxiety). Leaders learn how to maximize creativity at the edge of chaos, are mindful of butterfly effects, and use judgment to know which butterfly effects to dampen and which to amplify. Then, they let go

PS: Bad people in positions of power can also create disturbances that self-organize around deluded, destructive, and dishonest values, visions, and purposes. Those people must be confronted and their lies and underlying motives illuminated. Our “war-time president” must be quarantined and his Twitter account deactivated. He is harming the efforts to defeat the virus.

 

 

 

THE ECOLOGICAL WORLDVIEW: THE PATH TO SUSTAINABILITY

But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change. With the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. Thomas Jefferson

 

This piece is the second of two posts on worldviews. The first was The Mechanistic Worldview.

The mechanistic worldview has exhausted its ability to solve our most complex and urgent problems. This worldview has been eclipsed by a more encompassing worldview, which I call the ecological worldview that offers new knowledge and understanding for solving the severe threats we face. The mechanistic worldview works for space travel, accounting systems, and other linear processes but not for living systems.

The destructiveness of the dark side of the incomplete mechanistic worldview is apparent. We watch climate change evolve and worsen before our eyes: species go extinct, and forests burn. Mass migrations begin and are met with violence. Droughts make life unlivable. People die. Republican politics and politicians regress: separating children from their parents at the Southern border: That’s not America. We see the decline of our institutions and the lack of integrity in many of our leaders. Corruption is the culture of the White House. Images of these things break our hearts. We live in fear and anxiety. Aggression surrounds us. And our president and Republicans in Congress deny or justify it.

America’s president is the personification of the dark side of the failed mechanistic worldview. Those who want to guzzle, raze, and reduce much of our world to ashes and wastelands for ego, money, power, and greed resist change mightily. When a worldview is in deep decline, and nothing can renew it, those invested in it eventually lie, cheat, and steal to maintain their power.

A significant minority of Americans support this destruction, somehow thinking that they will benefit from it. They are not thinking straight, and their ignorance, blindness, and false beliefs drag the country and their communities down. Robert Greenleaf wrote in The Servant Leader that the real enemy is fuzzy thinking of the part of good, intelligent, vital people…

We still have time to change our thinking and take dramatic actions to save the planet as we know it, but time is growing shorter faster than anticipated. Millions do think clearly and want transformative change. But we need more urgency. Every day of delay leads to enormous suffering, more annihilation, and makes transformation more unlikely.

Patterns of thinking hold us in their grip. If then, we want to change society, we must begin by changing the way that we think — Danah Zohar in the Quantum Society.

Our worldview will not be changed by those who cling to the problems we face. As long as they make money and hold power, the scoundrels will continue doing things they know are wrong. Our view of how life works most optimally will be changed by new thinking from new people.

America needs fresh people with new minds in power. This year’s elections allow us to elect new leaders who are younger, diverse, and with more women at all levels of government.

Changes in how we relate to the world.

Sit down before nature like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.
T.H. Huxley

The ecological worldview began to form with the discoveries of quantum theory early in the last century, followed by the learnings from the study of living systems. This worldview focuses on life itself and the relationships that connect all living things. The ecological worldview is striking in its similarity to the organic worldview of indigenous cultures, most of which were destroyed by the mechanical thinkers of our industrial world. Science is discovering what nonmoderns have known for thousands of years.

When we look through the lens of an ecological worldview, we see the world differently than when we look through a mechanical lens. Ethics, spirit, values, quality, deep awareness, and the five senses again matter. We have new thoughts, feelings, and will see transformative creative possibilities. We speak and write differently.

The universe is alive: a network of dynamic relationships that are interconnected and interdependent–not dead and mechanical. Betterment flows from the totality as the diverse elements interact and self-organize together in patterns that optimize and sustain the essence of the whole. We see life organically rather than mechanically. Change is not linear or mechanistic.

We need to think exponentially. We see networks, processes, patterns, beliefs, and relationships. We can influence events but cannot have total control, accurate prediction of distant events, or certainty. We must shift from unawareness to mindfulness of ourselves and the world around us. Chaos, paradox, and discontinuous change happen faster and faster. They require us to be mindful. Margaret Wheatley wrote, Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. Absent awareness, we are lost.

The mechanistic worldview is an either/or world. Either/or thinking gives the illusion of control and stability. Dualistic thinking creates enemies, simplifies relationships unrealistically, and establishes boundaries to defend. Either/or thinking is not helpful in the world of quantum physics and living systems.

The ecological worldview is primarily a both/and world. We transcend fragmented parts with rigid boundaries and identify with a more inclusive whole, often with permeable boundaries. Both/and thinking provide space for our creative abilities and relationship skills. Humans are a presence in nature, just like the species of plants and animals. People are part of the unbroken whole–not separate, detached, and superior. This world is the alive and creative world of choices–a world of gray–a both/and world where little is certain.

This world was never as self-evident to me as the day I sat in a small boat in the Baja of California bobbing in light waves. I watched as a 40 foot long and 40-ton great gray whale surfaced beneath the boat and introduced her new child to the boat’s elated occupants. I peered into the large, serene eye of the mother and tried to imagine her life. Her gentle and knowing return of my enthusiastic reaction linked us in a mystical moment. I realized that in one slight movement, she could destroy the boat and kill its occupants. Instead, she chose to form a relationship with us. The mother and child floated with the boat for a few minutes. They allowed the exhilarated people to touch them and to lean over and kiss the barnacle-covered parent before mother and child submerged and disappeared. For a few short moments, the sky, the ocean, the people, the bobbing boat, and the whale and her child were one interconnected living system.

An ecological thinker’s purpose is sustainability. In the subatomic world, elements are life-like, in a relationship, exchange information always, and transform based on these dynamics. Humans are alive and meant to be in a relationship with one another and with the life around them. We develop through our relations with all of life.

We cooperate with our environment rather than be at war with nature in our insane rush to consume her. Living in monocultures is not sustainable; diversity is our strength. To be sustainable requires that growth must be limited, and our economic systems transformed. These “rules” are how life works optimally.

Institutions aren’t the only things that have to stay current with new knowledge. We, people, do too. We would be wise to examine our assumptions and change how we think to adapt ourselves to the insights and illumination that emerge from Quantum Physics and the New Sciences. Life calls us to evolve our awareness and creativity, to engage with others and learn together, lead differently, and transform how we live on the planet, Then we will develop ourselves and live sustainably.

If we refuse this call, we do so at our peril.

 

From 1991-94, I was privileged to lead a business unit that, I later learned, embraced the concepts of Quantum Physics and Chaos Theory. My first learning about the science merging with leadership and organizations came from author and consultant Meg Wheatley. I recommend her book, Leadership and the New Science (Third Edition).

My eBooks at Amazon.com offer more insight into my learning: Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership and Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal & Organizational Transformation.

 

WANT TO SAVE THE PLANET & FEEL ALIVE?

  The world we think we live in is the world we live in. 

         That is how important worldviews are.

                                             Matthew Fox

                                                                       The Reinvention of Work

 

                       Patterns of thinking hold us in their grip. . . . If then, 

                       we want to change society, we must begin by changing 

                       the way that we think.

                                                                       Danah Zohar

                                                                      The Quantum Society

Before about 10,000 years ago, most people lived by herding, hunting, foraging, and gathering. Life centered on the community, and they lived in relationship with the earth and its inhabitants.

Ted Perry captured their worldview:

The earth does not belong to the white man, the white man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

I love the worldview of the ancient people, but I do not want to romanticize their lives. When I visited the Maasai of East Africa, I became aware of the dark side of their existence: disease, deprivation, and early death are a part of their lives as is a balanced life lived in concert with nature and relationship with one another.

The worldview of indigenous people worked for them for thousands of years. Most of those cultures were destroyed by people who spread disease and had powerful weapons–not more creative or intelligent people. We can learn much about life from the cultures our ancestors conquered.

Life on earth changed with the agricultural revolution that began around 8000 B.C. and rolled over the planet unencumbered until approximately 1650-1750 A.D. Farming became a way of life with land at its center. For the first time in human history, large populations could be fed indefinitely. While life changed, people continued to see the world as a living whole, with all of its elements dependent on one another.

The holistic worldview changed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the philosophical and scientific revolution that changed the way people looked at themselves and their relationship with nature. The world as a machine became the dominant metaphor of the modern era.

Who led this radical transformation in worldview? Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science, quantified the tangible world. He believed only the quantifiable was real; the non-quantifiable was outside the scope of science. Scientists ignored, denied, or discounted nonlinearity. Galileo’s empirical approach and his use of mathematics to describe nature became paramount aspects of science.

Francis Bacon established the scientific method: carefully controlled and documented experiments from which scientists could make general conclusions. For Bacon, the goal of science was to accumulate knowledge that could be used to control and dominate nature, which he referred to as a “common harlot.”

The founder of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, believed the world was a vast machine that obeyed mathematical laws and extended that belief to human beings, “I consider the human body as a machine.”

Isaac Newton took Descartes’ philosophy and developed the mathematical formulation of the mechanistic worldview. The Newtonian universe was a mechanical system put in motion by God and operated by exact mathematical laws. This universe was deterministic. If scientists knew the rules and first conditions of the system, they could predict accurately what the system would do and where it would go.

The universe of the scientific revolution was a vast, cold, clockwork machine. Its mathematical and mechanical laws governed every movement and aspect of matter, including people, plants, and animals. God created the material particles, the forces between them, and the laws of motion. After that, the machine ran on its own–purposeless, meaningless, and soulless.

The five senses no longer mattered, and ethics, spirit, values, quality, and consciousness were marginalized because they were unquantifiable. The only things real in this universe were measurable, and the knowledge of science was specific and absolute. People used scientific expertise to seek truth and to dominate and control nature. This worldview offered an emotionless world of rule books and impermeable boundaries–a black and white world–an either/or world with human beings–the pinnacle of evolution–dominating the natural world.

This science fit with the beginning of industrialization, which Gregory Bateson wrote in Steps to an ecology  of Mind had the following underlying beliefs:

-It’s us against the environment.

-It’s us against other men.

-It’s the individual (or the individual community, or the individual nation) that matters.

-We can have unilateral control over the environment and must strive for that control.

-We live within an infinitely expanding “frontier.”

-Economic determinism is common sense.

-Technology will do it for us.

Metaphors of the mechanistic worldview justified the exploitation of nature that materialism, industrialization, and unchecked appetite and greed demanded.

The benefits derived from the scientific and industrial revolutions are clear: longer lives, technological advances, and previously unknown comfort and prosperity for tens of millions of people. Organizations became more efficient and provided undreamed of goods and services to people. With so much surface success, we can be blind to the devastating unintended consequences of the mechanistic worldview on people, nature, and our interconnected planet.

The industrial revolution changed life to fit the machine worldview: Managers designed jobs, machines, factories, and management systems as machines. Machines became the principal agent of change, and factories and workers adapted themselves to the efficient working of mechanical things. Creativity and “aliveness” were exchanged for routine and control. People who saw their traditional lives destroyed by the creation of dehumanizing jobs in factories were traumatized.

We know the impact the mechanistic worldview has on human beings in organizations. We feel the alienation of being treated like a machine, although we don’t talk about it–machines don’t feel. When we think of corporations as machines, management is equated with control; employees are treated like children; managers motivate by fear; change is synonymous with pain; and many people feel bored, afraid, confused, alienated, and angry. Many experience those emotions as “numbness.”

The mechanistic worldview changed nature dramatically. Former Vice President, Al Gore wrote in 1993:

The mechanistic worldview generated the arms race, the population explosion, the greenhouse effect, and the extinction of species of animals and plants at a rate 1,000 times faster than at any time in the past 65 million years. This philosophy of life pollutes the air and the water, destroys the rain forest at the rate of 1 1/2 acres a second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and floats waste-filled barges in the ocean seeking a home. The destruction of forests endangers almost half of the 235 species of primates. Another 20 percent are approaching threatened status. This worldview produced spreading deserts, drying seas, and topsoil loss. These beliefs have alienated human beings from themselves, from each other, and nature and have fostered addiction to substances and processes. These beliefs have destroyed and homogenized thousands of diverse cultures. This thinking threatens the sustainability of the planet.

Mr. Gore had it right.

A metaphor helps us understand something compared to something else. During the industrial revolution, people took the metaphor of the universe as a machine and applied this comparison to factories and then to people. How absurd! People began to think mechanically and tried to make the thinking real by acting like machines and by treating one another as machines. Then they taught this metaphor to new generations who had no awareness of this lunacy.

People forgot the organic worldview of the ancients that was sustainable for thousands of years. Most of us never knew that another worldview existed before the mechanical worldview, which has had devastating impacts on our lives and planet in only 300 years.

Science has discovered new sciences that invite us to change how we live, work, and lead if we want a sustainable planet and more conscious and fulfilled lives. The five senses again matter and ethics, spirit, values, purpose, and quality return to our lives. A new worldview brings back the feeling of aliveness to those who see new ways to live.

We change our mechanistic worldview by becoming aware of our mechanical, black and white, either/or beliefs, and our disconnections from others, nature, and ourselves. We learn that the above underlying tenets of the mechanistic worldview are wrong.

Daniel Quinn wrote about our growing awareness in Ishmael: 

Once you learn to discern the voice of Mother Culture humming in the background, telling her story over and over again to the people of your culture, you’ll never stop being conscious of it. Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you’ll be tempted to say to the people around you, “How can you listen to this stuff and not recognize it for what it is?

William Least Heat-Moon in Blue Highways wrote,  “Ghost dances, desperate resurrection rituals, were the dying rattles of people whose last defense was delusion—about all that remained to them in their futility.” A significant percentage of our citizens do not think straight when guided by their own false beliefs. To live by their delusions will destroy our democracy, the natural world, and life as we’ve known it.

The mechanistic worldview still works for machines, space travel, and accounting systems. But this worldview has been eclipsed by a more encompassing worldview. We must change our dominant and exhausted mechanistic worldview to a more real living system worldview that sees the cosmos as alive and interconnected if we want to evolve our humanity and create a sustainable planet.

My next blog will be about living systems.

MORAL JOY: CLIMATE CHANGE & DEMOCRACY

On the surface of our lives, most of us build the hard shell to hide our fear and insecurity and win approval and success. When we get to the core of ourselves, we find a deep yearning to care and connect. David Brooks in The Second Mountain

Brooks wrote of transcendent joy: the brief moments when we feel at one with nature, the universe, or God. Such experiences may only last a few minutes but can alter our lives. “People have a sense that they see into the hidden reality of things, and afterward, they can never go back to their false selves.”

Brooks wrote of the highest layer of joy, which he called moral joy. Our daily actions align with our deepest commitments. People who experience moral joy are grateful for finding their core passion in life and for saying “NO” to soul-destroying pressures that surround them. Transcendent moments transform our lives: they are moments of metanoia, spiritual awakenings, and an expansion of our consciousness.

I wrote about this process of awakening on the way to higher consciousness in “The Allegory of Plato’s Cave.” In my 1996 essay, I quoted Gareth Morgan from Images of Organizations:

The allegory pictures an underground cave with its mouth open toward the light of a blazing fire. Within the cave are people chained so that they cannot move. They can see only the cave wall directly in front of them. This is illuminated by the light of the fire, which throws shadows of people and objects onto the wall. The cave dwellers equate the shadows with reality, naming them, talking about them, and even linking sounds from outside the cave with the movements on the wall. Truth and reality for the prisoners rest in this shadowy world, because they have no knowledge of any other.

However, as Socrates relates, if one of the inhabitants were allowed to leave the cave, he would realize that the shadows are but dark reflections of a more complex reality, and that the knowledge and perceptions of his fellow cave dwellers are distorted and flawed. If he were then to return to the cave, he would never be able to live in the old way, since for him the world would be a very different place. No doubt he would find difficulty in accepting his confinement, and would pity the plight of his fellows. However, if he were to try and share his new knowledge with them, he would probably be ridiculed for his views.

For the cave prisoners, the familiar images of the cave would be much more meaningful than any story about a world they had never seen. Moreover, since the person espousing this new knowledge would now no longer be able to function in the old way, since he would no longer be able to act with conviction in relation to the shadows, his fellow inmates would no doubt view his knowledge as being extremely dangerous. They would probably regard the world outside the cave as a potential source of danger, to be avoided rather than embraced as a source of wisdom and insight. The experience of the person who left the cave could thus actually lead the cave dwellers to tighten their grip on their familiar way of seeing.

The cave stands for the world of appearances and the journey outside stands for the ascent to knowledge. People in everyday life are trapped by illusions, hence the way they understand reality is limited and flawed. By appreciating this, and by making a determined effort to see beyond the superficial, people have an ability to free themselves from imperfect ways of seeing. However, as the allegory suggests, many of us often resist or ridicule efforts at enlightenment, preferring to remain in the dark rather than to risk exposure to a new world and its threat to the old ways.

Each of us has Plato’s Caves in our lives — places where fear, habits, wounds, denial, conformity, ignorance, delusions, manipulation, and even a cherished way of life blind us to greater insight, a more encompassing reality. We can choose to leave our caves. Many in America who deny climate change and believe Trump is making “America Great Again” live in Plato’s Cave. Their denial contributes to the destruction of our environment and the degradation of America’s Democracy.

Fakes and charlatans with venal and regressive visions that return us to a more primitive condition clamor for our trust. We look around and see people under high stress — from our national leaders to everyday people in organizations, to the fringes of our political parties—become small, petty, and greedy and try to return to their caves for safety. Some deny the facts and truth. Others can feel strongly about every side of an issue depending on the audience. Some reject science for self-serving opinion. Many substitute intellectual honesty with black, white, and senseless beliefs grounded in fear and their inability to cope with the uncertainty and ambiguity of life. Their fear consumes them, and they live in darkness. In dangerous times, we need to be our best selves, not our worst.

As I write this post, two transcendent events call those who live in delusions to open their eyes, awaken, and experience their transcendent moments.

A wise and courageous Greta Thunberg (16 years old) started the school-strike movement in Sweden, which has now spread to other countries. She and other activists give form to a political revolution to fight climate change. They became spokespersons for younger generations who suffer high anxiety and depression about what their futures may or may not be. Ms. Thunberg now offers them a purpose and a movement they can join. They will find that they are not alone in their suffering. Ms. Thunberg’s “How Dare You” speech at the United Nations is a must-watch for all. Her disdainful look at Trump spoke for the tens of millions around the world who feel as she does. What a courageous young woman!

Then a Whistle Blower filed a complaint against Trump. The Whistle Blower alleged that Trump had attempted to pressure (by withholding foreign aid) the President of Ukraine to dig up bogus dirt against presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Biden is leading in the Democratic presidential primary. Trump’s goal was to damage Biden’s campaign to help himself win the 2020 election.

Fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy. Can you believe it? After the Russia involvement in 2016, encouraged by Trump, he tries to get another nation to help sway our 2020 election? What Trump did was immoral, unethical, and unconscionable. He would turn America into a banana republic, where the abuse of power, at all levels of authority, is normal.

The Whistle Blower also alleged that White House officials attempted to cover up the phone conversation and other earlier conversations with foreign leaders, including Putin. They knew Trump had gone too far. The House of Representatives began an impeachment inquiry. Finally, Democrats found their courage and stand true to their values regardless of the outcome.

Listen to Trump roar: what he says about others is true of him. His rants are his confessions and self-exposures.

I am stunned but not surprised by the darkness that has come to light in only two days. The complaint of the Whistle Blower is just the first of the secret dark side of Trump’s dystopian world to come into the light of day. After all, Trump is not a good man who made a big mistake; he is a monster being who he is. He cannot be someone else. Trump has been being himself since he took the office of the president. How much more is covered up and hidden away?

We have only one healthy choice: to leave the caves of our lives, to see reality clearly, and become more connected, conscious, courageous, discerning, intelligent, and compassionate. And more mature. We cannot go backward — unless we want the threats to our world to become realities. My life experiences taught me that it’s best to walk into the future with a clear vision, guided by my deepest values, and my purpose for my life. I find this approach better than following liars, blamers, crooks, con artists, and people only out for themselves–no vision, values, or purpose with them — just greed and selfishness. I know if I follow them, I’ll become like them.

Some believe Trump’s darkness will crush the investigation and lead to Trump’s re-election. Maybe, but no one knows what will happen over the next year. Predictions today mean little. I say: “Expect the unexpected.”

Former Vice-President Al Gore wrote about climate change this week in the New York Times. I think his words apply equally to the Whistle Blower’s complaint:

Are we really helpless and unwilling to respond to the gravest threat faced by civilization? Is it time, as some have begun to counsel, to despair, surrender, and focus on “adapting” to the progressive loss of the conditions that have supported the flourishing of humanity? Are we really moral cowards, easily manipulated into lethargic complacency by the huge continuing effort to deceive us into ignoring what we see with our own eyes?

Our Constitution, our uncorrupted legal system, and the hearts and minds of caring and courageous people will guide us. The purpose is clear: expand our awareness by coming out of our caves. The vision is simple: create a sustainable planet and a thriving democracy.

Al Gore again:

The political reconfiguration we have desperately needed has been excruciating slow in coming, but we now seem to be at an inflection point, when political change begins to unroll more rapidly than we thought was possible [Gore wrote this piece before the Whistle-Blower complaint becoming public].

The people, in their true function as the sovereign power, are quickly understanding the truth of the crisis, and they are the ones who must act, especially because the president is not on speaking terms with the truth and seems well beyond the reach of reason.

To address the climate crisis, we must address the democracy crisis so that the people themselves can reclaim control of their destiny.

Do not despair: get engaged. We must remove from office, at all levels of government, those who deny climate change and those who follow Trump.

We can then save the planet and renew our Democracy.

We do live in exciting times.

Climate Change Will Affect the Most Vulnerable First; Then It Will Come to All Of Us.

From the book: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

By Bill McKibben

 

The very same beasts

That now decide

Who should live

and who should die…

We demand that the

world see beyond

SUVs, ACs, their pre-

packaged convenience

Their oil-slicked dreams,

beyond the belief

That tomorrow will

never happen

Let me bring my home to

yours

Let’s watch as Miami,

New York,

Shanghai, Amsterdam,

London

Rio de Janeiro and Osaka

Try to breathe under-

water…

None of us is immune.

Life in all forms demands

The same respect we all

give to money…

So each and every one of

us

Has to decide

If we

Will

Rise

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands & Aka Niviana from Greenland

Each poet faces the end of their way of life as the ice melts.

MASS SHOOTINGS, INHUMANITY AT THE BORDER, & A BURNING PLANET CALL AMERICANS TO STAND UP FOR LIFE

Think higher, feel deeper. Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil. Eli Wiesel

 

From Goalcast:

Elie Wiesel was born in Romania, September 30, 1928 – died in New York July 2, 2016- is widely known as an American-Jewish writer, author of 57 books, professor and political activist, and one of the most famous Auschwitz survivors. When he was 15, as the German army occupied Hungary, Elie and his family were placed in one of the confinement ghettos set up in his hometown. Two months later, all Jews were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and most of them were killed soon after arrival. Wiesel and his father were the only ones in the family to be spared, as they were fit for labor. The only thing that kept him going in the concentration camp was knowing that his father was still alive. Sadly, his father was beaten to death shortly before the camp was liberated, and Elie was unable to help him.

The book that made him famous – Night – describes everything he went through, both during his imprisonment in the Nazi camp and after. Recurring topics in Elie Wiesel’s books revolve around how every human value was destroyed in the harsh conditions of the camp, the shame he felt for resenting his father when he was in a helpless state, the disgust for humanity and the “death of God”.

In 1986, Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for overcoming the horrible experience at Auschwitz and for sending a message of peace and human dignity. He is also a founding member of the New York Human Rights Foundation.

Wiesel’s thoughts and words came from his experience as a Holocaust survivor and fit the times in which we live in today’s America: a time of a racist president with a White Nationalist’s dark soul whose totality consists of a destructive ego and nefarious impulses.

Wiesel:

And now the boy is turning to me, “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep the memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. And then I explain to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of our universe.

We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph. No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.

Trump demonizes decent and courageous people who only seek safety and new lives for themselves and their families but who look different than white men. We know the abuse, terror, cruelty, squalor, and humiliation at our Southern border. People die; the children get traumatized for life. America’s lack of a 21st-century humane border policy is a stain on our nation’s conscience.

Our gun-violence is a national shame. Recent mass murders make us sick. Anyone who believes that Trump’s words do not incite violence is unconscious. Trump’s and Republican reactions to Climate Change threatens the earth. Trump defiles America’s Dream, and Republicans enable him.

I believe the people of the world have been called for a long time to change how we live on our planet and with one another. When we ignore a calling, it comes back again with greater fear, pain, and suffering.

Gregg Levoy wrote in his stellar book, Callings, “Generally people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so, but it’s appalling how high a threshold people have for this quality of pain. Too many of us, it seems, have cultivated the ability to live with the unacceptable.”

Living with the unacceptable can no longer be acceptable.

I’ve written for more than 20 years about indifference being the enemy of renewal and change. If we are indifferent in our local and national elections next year, we might well lose the America we grew up in and sentence our children and grandchildren to lives of despair. People like Trump will always be in our midst; regressive and afraid people like Republicans at all levels of government are not unique.

We the people need to change. The suffering on the horizon if we fail to act far exceeds the angst we will feel when we embark on a new journey. I’ve had many journeys in my life. I understand the fear of beginnings. I would do all those journeys again. I’ve wished for a long time that conscious people would imagine a better future and go forward instead of letting fear stop them. Life could be so much easier.

Do what you can to take power from Trump and Republicans, to create a sustainable planet, to protect our citizens from unnecessary guns, and to again become the country that welcomes immigrants. Then we will make America Great Again.