THE FOURTH TURNING

America feels like it is unraveling.

The Fourth Turning 

William Strauss & Neil Howe

 

We live in difficult times. I wrote this piece in 2010. Looking back ten years, we can see how prescient William Strauss and Neil Howe were and what American history and deeper patterns of change can teach us.

 In The Fourth Turningauthors William Strauss and Neil Howe identified a recurrent pattern in American history: America transforms herself about every 80 to 100 years. Four turnings each about two decades in length—make up a cycle that comprises history’s seasonal rhythms of growth, maturation, and entropy.

The fourth Turning:

The First Turning is a High: an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, where a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays. In the current cycle, the First Turning was the American High of the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy presidencies.

The Second Turning is an Awakening: a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. The Second Turning was the Consciousness Revolution, stretching from the campus revolts of the mid-1960s to the tax revolts of the early 1980s.

 The Third Turning is an Unraveling: a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants. The Third Turning has been the Cultural Wars, an era that began with Reagan’s mid-1980s morning in America and is due to expire around the middle of the Oh-Oh (2000’s) decade….

The Fourth Turning is a Crisis: a decisive era of secular upheaval when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one. The Fourth Turning is history’s great discontinuity. It ends one epoch and begins another.

Strauss and Howe:

The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire. Yet this time of trouble will bring seeds of social rebirth. Americans will share regret about recent mistakes—and a resolute new consensus about what to do. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II.

The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort—in other words, a total war.

Yet Americans will also enter the Fourth Turning with a unique opportunity to achieve a new greatness as a people. America’s post-Crisis answers will be as organically interconnected as today’s pre-Crisis questions seem hopelessly tangled. By the 2020s, America could become a society that is good by today’s standards, and also one that works.

The rhythms of history do not reveal the outcome of the coming crisis; all they suggest is the timing and dimension. Thus might the next Fourth Turning end in apocalypse—or glory.

Today, in 2010, now already into the Fourth Turning, we share the sense that America is coming apart; a mood of crisis engulfs us. Few trust leaders, institutions, or government. The great spirits at all levels throughout our nation who strive to move America forward face vicious resistance from those wedded to a world view that can no longer solve problems. Americans face economic hardship not experienced since the great depression. Two wars will not end well. Politicians don’t even talk about war or energy policy as they campaign for the November 2010 mid-term elections. Neither political party knows what to do. Yet they desperately seek power. We spiral downward.

In 1997 Strauss and Howe described present-day (2010) America accurately, except we do not yet have a new consensus about what to do. In 2010, we are more polarized than ever, our politics more extreme, entitlement reigns strong, our sense of community weak, and our desire for a quick-fix more addictive than ever. Many Americans remain in denial about our many challenges.

Nihilistic Americans want to say “NO” to the transitions we must make. Heavily invested in ways of doing things that benefit them but no longer solve our national problems, they slow America’s evolution. Frozen in fear and denial, they long for a romanticized time that never existed; we cannot live life in reverse. We can only go forward into the unknown of the future. These people need to believe in values beyond themselves.

Other Americans want a hero to rescue them; they are irresponsible and immature. They don’t understand that real change is hard and calls for them to engage, sacrifice, and be patient and persistent. They need to find their courage and strength.

Strauss and Howe:

History offers even more sobering warnings: Armed confrontation usually occurs around the climax of crisis. If there is confrontation, it is likely to lead to war. This could be any kind of war—class war, sectional war, war against global anarchists or terrorists, or superpower war. If there is war, it is likely to culminate in total war, fought until the losing side has been rendered nil—its will broken, territory taken, and leaders captured. And if there is total war, it is likely that the most destructive weapons available will be deployed.

With or without war, American society will be transformed into something different. The emergent society may be something better, a nation that sustains it Framers’ visions with a robust new pride. Or it may be something unspeakably worse. The Fourth Turning will be a time of glory or ruin.

All of life is interconnected, intertwined, and interdependent—far too complex for anyone to know what will happen and what further dynamics will be set off by what does occur. Other nations have their cycles of change, as does our planet. We are not separate from other countries or nature.

We would be wise to walk boldly into the future. The given is that the global and national transformations brought forth by the seasons of life will occur. We cannot avoid them. The outcome of these transitions is still unknown. We cannot control outcomes; we can only influence them.

Our choice of leaders will affect the outcome of our Fourth Turning and the coming crisis that is the culmination of the last era and the birth of our next epoch. We will have crazy, immature, irresponsible, and even evil people and many rational, wise, sober, and spiritual people who will gain followers as they seek to lead us.  

But followers will have an even more significant influence on our future than the leaders they select. We are responsible for changing what we think about how to live on our planet and in America. Will we remain asleep, entitled, ignorant, and easily manipulated to vote against long-term self and national interest? Will we stay passive, helpless, and irresponsible victims of the tides of change?

Must we suffer even more significant loss as life drags us kicking and screaming to our next era? Or can we walk boldly and proactively into the unknown of the future?

Can we hear deep within us the call for the rebirth of America, and as Strauss and Howe wrote, where “the nation considered no obstacle too big, no challenge too great, no goal too distant, and no sacrifice too deep?”

We need a national “moment of authenticity” where together we shout “NO” to all the dark forces around us and speak up loudly for the best that is within us to come forth as we move to a new era for America.

See: Are We Ready to Change or Not?

See:  Leading in Chaos: Character Comes First

ARE WE READY TO CHANGE OR NOT?

Man was born to turn the world into paradise, but tragically he was born flawed. And so his paradise has always been spoiled by stupidity, greed, destructiveness, and shortsightedness.

Daniel Quinn in Ishmael

 

Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C., wrote, “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.”

Our most fundamental problem is that almost eight billion people (10 billion by 2050) are addicted to the consumption of our alive planet. We are consuming our biomass. We cannot sustain this growth.

Two immediate existential threats to life as we know it overshadows population growth.

Climate change has battered our denial for a long time. America’s president denies its existence. The loss of lives and the destruction of property from climate change continues and grows.

Today, we are consumed and quarantined by the COVID 19 pandemic, which spread over the planet in about eight short weeks. Our president denied that too, while the virus spread freely. People got sick and died while the president dawdled.

But this time is different: Coronavirus is in real-time, and we watch it unfold in front of us. The president cannot hide behind lies, distractions, and scapegoating. As COVID 19 silently spreads into the nooks and crannies of the planet, our president undoes environmental regulations that help us fight climate change. What goes on in his mind?

A “Call” is a summons to higher consciousness. America has come to a stop: a significant pause. What we see on our nightly news is our new America. The future is unknown.

Rollo May wrote in Freedom and Destiny,  “In the pause we wonder, reflect, sense awe, and conceive eternity. The pause is when we open ourselves for the moment to the concepts of both freedom and destiny.” I hope we use this pause to think, reflect, and ask ourselves what matters in our lives. John Stuart Mill wrote that no significant improvements could take place in the lives of people until a dramatic change takes place in how they think.

We need to think of our planet as an alive, interconnected, intertwined, and interdependent whole. We need to gain the humility to see that we are but one species more powerful but no better than any other species. We need to live in harmony with nature, not be at war with her. We need to mature. We need to learn how to live.

If we change, we will defend against the virus that threatens us today and those on the horizon, reinvent our economy, value diversity, restore American global leadership, and help save the planet from climate change. We will feel alive. We may experience a new renaissance of ideas and an indefinite future. If we don’t change how we live on our planet, the momentum that carries us to possible extinction may become too great to overcome.

Without change, nature will continue to try to get our attention. Each call will be more destructive than the previous one. Within 200 years, after unimaginable suffering and destruction, we may perish as a species or a few islands of prosperity and privilege may survive surrounded by a sea of misery and violence.

Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It is past time to fundamentally change our relationship with nature, not by changing her, but by changing ourselves.

We need to listen to the calls of nature. We need a spiritual awakening, a moment of metanoia, a shift of mind. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake said, “It is like waking up from a dream. It brings with it a spirit of repentance, seeing in a new way. This conversion is intensified by the sense that the end of an age is at hand.”

We are responsible for our collective fate. The significant threats of climate change, deadly pandemics, population growth, species extinction, resource depletion, inequality, and global poverty have called for change for a long time. Are we ready to listen and to change how we live together on this planet?

The change will be difficult, but ease or difficulty is not the issue. The question is: are we ready to change or not? If we are ready, we will create a new vision for how we live on our planet. Let’s not go forward led by crazy people, those stuck in the past, those who profit from America’s decline, or those invested in failed ideas. That would be disastrous.

Whatever we do, something dramatic is going to happen. We will experience an evolutionary bounce or an evolutionary crash. We can choose to act or to be acted upon, and our choices will determine our destiny.

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.

EXPERIMENTAL LEADERSHIP

Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul…. Walt Whitman

 

In his book Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf wrote of England’s George Fox, seventeenth-century founder of the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers). Early in his ministry Fox, an earnest seeker of truth, wrote in his journal:

I had forsaken all priests. . . and those called the most experienced people; for I saw that there was none among them all that could speak to my condition.

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me. . . I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.”. . . And this I knew experimentally.

Greenleaf credited Fox’s forty years of extraordinary leadership to the gift of knowing experimentally which led to ethical practice in all areas of his life. Fox’s contributions included a new commercial ethic, equal status of women, education for all, and opposition to slavery 100 years before the American Civil War.

We live in a world of great potential destruction from climate change and other environmental threats. Those of us who think clearly fear the impacts of climate change on our children, grandchildren, and future generations. Forget about climate change for a moment: the way we live on our planet cannot be sustained climate change or not. Every day, we consume more of the planet’s biomass: This consumption of our planet cannot go on much longer. The longer we ignore the environment, the more people will suffer and die, the more destruction there will be, and the more nature will go to extremes to get our attention. Many suffer climate grief and climate anxiety, and the numbers continue to grow.

I Googled “climate grief” and found 47,900,000 results. And 134,000,000 for “climate anxiety.” Many Americans are afraid, anxious, and depressed.

Along with Climate Change and other environmental perils, we also live in a world at the start of a transformative creative process in technology that will do much good but also threatens our humanity as machines make more of our decisions for us and remake us to be less human and more soulless.

Venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee said on 60 Minutes that AI will eliminate about 40% of jobs. We fear uncertainty: loss of our jobs, status, control, and income. We question whether we have the skills for what change will require of us—most of us don’t. The most deluded who are in the deepest denial want to go back to a romanticized time in the past when old white men ruled. That won’t happen: The U.S. will become “minority white” in 2045 predicts the U.S. Census Bureau. Perhaps our greatest fear is of life itself.

In addition to these dire dangers and extreme changes in our lives, there is more: A bad man leads our country. The Republican Party, without courage, bows to him in silent acquiescence. Fox News is a delusional propaganda machine that insults our souls. Trump’s devoted followers suffer the false beliefs put out by Fox News, Trump, and his crowd.

We fear the loss of our Democracy and way of life. Nitsuh Abebe wrote in the NY Times Magazine more than two years ago: “We’ve reached a weird, quiet agreement that the most potent force in our politics is, for the moment, a stew of unease, fear, rage, grief, helplessness, and humiliation.”

We fear the impact of so much unavoidable change on our families, health, and even our lives. Life expectancy has decreased for the last three years; the longest sustained decline in a century. Drug overdoses and suicides continue to grow.

“I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States.”

American needs to go forward to the future, not backward to a reality that never existed. We need our best people to renew our Democracy. Trump and Republicans in Congress are not our best people. The challenges are too great for small and mediocre people with questionable motives and wrong plans and policies to be in power. America must return to truth, science, education, respect for all, and a new kind of leadership fit for the times.

I believe the aspect of leadership needed most today is the courageous person who lives by ethical values and thinks independently; one who leads experimentally with or without religion. Experimental leaders do not identify with rigid schools of thought or specific groups whose boundaries they will have to defend and whose rules they must follow. They do not blindly follow the scientific method and are not new-age thinkers. They will not conform to religious doctrine, the academic worldview, or the organizational development paradigm.

Experimental leaders are artists. They reject black/white & either/or thinking. They embrace “both/and” thinking as a path to creativity.  Visionaries, they experiment and create new ways to protect and live on our planet. They respect all people and all of nature. They find meaning, direction, and inspiration from their powerful vision, deep ethical foundation, and a profound sense of purpose. They know experimentally what to do and have the courage to follow that course–regardless of what bullies do, say, or think.

We need leaders at all levels who trust themselves and are not afraid to make a decision and don’t worry about lost jobs or elections. Leaders who tell the truth and stand up to racism, bigotry, injustice, mediocrity, and corruption. Leaders who confront lies and stand for truth and integrity, who judge bad behavior, and hold others accountable to live by the shared values that are indispensable in a community.

Greenleaf asked, “Who is the enemy? Who holds back faster movement to a better world? Who is responsible for the mediocre performance of so many of our institutions?”

It’s not the evil, stupid, ignorant, and autocratic people.

If the world is transformed there will still be evil, stupid, ignorant, and autocratic people. The enemy is indifference. The enemy is those with power and responsibility who lack the courage and conviction to hold others accountable for their behavior. The enemy is the indifference of each of us when we fear to live true to our values and our deepest purpose. No victims of poor leadership; we are its co-creators. More than technical knowledge, we need strong ethical leaders who will raise moral standards in a time when much of leadership is, Greenleaf wrote, “in the hands of the gross, the self-seeking, and the corrupt.”

We need to remove from power, at all levels, the Republicans who lead this decline of America. Their failures model the extremes of either/or thinking. Democrats need to adopt a dynamic vision for the nation that doesn’t mindlessly jump from the extremes of today to their own well-intended either/or extremes. They need to find a both/and middle-ground that will attract the voters needed to win the election. Reassure people, don’t frighten them to re-elect the devil they know.

As I looked at the world in the mid-90s, I decided that the way we live on our planet and the way we lead were wrong. Who to believe? Who to follow? I worked with wise people for two years to create and articulate my vision, values, and purpose. I decided that I would find my own way in life. That led me to leave the corporate world, complete a Ph.D. in leadership and organizational change, start to write and consult, and contemplate life on a mountain for a year, and then begin a new life with Melanie, my wife.

It’s been a challenging adventure. I am so happy I went on my inner journey, which continues today.

HEROIC LEADERSHIP

 I alone can fix it.

Donald Trump referring to America’s problems.

 

Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, wrote that heroic leaders, once a godsend, are now a public menace. Many of Donald Trump’s followers think of him as a heroic leader—the godsend kind. I don’t think he’s a leader, godsent, or heroic, but he does menace us daily.

Heroic leaders become especially prevalent in times of crisis and transformation when traditional mechanisms for change and conflict resolution struggle under great strain or have broken down: customs; traditions; established authority; and shared vision, values, and purpose. Our president causes great anxiety and conflict and batters our democracy daily. And his disarray adds to the already existing national and global problems and is bad for the health of the American people who he pits against one other.

In his book Leadership, James MacGregor Burns defined leadership as, leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations–the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations–of both leaders and followers.

He wrote: …beyond that, the transforming leader looks for potential motives in followers seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower. The result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.

MacGregor Burns described a dark side of heroic leadership as a relationship between leader and follower in which followers place great faith, often unfounded, in the heroes ability to overcome obstacles and crises. The followers don’t think for themselves and avoid personal responsibility by projecting their fears, aggression, and aspirations onto the hero as a symbolic solution to the conflict inherent in change. Jessica Flanigan, a philosopher at the Jepson School at the University of Richmond wrote that charismatic or heroic leaders can inspire non-thinking followers to act wrongly for the wrong reasons. Stephen L. Carter wrote in the NY Times that supporters will think the wrong thing is right.

Followers and politicians who deify leaders collude in the heroic leader syndrome. It’s difficult for even normal people, much less Trump–the poster boy for narcissism, to resist being treated as someone special. It feels good to be treated like an all-powerful and perfect man who receives mass support from followers. Trump demands idolization, and his boot-licking supporters feed his ego daily. Their conformity and compliance enable Trump’s immoral behavior and his repulsive personality. By enabling him, they diminish themselves. They lose themselves and by doing so try to escape personal responsibility.

How can a leader who is a hoax surrounded by second rate advisors and lily-livered politicians be effective or make good decisions? The truth-tellers have disappeared from Trump’s Cabinet and White House. Trump lost his humanity somewhere and sometime long ago. He’s not capable of healthy relationships with followers. He’s a figurehead watching Fox News surrounded by toadying underlings. Lots of “executive time” on his calendar gives him time to construct the appearance of competence and contribution while he eats KFC and watches television. Trump tries to appear a “winner” by lying chronically, blaming always, and covering up his messes. And his true-believers fall for it all. Mediocrity is the norm.

Such a sub-optimal operation becomes vulnerable to outside threats: Russia interferes in our elections, and Trump/McConnell block efforts to protect our votes. History will not be kind to the Trump years or those who lost their values and aided and conspired with him.

Trump’s contributions are often illusionary, inflated greatly, with credit for anything good frequently belonging to others and those who preceded him. Some of what he claims as great achievements cause a threat to the country and planet: fossil fuels and climate change.

The belief that he can direct and control global and national forces is delusional. Living systems, in time of great change, are too complex and unmanageable for one leader to bring about superlative performance, much less a bungler.

People who think know that one person cannot rescue us even as we look for heroes in the strangest places. We need value-driven leadership behavior by many at all levels of our nation and political system. Political leaders must first know America’s reality. Trump and those around him live in a false past; they do not live in the reality of America today.

We need, however, more than distributed leadership in our government and organizations. We also need the few extraordinary women and men who go far beyond leadership in their own development. People, who move through the chaos with courage, maintain their ideals, carry our hope, and reflect back to supporters the deep potential within each of us. They are our heroes and heroines.

Often invisible, people with such gifts are the rebels and outliers of the government, organizations, and enterprises. The get marginalized often because they threaten ineffectual leaders. Trump marginalizes people every day. We need these rebels and outliers to be courageous as they stand out from the ordinary and lead our own development.

The leadership Burns described is about whole people in a symbiotic and transforming relationship with one another–leaders and followers. This leadership is about the character: “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). Leadership is about who we are as men and women.

True leaders strive to live by core values–not what is politically correct, expedient, in their self-interest, or even fair.

Stephen L. Carter said of integrity:

Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.

Courage is how we demonstrate our character.

In 2020, we will have one of the most important elections in our nation’s history. When I evaluate a presidential candidate, I think first of their character. A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. A person of character has a strong inner core: deep values they will not betray, and a purpose greater than her own ego. A visionary, she has a positive, hopeful, sustainable and forward-looking dream for the future of America and the planet. And she has plans for how she will make the vision real–she also tells the truth.

Donald Trump ran for president in 2016. Had he been a positive person he would have been seen as a clown to laugh at. Instead, a malicious man, he brought to light and gave power to the dark side of America’s history. Not heroic; not a leader. Trump uses presidential power to try to return America to her darkest ways and become the bleak hero of people who do not think for themselves.

We need a president who puts the sustainability of our planet and our democracy ahead of personal greed, selfishness, and addictive lust for power. A president who will evolve our goodness as Americans, restore America as the role model for the nations of the planet and a president who will drain the swamp Trump brought to the White House.

President John Kennedy was to deliver a speech in Austin, TX on the night he was assassinated.

A quote from the speech for our nation’s Senators and Representatives at all levels of government:

Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a Party is not to our Party alone, but to the nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom. So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause — united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future — and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.

SUGGESTIONS FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN

Earth is Not a Platform for Human Life

It Is a Living Being

We’re Not on it But Part of It

Its Health is Our Health.

Thomas Moore

 

In 2001, I was asked to write a letter to my grandkids to be posted on The Grandfather Chronicles website.

An excerpt:

Previous generations leave you the greatest responsibility any generation has inherited from those who came before them. The unintended consequences of the successes of previous generations are devastating to all of nature—including the people of our world. Your job is to save the planet for future generations.

We leave you with 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. We live a philosophy of life that 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 homeless waste filled barges in the ocean.

The destruction of forests endangers almost half of the 235 species of primates. Another 20 percent approach threatened status. Our way of life produces spreading deserts, drying seas, and topsoil loss. Our beliefs alienate people from themselves, from each other, and from nature. Our mechanistic worldview destroyed and homogenized thousands of diverse cultures that lived in sustainable ways. Our thinking threatens the sustainability of the planet that you will try to save.

Fast forward to 2019:

Well, dear grandchildren: Over the past 18 years, we failed to face and confront our many existential threats. America (and many other countries) has regressed: lies, threats, corruption, incompetence, demonization, and blaming the powerless for our many problems dominate the news every day. Our democracy is threatened by an autocrat.

Climate change is here and has taken center stage among all of the threats to the environment. Climate change is settled science: 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that we caused it (and here and here).

Our president denies climate change, or perhaps he just doesn’t care. Republicans in Congress don’t seem to care either. We should not vote for any candidate of either party that does not publically state that climate change is real, that we caused it, and offer a plan for actions to take.  We can argue about when the worst of climate change will be or how bad the loss of life and destruction will be. But anyone who wants to still argue about whether climate change is real or that humans cause it just isn’t thinking straight (See Twilight of American Sanity by Allan Frances, MD.) The attacks on nature accelerate. Everything on the planet is affected because everything is connected and interdependent (See Our Planet on Netflix).

We need new, diverse, and younger leaders at all levels of government in America. Leaders who can articulate an inspiring vision, have the courage to lead, get things done, and never go against America’s or their own deepest values. People outside of government do great work on climate change and other environmental issues that threaten us. But we need a functioning government to provide money and right legislation.

Each year we fail to answer the call to transform how we live on our planet, the more difficult change will be. Forget about climate change for a moment: the way we live on our planet cannot be sustained climate change or not. Every day, we consume more of the planet’s biomass. The longer we ignore the environment, the more people will suffer and die, the more destruction there will be, and the more nature will go to extremes to get our attention.

We feel sad, scared, and anxious as we see more clearly the realities of climate change. I recall reading a speech by a trusted author in 2001: I felt so shaken by his predictions for the environment that I had to jump in my car and go for a long ride to process my emotions of grief, fear, and anxiety. Not many people talked about how they felt about what was happening to our natural world back then. They are now.

I Googled “climate grief” and found 47,900,000 results. In 2017 the American Psychological Association found “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.” (See David Brooks, An Era Defined by Fear.)

Many who mourn our planet and dread the future have lost hope for a secure life. They are not crazy (See Yuval Harari’s, Homo Deus.)

Misery precedes a new transformative vision that gives people new hope and aliveness.

We’re sealed into climate change that we cannot stop, but we may have time to turn things around before the worst happens. Denying our emotions is the wrong thing to do. Trying to ignore what is happening or hoping for a hero or heroine to rescue us is the wrong thing to do. And, God won’t rescue us.

We need to see reality clearly, deepen and broaden our awareness, reconnect with science, and find our way to the truth in a world of lies. Once we “get it,” we can get engaged, connect to others, connect with nature, and connect with the vision that offers the best chance for a hopeful and secure life ( See Johann Hari: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solution).

The inhabitants of Earth must join together and cooperate to confront our collective future. The United States cannot go it alone: it would be immoral and unsustainable.

Dealing with the massive issues before us requires a deep transformation in how we live on Earth. Our economics have to change dramatically. Our use of fossil fuels has to diminish significantly. We can no longer have unlimited growth, and we must simplify. Our values need to shift: we can no longer give status and respect to those who deny the need for action. They will be the pariahs of the near future. Political conflict is inevitable and will continue to threaten our democracy.

At the same time, the world of work will continue to change dramatically adding more grief, fear, and anxiety to your lives, You will need to see the future of work and learn to adapt to even faster change than before. You will need to learn 21st-century technologies: AI, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology. You will have to redefine yourselves routinely to be relevant and have a place in the world of work.

John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal:

If we indoctrinate the young person in an elaborate set of fixed beliefs, we are ensuring his early obsolescence. The alternative is to develop skills, attitudes, habits of mind, and the kinds of knowledge and understanding that will be the instruments of continuous change and growth on the part of the young person…this means more attention to basic principles…. In all subjects, it means teaching habits of mind that will be useful in new situations—curiosity, open-mindedness, objectivity, respect for evidence and the capacity to think critically.”

Chaos offers opportunities and danger. Prepare yourselves to be aware of the dangers but find the opportunities. I believe you can and will rise to the occasion. Other generations have throughout history. It is possible, however improbable, to create a new and better world from the ashes of the Industrial Revolution.

To guide you in life, identify your values, articulate your purpose in life, and create your vision for your lives and for the kind of world you want to live in. This spiritual journey is hard work; most don’t do it. Life will pass them by.

Do what you love in life. Let your values and purpose guide you when chaos surrounds you, when you feel lost, confused, bewildered, and disillusioned. Transform your grief and anxiety into a powerful motivation. Fight for the planet.

You will feel alive if you do.

REPULSIVE

To destroy the dignity of a human being is evil.

Peter Koestenbaum, author of Leadership: The Inner

Side of Greatness

 

I read M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie in the 1990s.

Donald Trump ran for president in 2016. When I evaluate a presidential candidate, I think first of their character.  A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. A person of character has a strong inner core: deep values and a purpose greater than himself. A visionary, he has a positive, hopeful, sustainable and forward-looking dream for the evolution of America and the planet. A president of character shows us wisdom, bravery, fairness, knowledge, emotional maturity, and transcendence.

If a candidate fails the character test, I eliminate them regardless of party, experience, grievances,  positions on the issues, or likes and dislikes. Nothing can take priority over a candidate’s integrity. In my evaluation of Trump’s character, he received zero points. Therefore, from my perspective, those who voted for Trump simply were not thinking straight.

With help from Russia, Trump squeaked into the presidency via the Electoral College. He lost the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes.

Since then: lies, chaos, blunders, craziness, scapegoating, criminal investigations, guilty pleas, and decline for America. The dysfunction of the Trump administration smothers us and threatens our existence on our heating planet. The Republican Congress sits by quietly.

I had always thought of evil, when I thought about it at all, as huge events like the Holocaust and people like Adolph Hitler or gruesome and macabre murderers like grave robber Ed Gein, who murdered women and exhumed bodies from graves around Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1950s.

Peck defined evil as “…the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending or preserving the integrity of one’s sick self. Evil …is that force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”

Not all hurtful acts are evil. Peck wrote that the consistency of their harmful actions defines evil people. The abusive husband who humiliates his wife day after day for 20 years; the cruel boss who sucks the life from employees year after year; the political demagogue who lies and scapegoats others in speech after speech, year after year, and the blabbermouth talk and television hosts who spread lie after lie to gain followers and sell books.

Peck—one of my favorite writers–wrote about evil in our normal lives and in everyday people: in families, churches, schools, politics, and in our organizations and institutions. His words alarmed me: I, and people I knew and cared about—ordinary people–could be evil, do evil, be part of evil systems and be unaware of evil in and around us.

Evil people diminish others. Evil people exhaust and devalue those around them. They blame others falsely and demonize people to justify the destruction of people’s spirits and make themselves look like upright people.

Scapegoating allows bad people to pretend to be good. Evil people look just like us so we have to pay attention to their acts and behaviors. Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D. wrote in Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty that evil people intentionally inflict harm on the good and innocent outsider for the pure pleasure of doing so.

When we experience scapegoating, we often feel confused. I call that crazy making. Have you listened to someone talk persuasively about something and felt confused: suddenly up was down, right was wrong, the earth is flat, and climate change is a hoax, and you felt the rug had been pulled out from under your experience of life?

A friend’s advice about crazy making was sound: “Don’t try to make sense of nonsense.” If you decide to confront an evil person, I would add, expect to spend much time doing so and beware: confronting evil will exhaust you and probably hurt and diminish you.

We often feel instant revulsion in the presence of obvious immorality. Tearing others down to elevate himself is our president’s special talent, dastardly as it is. Revulsion makes us want to get away from the person—to escape them. The damage evil people cause means nothing to them: evil people see themselves as the sufferer, justified in their actions.

Malicious folks do not suffer a lack of self-regard; self-absorbed, they have excessive self-esteem (actual accomplishments may be few). Often they do have empathy: they know exactly how to hurt people–usually the powerless. They consider themselves above reproach; they would be appalled to hear that someone considers them evil; they often think of themselves as the victim. Driven by the fear of exposure, they lash out at those who criticize them to avoid seeing themselves accurately. For the scoundrels, the opposition is all bad; their side all good. Hence the title of Peck’s book: they are the People of the Lie who deceive others as they deceive themselves.

Trump lies constantly. The Washington Post reported: “In the first nine months of his presidency, Trump made 1,318 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day. But in the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims — an average of 30 a day.” Who does he lie to the most? The people who attend his rallies.

The Trump persona is his biggest lie. He is not who he says he is.

My favorite quote from Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death comes to mind: “If everybody lives roughly the same lies about the same things, there is no one to call them liars. They jointly establish their own sanity and call themselves normal”

That’s Trump-land.

Trump and the Republican Party are tearing America apart with amazing speed in their lust for power and money. Our suffering is the correct response: “It’s no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (Jiddu Kriishnamurti). Do not despair. Evil responds to power, in this case, political power. Accountability is on the way.

We must judge and stand against evil people. Many of us try not to judge others, but Peck wrote that the Bible did not require us to never judge but we should judge ourselves (and the groups we belong to) first before we judge others. We must make moral judgments that support life and aliveness. To refuse to make those judgments is to collude with the words and acts we abhor.

Frank Bruni “Michael Cohen Got Wise. Will America?” In the New York Times, December 14, 2018:

Michael Cohen put his chips on, and faith in, someone who didn’t deserve it. He was dazzled. He was entertained. He wanted a patron. He needed a guide. So he disregarded all the warning signs, ignored all the bad stuff. It was so much easier to believe.

At one point or another, haven’t many of us done that?

 Didn’t Americans do that when they turned to Donald Trump in the presidential campaign of 2016?”

 And what he [President Trump] required of America was what he required of Cohen. We had to bury values that should never be buried. In our case that meant condoning Trump’s racism; indulging his corrosive conspiracy theories and self-preserving lies; permitting his demonization of institutions and people and whole countries; interpreting cruelty as candor and provocation as strength. Too many of us assented.

 Cohen told the judge that he had lost his moral compass. The many Republicans who continue to stand by Trump have lost their moral compasses, too. There should be parameters for tribalism and a limit to loyalty, as Cohen says he now understands. Trump is on the far side of that limit.

For every leader, there are at least 10 followers ready to trade the burden and bedlam of independent thought for a playbook that tells them exactly what to do. Some of them find it in religion, others in business, still others in politics.

 And con men like Trump can spot them a mile away. Trump looked at Cohen and correctly saw someone who wasn’t going to be in the fast lane unless hitched to him, and he sensed that Cohen knew it. Trump looked at America and correctly saw an anxious, uncertain populace that was ripe for facile answers, scapegoats and a narrative of unjust victimization. So he pounced. And here we are, in an even more uncertain place, with a sentence yet to be handed down.

 Values do matter.