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.

Lifelong Learning

In the 2000’s, the American Dream faded for millions of Americans. As the 2016 presidential election approached, work rates were at their lowest levels in decades. Millions of people had dropped out of the work force and income insecurity grew. An opioid epidemic of pain pills and heroin spread across white America often funded by Medicaid and disability insurance, which had become long-term unemployment insurance for many. A study showed that nearly half of all working-age male labor-force dropouts—about 7 million men—took pain medication daily.

Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies.” Suicide, chronic liver cirrhosis and drug overdoses account for much of the increase in death rates.

Many felt left behind in a world that moved faster than most of us could keep up with. Millions no longer trusted politicians, government or America’s institutions. People felt angry, afraid and anxious because America was not going in the right direction for them. Their lives were difficult and getting harder.

The time was perfect for Donald Trump. He promised he would “make America great again.” He would withdraw from globalization. He would bring manufacturing jobs home. And he would give great health care to everyone. He would build physical and psychological walls to keep Muslims and Hispanics out. He called them criminals and terrorists. I call them poor and powerless, mostly women and children, in search of a safe-haven.

Citizens didn’t have to be anxious about climate change: it was a Chinese hoax. Trump would get rid of the EPA, eliminate regulations, exploit our national parks and national monuments and double down on consuming finite resources. If facts and truth got in the way, we would use alternative facts: truth and reality would be what we wanted them to be. Fantasized wishes and opinions would replace science. Together we could create our own imaginary world and live happily ever after. Life would be great.

Working class Americans felt “heard” by Trump. Millions so wanted to believe in him. Their desire to believe clouded their judgement, emotion trumped reason and the unfit and needy con man who lies more than he tells the truth became president.

Today only a few months into his presidency, Trump’s lies cover up his picking the pockets of the American people. Trump betrays those who voted for him and he and Republicans in Congress will continue to cater to the wealthy–indifferent to the suffering of everyone else. His biggest lie was about “healthcare for everyone.” His plan takes healthcare from 23 million Americans and is more a transfer of wealth from everyday Americans to the richest two percent of us than a healthcare plan.

Millions need to deal with addiction.  Trump made combating the nation’s drug-overdose problem a focal point of his presidency. “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth,” he said… “and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted .” Trumpcare will, in all probability, reduce funding for treatment for Opioid addiction when the nation needs it the most.

More lies will be exposed: Globalization isn’t going away; we must be engaged in the world. Manufacturing jobs will not return; coal miners won’t get their jobs back. Climate change is real and we better get honest about the dangers: wars, famines, mass migrations and economic collapse. Walls won’t protect us, alternative facts won’t make reality go away and opioids, heroin and alcohol won’t restore purpose and meaning to our lives—only values, purpose and meaningful work will do that. Trump’s “make America great again” is a road to decline.

We can think of working class Americans as canaries in the coal mine. The issues that drove them to Trump may one day be everyone’s issues, their stories may be our stories. No group or economic class will be immune from the greed, selfishness and the lust for power of the Trump’s of the world. They have no loyalties other than to their own ego’s. We have to say “NO” to “Trumpism” and the dark side of humanity that he symbolizes if we want to have any dreams in America.

We need to be aware of two highly probable future realities: Technology will continue to evolve rapidly and many great advancements will come from robotics, biogenics, nano-technology and artificial intelligence. But technology has a dark side that we need to manage: addiction, distraction, the loss of freedom and the loss of our humanity. And unemployment and income insecurity in the working class alert us to a future that will affect almost everyone. In the decades ahead, massive numbers of people will lose their jobs to technology: lawyers, doctors and accountants along with cab drivers and clerks. Some jobs will become obsolete; others will be done by robots, machines and workers in other nations. We need to adapt.

Thomas Friedman in his book Thanks for Being Late wrote that we must become lifelong learners: we must continually learn new things and develop new skills if we want to even begin to keep up with change and have a place in the future. To be employable from now on, we must reinvent ourselves throughout our lives–life is learning.

Lifelong learning might strike us as a small fix to complex challenges today and in the decades ahead. But the impact of valuing learning and weaving learning processes into the fabric of all aspects of life: you, me, our schools, our organizations, our communities and our local, state and national government and institutions would bring forth massive creativity, evolve our capabilities and prepare us for a future life more different than most of us can imagine today. Such change will require a well-balanced mix of government help and personal drive and responsibility. The alternative might be spending our productive years sitting in front of screens stoned on drugs and living on a small stipend or disability check (See: Homo Deus by Yuval Harari for more about the future of work and massive unemployment).

But we need to do more than just develop new job skills. We must also learn how to navigate difficult changes easier and faster. Friedman wrote, “Every society and every community must compound the rate at which it reimagines and reinvents its social technologies, because our physical technologies will not likely be slowing anytime soon.”

I used the work of William Bridges to manage external change and the internal emotional transitions that accompany external changes and must be guided if we want changes to be implemented well. A deeper understanding of change helps people make changes easier and faster and also helps people tolerate uncertainty and cope with chaos and complexity better. If you or your organization can change easier and faster, you will have a competitive advantage.

Daniel Quinn wrote in Ishmael: Perhaps the flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live. We need to do more than learn new job skills and learn how to change faster. We need to learn how to live differently. Our way of life and our existence as a species is threatened by our addictive consumption of the earth’s biomass. Earth is over-populated and we cannot sustain our way of life for much longer. Either we will change or we will not. Either way, something spectacular is going to happen soon.

We must see reality clearly and we must create new, positive stories for our collective future and unite around them. Then we can leave Trumpism behind and consider it a bad episode in America’s history.

 

 

The Singularity

The human being of 200 years from now will be more different from the human being of today than the human being of today is from Neanderthals or chimpanzees. Yuval Harari (paraphrased) to Ezra Klein, Feb. 28, 2017.

Thomas Friedman wrote in Thanks for Being Late that the rate of change of major new technologies is more than twice as fast as our ability to absorb the changes and will only grow faster. We cannot stop the technology that transforms our lives. We have to learn to change faster or be left behind.

Tristan Harris, former Google product manager, on 60 Minutes (April 9, 2017) said that Silicon Valley designs our smart phones to addict us to them. We are being programmed, usually without our awareness. Gradually, choice by choice, we give up our thoughts, feelings and actions to the machines.

Yuval Harari wrote in Homo Deus that technology will put masses of people out of work. They will be unemployed and unemployable. He wrote that we may have to pay people to not work and drug them to make them happy and give them advanced video games to play all day.

We can see the beginnings of these trends today:

Nicholas N. Eberstadt wrote in Our Miserable 21st Century in Commentary Magazine that the opioid epidemic of pain pills and heroine has ravaged and shortened lives from coast to coast.

He wrote that nearly half of all prime working-age male labor-force dropouts—approximately seven million men—take pain medication daily—paid for mostly by Medicaid. These men don’t use their free time helping around the home or volunteering in their communities. Instead they spend up to 2,000 hours a year watching their electronic devices—TV, DVDs, Internet, smartphones, etc. That is their full-time job. We can imagine Harari’s future: millions of un-working men in the prime of life, out of work and unemployable, sitting stoned in front of screens. What does this say about the future of Democracy?

I wrote this essay in July, 2005. How does it fit our world of 2017?

Quotes from scientists:

Those of us alive today, over the course of our lifetimes, will morph ourselves into machines. We are trying to build robots that have properties of living systems….In just 20 years the boundary between fantasy and reality will be rent asunder. Rodney Allen Brooks (Director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT and author of Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us.)

…If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we? Gregory Stock (director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at the School of Medicine of the University of California)

Biological species almost never survive encounters with superior species. Hans Moravec (Carnegie Mellon University)

The emergence in the early twenty-first century of a new form of intelligence on Earth that can compete with, and ultimately significantly exceed, human intelligence will be a development of greater import than any of the events that have shaped human history. Ray Kurzweil (inventor and author of Spiritual Machines)

Are they mad scientists or prophets?

You decide.

Genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology fed by the exponentially increasing power and speed of information technology intertwine and multiply one another in symbiotic relationships. They are poised to rupture, alter, and perhaps even destroy the fabric of human nature—our minds, souls, mortality, consciousness, personalities, our imperfection, our physical makeup, our freedom of choice, and the indefinable that makes us who we are.

The machines thrive.

Today computing power rides a curve of exponential change unprecedented in human history, and the exponential change itself will continue to accelerate. Moore’s Law states that the power of information technology will double every 18 months. In 2002, the 27th doubling occurred with a billion-transistor chip. A doubling means that the next step is as tall as all the previous steps put together. Twenty-seven consecutive doublings of anything man-made remains unprecedented in human history—until now. The growth curve goes straight up. The potential systemic impact of such power translated to new technologies (genetics, robotics, nanotechnology) and on all of life staggers the mind.

When Moore’s Law exhausts itself it most likely will be followed by a new technological paradigm that will grow even faster. There may be no limits.

We are on the verge of an almost unimaginable future: what scientists call the Singularity. At the point of Singularity technology evolves so rapidly that our everyday world no longer makes sense—we enter a massive neutral zone—a place of no rules. We probably cannot escape this “perfect storm” of chaos; we must go through it.

Author Vernor Vinge wrote of the essence of the Singularity: A super humanity–artificially created. Soon machines smarter than the human brain will be created according to Vinge (See Vernor Vinge on the Singularity available various places on the internet). Ray Kurzweil, author of The Spiritual Machines (www.kurzweilAI.net) wrote that the implications of this change include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence and immortal software-based humans.

As entities with greater than human intelligence are created most intelligence on the planet will become nonbiological and changes in all other aspects of life will accelerate dramatically—including the more rapid creation of even more intelligent entities on a shorter time scale. We will not be able to think and absorb fast enough to keep up with the changes.

Vinge wrote that this change will be comparable to the rise of human life on earth. This will be a unique transition with profound systemic implications for humanity fraught with unpredictability and unintended consequences.

Will we create a new heaven on earth with all problems solved? Or will a new hell on earth emerge where the technology goes bad and the machines rule and humans become their slaves? Or will life continue as it has in the past—imperfect and creative–just with new complexities to cope with?

As I write this essay I am reading the books, Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau and Frankenstein by Dean Koontz—the first non-fiction–the second fiction. As I alternate between the books I have trouble distinguishing the facts from the fiction. The boundaries between fiction and reality blur and foreshadow the approach of the Singularity where the technologies of genetics, information technology, robotics, and nanotechnology merge.

Koontz described Victor Frankenstein who wanted to live forever and save the world from the imperfections of spirit and emotion—including love—unnecessary in a purely material world without spirituality. Some might call him mad. Others would call him driven, brilliant, and totally absorbed in filling the holes within himself by eliminating them in future models of the human being.

Koontz’s scientist creates soulless beings that look like real people and programs them genetically without moral dimensions. Their minds fill with information downloaded from computers. The live out predetermined lives in service of the scientist with no ability to control their own destinies. The machines of flesh become the successor race.

Garreau, the non-fiction writer, described a world of telekinetic monkeys that can move distant objects via their thoughts, fictional super-heroes whose imaginary powers are now real or almost real and “better” human beings artificially enhanced by machines. The telekinetic monkey (near telepathic) foreshadows future human telepathy, the imaginary heroes become soldiers who heal themselves, can go a week without sleep, and can run at Olympic sprint speeds for 15 minutes on one breath of air.

Garreau described machine enhanced people of many potential breeds who live for hundreds of years. Nanobots (nano robots) the size of human blood cells cruise their bloodstreams and attack pathogens, build new cells, and grow new organs. People separate into the enhanced—those who choose to be altered–and the naturals—those who choose to not be altered. Will the naturals become the pets or the slaves of the enhanced?

Parents could potentially order their new child gene by gene over the internet to be delivered to them on their schedule. Who or what would this child be? What would be its connection to the past, to a family, to those who come later? And what would happen when, a few months later, even more fully enhanced genetic models become available that make this state of the art child obsolete? Would the child ever forgive those who created her? Science fiction has merged with the vision of science.

Koontz’s creatures yearn to feel and to be happy like the inferior humans they were created to replace. They know they lack something within themselves despite their “perfection.” This yearning threatens the scientist’s control and leads to unintended chaos as the machines break the rules they were programmed to follow and genetic creation goes astray. Could super-intelligent machines in our “real” world do the same and turn against their creators?  In Garreau and Koontz, fact and fantasy merge.

When Garreau asked a researcher to reflect on the meaning and the consequences of his work, the reply was, “That’s above my pay grade.” People are changing our world and toying with our human nature without much thought as to what they are doing. They are having too much fun to consider that the unintended consequences might be bad. This is irresponsible. It remains up to you and me to set the initial conditions for this development, whatever it may be, and to hold creators accountable for their creations. For we do care about what “not so fun” things could happens to our humanity.

Some believe that to save our humanity and even our species, we must stop this technological development. Scientist Bill Joy wrote: “…We are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil….” (See Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us in the April 2000 issue of Wired magazine) I believe that we cannot stop or control this development. People always seek to improve themselves and their lives. This will not change.

If we push development underground it will only free the technology from ethical and moral considerations. The technology and its impact on our lives and the potential impact on the human soul will not be stopped. What development can happen, will happen—our human nature drives us.

Others believe that the future technology will lead to a heaven on earth with all problems finally solved. We become God and create Heaven. Kurzweil: “We see exponentially greater love.” I believe that these are the beliefs of the pseudoinnocent (see Pamphlet 50). Pseudoinnocence colludes with evil as it denies the imperfection of human beings—artificially enhanced or not.

Evil will continue to exist, and villains will continue to utilize whatever means are available to them to meet their sinister objectives. The insane, immoral, immature, and irresponsible among us will sell their souls for the currency of the day, as they always have, and there will continue to be people of weak spirit and character who will use technology to exploit others. I do not believe there will be man-made gods or a heaven on earth.

For the past decade many have railed against the mechanistic world view and the devastating unintended consequences of a world view that dehumanizes people. I’ve spoken and written of the conscious evolution of our humanity for years (wholeness, authenticity, relationships) because I believe our spiritual development is crucial to reversing the environmental mess we’ve created, which threatens our way of life. We can now add exponential technical development to the threats to our species. We need to pay attention.

Singularity or not, I see the potential for life to create differently than the technologically driven linear projections of heaven or hell—gods or devils. Instead of being led by technology, we can lead technology. To do so effectively we must accelerate our maturity as people and communities and bring forth a creative renaissance of relationships that will transform life on this planet.

The global transformation we are in has spiritual and technical elements. They must not compete or, I fear, the spiritual will be driven deeply underground. We must wisely manage the use of our technical genius. We must embrace the technology that threatens our humanity and outfox the creative dark side of human nature with the creative light of our humanity. We must use the very tools of our potential destruction to outwit those who would destroy our unique humanness in their grandiosity. We must absorb the technology into our greater life force. The spiritual must transcend the technical; people must transcend machines.

Can we preserve our species, retain our humanity, and become even more human in the face of unprecedented pressure and temptation to step outside of a caring and creative human nature? Can and will the good, well-intended people, who comprise the vast majority of people on this planet, find the inner courage and strength to say, “We must manage this wisely and holistically?” To do so we must catch up socially and culturally to our technical development so we can find solutions to problems faster. We must apply our deepest human values to this technology.

I believe that in the chaos of today’s world, if we wish to retain our human nature as we intuitively understand it, we must focus first on being whole, imperfect, and authentic people connected to one another by a shared vision for our collective future. This movement must leap willingly into an unknown future and see creative potential in uncertainty. We will evolve through our creativity, not technological determinism. The impact of such a focus would be profound.

Abraham Maslow wrote that to save our world we must create the “good person.” He defined the good person as:

The self-evolving person,

The fully human person,

The self-actualizing person….

Long ago Confucius wrote that the cultivation of the person must be the root of everything else. Playwright Vaclav Havel wrote: “Transcendence is the only real alternative to extinction.” I believe that Havel, Maslow, and Confucius meant creativity and spirituality when they wrote of transcendence, human cultivation, and self-actualization, not people crossing over to be linear, literal, and dehumanized machines. They understood that each authentic life lived fully provides the diversity to insure the sustainability of humanity. I don’t care about being mechanically perfect; I care about being creatively imperfect.

Each of these great thinkers calls forth images of people who continually grow in complexity in a more natural way. The goal (for me) becomes to use the technology in our spiritual quests to realize our deepest sense of purpose and authenticity. We can deepen and expand our creativity, compassion, and connection with self, others, and nature. We can create meaning in our lives as free, responsible, and spiritual people. We can use the technology to help us do so. We can say “NO” to any technology that threatens who we are in our essential spiritual being and intimate connectedness to self, others, and nature.

Life is about heroic journeys. The human spirit that suffers in our world today must renew itself for the greatest challenge in our brief history on the planet Earth:

The critical challenge of our lifetime may well be to use explosive technical development to preserve and enhance our humanity rather than to have it destroyed by the mindless acceleration of technology without though as to the unintended consequences.

What are the technological lines we will not cross? How do we decide? Who decides?

I don’t know. I do know that we need deep and broad awareness and dialogue among people of the world.

I do believe that we must go forward into the unknown with care, caution, awareness, and thoughtfulness. We must plan, act, reflect, and adapt as we proceed. We have much to think about.

Thomas Friedman wrote in a recent New York Times article (July 27, 2005) that America’s most serious deficit today is a deficit of leaders who can talk about long-term problem-solving and the national interest. Leadership will not come from nationalistic politicians more concerned about re-election than our shared future on this planet or corporate leaders more concerned about riches than sustainability. Nor can the future of humanity be left to engineers, scientists, and technicians who do not want to be responsible or accountable for their creations.

You and I and all global citizens are responsible for the future. We get to choose who we will be in the future. We can be creative spiritually as well as creative technically. We can imagine and create the future we want. Or, as Friedman wrote, we can “Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.”

To be continued.

I wrote about and tried to teach consulting clients to learn how to change organizations faster as a competitive advantage 20 years ago. My management team and I talked about lifelong learning in the early 90’s. John Gardner wrote about lifelong learning in the 1960’s. Most have not paid attention.

Do we hear politicians talking about the issues of technology?

Trump and Trumpism are a dysfunctional denial of what is happening in America and globally. They can do great damage but they cannot stop the forces at play—unless they blow all of us up.

It appears that many of us are on the path to being victims of these transformations. We can choose differently. What happens is up to us.

We begin with awareness: Do we use technology as a tool to evolve our humanity or do we fall under its control and give up our attention one choice at a time? Do we set our own agendas or do we let the machines gradually control our attention, feelings and actions? Do we let smartphones and computer algorithms make our decisions for us? Do we continually learn and reinvent ourselves over and over again throughout our lives to avoid being unemployed and unemployable? Do we resist efforts to go backwards to decline and go forward into the unknown future boldly?

It is up to us.

Eudaimonic Happiness

So we are coming to a conception of happiness that differs fundamentally from the storybook version. The storybook conception tells of desires fulfilled; the truer version involves striving toward meaningful goals. Storybook happiness involves a bland idleness; the truer conception involves seeking and purposeful effort. Storybook happiness involves every form of pleasant thumb-twiddling; true happiness involves the full use of one’s powers and talents. John W. Gardner in Self-Renewal

 

From: Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty:

The highest of all human good is the realization of our own true potential.

Thus was born eudaimonic happiness. It is about striving, working hard, purposeful engagement, the kind of effort that may be stressful or even painful in the short run but over the long run brings meaning and a wildly profitable return on investment.

A life of meaning can be kind of a drag: It involves sacrifice, stress, sleepless nights to feed the baby, working long hours to put your child through college, sitting by your wife’s side through the last stages of cancer, visiting your father even though Alzheimer’s has stolen his capacity for a shared memory, a joke, and gentle word.

So what’s the point of meaning, of eudaimonia, anyway? As it turns out, both our minds and our bodies prefer it. Researchers at the University of Rochester tracked some 150 recent graduates, dividing them into those who were seeking intrinsic goals (valuing “deep, lasting relationships” or “helping others improve their lives”) or extrinsic goals, such as wealth, looks, fame. The researchers checked back two years later and found that the young people who achieved their extrinsic, image-related goals fared poorly: They reported more negative emotions like shame and anger, and more physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and loss of energy. The intrinsic set, which valued relationships and personal growth, reported more positive feelings toward themselves and others, and fewer physical signs of stress.

Let’s drill down a little further, into our biology. Our bodies prefer selfless happiness to self-centeredness, and will reward eudaimonia with a longer life. Scientists have discovered that people who pursue eudaimonic well-being also have lower particular biomarkers for inflammation that have been linked to a number of health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. These purposeful people even had lower cholesterol.

Drill down deeper still, and we find that even our DNA rewards eudaimonic meaning and punishes hedonism…. Those who pursued pleasure more than meaning had the bad genomic fingerprint profile, the one with the dangerous immune response. But those whose dispositions tipped toward eudaimonic well-being had the opposite response to stress: they were protected at a cellular level.

It is better to be good than happy.

Zappos & Happy Employees

True happiness involves the full use of one’s powers and talents. John Gardner in Self-Renewal

Zappos.Com has been in the business news recently. See my recent posts: Zappos, Teams and Pizza Pie and Zappos and the Dark Side of Leadership. I’m interested in the organizational work at Zappos because it is similar to leadership and consulting work I did long ago. No, Zappos organizational work is not new—just repackaged and renamed. Zappos likes to call attention to itself so we can get a glimpse inside.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wants employees to be happy. He even wrote a book about happiness.

Other company’s invest in employee happiness.

The media tends to focus on glitzy stuff like a kitchen for employees, flashy meetings, and Zappos even pays people to leave the company (few take the offer). I understand the quick-fix mentality of the business world and the “for public consumption” success stories so I look with skepticism on the stories.

Here’s one organizations story and what we learned about happiness.

I led a transformation at the Star Tribune newspaper (Minneapolis, Minneapolis) in the early 1990’s. This change effort began when employees invited the Teamsters union to organize a union in the Customer Service Center: a call center that answered a million calls a year. Employees were upset with a reorganization plan for the department that leaders commanded and controlled from the top-down without employee involvement.

Senior management, determined to not have a union in this department (there were 13 unions at the Star Tribune), fired five women managers–scapegoats for the higher-ups who created the conditions for the organizing effort. I was asked to take over the department and told to defeat the organizing effort AND save millions of dollars at the same time. I created the vision for a new business unit: The Customer Service Center would join the newspaper’s Circulation field operation, which had already moved to self-managed teams.

We wanted to make employees happy to defeat the Teamsters.

We soon realized that being in the happiness business led to frustration and disappointment. We found happiness an elusive idea.

I learned that it was better to create conditions where employees could come to work and feel valued, involved, and informed and have their talents and passions utilized in jobs big enough for them–if they wanted to. Profits would grow as involved, engaged and self-managed employees pursued noble goals and they would feel alive in the process.

Back in the early 1990’s, not many books were available to help us chart our course. We had to learn on our own with the help of a consultant by the name of Diane Olson who practiced as a clinical psychologist and organizational consultant. She guided our process, made sure our decisions were consistent with our vision and values and helped us understand how to lead in a new kind of organization. We learned to understand and incorporate the emotional side of change into our leadership. We were action oriented: we planned (but didn’t get bogged down), took action, reflected on what happened, and adapted as we went–just like all pioneers.

Such an organization–much more difficult to work in and lead than the mechanistic model of command and control– required trust, diversity, relationships, excellence and a tough-love leadership. I had as much or more to learn than anyone. I asked for regular feedback and received it. I apologized often for my slips back to the old ways of leading.

Here’s what employees did in the customer service center:

•I met with employees in groups of 10 and described to them what we had already done with self-management in the field operations. I invited them to join in the vision of employee engagement/involvement, value driven leadership, and the goals–in this order: to improve employee quality of work life, improve customer service, become faster moving and more creative, and increase revenue/cost savings. The employees choose to join us.
• I selected my staff and got the right people in place.
• Employee groups worked to design 15 self-managed teams, and a skill-based pay system. We invited the more skeptical and outspoken employees to become change process teams who insured that employees felt valued, involved and informed as we went through change. They reported to me and became engaged.
• We downsized the workforce by 35% and eliminated most supervisory positions (see my post Zappos, Teams & Pizza Pie).
• Employees created and implemented a process that required all employees to apply for the new positions (jobs big enough for them) and teams.
• We saved millions of dollars, customer service measures improved dramatically and we celebrated.

In the process, we freed up vast untapped energy, talent and potential in employees.

Were the employees happy? I think so. They accepted the difficulties of this change and rejected the Teamsters union.

I felt inspired and I left the company to return to graduate school at age 48 to complete a Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change and to teach others about leading the transformation from a mechanistic world view to a living system world view and how a shift in organizational metaphors leads to dramatic changes in how we work, lead and follow.

I learned over the years that I am responsible for my happiness. I use the Sigmoid Curve as a model to review the stages of my life and help me to become aware of the need and time for continued evolution in my life hence more time of flow or feeling alive. Organizations can use this model to find the right time to change before decline sits in. Enterprises don’t renew themselves just once: they do it routinely from the peak of their success to a new vision of their organizational life—that is, if they want their enterprise to be sustainable.

I agree with John Gardner: happiness comes not from perks but as an outcome of the pursuit of noble goals.