To help make sense of our turbulent times, I imagine a map where our modern culture lies in an enclave, say on the eastern side of the map and the new, emerging culture lies in a separate enclave in the west. In between is a deep divide over which spans a bridge. On the far right, deep into the mainstream, are those most engaged in and profiting from our old institutions and systems. The closer one gets to the enclave's western border--near the bridge--the more people are questioning the old system. Meanwhile, the new culture on the other side of the bridge is all lit up with bright (solar) lights and music, as though the fair has come to town. This side is not about fixing or changing modern culture, but about creating something new with an allure of what works, using words like sustainable, holistic, peace, and connection. On the bridge are the town criers calling all to come join the fun in the new culture.
Both sides are growing rapidly in intensity. In the mainstream enclave, militarization, and the money made from it, is rising sharply. The power of corporations and the incessant drive for growth are supplanting human connection. Obesity from willful overeating is now a top global health threat. Disillusioned, we are attempting to buy our way to happiness. Superficial entertainment is dulling our minds. The disassociation between humans and other species is increasing the likelihood of ecocide. And education is becoming a puppet of all of the above to churn out more consuming, stultified youngsters to perpetuate the cycle.
Meanwhile, in the new-culture enclave, creativity and innovation are running rampant. Our relationship to the rest of nature has developed into practices of cohabitation. We are using technology for transformational networking. Systems of governance that incorporate full participation, transparency, and accountability have led to new forms of leadership and decision-making. Communities are now supplying many of our basic needs through the localization movement. We are increasingly examining and building healthier inter-personal and gender relationships. And our questioning of formal education is leading to other approaches to learning, which, in turn, are fostering vibrant, inquisitive, and creative youth.
As I watch these two powerful cultures expand, I can feel the tension growing. The fear of letting go of the old, of the unknown, of losing control drives us toward further control--witness extreme political agendas, religious fundamentalism, and the political divide in our country. We numb out, seeking solace and some sort of gratification in gaming and technology, more money, drugs, and food--what we have been told will make us happy.
Yet, there is a palpable emergent awareness seeping into our everyday lives. For some, it is the climate-change discussion that forces us to reckon with an earthly finality if we don't change our ways. That taints the air with urgency, even a sense of desperation or despair for the future. For others, it is the personal recognition that a life centered on acquiring goods and power has little meaning. There is a yearning for greater connection, for purpose. And some have long since crossed the bridge and are among those playing the music in the new culture.
The reality is, however, that for even those in the throes of the new story, nearly all of us live with a foot in modern society. The current institutions are still very much a part of most of our everyday lives. I live with my own cognitive dissonance when I fly in an airplane; buy the cheaper, non-organic broccoli; or drive up to Glacier to go kayaking. I question my choices about which organizations to support and how I spend my time. Am I truly being faithful to a new culture when I feel smug in its moral superiority or I don't stand up to spoken violence? I so dearly want to shed myself of the old story and fling myself wholeheartedly into the new. Yet I know I am not 100 percent ready yet and the world is not quite there.
An underlying question in the felt urgency is, will we make it? Which side will win? This question feeds the modern culture polarity of right versus wrong that has been so destructive. Perhaps a less spoken question is, will this rising intensity between the old and the new come to a clash of cultures? Or will we, as some suggest, "hospice" the old as though it were a dying parent and we are taking over the leadership? The latter assumes some gentle demise instead of a fight. In truth, we do not know our future and we must learn to dwell in the not knowing, possibly for generations.
In these turbulent times as both cultures intensify their efforts and seek validation, it seems critical to me that in striving for the new, we must embrace what is. Our task is to continue to build the allure, to shine the lights and to play the music. As individual planet dwellers, we must live it, even as we are imperfect and witness our own failures, even as we struggle with what to do and how to be, with our not knowing and our continual state of emergence. Perhaps what is being asked of each of us is to shine brightly, to enjoy the fair, to participate in the creativity, and to stand on the bridge and invite others to join us.
Dr. Kimberly A. Maynard works in the heart of disasters and wars, supporting their transition from crisis to peace and renewal. Kim sees natural disasters, political upheaval, and conflict as a rare opportunity to change the status quo. She is currently a Mansfield Fellow in International Affairs at the University of Montana and researches, writes, speaks, and engages directly in revitalizing war-torn communities. She holds a doctorate in International Affairs and is the author of numerous publications, including Healing Communities in Conflict .