2020 took a big bite out of our complacency and our “it-can’t-happen-here” denialism. The shocks to our personal and global systems will reverberate for the rest of our lives. The harvest of these ruptures, though, begins now. We can’t leave it to powers that be to tell us what this all means – now, right now, our year of choosing daringly begins. There’s a crack. We can be the light – if we grab the chance to shape the stories of our future.
2020 – what was that about?
While you can’t pin a virus, racism, civil animosity, cyber-crimes, vulnerable supply chains, and a fractured media environment on any one person or group, each of these challenges in 2020 revealed many of our dysfunctional human reactions:
- find someone to blame,
- exploit a new opportunity for profit (sanctioned looting),
- build your brand, opine from every possible platform,
- stall all reasonably promising responses in the halls of power.
Other countries – often the ones run by women – did better at pulling together. But here in the United States, a public health, population-wide approach became a flashpoint for paranoia, or call it earned distrust in the halls of power, given medical science’s racist past and the long simmering pots of conspiracy theories. Just when we should have been pulling together, we pulled apart. My Governor, Inslee, appeared even-handed to me when Washington was the first landing pad for Covid in America, but others consider him a tyrant. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan almost lost her life by trying to save lives through shutting down public gatherings.
Globally we are by no means out of the woods, but we are familiar with the territory of threats … and coping.
2021 is shaping up to be a time of taking stock and starting to heal.
Even as the virus variants are flaring in India and Brazil, vaccinations in the United States are giving people a sense of freedom. Biden has returned a sense of professionalism and compassion to the presidency. The guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin case is a step forward in the long journey of justice. The FBI investigation has identified more than 200 insurrectionists. Climate denialism has its tail between its legs as climate targets, goals, and promises grow bolder and stronger. It feels like we are cautiously blinking out of a cave, reclaiming normal or the new normal or the better normal or maybe just unsure of which way the winds of normal may blow.
2020 birthed my podcast, What Could Possibly Go Right? I invited practical visionaries to help us see actionable steps we might take – personally, politically, socially – to “exploit” our situation for the common good. What is rising up as some walls come down? We learned so much in 2020 about what should and could go right, what ideas or projects or movements now have the wind at their sails.
If 2021 is a year for dusting ourselves off, asking what we’ve learned, what changes are keepers, what toxic habits should never come back, who we are as a society and where we are headed, then the meaning of our question shifts. “What could possibly go right?” can be less about seeing through a glass darkly, discerning shapes in the murk, and more about claiming the ideas, actions, projects, worldviews and dreams that have a better chance of flourishing now that denial has been breached.
For my first interviews I used the quote from economist Milton Friedman, popularized by Naomi Klein’s brilliant book, The Shock Doctrine:
“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”
Through presenting the brilliant ideas hashtagged as #resilience, #regeneration, #sustainability, #democracy, #indigenouswisdom, #compassion, and others, I thought we might cause these to be the ideas lying around when society stopped reeling from the shock of the pandemic.
The pandemic, though, wasn’t all that 2020 had in store for us. We needed to be shaken down to our roots. Racism, colonialism, white nationalism, civic animosity, a poisoned media environment, a threat to our electoral system all needed to hit us in the face. Waiting in the wings, of course, the ballooning climate threats are upon us.
Is it possible now, to pick up that thread? To ask: What brilliant, application (not shovel) ready ideas, prototypes, trends, practices, policies are lying around that can, through attention, support and dedication, be the actions taken? How can each of us – from the perch of our daily lives and our networks of influence and our entrepreneurship and our professions – add our weight to the story where it all turns out in the end?
I believe now is the window to renew our vows to whatever we believe can turn the tide (as I do in this post), not as an act of fear or aggression but as an expression of our love and integrity. Do you see a set of policies that could be a tipping point – but feel exhausted by years of resistance? Now’s the time to be the fool and believe in them again. Do you love regenerative agriculture, donut economics, movement building, ending racism, bridging divides, reshaping work, outing malfeasance, ending waste, protecting the oceans, nature-based education, moving people with your art – there is a flood tide now of people looking for what could be better.
Optimism has a place now.
Call it positive psychology meets social movements and the adrenaline of courage when the hour is late and the threats overwhelming.
Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology, suggests that, for personal happiness, we write down each evening three good things that happened in the day. What if you did that for our world now, not in resistance to the dark tides of extinction, but in celebration of an effulgence of bottom-up energy rising and the nature-aligned science and strategies studied and tested in these last decades.
Each day, what three things do you celebrate your fellow humans creating or your natural home generating?
As I ask my cultural scout guests on What Could Possibly Go Right?, “What is emerging that we can cooperate with, can grow with our time, talent and treasure?”
My dear friend Hazel Henderson secretly wrote beautiful, poetic paeans to Mother Earth while she battled for her ideas inside the beltway in the 1990s. Her guiding vow came to her out of a meditative state, and she re-ups daily:
“Each day I recommit myself to the almighty power of universal love and the evolutionary life force of which I am a small part. I will always be guided by this source of my eternal being and will walk in faith and hope for life on this earth and always seek those who share this knowing as my companions in love on light. I balance my energy in joy and serving my highest purpose, my universal self.”
Write a paragraph that captures your vow to what you hold highest and dearest. Is this flood tide a time to re-up your dedication to it? If you say it is, it is.
Rob Hopkins joined the Patreon member-only event on April 14, leading us in a visualization of what life might be like 10 years from now if our cherished ideas for social well-being took hold. Such visioning doesn’t eliminate the hard work of bringing new forms into being, or the heartbreak when the resistance is too great and we miss the moment, but the vision is still true – and nourishes us.
Write a paragraph about what you might see, hear, taste, feel, smell 10 years from now if your cherished contribution to our collective project of emergence into a sustainable future were to flourish. Or take 5 minutes to bring it to mind, and then include that 5 minutes in your morning practice.
This NYTimes article, on the pandemic crisis-to-opportunity, points out that resilience thinking – asking “what could possibly go right?” – opens your mind to opportunities hidden in plain sight, and activates your will to try something new. Many people have done this in the pandemic. With the pandemic still raging, and with so many deaths and disruptions, it’s unseemly to tout your pandemic blessings, but the stories are bubbling up.
Personally, I’d lost heart that the sum of the bottom-up grassroots prototypes, models, movements, experiments at every level of scale could turn any tide. The evidence of rolling collapses can’t be ignored. What changed in the pandemic for me was my demand to see the success of my ideas in my lifetime, and in precisely the forms I promoted. I was scraped off the barnacles of egoic attachment to my ideas and my timeline and my picture of the future I wanted everyone to adopt.
What 2021 seems to offer is a space to name and claim the full possibility that humans can still be a blessing on this earth, that the blueprints for a society based on well-being are well-developed and ready to build.
A year ago I would have dismissed visioning given the evidence of decline. We have systems to dismantle that don’t want to die. We have fierce opposition from everyone who profits from the way things are. We have movements to build and candidates to elect and success is not assured. But that doesn’t mean we give up our visions. This window when the post-pandemic picture has not locked into place is precisely the moment to name and claim our visions as juice for the journey and guiding lights to get us through the many nights ahead.
Feast on this beautiful video and then write the animating vision alive in your heart for a just, beautiful, compassionate, humble, prosperous, and infinitely fascinating future that is still ours to claim.