“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. ” …..Martin Luther King, Jr.
I don’t like to dwell on negativity, but sometimes we have to look at things we don’t like so we can learn from them. The contrast between what we desire and any negative experience creates a gap that we need to transcend. The first step in moving across the gap is to bring its existence into our awareness.
Humanity is currently experiencing such a gap. As we look out of the world, we see evidence of a major crisis brewing around us. There are growing conflicts between different ideologies, growing economic disparity, competition over converts to our way of thinking and battles for control of our social systems. All of these conflicts move between battling for our minds and battling for our possessions.
As we experience all of this conflict and competition, we simultaneously sense a better path – a higher way – a greater vision of how humanity can live together. We are at a major choice point. Can we come together as a species and collectively make the choices that will bridge us from our current level of divergence in our beliefs and possessions to a world that values diversity and offers equal opportunity?
As we ponder moving across that gap, let’s also hold in our minds the metaphysical map we explored recently. Individually and collectively we are evolving up the evolutionary spiral of life to a higher and better place. Our choices in each moment impact whether we individually and collectively move up or down the spiral or swirl around in place.
Maintaining that image – consider the impact of conflict and competition, differences in opinion as to our highest choice, variance in our vision as to where humanity is going. It’s like a mental tug-of-war with each of us attempting to direct human kind in different directions. The result – two steps up, two steps back, swing around right where we are.
Can you imagine the progress we would collectively experience if the vast majority of us were aware of our evolutionary journey, agreed upon the basic tenets of our collective vision for our future and all acted in a manner that was in alignment with that vision? Such a situation would see a major leap in our collective unfoldment.
Just to be clear here, I am not suggesting that we all have to think alike. In fact, there is great value in diversity of opinion and great vulnerability when too many march together lockstep. It is the melding of diverse ideas and beliefs that has driven the engine of humanity’s creative growth. When we all think alike, the creative fertilizer of a new idea can get discarded without proper consideration. Too much sameness coupled with unhealed aspects of our shadow can lead to group behavior that is destructive rather than constructive. Consider Nazi Germany or misguided cult leaders like Jim Jones and their followers.
Yet when humanity is inspired by its highest idea of what it can become and a critical mass of people move towards that lofty vision while allowing for diversity of ideas to seed the possibility of an even superior vision, evolutionary soaring can occur. Such great gains often follow periods of great pains – if we can move through the pain and learn its lessons.
We are in a period of such pain. We live in a world that is faced with many challenges – war and violence, climate change, overpopulation, increasing income gaps between the haves and have-nots, battles over religion, arguments between religion and science and more. Instantaneous worldwide media delivers these struggles to our awareness continuously as they happen. Our consciousness is inundated with conflicts that are occurring while simultaneously we are bombarded with messages about our dire situation. It can certainly seem overwhelming. Behind all this is a growing sense that if we don’t do something soon to solve our problems, we will pass a point of no return where humanity will move into some type of apocalyptic future. Although I suppose that’s possible, my optimism sees us coming together and moving forward. We will choose a life of “heaven” over a life of “hell”. Making that choice is the subject of both my upcoming book and this blog obviously.
So let’s take a moment and look at some of the challenges facing us. In doing so, I want to borrow another “map” which I think will be useful – Ken Wilber’s “quadrants”. As a bit of background, Wilber in creating his integral theory sought to outline the connections between various truths discovered in different scientific, spiritual and philosophical models. By charting the wisdom from these different sources into one map, we gain new insights. He calls his map the “AQAL” model. AQAL stands for “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all types”. Later on will look at more aspects of this map, but for right now I would like to borrow his concept of quadrants to categorize human kinds current crisis in ethics and behavior.
In the quadrant aspect of Wilber’s map, we have a box that contains two columns and two rows. The first column represents our interior or inner consciousness while the second column represents the world of the exterior or physical matter. The first row represents the individual or singular aspect of somethingwhile the second row represents the collective (click here to view a chart). So now let’s take these four quadrants and map out some of the current crises facing us.
In the upper left quadrant of the world of the individual’s interior, one of the problems we experience are people who believe that their beliefs and values are better than everyone else’s. They believe they are right and other people are wrong. They believe that if everyone thought like they do, then the world would be a better place.
Although it certainly natural to have discernment so that we can hold that one idea or belief is more valid than another and to therefore disagree with other people, we are vulnerable to crossing over into the world of our shadow when we seek to make others believe as we do. When we move to a place where we sense there is a battle of right and wrong occurring in our minds versus the minds of others, then we sense that it is important that we “win” this battle of ideas while you “lose”. Discussion and debate is healthy when we’re not attached to winning. It becomes unhealthy when it becomes important for us to prove the other person wrong. In such cases, our words can turn vitriolic and violent.
In the lower left quadrant of the world of the collective interior, we experience these people who believe that their personal ideas must win out over the ideas of others seeking to grow their base of supporters. Now it is natural for us to band together with like-minded individuals for the sharing of ideas and the gaining of political clout. But again, there is a subtle shift into the shadow when we sense that “our group” has to “win” at the expense of other groups “losing”. Tolerance of groups who believe differently from ourselves should be a higher aspiration for humanity than the belief that our groups ability to generate more converts than other groups is more primary.
Consider for a moment the shift in public discourse in the past 10 years or so. Whereas the media and political debate used to acknowledge areas of agreement while allowing the space for differences of opinion, there now appears to be a greater focus upon the extreme differences around and issue with less acknowledgment of any points of commonality. It’s almost like the media recognizing that we have so many choices and so much information coming at us they have to create a controversy to gain our attention. Unfortunately they do this by pitting the far fringe differences of an issue against each other and ignoring the middle ground. They invite to their programs the most controversial speakers and then feed them questions designed to stir the pot.
Personally, I find it hard not to feel frustration when I’m watching the speakers trying to out duel one another – attacking the other’s position, interrupting the other speaker, talking over one another and treating each other disrespectfully. It’s like they’ve been thrown in a cage for a few minutes to verbally spar. It’s frequently less a dialogue to inform us than it is a fight to entertain us. The one with the most sound bites or makes the better points is the winner.
Seems like almost every aspect of our culture gets thrown into this battle for supremacy. The middle ground in our political discourse, that fertile area of give-and-take that led to higher political solutions, has all but disappeared in recent years. In some people’s minds, compromise has become a dirty word. Seeking common ground in some circles is seen as a sign of weakness, failure and losing.
There are religions whose focus has shifted from offering their teachings to a forceful proselytizing. Instead of allowing individuals to seek out a faith that resonates with them, there are some religions who seek to pressure individuals into converting. Again it’s a subtle shift from offering what you believe in to a place where you judge and attack others for believing differently. All major faiths have some fundamentalist groups who have unfortunately slipped into seeing their spirituality as a battle to be fought – with winners and losers.
The purity of science has not been immune from the slip away from simply seeking the empirical truth and into the battle for whose “truth” is right. In some cases, these battles pit scientists against scientist. In others, it turns scientists and religious leaders against one another. And in still other cases, some scientist can be seen moving into a sort of scientific fundamentalism rather than keeping a healthy open mind – which is a basic component of vigorous scientific discovery.
Consider how some aspects of science have been co-opted into the political arena for debate. The scientific reality of climate change ontinues to be debated. The well proven theory of evolution continues to come under attack by religious fundamentalist. There is been the rise of the so-called “skeptics” such as Richard Dawkins and others who frequently move beyond the bounds of simply presenting pure science and into the realm of attacking those who don’t believe as they do. Everything and every topic at some point seems to get dragged down into a battle – with winners and losers.
In the upper right quadrant of the individual’s exterior, one of the problems we experience is where people in their attempt to gain a degree of safety and security through the accumulation of possessions move into the shadow aspects as seeing the never-ending growth of their personal wealth as the prime purpose of life. Again, to be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being prosperous. Creating abundance and wealth and enjoying a life of affluence certainly one of the gifts of living life. It’s one thing to want a certain standard of living and to have a prosperous life – but again there is a subtle shift that occurs when we move to the place where our gaining more wealth is seen as primary over anything else. We must win more “stuff” even if it’s at your expense – that is you lose.
The Wall Street greediness of recent years is a symptom of this shadow. The growing division in the distribution of wealth – between the small number of haves and the growing number of have-nots – is another indication of our problem. Whenever a person bends the rules of ethics to successfully make more money, then it becomes increasingly easier for others around them to bend those same rules. As it says in the Bible “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).” This love has created an ethical crisis of great proportions.
In the lower right quadrant of the collective exterior, one problem we experience are attempts to control our social systems by individuals who are driven by selfish greed or ideology. Healthy debate leading to the creation of systems that work for everyone’s highest benefit is a good thing. We need strong and effective governments. Religions that offer personal meaning, comfort in times of challenge and the like are beneficial. Maintaining an educational system that assists each person to develop the tools and opportunity to live a healthy and successful life is something we should all support.
Yet again there is plenty of evidence of attempts to co-opt our social systems by individuals and groups who seek to win at the expense of others. The externally driven greediness of some of our financial institutions and corporations uses their wealth to lobby Congress to maintain rules and regulations better to their benefit even at the expense of the rest of the country. They seek limits on the government to oversee their business dealings or the safety and security of the products they produce. They seek to pay less in taxes than others or to get government subsidies to support their corporate activities. They want to win, even if others lose.
The internally driven desire to force a belief system on others who think differently has led into vicious political battles in recent years. Those whose religious beliefs cause them to abhor abortion seek to institutionalize eliminating its availability even on those who believe differently. Those whose religious beliefs deny the scientific validity of evolution attempt to force nonscientific options into our classrooms over the objections of those who believe differently. In their eyes it is seen that forcing their beliefs on others – winning – is more important than allowing others the freedom to believe and do as they choose.
I could probably go on, but you probably get the point. You could probably create your own list of frustrating experiences where individuals have shifted into the place of materialistic greediness or ideologically driven righteousness such that they have turned the world into a battle of winners and losers. But my point here isn’t to dwell on the negative. Rather my intent is twofold – One desire is for us to notice and acknowledge that there is this growing gap between our highest vision of humanity and what we are experiencing in the world, and that this gap is reaching a critical point where we must do something now if we are going to bridge it. My second hope is that by holding up the experiences that are less than what we are capable of creating, through its contrast we can create a vision what we would like to experience instead.
Even though I have mapped these challenges out into four quadrants which I hope you have found helpful, I now want to collapse them into one underlying commonality. In all these negative behaviors, they have at their root a belief in duality and separation. What do I mean? I mean that in each case, central to a belief and behavior that is focused upon my winning your losing is an acceptance that you and I are separate beings who are unrelated and unconnected, living our lives apart from one another. As long as there is a “me” and a “you” and a “my group” and “your group” and my focus is upon our differences, then it’s easy for me to want to win even if your expense. It doesn’t affect me if you lose.
As long as you or I choose to focus on our being different, we grow in our awareness our sense of being different. Competition and conflict are natural byproducts in a world where our attention is on the different.
Yet, as I have mentioned, we are on an evolutionary journey. Our experience of duality and separation has actually served us up to this point in our history. We will explore that more in later articles. For now, simply consider that these negative experiences, the subtle shifts in the interior world of our thoughts and the exterior world of our actions towards an worsening state of divisiveness and conflict are a natural byproduct of our evolutionary history. The feeling within more and more of us to transcend these negative experiences is a pull towards a higher future.
What is that higher future? That is the vision of a possible future, a world that works for everyone, a topic on which we frequently write and you will hear more from me in the upcoming future.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!