Fritjof Capra, physicist, systems thinker, innovative writer, professor, and environmental educator, said this at Bioneers: “Solutions require a radical shift in our perceptions, thinking, and values.”
I agree. So how do we create this shift? Embedded as we are in dysfunctional and outdated systems that have influenced our perceptions, thinking, and, to an astonishing degree, our values, how do we step outside these systems far enough to assess them clearly and transform them wisely? Some thoughts:
1) Our perceptions, thinking, and values are malleable.
If, for example, people immigrate from one culture to another, they begin to live on a hyphen, carrying their perceptions, thinking and values from their original culture, while slowly absorbing and accepting new perceptions, thinking, and values from their new culture. Their children continue this hyphenated existence, generally moving further toward the new culture. Their children’s children are likely to be fully enculturated in the new society. What does this mean? It means that we are capable of holding disparate views and perceptions simultaneously, and that our thinking and values can shift, with new information and new experiences. This bodes well for the radical shifts we must make in our perceptions, thinking, and values.
2) Most of us share core values.
Many, if not most, of us subscribe to the Golden Rule to do unto others as we would have done unto us (or the reverse, to not do to others what would be anathema to us). Many, if not most, of us know that the accumulation of things (beyond what is necessary and a bit more for enjoyment) does not bring us happiness, whereas joyful and helpful relationships with family, friends, and neighbors do. And, many of us know that a restored environment secures our health and the health of generations to come. In other words, we value kindness and peaceful, sustainable human and ecological communities.
Yet we have created and perpetuated systems that defy these values in favor of other values and interests, pursuing profits at the expense of the biosphere and creating and using products and systems that cause terrible harm to other people, other species, and the environment. We fail at living according to our deepest values, not because we don’t value kindness and peaceful, healthy communities, but because our perceptions and thinking are molded by faulty systems and because other competing interests take root. Instead of recognizing this conflict and trying to resolve it practically and wisely, we fail to acknowledge it, choosing sides and clinging to false options. We create either/or choices (Republican v. Democrat, Socialist v. Capitalist, Christian v. Muslim, Urban v. Small Town, Elitist v. Joe Sixpack), as if these options are at all viable for the radical shift required. They are not. We need to find systems that support our shared core values of creating a peaceful, healthy, sustainable world for all, and shift our perceptions and thinking toward the attainment of this goal. This may not be easy, but it is absolutely possible.
3) We need humane education at all levels of society.
I have said for years that if we can raise a generation with the information, tools, and motivation to solve our greatest challenges, infusing all curricula with humane education, we will transform our world. But, we do not have the luxury of waiting a generation to reverse the trajectory of global warming or to slow population growth, two of the most frightening challenges we face. This is why humane education must be offered everywhere – in schools, of course, but also for and through the media, health care providers, architects and engineers, entrepreneurs, executives, legislators, farmers and more. Humane education – that is, education about the interconnected issues of our time that promotes inquiry, introspection and integrity, as well as far-reaching systems transformation – allows us to step outside our current perceptions and thinking in order to deeply examine our values and make long-term, wise decisions representing the radical shift we need.