The coming days and months will be increasingly contentious. But we need not fall prey to the spreading divisiveness and factionalism. Among its less heartening effects, the global pandemic has spawned countervailing trends of, on the one hand, a sensed need to get things under control and take our life back and, on the other, a sensed helplessness and impotence in the face of what is being perceived as an invisible agent of death. Framed this way, we appear to be living in little more than a Darwinian dystopia of the survival of the fittest, with “Nature, red in tooth and claw” (as Lord Tennyson so powerfully penned), at our doorstep and coughing down our neck. Only this time, we can’t see the agents — can’t hear them stalking us, can’t smell, touch, or in any way sense their presence. Indeed, not even the tools of science can assuage our doubts and provide succor. Some have even dubbed this “Schrödinger’s Virus” due to the fact that we must act as though we have the virus (so as not to spread it) and as though we do not have it (and are not immune to possibly getting infected by it), at the same time. This is the dominant narrative we tell ourselves, through news outlets, social media, and often the voice in the mirror.
What can we do in the face of such a seeming nightmare? Scramble. Panic. Rage. There really seems to be no time at all to fix this!! A specialist has some facts and figures, an expert produces an analysis, an authority asserts an interpretation and formulates a diagnosis, a prognosis, a prescription and a proscription, and the pandemic of paranoia prospers. So we each grab the nearest magic bullet being proffered and jump on our horse to ride madly off in all directions, shouting to the ever-receding horizon that this is the way to go.
But nothing squares with the accounts we’re told. None of them hold water. Could there be another way to approach this challenge, one that doesn’t require defaulting to such a pervasive narrative of strife and fatalism? Clearly, we live in an increasingly networked society, embedded in a fundamentally interconnected world: nature is one big rhizome. This means we are more fragile and vulnerable (since all things spread more quickly under conditions of greater interconnection and interdependence), but it also means greater strength and robustness (for the very same reason). Simply put, we are stronger together, though if we don’t work together, our strength becomes our very weakness.
The fact that these times represent an unprecedented challenge to our economy, our way of thinking, and our way of life as a species on this planet is the source of both great despair … and great hope.
There can be no doubt we live in VUCA times — characterized by events and situations that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. In our daily experience, this easily translates to RUPT experiences — when we sense that everything is too Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, and Tangled. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed, trapped, and too small to cope with it all. Especially when the information we have at our disposal is, well, VUCA. This may be the biggest and most extensive test of our capacity — both individually and collectively — to rise to the challenge of our times and respond with evolutionary smarts.
To transmute this perceived danger into realized opportunity requires taking a stance and raising our sights. Grounding our vision in the life-affirming, future-creating possibility space of what we know at the very core of our being to be within our reach — the low-hanging fruit that Stuart Kauffman so deliciously terms “the adjacent possible” — can provide an evolutionary escape route out of the darkness.
Relying exclusively on our faculty of reason, analysis, deduction and mental acuity won’t be sufficient to meet this challenge. Indeed, over-reliance on the intellect to the exclusion of our faculties of intuition, sensing and wholistic prehension of the world around us may actually keep us from effectively engaging with it. Slowing down, stopping to listen for the call of life, for where it is coming from and the images and possibilities that arise in us when we give them a chance to show themselves — here is where the seed of possibility sprouts. As with anything just being born, just coming into existence, not yet fully expressed, what is called for is “only a little patience and humility. A little silence. Unobtrusive but real attention. Awareness of the newcomer as a person. Unselfconsciousness.” This is how Frederick Leboyer describes the attitude, the disposition, that the sacredness of greeting a new life invites. And it serves us now as we seek to mid-wife, give birth to, and be born into a new era of life.
Fundamentally, there is no roadmap to the future. That much is pretty clear now. And yet, we can connect with the highest potential for flourishing in, on and with this living planet of ours. It is our home, and it will continue to serve as such if we allow ourselves to learn how to thrive with Earth— not at the expense of life, but as a fuller expression of the underlying impulse of life. As Janine Benyus says, life creates conditions conducive to life. We can do this, too. In fact, if ever there were a time to take a stance grounded in the affirmation of life and to raise our vision to the potential we have to contribute to this narrative of creating conditions conducive to life, it’s now.
How do we do this? Together. Of that I have no doubt. We are smarter together than any of us is on our own. And nature and the field of life that expresses and emerges it is smarter still. Our history has prepared us for this moment — we have the power of all our ancestors coming to ground us and of all future generations calling us to raise our sights. If we can hear, feel, and see with this power, and if we can source the patterns that connect us with the wellspring of life, we will transcend. But it will mean changes of habits of mind, and changes in patterns of behavior. It will be up to each of us to take on the mantle of evolutionary co-creators. We won’t be able to pass it off to the next generation to do this. It’s not something “for all you other people … out there,” but for each of us to take on. To be the change — to be the systems, the ecosystems — learning our way into new patterns of thrivability and interbeing.
So don’t get swept up in the mad rush, the panic, the hysteria of trying to solve the riddle of our co-existence on this planet or trying to fix our seeming imbalance with nature by this Friday. Yes, these are serious issues, and they demand our attention, but now is a time to practice the Art of Obliquity. That is, rather than rushing at things head-on, come around to them — at an oblique angle. Don’t try to stare each of them down, but glimpse them all in your peripheral vision and see how they approach you. Remember: we are nature, and we can make sense of all that’s happening and how best to flow with it. Listen… breathe… give yourself time and allow yourself to be danced to the pulse of life-connected-to-life. The way we find will be the one that finds us, too.
Alexander Laszlo (Ph.D), is a co-Founding Member, Evolutionary Catalyst and New Paradigm Storyteller for EARTHwise. He is the 57th President and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS), former Director of the Doctoral Program in Leadership and Systemic Innovation at ITBA, Argentina, Founding Core Team Member of NetSpirit, and former Director of the Doctoral Program in Management at the Graduate School of Business Administration & Leadership (EGADE-ITESM), Mexico. As Professor of Systems Science and Evolutionary Development, he currently teaches on evolutionary leadership, collaboration, and systems thinking at a variety of MBA and Doctoral programs internationally, and serves as President of the Honorary Board of Advisors of the World Complexity Science Academy (WCSA).
He has worked for UNESCO, the Italian Electric Power Agency, and the U.S. Department of Education, has held visiting appointments with the London School of Economics and the European University Institute, and has been named a Level I Member of the National Research Academy of Mexico (SNI). He is on the Editorial Boards of seven internationally arbitered research journals, recipient of the Gertrude Albert Heller Award, the Sir Geoffrey Vickers Memorial Award, and the Förderpreis Akademischer Klub award, author of over ninety journal, book, and encyclopedia publications, and a 6th Degree Black Belt of traditional Korean Karate.
Born in Fribourg, Switzerland, he is holder of a PhD in the interdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Policy from the University of Pennsylvania from where he also received his MA in History and Sociology of Science. His BA is from Haverford College, with a major in International and Comparative Political Science and a minor in Human Physiology.
His intellectual passion is to apply systems thinking, policy analysis, and technology assessment to processes of individual and collective empowerment that foster conditions for a thrivable planet. His professional objective is to engage in educational and community-building activities that curate the nurturance spaces for actions at systemic leverage points that help emerge a global eco-civilization.