We easily become intoxicated with the miracles of technology that keep emerging, but technological advancement on its own without an ethical framework can be counter-productive. Is the integral development of the human being advancing at the same pace? What are we going to do about the hundreds of nuclear devices rusting out in the Soviet Union? Who is taking responsibility for all that nuclear waste? It is one thing for the wunderkind to create these technological wonders and monsters. It is another to think through a long-term plan for them.
We have marveled at the wonder of test-tube babies and the creation of embryos. But more than 25,000 frozen embryos have been waiting in US laboratories for people to decide about their future: to use them or trash them. It seems that there are big decisions waiting to be made in every one of the arenas we have mentioned. The lucid ones know that the future comes to all of us as crushing demand. It will constantly call on us to attempt the impossible.
A Tin Man Future Without A Heart?
There was a time in my life when I became a fanatic amateur futurist and read every book I could find on new things being developed and the kind of future they would create. One day I spouted on about it all to some friends over a beer. I told them that you know, all this flesh and bone could disappear and we could turn into a set of more efficient artificial prostheses, including heart and brain.
As soon as I had said it, one of my friends asked with some feeling, "You think being a tin man would be great? Is that the kind of human being you want us to become?" I said that I had not thought about it personally, to which he responded, "Look, Brian, it's fine to get excited about all this, but someone's got to take responsibility for all these new inventions. We need to get to a consensus on this quickly, or certain scientists will have us all clanking around like tin men." I said nothing further, just sipped my beer. His point was too obviously true to deny.
There are so many other cases: what shall we do about the Palestinian-Israeli impasse? What needs to happen in the former Yugoslavia? What is the key to turning Central, West, and East Africa around? How do we get a truly participatory governing system here, in which the economic, political and cultural dimensions of society are held in balance, without the cronyism between business and government ? How can we enable full rights for Aboriginal people? How are we going to change schools into places where people really learn how to live life and make a life? Who is going to recreate vital local health systems? Local community? Who are going to be the champions of the environment? Everywhere we look we see what needs to be done. Nothing has to remain the way it is.
The Discipline of Lucidity
Lucidity about reality is not like learning to ride a bike: once learned, we never forget. Lucidity as a stance that has to be recapitulated day after day, so that we are not being constantly smashed by the way life comes to us. Hence the need to discipline our lucidity. We need to know how to stay grounded in our actual situation, and live in reality day by day. This is no snack, as T. S. Eliot reminds us: "Humankind cannot stand very much reality."
Some people I know start each day like this after climbing out of bed:
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Life is never the way we want it.
We refuse to accept its promise.
Nevertheless we are free to live.
Be it so.
Tracy Goss has this summary:
Life does not turn out the way it "should".
Nor does life turn out the way it shouldn't.
Life turns out the way it does.
These are good mantras to use every now and then. These rituals can be the equivalent of rubbing the sleep out of our eyes. They remind us of both the limits and the possibility that life is and set one's course for the day. I know people who start the day by sitting on the floor and doing some yoga exercises. Some people go to Mass to rehearse the way life is; in monasteries, they make sure they get their stance straight by chanting the office of Lauds at 3 a.m. These are highly specific ways of starting the day.
For some of us, the act of taking a shower may be the ritual by which we say to ourselves, "I'm going to stay awake today to life as it is". Other people sit down fully dressed to make out their "Do list" for the day and state their intention to remain grounded in the realities of their situation.
Staying Grounded in Reality
There are many other ways to keep ourselves grounded in reality. One is exposing ourselves to the full spectrum of reality through the movies we watch, the news we decide to listen to or read, the places we go. If we note that the last half-dozen movies we have seen are all romances, we might want to try a serious drama. If we notice that our TV watching focuses a lot on talk shows, we might want to watch the six o'clock news for a while.
Others like to immerse themselves in the experience of the four seasons: the burst of new possibility in the spring; the full flowering and growth in the summer; the wonderful colors and browning in the fall, the cold and death of winter, followed by the quickening and then the explosion of life in the spring. This for them is a rehearsal of life as it is.
Life is full of things that ease this sense of being in "the big squeeze" -- alcohol, drugs, possessions, illusions -- that take away our sense of limits or our belief in possibility. This is why lucidity is a discipline that every leader needs. It is never acquired once and for all, but has to be rehearsed every day.
The final question here is how we relate to life: that is, how we name it. We all know people who say: "Life is a bitch and then you die." We can relate to the crunch as cynics, or romantics, or we can relate to it as good and decide to dance the dance of life.
©2000, 2012. Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New Society Publishers, Canada. http://www.newsociety.com
The Courage to Lead: Transform Self, Transform Society
edited by R. Brian Stanfield.
"To transform society, we first need to transform ourselves." The Courage to Lead starts from this premise and delivers a strong, simple message: if you relate authentically to life, to yourself, to the world and to society, you start the process of social change. Grounded in more than fifty years of in-depth research and practical experience in over thirty nations, The Courage to Lead uses a large canvas to paint a vivid picture of leadership in its many forms: personal, family, work, organization, community.
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About the Author
R. Brian Stanfield was the Director of Research at The Canadian Institute for Cultural Affairs, a non-profit with a presence in 48 countries; for over 50 years, the Institute has worked in organizational development, adult and child education, community development, and methods of social change. As well as Brian's decades of experience as an educator and researcher, he was an inspired leader, who spent years helping others to become the same. Brian was the author of 5 books focusing on the qualities required for successful progressive leadership and group facilitation of which The Art of Focused Conversation as well as of The Courage to Lead.