Exploring Who We Are And What We Want
Read in 5 min. Some years back, before voicemail, a friend of mine recorded a memorable message on his answering machine. As I recall, it went something like this: "Hi, this is ____. At the sound of the beep please tell me who you are and what you want. If you think those are trivial questions, be reminded most of us have been trying to figure this out all our lives."
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When I look at the headlines and see the things going on in the world these days - the violence we do to each other with weaponry or words, attitudes or gestures, policies or prejudices – I ask myself the same question millions are asking themselves every day: "Why can’t we all get along?"
If any of you are tempted to say, "Come on John, we’ve always had wars and crime and violence and we always will" I ask you to hold that thought and allow me to challenge you.
When Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Smith stepped onto the moon in 1971 and proclaimed, "…there's a fundamental truth to our nature; man must explore," he was affirming a deep-seated need for human beings. Once we have satisfied our survival needs like food, sex, shelter, relationship and safety, we human beings begin to explore the unknown. We have wondered about everything, searched the Earth, are still exploring space (the macro) and the world of subatomic particles (micro). Wherever there is a frontier, a horizon beyond which we cannot see, humans need to check it out. Indeed, we must explore!
Is it the challenge? The mystery? Our nature? Or all three? Does it matter? We just do it!
We have made huge technological advances in recent years. We have gained widespread wisdom from sages through the ages. Yet some of us wonder why we haven’t achieved the peaceful and secure existence here on Earth we claim to want. Who are we and what do we really want? There’s those questions again.
In the past century we have experienced breakthroughs of all kinds that allow us to create the kind of world we want for ourselves. So it isn’t a matter of the conditions being right. We have the ability! As if that isn’t a big enough carrot, we also have a significant number of things threatening us as a species. So we have plenty of sticks as well. We have a choice! We can be attracted by a vision for a better world, a promise that beckons to us while we possess the tools to bring this about. Or we can be driven to change our ways by all the negative events happening, frantically working to reverse our patterns, limit the damage and save ourselves from extinction.
Presently, some of us have chosen the carrot approach – working toward a vision of a new paradigm. Greater numbers of us have chosen the sticks approach – feeling urgency and pushed to rectify unsustainable conditions, trying their best to reform the old paradigm so it remains pertinent. Unfortunately, most people don’t appear to be giving either approach much thought, busying themselves with personal survival or indulging in various forms of self-absorption. But we may be running out of time. Perhaps we will find a hybrid, a mixture of the two approaches, some pulling us and some pushing – carrots AND sticks!
The cynic’s cry – "it will always be the way it has been" - describes a disillusioned perspective, resigned to the present reality being as good as it gets. This is hardly the adventurous human eager to explore the unknown, setting out on the quest for what lies over the horizon. This is hardly the human which astronaut David Smith was talking about. The cynic has lost the spirit of adventure, spirit of exploration, perhaps the spirit of being human.
Let us re-engage that inner explorer in us and leave space to NASA and the other outer space experts. Let us leave the oceans to the people already engaged in those explorations and leave the study of subatomic particles to the world’s scientists. With all these people and organizations fully engaged in their adventures into these arenas of uncharted territory, there are still at least five billion of us who could start exploring who we are and what we want.
If we decide we want a secure, peaceful and sustainable world, we have the skill and wherewithal to pull it off. But the first step is to choose. We must decide the promise of humanity is important enough to stand for it. Then we need to insist upon optimizing the likelihood of that promise being realized, change our ways and begin living, talking and working in ways that support its probability. THEN, we get closer to answering the question of who we are and start acting more consistently with what we want.
Your thoughts matter - more than you can imagine.
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