I recently wrote about the value of self-development programs in the context of our global existential crisis. It’s clear that there’s no going back in time with regard to our fascination with the individual. We can not put the genie back in the bottle and pretend that individual drives and dreams don’t matter or must be sublimated to the needs of the tribe.
And yet …
As the extinction of our species looms in our potential future, it behooves us to consider our fixation with the individual’s success and glory — to ponder the entire notion of personal dreams, both in their content and their approach to manifestation.
Time is a weird and mysterious thing.
We’re always here now — yet the story of our personal lives, and the life of all Life, unfolds. Though we might agree that there is always only this moment, we cannot deny there is also a past and a likely future. While it can be mind-boggling to contemplate our relationship to time, one thing is certain: very few of us have the ability to notice what time it is in the longer arc of history. **In other words, in retrospect we can see when the enlightenment happened, but while it was happening it would’ve been very hard to see, know, comprehend, or place the significance of that period and how it impacted the course of humanity.**
Consider this very moment in humanity’s trajectory.
There are nearly eight billion people on the planet, technology and AI continue to develop rapidly, natural resources are diminishing at unprecedented rates, and human atrocities and injustice proliferate the globe.
And yet …
Billions of people are also meeting one another across borders, beliefs, and dreams. Humans are discovering ways to clean up the oceans, repopulate the rainforests, and care for one another. Thinkers from all disciplines are considering the great problem of how to coordinate a healthy culture where eight billion individuals are considered and included.
At one time, the dreams or personal potential of the individual had to be sublimated for the survival of the tribe. As tribes multiplied and intermingled, new groups grew and crossed borders. As a consequence, there was more room for the individual to move around and find a place where their personal dreams and skills mattered, and their potential could be expressed.
Then we hit a tipping point.
That tipping point likely began when we created weapons of mass destruction, and has been solidified in the emergence of the technological revolution of our era.
Very few can see where we are in the arc of human history — we can barely and rarely see where we are in the arc of our individual life — but one thing we do know for certain is that, since the development of the atom bomb, we have been in new and uncharted territory. It appears as if the zero sum game — where there are winners and losers — is going to wipe us all out unless we start playing a new game. A win-win one.
In order to do this, we must reorient our sense of community back to the tribe mentality, where the survival of the tribe depends on the behavior of each of us as individuals. The logical deduction from here would be that we need to once again sublimate our individual dreams for the sake of the tribe.
But what if …
What if we are at a new juncture in our evolution and what will actually save us and preserve our global tribe is not the sublimation of the individual, but is instead bound up in a concerted effort to draw forth from the individual their unique expression of their humanity?Rather than solely looking to what the tribe needs, what if we included the individual’s uniqueness and applied that to the needs of the tribe? What if including individuals’ dreams rather than sublimating them is key to a tribe at the scale of eight billion surviving?
When tribes were small and often in conflict with other neighboring tribes for survival, the game being played and the rules were different. If we can wrap our heads around the reality that there is only one tribe now, no other tribe to compete with, we might see that, in order to survive, we have to sort out each of our roles and the nature of how to play this new game.**
This perspective orients us away from solely seeking solutions to specific problems such as climate change or economic disparity, and turns our attention towards education and human development as we seek to coordinate the reality of a global community through reorienting our ways of governance, participation, and leadership.
One of my favorite thinkers to be speaking directly to this possibility is [Daniel Schmachtenberger.](https://civilizationemerging.com/about/) He is a brilliant thinker integrating fields of philosophy, sociology, history, and psychology into a compelling argument for our potential future.
Daniel’s central interest is long-term civilization design: developing better collective capacities for sense-making and meaning-making to inform higher quality choice-making. Advancing models for long-term viability, along with advancing the capacities for sense-making, design, and coordination needed to support the necessary nearer-term transitional and protective work, is Daniel’s mission and focus.
Daniel’s voice is clear and compelling:
“We need new systems of governance that are not any system of governance the world has ever done so far. They are systems of how we individually and collectively make sense of what’s going on, make sense of what we actually value, and how those values can be synergistically satisfied rather than in a theory of tradeoffs with each other. We need totally new systems of economics, we need totally new systems of education, all the way down to, at an individual level, a new basis for identity, values, our own individual sense-making.”
This is exciting news for the self-development industry. It means we do not have to disappear. Rather, we simply need to reorient. We must pose the question: What is the value of our personal growth and how can it help meet the crises of our times?
Daniel suggests that there is something more akin to spiritual growth that is actually necessary for civilization to make it.
He says we must come from a place of wholeness and actual love for the beauty of life and the desire to have our personal life be meaningful to all Life.
We are at a critical juncture in our history, akin to the time of the enlightenment. Though we may not be able to see the forest for the trees, given the nature of this inflection point in our evolution, we just may be able to see more than we might imagine. We just might be able to apply our personal growth towards a future we can be proud of, where the individual and the community thrive in concert.
To navigate a healthy relationship between individuals and groups is complex territory for sure but, once we are willing to appreciate the interconnectedness between every individual and their community, then we can begin to wisely discern which personal-growth programs will add value to the world.
I’m shooting for that.