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“The present convergence of crises–in money, energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, the environment, and more–is a birth crisis, expelling us from the old world into a new.”
~ Charles Eisenstein
You might say it is the dark night of the planetary soul. Here we are in the midst of an ecological nightmare some are calling irreversible. The weight of war and human suffering seem overwhelming. We are bombarded with distress signals, but lulled by a media and political system that pushes distraction and more spending. Is it any wonder we try to evade our despair, that we close our eyes?
Yet at the same time, many people are waking up. They share a persistent inner sense that even the darkest night must be followed by a new day. Nearly every spiritual tradition says it is so and prophesizes a great planetary era still ahead and, though particulars differ, each asks for our faith that a better world is possible, predicated on peace and sharing. Science advances a similar, more immediate message: it’s now or never and cooperation is the key.
The Shift, Great Turning, and New Story are words used to describe what many are experiencing as a growing movement or awareness worldwide of the need to examine and restructure political, economic, and social systems to align more closely with the needs of humanity and the Earth.i The threats to life brought by climate change coupled with global economic crises are entering mainstream discourse as adversity trends to be feared, yet at the same time are providing impetus for personal transformation, practical efforts to cope at the grassroots level, and international initiatives for the common good.ii As threats have accelerated, so have the seeds of resilience and adaptation sprouted everywhere.iii
A growing community of noted authors, local and global activists, world spiritual figures, economists and ecologists are speaking urgently of a world in crisis and of a simultaneous awakening across many fields of endeavor to a new story, no longer based on greed, competition, and scarcity, but one informed by fresh expressions of cooperation, indigenous wisdom, community-building, sharing, and innovation at all scales from local to global.iv
For more than a decade, Kosmos Journal has sought to encourage and amplify many of these urgent voices and share their messages with policy-makers at many levels. In this spirit, the Fenwick Foundation approached Kosmos Journal about developing a study to explore connection and cohesion within this community of influencers, to turn the lens of inquiry on ourselves and ask, what do we hold in common? What shared experiences and values most contribute to our sense of connection? And how might we, as a community, encourage and nurture the organic connections already taking place and propagate new ones?
This last question was central to our research in the face of mounting evidence that we are in a race against time as a world community to slow climate change, and in light of increasing worldwide protest and unrest regarding economic disparity, militarism, runaway development, and food and water scarcity. Our research was also a mapping exercise, sketching a movement’s ‘watershed,’ that is, exploring some of the possible resources, confluences, and impediments that are shaping a global shift many believe to be already underway.
The research was conducted by this author and Jennifer Horner, PhD, both alumni of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Horner’s contribution to the study and this article was central.
The methodology was comprised of three main phases: an intensive two-day focus group with 10 Kosmos associates using nominal group technique; a survey targeted to 80 individual influencers by invitation; and subsequent formal content analysis of 110 websites. These sources, along with ancillary data, led to the eventual consideration of 336 people and organizations that comprise the study’s area of inquiry.
Influencers were nominated based on the impact of their ideas and work, perceived wisdom, visibility, and credibility in the public sphere as spokespeople and advocates for social and spiritual transformation. In other words, it was a top-of-mind list that included many notable authors, activists, spiritual figures, and others whose work reflects deep commitment to themes of transformation. We next asked these influencers who was influencing them.
It was felt that combining the classic methods of influence research with content analysis would return results that, while not statistically quantifiable, might yield rich, nuanced, and actionable insights. Thanks to generous and enthusiastic contributions by all participants, we collected a trove of data. The purpose of this article is to share some of the insights that emerged. The ongoing research report, Connecting for Greater Impact, is available by request from Kosmos Journal to print subscribers.
Respondents were consistent in articulating major impediments to change. Many referred to the entrenchment of power in political-economic relationships between global corporate elites and national governments and cited the catastrophic impact of decisions taken by them on humanity and the environment. Impeding progress also were cultural mindsets that condone greed and inequality, engender fear and isolation, and prevent the positive expression of collective power. The media as a reinforcer of mindsets was cited as an obstacle, as was the global banking and finance system. Obstacles within the movement were also cited including lack of resources and shared vision, and imbalance in that voices of privilege still dominate the discourse, although this was perceived as changing.
Methods for advancing values and goals focused strongly on communication, education, resource sharing, and practice through local activism. Three general categories of action emerged from the content analysis: Thinking, Constructing, and Practicing (see sidebars). These are useful as starting points for discussion about connection and collaboration. Most individuals and organizations spanned more than one category.
Advising, writing, training, research, advocacy, and consulting to influence the activities of political, corporate, and non-profit entities and the general public.
These influencers work toward paradigm change in the thinking and activities of global elites as well as local activists. They tend to center on a particular domain such as economics, environment, or peace as ‘consciousness leaders’ – spiritual and intellectual guides whose macro-level teaching and writing inspires the work of practitioners on the ground. Their work is primarily funded through foundations and direct sales of books and seminars. Journals such as Kosmos and Orion help amplify their efforts. These individuals might be considered ‘professionals’ in the field.
Examples of frequently mentioned influencers:
Barbara Marx Hubbard
James B. Quilligan
Dot Maver (See sidebar)
We are in this together and only as a global team will we move from an all-systems breakdown to an all-systems breakthrough. The deﬁnition of peace from the Earth Charter offers a context: “peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.”
In the past, so often peace has been thought of as weak and passive — even undesirable — and has been named the opposite of war or the absence of violence. Peace is a dynamic state of life that stands on its own.
Today, if you only googled Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures for Peace, I4P, National Peace Academy, Alliance for Peacebuilding, River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, PATRIR, International Institute on Peace Education, Shift Network Peace Ambassador Training, Global Campaign for Peace Education, and UN Peacebuilding Support Office, you would see organizations, institutions, government offices, and community organizing leading to better living conditions—local to global—and, shifting cultural norms throughout global society, and policy changes happening around the world.
A Global Citizens Peacebuilding Movement is alive and well.
Dot Maver, Kosmos Project Director, is an educator and peacebuilder and President of the National Peace Academy.
Information/networking loci that facilitate resource sharing and spontaneous activism among dispersed publics.
These groups engage the potential of digital media for sharing resources and for quickly mobilizing on-the-ground collectives. The P2P Foundation founded by Michel Bauwens exemplifies this approach. AVAAZ and popularresistance.org are other examples of organizations in service to logistics for collective action, using the Internet to assemble and support collectives united by values around a variety of issues and in response to crisis.
Examples of frequently mentioned influencers:
Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation (See sidebar)
Antonin Léonard, Ouishare
Neal Gorenflo, Shareable
Bill McKibben, 350.org
Ricken Patel, AVAAZ
Donnie Maclurcan, Post Growth Institute
Rachel Botsman, Collaborative Consumption
Lisa Gansky, The Mesh Directory
Toke Moeller, Art of Hosting
Joshua Gorman, Generation Waking Up
“The animating social force of the commons-based, P2P society is that of citizen-workers seeing themselves as autonomous producers of shared knowledge and value. This is the great contribution of knowledge workers and the hacker class to the history of the modern labor and social movements.
One way to envisage alliances is to see merging of new constructive peer production communities in all areas of social life— which are producing the seeds of the new society within the old
—with the remobilization of mass movements focused on a positive political program that is often lacking in this time of deep capitalist crisis. In other words, the convergence of the communities dedicated to the ‘construction of the new’ and ‘resistance to the old’ provides the energy and imagination for a new type of policy formulation, one that can recreate a global reform and transformation movement.
Another way to envisage future political and cultural alliances is to see them as a confluence of various global forces: 1) those working against the enclosure and the privatization of knowledge, which are simultaneously constructing new knowledge commons; 2) those working for environmental sustainability, including the protection of existing physical commons; and 3) those working for social justice on a local and global scale. In other words, we need a global alliance between the new ‘open’ movements, the ecological movements, and the traditional social justice and emancipatory movements in order to create a ‘grand alliance of the commons.’
Michel Bauwens is founder of the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives and P2P theorist.
Groups that embrace sharing, sustainability, peace, and related ideals in practice through local activism.
Alternative economic networks based on sharing rather than monetization fall into this category. Ecovillages, Transition Towns, collectives; tribal, monastic and other types of intentional communities do as well. Journals such as YES! and popularresistance.org showcase and celebrate their accomplishments and practical lessons learned.
Examples of frequently mentioned influencers:
The Transition Town Movement (See sidebar)
Vandana Shiva, Seed Freedom
Bill Mollison, Permaculture Institute
Judy Wicks, BALLE
May East, Global Ecovillage Network (GEN)
David Korten, Yes!
Edgard Gouveia Junior, Warriors without Weapons
Manish Jain, Shikshantar and Swaraj University
Margaret J. Wheatley, Berkana Exchange
What Transition initiatives do—nearly every action, project, program, and event — is motivated by the desire to connect people to each other. Creating a space for a community garden not only helps to satisfy an individual’s food needs, but it also brings people together face-to-face to share gardening techniques and experiences. Time Banks typically require direct interactions between people to conduct an exchange of services, thus building interpersonal relationships. Municipalizing a community’s electric utility gives everyone a stake and voice in how their energy is produced. Gift circles, potlucks, book club discussions, and bicycle maintenance workshops—what Transition initiatives aim to achieve by organizing these programs and events is not only economic localization and low-carbon resilient communities, but also political coherency.
Aristotle famously argued that humans are, by virtue of our existence and nature of being, ‘political animals.’ He went on to claim that the human being is expressed through assembly in a polis, a word that is often translated as ‘city-state’ but more fundamentally represents a political community, a collection of self-organized citizens performing the actions listed above.
Reactivating the polis is one of the most important challenges of our era. The extent to which Transition can connect with citizens underrepresented by criteria such as age, race, and socioeconomic status will reveal much about its ultimate efficacy. It may be worthwhile to now ask whose voices ought to be represented and what connections ought to be made to ensure development of an inclusive polis.
Philip Barnes is a PhD student in the School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware.
Four areas of insight emerged from the research around the theme of connection and were organized as follows:
An interconnected ‘network of circles’ is slowly self-organizing, spanning distances, cultures, and other differences. Gathering physically as communities of practice is important, yet large-scale conferences place a burden on people and planet. Smaller, more intimate gatherings—often with a spiritual component—were seen as more effective in affirming personal direction, developing enduring connections, and inspiring closer collaboration. Workshops, retreats, informal visits, and unconferences were frequently mentioned. An unconference is a participant-driven meeting and applies to many kinds of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as fees, sponsored presentations, and rigid organization.
Intentional communities of practice shaping public policy on the local level such as Transition Towns, ecovillages, art collectives, maker spaces, and spiritual centers offer new possibilities for connection and informal learning. Often leaderless and self-organizing, intentional communities are living models that emphasize localization, sustainability and sharing. Learning journeys, retreats and residencies offer extended, sometimes mentored visits that enable visitors to live and work for a period of time in the host community. This type of connection often enables deep and lasting alliance.
Certainly, it is not possible for everyone in a global movement to meet physically. While most still use email, social media platforms like Facebook and other online communities to connect on a daily basis, online face-to-face live visual communication in small groups, such as Skype and Google hangouts, is growing as a means to compare best practices and teach actual skills, strengthen relationships, and share real-time experiences such as planning, training, spiritual practice, musical performance, and more.
Nearly two years ago, I stepped out of the academic environment. My husband Udi and I decided to seek places of learning around the world that enliven, places that transcend the deadening of knowledge pervading much conventional higher education around the globe.
The list of what we learned is as long as what we unlearned.
We encountered communal forms of gift culture intermingled with self-designed learning at the Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca, Mexico and Swaraj University in Udaipur, India; a university- without-walls where self-directed learning is orientated through permaculture principles at Gaia University; and Blackfoot ways of knowing at Red Crow Community College in southern Alberta.
We learned how artistic forms of expression are again being taught and valued as literacies-of-the-land at the Freda Diesing Northwest School of Art in northern British Columbia and at Te Puia, a Maori Carving School in Rotorua, New Zealand. We witnessed the merging of indigenous and scientific knowledge at Bija Vidyapeeth (School of the Seed) in the Doon Valley, India, where hundreds of seed varieties are being harvested and banked through natural forms of farming; and at the Andean Project for Peasant Technologies where Quechua lunar-based bio-dynamic farming is being resurrected and shared across Peru. In Brazil we saw first-hand how local production of media can counter the negativity of mainstream media in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro at the Escola Popular de Comunicação Crítica, and how the Landless Movement in Brazil has formed their own university outside of Sao Paulo to enliven learning. The list goes on. There is a silent revolution going on in higher education around the world and these are just a few of many extraordinary places of enlivened learning.
Kelly Teamey and Udi Mandel are partners in the Enlivened Learning Project and in life.
Educational efforts are recognized as an important means of shaping public policy. Of the websites that were examined, some form of education or training was strategically important in more than a third. This took many forms, including educating the general public and interest groups through seminars and workshops, online courses and certification, and mentoring. Participants in the survey were ardent in their desire to connect with learners in multiple ways.
Participants also placed strong emphasis on indigenous wisdom and the native values of ancestors and elders. Reconnecting with ‘ancient’ wisdom to regain some answers to our present-day crises was a strong theme in the content analysis, adding a temporal axis to the importance of connecting. The Seventh Generation Rule— that decisions made today must be on behalf of future generations—expresses this idea forward.
Many alternative and emerging forms of teaching and learning were mentioned. These included experiential and project-based learning emphasizing hands-on connection as well as unlearning. Unlearning refers to the process of breaking out of established ways of thinking. Unlearning is a process whereby one’s assumptions are each deeply assessed and discarded if they no longer serve the purpose of deeper connection to personal happiness and community well-being. Traditional schools and universities are seen as reinforcers of the deeply entrenched status quo, or ‘old story.’
Hands-on and place-based education is growing as learners seek to unlearn and discard old assumptions, regain indigenous wisdom, and learn practical skills in areas valued by the New Story community. These include transformational leadership, personal spiritual practices and team-building, agriculture and permaculture, home-building, crafting, and much more. Video plays an increasingly important role as an educational tool— from short viral and how-to videos at one end of the spectrum to video-enhanced certification courses at the other. Workshops and conferences increasingly offer video or audio of the proceedings online, often live, with the added advantage of also being available asynchronously for those who cannot attend in real time.
One-on-one mentor-mentee or sponsorship models, including internships and apprenticeships, are becoming an increasingly valued form of teaching and learning, even at great distances. Communication technology has made it possible for mentoring and other close supportive relationships to occur despite geographical distance.
The term co-creation occurred frequently in the study. This underscores an important philosophy of group work that is emerging. The global transformation movement belongs to no one person, group, or belief system. It is a story in process, based not on pre-existing design, but rather as a product of dynamic self-organization. It is a story of people working together to address the world’s most profound challenges. Self-organization is inherent in the evolution of all living things and results in the creation of effective living systems that are more efficient and adaptive than hierarchical rigid ones. Crowdsourcing, peer-to-peer networks, crowdfunding, timebanks, and spontaneous activism are all examples of self-organizing systems that have arisen in recent times.
The word we use to describe the emerging model for group work is improvisational. Borrowing from the world of music and dance, improvisation is a collaborative and spontaneous process that allows new kinds of order to emerge. The new group work is increasingly ordered by improvisational principles. More akin to a meandering stream or a flock of birds, improvisation follows a natural fluid set of rules, rather than rigid imposed ones. Improvisation requires attention, intention, communication, awareness of self and others near to the self, and awareness of the larger picture or pattern that is emerging. Thus, improvisation is an emergent process, and one expressed abundantly in nature—in the natural ways that systems connect, change, and reassemble to create powerful new forms and ideas.
The boundaries for work groups and communities have expanded far beyond the local. The Internet has encouraged the sharing of resources and has changed the ways we seek and find one another. It has expanded personal relationships and allowed more voices to be heard—not all voices, but many. It may seem impractical to give voice to every individual in a networked world, chaotic, in fact. But it is precisely at this ‘edge of chaos’—where there is just enough order to recognize a pattern, yet sufficient openness to allow new ideas to take shape—that the most powerful initiatives and practices are emerging. All voices that need to be heard must be heard.
Our movement is spiritual. Many participants cited living spiritual teachers as primary influences, others spoke of an ‘inner calling.’ The Ancients believed the earth to be a living organism, and modern teachers have integrated this wisdom with scientific principles of evolution, advancing an evolutionary spirituality that seeks to transform collective consciousness through co-creative participation with the evolutionary impulse, rather than passive dependence on an impersonal god to save us.v
In India, Sri Aurobindo created such an integral vision, which the Mother, his spiritual collaborator, evolved further. In the West, the works of Brian Swimme and Christian theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin address the evolutionary context of human experience.
Our story of truth is changing. Thanks to science itself, we are finding that truth isn’t an objective referent, and that we are not as divorced from the world as we are compelled to think. Instead of seeing truth as the ‘final cornerstone the builders rejected,’ ‘the arriving messiah with judgment in his right fist,’ or the resolute law of things, we are envisioning truth as a participatory festival, a shared event, a gendered space, an improvisation. We are seeing that we are not merely connected, but that we are derived from the spaces in-between. Thus, a silent revolution is brewing underneath the surface of things, revivifying primal myths, activating dormant modes of awareness, and rearranging the substructures of human experience.
Our civilization, built on the myths of isolation, is giving way to heterotopias made possible by potent visions of our real power together. Almost suddenly, the atmosphere is pregnant with different species of hope, a teenage angst, an unsettling feeling of something approaching, and a new sense of agency—the very ingredients we have always used to stir new realities. You might notice it yourself—this natural mystique in the air—if you leaned in for a more intimate view: how people across the world are coming out of their containing consumerist myths and experimenting with living in a wider spectrum of values. You might notice how a global citizenry is rising to concretize the growing awareness that we are unabashedly and ineluctably one. And it is upon this very noticing, this apparently trivial noticing of things and of each other, that more beautiful worlds—ones which our former spin on truth could never have deciphered— are found.
Bayo Akomolafe, PhD is a clinical psychologist, lecturer and author
Don Beck and Ken Wilber are cited as pioneers in evolutionary theory and practice. Wilber identified numerous features of individual consciousness, including cognition, values, and self-identity. According to his theory, consciousness develops through recognizable stages, each revealing a different understanding of the world.vi Don Beck has continued the research of Clare Graves on the evolution of values and cultural norms within societies.
Frequently mentioned in the study, Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests that the future Buddha may be an enlightened community engaged in collective action anchored in mindfulness, rather than an individual. The central Buddhist tenet of interbeing or interconnectedness inspires this vision. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also explores deeper connection between the rational and the spiritual and seeks a more ethical science and a non-dogmatic spirituality for an integral era.
These ideas of integration and collective consciousness connect many of the thinkers in our area of inquiry and are echoed in the writings of movement authors such as Charles Eisenstein, David Korten, Joanna Macy, and others.
The related concept of Global Citizenship emerges as a way of self-identifying that reflects the reality of our essential oneness. A global citizen’s movement, it is felt, can inspire genuine cooperation and generate solutions that satisfy both our desire for ‘belonging’ and our practical needs.
Deeper and more intimate connection with Nature has led to the discovery of the divine or ‘most excellent’ design inherent in all life. Rising ecological awareness is ushering in a new era of Gaia-consciousness. Rather than viewing the Self as an isolated participant apart from Nature, our study reaffirmed a growing belief in the interwoven realities of all life in a living earth system. Beneath the political, ideological, and cultural divisions at the root of so many problems here on our planet, there is common purpose—to thrive. Separateness is a fading story. Beneath all our differences is Unity.
The generosity of participants in sharing their wisdom and energy was both inspiring and humbling. We thank you. We realize that sharing every detail of what we learned would be impossible and our research is ongoing. The full report offers important insights of individual participants. Many in the study stated that they could not know what the terrain will look like in the future, or even what it should look like, but all were united in their belief in the importance of work, spirit, and community for advancing global transformation in harmony with all life.
“I see the movements for change evolving like a neural net, with each element making more and more connections to others so that eventually it’s a highly integrated network with fast communication in all directions.” ~Survey Participant
iAhmed, 2014; Brewer, 2012
iiiRaskin et al., 2002; Gilding, 2011
vPrabhath, p, 2006
Ahmed, Nafee (3/18/14) The global Transition tipping point has arrived – vive la revolution, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/18/transition-tipping-point-revolution-doom
Joe Brewer, Toward the Global Transition — 2012 and Beyond
Eisenstein, Charles (2013) The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Tell Us Is Possible
Elgin, D.(2001) Turning Tide Report. Turning Tide Coalition.
Gilding, P.(2011) The Great Disruption. Bloomsbury Press.
Mayne, AJ (1999) From Politics Past to Politics Future: an integrated analysis of current and emerging paradigms. Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group.
Raskin, P. et al (2002) The Great Transition: The promise and lure of the times ahead. Stockholm Environment Institute.
Sgorbati,Susan (2005 ), Essay on Emergent Improvisation: http://emergentimprovisation.org/Essay-on-Emergent-Improvisation.html
Wilber, Ken (2006). Integral spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and
postmodern world. Boston: Shambhala.
Rhonda Fabian is the digital editor of Kosmos Journal, a media-maker, mother and community activist. She is a founding partner of Fabian Baber Communication, developers of educational media resources since 1990. She follows a path of mindfulness in the tradition of her teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Jennifer Horner, PhD is a social researcher and George Gerbner Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor at Muhlenberg College.
Rhonda Fabian is digital editor of Kosmos Journal and an ordained Buddhist in the monastic tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. As a partner at Fabian Baber Communication, an educational video company for 27 years, Ms. Fabian garnered numerous awards as an instructional designer, writer and director of more than 1000 educational programs for learners age 5 to adult.