The future begins today.
Wayne Gerard Trotman
As the seasons change and the days get shorter, the darkness creeps in and reminds us that there’s another shadow looming over our lives, an ominous story of environmental and social apocalypse. The details are all too familiar: climate change, fresh water depletion, habitat destruction, social inequality, terrorism, inept governments and runaway technological acceleration, all converging on what looks like a breakdown of everything that we hold dear. The news feels uniformly grim; it’s almost as if the darkness itself is coursing through our veins.
This story of environmental and human destruction is real. The damage we are doing to ourselves, our habitat and one another is unprecedented and catastrophic. Things are bad and are probably going to get worse for some time; there is no question that we’re in for a lot of suffering. Still, it’s essential to remember that this is not the only story of our time. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a lot of good news.
The upbeat begins with our new understanding of the human brain and body, especially the nervous system. Now, for the first time in history, we have a solid understanding of how people learn and how to train ourselves for health, happiness and improved performance. The fatalistic doctrine of a static brain has been replaced by an exciting new story of neuro-optimism. Our brains and bodies are plastic; with smart reps and training, we can learn and become almost anything. This insight ushers in a new age of practice, an era that promises to rewrite everything we thought we knew about human performance and potential.
That’s just the beginning. Around the world, lay people and professionals alike are showing powerful new interest in the very fields and disciplines we need to reconcile our predicament. Trainers and medical professionals are digging deep into preventive health practices, including stress medicine. Educators are emphasizing non-cognitive skills such as resilience, courage, emotional intelligence and grit. Entirely new disciplines such as Paleo studies and evolutionary psychology are gaining credibility. People are actively practicing meditation, mindfulness and positive psychology. And everywhere, people are trying to get outside to reconnect with the natural world.
Even though we often feel mired in complexity and intimidating realities, a lot of people are doing great work. Millions sticking their necks out for the future, our health, our human relationships and the biosphere. People are taking risks, making discoveries and sharing ideas that will help us adapt to this mismatched world. Many of these people and their works are invisible; pro-health, pro-social and pro-environmental work doesn’t attract nearly as much media attention as mayhem, fear and conflict. Nevertheless, these people do exist; you are probably one of them.
Today we are learning from a new generation of teachers and guides. Physical trainers, coaches, physicians and other health care professionals help us care for our bodies. Meditation teachers and neuroscientists help us understand the power of attention. Biologists, ecologists and habitat experts tell us about our relationship with the land. Interpersonal neurobiologists help us understand the subtle but powerful flows of social influence across our tribes. Craftspeople and artists tell us about the nature of skill, perception and our relationship with our bodies. Indigenous and native teachers remind us of about systemic wisdom, the circle of life and our role in the cosmos.
Even better, the discoveries of social neuroscience are demonstrating conclusively that we–as individuals–have far more power than we might have imagined. Our every behavior is infectious and contagious. Our thoughts and actions ripple through social systems to affect not just our friends, but people far beyond our immediate circle. In other words, the way we live matters. It may not feel like it, but you do have power and influence. So, while it would be folly to ignore the reality of the darkness, be sure to talk about the good news too. There is a path forward and a lot of good people are walking it. Governments may well be ineffective, corporations may well be tyrannical, and the whole world may look like it’s going insane, but you can make a difference right now, where you are.
Of course, you still have to do the work.