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Leadership Redefined: Finding Limitless Possibilities in a Limited World
January 11, 2012
In the beginning, when the first homo sapien stood erect, he was just one species of animal among many. Struggling to stay alive, any thoughts he might have had regarding sustainability were far less likely to be about him destroying his environment, than about his environment destroying him. In time, he found mates and gathered into bands or tribes that learned how to survive, using their ability to plan and reason, to outsmart other, more powerful or faster species who became their food. They also learned which plants could be safely eaten, and they passed all this knowledge on to succeeding generations through spoken language.
Many of these tribes, of who a few remnants still remain among us, lived an unleveraged and sustainable existence, taking only as much as they needed to survive and persisting in that manner for thousands, or in some cases, tens of thousands of years, with little impact on, and indeed in harmony with the land. There is considerable evidence to show that they saw nature as the ultimate power and in their rituals and prayers they sought to maintain their connection to the wholeness of Creation to which they gave a multitude of names.
It was only when some of us began to domesticate plants and animals through the practice of agriculture, allowing us to organize into cities with farms surrounding us that the Age of Man truly began. Living in protected cities with food supplies available at the market, we were freed from the continuous struggle to survive, and we finally had the ability to leverage our intelligence and to truly begin reshaping the world in the way that we did.
Since then, we have been progressing and progressing for centuries, but doing so in the absence of any kind of guiding principle other than that of making progress. Is progress then an end in itself, or is it a means to an end? As we have been gaining more and more control over our environment, it is as if we are transforming our entire planet into this extraordinary vehicle, to which every generation is adding new features, but somewhere along the way, the question of exactly “where do we want to go,” has gotten lost in the details of production, efficiency, and lest we forget, maximization of profits.. This tunnel-vision proliferated, largely because individuals got rewarded for maintaining their little piece, which met their needs, while no one took responsibility for overseeing the emerging big picture.
Science is making dramatic new breakthroughs every day, some of which challenge our fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality. Perhaps these new discoveries can help dispel a deeply held belief among Western people that humankind stands at the center of creation, rather than being a part of an intricate web, in which everything is connected. This is something that indigenous cultures still hold to be true, yet we seem to have lost along the way, as our own competence led to confidence, and then something beyond that.
The ancient Greeks told the story of Daedelus, who flew too close to the sun on wings of wax and feathers only to plunge to his death. This cautionary tale, alerts us to of the dangers of hubris, which today we would call arrogance. This is indeed the same arrogant refusal to be limited that has led to many of our greatest achievements, and is, at the same time that part of us that refuses to see itself as part of a greater whole whose limits and boundaries must be respected.
Limitless is a good word to describe both our imaginations and our appetites. Indeed, scientists are telling us now that the Universe might be limitless, too, though highly interconnected with field-like properties rather than building-blocks of atoms. But this planet that we find ourselves living upon is not limitless. And if we are going to continue to live upon it, we need to comprehend that reality and adjust our trajectory accordingly.
To follow this new path, we are going to need leaders who combine great insight and intelligence with a kind of humility and deep reverence not often seen in successful men and women today. These new leaders will not only need a masterful understanding of history and science and economics, as well as human behavior, but they are also going to need a deeper vision of the world and a capacity for seeing from the heart and understanding innately the many ways in which all things are connected.
We need to take that awareness as our guiding principle, as we move gracefully towards an emergent goal of quality, rather than quantity, of prosperity redefined as an abundance of connection rather than accumulation, in the direction of the limitlessness of our imaginations rather than our appetites. All the evidence suggests that we must move urgently in this direction if the Age of Man is to realize its ultimate potential rather than an abrupt and untimely end.