Criticize by Creating the Future

The strong voices of Occupy Wall Street speaking out the injustices they perceive in their lives and the lives around them are a force to be reckoned with. We can intensify this force by trying to look squarely at complex issues with an eye toward co-creating a different future. Michelangelo suggested, “criticize by creating”. That means we can’t just knock down bad ideas (though this is inherently part of the paradigm shift), but we have to figure out a way to respond and move forward and connect to bigger, systemic pictures for the future.

But even with countless beacons of hope, there are constant temptations to affirm the powers that be, and self-interest’s indestructibility – and in the end, some people end up saying “I’d like to be idealistic, my heart’s directed toward making the world a better place – but come on now, have you seen human nature at play?” Worse than becoming skeptics or naysayers, we can become incredibly fearful people – and none of these states of being help make the world a better place…but the thing is that we can actually put the criticism to rest precisely because it’s so pervasive (it’s everywhere, it’s in us). So then the real question around self-interest becomes: where do we have examples, palpable, experiential models of something else being possible culturally, politically, and economically, and what if we actually try to explore and create these new forms. Is something else possible for the human being and when, where, and how do we see this happening, and how can we cultivate it? This month’s answer: Wall Street.

But we’ll need a really accurate, living picture of the whole economy before we can find solutions and create new models. First though, we really need a picture of the whole human being in order to grapple with what’s at the foundation of economics and most social questions. We have to ask which part of the human being is beholden to these forces – is it the whole human being in its totality, and is it the human being at all stages of development?

To not beg the question further: is transformation possible? Can it be any different? In the classic tales of The Arabian Nights we see a dramatic transformation of King Shahryar – waging unimaginable violence against young women, spreading fear and havoc throughout his kingdom – only to be guided through a training in moral development by way of truly extra-ordinary story-telling…to transcend his hatred and rage and ultimately exclaim this beautiful, concluding line “what is there not to love!?” If we look at the first scene there’s no rationale basis and hardly any guideposts for envisioning such an evolution of consciousness and moral development, transformation in King Shahryar. So it’s an incredible thing when the king is transformed, then the whole kingdom is…but we’re past that now – we’re all kings and queens and it’s only through the transformation of so many selves that the world will be transformed. Social change is all of us having to do this work individually and together. But like with King Shahryar pre-transformation – the storyteller couldn’t just set out a line of tales for him at the outset, she had to perceive what came next in the moment – and so it is when you stand at the front-end of social change or any creative process, there isn’t actually a clear map from the past to indicate next steps or how to succeed.

When we reflect on the past it’s much easier to see these things, of course. Rosa Parks getting on a bus; Egyptian protesters taking to the streets of Cairo. From our place in history we can affirm and congratulate the heroes, the good ideas and imaginations that precipitated certain victories. But looking toward the future, the unknown, rather than drawing on past experience and what so-and-so suggests – we actually have to be able and willing to think, imagine and create our own way. It’s the Einstein quote about not being able to solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them; and it’s affirmed by the experiences of anyone reading this if you were asked to talk about your most creative moments in life. Now if we harken back to the question of self-interest, it just reaffirms our necessary agenda – don’t sweat its frequency or popularity (self-interest’s), just work to transform it in yourselves and to create opportunities for it to transform in the world. Occupy Wall Street  (and Occupy everywhere else) is the epicenter where these new possibilities could unfold.

Economist and author of Small is Beautiful Fritz Schumacher wrote that from the perspective of Buddhist Economics “the purpose of work should be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centeredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence” so “the essence of civilization should live not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.” ML King (and many others) also emphasized this point. In King’s basic steps for non-violent activism, after collecting the facts and trying negotiation but before direct action, is self-purification. This self-transformation piece seems to come up again and again.

But we have to learn to do this individual work in a social context. And social work is also particularly important because it’s not work we have to do, we could – not. And, it’s not actually easy work. But it’s emblematic of the freedom and individuality inherent in our time: we can choose to make change, to be the solution, to criticize by creating.  And it can be fun and exciting and rewarding. The tagline for the Transition Town movement is ‘How might our response to peak oil and climate change look more like a party than a protest march?’ They’re thinking innovatively at the very least.

We need to remember that it’s not in the nature of truth to be a stuck picture and Truth with a capital T won’t be standardized enough to shout from a building top. With this in mind, it seems clear that part of the essence of leading from the future lives in adaptability, in openness to change and in the fact that truth is necessarily in the eyes of the beholder…which usually means ‘everything’s relative’, but not here: here it means that even if the writing’s on the wall, it’s just squiggly lines to someone who hasn’t yet learned to decipher its meaning.

The uprisings here, there and everywhere are helping to birth civil society and teaching a new, deep kind of cultural literacy. Occupy Wall Street is a first sign and step toward real cultural freedom and autonomy. We need to direct our own lives, commit passionately to the things we believe in, that matter, and work hard to get really good at them – and Liberty Plaza seems like an ideal place to start helping each other get there.

Sarah Hearn


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2 Comments on “Criticize by Creating the Future”

  1. October 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Solutions are the future…

    • November 10, 2011 at 12:43 am #

      I think you hit a bullseye there fleals!

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