“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel
Understanding can only happen in the absence of fear. In terms of cognition, fear is more instinctive than inquisitiveness. As such, in-depth social awareness does not come easily to any of us.
From the moment we're born, we each individually struggle to comprehend the world we live in, the people we interact with and even our own motivations, whenever we're feeling introspective. In our youth, while our brains are being mapped out, that quest for understanding is the lens through which we see the world. We want to know everything – why the sun shines, why our neighbours look different than us or look differently at us, where we come from and what it means to be alive.
As we get older, accumulate some knowledge and start to recognize limitation, our focus narrows. Contemplation is taxing and it doesn’t pay the bills. We begin valuing relevancy over comprehension; our motivating question evolves from “Why?” into “What’s it got to do with me?” We stop looking at the world in wonder and instead see it as a series opportunities, threats, or irrelevancies. When we stop asking why, we stop learning; however, the end of learning does not imply the fullness of understanding.
It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, yet each and every day we make choices in the absence of understanding. This can be as simple as driving through an intersection without looking at the traffic, or as consequential as letting go of employees (to protect the bottom line) without thought to what happens to them next or voting for a political party based on liking what we see without considering what's being left unsaid. It can be as intimate as holding a grudge against something a loved one has said without considering the context, or as broad as judging a stranger based solely on the way they dress or the language they speak.
It's asking without listening to the answer, or answering without understanding the question.
We justify not asking by telling ourselves someone else, a higher power either political or divine, knows what's needed. When it’s assumed someone has all the answers, we see through a glass darkly.
Where knowledge ends, strength triumphs – but strength, ultimately, is fleeting. A man who lives by the sword dies by the sword, just as a civilization that relies on dominance, either of its own people or of its neighbours, is doomed to fail. With each failure, we are challenged to ask ourselves, “why?” “What went wrong? What could have been done better?” Each end of an era forces us to look into the abyss a bit deeper, to understand ourselves a little bit more. The solution to the challenges presented by selection-of-the-fittest thinking has been the creation of social laws.
Where strength fails, justice prevails. Pierre Trudeau described the Just Society as one “in which every citizen will enjoy (his) fundamental rights” and "peoples of many cultures will live in harmony.” It’s a grand notion, but how is a Just Society achieved? Who determines what constitutes a fundamental right? What happens when the rights of one individual are seen to impinge upon the rights of another? Justice has always implied control of a few over the many, with that control ultimately being enforced with strength.
The Just Society has been criticized by some as imposing too much on the individual and by others as not doing enough to foster an equal society. Discrimination, stigma, ignorance and intolerance remain. Knowledge and access get hoarded at the top; blame continues to trickle down. When there are innocents that are persecuted and criminals who walk free; when there are skilled people who can’t find work, or unskilled people who can’t get training; when there are sick people who cannot access healthcare and when our democratic governments are supported by fewer and fewer votes, this cannot be called justice.
When justice fails, what then? When strength and control aren’t the destination, where do we go? The world over, people from presidents to paupers are looking for answers. To find these solutions, we need to deconstruct the underlying problems. We have returned, once again, to “why.”
To ask is to determine content, context and consequence, the key components of wise decisions. Sun-tzu wrote “if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Knowing the motivations of your opponent and their objectives, the nature of the terrain and most importantly, knowing yourself and your objectives, you can always realize the “what’s in it for you” – by helping others realize their interests as well.
This is what a Conscious Society looks like. People empower others so that they, too, are empowered. Justice is not imposed, but collaborated upon; morality flows from within and therefore need not be enforced from without. Strength is not a tool of oppression but one of creation. Weaknesses are not seen as defects to be eliminated or carried, but challenges to be accommodated and opportunities to be harnessed. A Conscious Society doesn’t sell a person a fish, or give a person a fish, but teaches them how to fish; by working together, the people will build a better ‘Net.
The Conscious Society is where we are headed – after all, you can’t have a sustained Knowledge Economy if people aren’t constantly learning something new. Just as the diverse colours of the rainbow combined create light, the diverse lineages, experiences and aspirations of the Global Village will provide the answers that elude us individually. This means:
- Access to the basic needs of food, shelter and healthcare
- Not just security, but a sense of security – this comes not from identifying threats but through the absence of threat
- Access to training and, as required, accommodation
- Individual respect and meaningful, social engagement.
A Conscious Society will result in more informed, critical and engaged citizens. We're witnessing that right now, through the expansion and growing access to the Internet. It will mean greater opportunity for businesses through collaboration. It will mean efficiency in place of the duplication, gaps and overlaps that arise when agencies, corporations or businesses see themselves as opponents. It will mean better personal management and collective cooperation, easing the burden on government services and therefore, the taxpayer.
Building a Conscious Society won’t be easy – it involves challenging some long-held notions. We must learn to trust where suspicion comes more naturally; listen where our instinct is to react; pay attention when our inclination is to ignore; give a little to get a little to get a little back and recognize that our solutions aren’t necessarily the best ones. The individual demands placed on each of us will be greater, but we’ll all have a chance to lead. True leadership, of course, relies on hope, not despair – and the best way to lead is by example.
“You are not what you were born, but what you have it in yourself to be.”