“The fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars, but in ourselves!”
The central sacred revelation of the Grail Mystery and the greatest and most profound teaching of Gautama the Buddha meet in a single question, “What ails thee O King?” In the seed of that question lies the very nature of compassion. This is the quality and virtue that is so highly valued by Buddhism and many other religions and philosophies. It is the deep emotion, experience and response to the suffering of others and it motivates a passive or active desire to nurture and assist rather than to ignore or dominate. Our schools for too long have been teaching us “what to think” rather than “how to think.” We could learn from the Buddha. He explained that all suffering stems from self centric or self obsessive thinking. The dominant Cartesian thought of our time is, ”I think therefore I am.” The implication here is clear, it is that I am my thoughts. Once I have made this decision culturally and subconsciously I become subject to the tyranny of my thinking. These runaway self obsessed thoughts can tend to lead us to create, in our imagination, a situation where we suffer a complete loss of relationship with a loved one, or of our health or wealth. Henry David Thoreau in his masterpiece Walden writes, ”Most men (I am sure he includes women) live lives of quiet desperation!” And with his usual brilliance Mark Twain quips, “ I have lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened!”
So what has all this got to do with compassion, or even leadership? It is simply this. When we are in self obsessed thinking we are not handling the problem. It is always personal. We ask, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? It’s not fair, this always happens to me, it must be my karma, it must be my stars alignment and on and on. Not only is it not dealing with the problem but it confines us to our obsessive and chaotic thinking and separates us by distraction from the ones we love most. Simply put we become incapable of compassion in this state. Many philosophies talk about right action. Right action can only come from right wisdom and right wisdom stems from the recognition that compassion needs to be the keystone for all decisions. The deep understanding that I am a flowing river of consciousness in which thoughts arise and cease frees me from the tyranny of chaotic anxiety centred thinking, and enables me to look at problems clearly. If we were truly educated how to think this way then a compassionate life would become automatic as we acknowledged our shared human heritage in the river of consciousness and life. Thus if an eight year old in a playground said to another child, “I hate you, I really hate you!” the former would reply, “I can see you are suffering, Would you like a chocolate, can I help you, can we talk?”
The really great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi are actually led by compassion. They both chose right action through right wisdom. That is true leadership. They see an injustice and become deeply compassionate with the victim of that injustice. It might be economic, social or other discrimination which is causing suffering. They strive for peaceful non violent solutions as they seek long term wise solutions. Others lead us into war, separation and more chaos. Truth and Reconciliation or Gulags and Gitmo it is our choice!
We currently live in awesome times where right wisdom is needed everywhere to help us evolve our expression of humanity from its current divisive, tribal, conflictual and barbaric tendency to one of an abundant and harmonious global family sharing the great wealth of nature as stewards and guardians. Without compassion such a state is unachievable. It is compassion that will drive the next evolutionary turn in business and politics. It is a more harmonious expression of our true nature.
In conclusion a practical example. When I sat on the executive committee of the Intercontinental Hotel Group we created a social and environmental manual for hotels which was subsequently adopted by HRH Prince Charles as the “Prince’s Manual.” It is now active in over four million hotel bedrooms worldwide. The social agenda encouraged hotels to source locally where possible. That is a kind of passive compassion where you support people who can already help themselves. I am now involved in a 3,000 bed hotel project in the Caribbean where we have moved to active compassion. Instead of flying in everything from abroad we will organise the islanders to provide the eggs, milk, butter, poultry, bacon etc directly to the hotels. We will do this through providing infrastructure to the locals, organising them to create cooperatives and arranging central buying agencies for the hotels. In this way we will lift literally tens of thousands of islanders out of poverty.
That is a leadership model infused with active compassion.
It is the future!
For millennia we have thought that we think our own thoughts. But what if there is a realm of thought that we can access through our minds acting as transmitters, and what if this realm were reaching a point where its very nature was about to be transformed.
“Despite current ads and slogans the world does not change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form amongst people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible” Meg Weatley and Deborah Frieze
But that very cause and vision emerges as an attribute of the noosphere. Like a hive, where individual bees do not have within them the innate “wisdom of the hive,” so with humanity where individual minds do not hold the innate “wisdom of the time” which is held collectively by the noosphere and we are able to access it through an “open mind” That access is limited only by the individual mind’s ability to see clearly into the noosphere and not be limited through strongly held presuppositions.
It seems to me that evolution is a journey. A spiritual voyage leading to an understanding of the nature of the reality in which we live. This reality in the past has been determined by the consciousness available to our species through the noosphere. It appears that originally it was difficult for humanity to experience a state of separate identity either from nature or the tribe or group from which we emanated. “I am an Israelite or a Canaanite.” seems to be the level of self identification. Separation from the tribe by ceremony would lead to certain death as the basic recognition of myself was removed. Over time identification became linked with lineage as well as tribe so that “I am Lawrence, son of Sidney, an Israelite from the tribe of Simeon” became possible.
Through the ages this evolution of consciousness fed the noosphere, so that our perception of the world and ourselves changed slowly over time. From the networks around Copernicus to those communities around Galileo and Kepler it took over 100 years (from the late 15th. Century to the end of the 16th. Century) for a heliocentric view of the world to begin to become a reality in the minds of mankind. When Darwin in 1859 published “The origin of the Species” where he hypothecated that man and nature did not arise perfectly formed in the days allotted in the Book of Genesis, but were rather the result of environmental competition leading to natural selection it caused a profound uproar. and it was not until the emergence of the modern evolutionary synthesis from the 1930s to the 1950s that a broad consensus developed that natural selection was the basic mechanism of evolution. So over time communities of interest feed information into the common collective thought or noosphere until a newly evolved world view arises.
In my view these two recent examples of an emerging world view taking just over 100 years to complete its transition is almost lightening fast when compared to the glacial shifts of thought that preceded them. Indeed the scientific and industrial age created a self image and worldview that in my opinion makes this Conference in Astana of extreme world importance.
The shift of perception over the last half of the past millennium had the effect of removing mankind from its view of itself as being divinely created and part of the whole of creation whilst simultaneously being at the centre of it. In the last 500 years we emerge as a species which is the result of chance and natural selection and rather than being at the centre of the Universe with everything revolving around us, we discover ourselves on the third rock orbiting an undistinguished sun in the outer regions of space.
This worldview encouraged a disconnection from each other, the planet that gives us life, the Cosmos that gave us birth and ultimately ourselves. And so we devised financial systems based on the greed of constant growth, expansion and the accumulation of supposed wealth. We came to believe that we could achieve prosperity without social justice, without environmental sustainability and without spiritual fulfillment, which is nothing less than a sense of awe and connectedness with all things.
But since the advent of quantum physics our whole view of reality is being challenged by the behavior of matter at sub atomic levels and the evidence of neuroscience that this is a much more personal and subjective world than the objective reality we thought we were watching.
So why does an International Conference on the Noosphere, at the present time, become so critically important to the future of our society and maybe even our species.
The Noosphere as I have expressed above is essentially that reservoir of thought that reflects what the “hive” has learned and accepted. But we now need to understand it really well as we might soon be passing from the age of the evolution of consciousness into the age of conscious evolution.
The Noosphere , according to the thoughts of Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin, denotes the “sphere of human thought”. The word is derived from the Greek νοῦς (nous “mind“) + σφαῖρα (sphaira “sphere“). So what happens at the noospheric level when we become fully conscious to its presence?
Humanity is in crisis. It has already exceeded its livable footprint on this planet and is so poisoning its geosphere and biosphere that the noosphere itself is in jeopardy through our potentially suicidal behaviour.
Understanding that evolution is a stepped rather than a gradual process is important to this dialogue. The steps are invariably crises which “force” the species to reach a higher level of complexity or dissolve back into the “all of life”.
We are at that point now. Our understanding, through understanding the noosphere, of how we evolve ourselves through our thinking, will determine our success of adapting, in Darwinian terms, to our next stage. Many of us believe that we are the result of 15 billion years of evolution and we will discover in the next 15 years whether we are a viable species. Much of our crisis will be around our collective thinking.
By focusing on the noosphere the Astana Conference is taking the single most important factor driving our next evolutionary shift as a species. Everything we share and discover needs to be collated and shared amongst us as a “Community of Interest” in this way we may both witness and shepherd to our transition from unconscious compulsive thinking to conscious chosen thinking.
The prizes for success are beyond our most visionary dreams, and the penalties for failure, beyond our worst nightmares.
13th August 2010
‘We are one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.’
David Suzuki Foundation
‘I have seen the future, and it won’t work’
Paul Krugman , New York Times
The chilling accuracy of Paul Krugman’s observation was recently confirmed in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) review of more than 10 different future scenarios, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Royal Dutch Shell.
Of those, the MIT study concluded that Shell’s ‘Blueprints’ scenario resulted in the lowest realistically achievable CO2 emissions levels, because it was based on the rapid implementation of advanced technologies and energy efficiency initiatives, and involved a highly effective collaboration between government, industry, international institutions, NGOs and academia.
Even then CO2 levels would stabilize at around 650ppm… yet 450ppm is currently accepted as the viable maximum.
We now understand that at this level various serious trigger points and feedback loops start operating. Not least of these is the acidification of the oceans, causing them to become a net emitter of CO2 rather than a sink. These increasing CO2 levels then feed back into higher temperatures, accelerating both ice melt at the poles and the melting of tundra ice with its consequent release of methane.
So the evidence indicates that we cannot rely on technology alone to ensure our survival. ‘Business as usual’ is not an option – much more needs to be done to raise awareness and change our behaviour. The Blueprints scenario gives us a five-year window. We must act now!
Arguably the biggest obstacle to this critical change is the absence of public engagement with the urgency of our predicament, resulting in a lack of any real commitment to carbon reduction.
In line with Einstein’s observation that ‘No problem can be resolved at the same level of thinking that created it’. I believe that only a world-class lifestyle behaviour change programme, stemming from a shift in awareness regarding our predicament, could take us through this next challenging period with a realistic prospect of minimizing its impacts on human survival and well-being.
Such a lifestyle change delivery programme will, in essence, be a community-based ‘bottom up’ process in which:
Galvanizing communities around the world to work for their future in this way, by taking responsibility for themselves and the whole, has the capacity to create a profound and dynamic shift, and with it real hope of significant change from our present trajectory.
Without such a change, the research demonstrates that technology alone will not save us.
However the west and developed nations show no signs that their communities are responding in any way at all. So who and which country might take the lead at this momentous and historical moment. I suspect we are witnessing the failure of the democracy experiment. The cynical western developed world, which is run essentially by the major corporations and banks has no answer whatsoever to the problem. The impotence of the so called most powerful nation on the planet, the USA, has been a public scandal, its failure at Copenhagen was dismal. Its Government and people struggling to cope with the effect on the economy following the implosion, and tax payer bail out of its “over exuberant” banking system. So can India help? Probably not. This is a buoyant economy driven by dynastic entrepreneurs who have morfed into very capable global players. But her administration is both corrupted and chaotic. So no chance here. Whose left? The second largest economy in the world and I would suggest the only with both the capacity, will, and possibility of leading the world, in exemplar fashion, out of our current self destructive trajectory. Her cultural roots firmly embedded in the Tao and Confucianism explain that Humanity follows earth, earth follows heaven, heaven follows the Tao and the Tao follows what is natural. What an amazingly simple piece of wisdom that she can teach the world!
Charles Darwin warned: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’
So if we are to survive, evolution demands we each recognise that:
This step is to respond to the present crisis by releasing from within ourselves a deeper understanding of our profound relationship with each other and the planet that gives us life.
As a society we are in the process of moving from the adolescent stage of ‘in reaction to’ to the more adult stage of ‘in relationship with’. The economic models of the adolescent stage no longer serve us. In the same way that the skill in a space shot is to know when to blow the explosive bolts, releasing the booster rockets of the first stage and allowing them to fall away, so we must blow the symbolic bolts connecting us to outmoded thinking. The boosters have a specific function, to enable the craft to escape the earth’s atmosphere and gravitational pull. Our current systems have enabled us to enrich and empower two billion of our species, but they can take us no further.
In economic development terms it is clear we must change our definition of prosperity or we will need at least five planets to accommodate our current belief that prosperity is about overt consumption and profligate waste. As Kenneth Boulding a prominent Economist says, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist!”The economics of the future will recognise that without environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual fulfilment ( or the feeling of deep inner connectedness with each other, the planet and ourselves) we will never have true prosperity. Whereas we worship the great god of financial capital we forget most of the other kinds that include environmental, human, social, intellectual, cultural, heritage, etc. A step in the right direction of development economics is to value externals. This is the damage done to the commons by releasing toxicity into the environment the “clean up” cost of which is not included in the price. Only by knowing the true costs of the environmental destruction caused by any product or process can we make intelligent decisions with regard to price and choice.
We must now change course from a fiercely competitive win/lose system to a collaborative win/win scenario, where humanity shares all its knowledge of what is and what is not working for the benefit of the whole, at both local and global levels.
Each human being, simply by virtue of their human birth, has the right to clean water, nutritious food, proper shelter, access to education, to healthcare, to justice and financial resources. These priorities are only sustainable in a healthy, natural environment, supported by a viable economic system and an environmental Bill of Rights.
While these universal values are not prioritised by our present economic system, they appear unattainable. However, once we prioritise them, we can build a new resilience within the current economic model, supporting it by authorising and encouraging the widespread use of Government, community and other complementary currencies, that support these values. Then our economics would be ready to be redefined by the Earth Charter and similar documents that celebrate and affirm life.
We will need to evolve a critical mass of people from all sectors of society, our private and public institutions, communities and individuals, coalescing around this recognition of the need for a dramatic change in our values. It should, however, be possible when we realise that it is only people that make up our institutions, and people have the capacity to change
Humanity is the result of five billion years of earth’s evolution. We will discover, within the next five years, whether we are still a viable species. If we cannot engage behaviour change at this scale, we will have failed the ‘intelligence test’ that evolution requires us to answer. The rewards for success are beyond our wildest dreams – but the penalties for failure surpass our worst nightmares.
In short we require nothing less than a shift to a higher consciousness requiring our worldview to embrace a deep knowing of our interdependence with each other and the whole of nature. This shift moves us from the evolution of consciousness to conscious evolution. We become aware not only of our rights , but also our responsibilities. The unconscious trajectory that has taken us this far shifts to enable us to connect cause with effect and begin to seriously take charge of “cause” in our lives. We are trustees for all, not blind competitors and we must commit to this aspiration.
UNEP, Green Economy Initiative, Green Cities, Buildings and Transport Council,
Former Chairman, Global Agenda Council on Urban Management, World Economic Forum, Davos and current alumnae of all Global Agenda Councils.
Vice Chairman, Climate Prosperity Alliance
*Written in collaboration with Pippa Vine, freelance writer and editor, Cambridge, UK.
 Paul Krugman, Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, was awarded the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.