The film The Hunger Games presents a heroic struggle in a world that has failed to make the transition to some form of sustainable prosperity. People are barely surviving on a ruined Earth and in a society that has regressed to ritualistic, annual killings for past misdeeds.
This is a horrifying view of the world ahead, particularly because it has a ring of authenticity — we know that a future this terrifying could await us if we continue along our current path of climate disruption, resource depletion, species extinction, unsustainable population, and more. To turn from this path of collective ruin, it is vital that we step back and take a fresh look at the story of the human journey. We face big challenges and it will take an equally big vision to transform conflict into cooperation and draw us into a promising future.
A future of conflict and suffering is easy to imagine while a future of harmony and health is still a vague and unformed possibility in our collective imagination. Yet, there are numerous and compelling stories of great transition. These deep narratives describe how the world is in a predictable time of transition to a very different future, one that can only emerge if we consciously choose it. If we are to choose a promising future, there may be no more vital task than discovering the narratives that weave together the threads of the human experience into the larger tapestry of our collective journey.
An important starting point is to remember that we humans almost went extinct roughly 70,000 years ago. All of the people who now inhabit the Earth are descendants of a single community estimated to be fewer than several thousand persons who migrated out of Africa roughly 65,000 years ago. From a handful of survivors, we have now become an Earth community of 7 billion persons and we will likely reach 9 billion before stabilizing! Humanity has experienced extraordinary success and now completely dominates the Earth and its future.
The first step in creating a positive future is to imagine it. If we can visualize a future of promise, we can create that future.
One vision of promise is the view that humanity is maturing as a species and we are now going through the growth pains of our collective adolescence. Our self-image could therefore be that of a young species that is capable and gifted with untapped potentials. Instead of returning to a regressive and repressive society as in The Hunger Games, we could recognize and dive into the predictable struggles and turmoil of our adolescent years as a human community. Once we do, we will be on our way into our early adulthood and a concern for the well-being of the Earth and the long-term future of the human family.
To explore the story of “humanity growing up,” as I have traveled in different parts of the world giving talks about the future, I have often begun with a simple question for the audience: “When you look at the overall behavior of the human family, what life-stage do you think we are in? In other words, if you estimate the social average of human behavior around the world, what stage of development best describes the human family: toddler, teenager, adult, or elder?” I give people a few minutes to discuss this among themselves and then we take a vote to see what people think or intuit.
When I first began asking this question, I had no idea if people would understand it or how they would respond. To my surprise, around the world, nearly everyone immediately understands this question.
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