For the first time in human history, with the advent of nuclear weapons and now with climate change, we have the ability to destroy ourselves. At the same time, with rapidly advancing technologies, knowledge doubling every 13 months, and our boundless creative ingenuity, we have the ability to thrive.
However, our ability to survive and thrive requires that we overcome our ego-driven impulses, raise our consciousness individually and collectively and expand our worldview to employ higher, more universal values.
We live in challenging times. While many of us lead comfortable lives, all of us are impacted to some degree by greed, predatory capitalism, moral and ethical decay, lies and deceitful propaganda, broken politics of extremism and obstruction, assaults on our democracy, gun violence, racism, environmental degradation and more.
To understand some of the behaviors that underlie these abuses, below are brief introductory explanations and proposed solutions (a comprehensive discussion would require volumes):
• The human ego underlies most of the suffering in our world because it clouds the lens through which we view reality and thus distorts our experiences and behavior. Our egos excel in telling us untrue stories that we feel compelled to defend at all costs. The ego’s influence is relentless. Our egos stubbornly refuse to be diminished or ignored and are very clever in dominating/manipulating our higher/better selves, that part of us that seeks truth, kindness, compassion, harmony, peace and love.
By imbibing on distortions, our egos willingly provide justification for a variety of abuses, from minor to extreme, including cruelty and harm - in our personal lives, nationally and worldwide. Example: Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine - with its brutality, torture and atrocities - is incited by extreme ego-driven obsession. History provides endless examples.
• As individuals, each of us is unique, yet we’re all part of the same human family - different fingers on the same hand. Although challenging to accept, in the larger context we’re all brothers and sisters. Ultimately, there is no “we and they.” There is only “us.” Most of the world’s major religious and spiritual traditions embrace oneness.
Tragically, many ego-imbued institutions in our society promote separation and the self-righteous belief that only they have the one true way, and thus the right to dominate and exploit others. They feel fully justified imposing their beliefs on others and, in the extreme, in making war on nonbelievers. Example: Most fundamentalists, religious and political, espouse we-they separation.
• Belief in the ego-based illusion of separation causes massive human suffering and environmental devastation. We falsely believe we’re separate from one another and separate from nature of which we are a part. The illusion of separation provides justification for violating each other and the environment. In reality, our ability to live in harmony, wisely manage our human and natural resources to sustain us long term, while respecting the earth, are interrelated and interdependent.
For some of us, this realization requires surrendering our ego-driven addiction to incessantly accumulate more, often at the expense of others, while never being satisfied. The true bottom line is not measured by endlessly increasing wealth and possessions. Its quality of life is joyful satisfaction found within.
• Undeniably, it’s our right to hold any belief we choose, providing we cause no harm, yet too often, that’s where we fail. We need greater tolerance for our differences, less “me-ness” and more “we-ness” and willingness to encompass inclusivity. For our civilization to endure, we must relinquish our limiting beliefs, embody higher values and foster the common good.
• For many of us, “raising our consciousness” is vague and undefined. Fortunately, several decades-long research studies of human cognitive, ego and emotional development provide roadmaps for our path forward. One comprehensive study, Spiral Dynamics, defines the characteristics and relationships among the various levels of human development and provides insightful guidelines for raising our consciousness.
Conclusion: Einstein said we cannot solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them. To survive and thrive, it’s crucial we adopt a new paradigm in which our egos recede and our higher/better selves prevail.
Ask yourself: Will our human potential blossom or will we succumb to the ignorance of our blind limitations? Will we raise our consciousness in time to forestall our demise? Will we meet this existential challenge?
Despite all, I remain hopeful.
Andrew Kramer is a Vietnam veteran and retired architect who managed large projects with firms in Boston and Denver.