Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
So you want to change the world. Previous generations have made a mess of it. There is hypocrisy, injustice and corruption everywhere. Many people are without hope, and have given up. They say you cannot change human nature.
But you are not ready to abandon the world and withdraw into your shell. You want to make a difference. But how? This is a do-it-yourself guide for the lost seeker or budding activist. It does not have all the answers. Those you will have to find for yourself. But it does try to help you ask the right questions, and it has lots of tools that might be helpful along the way as you find your own answers.
The way will be hard. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the problems of the world or to the challenges of life. Changing the world into a better place will take centuries, so you will not see the end of it. In any case, there is no end but only another starting point in the cycles that mark the ever-advancing journey of humanity. But someone has to start, so why not you?
You are not alone. Thousands of others feel the way you do, and are starting along similar journeys. You are sure to cross paths with some of them, and maybe even join up to go a bit of the way together. And whatever you do will not be lost, because others will come after you and pick up wherever you left off. This is a voyage of hope, and your life can be part of it.
It does not matter where you start
You may be at the point in your life where you are studying to prepare for a career, but the professional world today is competitive, high pressure, materialistic and stressful. It would seem that you can advance on merit and ability, but there is a general lack of morality, so lying, cheating and corruption too often have the upper hand.
At the same time you naturally have a moral yearning and desire for social justice, and long to be an activist with a life of purpose bringing real change in the world and overcoming the forces of darkness. Yet it is hard to go beyond what can too easily be a sterile intellectual debate and really do something when the problems seem so overwhelming. The resulting spiritual vacuum and inner pain can make you deeply unhappy despite the opportunities around you.
Or you may be one of the rejects of society, unemployed or unemployable, faced with a future worse than that of your parents. Perhaps war, violence, persecution or economic necessity sent you on the road to exile, a refugee or migrant, ready to risk anything to try to find a better future. Regardless of where you are in your life, it is not easy to be starting out in the world of today.
Life is a journey
Life is a voyage through time and space. You are born, grow up, live and die in a linear progression of time through various stages of growth and decline, of stability and of rapid or even sudden change from life events.
Few people today spend their whole life in the same place, so you may move around your country or the whole planet, experiencing different geographic and cultural environments as a visitor or in places you call home.
You may seldom take the time to stand back and reflect on this whole process that is your life, especially when you are young and just want to get on with it. And you may not ask how much control you have over your own life. Are you just swept along with the current, doing what comes your way or what others are doing, or are you consciously choosing where you want to go and what you want to make of your life?
In a rapidly changing world, it may be impossible to know your ultimate destination and what the future will bring, but there is still a lot you can do to be able to say finally whether you wasted your time or had a life well-lived.
Life is therefore a journey, and like any journey, there is a lot that you can do to prepare for it and to make the most of it. That is what this story is about. It is a short user’s guide to life, and what it takes to put the maximum chances on your side so that your life will meet your expectations. It builds on science and some of the latest thinking about complex systems, but also examines fundamental questions of ethics and values about why you are here and what your fundamental purpose is as a human being. It places these individual challenges in the larger framework of a globalizing world with multiple crises, looking for paths to sustainability and a better future, and what you can do to go in that direction. It is, in a sense, a guide to how to bring meaning into your life.
The voyage of life is never easy. From the pain your mother suffered as you were born into the world until the inevitable decline of old age, and ultimately death, the trek of your life will lead you through perilous valleys and up exalted mountains, with many opportunities to fall short or to lose your way. Some of the challenges are within you; others lie in wait along the way. It may seem easiest to withdraw, to look for the easy way out, to follow the crowd.
You are living in an age of frustration, where hope is a rare commodity. Whether you are young and just beginning on this journey, or somewhere along the way, the obstacles may seem impossible to overcome, yet this universal quest for fulfilment, although arduous, can be exhilarating, equipping you for the next challenges along the road and offering ever-growing vistas of new potentials as you forge ahead.
In telling this tale, the aim is not to lay out a wide highway for everyone to follow like a herd of goats or a rush of commuters, but to provide some signposts to help you find your own unique path to your destiny. In particular, at a time when world crises seem to multiply, catastrophe seems imminent and doom inevitable, it is essential to put all these problems in perspective as the symptoms of a time of transition, not to deny their reality but to understand their role and purpose in cleansing a sick society of its ailments and preparing for a new world civilization to emerge.
This is a story of courage, of the arms of science and faith necessary to fight demons within and without, of environmental, social and economic valleys to cross and mountains to scale, and of the peace and wisdom, justice and love, that are the fruits of a life well lived.
Seven valleys to cross
In keeping with the times, this traveler's narrative will take you across seven valleys and up seven mountain ranges, each addressing one of the critical dimensions of a world in crisis.
First you will cross the desert valley of blind souls, crawling over each other for power and wealth, before scaling the mountains of long-term vision, integrated knowledge and evolving systems, acquiring the arms of ethics and values necessary to defend yourself all along this journey.
Then you pass through the second valley with the threatening jungle of environmental crises and edge along the precipices of planetary boundaries with catastrophe threatening at every turn, before hiking up towards the peaks of environmental sustainability.
Beyond in the third valley is the social wasteland of the wealthy in castles besieged by the masses of the poor and disempowered, a dangerous crossing which will conduct you to the foothills of community and up the path of social action to the mountains of justice and unity.
The strength acquired on this journey will equip you to face the fourth valley full of fire and smoke, with the perilous quicksands of the materialist economy and the consumer society threatening to suck you ever deeper into debt, beyond which rise the majestic peaks of the social economy, richly forested with work as service.
The experiences and trials of these valleys will help you to traverse the fifth valley crisscrossed with the canyons of self and the ravines of corruption so that you can climb the cliffs of altruism and heights of service.
The sixth valley is filled with the mists of vain imaginings as you search for reality, from which you must find your way towards the high plateau of inevitable human limitations that will give you a view of the unattainable universe of higher realities and infinite potentials.
From there you enter the seventh valley with visions of the future within your reach, inspiring your steps ever upward on this earth, while refining your character and contributing to an ever-advancing civilization. The higher you go, the greater the vistas of the emerging world civilization stretching out before you and beckoning to future generations.
While your individual journey will only accompany a short part of the voyage of society as a whole, your fulfilment will come from the qualities acquired during your quest, and the bricks you will lay in the edifice of the new civilization to come.
Preparing for your journey
You can use this guide to your Journey to Hope in many different ways. You could try reading it like a novel, stopping to reflect from time to time, but looking forward to what may come next. Or you might try reading just a little bit each day and thinking it over. The many sections make reading it easier, even on a smartphone or tablet. Some are longer and may be all that you can manage at one time. Short sections could be read a few at a time. If you read two sections a day, you will complete your journey in about a month.
One word of warning is necessary. As with any voyage, you should not start out overburdened with excess baggage, which you will only have to abandon along the way. We all start out with inherited assumptions about the world and about ourselves, transmitted by our parents or unconsciously absorbed from our community and the media, perhaps including a long-standing religious tradition or political perspective. In this journey, you need to be ready to question, not to reject everything in a violent gesture of liberation, but to bring to the surface and re-examine each assumption and preconception in an independent investigation of truth, so that what you keep is your own and forms a coherent whole which you can rely upon throughout your journey.
So equipped with a moral compass and signposts for the life journey before you, you can set out with confidence and hope, undeterred by the pessimists and nay-sayers, the fearful and jealous, and empowered with the strength to take responsibility for your own destiny.
GO TO CHAPTER 1: THE VALLEY OF LOST SOULS AND THE QUEST FOR A UNIFYING VISION AND VALUES
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© Copyright Arthur Lyon Dahl 2017