Mindful Metropolis December 2009 : Page 37

a huge influence on me personally, spiritually and intellectually. That became for me a clear indication of the reality of cultural evolution: that human culture does evolve, and that we’re currently in a period of dramatically acceler- ated culture shift. What are those big cultural changes that are happening right now? This is the biggest single area of my research, and the topic of my book that’s coming out in May. Cultural evolution means that our val- ues are gradually moving toward a closer fit with our deepening understanding of reality. We learn more about the world every day, and slowly, our values change to fit that. We gradually come to realize that women are not inferior to men, and then, much more slowly than that realization comes the value shift away from the patriarchal. We began to real- ize that the old assumption that the world is un-fragile and that nothing we did could pos- sibly injure our ecological balance is simply wrong. Slowly, our values catch up. There are rare periods in history when there’s a sudden dramatic acceleration in that evolution of values. I suggest that we’re smack dab in the middle of one of those periods of ac- celeration. The positive signs I see are the areas of peace and non-violent conflict resolution, social and economic justice and human rights, and ecological sustainability. the lectures and discussions that Com- mon ground facilitates deal with cur- rent events, such as President obama’s economic plan. Can we always find lessons in current events? If you’ve got a broad overarching vision, then there’s always a lesson to be learned. For me, that vision is human cultural evolution. We make a lot of mistakes as we go, but gradually we become wiser. We sharpen our focus, and there are always signs on the horizon. Even if we explore some major cultural failing, there’s always a lesson there. how do you identify politically? spiritually? My politics are very progressive. I’m clearly to the left-of-center, as I think most people are who identify the critical issues of our time as peace and justice and sustainability. The same is true in my religious attitudes. I am a plural- ist, which means that I believe it’s possible for more than one religion to be valid. Religions speak in symbolic language. I believe that since religions speak symbolically, the symbol- ic claims of the great religions don’t contradict each other, they complement each other. Common ground is revamping its web- site, including the addition of an open forum and a social-networking site. how is the internet changing the way we interact across cultural, religious and spiritual lines? I think it’s critical that we have access to other cultures. We’re all part of a generation that knows more about the world, other cultures and other religions than any other generation in human history. The Internet is a big part of that; it’s an extraordinary resource. I spend a lot of time thinking about the is- sues of the global commons—basically an ex- tension of the old idea of the village commons. The forest and the land in the center of the vil- lage, the land surrounding the village, are held in common by all members of the village. They can pasture there, have animals there, they can garden and hunt. Gradually, the village com- mons was enclosed. The great landowners re- alized they could make the forests their own and wall off the village commons. The critical problems today when we talk about global commons are Antarctica, the deep sea and the high seas, outer space, the airwaves and natu- ral resources that need to be protected. One of the most important aspects of the global commons is information and information sharing. An exciting development underway with the Internet is what some call the creative commons, an effort to project access to infor- mation that should belong to all and to keep it from being gobbled up by corporations that know how to make information proprietary. What are some examples of break- throughs in cross-cultural understanding? In almost every area, there are major global networks at work. In the area of non-violent conflict resolution, for example, new ap- proaches have been developed that link ef- forts in Latin America with efforts in Asia and efforts in Africa with the inner cities of the United States. Another wonderful example is the number of groups that are actively work- ing to address the problems of climate change, or groups that are working on small-scale development programs in poorer countries or on the empowerment of women. You not only have groups that are working in their lo- cal areas, but groups that are working in global networks, sharing resources, information and technologies with others all over the world. Why did you write your forthcoming book Thriving in the Crosscurrent? What did you learn in the process? I wrote the book because I believe that cultural evolution is happening now. We’re in the fourth great period of dramatically accelerated cultural evolution. Older values that have long been dominant, such as patriarchy, the invulnerabili- ty of the earth, the idea that social and econom- ic fairness are unrealistic goals, the idea that war will always be with us—all of those ideas, with which most of us were raised, are declin- ing in influence, an outgoing wave of cultural values. At the same time, a new wave of values is rising: ecological sustainability, peace and jus- tice, nonviolence, economic and social justice, human rights and empowerment of women. Theoretically, there comes a point when that outgoing wave of values is roughly equal in influence to the incoming wave. I think that’s precisely where we are. The crossing of one wave on the way out, and a new wave on the way in, is bound to produce a backlash. I use the term eddy, to stick to the watery, sea- change metaphor. A whirlpool, a counterspin, when some portion of a body of water tries to resist the prevailing flow. They can be destruc- tive, but none ever succeeds in reversing the flow of the stream. What’s sitting on your desk right now? What projects awaits? I’m very involved in this idea of the global commons, trying to understand it better, and to interact with the movers and shakers who are making a difference. And I’m working with the Interreligious Engagement Project (IEP21), a group I founded in 2003 after I left the Parliament of the World’s Religions. We interact with groups that are trying to make a difference, and that we can help by virtue of the connections we have to the global inter- religious and intercultural community. This summer I hosted a conference at Loyola Uni- versity on globalization for the common good. We bring together people from different disci- plines and from the interreligious community, who believe that globalization is here to stay, but it needs to be dramatically influenced if it’s to reach out to those who are being ignored. We also publish the Interreligious Insight Journal, a quarterly journal of dialogue and engagement. It focuses on what you might call the best news from the religions of the world— what they do when they get it right. The jour- nal is one of a kind, and we’re very proud of it. Jacob Wheeler is an adjunct teacher at Colum- bia College and publishes the Glen Arbor Sun newspaper (GlenArborSun.com) in northwest- lower Michigan. mindfulmetropolis.com 37

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