Step back in time with me for a moment. Imagine that we are poised at the edge of the first signs of mass conversion to an agrarian society, while most have lived as hunter-gatherers pretty much forever. While the hunter-gatherer way of life is certainly a difficult one, requiring people to follow the source of food with the seasonal changes and migrations, it is woven into our survival instinct to literally go with the flow. The hunter-gatherer way of life requires strength, stamina, agility, sharp senses, and perseverance, the likes of which most of us living in western society cannot even imagine. A way of life is a way of life until a revolutionary idea is introduced, one that changes not only the daily experience of living in terms of what we do, but also how we think, what we believe, and who we are.
Introduce revolutionary idea #1: the seed.
The transition from being hunter-gatherers to an agrarian way of life upended everything that had comprised human living for millenia. While I acknowledge and honor the few remaining cultures that still practice hunter-gatherer lifeways, the reality is that the agrarian revolution swept in strong, and pushed people to adapt to a new way of life that was vastly different from all that had ever been known before. As people came to understand that they could cultivate certain plants that were known to be a good source of nourishment, and that they could domesticate certain animals as well, the hunter-gatherer way of life gave way to visions of abundant food sources that were easier to acquire, and more consistently available. Humans are clever animals, and the idea of making life a little easier by any means possible was likely as strong then as it is now. The strong movement toward settlement and agriculture certainly bumped up against the dominant culture of the time, and over time, the agricultural movement won out. It’s easy in our post-industrial age of technology to assume that movement away from a nomadic lifestyle and toward civilization was an improvement. Yet, I invite you to stay open and consider that all change comes with both positive and negative effects, depending on who you ask.
Revolutionary idea #2: the machine.
Farming is hard work. It is very physical labor, and demands long days of work throughout all growing seasons. It is not foolproof, and climate, weather, pests, and infections can demolish an entire region’s crops, leaving farmers with little capacity to do anything about it. While agriculture may have been more consistent in providing food than the life of a hunter-gatherer much of the time, there remained so many unknown factors, and life was still hard. The resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit continued to seek ways to make existence easier, and the brightest minds began to create ways to do more than ever possible with our bodies and minds alone. Machines, from simple to complex, began to appear, and the movement toward making life easier blossomed. Machines to help with agriculture, to communicate, to travel ~ and machines to entertain and amuse us, too. Along with this shift toward machines and automation came immense changes in lifestyle, and the busyness of the human mind was stirred in new ways. With machines came the speeding up of life, and we are still living within the scope of this today.
Imagine what it was like as these ways of life emerged alongside each other, bumping against each other, causing conflict as human values and ideas diverged. Imagine the new, enthusiastic farmer fighting the fierce, enduring hunter-gatherer, in the throes of conflict over which way of life would dominate. Imagine the new, enthusiastic inventor, eager to convince the old-fashioned farmer that there were newer, faster, and better ways of doing things, and that life could be so much more than just labor. Imagine what each one would feel: the new way of life teeming with possibility, knowing deep down that life wants to diversify, change, and morph in new and unexpected ways. And imagine the old way of life, determined to defend what is known and tested, threatened with becoming obsolete, certain that things were just fine as they had been, tried and true. Can you feel the righteous indignation in each side of the conversation?
Revolutionary idea #3: ???
It seems to me that we are sitting on the edge of another massive turning point. There are many who believe that things are fine as they have been, and those people are prepared to defend their way of life with full force. But now we are also in the unique position of seeing the results of our choices, and the damage done through the advancement of the age of machines. And there are many of us standing on the front lines of the next revolution, knowing that change is ripe, and that the time is now. We know that we must change many things: our unsustainable choices through the use of destructive technologies; the damaging belief systems that oppress and harm so many people; the attachment to a way of life that favors some living beings over others, and stacks the cultural systems in favor of that. What is true as we stand here on this evolutionary battle ground is that change is coming, and the battle is raging because those changes are coming fast, and there is much to defend, and much to lose.
I look into the eyes of the great great grandfather of my great great grandfather, and I see a warrior, a strong man who has done his best to survive and provide for his people. He is courageous and determined because his way of life has demanded it, and as he sees the beginning of the end of his way of life, he will defend it with everything he’s got. In my heart, I feel great compassion for him, as I feel the anguish and devastation that comes in his knowing that everything he has known is on the chopping block. My heart fills with compassion.
And I look into the eyes of those who are politically and socially in opposition to everything I value, the conservatives in my country who celebrate victory in what is to me horrific injustice, pure ignorance, and hateful divisiveness. My ideas about environmental preservation at all costs are a threat to the machine culture that has brought such success. My ideas about social justice, equality, and human rights are a threat to the traditional values that they cannot understand, and often have no desire to understand. I truly want my culture to dismantle nearly everything in the minds and lifeways of these people, and they are committed to defending that with all their power. To feel like everything that you have known and trusted is on the chopping block, pushed toward extinction – I imagine that is a terrifying proposition, and no one will go quietly into the night of history without a good fight for what they believe in.
We are facing this revolution right now. We can’t name it yet, as it is still too fresh. The fierce force of change will come anyway, though the resistance is strong. All that is born shall surely die, all that rises shall fall. And yet, in this moment, I am finding a new depth of compassion for those whose ways of life are threatened. How vast is the heart, that it can hold the conviction of necessary change, with the certainty that the trajectory of transformation is exactly as it should be, while also holding deep understanding and empathy for the longing of those who no longer know the world in which they live, the landscape of culture and tradition utterly new?
For those of us riding the wave of change, celebrating it, I want to invite you to join me in a place of understanding and compassion for those who do not agree or wish for this process to unfold. The way we approach this revolution will certainly affect the outcome, as well as modeling a new way of being that is more in alignment with the greater good. This time, the revolution must become conscious.