If we are to consciously create innovative, beneficent change in our societal institutions, it is prudent to look more deeply into what that requires. To begin with, it requires a clear understanding of how both self and societal institutions were, and how they are. That is largely a matter of history, data, information, and knowledge. Much more intense concentration on how they might become, and above all, how they ought to be, is required before material change can occur.
How they might become requires us to formulate both constructive and destructive possibilities which takes us beyond knowledge and deeply into understanding. How they ought to be brings us hard up against subjective values of ethics, morality, equity, and justice. That is where wisdom becomes paramount.
Making good judgements and acting wisely when one has complete data, facts and information is not leadership. It's not even management. It’s bookkeeping. Leadership is the ability to make wise decisions, and act responsibly upon them, when one has little more than a clear sense of direction, proper values, and some understanding of the forces driving change. It requires true leadership. It requires those who can go before and show the way. It requires educing the inherent integrity and virtue that lies within everyone waiting to be aroused and brought into play. How might that be done?
We are all embedded in an increasingly complex, diverse number of communities–cities, states, nations, governments, churches, corporations, schools, neighborhoods and countless other societal entities, to say nothing of the natural world. Within those communities, at the superficial, sensory level, we continually act, experience the results of those acts, learn from the experience, make decisions based on that learning, and act again. This does not happen in linear, singular manner, but in a continuous, integrated flow of countless events, second by second, minute by minute, and hour by hour.
This flow of acting, experiencing, learning, and deciding cannot be completely voluntary nor controlled, since countless other people and organizations are doing the same. We are affected by their acts, experiences, and judgements, and must respond. At the same time, myriad living entities and physical things composing the natural world are continually acting and reacting. We must respond to them as well. All of us have some autonomy, yet no one is separably autonomous from all else.
At a deeper, partially subliminal level, we assimilate experience, relate it to other experience, attempt to understand the relevance, and make projections about the future based on that understanding. It is those projections which largely determine the decisions we make, the acts we take, and the results we experience.
At a much deeper level, usually without awareness, we inevitably construct a concept of reality---a world view, an internal model of reality--- against which we compare current experience in order to create meaning. It is how we make sense of the external world, our place in it, ourselves, and our actions. It is, or at least ought to be, the home of wisdom.
When there is an explosion in the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform, and transmit information, the external world changes at a rate enormously greater than the rate at which our internal model evolves. Nothing behaves as we think it should. Nothing makes sense. At times the world appears to be staging a madhouse. It is never a madhouse. It is merely the great tide of evolution in temporary flood, moving this way and that, piling up against that which obstructs its flow, trying to break loose and sweep away that which opposes it. At such times, we experience extreme dissonance and stress.
At the heart of that dissonance and stress is paradox. The more powerful and entrenched our internal model of reality, the more difficult it is to perceive and understand the fundamental nature of the changed world we experience. Yet without such perception, it is extremely difficult to understand and change our internal model.
This is precisely where we are today, and it is rapidly getting worse. Deep in most of us, below our awareness, indelibly implanted there by three centuries of the Industrial Age, is the mechanistic, separatist, cause-and-effect, command-and-control, machine model of reality.
People are more than machines. The universe is more than a clock. Nature is more than a sequence of cogs and wheels. Nor is it a collection of bits and bytes. Numbers are not values. Mathematics can never be the measure of all things. Words and syllables are not reality. And science is not a deity. All knowledge is an approximation.
When our internal model of reality is in conflict with rapidly changing external realities, there are three ways to respond:
First, we can cling to our old internal model and attempt to impose it on external conditions in a futile attempt to make them conform to our expectations. That is what our present mechanistic societal institutions compel us to attempt, and what we continually dissipate our ingenuity and ability trying to achieve. Attempting to impose an archaic internal model on a changed external world is futile.
Second, we can engage in denial. We can refuse to accept the new external reality. We can pretend that external changes are not as profound as they really are. We can deny that we have an internal model, or that it bears examination. When the world about us appears to be irrational, erratic and irresponsible, it is all too easy to blame others for the unpleasant, destructive things we experience. It is equally easy to abandon meaning, engage in fantasy, and engage in erratic behavior. Such denial is also futile.
Third, we can attempt to understand and change our internal model of reality. That is the least common alternative, and for good reason. Changing an internal model of reality is extremely difficult, terrifying, and complex. It requires a meticulous, painful examination of beliefs. It requires a fundamental understanding of consciousness and how it must change. It destroys our sense of time and place. It calls into question our very identity. We can never be sure of our place, or our value, in a new order of things. We may lose sight of who and what we are.
Changing our internal model of reality requires an enormous act of faith, for it requires time to develop, and we require time to grow into it. Yet it is the only workable answer.
Those with the greatest power and wealth and the most prominent place in the old order of things have the most to lose. It is, therefore, understandable that so many of them close their minds to different possibilities and cling tenaciously to the old order of things. It is understandable that they engage in cosmetic change to palliate their discomfort and placate critics. It is understandable that they seek one another and merge the institutions they control to amass more and more power and wealth in order to perpetuate that to which they cling. It is understandable that they blind themselves to the fact that they are attempting to preserve the form of things long after its form no longer serves function, a certain formula for failure, since the closest thing to a law of nature in the organizational world is that form has an affinity for expense, while function has an affinity for income.
Those in positions of power, wealth, and prestige who tenaciously cling to the present order of things deserve understanding, not condemnation, for they intuitively sense what Machiavelli discovered five centuries ago when he wrote: "Nothing is more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain of success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
No one should be condemned for failure to welcome change. It is a pervasive problem which plagues us all. Dostoevski put it into perspective in the last century when he wrote: "Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most."
The undeniable fact is that we have created the greatest explosion of capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform, and transmit information in history and that is causing an even greater explosion in societal diversity and complexity. There is no way to turn back. Whether we recognize it or not, whether we will it or not, whether we welcome it or not, we are caught up in the most profound change in the history of civilization.