WE ARE STORYTELLERS. For the past 40,000 years, we humans have been building our lives and our cultures on the basis of fundamental stories that have given us a sense of understanding, meaning and purpose.
But today, our world drifts in confusion. We still have stories of course, but they no longer satisfy. They are inconsistent with each other and out of touch with our everyday world. The roots of this confusion reach back at least 500 years. These past centuries have witnessed a vast intermingling of cultures and radical changes in scientific understanding and living conditions. Not knowing how to absorb all this change, our world drifts in shock, numbness, and fanaticism.
Yet it need not be so. Looked at from a long- term historical perspective, the past 500 years reveal themselves as a time of profound cultural transition. Before them came 5000 years of a culturally unified epoch that can be described as the age of empire. After them, stretching into the future for some unknown span, will likely come another culturally unified epoch – distinctly different from the age of empire, and with its forerunners already well developed around us. The apparent confusion of today results from the overlap of these two cultural streams.
If this is so, then we should be able to discern the emerging outline of the New Story that goes with this new epoch. For this New Story to serve us well, it must be a living and empowering thing, a broad and embracing framework that liberates our human energy by focusing us in fruitful directions. It cannot be as narrow or specific as a sectarian dogma or a particular ideology. Rather, it needs to fit so naturally with us that much of it will seem like little more than "common sense."
The paradox of such a New Story is that it is probably already familiar to us, but we have not yet recognized its full significance and implications. Most of its elements are likely to seem commonplace, even "old hat." For example, some of the likely elements in the New Story are:
- We as humans are all part of one species, an interdependent part of life on one round planet.
- The vast universe and all that is within it has gone, and is going, through a process of continual evolutionary change. We have emerged as the Earth’s most recent step in its process of bringing forth more complex and more conscious beings.
- The empirical principle: direct experience, properly used, is the great teacher, and can override any opinions based on conventional or traditional authority.
As intellectually familiar as these may be, their continued revolutionary implications become clear if we stop for a moment and realize that all of our institutions, our religions, our political and economic systems, etc. were created in the midst of, and are based on, a very different story that includes ideas like the following:
- My group (family, tribe, nation, class, etc.) is the center of my world. We have little connection to or interest in any one beyond our borders, except if we can exploit them or if they threaten us.
- Our human ancestors, to whom we can trace genealogies, were created at the beginning of the world by human-like gods for their purposes and pleasures.
- We should live by following the ways of our ancestors, including fighting to defeat our enemies and gaining as much power and glory for ourselves and our gods as we can.
While fewer people than in the past would admit to believing and following such ideas, we do not have to look far to see people – including ourselves – behaving on the basis of this Old Story.
The hold of the Old Story is indeed powerful. Appalled by its consequences, many people feel we should have no story at all. Yet even that, in its own way, is a story – a rather poor and disempowering one. If we are to find our way out of the disasters that continued adherence to the Old Story offers us, we need a rich, alive, and empowering story, meaningful enough for us to be willing to live on the basis of it.
This issue is the telling of such a story. It is dangerous stuff. Enter at your own risk.