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Reflections on the 2001 State of the Future Report
--Sherryl R. Stalinski,
(c) August 2001 Aurora Now Foundation
almost September. Most of us have long since forgotten that we are still
heralding in the first year of the third millennium. Instead, we are busying
ourselves preparing our children for a new school year and "settling
in" for the routine of life until next summer's vacations. Thinking
about addressing global challenges and creating a better future for humanity
in a new millennium are topics left for the lofty aspirations of world
Or are they?
According to the 2001 State of the Future Report just published by the
United Nations University's Millennium Project, global issues are becoming
infused in local consciousness more than ever. "[M]aking the world
work for everyone was deemed a hopelessly romantic notion just a few decades
ago, and now it has become a driving force for a new generation [...]
in many occupations around the world." And there is reason to believe
these local efforts are making a difference. While the State of the Future
report indicates mixed findings about our human condition, the outlook
is improving. The State of the Future Index (SOFI) indicates improvements
in literacy, access to safe water, life expectancy, education and access
to health care. Most exciting is that more of us are living in democracies
than dictatorship countries for the first time in history.
Overall, the report is exceptionally hopeful and inspiring, outlining
reasonable, do-able, practical strategies which can help address humanity's
remaining challenges and issues. The positive outlook should be cause
for all of us to reflect on what part we are playing in the creation of
our world's future. In her renowned work, On Death and Dying, Elizabeth
Kubler-Ross states, "When people look back upon their lives, they
ask three questions that determine their sense of whether it was meaningful:
Did I give and receive love? Did I become all I can be? Did I leave the
planet a little better?" Psychologist Victor Frankl calls the failure
to find meaning in one's life the "existential vacuum." While
most people seem to have some sense of social responsibility, they often
feel helpless to make a real difference given the overwhelming complexity
of issues still facing humanity. American media, notes the report, tends
to trivialize complex issues. I think many would agree that the media
not only trivializes global issues, it often opts instead to focus on
trivia itself, distracting us from striving for a more aware, conscious
and meaningful life. We're told so often that the meaning of life is all
about successful survival that we forget the real objective is fulfilled
A few weeks ago, I was running a thesaurus search to find an appropriate
alternative to "brilliant, talented." While choosing the word
I wanted to use ("gifted") I couldn't help but note the listed
antonym of my word search. The opposite of "gifted, brilliant, talented"
would likely surprise most people. It is not what one might guess: "ungifted,"
"incapable," "incompetent," or "unsuccessful."
The antonym listed was "mediocre." If we think about our American
culture's focus on trivia, we can see how the media promotes mediocrity-not
incompetence or inability-and we so often find ourselves hypnotized into
complacency within our own lives. Meaning, not mediocrity, is part of
our innate human drive, and the word is out: We are capable of making
the world a better place, we aren't helpless and the issues aren't hopeless.
It's time to break away from the distractions of media's 'information
overload' promoting mediocrity and trivia.
The State of the Future report summarizes the effect of information overload
by saying, "There are many answers to the many problems, but there
is so much extraneous information that it is difficult to concentrate
on what is truly relevant."
Fifteen "Global Challenges" were identified by the Millennium
Project, and each challenge reflected regional perspectives. The report
can help us focus on what is relevant-and meaningful. Highlights of the
findings include complexity and culture among relevant issues and solutions:
"The most important challenges are transnational in nature and transinstitutional
in solution. They cannot be addressed by any government or organization
acting alone; they require collaborative action among governments, international
organizations, corporations, universities and NGOs. Interinstitutional
mechanisms to focus these global actors is missing."
In North America, a change in thinking, attention to culture and an emphasis
on education and appropriate training for leadership were all identified.
"North Americans need to move from cause-effect, single issue problem
analysis to integrated, holistic visions and problem solving, using futures
research, systems thinking, and technology assessment. [...] More courses
in future-oriented studies should be established that stress relationships
to decision-making [...]" The report identified a "remarkable
lack of training" among American politicians, but also cited the
need for leadership at a global level, including the leaders of corporations,
NGOs and other arenas to be provided appropriate training, especially
in the area of decision making in an increasingly complex and rapidly
changing world. This training and education is needed to address complexity
which is "growing beyond our abilities to analyze and make decisions."
"Although many criticize globalization's potential cultural impacts,
it is increasingly clear that cultural change is necessary to address
global challenges. The development of genuine democracy requires cultural
change; preventing AIDS requires cultural change; sustainable development
requires cultural change; ending violence against women requires cultural
change; ending ethnic violence requires cultural change. The tools of
globalization, such as the Internet and global trade, should be used to
help cultures change to improve the human condition."
Culture is often considered a "fuzzy subject" that is about
as easy for our contemporary human sciences to nail down as jell-o to
a tree. Work of researchers within the systems science community, most
notably the International Systems Institute, however support this emphasis
on culture. ISI founder and president, noted social systems scholar Bela
H. Banathy states that cultural evolution, unlike biological evolution,
can be guided. Humanity is not limited to responding and reacting to change,
we can-and should-catalyze positive change. Cultures, according to futurist
and evolutionary theorist Ervin Laszlo, "are, in the final analysis,
value-guided systems. Values define cultural man's need for rationality,
meaningfulness in emotional experience, richness of imagination and depth
of faith. All cultures respond to such suprabiological values. But in
what form they do so depends on the specific kind of values people happen
The State of the Future reports a global, widespread call for the identification
of common global ethical norms, and notes that "the Institute for
Global Ethics already lists five values identified around the world: respect,
honesty, compassion, fairness and responsibility." These values reflect
humanity's shared vision for the future, and provide a place from which
our global cultures can find common ground that still honors and celebrates
the diverse ways in which we can seek to live these values. "Strategies
for world peace and security are emerging, and global efforts are growing
that encourage respect for diversity and shared ethical values."
A peaceful, sustainable and viable future is more within our grasp than
ever before. And if we still doubt how little it can take to make a significant
difference, consider that according to the Millennium Project report,
"UNICEF estimates that it would cost $7 billion per year over 10
years to educate the world, about the same as Americans spend on cosmetics
or Europeans on ice cream." All it really takes is a little effort
on each of our parts to consciously choose meaning over mediocrity-to
find and give love, to become all we can be, and to strive to leave the
planet a little better.
Tarja Kaarina Halonen, President of Finland summarizes our ability to
create this future powerfully and succinctly. In her response to the State
of The Future, she states, "We know the facts. We know what we want.
We know how to get it. All we need is the will to do it."
Stalinski is Vice President of Communications & Technology for ARC
Worldwide, Executive Director of the Aurora Now Foundation and a research
fellow of the International Systems Institute. She was one of approximately
1000 individuals from 50 countries around the world representing leadership
in government, corporations, universities and non-governmental agencies
to participate in the surveys which make up the 2001 State of the Future
Report, produced by The Millennium Project of the American Council for
the United Nations University.
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