The 21st century finds humanity at a crossroads. After centuries of material progress have brought undreamed of comforts, and travel and communications opened the world to us, we have reached a perfect storm of unprecedented crises. Every one of the complex systems we have developed – in agriculture, business, finance, education, health care, governance, and more – has reached the end of its paradigm, requiring radical change. On top of that, the climate changes that are coming threaten everything our civilizations have built. The only solution to all of these challenges will be a great shift in human consciousness. The good news is that it is happening before our very eyes.
The United Nations actually has a name for the new consciousness that is emerging across the globe: a culture of peace. There are two main hallmarks of this consciousness. The first is the understanding that we are all members of one human family. All our religions teach us to follow a path of righteousness, defined by caring for one another with generosity, compassion, mercy, and love. In previous times, we have limited the expression of these virtues to those within own tribe while arming ourselves against outsiders. The key realization of the 21st century is that there is no “other.”
Our quickness to judge others according to their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or culture is fast diminishing. We no longer live in isolated pockets of people who look like us. Those who go to school together, work together, and meet as neighbors can’t help but notice our common humanity. And blood feuds, bigotries, and grudges nurtured for generations in closed societies are evaporating in the fresh air of inclusivity. This trend is helping us transcend the ideal of mere tolerance, as we move onto firmer ground of respect, caring, and appreciation.
The 20th century saw the rise of the interfaith movement, an important step in the advancement of humankind. For the first time, scriptures of all faiths were made available in translation, and timeless mysteries stood revealed. Concurrently, there was an enormous increase in the percentage of the world’s population that could read and even attain levels of higher education. While some leaders have continued to fan the flames of intolerance for political and economic purposes, there is a growing consensus across the globe that people of faith have more in common than the differences of their religions might imply. Interfaith organizations and observances are now widespread, and we will soon see differences of religion as another expression of the glorious diversity of our human family, along with skin color, language, and cultural background. Once we gain the wisdom to see beyond our differences, we will come to appreciate the rich storehouse of insights each tradition brings to the compendium of human knowledge and understanding. Then we will be ready to learn from one another.
In this new “universal” consciousness, it will be challenging to incite members of any group go to war against another. We have already begun to recognize that violence is not a useful way to resolve conflict because it creates a loser. In fact, everyone involved in violence, whether victor or vanquished, suffers a loss, as American combat veterans realize when they return home with PTSD and suicidal dreams. In days of old, war was considered a glorious and noble occupation. Conquest was admired and the “spoils of war” – including enslaved peoples – were considered legitimate acquisitions. Today’s understanding is more compassionate, more nuanced. War is not yet obsolete, but it is considered to be a last resort when dialogue and diplomacy fail. Dialogue and conflict resolution are now being taught in schools, and the spirit of reconciliation will be increasingly enhanced by the desire to take care of those beyond our own identified group.
We are at our best when we endeavor to understand and empower one another. Fortunately, this universal spiritual truth, so nobly expressed as the Golden Rule, is becoming ever more apparent. Every tragedy that we hear about from across the world, whether a war, an earthquake, or a tide of desperate migrants, inspires us to open our hearts and our pocketbooks. For the first time in our history, we feel the pain of people we don’t know; we are becoming one global community.
And not a moment too soon. The combined effects of human waste emissions on our air, water, and soil, along with the beginnings of potentially massive changes in the global climate, are putting the very future of human life in peril. The planet is crying out for us to change our ways and we are finally starting to listen. Indigenous peoples around the world have always told us to walk lightly on Mother Earth and treat her with respect. Will we wake up to this wisdom before it is too late?
As we reach the next level of human evolution, we begin to understand at the very core of our being that we are part of a living Earth amidst a living universe. This is the second hallmark of the emerging consciousness: the renewal of our sense of deep connection with nature, realizing that our future must include new ways to live in harmony with our environment. Our scientific approach has objectified the Earth and all the creatures who call it home. The arising culture of peace will be one of relationships based on honor and respect.
As world leaders tackle the issues of a planet threatened by desertification, shrinking coastlines, and extreme weather, the people of the world are seeking innovative solutions that will bring us inexpensive and abundant energy sourced from renewables such as the sun, the wind, the tides, and perhaps even the geothermal energy of the Earth itself. Can we learn to split the atom safely, with no hazardous waste? Can we achieve zero-point energy? These questions are for the scientists of our time. What is clear is that humanity is now aware of the need to power our lives in a way that neither depletes nor despoils the natural environment, but rather aligns with natural systems in which there is no waste that is not also used to nourish.
The United Nations began the 21st century with eight “Millennium Development Goals,” designed to significantly reduce global poverty by 2015. We now see the emergence of a new agenda called the “Sustainable Development Goals,” a comprehensive blueprint for maintaining not only a healthy relationship to the world around us, but also for fully developing the human potential of every child. It is encouraging that every nation has signed onto this commitment to creating a caring society.
Our relationship to the Earth becomes even more significant as we move increasingly towards a virtual reality. Our devices connect us to one another – both personally, to our friends and families – who are never too far away to be in touch, and worldwide, to our sources of news and information. New directions in education will allow young people to rapidly excel in both the sciences and the arts. Yet we will need even more grounding in nature, and more balance between heart and mind, as intellects soar to new heights.
Yes, the 21st century will see the opening of humanity’s heart. As we release the fear that stems from a sense of separation – whether from one another or from God – we heal into a wholeness never before experienced outside a small tribal community. The whole Earth is our community! This realization allows us to lay down our arms and experience love. This love is what will be needed to repair all that we have broken in our beautiful world. Only by caring for one another and for our Mother Earth can we create a new culture of peace, one that will assure the flourishing of the human race in the face of whatever challenges may come.
Perhaps this time of awakened consciousness will be seen as an evolutionary leap of the spirit. Imagine how powerful we will become when we recognize the spark of the Divine within every human heart, and indeed all of creation! Instead of arguing about the existence of God or the truth of our religions, we will simply see all life as sacred, cherishing the beauty of the world around us and the infinite light we see in one another’s eyes.
How do we know that the 21st century will be the time for such wonders? As we stand at the threshold of a new world, we find ourselves at an unprecedented point of tension and time is running out. Behind us lies a path to the destruction of our environment. We cannot continue to tolerate dysfunctional governance, financial systems that benefit only the few, and a consumer culture that fills our oceans with plastic and our bodies with toxic chemicals. We cannot continue to accept a civilization where some live in comfort and some in starvation. When the air temperatures and the sea levels rise, we will need a healthy planet with healthy people ready to take care of one another. And we can do it – in fact, we are ready!
What more could define this moment in time? Perhaps when we at last achieve a planetary culture of unity and peace, then we may be ready to communicate with civilizations from the stars beyond our sun. A humanity united in love may be welcomed into worlds beyond worlds.
So let us go forward together, unafraid to experience a new way to live on planet Earth as the one human family we are, caring for one another and flourishing in peace.
May peace prevail on Earth.