Maybe Life is Not All One Thing or the Other?

I have been in Bangkok and Tokyo exploring approaches to balance in the Buddha’s teachings and in Shinto philosophy.  The Hamas attack on Israel took place when I was in Bangkok thinking about Buddhist mindfulness.  Given the news, my thoughts were not happy ones.

And yet…

Before I left, our fellow, Michael Labrosse, shared with me some reflections why despair is not always justified.  Our human community has matured in some important ways over the centuries. Here are Michael’s observations on grounds for continued optimism if we can listen to the “better angels of our natures.”

William James reminded us that the greatest force in the universe is attentiveness.  Einstein reminds us that imagination is more important than knowledge and most philosophers, theologians and social scientists agree that the greatest virtue is courage.

Most of us here are familiar with the work of Jim Collins and his well-researched investigation into what makes a good business a good business.  The genius of his book, Built to Last, and his subsequent work, Good to Great, are founded on one fundamental and counterintuitive principle: let’s not focus on what’s broken and attempt to fix it.  Let’s activate the greatest force at work in the universe and focus our attentiveness on what’s working, thus encouraging all of us to attend to what is working and good in our world. 

The statement and conclusions of the Caux Round Table’s 2023 Global Dialogue eloquently draws our attention to three acute realities:

1. Our human community is at an inflection point: something is past and something different is coming.  We are in a juncture of developments, provoking dysfunctions, exacerbating differences, precipitating separations and bringing on anxiety-inducing uncertainties.

2. Leaders up to our challenges and worthy of our respect are in short supply everywhere.

3. A recovery of commitment to personal responsibility is most needed. 

Perhaps if we seize hold of the wisdom of Einstein, James and Collins, we might consider expanding the Global Dialogue statement with a counter, intuitive mindset based on the law of physics, which states that what we focus on grows.  Where are human actions currently succeeding in our world?  Where are the leaders in abundant supply?  And where can we find commitment to personal responsibility, courage and imagination at work now, building the future we need and deserve?

Here are five examples of how the world is heading in a positive direction from a social scientist’s and the United Nation’s perspective:

1. Global decline in extreme poverty.  Over the past few decades, there has been a significant reduction in extreme poverty worldwide.  Many regions have seen improvements in living conditions, access to education and healthcare, leading to an overall better quality of life for millions of people.

2. Advancements in gender equality.  There has been notable progress in promoting gender equality and women’s rights across various societies.  Women are increasingly participating in leadership roles, education and the workforce, leading to more inclusive and equitable societies.

3. Increased access to education.  Efforts to improve education accessibility have led to increased enrollment rates, especially in developing countries.  This empowers individuals with knowledge and skills to contribute positively to their communities and economies.

4. Environmental awareness and sustainability.  More people and organizations are becoming aware of the importance of environmental sustainability.  Initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions, preserving biodiversity and adopting cleaner technologies are gaining momentum.

5. Advancements in healthcare and disease control.  Scientific breakthroughs and global collaborations have led to improved healthcare outcomes and disease control.  Vaccination campaigns, medical research and technology-driven healthcare solutions have contributed to longer and healthier lives for many.

These trends suggest that efforts to address social, economic and environmental challenges are yielding positive results and contributing to a better future for many people around the world.

If we look through a business lens, there are many examples of how the world is heading towards a positive economic future:

1. Technological innovation and digital transformation.  Rapid advancements in technology are driving innovation across industries.  The digital revolution is creating new opportunities for businesses to streamline operations, reach global markets and develop novel products and services.

2. Global trade and market access.  International trade agreements and collaborations are facilitating the movement of goods, services and investments across borders.  This interconnectedness fosters economic growth by opening up new markets and allowing businesses to tap into diverse consumer bases.

3. Sustainable business practices.  Increasing awareness of environmental and social issues is pushing businesses to adopt more sustainable practices.  Companies that prioritize environmental stewardship and social responsibility are not only contributing to a better world, but also building stronger reputations and attracting conscious consumers.

4. Entrepreneurship and start-up ecosystems.  The rise of entrepreneurship and supportive start-up ecosystems is fostering economic dynamism.  New businesses and innovative ideas are being nurtured, creating jobs, driving competition and injecting vitality into economies.

5. Investment in infrastructure and development.  Many countries are investing in critical infrastructure projects, such as transportation networks, energy systems and digital connectivity. These investments not only stimulate economic activity, but also lay the foundation for long-term growth and competitiveness.

These trends collectively indicate a promising economic landscape characterized by technological advancement, increased global collaboration, sustainability, innovation and investment in foundational economic pillars. 

What we focus on grows.