The New Year

By Jim Selman | Bio

The last 10 years seems to me to have been a long decade. I know that time is supposed to  ‘speed up’ as we get older, but the “Millennium” celebrations, Y2K and all the hype about the 21st century seems like ancient history. A decade ago, we still weren’t at war in two countries, 9/11 hadn’t happened, George Bush was still promising a bipartisan administration, climate change was still a bit of an arcane scientific debate for most of us, New Orleans was still having a non-stop party and Google was a minor start-up. YouTube didn’t exist at the turn of the century, eBay and Amazon were still babies, and the real estate bubble was just beginning. Steve Jobs had recently returned to Apple after spending 13 years with NeXT, the iPod and iTunes were concept just beginning to be developed and the iPhone wasn’t even in sight.

We were all younger and, I think, generally more optimistic than we are today. We’ve lost a lot of our innocence in only 10 years. From Al Qaeda to Bernie Madoff, we’re waking up to the realization that the world is not our oyster and that the American Dream is just a dream if we aren’t responsible for it and act upon it.

Personally, I think the saddest thing that has happened to us in the past decade is the political and ideological polarization of our nation. I don’t know if it can be recovered and I don’t want to speculate on why it happened.

Somewhere along the way, being ‘right’ about our point of view has become more important than community solidarity, prosperity, self-respect, love, or even our future. We’ve all seen this kind of egocentric “I’m Rightism” between individuals and how it can destroy relationships, fuel family feuds, and spawn conditions of resentment, bitterness and hatred. And now we’re seeing it almost everywhere we go constantly being fanned by the “news” channels and on the Internet.  It is as deadly as cancer (probably worse, since it infects everyone and can even be passed from one generation to the next).

The yearly turnover on the calendar and New Year’s Eve has always been my favorite time of the year. It is a kind of post-Christmas reprieve, combined with a ‘fresh start’ in whatever games we’re playing. This is the time for those great retrospectives on who has died and some upbeat generally predictions for the year ahead. I am sure that this year we’ll also get the ‘decade’ retrospective along the lines of what I am doing here.

But my point is not the past. My point is to look at what we can do to have the next ten years be about working to manifest a positive vision for America.

President Obama campaigned on this idea: within weeks, was being blamed for the mess he inherited and now he is caught up in the same old media-inspired dog fight that guarantees the future will, in all likelihood, be more of the same. The political landscape is far too complex to boil down to a simple indictment like seeing it as being just about money and power.

I think the first decade of the 21st century is the breakdown—and hopefully the breakdown before the breakthrough. By this, I mean that we’ve been living through the near collapse of our financial system, loss of confidence in our personal security, pandemic challenges to our health, a growing breech between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, climate change issues that threaten civilization, growing conflicts driven by ethnic and ideologically differences, and the return of deep concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation. The list goes on….

But it is the sheer number of intractable problems that give me some hope. Collectively, they are showing us something about the deeper structure of consciousness (the paradigm) that is giving rise to all of this insanity and unworkability. Specifically, they are revealing our collective mindset, a viewpoint that is based on the ideas that ‘people are things’ and that survival and success are about control and material advantage. More importantly, they point out that not only are we out of control, but that we also don’t have control. We have become addicted to a worldview (just like we can be addicted to a substance). The consequences are the same: eventual self-destruction. These intractable problems are also revealing the possibility that we can ‘recover’ if we stop and accept that we aren’t the center of the Universe and that something larger than ourselves is at work here—a higher power (however we may understand it).

Instead of making New Year’s ‘resolutions’ as we watch our clocks turn over on midnight this December 31st, let’s reflect more on who we are. Let’s set aside our fear for the moment and rediscover our humility and gratitude for what we do have. And after we sing Auld Lang Syne together, let’s add a few prayers to our thoughts—perhaps a prayer of compassion for those who suffer, a prayer for our leaders, and a prayer for everyone who is committed to creating a future that works for all of us.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.