• Thomas Milus, PhD

We are 'stuck'

Although the 2020 U.S. presidential election shares center stage with the Covid-19 virus, the problem is bigger than that. We are stuck, as individuals and, consequently, as a nation. I'm not sure that it is any comfort to know that the rest of the world is just as stuck.


The image for this blog is a fitting representation of our dilemma: The chances that either large stone mass will move to allow the small boulder to pass is essentially non-existent. You might equate the stone mass on the left with the mindset of the individual (or the collective mindset of the nation) and the mass on the right with the myriad challenges we face in the world today (virus, financial, the pace technological advances, etc.).


The small boulder wedged between the masses represents our current level of thinking (mindset) and our current skill set for meeting the challenge. The challenge: without an external force simply jamming it downward, the small boulder must somehow change if it is to move.

Fortunately, we are not made of stone and have the capacity to change with respect to demands made on us. Unfortunately, we generally don't recognize that we are trying to get out of this mess using the same tools that got us into it. We blame the environment around us. We blame others around us. We blame "them." We blame anything that rears its head rather than looking inward to see where WE need to grow in order for things to change.


We have been raised in a culture that has endorsed the concept that when we reach adulthood, we are done..."we're all 'growed' up." From that point on, we apply what we have learned to the challenges we face. We are generally taught that there is a single "correct" answer to most questions. We are generally NOT taught about implicit biases or other hidden assumptions that guide our lives. We are taught that facts are facts and that when we add them together, we should come up with THE right answer.


We have been raised with the mantra, "My family, friends, political party, religion/church, or country right or wrong." Failure to adhere should bring a sanctioned sense of guilt and shame. We are surrounded by charges of fake news by none other than our president whenever it disagrees with him. And, we are surrounded by real fake news in a technologically advanced world that makes recognizing it nearly impossible by the average person. Political polarization in both major parties only amplifies the problem. They don't talk about fake news; they create it by their obfuscation of the "facts" they don't like and the distortion of the "facts" that they use to manipulate their base.


My point in this is not a political rant, but the sociopolitical frame offers a view of current issues affecting us all. The world around us, and in which we are immersed, has been changing very quickly for the past couple of decades, and the pace is increasing. With those changes has come demands on our social system and our culture that we are not prepared to meet. The demand is for a more advanced way of thinking about how our current assumptions match this new and ever-changing reality. We cannot meet the new challenges that have emerged using the same set of assumptions we used to create them.


Consider this analogy: Our current ecosystem represents our current assumptions about how our world works. An invasive species of bees somehow enters our system and begins killing off the other bees, stinging people who then die, we have no toxins for killing them, and they don't even make edible honey. What can we do? Our current ecosystem cannot contain the spread of the invaders. None of the assumptions that we use to guide our decision making are working. We must change our assumptions, which is not always easy to do. Some of those assumptions are sacred. Changing them could mean our demise.


That is where things are at this point. We are between two hard places and the situation is complex. We each need to grow enough to meet the challenges that affect us. If everyone does her or his part, we have a chance.