5.2. Progress Isn’t in the Past

Figure out ways to bring good into the world that are responsive to today’s reality—not yesterday’s reality.

It’s understandable that as we seek to solve our problems, we look to the past for inspiration.

We have all these folk sayings—like “the more things change, the more they stay the same”—that imply we can find answers in the past.

We have all these ideologies that suggest the “right” thing to do is absolute—the same now as it was in previous centuries or millennia.

Heck, in times as divisive and dysfunctional as these…we need to look to the past to remind ourselves that things really can be better.

It’s not an entirely fruitless endeavor.

But for the most part, when we’re talking about social problems…progress isn’t found in the past.

Human beings—with all our quirks, foibles, and tendencies—may be largely the same as they were hundreds of years ago.

But our societies are not.

Empires rise and fall. Ideologies are founded and then fizzle out. Political, economic, and social systems are adopted and then abandoned.

The pace of social change has been especially rapid over the past 200 years, since the Industrial Revolution.

We’re now to a point where our life today is almost totally unpredictable and unrecognizable from the way it was just a few decades ago.

So why do we keep looking to the past for solutions to our social problems?

Why do we keep imagining the policies and practices that may (or may not) have worked in the past will work today?

This is a totally globalized world now…yet we keep thinking about it as if we’re still a bunch of bickering, disconnected tribes.

Scientific and technological advances that seemed impossible just a short time ago are now commonplace.

I can appreciate the anxiety and concern that this rapid pace of social change creates in many of us.

I can appreciate the desire to try to hold onto what was “good” about “the good old days” as we move forward into this uncertain future.

But we still have to move forward.

We can’t go backward. We can’t just pretend that we can turn back the clock, and everything will be peachy again.

The only thing embracing old, obsolete policies will do is make us even more maladapted to this new era.

So instead of automatically reaching back, figure out new ways to cultivate the values and the practices you want to see in the present.

Figure out new ways to bring good into the world, that are responsive to today’s reality—not yesterday’s reality.

I don’t usually make predictions…but I’ll make this one:

Whenever we get out of this rut, whenever we feel like things have gotten better—whether it’s ten, twenty, or fifty years down the road—it’s not going to be because we borrowed something from the past.

It’s going to be because we did something new.

It’s going to be because we did something different.

It’s going to be because we did something so unconventional that many people will initially think it’s crazy.

That has to be answer.

Because today’s rapid pace of social change requires new, innovative ways of managing our political, economic, and social affairs…not the solutions that worked in the old days.


This is the 78th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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