An Introductory “Stretching” Exercise

First, identify two or three challenges, concerns, or problems that you feel our species must at least begin to successfully address over the next ten to twenty-five years. Your choices could span from the most personal of concerns to the most global. All that matters is that each issue be something you care deeply about. You would feel personally troubled and pained if we failed to confront it successfully

Then ask yourself what will likely be needed to effectively engage each of these concerns. What skills, perspectives, policies, values, technologies, acts, or abilities will be required? Take time to reflect in depth. Be aware of your own thinking process as you explore options. Notice if you tend to be drawn most immediately to particular kinds of solutions. For example, some people jump to more “external” answers: new laws, appropriations for social programs, or new technologies. Others are most drawn to answers of a more “internal” sort: deeper psychological awareness, a return to traditional values, or a “shift in consciousness.” If one kind of solution alone isn’t enough, be as specific as you can about what part of the task remains to be addressed. Let yourself be surprised by what you come up with. Often the awarenesses that turn out to be most important don’t fit into ready categories, or they require that language be used in unusual ways. If the pieces don’t immediately come together, try framing the question or problem in a different way. New challenges often require not just new answers, but also new ways of articulating the questions.

Next ask yourself if any of the needed skills, perspectives, policies, values, technologies, acts, or abilities you listed are new. Which have always been part of being good citizens and leading healthy lives? Which require new sensibilities and capacities? Examine claims you make here very closely. Some people are overly quick to see the need for radical change. If you claim that some capacity is new, be very clear what makes it so. At the other extreme, many people share with Marcus Aurelius the assumption that there is “nothing new under the sun.” If this is more your tendency, closely examine the terms and concepts you have used —responsibility, love, community, freedom, individuality, or morality for example. Do these terms have the same meanings in the contexts you are using them as they did twenty, fifty, or a hundred years ago?

Finally, notice any similarities between what your two or three challenges will require of us. Do common threads exist? If so, do these threads have any relationship to each other—do they in any way suggest a coherent fabric? And taken together, do they offer any useful information about the larger task of our time?