Hi friends, Happy New Year! For those of you new to this newsletter on the inner dimension of turbulent change, welcome! At the beginning of a new year and what feels like the end of an era, this week’s post looks at how we might be on the verge of a paradigm shift akin to the Renaissance. I’d love to hear your reactions! Sending much love, Melissa
2020 for me was a 3-act play that followed the arc of all transformational journeys: (1) letting go of the old, (2) being in the unknown, and (3) beginning again with new realities.
Along the way we got disenchanted, disoriented, and asked to dis-identify with what no longer works. We laughed, we cried. It was definitely harder than watching Cats.
Act 1: Letting go of the old — Disenchantment
As Americans, Covid showed us that Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness aren’t always a given (at least not outside of our homes). George Floyd proved that although all men may be created equal, they’re certainly not treated that way. And politics revealed that e pluribus unum was more like e pluribus polarized.
These truths that we held to be self-evident… fell apart. The belief that we can build a more perfect union… frayed. We the people… are exhausted because nothing makes sense anymore.
In 2020, our worldview failed us.
Act 2: Being in the Unknown — Disorientation
On the oldest existing medieval globe, the edges of the known world were marked: ‘Here be dragons.’ It was as if the map maker warned: “Don’t dare venture here! Ye be dragon food if you enter unknown territory!”
Although this seems quaint today, it’s an apt metaphor for what worldviews do for us. They try to give us a map to navigate the world. And they try to protect us from the disorientation that comes from not knowing where we are.
But 2020 tossed us straight into dragon territory. And we’ve been in this uncomfortable place where nothing makes sense for what now feels like an eternity.
You see, the dominant worldview in 21st Century Western culture traces its roots to Newton’s mechanical view of the world. And as his intellectual descendants, the overarching American narrative is that progress is linear and inevitable, and that through enough effort we can mechanistically change the world. (e.g., pop pills to fix the body, exert more force to get more work done, enact new technocratic policies to repair tears in our social fabric).
To be sure, the Newtonian worldview has brought us stunning advances in science and technology. (I’m grateful to not live like a medieval peasant, and thankful that Covid vaccines were developed in record time!)
But, the Newtonian focus on mechanically mastering the external world came at the expense of hollowing out our inner worlds. Science brought us to frontiers like the moon, but without the equivalent inner journey as a culture.
By treating what can’t be labeled or analyzed using the scientific method as dragon territory, it left us bewildered and struggling to respond to what we judge as “irrational”.
The pundit class, for example, was blindsided by the forces that led to Trump’s ascent. Intellectual elites — raised to believe in “polite meritocracy” — couldn’t have imagined today’s “Stop the Steal” efforts or the rise of white nationalism. Technocrats were never trained to respond to the deeper crises of belonging and meaning that plague our dislocating times.
As a result of this inner hollowing, the Newtonian mind simply does not know how to process, let alone respond to great suffering — both ours and others’.
It’s why prior to 2020 the biggest dragons of our time — racial injustice, economic immobility, and climate change — remained largely unaddressed and left to fester in our societal shadow.
Act 3: Dis-Identification — before beginning again.
Unlearning a worldview — especially one we’ve been living in for ~350 years — is excruciating. You see, our egos can’t tell the difference between physical death and identity death. And so at this stage, it can feel like we’re being crucified.
But the good news is that we’re probably not actually dying.
For this unlearning phase, our Newtonian minds need to learn to stand down.
That is, rather than pretend that our minds have all the answers, we need to learn to cultivate other forms of knowing — like our emotions, bodily intelligence, and gut instincts.
The mind, overwhelmed by what it cannot understand, needs the heart’s intelligence to respond to the great suffering of our time with great love.
The intellect terrified of what it has tossed into the shadow needs the body’s strength to face what it has not wanted to see.
And in the midst of turbulent change, only the gut can respond fast enough to the disruptions erupting daily.
What gives me hope for 2021 and the decades beyond is that the Renaissance — after the Bubonic Plague — was the beautiful sequel to the Medieval period.
Back in the Dark Ages, Europe was gripped by a fixed worldview. It was believed that the world order was ordained by God, and so serfs accepted their lot in life under feudal lords. Life was believed to be largely static.
It was only when the Bubonic Plague radically upended all facets of life that old certainties were questioned. When the Plague showed that the world was highly dynamic and unpredictable, there was a rediscovery of ancient humanistic wisdom on how to actively realize one’s full potential. With the specter of death hanging over people daily, it led to an intense desire to experience the pleasures of life and the flourishing of the arts.
In the language of modern psychology, there was a massive shift from a fixed to growth mindset. Or in the language of Thomas Kuhn, father of the study of paradigm shifts, the Renaissance showed how we evolve toward truth not through linear increments, but through explosive leaps when old worldviews no longer hold up.
It feels like we’re potentially on the brink of a similarly significant revolution over the next few years. Hard, yes; but better than Cats.
I’d love to hear — how did your worldview shift in 2020? Leave a comment below, or drop me an email!
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