The World’s Most Important Questions

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My friend Paul wrote, in response to my recent ‘pessimistic’ article on why we can’t afford to prevent climate change:

That leaves me wondering: What are the most useful questions we can ask now? We have already asked and (largely) answered questions about ecology, history, politics, economics, the nature and limits of civilization. The answers (shared in this blog and elsewhere) have been shocking and frightening, and should have destroyed the myths of progress and control by now–though I’m afraid many readers are still clinging to one or both of those myths. So what are our next questions? One that I am thinking of: “While the world as we have understood it falls apart, how can I guide myself and others through the confusion and pain?”

This got me thinking about what other questions we should be asking, if we acknowledge that we can’t prevent climate change, or the collapse of our civilization.

Awhile ago I wrote about the most important, complex and non-obvious things I’d learned in the past five years, what I called “miniature truths”, and it occurred to me that perhaps there’s an important “most useful question we can ask now” that might correspond to each of these seventeen learnings. Here are some of the questions that occurred to me:

IF: Important Learning (source in brackets) THEN: Next Important Question
We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, then we do what’s fun. There is no time left for what’s merely important, for ‘doing the right thing’. This law seems to govern all human behaviour, everywhere. We are preoccupied, always, with the needs of the moment. How can we make doing the right things inescapable, or easier, or more fun?
Things are the way they are for a reason; if you have any hope to change something, first understand what that reason is. It’s rarely obvious. Reality is evolutionary, and so is change. Unfortunately, the reasons for things are mostly complex, and we resort, far too often, to dangerous, simplistic, dichotomous explanations, a bad habit the media reinforce. How can we get the media to do their job, which, as Bill Maher explains, is to make what’s important interesting, so more of us take the time to really understand it?
Life’s meaning, and an understanding of what needs to be done, emerges, most often, from conversation in community with people you love. (Nancy White) It is the key to changing anything, whether it be the political or economic system, or yourself, or whether you want to save the whales, stop global warming, reform education, spark innovation or change anything else. How, in business, in community, in everything we do, can we facilitate better conversations?
Community is born of necessity.  (Joe Bageant’s son) Experimental, Intentional Communities can only succeed when their members have no choice but to make them work. How can we increase the sense of urgency to make our communities work better by helping them imagine possibilities, and by making them more hopeful and empowered?
To get people to change, first let yourself change, and become a model that shows people personally, one-to-one, a better way to live, rather than just telling them what to do. (Gandhi) How can we learn to be good ‘demonstrators’?
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete, a working model of a better way, one that others can follow. (Bucky Fuller) How can we create a really good model for creating really good models?
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. (ee cummings) Real innovation, real creation, real change, requires first that we become nobody-but-ourselves, that we get rid of the gunk that we’ve collected throughout our lives that prevent us from being authentically ourselves. How can we imbue in young people the self-esteem and thinking skills to work to know themselves well, before they become everybody-else?
We are not individuals controlled by our brains, but rather a complicity of the separately-evolved creatures in our bodies organized for their mutual benefit. i.e. an organism. (Stewart & Cohen) Living species, including humans, are emergent properties of the body’s semi-autonomous processes. And our brains, our intelligence, awareness, consciousness and free-will, are nothing more than an evolved, shared, feature-detection system jointly developed to advise these creatures’ actions for their mutual benefit. Our brains, and our minds (the processes that our neurons, senses and motility organs carry out collectively) are their information-processing system, not ‘ours’. How do we learn how to forgive ourselves, for what we cannot help being or doing?
Before we can move forward, we must let go of our beliefs, possessions, responsibilities, expectations, obligations, and all illusion of control over people and situations. We must give up the illusion that language conveys any precise meaning, and use it as a purely creative and imaginative tool. We must realize that we are each utterly alone, even in the company of those we love, those we imagine we know,  and those we imagine know us. How can we simplify our lives, and discover the joy of simply being a space through which stuff passes?
Land, and everything on it, does not belong to us. We belong to it, to Gaia, as an integral part of all-life-on-Earth. What would a world wothout property look like?
Our civilization is in its final century. This is the important lesson of John Gray’s Straw Dogs. It doesn’t matter what we try to do to reform it, every civilization ends, and ours will be no different. That’s not depressing, it’s invigorating and liberating. The world will be just fine without us. We need to do everything we can to make the world a better place for those we love and for our children and grandchildren now, to reduce suffering. But at the same time we should live a life of joy, every day, a natural life, not a life of struggle and sacrifice to save what cannot be saved. [Paul’s question] While the world as we have understood it falls apart, how can we guide ourselves and others through the confusion and pain?
Time is chimera; it doesn’t exist. Animals live in ‘now time’, a time that stretches out forever, except in moments of stress. How can we learn to quiet the machine in our heads so we have time to really think, to really pay attention?
Our world is a prison, a hospital, an asylum; we are all ‘homeless’. The stress of overpopulation, and the violence and fear it engenders, damages us all. How do those who live in real prisons, hospitals, asylums, and the streets cope, and what can we learn from them?
There are seven keys to Natural Enterprise and Natural Community: Finding the ‘sweet spot’, finding the right partners, excellent research, continuous innovation, collaboration, developing resilience, and acting on principle. How do we find the right partners for what we’re meant to do, and to be?
No one is in control; it’s all up to us. No top-down solution can be imposed, no brilliant charismatic leader can do enough to make any significant difference to what is happening in our world. Not even the most powerful and influential people on the planet, with all the resources we can put at their disposal.  How do we demolish the cult of leadership and re-engender the capacity for self-management and community-based action and creation?
We must learn to reconnect with and trust our instincts and senses, as much as our emotions and intellect. Understanding of what is, and what to do, requires a balance of this quaternity. (Jung) What can indigenous cultures teach us about instinctive and sensory knowledge?
We live in a world of dreadful imaginative poverty. The reason we tolerate atrocities, mediocrity, and the status quo, is that, for most, the way we live is the only life we know. It takes great attention skills and practice to notice, to imagine, to realize something better, something utterly different. How can we re-engender imagination in our children and grandchildren?

It seems to me that a lot of these ‘important next questions’ come down to personal learning, to practice, to letting ourselves change, and then showing others the results.

What other questions occur to you, in thinking about these miniature truths or the important learnings in your own life? Do you have any thoughts on how to answer these questions, or is it enough to ask, to keep them in mind, to let them show you the way forward?

Category: Let-Self-Change

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5 Responses to The World’s Most Important Questions

  1. EJ says:

    “Before we can move forward, we must let go of our beliefs, possessions, responsibilities, expectations, obligations, and all illusion of control over people and situations.”I don’t think hardly anyone is going to agree to this. Not parents, not politicians, not decision makers, not property owners (in any sense of property), not working people. Who’s left? Giving up responsibilities, expectations, and obligations is going to make a radically different society like nothing ever before. Why do you think that human nature will be able/willing to change this much? Nothing in our history suggests it.

  2. Paris says:

    “What do those who live in real prisons, hospitals, asylums, and the streets cope?”=> alcohol, morphine, any kind of drug is used to shut the brain from thinking…If any of these fail, suicide is the issue=> 1 man each 3 days hang oneself in french jails!

  3. “Time is chimera; it doesn’t exist.” This question grabs my attention the most. I don’t believe that “How can we learn to quiet the machine in our heads . . .” is the next important question. Exactly what the next question is, I couldn’t say, but I’m working on it.

  4. Kenneth15 says:

    Hi,I am very pleased with the thought and don

  5. Will says:

    “Things are the way they are for a reason; if you have any hope to change something, first understand what that reason is.”My question for this is: “How do we get people to look for reasons, to try to understand things for themselves, instead of blindly accepting whatever the media/authority figures tell them?”

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