For many of us we have been brought up within a social structure that demands we become a ‘productive member’ of our society; thus much emphasis is placed upon developing individual skills so that we can compete with each other for social betterment. Inherent in this is a residual fear that if we open ourselves too much to others we may lose our ‘competitive edge’ and defined sense of individuality. Much of mainstream media (aka propaganda) has exploited the mythological images, collective stereotypes, and subconscious signifiers that play on our collective vulnerabilities and social fears. Knowledge has more or less trickled down to the average person through heavily filtered channels, and most often has been doctored, amended, and/or edited. The end result has been not knowledge but consensus information, or ‘allowed’ information. It has served the elite power structure well that people in general have not awoken to the understanding that humanity possesses incredible capacity and inherent resources for creative expansion and evolutionary development.
Added to this is the fact that Western science, which has asserted itself as the dominant hegemony since the Renaissance, has been at pains to stress that matter is primary and that consciousness is a secondary by-product from our mental activity. The modern worldview which denies the primacy of consciousness is fostering forms of human alienation, both psychological and social. It is a great paradox that modern science, itself a result of human consciousness, has produced a view of the cosmos which has no room for consciousness. Yet human beings are in need of meaning and significance in their lives as much as they are in need of air to breathe and food to eat. This struggle over the conscious mind(s) of humanity, which has been going on in various forms for aeons, is coming to a crux in our present generation. We are in a transition period which sees the expanding awareness and connectivity between individuals worldwide clashing against the increasing authoritarian technocratic ‘surveillance machine.’ The result is that we have now collectively arrived at a critical moment in our evolution of human civilization. Yet any society or civilization which makes the material world its sole pursuit and object of concern cannot but devolve in the long run. It is now necessary to see our future potentials, not the daily news. As Professor Needleman so aptly remarked:
The esoteric is the heart of civilization. And should the outward forms of a human civilization become totally unable to contain and adapt the energies of great spiritual teachings, then that civilization has ceased to serve its function in the universe.
It is therefore imperative that we begin to break-away from non-developmental social conditioning; this includes being conscious of the type of media impacts we are open to. Furthermore, during moments of cultural and social disorder/disequilibrium the human mind often works with an energy and intensity not manifested when social patterns are stable and monotone. At such dynamic periods there can be the realization that no individual is isolated; that each person is interwoven into a vibrant network and web of psychological, emotional, and spiritual interrelations. Such realizations can be heightened during periods, such as now, when it appears that human consciousness is moving through a time of critical transition.
Our self-awareness over the nature of human consciousness has been increasing greatly over the last several decades. The latest findings in the new sciences (especially quantum and neuroscience), in consciousness studies, in the popularity for inner and self-development, etc, all indicate a new awareness emerging within our collective consciousness. That is, energetic change will come through our social and cultural forms, and not by avoiding them. Developmental change on a large scale can occur by creating conscious change from within our daily lives and within our social systems, and not outside of them. By just walking on this planet, holding the focus and intention, we create incredible energy – energy that is shared. We are creating change by just being alive. That is why being without fear is so important. We need not create a black and white film in our heads when in reality we are creating colour. We can make use of the tools that are already available to us, and within us.
There is an exponentially increasing mass of individuals worldwide who are now awakening to the connected empowerment of empathic consciousness. Recent de-stabilizing social events, such as in our financial and political spheres, have drawn people’s focus to the dysfunction of many of the systems that we once gave our trust to. Even the focus on religious extremism in the media has drawn people’s attention not only to the deficit of spiritual values in our major religions but also to how religion is being used as a tool for furthering social, political, and emotional control. This trance-like grip on our collective consciousness is now being stripped away as people awaken to the knowing that there is so much more to our lives than that of a materialistic and consumer-based lifestyle. Yet don’t become frustrated if things don’t happen tomorrow, but trust that changes and shifts are happening over time. The necessity of inner knowing, intuition, self-trust, and integrity, is now critical. And let us remember that humans are biased for compassion and empathy. The awakening of our empathic mind is our natural inheritance.
The Awakening of a Planetary Consciousness
The accelerating changes occurring across our planet right now will have no alternative but to force a mind-change on a global and individual level. We are coming together as a global species like never before; despite what we have been shown and told by the mainstream media. We need to view this in both the immediate and the bigger picture. Due to our relatively short human life span we rarely reflect beyond a generation or two in front of us. We have evolved as a species that reacts to immediate concerns. This served us well in the past when we had survival needs in a restricted world of limited horizons. Yet now we need a perspective that is global at the very least – and even possibly beyond!
If we now look at the bigger picture we will see that a different type of consciousness has been emerging over the past 150 years. That is, since the dawn of the Second Industrial Revolution. The new technologies of the Second Industrial Revolution – the telephone, radar, cinema, automobile and airplane – called for a new reorientation of human perspective. A new perception of the dimensions of space and time began to birth a psychological consciousness – one that wanted to look beyond the borders and horizons of the physical frontier. The 3rd Industrial Revolution, if we wish to call it that, will be a convergence of digital communications combined with a young generation that is more globally aware. This has the potential to catalyze upon this planet a rising empathic, integral consciousness. Also, our global communications will encourage new relations in our extended connectivity. That is, increased multiple relations are likely to stimulate a connected, collaborative consciousness; rather than stepping back into an older consciousness of conflict and control. A planetary citizenry is likely to emerge that will exhibit greater empathy, and which will create a different planetary society within perhaps two generations. Humanity already contains the seeds of these momentous potentials.
Many social changes within the upcoming years will emerge from the creative engagement and innovation of individuals and collectives worldwide – a shift catalyzed within the hearts, spirit, and minds of the people. Externally we may seem like a vast, distant, and separate collection of individuals yet in truth the human family is an intimate, closely entwined species comprised of various cultures. Many of the younger generation now are waking up to this fact. Youngsters the world over are growing up accustomed to having networks of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of friends across the planet; sharing intimacy and empathizing easily with an international social group of like-minded souls. This younger generation is manifesting, whether conscious of it or not, a non-local level of human relationships. This expanded connectivity is impacting and affecting a change in our psychology and consciousness. We are now being impelled to live in ways that enable all other people to live as well. We are also being compelled to live in ways that respect the lives of others and that respect the right to the economic and cultural development of all people; and to pursue personal fulfilment in harmony with the integrity of nature. These traits may constitute what I refer to as an integral-ecological consciousness: a person acting and behaving as both an individual and as a part of the greater connected whole. Such multiple relations form a more varied, rich and complex life; they also provide a more diverse range of impacts and opportunities to develop the self. As well as providing challenges for developing new skills and learning, our diverse networks can form new friendships and add extra meaning to our lives.
Many young people today are comfortable in expressing themselves with strangers; they explore and express their inner thoughts, feelings, emotions and ideas with hundreds of unknown persons online, from various cultural backgrounds. More and more daily interactions are empathic as we react and share news, stories, and emotional impacts from sources around the world. Empathy is one of the core values by which we create and sustain social life. Exposure to impacts outside of our own local and restrictive environments helps us to learn tolerance, and to live with experiences that are richer and more complex, full of ambiguities, and multiple perspectives. It is a mode of connecting that allows diverse people worldwide to construct a new form of planetary social capital. We have the resources to co-create a planetary human society where once again the focus is on social benefit rather than profit. We can see many examples of this today, such as in online collaborative tools and in the proliferation of local and global projects. The online global community is a model for the new paradigm that illustrates how sharing can work above the individual motive for profit. The values and ethics of communal sharing might seem odd or out-of-place to the old capitalist-consumerist mindset, yet these are the very values that will be on the rise within the coming generations.
The spectacular rise in global communication technologies (Internet and mobile phones especially) reflects a new form of participatory consciousness, especially among younger people. This new model is a distributed one; in other words, it connects people through networks rather than through hierarchical structures. It also represents a more feminine energy that seeks to nurture relationships, and to collaborate, rather than compete and conquer. It is this emerging feminine energy that underlies the rise in global empathy. Furthermore, since people are connecting amongst themselves in multiple relations it impels them to have an active engagement. For those individuals brought-up within the older generation of communication technologies (radio, television, fixed phones), the interaction was either two-way or, for the most part, one way. In this era people were passive receivers, targeted by information they could not engage with. This has now shifted so that the receiver of the communication can be both the user and the producer. Individuals today are shifting from being consumers to prosumers.
We have learnt to democratize our engagement and to activate choice through online social networks, phone messaging, video channels (e.g. You-Tube), and various other broadcast mediums. The younger generation is waking up quickly and learning how to set-up inexpensive, or free, radio sites (podcasts), home websites, newsletters, and are managing their own forms of self-expression. This new model is changing our thinking and behavior patterns. We are now getting used to dealing with multiple connections rather than single ones; and to becoming immersed in diverse relations and not just one-on-one dialogues. We are also being exposed to a myriad of viewpoints, beliefs, identities, and experiences. Within these new arrangements we are being asked to respond and engage with the outside world not in fear or with anxiety but with healthy, creative, and positive energies.
The Arrival of 3 Billion New Minds
We are going to witness a young generation expressing their desire for human betterment through intensified action for social, political, and ecological change. More and more young people are growing up experiencing social relations that transcend space and time, as well as cultures, national boundaries, and local ideologies. This may account for the increasing numbers of young people in developed nations becoming involved in community and social projects and NGOs; such as taking a year out to help in another culture abroad, to learn, experience, and to offer assistance. Volunteering among the young, despite what appears to be the contrary, is on the increase. Young people are even putting themselves into dangerous situations – in conflict zones – to stand up for values of peace, justice, equality, and human rights. Across the world young minds are demanding fair and equal access for all peoples to engage in open communication and free speech. And it appears that many more creative minds will be joining the global conversation as our current generation(s) increasingly ‘wake up.’
In 2012 the planetary population was around 7 billion and the number of registered internet users was 33%, a rise of over 500% from the previous decade. By 2020 world population is set to be 7.8 billion and internet users worldwide is estimated to be 66% – that’s a little under 3 billion new people plugging into the global conversation. In other words, nearly 3 billion new minds will be tapping into the information flows – and that’s many millions of new creative problem solvers, innovators, and visionaries. What is more, the majority of these new minds will be coming online from Asia, the Middle East, and what we refer to as the developing countries. These will be mostly young minds; and minds with necessities, with the urge for social betterment. Can we imagine the collective potential of these creative new minds; many of them thinking outside of the box, and outside of the old patterns?
It is significant that in times of relative social stability, human consciousness plays a lesser role in the behavior of society. However, when a society reaches the limits of its stability then social-cultural systems are sensitive and responsive to even the smallest fluctuations in the consciousness of its citizens. In such times, changes in values, belief sets, perceptions, etc, hold great sway over the future direction of the social situation. Human consciousness becomes a significant stimulus and catalyst for change during these times of social instability (see the history of social revolutions). That is why it is imperative humanity be collectively focused upon positive development and betterment rather than to be coerced, or conditioned, into a fear-based security that resists change. We should not underestimate the capacity for the human mind to adapt and evolve according to social and environmental impacts and influences.
Our modern sense of self-awareness has clearly evolved to root us in our social world: a world of extended relations and social networks. Humanity, it can be said, has been biologically hard-wired to tap into extended social connections and human communication networks. We are also hard-wired to adapt physically in response to experience – new neural processes in our brains can come into being with intentional effort, awareness, and different patterns of concentration. This capacity to create new neural connections, and thus new mental skill sets through experience, has been termed neuroplasticity. The human brain of today has to respond to the incredible amount of energy and information that is flowing through our environments and embedded in our cultural experiences. Thus, how we focus our attention and awareness greatly shapes the structure of our brains. Further, the ability to grow new neural connections is available throughout our lives and not only in our young formative years. This knowledge encourages us to nurture our mindfulness, our self-awareness, and our empathic relations with others. Neuroplasticity also encourages us to be more reflective over our human networks, and to develop those social skills that underlie empathy and compassion. These new ‘wired connections’ are exactly what are becoming activated as individuals increasingly ‘wake up’ to what is happening within our communities, our societies, and upon the planet. Such distributed connections breach cultural and national borders and force us to self-reflect on our identity, values and ethics.
The opportunity is here for change and betterment like never before in our recent history. This means that the responsibility is also here; and these two factors may never be present again at exactly the right moment when they are so badly needed. What the human species may now be witnessing during these years is the rise of intuition, empathy, greater connectivity to the world and to people, and a sense of ‘knowing’ what changes need to be made. Furthermore, within each person is a growing sense of the greater cosmic whole: the realization that humanity exists and evolves within a universe of great intelligence and meaning. This serves to impart within humanity a more profound spiritual impulse. As a new global empathic mind emerges, people worldwide will grow up with new expressions of mindfulness that are more caring, relational, and compassionate. The 21st century is likely to be the era that births and nurtures such an evolving consciousness.
Many of the younger people across the world do not accept the social conditioning of anger, fear, and insecurity of their past generations. They want to reach out for change and betterment. Around the world there are examples of young people rejecting the conflict mentality of their elder generations. In conflict zones especially, where young minds are conditioned into unconditional hatred of fixed enemies, there is a backlash against this old programming. Younger people are reaching out across artificial borders to engage with the so-called ‘enemy’ and to start a new dialogue of peace and reconciliation. Such minds realize that the conflict mentality has no future, and will be left behind if it cannot accept change. Whereas many of those from the older mindset thought that a future meant putting up borders, and viewing the ‘others’ with suspicious eyes; many of today’s young minds see differently. We can see this in youth movements worldwide as there is change emerging in the mindset of young people everywhere. This is especially so in Middle Eastern territories where restrictive regimes are now encountering rising youthful demographics who are not accepting the old mentalities and old ways. A lot of the young people today want the same thing – peace, justice, equality, freedom, etc. There is a new spring in the step of young, tech-savvy, energetic minds that are by-passing the old models. In these years ahead – at least for the next two decades – we will increasingly see the signs of the changing of the old guard (the dinosaurs!). And this time they will not be replaced by those with the same consciousness. With generational change we will see the gradual transition to an era of individuals who think differently, feel differently, connect differently, and who will want to work toward a different world.
Yet we also need to acknowledge that this transition may not be a smooth one – the shifting of one mindset to another rarely is. We have seen this play out many times; think of the scientific revolution as one example. The reaction of the status quo has always been to strengthen its ruling apparatus. In the case of today, this means increased physical and digital surveillance; increased militarization of the state; and violations of individual privacy. And the first wave response from people is generally to fight back – head on. I contest, however, that this form of response also constitutes the old mind. The newer consciousness does not seek conflict. Rather, it seeks to create ways around the current blockages. Or, in the words of Buckminster Fuller – “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Over time, the old models will fight their way into obsolescence. Those who express the ‘newer mind’ must be patient, positive, and incredibly creative.
In summary, a new narrative is emerging, one where each person is integral to the larger picture; the journey of each one of us being a part of the journey as a whole. This new story informs us that the possibilities are open for humanity to engage in consciously creating its way forward – with harmony, balance and respect to all. This new narrative is part of humanity’s evolving empathic mind and which compels us to seek greater connectivity and meaning in our lives. This most recent human story is one where we create the story of the future.
 Jacob Needleman, New Religions (New York: E P Dutton, 1977)
Kingsley L. Dennis, author of The Phoenix Generation: A New Era of Connection, Compassion, and Consciousness