We live in a world where there is a lot of turmoil. A lot of anger, hatred and fear is coming to the surface. Trump, North Korea, racial tensions, Brexit, Spain vs Catalonia, you name it. At the same time forces of nature are causing a lot of trouble. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods. Wars, refugees, there is so much going on.
These things can cause us to feel powerless and fearful. Aren’t we too small to make a difference? We are tempted to retreat into our own little world, send out a tweet or a Facebook post to express our concern or compassion, but we don’t seem to have the means to really do something constructive.
What role can mindfulness play in dealing with these issues?
First of all I think it is important to use mindfulness to observe our own thoughts, beliefs and emotions. What is triggered in ourselves by all these fearful events? What prejudices do we observe in ourselves. Do we experience anger and hatred? Are we afraid? Are we really willing to look at what is present in ourselves with gentleness and kindness before reacting to every new disaster that is covered on the news? Or are we automatically switching to fight or flight mode?
Fight mode would be:
- us vs them
- tweeting how things should be different
Flight mode would be:
- escaping into addiction
- Netflix binging
- mindlessly surfing the internet, Facebook
- eating too much
We seem to lack pointers for how to deal with these situations.
Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute has some interesting thoughts about this. In his book Leading from the emerging future: from Ego-System to Eco-System economies he talks about 8 disconnects that we are seeing in the world today:
- Disconnect between the financial and the real economy
- Disconnect between the infinite growth imperative and the finite resources of planet Earth
- Disconnect between the haves and the have-nots
- Disconnect between institutional leadership and people
- Disconnect between gross domestic product and well-being
- Disconnect between governance and the voiceless in our systems
- Disconnect between actual ownership forms and best societal use of property
- Disconnect between technology and real societal needs
In this book he also talks about how our un-mindfulness, or absencing as he calls it, contributes to these disconnects. Absencing that can take the form of blaming, having a closed mind and a closed heart. To turn these disconnects around we instead have to practice ‘presencing’, which entails being mindful of our judgements, cynicism and fear, and opening our minds, hearts and will to address the challenges that we face.
When we are looking at what we do for a living, developing software, are we aware of the context in which we are developing this software? Will the software we build contribute to the above mentioned disconnects, or will it contribute to a healthier society? When taking on work, or accepting a job, do we take into account the purpose our software will serve? To give an extreme example: would you want to contribute to software that is being used in the weapon industry? But less extreme, will our software contribute to global warming, to a larger disconnect between the haves and have-nots? Will it cause people to become mindful or mindless consumers? When we build it, we are responsible as well.
Maybe we feel it is not (yet) in our power to positively influence these disconnects in our day job. Maybe becoming aware of the ways in which we too are part of these disconnects feels discouraging. However, we can also let it spark our creativity.
I, for instance, am a great fan of open source software, because I love the idea that developers share their creativity and passion and let others build on top of that. It can be a wonderful act of generosity and connection depending on the intention with which the software is created. Personally I’m mostly in touch with open source software that is used as a tool by other developers. But I would also love to see (and contribute to) more open source software that is dedicated to addressing the disconnect between technology and real societal needs. Or, like Otto Scharmer says in this article, to create “technology to empower all people to be makers and creators of their worlds and systems rather than their passive recipients, regardless of the level on which they operate”.
Currently I still don’t really know where to start. But I’m confident there are more people with the same desires and aspirations to contribute to a healthier world. People with different skills and ideas than myself. If this speaks to your heart, please get in touch with me. Send me a DM on twitter. Together I’m sure we can make a difference.