Values for our rapidly changing world.

There is something very wrong with our world. You’ve noticed. The optimism of globalisation and the connected age has not amounted to much for many of us. Tough decisions about the future aren’t being made. Terrible things are done in our name. Our leaders don’t care or dare to take on the big challenges of our time.

To understand why we’re all letting this happen and how we can change direction and together make a better world, we need to go on a journey into our heartland.

The challenges ahead

Significant progress has been made in the last century: emancipation, diversity, medicine, reduced poverty, the internet and so much more. Our ability to innovate and come together is undeniable but all of this progress is threatened. We face unprecedented challenges over the coming decades. Either we all change to meet these challenges or they will change us all for the worse.

Climate change is undeniable yet still denied by many in power. No longer just a question of stopping it, we need to start coming to terms with a changing world. Instead we drag our feet and cling to old, smoggy thinking.

Neoliberalism, the ideology of our free market economy, is failing. Corruption and inequality have left the system on life support. The benefits of globalisation have not trickled down and we’re sliding back towards protectionism and trade wars.

The problem with what’s in it for me culture is that there isn’t actually anything in it for you.

Automation is poised to take half of our jobs in the next few decades. That’s been happening for centuries but new industries and jobs were always forged through progress. Where will the jobs come from this time? Or what will replace work?

Forced migration is putting significant pressure on our societies. A decade of war in the middle east has forced millions to flee their homes and seek refuge. Climate change, economic collapse and automation could have orders of magnitude greater impact on migration.

Connection is a problem for many of us. Our relationships with ourselves are not conscious. Our relationships with others are often shallow. Most of us don’t spend time with people who are very different to us. We may be a part of many communities but these often lack real connection. Social media and our favourite flavour of news only reinforce what we already believe.

Despite the progress that has been made, we’re not prepared to meet these challenges. We’re rabbits caught in the headlights of our own future, stuck within old ways of thinking. The establishment is only interested in business as usual. It’s up to us to meet these challenges.

It’s about values

You know that we can’t go on like we have been. You can see there is a better way and you work to make a difference. Most of us, the people in our communities, are not so awake and driven. Perhaps they recognise things are wrong but they feel powerless to do anything. Mostly they’re just busy getting on with life: paying bills, raising a family, binge watching, binge eating, binge drinking.

Then there are those who perpetuate the status quo, whether enriching themselves, fearing change or just a cog in the machine. Our governments and media soothe us and frighten us in turns, exaggerating small or unlikely dangers whilst denying or ignoring the big problems ahead.

As individuals, as communities and society as a whole, we see the best and the worst of each other. We have a capacity for compassion and connection that is at stark odds with how many of us have been living our lives and how we sometimes treat those different to ourselves. At the heart of this contradiction is values.

Our values are the principles that shape our beliefs and guide our actions. There is a broad set of values that all people around the world share. Within each of us, different values are more strongly felt while some hardly register. Dominant values affect our perspective and hence the decisions we make and the actions we take. Even if we give little regard to values they are always there, subconsciously informing our choices. Many things influence our values, reinforcing or changing our outlook throughout our lives. The people close to us, place, community, experiences and media all contribute to shaping our values.

The heartland that was

The communities we live in today are not what they once were. A community should be more than people loosely connected – community is forged by shared values and responsibilities that bind us together for mutual benefit.

Once upon a time we lived in the heartland. Our village or tribe was all we’d know. That community’s values were highly effective, maturing over many generations to reach an equilibrium where people could thrive or at least more than survive, working together and respecting each other.

Growing up within that community, its values were instilled in us with no conscious effort on our part. Communities functioned effectively for centuries, even millennia. Change was typically slow but when necessary, community values would evolve.

Those traditional communities are mostly gone now. Over the last few hundred years, as successive industrial revolutions took hold, we were pulled from our communities, from working on the land and living in equilibrium to the new world of cities and eventually the suburbs that spread out around the cities, burying our heartlands beneath highways, McMansions and strip malls. In some parts of the world this is happening right now as they fast-forward through centuries of change in just a few generations. Slowly but surely our community connections broke down. First those villages dwindled, then the multi-generational nature of family life was eroded to the point that we live much of life alone or isolated in our nuclear families. We’re individuals now, not community members. Only romantic reminiscences remain of that heartland.

We still acquire our values as we always have but the communities we live in today have not continued on the evolutionary path of instilling values of mutual benefit. They’re now dominated by an education system, economy and media that are built to shape us into good workers and consumers by extolling materialism, self-interest and hedonism as the foundation of our values system. Those values propelled us through the era of perpetual growth but that era has passed and those values aren’t going to help us face the challenges ahead.

Just as the heartland of our community was concreted over, so the heartland within each of us has been made barren by consumer culture. We can’t return our suburbs to that pristine time but we can begin to nurture a new heartland within.

The heartland we need

Over the past few hundred years, society has been evolving ever faster, to the point where change is now continual. Our governance and legal systems as well as countless industries have struggled to adapt to the pace of change. Likewise, society’s values can not evolve quickly enough.

We have been subjugated by mass media and consumer culture for our entire lives but we won’t thrive in the future with the values we have and we can’t simply revert to the values of generations past. There is much that we can learn from history but the world has changed for better and worse.

We need a heartland for the twenty-first century: values that bring us together, focus us on the challenges ahead, make us determined to create a better world for all.

Values systems don’t change fast enough for us to meet our challenges without coordinated influence or a significant shock to the system. There are definitely shocks on the path ahead but that kind of change is unpredictable and dangerous.

We must work together to be that coordinated influence, escape the suburbs of our minds and open up a new heartland for all.

Make a map

We’re building a movement of people and organisations who are committed to nurturing the new heartland, living and sharing the values we need. Not everyone will be open to this conversation. We don’t have the time or resources to convince a billion individuals to change their values but that’s not how we got to this point and that’s not how values work anyway.

Systems for influencing values are in place, honed over decades. Our responsibility is to change the tune and turn the machine on itself. To achieve this we must first open up to our challenges and together draw the map of our new heartland.

If we’re going to meet the challenge of a changing climate, clean up our act and adapt to that new reality, we need to start living within our means and finding new ways to thrive amidst change.

As the nature of work evolves, we need to better recognise how people contribute beyond traditional employment structures and ensure that everyone can contribute and live a comfortable life.

We need to acknowledge that extreme hardship forces people to take desperate steps to survive. This makes them no less valuable as people. As the climate and work opportunities change, it may well be us with our lives upended and relying on the goodwill of others.

We need well functioning governments and economies that are resilient and structured to work for the greater good.

To meet all these challenges with strength and purpose, above all we need to believe in ourselves and understand each other.

So as we begin to explore the new heartland, consider these guiding principles; five tenets that get to the heart of the matter:

  • Planet: Our world is our home. We want it to thrive as we thrive
  • Society: Government and the market must be for the benefit of all
  • Community: We value people for their potential, contribution and compassion
  • Change: We embrace change and support those of us impacted by it
  • Self: We value ourselves and live within our heartlands

Share the new heartland

Through your work you do good but you can do much more than simply living in your heartland. You’re in a position of influence. Actions speak louder than words but words travel further and reach deeper. It’s not a single conversation that changes values. It’s consistent and ongoing communication. When we all speak from the heartland, society will shift.

We’ve pointed the finger of blame at corporate culture and mass media for the mess we’re in and the sorry state of the heartland. But they’re not just the problem. They’re the solution. We are the new corporate culture, the new media, the new government, the new community leaders and entrepreneurs. We have strong, aligned values. We have purpose.

We must be bold and talk truth to power. We must shine a light. When we all embrace the new heartland and share these values not just through our actions but through our brands, our marketing and communications, our relationships with family, friends, colleagues and customers, we take control of the values conversation and community values will shift at scale.

Our society has reached a crucial stage, where change is being forced upon us unlike anything we’ve dealt with before. We can survive this and even prosper but to do so we need to make positive change, at scale, quickly. If we embrace a new heartland shaped to meet these challenges, we can solve the big problems, adapt where necessary and thrive in the future.