By Arundhati Bhanot
There is an emerging group of people the world over, who are working to evolve a new set of values, to take up issues that are close to their heart
Post-September 11: New resolve
Robert D. Putnam, a professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, in an article ‘Bowling Alone’ writes that civic engagement would be restored in America ‘‘by a palpable national crisis, like war, depression or natural disaster.’’
A survey done by him and Thomas H. Sander (involved in Civic Engagement in America project) a month after the September 11 attack showed a rise in interest among Americans in civic and government issues and the number of people volunteering for social work.
The survey also suggests that Americans are more open than ever before to making people of all backgrounds full members of the national community and are experiencing their broadest-ever sense of ‘we’.
A report by Tony Uvalde in Times Herald mentions that more people are seeking spiritual counselling, reviving their faith in spiritual institutions in such crises. He reports that the weekend after September 11, all the churches and synagogues were full.
In a society heading towards isolated lifestyles, an increasing number of Americans are now acknowledging the need to connect with their near and dear ones.
Peter Turner and his family embarked on a 4000-mile trip from Kansas City to visit uncles, cousins, siblings and old friends.
Turner says: ‘‘We are valuing things we do as a family more.’’
There has also been an outpouring of interest in volunteering. Applications for the national service programmes have doubled since President Bush issued a call for service.
The Red Cross chapter in New York has seen a rise of 30 per cent with people coming to offer their helping hand.
In Mississippi, the state commission for volunteer service has witnessed its ranks grow by 10,000 since September 11. The tragedy has given many Americans an appreciation for things they had taken for granted.
Ana Costa, who lost her father, says: ‘‘I want to live passionately, every moment in the present.’’
Valerie Schneider, 63, calls her daughter everyday to leave messages of love. She now greets her friends with words of affection and a warm hug.
‘‘Changes don’t have to be big things. It’s the everyday stuff we can make changes in,’’ she says.
There is a growing movement involving about hundred million people in the USA and Europe, weaving a new cultural fabric, reframing how we see the world today. They are called the Cultural Creatives, a term coined by Paul Ray (Ph.D. in sociology).
Ray in a book co-authored with Sherry Ruth Anderson (Ph.D. in psychology), The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, writes: ”These creative, optimistic millions are at the leading edge of several kinds of cultural change, deeply affecting not only their own lives but our larger society as well. Innovation by innovation, they are shaping a new kind of American culture for the 21st century.”
These individuals epouse issues like concern for the environment, work, business and political ethics, violence against women and children, and spirituality in daily life.
These activists-schoolteachers, artists, spiritual guides and scientists-are questioning the unspoken assumptions of the old culture, opening up new insights and forging creativity in people’s lives from grassroot levels. There is growing evidence that these efforts are changing the society in many ways.
Reflecting on what motivates them, Tracy Gary, founder of La Casa, a foundation for women, says: ”It’s not like I have this poster over my bed telling me to do something for our country. Each time I’m with a group of people who come forward to envision a different kind of society, who take time to feel and pray and consider the long-term purpose of what we are doing, there is a kind of resonance.”
There are two kinds of Cultural Creatives. The core group comprises leading edge thinkers-writers, artists, musicians, psychotherapists, environmentalists, feminists, alternative health care providers, with a strong sense of personal growth and concern for the future of humanity. The other group, Green Cultural Creatives, is concerned with relationships, environmental and social issues.
Ray in his book based on research of 13 years, gives accounts of extremely motivated people engaged in activities that are socially and personally constructive.
Catherine Allport, one of the project founders of Sacred Grove (a group of 600 women) engaged in preserving a redwood forest in California with their quarterly donations of $10 to $500 says: ”It is not an idea. It is not a theory. We have actually done it.’
She adds, ‘Our vision is to be able to do this one, and another one, and do one somewhere else, and keep growing.”
What distinguishes Cultural Creatives from other activists is that ”they do indeed walk their talk”.
In this context we have the dramatic story of the transformation of Paul Ray, CEO of Interface Inc.
After reading Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce he decided to change his company (a carpet firm) into a restorative enterprize, recycling waste products, taking nothing from the earth and protecting the biosphere.
Ray and his associates in 110 countries are redefining their business and redesigning everything they do to protect the environment.
He travels all over the world to give seminars on the urgency to save the planet hoping to create the next ”industrial revolution”.
Speaking on the need to involve the business organizations, he says: ”We are a major part of the problem. Unless we become part of the solution, our great-grandchildren won’t have a world worth living in.”
Ray mentions that 81 per cent of the Cultural Creatives are ”very concerned about problems of the global environment, global warming, destruction of rainforests, destruction of species, loss of ozone layer.”
So there is a group of manufacturers at Rocky Mountain Institute devoting themselves solely to making a hypercar (car with aerospace technology) that would help save vast amounts of oil and gasoline. Welfare of women and children is another concern.
89 per cent are extremely concerned that men and women do not get equal wages, 64 per cent hold the view that women should not go back to playing traditional roles in the society. For some it is a personal journey, creating a new synthesis of values and meaning in their lives, questioning old values and choosing to do things that matter most.
This may involve leaving home, a change of job, major life transitions. This is not easy as Mary Ford, an activist, points out: ”When you start working for change, people are going to call you all sorts of names. You have to have a definition of self that’s bigger than their definitions.”
Mary is a psychologist and her husband Rob Lewis a high school maths and science teacher. Along with some of their colleagues, they work on weekends to interest children in science and other creative activities.
Others are taking time off for long walks, playing with their children, reading, connecting with themselves in ways they have never done before. An Irishman, who had worked for 18 years as the education director at a respected foundation, says: ”The hardest part is my old friends and colleagues. They keep asking, ‘What are you going to do next?’ As if I am making them terrifically uncomfortable by not knowing.”
Cultural Creatives may vary in their stature but all of them go through a transition in their lives to stand by the values they have come to cherish.
Ray and Anderson write: ”What Cultural Creatives have in common is not their success in navigating the cultural crossover, nor their personalities, intelligence, or religion. They are simply ordinary- people who share a culture of values and worldview and to some extent a lifestyle.”
Believing is one thing but living up to an ideal is far more challenging. They are living evidence of the human potential and strength to create a social structure that cares for environment, women, children and spiritual growth.
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