It is to state the obvious to say ‘our world is changing’. What is not obvious is how many of the changes we experience in our daily lives link with others to become major forces and trends of change that will determine much of our future. What is also not so obvious is how our thinking and actions are influenced by systemic and cultural changes, and how well or poorly we not only cope with the changes, but learn from them and use them to our advantage. Moreover, for the sake of our sanity, identity and inner security, what do we hold on to as the firm core of our existence?

Consider the changes I describe below (most of them are highlighted in Rolf Jensen and Mike Aaltonen’s book The Renaissance Society). How do you feel about them – neutral, positive or negative?

Being independent

A growing number of people in the world consider themselves to be ‘independent’. In other words, they no longer feel themselves to be dependent for their security or well-being on the many different organisations, institutions, movements, parties, or groups in society. They choose to think for themselves and follow their own ideas. As a result people don’t respect authority as they used to and as a further consequence it is much more difficult to ‘manage’ people from above. As a matter of fact, hierarchies are flattening out. The outcome is a much more diverse society with many different levels of thinking, perspectives, viewpoints and creative contributions. The more we are exposed to diverse views in the safe context of democracy and freedom of speech, the more we form our own independent opinions. We see and experience this diversity mainly in cities. If we take into consideration that by 2025, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, the trend is clear. With an independent mindset, ownership and self-development becomes a way of life.

The yardstick for progress

We have become used to a world driven by materialistic values and the measurement of financial wealth as the ultimate indicator of progress.  However, slowly but surely, people are taking cognisance of the fact that contrary to the expectation and faith in material wealth, wealth does not equate happiness. Mental disorders are on the rise and in the world’s leading economy, America, 15% less people consider themselves to be ‘very happy’ than 50 years ago (The progress paradox – Gregg Easterbrook). Who wants to be wealthy, but miserable? Jensen and Aaltonen speculate that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) will be replaced by the happiness indicator as a measurement of how well governments are doing to create the conditions for their citizens’ well-being. Once the basic needs in countries and societies are met – as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches – people are looking for ways to experience meaning and fulfillment. On a global scale, notwithstanding the wealth gap, the percentage of people with unsatisfied basic needs is fast declining. Where basic needs haven’t been met, worldwide attention are drawn to them and pressure is put on the authorities to improve the situation. It is more than feasible that developing countries will grow and continue to grow.

If progress is seen to be the degree to which people in general are satisfied and happy and not the size of an economy, many things would change. Countries might want to learn from those with the smallest wealth-gap and most happy people rather than the biggest economy. If, at the level of the individual, the race to ‘accumulate the most toys’ has become unattractive, the door will open wider to what potentially can enrich a person’s life spiritually. In societies where there are huge and growing divides between rich and poor, trust typically erodes and suspicion rises. Thriving societies have high levels of trust and minimal regulations and controls.

From the perspective of struggling economies it is hard to believe in the possibility of a world that has more interest in people’s well-being and in collaboration than in making more money, but the early sign are certainly there. Read, for instance, the book by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, What’s mine is yours – the rise of collaborative consumption.

Why we work

Some of us still think about their work as ‘a job’. A job is something one does to get paid for. We do not associate job with meaning, rather with a ‘necessary evil’.  But for more and more people, what they are looking for as ‘their work’, has changed. Their work must feel like an extension of themselves. The reason why they would work involves much more than the salary. They want to live out their passion in their work. They want to experience meaning and value for others. They prefer to think about their work as a personal vocation. Their aspiration is not to get to the top of the hierarchy of power, but to succeed in the art of living:

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play,

his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation,

his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision

of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or

playing. To him he is always doing both – Anonymous

As such they become increasingly selective in where they will work. Companies whose shareholders are clearly only interested in short-term profits are to be avoided. Likewise with companies whose CEO’s still enjoy to boss others rather than facilitate growth.

Author : Dr Gerhard van Rensburg