In my last post here at Care2 I wrote about a recent experience in which middle school students couldn’t imagine a world without the many and varied problems that beset us. Many people commented on the post, some to say that the kids were just being realistic about not to be able to imagine a world without war or poverty or species extinction. But I emphatically disagree with this assessment. As I mentioned in that post, we are living in less violent and less discriminatory times than ever before in recorded human history. (For an exhaustive exploration of this, read Harvard cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker’s painstakingly researched book, The Better Angels of Our Nature.)
We have indeed imagined a more just world, and we have created it: from children’s rights, to women’s rights, to gay rights, to animal rights, to nature rights. We have imagined a less cruel world, and we have created it: slowly eroding normative forms of torture and child punishment that were ubiquitous in earlier times. Do we live in a just and humane world? Not yet, but we advance toward this goal.
But while the evidence is clear that we’re living in less violent times, we are simultaneously living in more dangerous times because we now have the capacity to cause so much irrevocable destruction of our planet. Climate change and habitat destruction are leading to the extinction of so many species that we may lose half of them by the end of this century. Nuclear weapons – tens of thousands of them – are a constant threat. A growing human population, all desirous of a better standard of living, could denude our planet.
And yet, never before have we had the capacity to collaborate and innovate with people across every border to solve our challenges. Anyone who says that we cannot feed the world through humane and sustainable agriculture; produce products ethically and sustainably; develop enough renewable energy to meet our needs; cure cancer and other diseases without animal experimentation; be safe without the war machine, or have thriving economies without endless growth in the GDP simply lacks imagination. This is why imagination, the capacity to envision solutions to our challenges, is the most essential ingredient in the complex recipe that will lead us closer to a peaceful, just, and healthy world. This is why it’s so critical that we nurture our children’s – and our own – imagination, our birthright as human beings.
Today I watched a video, “Never, Ever Give Up,” about a man who was told by doctors for 15 years that there was no hope that he could walk unassisted. This five minute video is so powerful and so moving and so inspiring. I was sobbing with a mixture of joy, hope, and relief when it was over.
And what is the most important line in the video, just past the 3 minute mark? “I started to believe it could happen.”
We simply must believe we can solve our challenges. And we must ensure that our children believe this, too. Do all of us have to believe? No, not all. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Given today’s grave problems, and the speed with which we have to transform unsustainable systems to avoid environmental breakdown, we probably do need more than a small group; but if most of us believe it is possible, and if we embrace a bigger purpose for schooling — to graduate a generation of solutionaries – then it is possible. I hope that the great majority of us, like this brave, tenacious man in the video, will never give up.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and free resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education; and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given several acclaimed TEDx talks, including “The World Becomes What You Teach” and “Solutionaries” and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.
Image courtesy of BlueMoon via Creative Commons.