The last few weeks I’ve been scanning the stories that pass my way for more great ideas and practical steps towards solving the problems of the world, so I could share them here. And nothing has caught my eye. That’s not to say there aren’t any new solutions. It’s just I haven’t seen them.
What I have seen are many, many iterations of those problems. It’s like I’ve been taken on a tour of the problems of the world, so I can see them all more clearly, to know where some focus would be really helpful. It’s kind of the opposite of what I thought I’d be doing with this blog, but today I’m going to follow the lead of these last few weeks, and look at the problems, rather than the solutions.
There is work to be done. Each of us can make a difference here on earth. I don’t know if you make a bigger difference by working out policies that direct government level projects, or by helping a single individual. I don’t think it matters. I think what matters the most is that you find what action, or path, matches you the best, so you can excel at it. Because if each of us stepped up to the level of our own ability to help our neighbors, our societies, our ecosystems and our world, we would keep shifting more towards peace, joy, sustainability, intelligence and life.
There are many lists out there of ‘the issues we are facing right now.’ I’m going to make my own list, though, of the issues I’d like to be able to highlight solutions for here on this blog. Consider it also a call to action!
As you read through this list you’ll get a glimpse into how I think about things. This list could be miles long, but I’m looking big picture, overview here. Each of these issues represents hundreds of smaller issues. They are also deeply interconnected. If any one of these was truly handled, the world would be drastically different. If all of them were handled we might not even recognize it. Here goes-
THE MAJOR PROBLEMS OF THE WORLD (as I see them):
Disconnect – I put this as the number one problem in the world. By disconnect I mean disconnect from each other, and from concern for each other, and, most importantly, disconnect from ourselves. The more connected people are to themselves, the less likely they are to want to harm anyone else, and the more likely they are to be doing the work or art or whatever that matches them the best. That world, where people know themselves and are able to follow their passions, is the world I want to live it. Of course, I’ve put this issue up front because it is the one I find most important, and thus it is the issue I work on the most. That’s what my other blog is all about! Self Awareness, it changes everything.
Poverty – Poverty isn’t just lack of money. Poverty shows up more where there is a disparity in opportunity and resources. What passes as poor in the United States would seem wealthy beyond belief in some other countries. Similarly, many people live in what to a Western perception would look like abject poverty, because they don’t have any stuff, but they feel wealthy because they have good lives. So it’s somewhat relative. But in general you can view poverty as a restriction on opportunity, caused by war, over-population, over use of resources and greed on the part of those controlling the resources.
There are so many approaches and solutions to this problem currently at work in the world, from education initiatives to support for local businesses and agriculture, to loan programs focused on the most needy, to something like the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots. The reason it is number 2 in my list is that survival issues, like poverty and hunger, keep people focused on their fear. When you are reacting to fear you are much less likely to be acting from your heart, otherwise stated as acting from a place of connection to your self.
Hunger – You might call Hunger Poverty’s twin. I would put in here Malnutrition, too, which isn’t always about poverty. This is an issue that involves poverty, poor (or misdirected) education, lack of appropriate healthcare and degradation of the environment. I actually consider this almost as much of a problem in the modernized world as it is in the developing world, because of the nutritionally impoverished state of so much of our food system. Though perhaps that would be stated better as food safety and education issues rather than hunger issues. Either way, it is number 3 both because it is a survival issue, and because poor nutrition directly impacts a child’s ability to grow and learn, and an adults ability to think clearly.
Clean Water – Current estimates are that around 900 million people don’t have access to adequate clean water to drink. In some cases this is because there is no water. In more cases it is because the water is contaminated. This, also, is a global issue, affecting mostly 3rd world communities, but also affects industrialized nations – as in tap water you can light on fire in Pennsylvania.
Health Care – I feel like I keep circling around here, because all of these issues are interconnected. In some countries the lack of adequate health care is because there aren’t enough health care practitioners. In other countries the issue is that too many people can’t afford to go to the practitioners that are there. And then you add in the current state of cutting edge health care and you realize we have a long way to go, not only before the majority of healthcare is not just disease mitigation, and before that disease mitigation is universally effective.
Another big reason we don’t have adequate healthcare is that people don’t have adequate education on how to stay healthy, so the systems that are in place are overwhelmed. Another part is that people are living in environments that are so degraded they don’t even have a chance to stay healthy just through their own actions. And, of course, even if you knew everything you needed to do in order to stay as healthy as you could, and your environment wasn’t overwhelmingly toxic, you still need to be able to afford the right foods and get yourself out there for the appropriate amount of exercise.
Education – Just like these other issues, there are so many ways to look at the issues around education. You could start with what sort of education do the people in any given society need, and are they getting it or not. You can’t start with does everyone in a society know how to do advanced algebra, any more than you can start with does everyone know how to read animal tracks well enough follow them at a run, though they are a similar level of skill. Generally the more you know the more opportunities you have. Most people focusing on this assume that this means everyone needs to know how to write, read and do basic math. With those skills, you can go on to learn anything. I would add to those three basic skills, however, the knowledge of nature and the knowledge of self. Now that would get us a whole lot closer to solving that first problem I put up there, disconnect.
I’ve brought these problems so far to such an elemental level, they all seem essential. If we could just handle these six we would be 90% of the way to handling everything else. But, of course, sometimes you need to handle the other issues in order to handle these. Or, maybe, in the course of handling the others you end up handling these, or vice versa.
War – See, this one just seems like a symptom of the one’s above. You might need to throw in greed, but to me that is a symptom of disconnect. Obviously war is a really big issue in the world today. War, violence, degradation, holding the ‘other’ – whichever ‘other’ it may be – as separate from the ‘us’. There are temporary fixes to wars, in the form of cease fires, or armistices, or putting the enemy down. But the only true cessation of war seems to come when the one side ceases to see the other side as the enemy.
Lack of Freedom – This is a little more broad than the issues of slavery, or hostage taking, or even debt or cultural restriction. Any time a person, or animal or any being, for that matter, is not allowed to express itself, to move, to join with its chosen others, to learn, to grow … in other words, to fulfill the highest promise of their life, that is a lack of freedom. This lack of freedom comes almost as much from the inside as from the outside, but that is mostly the result of the conditioning, or internalizing of the society or family’s rules. See disconnect, and education, and poverty, hunger, war…
Energy and Resource Supplies – I wasn’t going to add this one, as it could also be seen as a sub-set of Environmental Degradation. But this really is an issue in and of itself, because of how we, as a species, are progressing and learning to tackle the other issues that come along. Just like we need food to support our bodies, we need energy to support our technology. Since we are so very ambitious with our technology, we have moved pretty far beyond the amount of energy we, as humans, can supply, and even way beyond the energy supplied by our domesticated animals. And we keep using up our resources. So we keep looking for more. Finding ways to power our technology without destroying the planet, and to create our machines and houses and gadgets without ripping up the planet, has to be high on our list of solutions to find.
Environmental Degradation – This one might seem like the worst, the most dire and irreversible problem we face. But for a moment consider that this might also be the most hopeful issue we face today.
Though we have been on a bit of a degradation tear for the last few hundred years, we humans have been degrading our environment for tens of thousands of years. Human cleverness is most likely responsible for the extinction of most big game animals in North America (13,000 years ago). Human cleverness is most likely responsible for the depletion of soils that turned the fertile crescent into mostly a desert (20,000 years ago). Human cleverness might also even be responsible for the complete transformation, and eventual destruction of the Australian outback (45,000 years ago). It is certainly responsible for the current degradation of farmlands in Australia and across the globe.
In other words, this isn’t a new issue. What is new is that we are facing it. You might think this is because we have to face it. We have no choice. We’ve run out of other places to move. But if you listen to some of the voices on the other side of the climate change debate you will see that not everyone agrees that we have to face it(see education, above). Fortunately they are in the minority. What makes this hopeful to me is that we, as a species, are finally stepping up to a new level of responsibility for the world our home. Yes, there are still many who just think of how to exploit our home planet. But I believe we have now reached a tipping point towards global stewardship.
We are growing up and most of us realize that we don’t get to keep expecting someone else to take care of our problems, or for our problems to heal themselves. And that is what makes me hopeful about all of these issues. There are over 7 billion of us on the planet right now. You might think of that as another of the problems, or you could take that as meaning that there are an awful lot of people on the planet right now tackling each and every one of these problems, and all the sub-problems and inter-connected problems that go with them.
If you are one of those people, leave a comment. Tell me about yourself. If you come across something wonderful, send me a link. I would love to tell your story here.