Kelly Wendorf, MCC, MECD
Wait, Wait! We’ve Started Out on the Wrong Foot
There’s a change in the wind, can you feel it? There seems to be a sense of foreboding, like when we’re watching a disaster film where, before the catastrophe hits, the world is strangely quiet and then the birds suddenly scatter off the trees, or a deer sniffs the air and then bolts away. In our theater chairs, separate casual observers, we don’t know what’s about to strike: a comet? A tidal wave? A super-killer tornado? Aliens?
The air around us is still—too still. California braces for another fire season, while over 40% of the US experiences drought. “Q” and the far right ‘digital soldiers’ have gone eerily quiet. Generation Z, raised in constant turbulence and robbed of a future, stalls out in the wake of 2020. And COVID left us with the silent void of over 600,000 American lives.
While we’d like to comfort ourselves that life is returning to ‘normal’ after lockdown, something is not quite right. Can you feel the odd undercurrent? Can you see the cracks starting to show in society right now? For those who are sensitive, something seems irrevocably ominous, skewed, and incongruent. But what is it exactly? Humanity remains in their theater chairs, observing, waiting, watching, scrolling, posting and Tik Tokking. Maybe we’re frozen, or in denial. Cocktails are served while the orchestra plays on the titanic.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I’m noticing my normally ambitious and optimistic clients are uncharacteristically pensive and concerned. Many are wondering things like, ‘what’s the point?’ or ‘maybe I need to move out to the country’ or ‘I just want to spend more time with my family and be quiet’.
I think the stillness is the sound of a window closing. As if humanity has cast down all of its cards and has only a few left to play. The game’s not over, but we have moments to spare before the window closes completely. Do you sense that too? Tik Tok, tick tock, time is running out.
My frontlines climate activist friends report that the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Scotland this year is America’s last chance to make a positive difference in what the UN calls ‘a make or break year’ in the fight against climate change. “If we don’t step up in Scotland, we’re done for…” one remarked.
It’s climate, it’s racism, gun violence, misogyny, economic decline and the sharp rise in youth suicides. It’s the cracks spread out across the façade of ‘normal’ while we feast on bread and circuses (oh thank God we can go to restaurants and movie theaters again). But we’re to be forgiven because what on earth can be done about it all? Given the enormity and breadth of our challenges, it’s easy to feel defeated.
Traditional cultures around the world speak to us about these times. In my book, Flying Lead Change––56 Million Years of Wisdom for Leading and Living, I recount an ancient story that prophesies a time of ‘The Great Outwaiting’ when humanity will sit at a crossroads of a choice between love and fear. An unlikely ally appears to assist us with that choice—the horse.
OK, so we’ve heard this a lot–choose love over fear. We’ve heard it so much for so many decades through books, poetry, greeting cards, and songs that our ears are numb to the real message. What is meant by love exactly, especially in the context of now—humanity’s final chapter? It’s worth asking the question because clearly we haven’t understood the term completely or we would have made the right choice by now.
Here is what the horses have shown me about love. Love is the state of understanding that we as humans are not separate individuals, nor are we separate or superior to the natural world. We are in fact in deep rooted kinship with all beings—plants, animals, insects, rivers, and clouds. “It’s the livingness – the beingness – that connects us,” said my Australian Aboriginal teacher and friend, Uncle Bob Randall. “That livingness is what we share and is the same in all of us. The livingness is what makes us family. We are one, from the most minute tiny grain of sand to the largest mountain…every reptile, bird, animal, insect, rock, and tree. Even the clouds and rivers are our family.” Those words are not feel-good platitudes. They point to a fundamentally different way of being, a radical shift in context.
If love is this understanding of and living from oneness, then fear is the opposite—the belief we are separate. Separateness is the absolute cultural reality that we live in worldwide. In fact, it’s so pervasive and embedded that we do not see that it is a cultural overlay. We believe we are separate from each other, the universe, the creatures…all of life. We just consider this reality, i.e., the world is round and we are different from, smarter than, superior to a rabbit. We might conceptually agree that ‘we’re all one’ but do we really feel the rock as our brother, the sea sponge as our sister. Do we ask the palm tree how his day is going?
Here’s why cultural context is important. We are sentient beings that abide in and are hence shaped by culture. We cannot separate the two because they infuse us with who we are. Our bodies, our health, our choices, our beliefs are all molded by the cultural soup in which we live. Like how fabric soaks up water, we soak up our culture. If one is a Black woman in racist America, we are going to have very different outlooks, health outcomes, concerns and beliefs than if one is a Black woman in Nigeria. Being a wife in rural Japan is different than being a wife in Canada. Being a weird genius kid living in Silicon Valley is different than being a weird genius kid living in a coal mining community.
So if our worldwide cultural belief is that we are separate from all other beings, then every political policy, every decision, every action, every institution is built on the wrong premise.
Even innovative platforms, strategies and reforms intended to heal the world are constructed on the premise of humans being separate from, different to (and in some cases superior to) bacteria, microbes, hummingbirds, beetles and squirrels.
What happens when actions are born from a false premise? We end up in the wrong place. We may use all the right logic, and have all the right intentions, but regardless we are in Kansas when we needed to be in Hong Kong. Like a home on a fault line in earthquake country, our foundation is shaky. No wonder the cracks are showing. And if we keep to our course—remodeling the home, changing its paint color, it’s still built on the wrong foundation.
Sentientism is a little-known philosophy that is well founded in reality (love) and provides a strong basis for compassionate ethics as well as a more robust strategic way forward. It grants moral consideration to all sentient beings. While scientific debate continues on the boundaries, it’s clear that the vast majority of animals, particularly those we farm in their billions, are sentient. It’s sentience, not a somewhat arbitrary species boundary, that matters.
I find it fascinating that we’ll legally grant sentience to a corporation but deny it to a living organism. Does it strike you as odd that Amazon (the company) has personhood and rights but the Amazon does not? Who speaks for the Himalyas at the UN? Who speaks on behalf of the Rocky Mountains in Congress? Who translates the message of the slime mold?
Sentientism can develop collective solutions that we can all identify with and work on together. A better world for the microbe and the grizzly means a better world for us too. Sentietism is inherently anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-ageist, anti-ableist, anti-nationalistic and anti-LGBTQ+. It’s naturally inclusive. And there’s more. When we step into fellowship with our fellow beings on planet earth, we learn to listen to a deeper 3.8 billion-year-old wisdom. We discover our right place in creation. As Uncle Bob says, “Nature misses us.”
I invite you to challenge your world view as a human separate from the plants and creatures outside your door. See what happens when you suspend that belief and be vulnerable enough to explore an altogether different paradigm.
When people ask me, ‘What’s the point?’, I say to them, ‘this is the point’. To find our way back home within the greater order of things. This is why I remain somewhat hopeful in these dark times, because when I hang out in the good company of nature—feel its welcome—I feel my connection to an infinite capacity of heart. It is then I know a new possibility for us.
You’re invited! Join me for my free webinar coming up, “Ask Me Anything”, on Thursday, June 24th 6 pm MT. Sign up HERE! This will be a fun and inspiring evening of dialog and curiosity as we explore what it means to be human together.