One of the gifts of travel is seeing what is working and not working in other parts of the world and letting that new learning inform how you live back home.Yesterday morning I arrived in The Netherlands for 2 1/2 weeks of teaching. Exactly two weeks before I had flown into Copenhagen to teach in the southern part of Sweden. The approach to both Amsterdam and Copenhagen airports, when coming from America, is over the sea. And in both flights, I was impressed by the large windfarms that lie several miles offshore. They are beautiful to see and clear signs of the visionary thinking in these countries.
“Visionary” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think about the U.S. in recent years. While there are certainly many visionary people and start-up companies within our country, this attribute is not one that our elected officials have chosen to embrace. It was a high value for our founders, and remained a high value in the U.S. for well into the 20th century. But somewhere along the line we began to take our good life for granted. We began to take for granted that we would be the world leader on many fronts and that the U.S. would always be one of the most desirable places to live.
We, the people of the U.S., elect our government leaders, and so, therefore, it would seem that in recent years we as a country and as individuals have not placed a high value on vision, long-range planning, and building a better future. We may all agree that having a vision and planning for the future are important, and we may talk a good talk about the future, but when it comes down to our daily choices, decisions, actions, and priorities, we as a culture are much more focused on immediate needs and desires than on continuing to build and support an infrastructure and way of living and being for the future.
If we want to continue enjoying the good things that we take for granted now in 20 or 30 years, we must start focusing more intentionally on how we think, the values that we support, and the choices we make today. We must pay more attention to who we are and how we “show up” to life in terms of attitudes, perceptions, opinions, intentions, and actions. This is not about living for the future, but rather about living in the present in a way that is sustainable so that the future can still offer a happy, prosperous, comfortable, and healthy life.
In the Japanese culture, the word kokoro literally translates to mean “mind, heart, spirit.” It refers to the alignment of mind, heart, and spirit that must occur if you want to accomplish something. In other words, when you state a goal or create a vision, your first questions would be, “What kind of person would accomplish this? Who must I be in order to accomplish this goal or manifest this vision?”
It is easy to criticize our elected officials for focusing more on getting re-elected and keeping their political base intact than on serving our country and ensuring a sustainable life. But are we as a collective consciousness doing any differently? Aren’t we as a culture also living moment to moment, focused primarily on short-term security and comfort? Are we as a culture supporting a value system that includes vision, innovation, creativity, and long-range strategy? What would it mean to live the concept of kokoro in our own lives?
What if we were to expand our sense of “now” to cover a span of 5, 10, or 20 years instead of today, this week, or, at best, this year? What if now was a lifetime? What if now was a century? We would still be standing in the present moment as the centerpoint of now, but, like in a camera lens, we would open the aperture so as to be able to photograph a larger field. If now consisted of this moment and the 20 or 40 years on either side of this moment, how might our perspective be different? How might we make different choices and decisions both personally and professionally? What difference would it make if, because we transformed our thinking, we began electing officials who also lived and led from this perspective? How could you support that transformation?
The future depends on the choices and decisions we make now. When we have a clear vision and look at that vision as belonging to now rather than to the future, we relate to that vision differently.
In the next few days, take time to create a long-term vision for yourself. If you have one already, revisit it and see what might want to be updated, revised, or just reinforced. Then when faced with choices or decisions, ask yourself what would be the consequences of 1,000 people making that same choice, or even a million people? Would that choice make the world a better place? Would it serve a greater good? Would it feel good to you to know that you contributed to those consequences?
Vision, innovation, creativity, and living in the moment with a big-picture view–it’s all part of ultimately creating a world that works. We each have a part. It doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to mean big sacrifice. But it does mean being intentional and clear about what we say and do and how we think right now.
I’ll look at those offshore windmills again in a couple of weeks when I fly out of Amsterdam to return home. They will remind me once again to keep my mind focused on a vision for my own life and for my country–a vision that encompasses today, yesterday, and the future. They will remind me that innovation like that doesn’t happen because only a few people think a certain way. Innovation is born out of ongoing transformation. Innovation and a world that truly works happens as a result of a lot of people living within an ever-evolving world view and making conscious choices from that ever-expanding awareness and understanding.