Bob Boisture, CEO & President of The Fetzer Institute, at the Spirit of Humanity Forum, Reykjavik 2019.
Something larger is calling us to this work
I had the blessing to be born into a family that taught me, at very early age, that god is love and that we are all children of god and that we are here most fundamentally to learn how to love.
I have four, to be five, beautiful grandchildren all under the age of six and, when I look at them, my heart goes out with the sense that my generation has made a mess of things, and I want to spend the rest of my time I have trying to create a world where they, along with all the Earth’s children and the natural world, can flourish.
I find that something larger is calling us to this work. Given Fetzer’s mission, how can we not attend the SoH Forum? I like to describe Fetzer as an inclusive spiritually-grounded community of love and hope, that is working in microcosm on the problem that is facing all of humanity, which is how can we find a shared spiritual place to stand as we try to build a global community – and at the same time recognize and honour that we get to that spiritual common ground on very different paths that shouldn’t divide but should enrich us.
We don’t need to go left and right – we need to go deeper
My professional experience, up until about seven years ago when I started with Fetzer, was all about Washington politics and advocacy, and I watched that world move further and further out of harmony to the point I realized there is no political solution. We have gotten so good at dehumanizing and demonizing the people we disagree with that it is pulling our country apart. And as I look around the world, we are not the only ones. The fundamental issue facing all of our democracies is how do we overcome this polarization. Like your Prime Minister said in her welcoming remarks this morning, “It is nice to feel like you are ideologically pure if you are on the left or the right, but if that ideological purity is destroying our ability to find common grounds, it is no longer morally responsible.” The critical challenge is bridging and reconciling those divides because, if we continue like this, our children and grandchildren are not going to enjoy anything like a flourishing, free society.
I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever our ideology, all of us have to be working against polarization, and it seems to me that the only force that is powerful enough to pull us together is the commitment to love. As a friend of mine says, “We do not need to go right or left – we need to go deeper,” and get underneath our political ideologies and find that shared moral vision of a world, in which the reality is harmony and flourishing for all people, and for the natural world.
We need to reclaim our spiritual knowledge
We live in a world that is in great disharmony. We need to understand what the deep causes of that disharmony are. I would say, and this is a Fetzer premise, that they go all the way to the philosophical ground. How do we try to understand the nature of this reality we are born in, this mystery? What are the tools and ways of knowing to try to understand reality? There we face the most profound disharmony. Since the Enlightenment, we in the West and increasingly around the world have been in love with science and rationality. For good reason, because we have achieved incredible mastery over the material world to the great benefit of humanity. But I think we have failed to recognize the huge price we have paid for this love affair with science and reason, because in the process we have lost the confidence of our spiritual intuitions in a way that has caused us to lose our sense of deep meaning and purposefulness, and, most fundamentally, the sacredness of things.
So, I think a part of what the world is crying out for is reclaiming that spiritual way of knowing. And one could ask if that is really a way of knowing. Because the great traditions tell us such different stories and how can we then have confidence in any of them?
The deep convergence of the great traditions
Some have grown sceptical about whether there is a spiritual way of knowing. Noting that the traditions tell very different stories, they ask how can we have confidence in any of them. But the real headline of the 21st century is not these first level differences among the traditions, but rather their deep convergence. All of the traditions have spent millennia probing the deepest questions of human existence, and none of them has come back from this encounter with the ultimate mystery and said it is meaningless – eat, drink and be merry because there is nothing more than that.
Instead they have all come back in their different ways and said, “We live in a deeply interconnected, meaningful, purposeful, sacred reality that has a moral core – that has love at its core.” They have all come back in their own ways and said that the only appropriate human response is some mix of awe, gratitude, reverence and love.
Our shared, sacred story
I have talked about our effort at Fetzer to find that spiritual common ground for the global community – to find our shared sacred story. That is our shared affirmation that we do indeed live in a sacred reality, that every human person has an infinite, sacred dignity, and that the natural world is a sacred gift from Spirit to be nurtured and loved. So, the most fundamental thing we have to do is bring our ways of knowing back into right relationship, out of which emerges a deep understanding of the profound sacredness of everything.
For me, this is the most serious topic of our times. Unless a critical mass of us really commits to engage in the world from this place of love, we will not find the solidarity to be able to step up to the big problems like climate change, income inequality or any of the things that are really threatening to pull our societies apart.
When I talk about love, I am not talking about something soft or something that is just between individuals in an intimate context – I am talking about a commitment to doing the hard work to create a society that starts from recognizing the sacred dignity of every person, and builds the institutions and culture that can nurture a universal flourishing of every individual and the natural world.
We are all global leaders who need to engage in inner work
I also think we need to think differently about who is a global leader. We need to understand that each of us is a global leader. Each of us, every day in everything we do, creates the global culture. The most profound thing, that each of us as global leaders needs to do, is to go deep inside, and seek that harmony with Spirit and with our deeper selves that will allow us to engage each other, not from an ego-centered place of separation and fear, but from an all-centered place of wholeness and love.
We, as leaders, need to come to terms with our own shadows. We cannot expect other people or cultures to engage in a more constructive way – engage from a place of wholeness and love – unless we are striving to do that ourselves.
At Fetzer, we are doing a lot of practical work under an initiative we are calling ‘Healing the heart of American democracy’. The most profound thing we are trying to do is to reframe the conversation to say that it is all about love. We talk about loving America. It is impossible to love America in the abstract. One can only love Americans – and that means all Americans.
We are working with one of the big civil society organizations that has a long-standing commitment to leadership development. With our encouragement, support and collaboration, they are now taking the bold step of saying publicly that there is a new critical dimension to leadership development, which is the inner, spiritual work that will allow us as civil-society leaders to engage the world, not from that angry advocate perspective that does more harm than good, but from a place of love and acommitment to reconciliation.
We are bringing faith leaders together to ask them why so often they and their communities have shown up as part of the polarizing dynamic in our politics. Surely, our deep faith commitments calls us to be part of the reconciling solution. Let’s not talk about practices for others; let’s talk about our own internal practice.
Systemic changes starts within ourselves
We need to recognize that we must connect this inner life, this development of our own capacity for love and compassion, with a fierce determination to transform the systems that are creating disharmony in the world. And what systems are out of alignment with human flourishing? We can pretty much include all of them, whether it is our educational system, healthcare system or, most profoundly, our economy. We have this economic model that defines human flourishing in a one-dimensional way. It is all about income, acquisition and consumption, when we all know from our experience that this is the most superficial form of human flourishing.
So how do we move from a world where we measure progress by growth in income and GDP to a world in which we, as leaders, say we have to have a multidimensional understanding and multidimensional metrics that measurehuman well-being in its holistic sense?
A powerful, global, spiritual movement in the making
I have great optimism, because millions of people around the world have been pulled to the realization that something new is needing to be born that can carry us as a human family in that next big next step in our spiritual journey. We just need to find each other and realize that when we connect all the dots we are the beginning of a powerful, global movement that is working on all the big problems from a deeply, spiritually-grounded place. And we can do that – not alone, but together. As a person of faith, I say this with the deep conviction that there is something much bigger than ourselves that is the wind beneath all of our wings.