Last week, Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum and the leader of the largest gathering of business and political elites, offered his audience a stark choice. Labeling this moment a "fourth industrial revolution," he situated us all as being in the midst of a great decision: "The Fourth Industrial Revolution can compromise humanity's traditional sources of meaning -- work, community, family and identity -- or it can lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness, based on a sense of shared destiny. The choice is ours."
Schwab sounds like many spiritual leaders who believe that a new form of consciousness may be emerging around the world. The mystic Cynthia Bourgeault, for example, believes that we may be in a moment of historic change in how we see our relationship with all life and with the universe, what she calls a "second axial age." The first "axial age" saw the emergence of Buddhism, Judaism, and the Vedas roughly 2200-3000 years ago. Now, she and others argue, a second axial age may be upon us. Its signature may be new forms of spirituality focused on unity among all forms of life and an affirmation of the goodness of the created universe.
If given a choice, almost everyone would choose a "sense of shared destiny." But most people don't know how. Most of us are too confused by all the changes around us--wondering how to hold on to our own sense of purpose and security while doing our best to listen to and support the needs of others. Technology, income inequality, age-old wars, racism, sexism, failed states, low wages--all of these and more make most of us feel vulnerable and scared. A new consciousness hardly seems realistic.
But that doesn't mean we should be paralyzed. Our politics should be offering us new ideas that build cohesion and common purpose instead of inflaming fear and anxiety. So here's a place to start: schools. Let's join Republicans and Democrats in a shared effort to educate the hearts of our children and to teach them in new and creative ways how to become more self-aware, more able to discover their unique purpose in the world, more motivated to act in positive ways, and more likely to be inclusive and welcoming of differences. These are the key lessons that will enable them to create a more hopeful future. We can teach all these things and more but they will require that we change the focus of education.
We should do just that. In the era of the 4th industrial revolution, information is commodity but inspiration is precious. Any child with a smart phone can find out all the information he or she need on their mobile devices. What they can't find is the meaning of the information of the purpose of their lives and how to use it. That's the new purpose of school: inspiration. We need to shift to an education paradigm that is more inspiration than information, and we need to do it fast.
Happily, the whole field of social and emotional learning was launched to build new strategies for engaging children in learning not just about information but also about themselves and their relationships to others. Social and Emotional Learning is catching on around the country because it offers strategies for teaching children how to make a meaningful difference in the world. Picture a young child mastering problem solving skills and then being inspired by a peer with special needs to fight bullying. Or picture a teenager learning how to do a service project at an elderly community and then going on to become a nurse working for better care. Or picture a classroom of 6th graders sitting in silence for 5 minutes learning powerful insights about their inner lives and their solidarity with others. In every case, a more motivated, cooperative and healthy child is the result. And with kids like that, inspiration overflows.
The field of Social and Emotional Learning is getting stronger by the day and now has hundreds of practitioners who are discovering new way to teach to inspire, motivate, engage, and heal the trauma of a generation overwhelmed by rudderlessness, anxiety, distraction, and addiction. It's time for this growing movement to be adopted nationwide by policy makers and educators alike. Organizations like the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (I am a co-founder) has done more than 20 years of research on what works and can point us toward new solutions that will produce results (casel.org).
There will be new and different teachers of the lessons of "shared destiny" waiting to join the revolution. Among them are those who have suffered the most from being excluded. Here, the athletes of Special Olympics will be brilliant teachers. They may not have had the podium at Davos, but they are experts in teaching us how to lift humanity. If we can embrace the challenge of teaching the heart and open the door to people with intellectual disabilities to be teachers too, we will be on our way to that "new collective and moral consciousness" the world so desperately needs and which so many of us want to choose.