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Can we journey from an “Age of Me” to an “Age of We”?

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As Budget 2016 draws to a close, we thought we would share this article with you. Ministers have been taking about “paradigm shifts” and the uncertain economic outlook. Is Singapore prepared for the future? Are we still using old-world solutions to tackle new-world problems?
By Betty Lim
Every problem in the world is the result of the stories we tell ourselves. They provide the context for our behavior. In the industrial era, the story of “progress” had us madly competing against one another, and at times nature, to get ahead in life.
Because the gifts and talents we were born with and our skills, experience or knowledge are not really appreciated, we pack away our value as a human being to heed the mantra to keep enacting stories of money making machines.
Hooked on the addictive “Age of Me” culture, we want too much and buy too much. We ignore our desire to become everything that we are authentically capable of becoming. Instead of self-actualizing, we fill the gaping void inside us by blindly consuming more and more, mistaking food, money, status or materialism to be the real thing.
However, many celebrities who we think lead charmed lives have found the pursuit of fame and fortune to be empty.
By enacting and reinforcing “Age of Me” stories, we unconsciously reduce everything to a transaction. Not only does that undermine the life-support systems we depend on but we also lose sight of what’s real.
Redefining “paradigm shift”
Real stuff is not GDP statistics, housing prices, retail sales, the stock market or any other incumbent yardsticks or indices. It is real companies going out of business. Real people in all shapes, colors and sizes losing jobs and homes and real families winding up on the street. People with fundamental needs living their lives, trying to stay sane in an exponentially chaotic and diverse world.
Paradigm shift logo WikipediaSo are such real world problems:  The cheapness of humanity’s soul. Broken people. Growing ranks of new poor: seniors with no pension, young with no future.  Poverty, hunger and gross inequality. Mass unemployment.  Mass emigration.  Chronic poor health. Homelessness. Hopelessness. Learned helplessness. Unhappiness. Social unrest.  Climate change.
The eminent philosopher Karl Popper defines problems as two distinct types: All problems are either clouds or clocks. To fix a clock, you take it apart to examine its individual parts before putting it back together with some new parts. With a cloud, you can only observe it as a dynamic, shifting, morphing whole.  But because taking things apart and “breaking them down” gives us a sense of power and control (sadly, an “Age of Me” legacy), many often use clock thinking to address cloud (systemic) problems.  Then they wonder why the problems remain or worsen.
A paradigm shift is a cloud problem, like a personality, an era, a social environment or an ecosystem.
To stop the rot, we have to stop doing more of the same and reboot our mindsets for the future.  Essentially, to go from the “Age of Me” to the “Age of We” where everyone needs everyone, with huge doses of openness, empowerment and transparency.
If diversity can be embraced, nurtured and brought together around a shared purpose, we can tackle new and complex problems by being open, empathic and transparent. It’s when we understand other people’s points of view that we can get a complete perspective of the challenges we all face.
With open systems, trust emerges.  The glue that holds people and societies together, trust also reduces the need for rules and regulations.  When there is trust, people do work that’s worth doing as we freely share information and ideas and empower each other to make things happen.
Riding a bicycle backwards
Alas, invisible things can be the hardest to change. Because everyone has mental models from the “Age of Me,” it’s incredibly hard to change a story we have been telling ourselves all our lives. Nevertheless, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Emotional attachment to old stories keep new ideas from penetrating and ascending.

Backwards brain bicycle (image - SmarterEveryDay on Youtube)
Backwards brain bicycle (image – SmarterEveryDay on Youtube)

We tend to overlook the world’s most valuable assets – i.e. nature and us. The “Age of Me” does not value our authenticity or our potentials as a human being. Nor the innate gifts inside each and every one of us.  And that is what we have in abundance.
In the past, we were what we owned for ourselves. Now, we can be what we share of ourselves. True abundance happens when each of us empower one another to be our best for everyone’s benefit. Very simply, the “Age of We” is the direct opposite of the “Age of Me.”
That’s why this transition to find our purpose in life may be like learning to ride a bicycle.  To learn, you must make the effort to get a bicycle.  Then you hop on, wobble, fall off and get on again and again until all of a sudden – you have taught yourself to ride.
Since the only person you try to be better than is the person you were yesterday, you now have to learn to ride the bicycle backwards. For instance, you can start little social experiments to build trust with one another.  Then tell and live stories of how we are much more than money making machines.
We now have the greatest opportunity to unpack our full potential as we help each other self-actualize and make the “Age of We” a reality for everyone.
Once we can unlearn to relearn by doing, this can be the most disruptive and fascinating phase of transformation humanity has ever known. We can make a difference for ourselves and our future generations by being our unique selves.
This article is adapted from the original by Betty Lim. The author was a speaker at the inaugural FutureMe Conference on 25 March. She is also the founder of CrowdPowers, a “For Us” maximization social venture focused on observing human behavior regarding our shared future, the latest being a social experiment to find out if strangers can build trust with one another.

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