On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, causing massive destruction to the city and surrounding areas. Over 100,000 of its 3 million citizens are said to have died in the quake. It was estimated that one third of every Haitian living in the city that day was either killed or physically injured. In response to this emergency, the world mobilized to save the lives of those trapped under the rubble, and to care for those who were injured, orphaned or displaced from their homes.
Rock stars donated sunglasses and record albums to raise money. Sports figures went online to urge others to become involved in the cause. Charity organizations, such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders saw a record donations pouring in. Individuals used their cell phones throughout the world to text donations. CNN had a telethon. Websites sprang up overnight to raise money. Even former president's Bill Clinton and George W. Bush got together and formed a relief fund to help in the effort. Taken collectively, it was an unprecedented level of concern for the well-being of humans whom the donors had never met and whom they would most likely never see.
Given the economic crisis of that time, and the general worry many had for their own finances, it begs the question, Why? Why did strangers move so quickly and compassionately to help? What made this so easy to do? And how did it happen so universally – throughout the world?
Could it be that humans are built for altruism, compassion and love, rather than selfishness? Is selfless giving a natural act? Could empathy, generosity and global concern become the defining characteristics of our species?
Several years ago, I was asked to transcribe a brief presentation made by Brian Swimme, a mathematical cosmologist and the director of the Center for the Story of the Universe at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He was talking about what it means to be inclusive, and he was describing how species expand their level of concern as they become more conscious. I was struck by this, and began to study this phenomenon.
Jeremy Rifkin, in his recent book, The Empathic Civilization, proposes a correlation between the extension of empathy and the evolution of consciousness worldwide. In his view, as we become more complex, we process ever-increasing amounts of energy, and leave behind more and more damage in the world.
Is this a box canyon for the human? Are we doomed to ruin our planet as we become more evolved? From an energy standpoint, something clearly has to give.
One clue worthy of consideration is this: According to biologists, species are disappearing at unprecedented rates from our planet. We are losing them at rates ranging from 100 times to up to 10,000 times the normal rate. If one were to accept even the number 1000 times normal, it certainly is worthy of our attention. And, to make matters worse, most if not all of this change is due to human behavior.
So how can we resolve this dilemma? How can we move through this moment to assure ongoing life on Earth? What change, or shift, in human functioning, is needed for us to survive?
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