There is an old story about how the human family first became divided. In the scriptures common to Judaism, Islam and Christianity it is known as "the Tower of Babel."
According to this story, the citizens of the city of Babel decided to compete with God/Allah, to be more divine themselves. They concluded that they needed to go up, a challenge in a flat part of the world! So they used their best engineers to build an immense tower.
According to the story, God decided that the Babylonians should not abuse their power, and so confused them by making them speak different languages.
Seemingly, with today’s modern communications and travel, it appears that we are overcoming this method of dividing us. And English (conveniently enough for us!) has become the language of choice.
Despite our cleverness, though, our human family is still divided. Today’s divisions are more about defining words such as "peace" differently. "Peace" can be "won" by conquering the "other" through words and bombs. Alternatively, "peace" can be mutually created through equality, justice and the fulfillment of basic human needs. How words are defined, and used, divides us.
Beliefs are at the root of such divisions. Winning over others to my "side," that I am right and you are not, is found in many forms: fundamentalist religion, "might is right," "the economy above all else," competitiveness over cooperation, ideologies, and other forms of self-righteousness.
Reflecting on this, our Creator must be experiencing some de’ ja vous. Back then, when humans tried to replace the divine Spirit with their own egos, the project utterly failed. Is not our attempt to biologically re-engineer our foods, change our biosphere through pollution, carbon-emissions, chemical releases and deforestation, etc. looking like the same play, just a different act?
Perhaps the difference now is that we realise we will fail at this experiment. We know that unless we co-operate with the planet and each other in a sustainable life-affirming way, we will not only be divided – we will also perish.
Thus it is marvelous that out of the ashes of a dying, ego-driven competitiveness that seeks to usurp the natural order, we see all kinds of ways in which the human family is seeking to re-unite in a more truly spiritual way.
As Richard Heinberg, the author of The Party’s Over and Powerdown (New Society, 2003, 2004) suggested, an alternative infrastructure is needed. "It has been clear for at least 30 years what characteristics this should have: organic, small-scale, local, convivial, co-operative, slower paced, human-oriented (rather than machine-oriented), agrarian, diverse, democratic, culturally rich, and ecologically sustainable."
Such an approach cannot be accomplished alone. In order to move forward into a hopeful future, we must draw together and use both our individual skills, drive and faith, as well as our collective interdependence and consciousness.
It is this sense of community that empowers us to move beyond the despair that pervades our society. When we feel that we belong – something ideally first learned in our families – then amazing things happen. It was this sense of family that turned Ghandi’s ideas and vision into a movement that shook the world’s pre-eminent empire to its roots.
This principal is not meant to "defeat" anything. It is, at its core, a positive, life-affirming energy that is able to gently yet powerfully move people and systems to a more mutual, organic and sustainable level of functioning. The skills and gifts of us all are thus affirmed. Our family is not complete without each other.
And our common language is called ‘love-in-action.’
Ian Gartshore is a therapist, minister, volunteer with a non-profit energy conservation organisation, www.esvi.ca, and an enthusiastic human being.