Issue #28: Feeling Our Way Into the Future of Belonging

"Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive." — Zadie Smith

What are four words to describe emotions that you’ve felt in the last 24 hours?

Institute for the Future’s Director of Games Research and Development Jane McGonigal posed this question during her session on bringing emotion into futures thinking. Emotion — from grief to glee and delight to despair — is a powerful tool for anticipating the future and prompting present-day action. It can point to assumptions we hold. It can catalyze action even when the prospect of imminent threat is far away.

My answer to that question?

I’ve felt a mix of despair, resignation, delight, and frustration. IFTF is in the middle of hosting our annual Ten-Year Forecast Summit. Pre-coronavirus, we designed TYF as an experiential series of provocations designed to shock and inspire attendees about possible futures. The world of the 2020s means waking up to present-day provocations every morning, leaving us with more uncomfortable emotions and a healthy dose of fatigue. It’s easy to dwell in a world of dread and despair and be immobilized with exhaustion. The world we wake up to every day is the product of systems that are broken and those that produce brokenness. Once you accept that we are surrounded by brokenness and feel the emotions associated with that realization, we can begin to chart our path forward.

I’d like to introduce this quote below as a more positive provocation:

Love is about service & transformation of our communities & institutions. It is about transforming ourselves so that in the new places we are creating, we will be able to be in them in such a way that we don’t end up reproducing what we just finished changing. — Margo Okazawa-Rey

What are four emotions that you feel upon reading that?

We might feel overwhelmed or defeated or hopeless confronting the chaos and antagonism of this year. I would like to reframe the road ahead of building belonging as a labor of love. It may be grueling, but on the other side lies a future of belonging where we all have physical and psychological safety, we feel emotionally connected to people close to us, and we belong to communities and a larger society that allows us to find meaning and make sense of the world around us. Performing this labor with and through love will guide our path to transforming ourselves, our institutions and our communities.

Yesterday, I moderated a panel of three amazing foresight practitioners who also happened to be badass women:

  • Ariana Gomez

  • Geci Karuri-Sebina

  • Elizabeth Hofvenschioeld

Ariana shared an easy to remember framework for preparing to think about the future: The 3 Ms of metabolism, mindset, and morals. Metabolism refers to our organization’s or group’s ability to receive, digest, and act on information. Mindset is about bringing openness and creativity to futures thinking. Morals encompass the values and ethics of defining right and wrong and deciding to act with integrity to do the right thing.

Geci spoke the confusion and overwhelm that can come from imagining preferred futures. To keep people oriented from seeking a single panacea, she poses the following question: How would you tend to a forest? This reframing question helps to to be more open to a wide range of transformative ideas. You would never tend to a forest by focusing on a single tree; rather you would foster a healthy environment overall so the entire forest could prosper.

Elizabeth cautioned about the power and responsibility for the stories we tell ourselves and others. Stories can explain complex subjects, share data and persuade. They create our heroes and define our values. And because of these properties, the content of our stories and the identities of our storytellers necessarily shapes their power.

I’ve made a conscious effort to look for signals that point to hope and illuminate pathways engaging in this labor of love — building new places and modes of belonging for the future. We can’t allow despair to limit the possibilities of new worlds ahead of us.

First, let’s turn to history. Anthropologist Richard B. Lee wrote an exhaustive review article of hunter-gatherer societies to dispel the myth that humans are naturally aggressive and war like. Lee says, “[Steven] Pinker glosses over a very well documented and durable tenet of anthropology, namely that, with a few exceptions, warfare, as commonly understood, is rare or uncommon in many hunting and gathering societies.”

Richard Lee also summarises decades of research on hunter-gatherers showing how they emphasise food-sharing, gender equality and cooperative childcare. Lee concludes that it was this sort of less aggressive and more cooperative social environment in our evolutionary past that permitted the long childhoods required for human brain growth.

Our present-day iteration of demands for racial justice has revived interest in a century-old innovation of community land trusts:

In the 1960s, civil rights organizers recognized that denying property rights was a key method of reinforcing white supremacy in the U.S., blocking people from putting down roots in a community, limiting their political power as well as wealth.

They devised a system called a “community land trust” as a way for African American farmers to work rural land for their own benefit. This was in stark contrast to the sharecropping system prevalent after the Civil War, where Black families would rent small plots of land, or shares, to work themselves and in return give a portion of their crop to the landowner at the end of the year.

Last week, 19 Black families bought 97 acres in Georgia to create a city safe for Black residents, drawing upon the principles of a community land trust. The families came together under an initiative called Freedom Georgia Initiative to purchase the land and intend for the community to practice cooperative economics. Cooperative economics relies sharing of resources and collaboration for economic production.

The shock of the pandemic has undermined the primacy of the competition of capitalism. With mutual aid springing up overnight out of necessity and an economic recession that will likely take years to recover from for the vast majority of workers, we need to adopt mutualism more than ever before so that people aren’t left to live alone in despair and misery. Mutualism appears at the forefront of the pathways to transformation in scenarios of post-pandemic futures developed by IFTF recently shared at TYF.

We are finding more and more ways to practice the labor of love of building belonging. In a country where nearly 100 million eligible voters don’t vote, it’s heartening to learn that Snapchat has reported that 400,000 people, largely young folks under 30) have already registered to vote in 2020 via the Snapchat app.

Amid the ongoing extreme climate events in the United States — record breaking wildfires on the West Coast and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean — Kaiser Permanente became the first carbon-neutral health system in the U.S.

Governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer launched a program called Futures for Frontliners for the state’s 625,000 essential workers to attend any community college for free, in recognition of the love they have shown their communities by working through the pandemic.

Imaginative empathy refers to the practice of imagining ourselves in unfamiliar situations with awareness of the feelings that those situations elicit. We practice imaginative empathy when we think about our future selves and the world we will inhabit. What does our ideal future self do, need and want? What would our ideal systems look like? And nearly more importantly, what would it feel like to live in a world with these ideal systems? How can our desired emotions point to how we would design these systems? Our search for present-day hope is an act of love for our future selves and future communities.

Share Future of Belonging