Within the last year, I have met some of my favorite thinkers/authors; Joanna Macy, Anne Lamott, Charles Eisenstein, Paul Hawken, and today I met David Korten.
Atlanta Shambhala Meditation Center hosted Korten’s fascinating discussion which began by contemplating the idea that we are the only species seemingly choosing self-extinction yet we may be the hope for the earth’s healing, and if so, what is our role and responsibility in the unfolding of creation? We also looked at how different cosmologies inform world views and questioned why money is given such power, when we should be striving for material sufficiency and spiritual abundance and the deep satisfaction that comes from knowing that we serve life – not money.
Many of these ideas are examined in his book, Change the Story, Change the Future. I wrote this review which was originally published on October 26, 2015 in Unity Leaders Journal.
In Change the Story, Change the Future, Korten writes, “We humans live by our shared framing stories and have a deep need for a sense of purpose and meaning. If we do not share an authentic sacred story, the void will be filled with an inauthentic story—and that is our problem. An economy, a society, built on the foundation of a lie cannot work.”
While learning about the frustrations of poverty as an undergraduate student at Stanford, David Korten says he “decided to devote my adult life to bringing lessons of Western business success and the comforts of consumer culture to the poor of the world’s ‘underdeveloped’ countries.” Guided by that calling, he earned his MBA and PhD degrees at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business where he studied organization theory, business strategy and economics. From there he was a faculty member of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business and then joined Harvard Institute for International Development.
In the late 70s, Korten moved to Southeast Asia, where he lived for nearly fifteen years, serving first as a Ford Foundation project specialist and later as Asia regional adviser on development management to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Gradually over those years he “came to realize that the reigning story—that economic development brings forth a world of prosperity—is deeply flawed.”
His over-35 years of experience in academia and international business development makes this concise book, which discusses economics, history, science and spirituality, a completely credible and fascinating read.
It could be his studies in psychology, the inspiration found in Thomas Berry’s Dream of the Earth where he argues “that our future depends on finding a story that gives us a powerful reason to live,” or the wisdom that comes from living abroad, or a combination of all three that led Korten to frame the current economy and alternatives in stories. This is a particularly powerful concept for people in Unity, because we so often proclaim that our stories create our reality, and these examples gives us a chance to see how that principle operates beyond our own lives as well.
Korten begins by describing the problems with our current system where money and markets are held to be sacred. For those of you who have listened to the news and felt that the stock market report was not a true representation of a healthy economy, this section will resonate deeply with you and elucidate how our current system became so flawed.
From there, he touches upon the alternative, Sacred Life and Living Earth story, which is emerging in the global consciousness. In this paradigm, time is equal to life, not money.
In the next chapter, he backtracks a bit and writes, “Generally the shared story of a people aligns with their underlying creation story—their deepest shared beliefs about the nature of the universe.” He defines four contrasting cosmologies, “Distant Patriarch,” “Grand Machine,” “Mystical Unity,” or “Living Universe” and how those beliefs correspond to how people see their role in relation to the earth.
Korten does not affiliate himself with a particular religious denomination, but many of his ideas will sound familiar to students of Unity. In the section on “A Living Universe” cosmology, he writes, “To achieve our individual and species potential and secure our common future, we must align with the wisdom and intention of the spirit that manifests through us. In the most mature expression of our human consciousness, we develop a capacity to recognize and honor simultaneously both our oneness and individuality.”
The next few chapters delve deeper into the faulty models and deadly illusions that contradict science and reason, yet have become part of our collective story. These are contrasted with a new economy where power shifts from corporations back to the people.
In Chapter 9, “A Living Economy for A Living Earth” questions a number of our institutions and offers alternatives. These institutions include performance indicators (e.g. GDP), legal rights (e.g. corporate personhood, and the rights of the earth), ownership and work, financial services, governance, and lastly academia, where you have the chance to teach the Sacred Life and Living Earth story, “rather than indoctrination in the fallacies of the Sacred Money and Markets story.”
Up to this point, you may find yourself agreeing with much that has been written, but a new way of life for our society may feel out of reach; the current story and way of life are seemingly insurmountable. However, in the final chapter Korten describes how many of these micro movements are already underway and as you read this chapter the pieces of the puzzle will start to slide together as you realize that, “an emerging interracial, intercultural global-scale movement—an inclusive movement of movements—[is] converging on a trajectory toward a Living Earth future.”
The book concludes with suggestions on how to share your version of a Sacred Life and Living Earth story and suggestions on how to continue the discussion, such as creating a workshop in your spiritual community.
Overall, this is an extremely important book at a crucial juncture in our history. It illustrates how we arrived at where we are, as well as a path towards a world that works for all.
I would also highly recommend that you consider subscribing to Yes! Magazine, co-founded by David Korten, or at least their weekly email at www.yesmagazine.org. It is filled with examples of how our collective story is changing for the better!