Our Unstable and Interconnected Reality

By Emily Evans

This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts on my web site. I met Emily Evans at a session I led at the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s PeaceCon in January. We have been working together ever since. She is one of the social change activists I have been profiling in my own posts and who will be featured in my next book, Connecting the Dots, which I plan to finish before the end of the year. Chip Hauss

With the over-abundance of information at our fingertips these days, the assumption that our world is stable, predictable, and safe seems, at this point, hopelessly naive. By the time I’ve had my morning tea, I can finish reading a full news synopsis of all the major disasters and power struggles of the day from Ukraine and other parts of the world. Despite the temptation to focus solely on the chaos, it would be equally inaccurate to ignore the many means we have for connection: most of us spend just as much time reading the news as we do scrolling through our social media accounts to stay in contact with friends around the world. We’ve even built reliable video technologies for safely meeting up with one another in the midst of a global pandemic!

Photo by ThisisEngineering from Pexels

Over the past 30 years, rapid technological developments have indeed increased our access to and awareness of both global instability and global interconnection. This has had broad implications for the way we’ve learned to make sense of the world. These intersecting realities of instability and interconnection— and our increased means of accessing knowledge of both in short amounts of time regardless of our location in the world— have led us full speed into a critical liminal space. This “betwixt and between” space has the potential to incubate and accelerate new means of engaging the world that remind us of our common humanity and cultivate resilience as we enter our shared future. In short, awareness of “crisis” may have become a devastating new normal, but our many available and emerging technologies present equal opportunities for this moment to be redemptive as we use these tools to acknowledge and engage our connections with others.

With this said, our ability to first recognize ourselves within the changes of the past few decades is the fundamental step that will allow us to move closer to a reality where we can all thrive as unique but united individuals. Acknowledging the shift in global realities, thinking, and engagement is at the heart of the Connecting the Dots movement, and it is perhaps what makes this movement (and the cross-generational individuals and teams carrying out this work) so crucial. As we face the present day with awareness of our global instability and interconnection, it becomes readily apparent that there are both opportunities and risks we face as a society. To engage in “Connecting the Dots” work is to think and actively live in the world with full acknowledgement of our current reality and an intention to both embrace the opportunities and address the risks within this interesting liminal space. Thus, becoming a Dot Connector necessarily entails an important reality check.

Engaging in this reality check using the technological tools at our disposal first drives us to reckon with the depth of global instability. The instability and pain we are all individually and collectively faced with in our present moment is far beyond the control of any one person, group, organization, industry sector, or country. It seems increasingly absurd to make up stories for convincing ourselves that, if another group (or industry or country) simply took responsibility and made amends for their destabilizing actions, our own group would be able to avoid further instability and pain. After all: forced displacement of people around the world continues regardless of the extent of our foreign humanitarian assistance and the number of refugees we welcome into our countries. Socio-economic and racial tensions continue dominating US politics despite the steps either party takes to address barriers they believe stand in the way of access to the American Dream. Violence against women continues despite an increase in public trials allowing them to testify against their abusers, and climate change continues to impact us all in varying ways regardless of how often people in the Global North may acknowledge our contributions to the deteriorating state of the planet. The list goes on. Dot Connectors have an intuitive awareness that, no matter how much we have been destabilized by others, even the best acknowledgement and amendment (while perhaps personally or collectively healing) will not address the full scale of the destabilizing and painful issues our world faces today.

This intuition stems from the profound depth of our interconnection— the second element of our necessary reality check. Despite our hopes for self-sufficiency, our technologically advanced and globalized world constantly reminds us that our actions do not occur in an isolated state. Our dualistic stories of “hero and villain” or “victim and villain” feel more and more absurd because they ignore the reality that we are all deeply interconnected to one another. We engage with one another presently in ways that reflect the wounds we have received as we (and generations before us) have engaged with the world. We create, attach to, and act out of identities that help us make sense of our individual and collective wounds. If we truly reckon with this part of our reality, it becomes difficult to look even our worst enemy in the eye without seeing some degree of our shared humanity. As Bryan Stevenson writes in Just Mercy, his powerful memoir about mass incarceration in the US: “We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent… Our shared brokenness [connects] us.”

Perhaps the most difficult truth about the instability we face in our world today is that, regardless of the extent to which we’ve contributed to collective pain, we cannot possibly address it alone. Moreover, even if we do engage in a total team effort, creating total stability cannot be our collective goal. In an ever-changing world of both risks and opportunities, we cannot control whether change occurs. We can only change how we respond— we can choose to become resilient people who commit to building resilient societal structures together. In other words, instability and interconnection perpetually coexist, and the only way to create a space of relative stability within the chaos is to take responsibility for our actions (or lack thereof) and then move into collective action, even with the people we’ve defined as our enemy… even with the organizations we’ve named our “competition”… even with the sectors or industries we’ve deemed irrelevant to our own work. We cannot simply create a new reality that bypasses all the groups and systems we dislike, nor can we create a reality that bypasses change altogether. Our diversity and dynamism are our strengths just as much as they are our challenges. In the end, the only sustainable option is to work with what we have while developing technologies to maximize our strengths and capacity to collaborate.

Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels

This is precisely what makes Dot Connecting work equally courageous, challenging, and crucial. Dehumanizing, perpetuating a zero-sum culture of shame and otherness, and additional methods of perpetuating a culture of disengagement do not have a place in this movement. Accountability, collaboration, and intersectional engagement are their replacements as we build language, practices, and systems that acknowledge our need for each other. It is here that we have the exciting opportunity to create new technologies and digital spaces to redeem our interconnectedness as we unite to build resilient systems for propelling us into the future, however uncertain it may be.

In many respects, becoming part of the Connecting the Dots movement might be the most difficult work you and I will ever do. Moving beyond dualistic stories and frameworks for understanding the world goes against the status quo (even while it points us back towards reality), and it requires moving beyond the idea that short-term efforts can, alone, be the solution to the issues we face locally and globally. Short-term efforts like humanitarian aid certainly have their place, but acting purely in crisis mode to address the “wicked problems” we face is like putting band-aids on someone with a wound resulting from chronic illness: the band-aid may keep further debris from entering the wound (and thus may ensure survival), but until the root cause is found and addressed in all of its complexity, the wound will remain problematic and healing will be superficial. Preventing further infection and creating the conditions for the patient to thrive will require a long-term effort that moves beyond crisis mode and engages a collaborative team of experts in their respective fields who can seek out the cause (or causes) and build out an appropriate and holistic treatment plan—with technologies and tools capable of addressing the cause and its interconnected symptoms. As most medical professionals and biologists come to learn, however: long-term conditions rarely (if ever) have complete answers. Most often, the team’s job is not to solve the condition altogether but to provide the tools for the body to become as resilient to further illness as possible.

Photo by Artūras Kokorevas from Pexels

In the case of our current global challenges, we must engage a full team of experts in their respective communities, sectors, industries, and cultures, seeking opportunities to pursue root causes and engage across our divisions with the understanding that our ever-changing world will never be totally “solved.” We must acknowledge that leaning into our interconnection and developing innovative technologies to support the collective healing process is the only way we might create long-term societal resilience. However tempting it may be to continue on in our crisis-mode thinking, we need something more. Connecting the Dots— as a movement—represents a direct manifestation of that “something more.” As we seek to build a world that is more equitable, sustainable, and resilient to present and future challenges in ways that truly benefit all, I hope you and the groups, organizations, and sectors you represent will choose to join us. Whoever you are and wherever you come from, your unique experience, expertise, and talents are valuable and have an important role to play in connecting the dots.

Also published on Medium.