By Michael Strelcheck
To quote a recent TV ad, “Ideas are scary! They are the natural born enemy of the way things are.” Ideas come into the world unannounced, foreign and frightening. New ideas threaten the status quo, for if they are heard they will often lead to change – sometimes creating good and sometimes not.
We are usually unaware how much our behavior and life patterns are conditioned by ideas. Yet from time to time a crisis arises in our ordered world and forces us to wake up and recognize them for what they are. It’s clear that humans all over the world are going through just such a crisis now. Senseless violence has invaded peace-loving communities in an attempt to convey different ideas, some of which are truly scary. Because of this it seems as if we’re faced with the idea that we’ll have to give up some of our freedom to insure our community’s safety. That idea is frightening!
To deal with crisis we have to understand what ideas have led to the situation and we need to grasp the new set of ideas that will inspire us to make the necessary changes and lead us into a better world. This is the familiar pattern of human experience that lies behind the phrase “an idea whose time has come.” The President recently spoke to the nation declaring that “domestic terrorism” is a cancer of which, presently, there’s no cure. His comments seem to suggest that his administration is out of ideas! One has to wonder if the recent outbreaks of violence present a new reality, one in which we’re simply forced to accept it in order to try and preserve our way of life? Or, are we standing on the verge of discovering, due to the need, a new idea that will lead us to a constructive solution to the problem?
Spiritual philosophies teach that there are no new ideas, just ones that haven’t been realized yet! We might imagine these unrealized ideas as hovering behind the scenes watching the unfolding events of the world, waiting for the right moment to “become” and present themselves to an innovative thinker. The eastern philosopher Patanjali described this idea in an imaginative way by calling this sea of unrealized ideas the ‘raincloud of knowable things’ from which ideas are “precipitated” or brought into existence in response to the demands of human need. This spiritual fact encourages us when crisis hits for we can infer from it that there’s no crisis without a solution. In other words, an answer exists for every problem and to find it we need to reach out for it. This same philosophy suggests that every crisis is really a test of our ability to discriminate, to make the best decisions and act on them with a newly developed perspective. But in order to do that we first have to be open to different possibilities.
For encouragement, we can recognize people who are putting into practice innovative ideas. One such idea is that goodwill and cooperation must replace the old paradigm of self-interest in order to serve the common good. Take, for example, the creative idea that was brought into being a few years ago by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. They created the concept of a “Giving Pledge” by the ultra-wealthy where individuals would sign an informal pledge to donate over half of their wealth towards creating a better world. Although at first this idea sounded unlikely, today there are 138 members who have joined the movement and, as USA Today wrote, “The Giving Pledge list is increasingly becoming a vivid tableau of dizzying wealth destined for philanthropy.” This movement has led to a charitable zeal that’s recently gripped tech billionaires the likes of Michael and Susan Dell, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Jim Clark of Netscape, Microsoft’s Paul Allen, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and wife, just to name a few, giving billions to charity. Apparently this is an idea whose time has come! This movement has been further buoyed by the recent surprising announcement of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan pledging to give away 99% of their Facebook shares (valued at 45 billion). Although charitable giving by the wealthy has long been a part of the American way, the current scope of the recent generosity – is new! Another new wrinkle within this movement is that most of the individuals donating aren’t just dumping their money on some charitable organization, but are actively involved with the charities that are meaningful to them, thus physically demonstrating the idea of goodwill and cooperation within a community. Although this movement alone won’t solve the financial inequality that exists today in our society, it will surely stimulate more new ideas to “precipitate” that will.
Yes, new ideas can be scary, but if we don’t examine them we will become trapped in the way things were, nothing will change and the future will never come. The willingness to entertain new approaches to problems, and thoughtfully sift through what they propose, allows us to find new constructive solutions.