The world always makes sense. But it doesn’t always make sense to us. Shock—a seemingly relentless theme nowadays—is personal proof that whatever lens we’ve been looking through to see the world no longer shows things as they really are. We need to shatter that lens—and with it, the simple dichotomies that dominate, and warp, our sight: globalization versus nationalism; open doors versus xenophobia; populism versus public virtue; information abundance versus fake news; the lifted up versus the left behind.
We need to grind for ourselves a very different way of seeing the world. The sooner we do that, the less time we’ll waste frozen in disbelief, and the more time we’ll spend helping ourselves, our families, our organizations and communities to thrive through the upheavals to come.
My latest book is my lens for making sense of the moment we’re in. The title, Age of Discovery, plays on our misconceptions of both the past and the present. It evokes an optimistic vision of humanity blown by scientific, economic and social winds—zigging and zagging, surely, but always progressing toward a better, New World. In hindsight, is that not how, until recently, so many of us viewed our present moment? We thought we were passengers on a ship at sea, with little control over the weather, yet lulled into complacency by our general heading.
Now, recent reversals have made us wise to our true predicament. In an Age of Discovery, there are no passengers. There is no inevitable path of rational progress. There are only pilots, struggling to steer the ship: between the good and bad consequences of global entanglement; between forces of inclusion and exclusion; between flourishing genius and flourishing risks.
We’re caught in the grip of awesome, paradoxical forces—and we’re no longer sure which direction we’re headed.
But we’ve been here before. And the wisdom of history can be our compass, if we choose to look at it.