Few politicians would be comfortable speaking about the need for an evolution of consciousness, but Bill Clinton is no ordinary politician. Last Friday, former President Bill Clinton spoke at the "Where Do We Go From Here?" conference at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York. While his speech was not open to the press or public, a video was temporarily available on the Omega website and I took some notes on some of the most interesting and inspiring things Clinton had to say.
Bill Clinton on staying positive:
On trend lines versus headlines:
"It's okay to complain about things, but fundamentally it doesn't change anything and it is disempowering. One of the things that you learn from living and living long enough is that the good times come and go and you have to keep realizing that every new day gives you some opportunity to make something good happen. And you gotta take it."
"I often tell students that It is very important in life to be able to distinguish between the headlines and the trend lines. If the trend lines are bad, all the happy headlines in the world won't make things come out well. And if the trend lines are not as bad as the headlines, you should wake up every morning full of optimism and be content with the trend lines until the headlines catch up."
"The nature of the modern world is its interdependence. both people with each other across vast swaths of land and around the corner and across oceans and people with the Earth. But interdependence can be good or bad or both. Human nature being what it is, it's usually both. All interdependence means is that divorce is not an option. Divorce may be an option for two people, but you'll still be interdependent."
"There are some huge obstacles in the way of creating that kind of world we need. First is rampant inequality, which has gotten worse, both because of forces beyond our control and because of political decisions made in individual countries.
So anybody that wants to build a world that is more harmonious than the one we're living in and give people the security to tackle things like climate change, even the emotional space to think about it, has got to deal with these inequality issues."
On how elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade funds terrorism:
"And there are armed groups that make a living off of instability. If you look at this horrible killing in the mall in Kenya, by Al-Shabaab, it's an example of how all of these things are out of balance. They were allegedly retaliating against Kenyans for going into Southern Somalia to try and keep Al-Shabaab from infiltrating Kenya. And there is a good chance, relative to our interdependence, that the operation which probably didn't cost more than a $100,000 or $150,000 dollars was funded by the illegal trade in ivory, which if it continues at the current rate will mean virtually all the elephants in Africa will disappear in the next twenty years. This is one reason Hillary and Chelsea are working so hard on that is that. Yes, it's a resource conservation issue. Yes, elephants are highly intelligent and are wonderful animals and deserve to inhabit the Earth. And yes, it's necessary for the continuation of tourism in a lot of places, but their murder is financing a great deal of illicit activity in the world today. And we know that Al-Shabaab, in some years, gets as much as 40% of its income from illegal ivory sales."
NOTE: For more on this, see my post on how Al-Shabaab is funded by ivory trade.
On the evolution of consciousness:
"Our consciousness, particular when under the kind of economic pressure we've been under, is still not where it needs to be to develop the solutions that are most-likely to work. What do I mean by that? If you want a future of shared responsibilities, shared opportunities and shared sense of community, you have to believe certain things. You have to believe that creative cooperation is better than constant conflict. You have to believe that we're all in this together. You have to believe that our differences are interesting, they make life more interesting. They are exciting, but our common humanity matters more. You have to be willing to look at science and let your eyes overcome your ideology.
On the value of government-funded science research:
I spent $3 billion dollars of your money to sequence the human genome and it was worth every penny of it. And we have already received, by the way, somewhere on the order of $180 billion of economic benefit from it. The sequencing now at St. Jude's Childrens Hospital, the largest childrens cancer center in the country, costs about $5,000, it'll be $1,000 within 18 months, $500 soon after that.
On our shared humanity:
"By far the most important finding [from the genome sequencing project] for all of us mortals is that every difference you can see in this crowd, skin color, body shape, eye color, everything you can see that is not age-related, is lodged in a half of one percent of our genome. Otherwise we are all 99.5% identical. And we all spend 99.5% of our time, worrying about that half a percent that's different. Right?
Our brains are programmed to box us. If we have no ability to create boxes, man, woman, boy girl old young, wide narrow long short, we wouldn't be able to function, but if we can't think out of our boxes than we are doomed to whatever path we're on when our growth stops. So, the great trick of the modern world is going to be to get a critical mass of people who can think rationally within all the boxes that we need and find more of them and smaller and smaller ones, but also can imagine what we have to do to come to the simple conclusion, confirmed now by science, that what we have in common is more interesting than our differences."
On a positive vision for the future:
"Whether we like it or not, we'll be sharing the future. The only question is whether we'll be sharing opportunities and responsibilities or chaos and destruction. And whether we like it or not, the Earth we live on must be a partner in the future we share."
This theme of interconnectedness was woven throughout Clinton's talk, as well as those by other speakers throughout the entire weekend. I'll be posting more on what other speakers had to say, including Paul Hawken and Janine Benyus in the coming days.
For an example of how interconnectedness can inspire sustainable design, check out the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, which may be the most beautiful wastewater treatment plant in the entire world.