The following is excerpted from The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing ‘Nonprofit Organizations’ to Create the Future of Our World. To read these chapters from the beginning, head here. The Pollyanna Principles will be officially released on January 25th.
Chapter 2: The Path We’ve Trod
Our present was created by the multiple layers of our past – a past that includes yesterday, last year, and a millennium ago. The actions taken today by those who are working to improve our communities and our world are therefore based on assumptions and expectations we have inherited from that past.
If we are to consciously create a future that looks different from the path we have already trod, we need to be conscious about which twists and turns in the old path have created our present situation. Only then will we have any chance of creating a path better suited to our intentions.
In considering the occurrences and conditions that have led to the way community organizations commonly do their work – especially in the developed world – some of the most meaningful explanations appear at first to have little to do with that work. Yet, they are at the root of why these organizations that were supposed to change the world have not yet accomplished that goal.
The World that Created Our Present
The continuum of history provides thousands of years to look back upon – the years that created the path we are currently walking.
In the earliest of those years, our survival relied on the natural resources surrounding us. Over time, we learned to enhance those resources. We developed agriculture. We developed tools and weapons, giving us control over not only our own natural resources, but over the resources of others.
We continued to evolve. We developed commerce. We developed religion. We developed charity, to help those who could not help themselves, or who were not as fortunate. Those who had more than plenty also developed systems for ensuring they would be entertained – the arts in their various forms.
These institutions have been around, in some form or another, for thousands of years. The world’s civilizations are experienced at working inside those systems. We almost instinctively know what to do there.
These days, however, a significant percentage of the world’s population does not worry about meeting the basic needs of food and shelter. From that very new reality comes another new reality: items formerly considered a luxury are now seen as simply a part of life – owning a television or a car.
One of those luxuries is the ability and desire to invest in the greater good of our communities, helping those who are less fortunate, supporting arts, science, education.
This is indeed a new reality. It was not the reality 100 years ago, and was barely so even 60 years ago. As historian Arnold Toynbee observed, the world has, for the first time, evolved to the point where we have the ability “to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective.”
The continuum of time we are on – the path we have been walking from the dawn of civilization to today – includes thousands of years of conditioning, thousands of years of habits. The centuries have taught us how, as a global people, to take care of our own in order to survive. The centuries have taught us to govern to protect our countries against those who would cause us harm.
The centuries taught us to run businesses that provide goods and services for profit. The centuries taught us to run institutions of worship for spiritual comfort, and taught us to provide one-on-one charity to help improve individual lives. And the centuries repeatedly showed that only those of considerable means had the luxury to partake in the arts.
All this history has created our cultural norms. It is that history that informs what we think is possible. When we look back over those thousands of years, working to enhance the welfare of the whole human race simply has no precedent, no deeply ingrained cultural norms to fall back on.
The work being done by Community Benefit Organizations is brand new.
For the next Chapter, please click here.
Over the next few weeks, you can preview the whole first section of The Pollyanna Principles here at Creating the Future. If you want to be notified when the next installment is up, let us know. And please, link here to learn more about the book, and to review the table of contents (as well as all 6 of the Pollyanna Principles).