Is This a Turning Point?

The U.S. Capitol descended into disarray and violence on January 6th, 2021, as hundreds of pro-Trump rioters swarmed the building, forcing the Senate to evacuate and therefore abruptly pausing a ceremonial event to affirm Joe Biden’s upcoming presidency.

Americans expressed grave concern as the world watched in bewilderment. Indeed, a line has been crossed. What happened today isn’t just another unbelievable event leaving us drowning in shock, anger, and shame; another display of escalating white supremacy-fueled violence; another theater of our ongoing political chaos; another breach to undermine our democracy. Or, as many who work in the social justice space might say, this level of disintegration sends a strong signal that oppressive systems are bursting at the seams and on the verge of collapse.

More than all of the above combined, this day represents a critical inflection point in the history of our shared future: the absurdity of our reality is calling us to fundamentally reframe the binary mindset. Because we cannot “fix this” by further entrenching into the same pattern of thoughts and behaviors; we cannot “win” by telling ourselves that we are better, even if we come from a place of love and trust ourselves to be upholding the most sacred values of equity and justice. Our inherent interdependence makes our destinies inextricably linked by our choices regardless of ideology and circumstance.

However, the reframe isn’t simply about moving into some forced union from the polarizing “us vs. them” narratives. These narratives — Democrats vs. Republicans; the 81 million who voted for Biden vs. the 74 million who voted for Trump; Black liberation vs. White privilege — reflect generations of identity trauma that have created deep chasms in how we perceive realities and define values. The only way out of this vicious cycle is to stop convincing ourselves that, if we tried hard enough, we might find some common ground through shared realities and values. Instead, we may have to acknowledge that most of our differences have become irreconcilable. Sounds hopeless? Not if we challenge ourselves to treat such irreconcilable differences as the design brief for better futures. This is an exercise to return to our essence by asking radically different questions. Only by acknowledging the root cause of the problem do we stand a chance of finding a path forward. Ahead of us is the hard work future architects must do: owning the power of imagination to build better systems despite our collective muscle memory resorting to familiar frameworks to explain or justify habitual oppositions.

A fundamental change of mindset doesn’t occur by trying to find different answers to the same questions. In doing so, we are just looking for more clever ways to satisfy existing biases. To gain real clarity requires different modes of seeing, knowing, and asking questions that might not even make sense when the world demands us to offer an “appropriate” response to matters of great urgency and importance.

Yet urgency and importance are also mental constructs. In choosing to always prioritize responding to short-term urgency, we compromise our ability to see into a more beautiful future that begs us not to deny its manifestation, as it will only come into existence if we treat significant inflection points seriously, with curiosity and courage.

Architecting a more beautiful future requires us to be fully engaged with the present while taking the responsibility to create optimal conditions for future generations to thrive. It is absolutely imperative to counter overwhelming negativity and aggression, but not at the expense of delaying the commitment to pursue change that is not yet palpable, design that is not yet possible, and beauty that is not yet visible. What we are witnessing isn’t just a four-year game and a political crisis in the United States. The task at hand goes even beyond defending our democracy. What’s at stake is humanity’s turning point to stop churning inside the mindset designed for self-destruction. We have learned enough to rise above a flawed design that only serves to meet our known and limited capacity, not our unknown and boundless potential. It’s time to begin again by asking ourselves: how do we quit playing the same game even if we are poised to win?

Today — merely six days into a new year that brings hope for more compassion and grace — as we compulsively check our twitter feeds in disbelief, call on our friends and allies to stand in solidarity, and seek guidance to offer what we are uniquely positioned to contribute, may we embrace the opportunity to ask different questions and hold ourselves accountable for what we choose to say and do next. Consider how we might respond to crisis without being reactive; engage in transformation without getting entangled; and transcend ugly realities without becoming detached.

A turning point is only an invitation. It’s up to us to determine how we make the turn to change our trajectory.

Future Architect and Founder of the Guild of Future Architects

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