I have a dream.
It started after working at the Boys & Girls Clubs, and seeing what was possible when you pull people together in safe places. I saw how high standards for behavior help kids overcome their personal problems and develop in positive ways. Our tagline was “a safe place for kids” and that was exactly our primary mission: ensure that any child, regardless of their background or challenges, had a place to feel safe and thrive.
And it wasn’t just about the kids. The staff, parents, volunteers, and even board members were all changed because of being in that place. That safe, fair, inspiring place.
At the clubs, we addressed all the problems that kids would end up facing later in life: interpersonal conflicts, cheating, enforcing punishments, and not taking care of things.
We also applied the best solutions known to humanity. We talked about values: respect, responsibility, and integrity. We engaged our kids in restoring justice when they caused harm, and we inspired our kids to be bold when they were ready for a challenge.
My dream evolved after years in the Peace Corps and working at a science museum, where I created the popular program Adult Nights. There, I started envisioning monthly church-like celebrations that featured TED talks and had food trucks and music afterward. I listened to Ted talks like Atheism 2.0, which discussed the many positive aspects of organized religion, and I became very excited.
But it was after I became Vegan that my dream became much more focused. I’ve seen the power of a values-based community by organizing a Vegan Meetup group. I also feel strongly that there is more to this belief than just animals, it’s a lifestyle and an attitude about how to go about making a difference in the world, and proof positive that people do change their beliefs and behaviors.
Today, I want to share this dream with you and ask for your help in making it come true.
People are struggling. It’s not a liberal/conservative thing, nor is it a young/old thing. It’s not a religious/scientific thing, nor is it a good/evil thing. But there certainly is a thing: a problem. The behaviors and systems that cause so much suffering are core problems for us all.
Why do we have core problems? In any version of an answer to this question, we attempt to describe a frustrating conflict we are in the middle of, between two versions of ourselves; the survival-focused animal, and the justice-aware human.
We treat each other badly and treat ourselves worse. It’s through messages of values that we talk about these problems. When we finally do talk, we usually all agree that we should have respect, maintain integrity, take responsibility, and show compassion.
Values help us identify and deal with our complex emotions, and the influence we must exert over our inner animals. They help us navigate to our desired destination through the torrent of life storms by focusing our attention on how we are behaving poorly and how we can do better.
The Need for Villages
For millennia, humans lived in small groups. It was in these villages of 50 to 200 people that our highly complex language and cultural practices evolved, fine-tuning emotions like disgust, anger, happiness, surprise, and fear to maximize survival and maintain group cohesion.
Today, things are different. These same emotions now are triggered by events never experienced by our ancestors. And, terrifyingly, these emotions drive us to actions that hurt us, and others, with no advantage to survival. During this last age of our evolution, our survival emotions now cause more harm than good and are now working against our collective survival.
Religion and churches attempt to address this problem. Within towns and cities of thousands and millions, they create small villages of people who know and help each other with the emotional journey of their lives. But these kinds of communities are waning, largely due to their lack of understanding of emotions themselves, covered up with supernatural stories and useless fictions such as free will and sin.
We are in desperate need for a return to the emotional balance village life, only with respect to our modern challenges, and with a grounded, scientific approach.
The Opportunity – Meetup style
What is happening on platforms like Meetup is a step in this direction. As an organizer for a meetup of more than 1,000 members and regular events, I can attest to the appetite people have for organized activities to meet others and have fun. The most active groups are communities where people build friendships which extend far outside the group.
Meetup is now an important platform for a lot of people because people everywhere are looking for places to connect meaningfully with others.
But it’s not just about having fun and making friends. We also want to talk about important issues. We want to make a positive impact. We want to get more organized, but we also want to have fun in the process.
That’s why I want to rebuild the village. I want to take all the good ideas we can glean from organized religions, like singing and sharing wisdom and supporting each other, and forgiving, and traveling, helping the less fortunate, and create something entirely new, together.
Let’s build a safe place for Humans-in-progress. Let’s help each other wake up and take ownership of our role in moving toward a healthier, more aware, connected, and active versions of ourselves.
The next step involves making a commitment. With enough of us committed, we can show the kind of leadership that so many people are craving today.
Let’s bring back the village!