I posed these questions in my keynote address to the annual conference of the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand recently, in the context of the conference theme of New Horizons:

What if the way in which we have sought to resolve difficult disputes historically and still do generally is not conducive to effective resolution of problems: whether personal, local, national, global?

What if the way we have done and still do politics is not effective in dealing with the big issues of the day?

What if the distribution of capital and income, wealth, in our societies, is so unbalanced that it risks our economic futures and overall security?

What if our general approach to equality, to justice, to rights, is seriously flawed and based on the wrong model and wrong ways of thinking?

What if, throughout the world, people are tired of having things done to them rather than with them?

What if, as Jeffrey Rifkin suggests, we are approaching the eclipse of capitalism and a new age of near zero marginal cost economics?

What if there is a significant likelihood that our species is facing its own extinction?

What if environmental degradation, pollution of the oceans, soil erosion, adverse changes in climate, are really as bad as 90% or more of what the world’s scientists say? What if we really are, as we are being told by credible voices, already well into the sixth mass extinction of species on the planet?

What if more than 50% of global carbon reserves need to remain unextracted to have any hope of limiting increased carbon emissions to the maximum 2% to ensure a sustainable future? What if large parts of our capitalist economic model and future shareholder value and pension funding depends on extraction of that 50%? Indeed, what if our economic system and our planetary system are now effectively at war?

What if mass migration will become the norm and what we see now is just the beginning of decades of movement of displaced people to places of perceived plenty?

What if our conventional, binary, right/wrong, black/white approach to resolving our differences is insufficient to deal with the realities of modern existence? Indeed what if it is conducive to species failure?

What if we are close to the point of no return?

Much more mundanely, what if the way we handle many of our own day to day conflicts is unnecessarily and disproportionately costly in time and money, detrimental to wellbeing and damaging to relationships?

What if….we need to change our approach to how we work together in order to survive? 

These are all hypotheticals of course. But, for an increasing number of people, there is only one response to these questions. And that is this: things are not as they should be, not as they need to be in the future, indeed not as they need to be right now

So: What should we do about any of this? The only real question is what are we going to do about it? Or more properly, will we do anything about it? If we accept these are significant risks (they don’t need to be certainties, just really significant risks), what will we do?

We need to act, to do something different. To change, to shift the paradigms….

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