To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, world leaders gathered in remembrance and global mindfulness. This exercise is not just a show of respect and solidarity for all the victims of World War II, but more critically, it is a demonstration of how mindfulness can positively affect our chronic, historic stress and our sense of community.

Remembering the damage done

After World War I, traumatized Germany was seduced into a mindless narrative of paranoia, scapegoating, and rage to mobilize tribal warfare. The collective shame over losing the Great War provoked another one out of disenfranchisement and revenge.

The brain sees the world as a zero-sum game: survive or perish. When survival hormones hijack the stressed-out brain, it becomes extremely difficult to keep our mindful, self-regulating identity. Normalizing a narrative of fear, anger, and confusion alters the brain’s perception of what is safe versus what is dangerous, resulting in our self-perception as victims. As a consequence, “us against them” feels correct, and blame is key to continuing this narrative. We become hostages of a perpetual victim script.

Survival at any cost is hardwired, so it becomes easy to rationalize and minimize any destructive behaviors that promote “winning.” When groups, tribes, and cultures bond with this emotional distortion of reality, we see collective denial, racism, subjugation, and dehumanization.

The two World Wars are extreme examples of what chronic stress and global burnout can do to us. And it’s important to remember that the biological possibility of cultural burnout is present with every new generation of human beings. Stressed-out brains become self-sabotaging. When cultures cascade into collective burnout, driven by present-day stressors and amplified by phantom stressors from the past, we can literally relapse into a cycle of addictive, self-destructive behavior.

The tipping point

We are at a cultural tipping point that is actively triggering global stress. We stress over contamination of our ecosystem, gender bias, economic disparity, unregulated cyber security, nuclear holocaust, nationalism, religious Armageddon…and the list goes on. There is even a Doomsday Clock.

Since prehistoric times, we see our world as eternally renewable. Our sense of entitlement has made us oblivious to the role we have played as architects of clear and present stressors. In the name of tribal, national, or international security, we have allowed greed—for money, power, and resources—to fuel the very conflicts that incite our fear, anger, confusion.

In the last century, it is the potential for nuclear war that awakened us to a simple fact: nothing lasts forever, including Mother Earth’s finite resources. Our greed and mindless acceptance of “us versus them” will destroy our planet and ourselves.

But we can choose differently. We can choose to change ourselves, our attitudes, and behaviors so that we are more mindful and take better care of the Earth and our communities. We can choose humility and empathy so that we live in thriving societies that support all of us, rather than just a chosen, wealthy few. We can choose to monitor ourselves with an eye toward managing our resources responsibly and sustainably.

The existential threats that we all face sparks the need for species tribalism, or a coherent experience of identification with others. Acceptance of our shared biology, genes, and emotional need for security shall pave the way toward a shared narrative of survival and sustainability. The time to put dreams and hopes and possibilities into action is now.

The new priority

Once the individual brain is in burnout and the self-sabotaging circuits are on, anger, fear, and confusion dominate behavior. Anger in action awakens the beast within. When voices in leadership validate and direct this anger toward destructive behavior, the perpetual victim script is activated, and chaos ensues.

To challenge the emergence of angry, power-hungry leadership around the world, a bottom-up stream of Global Mind—more widespread, mindful self-regulation—can create new narratives of cooperation and creative problem-solving. We cannot expect our present leaders to be the only mindful, compassionate agents for social change, nor can we even expect that they will take up that role. We must change our perceptions, beginning with the acceptance that we are all members of the same tribe and must take our membership seriously.

Once we have achieved a Global Mind, we will remember the damage we have done. This will be difficult and painful, but self-reflection is an important component to the Global Mind concept. Reflection reveals lessons and choices. Do we keep repeating the cultural patterns of competition and domination?  Or do we invent a new way to be human starting now in the 21st century?

Without a shared humanistic purpose, we will simply repeat the patterns that promote an “us versus them” narrative until we are extinct. Focusing on the creation of Global Mind must become a priority—one brain/mind at a time, one tweet at a time, and one conversation at a time, until the discourse is a habit and a social movement.

Edited by Nisha Kulkarni [email protected]