Evolution’s Rewards

The umbrella opportunity, present in every event we encounter, is that of deepening our ability to respond well to any circumstance, no matter what it is.

Steve Roberts black ink drawing: fancy shoe and sock walking on bed of hearts

Some number of generations from now, teenagers will be able to address challenges like those facing Roger Goodell far better than he has to-date.

What if you were in Roger Goodell’s shoes today?  I mean besides making 40 million a year.  A few imaginary steps in his wingtips can be a gold mine of learning for those of us who aspire to be a healing force in the world, helping to develop good answers to essential questions, such as: How do we manage stuff well? 

Mr. Goodell, as commissioner of the National Football League, enjoys a rare opportunity to serve the human family, fans and otherwise, by helping his organization be a benchmark of what it means to make heathy choices.

What creates this opportunity are two increasingly visible and sensitive issues with far reaching reverberation:

  • The first, systemic to football but hardly limited to it, is long-term, irreparable, “occupational” debility––in this case brain damage exhibited by what seems to be a growing number of former players.
  • The second, perhaps more prevalent among professional football players than the general population but surely not confined to them, is person-on-person violence––such as punching your girlfriend unconscious, or punishing your four year-old by beating him with a tree branch until he bleeds.

Like all painful situations, these are about more than the obvious, as much as brain trauma, domestic violence and society’s answer to them deserve our uncompromising attention.  The umbrella opportunity, present in every event we encounter, is that of deepening our ability to respond well to any circumstance, no matter what it is.  By well I mean with kindness, compassion and understanding.  Leadership, at its best, is nurturing this capability in those we serve…primarily by nurturing it in ourselves.  That’s why such leadership is so tough.

Viewing human evolution through the window of, say, the past 2000 years, the damage we presently inflict on one another has never been greater it would seem.  The reason isn’t that we’re bigger morons than ever before.  Quite the opposite.  Our capacity for self-examination is perpetually expanding.  We are increasingly mindful of the choices we make, why we make them and the impact of those choices on ourselves and others.  Which doesn’t mean we’re good at it; just improving.  A few thousand years from now we’ll be damn near saints by comparison, though spaceship Earth may no longer be the preferred in-the-flesh address of us Homo sapiens.  And in that possibility is the rub.  Today’s carnage stems from the imbalance between our tremendous facility for discovering the laws of the physical universe (a mere 500 years ago it was a “scientific fact” that the earth was flat, making it both fun and humbling to speculate what sacred belief we hold today that we’ll soon discover is hooey) and our less-tremendous facility to use those discoveries with compassion (e.g., to deepen our understanding of all we have in common with one another).  Immature harmony of mind and heart, you might say.

Yet because, over the centuries, that imbalance is shifting, harmony increasing, some number of generations from now teenagers will be able to address challenges like those facing Mr. Goodell far better than he has to-date.

We needn’t review the particulars of these challenges and Mr. Goodell’s management of them: they are amply documented elsewhere.  Noteworthy for our purpose is but a single statement by him that captures the fundamental perspective he represents that those youngsters of the future will turn on its head.  His number one consideration, he has said, is to “protect the shield.”  By this he means the identity of the NFL––its logo being a shield.

Consider the difference between a commitment to “protect the shield” and one to be a role model of healthy choices useful to the entire human family.  That’s the difference future teens will represent.  The difference between the compulsion to be safe and the passion to serve.  The difference between preserving the familiar and embracing the unknown that exists on the frontier of human evolution.  The difference, in essence, between fear and love.

And these future kids will look at life this way because their elders, you and me some number of incarnations from now, will have grown wise enough to, among other things, make an integral part of their life––right up there with reading, communicating and arithmetic, if you can believe it––the life-long exploration of a single question:

How would you know a healthy person if you saw one?

Continually deepening our answers to that question will naturally lead us to the practices essential to nurturing such health.  Not only that, it will help us address the question’s many offspring, such as:

How would you know a healthy response to this situation if you saw one?

If our collective national consciousness had been engaged for generations in the persistent application of these questions, imagine our governmental response to 9/11, or climate change, or.…  Imagine how any individual or institution might define their life’s purpose, and thus the strategies and tactics to achieve it.  And imagine those teenagers, in their own shoes, guiding the NFL’s role in the world, including its approach to domestic violence and the reality that football, from pro to peewee, is among those endeavors that can permanently scramble brains.


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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth