Last time I examined the symbols of the 9-11 terrorist attack from a symbolic and psychological perspective. Is this just so much airy-fairy hooey, or is it reasonable to consider that tragic event a portent of things to come in ourselves and the world? Are our most revered institutions not only endangered, but crumbling like the twin towers because of humanity’s ego-centric, upward-striving, linear mindset? Are we being challenged to expand our thinking and adapt to a very different world than any that has ever existed before?
Let’s look at some facts. Since 9-11, long-term financial institutions like Wachovia, Lehman Brothers, and Washington Mutual have gone bankrupt. The stock market crash of 2008 and the ensuing worldwide recession has caused significant declines in retirement portfolios, some of the largest decreases in the history of the Dow-Jones average, the failure of long-respected major corporations like General Motors, and the second highest unemployment rate since 1948.
Change is also underway in organized religion. In 1975 a Gallup poll showed that 68 percent of Americans had a great deal of confidence in the church. That began to change in the mid- to late 1980s when confidence in organized religion first fell below 60%, possibly because of scandals involving televangelist preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. By 2001, our confidence in religion had returned to 60%, but when charges of widespread child molestation by Catholic priests and cover-ups by some in the church were revealed the following year, it dropped to 45%. Today it stands at 44%.
In college and professional sports, too, hierarchical structures are tumbling down. Just this year Penn States’s football program was severely damaged by the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and last month the world of professional cycling was rocked by revelations of illegal drug use, most notably by superstar Lance Armstrong. Both programs also saw cover-ups at the highest levels.
Finally, education and the media are likewise losing our trust. In fact, the latest results from Gallup’s June 7-10 update of its annual “Confidence in Institutions” question show that Americans’ confidence in public schools, banks, and television news is at its all-time lowest.
Politicians misuse these facts by blaming the opposite party in hopes of winning the next election instead of recognizing that both sides contain men and women with the same psychological characteristics. These are a dominant ego whose highest priority is to bolster its self-image with power and acclaim; a powerful resistance to seeing our own shadows or opening to perspectives different from our own; a strong bias against otherness; and willful blindness to the true cause of our problems: our own psychological ignorance and immaturity.
Nobody knows for certain if these trends point to a temporary pendulum swing or permanent changes in our thinking. But what I do know is that over the years my awareness has, like collective awareness, continued to expand beyond limiting perspectives once considered sacrosanct. Rigid and frightened egos will always respond to changing circumstances by burying their heads deeper in the sand, but the healthier and more flexible among us will recognize the signs and take steps to replace inadequate systems, including the habitual functioning of our brains, with new ones that promote greater compassion, peace, prosperity, health and healing for all.