|Steve Nation on These Times
On Obama, Magic and Magicians
Right now, in these final weeks of 2008, a remarkable wind of hope and vision blows through the human community. This is a time of rare opportunity and intelligent hope. On the one hand we have all the energy released through the fresh spirit promised by a forthcoming Obama presidency in the US. This comes at a time when global thinking about the need for a redefinition of economics and of the flows of money, energy and resources has been prompted by the climate crisis in conjunction with a collapse of financial systems. And, something that seems not to be so strong in our awareness, it comes at a time when the visionary agenda of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) awaits renewed focus and centrality in international affairs.
It is the coalescing of these circumstances that seems to me to be what makes this a special time in our shared history. Moments like these do not happen often, yet when they do there can be significant changes of direction. Something similar happened in the recent past with the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev in the former Soviet Union and his visionary message of glasnost, which swept through the world (not just through the Soviet bloc) and was accompanied by the equally dramatic ending of apartheid in South Africa and emergence of Nelson Mandela as a global figure of enormous Aquarian potency.
The ending of the Cold War was a key element in the changes that swept through the United Nations in the 1990’s with the great global conferences on Sustainable Development, Population, Women, Social Development and Human Settlements (Habitat). These conferences, as much as anything, set the agenda for global thinking around deeply significant principles of synthesis, oneness and the rights and responsibilities of the human being. They led to the visionary Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – 8 achievable goals towards a more just and equitable world that leaders promised to achieve through cooperation by the year 2015.
Now we enter a new period of Aquarian vision and hope. Barack Obama provides a wonderful vehicle – an archetypal leader. In his life story and his approach to politics, as well as in his openly loving relationship with his wife and children, Obama clearly brings the incoming Aquarian energies to focus.
I like to think of Obama as a leader in terms of the archetype of the magician – meaning the one who is able to bring together into a coherent synthesis spirit and matter. The magician as executive works with groups to build outer structures that reflect something of the inner motivating spirit and purpose of the organization. The magician in government enables some aspect of the spirit of the age to infuse the culture of a people, and the social structures. A period of order emerges out of what may previously have appeared to be a chaotic and disordered system – in other words a system in transition takes a significant step forwards towards the New.
During the Reagan / Thatcher years when there was a massive transfer of resources and power to private capital, we saw a wave of ‘petty-magicians’, those who have been referred to as ‘sorcerers apprentices’, emerging in dominant management positions in a vast array of institutions – hospitals, schools, universities, as well as businesses large and small, and government. There was a new ‘order’ sweeping through the world, leading to such false notions as ‘the end of history’. Yet the smallness of the magic and of the magicians was their focus on ‘bottom line’ economics and short-term profits. Some magic was clearly done (bringing a particular understanding of the ‘free’ market into expression through institutions and much of society). But this magic was ‘small’ and ‘mean’.
True magicians in leadership roles empower the deep purposes of an institution – with apparent ease they are able to facilitate a system-wide atmosphere of purpose and concern and efficient fulfillment of the mission of the organization. Individuals are empowered to give of their best to the good of the whole in such a system – and the economics works. Magicians help to release the creativity and natural wealth of the people in an organization – and they are able to do it through hard work, but also through simply being who they are.
This it seems to me is the Obama spirit. Through the campaign period he was able to release an atmosphere of hope and intelligent belief in future possibilities, particularly amongst young people, up until now largely disaffected and dispirited young people – not just in the US but also around the world. It is this atmosphere that brings a new spirit to community affairs. Everything about his approach to government speaks of the magician – bringing together people from different opinions to address common problems; giving substantive expression to the unity in diversity paradigm; speaking with authority and detachment about long-term goals and direction while handling immediate short-term issues without emotion; always seeking to engage the will of the people and to foster a positive sense of the future that is intelligent and desirable. His plans for a vast public works program in the US and for large-scale investment in green technology represent a massive change in the direction of the economic life of the nation. And in global affairs there is the hope that his understanding of dialogue and cooperation will stimulate a new spirit in UN affairs and, hopefully, a fresh impetus to the MDG agenda.
As I write the Climate Change conference, negotiating what will be a new global Climate Change Treaty in December 2009, is underway in Poznan, Poland. If there is to be some shared approach to a new low carbon economic system – and this is needed if we are to respond with sufficient dynamism to the challenges of climate change – then Obama’s leadership, and his administration’s sense of will and purpose in this area, will be crucial. The possibility of strong global leadership on climate and the MDGs from both an Obama-led US and a Gordon Brown-led UK seems to me to be one of the most exciting possibilities inherent in this present period. Gordon Brown, whatever the criticisms of him within the UK, is the most dedicated leader on the world stage pushing the agendas for climate change and the MDGs. He has had a personal commitment to these issues and has wide experience in international negotiations on finance, aid and development issues going through his long period as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Tony Blair government. Hillary Clinton offers a similarly exciting prospect as a strong negotiator on key global issues with a sense of enlightened purpose.
David Spangler makes an interesting point about Obama as an embodiment of a twenty-first century myth of the community organizer. In a recent essay he writes of the need for human beings to feel themselves part of the earth community: to learn to think like a planet in order to heal and nurture a planet. … The planet does not offer us challenges to be overcome to prove our worth or individuality; it presents us with a community to understand, a community with disparate needs and identities that are nonetheless intertwined in mutual dependencies. This leads Spangler to the image of the myth of the community organizer.
… here in the United States we have just elected a man whose background is that of being just such a community organizer, a person who enables the various factions and elements of a community to come together and work together in common cause. It's possible, of course, to write any meaning we wish into any event in our world, and there are many meanings we can ascribe to the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency. But I do believe that his past as a community organizer resonates to the need of our time and to the emergence of a new myth. His election points to a new narrative about the kind of people we need to become, people who can build community in spite of differences, people who can honor individuality and still build a wholeness together.
This is the magic that Obama has the possibility of acting as a conduit for – imagine the spirit of the community organizer being empowered not just in the US but also throughout the world. Imagine … that is the thing … to support positive future possibilities by the way we think about the future, and by the way this affects our own lives and our sense of purpose.
One last thing – there is always the danger of excessive idealism. It is important to enter into this Obama presidency with wide eyes, and not to be expecting that all our personal opinions will be the opinions of the new administration. As magician, a president needs to have a natural, instinctive sense of the art of the possible. There will be policies we don’t agree with – perhaps policies we strongly disagree with – yet as 2009 unfolds we can serve the spirit of hope by focusing on what is true to Aquarius in the Obama presidency and giving our support to this – while still standing up for our beliefs and expressing our opinions.
Steve Nation, a New Zealander, worked for almost 20 years at the London office of World Goodwill and Lucis Trust. Together with his late wife, Jan, he is co-founder of Intuition in Service and the United Nations Days & Years Meditation Initiative. Since 2002 he has coordinated an annual global meditation Vigil for the International Day of Peace. He writes a regular column for the UK journal, Caduceus, and serves on the Board of: Lifebridge Foundation; Lucis Trust; Triangle Center, New Zealand; Darjeeling Goodwill Animal Shelter Trust, India. He is on the Council of the ‘Spiritual Caucus at the United Nations’. Steve now lives in the Hudson Valley, NY, USA with his wife, Barbara Valocore.
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