The Great Awakening of the 21st Century

Our society seems to have taken a turn in its interests, focusing more on mind and less on matter. With websites like Luminosity, apps like Headspace, celebrity-status monks like Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama, the substantial rise in organic food products and vegetarian/vegan consumers, advocacy of cruelty-free products, and the ever-increasing popularity of Eastern practices such as meditation and yoga — it is obvious that something has sparked a change in our society. Has American culture single-handedly taken a turn to become a more mindfully-driven and intuitively-inclined society? This change can be observed globally as major political events are continuously breaking out in several different countries. The controversial travel ban and the surging anti-government protests, both domestically and internationally, serve as proof that whatever sparked this change in American culture has also ignited a global fire.

What is the source of this spark that has led to so many conscientious movements? What fueled this resurrection of a mindful civilization? The answer to this mystery lies in Darwin’s theory of altruism. Based on this theory, the more we evolve, the more altruistic we become. Altruism refers to behavior by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the actor. It is the practice of selfless concern for the well-being of others to create pro-social and interconnected community.

Compassion is the main prerequisite for altruism. According to developmental psychologist, Dr. Arthur Jersild,

“Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity. It is through compassion that a person achieves the highest peak and deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment.”

To care for anyone else enough to make their problems one’s own, is ever the beginning of one’s real ethical development.

I believe that we are on the brink of a global movement as more of our youth strive to possess the qualities of a 21st century world citizen — such as mindfulness, awareness, compassion, and altruism. We are all interdependent. We need world citizens because no one nation can solve world problems, whether they be global warming, terrorism or pandemics.

I was once told that you have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. This remark still echoes on to this day.

Because ultimately, what we do now echoes in eternity.

***This article was revised from the essay originally written in February 2014 for the “Mark M. Welter World Citizen Award” Scholarship, promoting recognition of students in the Minnesota State College and Universities system who exemplify the thoughts, words and actions demanded by a 21st century world citizen. Several months after this was written, I started my non-profit organization, BeCompassionate, Inc.