Three essential strategies for protecting the future

The future has a higher likelihood of being well off if:
  • you commit to personal responsibility for the wellbeing of the future
  • you take a capacity building approach — instead of jumping into action at lower levels of capacity
  • you take a assessment first approach — instead of choosing the most obvious priorities

About personal responsibility

We take personal responsibility when we say "it is my job to ensure things turn out okay" and taking full blame for what may go wrong along the way. It means that we don't give up on ourselves, even when we fail again and again. Instead, we work harder, and develop wisdom and humility.
Taking responsibility entails being enthusiastic about our determination.
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Taking personal responsibliity is
  • an emotional action — we feel courage and determination in our heart. (fall seven times, stand up eight)
  • an intellectual action — we compare the current state of the world to what we need for long-term survival, and plan backwards from those necessities.
  • a social action — instead of blaming other people or giving up on them, we take interest in practical ways of motivating them to grow.

Taking responsibility begins with developing the strength of our own heart, otherwise it can be too disturbing to think about.

As a social action, taking personal responsibility means that we assign full responsibility to ourselves — even if we think that other people are already carrying the weight of the world's concerns. Even if others may be sharing the weight, we hold ourselves personally responsible for the outcome.

When we take personal responsibility, we think of ourselves as holding up the world (with the support of others). This avoids diffusion of responsibility, in which we assume that somebody else will handle things — which results in nobody holding up the world.

Alternatives to taking responsibility

Why take personal responsibility for the future? I'm not a world leader.” Rebuttal: Waiting for leaders, politicians, powerful people, or anyone else to protect the future will make it less likely to be taken care of.

Politician Nigel Farage dons duck lips of glee after learning that an incumbent's downfall may open up possibilities for his own party.
image credit: The Mirror

This is a politician. His main concern is navigating the political landscape. If he spends too much attention on extraneous issues (such as factors affecting future global catastrophes) he's less likely to last in politics.

"Committing to something smaller (e.g. improving recycling in my city, or better social justice) is more effective. Then I can work my way up from there." Rebuttal: This is dangerous because the opportunity cost of not working on the most vital problems may be fatal — and only skillful assessment can avoid this danger. Also, starting with the small things is inefficient, because the skills you will develop will rarely translate up into the bigger things. If you practice capacity building to be able to deal with the biggest things, then many of those skills will translate down into the smaller issues.

Changing other people can sometimes be helpful, but not when it's a substitute for developing ourselves.

Dedicating myself to the well-being of the future would take too much time and energy away from my own life.” Rebuttal: improving the quality of your own life is actually an important part of capacity building. This includes improving the quality of your relationships, emotions, leisure, and skills — all of these determine your effectiveness. In addition, it makes personal capacity building easier because it happens in a meaningful context.

Another alternative to taking responsibility is to just hope for the best.

People often avoid taking responsibility by thinking:
  • "it hasn't been a problem yet" (or if it has been a problem: "that's the way it is")
  • and often in combination with "it's too late to do anything about it" (such as the proliferation of weapons, climate change, or ecological loss)
Justifications like these prevent us from being useful to the future.

Assessment first

About the importance of assessment: “doing something to help” probably isn't actually helping. It's not the same thing as asking “what's the the absolutely most important problem the future faces, and what is necessary to avert it?” If you can think on that scale, you can make your small efforts add up to a solution. If you can't, they probably won't.
The better our skill at identifying problems, the closer our perception will be to reality.

We often hurry past the first step of problem solving (identifying problems or opportunities). Often the real problems are not the obvious problems, and it takes time and patience to explore this.
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To avoid creating even more problems, it's important to understand complex systems before trying to "fix" them. Something that seems obviously helpful might actually cause damage in another part of the system.

The most difficult part of fixing a complex system can be keeping a well-meaning but hasty individidual from making adjustments.
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Wells and water

A popular example of the consequences of insufficient assessment is the widespread use of wells as a solution to lack of water.

William Kamkwamba built a windmill by decoding English and diagrams in books from his village's library. He generated electricity for uses such as charging cell phones and pumping well water.
image credit:, by Toronto Star
William's TED talks: TED 2007, TED 2009

In addition to many volunteer organisations digging wells for poorer communities, people such as William Kamkwamba (who built windmill-powered well, above, in Africa) became a poster child story of self-sufficiency in the US.

However, there are areas of the world that have been using wells as a solution for a number of decades, and they are running into significant problems.

Natwarghad, Gujarat, India June 2003
image credit: Amit Dave, Reuters

In northern India, the water table has dropped so far that only a few well owners can afford to keep digging deeper... and they're dredging up salty water from the time of the dinosaurs. Grain harvests in some regions of the world, such as India and Yemen, are beginning to fall due to groundwater depletion.

If the well-meaning people had done a thorough assessment before trying to help these villagers with their water problems, they could have developed long-term solutions instead of quick fixes that dried up the landscape and made some farms too salty to use.

Situation awareness

Assessment improves our ability to see where we are going. Speed can be dangerous or useful... and this depends upon our ability to navigate the landscape.

Some activities, such as texting while driving, constitute a sort of anti-assessment: they serve to reduce our awareness of the situation.
image credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The assessment first principle is seen as triage in the medical field: before patients receive attention, the seriousness of all patients' injuries are assessed, so that the life-threatening injuries can be treated before minor injuries.

Without triage, medical attention could be wasted on a minor case (or a hopeless case) instead of on a patient whose life could be saved if they received immediate help. Triage reduces these tragic mistakes.
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Capacity building

Capacity building refers to improving the ability of an individual or community to handle issues.
When demands exceed our capacity, then the extra stuff overflows — the bigger the cup, the more it can hold.

A classic example of capacity building is education. A newborn child must learn everything, even how to breast feed*. By the time a child is 20, and received the educational support of family, community, friends, and teachers, they have enough capacity to participate in society and handle most everyday demands.

Education that improves general competence — such as language, information literacy, world-knowledge, and social skills — helps a society becomes more likely to perceive and engage with threats to its future, and to care about neighbouring societies and the natural world.

If our capacity for a task is small, then it takes a lot of time to reach a larger goal.

image credit: BBC

Through personal capacity building, we can shorten the amount of time it takes us to reach a goal.

image credit: Francis Irving, during his 2002 trip to Ghana

But personal capacity building can only go so far. Instead of improving our capacity to carry water, it would be better to improve our capacity to build an aqueduct. This is a shift from personal capacity building to societal capacity building. It's normal to get frustrated with society and to think "I'll just do it myself," but it is only through societal capacity building that the difficult becomes automatic (such as getting water in the desert) or the impossible becomes possible (such as being able to reduce risks to future generations faster than we increase risks).

The ancient Nabataeans built clever cities in the desert that harvested and stored rain and dew. Their secret networks of aqueducts and resevoirs prevented visitors from guessing the source of their water. (Most of the bricks that once hid this little aqueduct have been lost.)
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The capacity building strategy applies not only to building capacity, but to protecting existing capacity. For example, bullying in schools or workplaces can significantly harm both the victim's capacity and the organisation's capacity.

By standing up for victims and supporting them, we can protect that capacity.

Another important component of social capacity is the ability of different groups to get along with each other. When communities fight each other instead of supporting each other, not only do they harm themselves, but they are no longer useful to the social and natural environment in which they exist.

Note that we need the personal responsibility strategy to avoid a situation in which we blame other parties for their lack of caring, instead of developing our own capacity to forgive and resolve conflicts. You don't need the other party's cooperation or approval to develop your own capacity.

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Combining the three strategies

When we think about the various risks facing the world, it's easy to get caught up in what they actually are. For some reason, we have a pathological tendency to get obsessed with specific dangers — when the real thing we should be worrying about is “how accurate are our systems for quantifying and prioritising these dangers?” As a rule, the more dangerous something is, the harder it is to worry about (until it looms immediately over you). For example, it's easier to be worried about deaths from terrorism or murder than deaths from smoking... easier to be worried about deaths from Ebola than deaths from lack of exercise... and easier to be worried about cancer than climate change and resource loss.

Unfortunately, even if we had superb methods to assess and prioritise dangers, focusing on the dangers themselves still wouldn't be important. Why? We simply don't have the capacity to deal with them, either collectively or as individuals.

That means that capacity building is far more important than any specific danger... and that spending time away from capacity building is itself a dangerous thing to do.

The combination — taking personal responsibility for the future's wellbeing, and taking the route of capacity building — is much more sensible than picking a random problem or solution and just going with it. Why? Because we can waste a lot of time if we just pick a problem and try to solve it. But if we improve our capacity (both our own and society's) to deal with problems in general, then not only are we more likely to make actual progress, but we're more likely to pick the problems that matter most.

...and what a wonderfully happy thing it is to have the courage to sincerely care.

What you can do next

If you want to protect the future, here are some suggestions:
  • develop your ability to care
  • develop your ability to assess the entire global situation without getting emotionally distracted into specific hopes or fears — until you can calmly think about the whole picture, and what our practical options are in the near future
  • reconsider everything in your life: how does it help make you more useful to protecting your future? How can you simplify and improve your life to make it more nourishing?
  • develop the skills to empower yourself and those around you
  • use outside support to help you stay on track, such as an accountability partner, a community, or a mentor

How chiranet fits into this

Because things are changing so fast (each day that passes is significant in this micro-period in history), in order to make your time count, the best bet would be to:
  • "check yourself in" to a responsibility program (chiranet is building one)
  • this program helps you make sure that you are spending your time in the most efficient way possible to protect the future
  • it gives you support (emotional, educational, administrative, mentoring, etc.) to reduce wasted time and effort and to keep you on the most efficient path of rapid capacity building in:
    • heart (the capacity for taking personal responsibility): the strength of your heart and your dedication to protect the future (through many methods, including developing your emotional, social, and ethical abilities)
    • comprehension (the capacity for assessment first): your ability to assess the total state of the world today and to identify the world's most valuable assets and most serious risks
    • capacity building: to hasten your own development, as well as improving the capacity of society

Chiranet is building interactive courses and a community to help you do all of the above.