The Healing Century

by Robert Theobald, 1998
Introduction by Bob Stilger, 2008

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Robert Theobald and I met in the late sixties. He was a noted social commentator. I was a brash young college student. He became one of my closest friends and colleagues for the next thirty years. In 1997, Robert was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and came to live in Spokane with my family to complete his life and work. Shortly after having his esophagus removed at the end of 1997, he wrote “The Healing Century” as a speech for the Ontario Arts Council. Ten years later, his analysis of where we need to be paying attention is still uncannily accurate.

For the next two years, until he died at the end of 1999, Robert and I worked under the banner of Resilient Communities. We believed that beneath the fervor about Y2K there were actually critical questions being asked about how to make our communities and our lives resilient enough to navigate the rapids of change. Similar questions about community resilience are at the core of Berkana’s current work.

While the commentary Robert offered ten years ago in The Healing Century remains largely accurate, what Robert could not have foretold was all that has happened over these years. People, all over the world, engaged in making communities and lives that work are finding each other. Ten years ago, World Café was a way to host conversation known only to a handful of people. The Art of Hosting wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eyes. Pioneers of Change was a seed ready to be grown. Shambhala Authentic Leadership Institute was a dream long held by a small group of people. The Leadership Learning Centers that Berkana currently works with around the world were in many different stages of formation and certainly not yet in relationship with each other.

I think Robert would see this all with a twinkle in his eye and with hope for the future.

The Healing Century

Despite the widespread frustrations of our time, I believe that we can and must live with hope. We are capable of making a profound positive shift in our thinking over the next few years. The heart of this shift would be for us to conceptualize the 21st century as the healing century just as the 20th will certainly be defined in the future as the economic and technological century. Only a change toward a more caring and compassionate culture at all levels from the personal to the ecological can avoid massive breakdowns.

I am all too well aware, however, that the message of hope I intend to send will only be welcome to those who are aware that the current directions of the global culture are unacceptable and unsustainable. If you still believe that our current commitment to maximum economic growth and international competitiveness, based on ever-increasing technological competence, will solve our problems then my message will seem pessimistic and, indeed, highly negative.

We currently face a series of unavoidable crises which are already visible to those who care to look beyond the dominant headlines. These crises are due to our past successes rather than our failures. We have achieved what we wanted to. We have so far failed to recognize that it is now time to move on and to seize the new opportunities which are currently available to us. We urgently need to rework our concepts of success.

I shall start with the economic, social, environmental, moral and spiritual crises of our time. I shall show that there must be profound shifts if we are to avoid the breakdowns that threaten our future.

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