We’ve Inherited This Mess…Now, How Do We Move Forward?
Why Investigating Our Inheritance is So Important in a Time of Crisis
Right now you may be caught between trying to make your business work virtually, figuring out how to homeschool your kids, support essential workers in your community, keep your elderly relatives safe and healthy, or simply trying to stay active and healthy at home. Most of us are struggling to figure out how to keep things afloat each day. We are all doing our part to learn new skills and new ways of doing things to meet the challenges of this coronavirus pandemic. On a visceral level, we understand that the actions we take in this current moment will set a precedent for years to come.
In the face of rapid change and tremendous uncertainty about the future, why on earth would we divert any energy to contemplate the past?
If we look back at history, we can see how global crises represent irrevocable turning points.
Crises create tectonic shifts in our models, structures, world-views and systems of organization. The devastation of World War II gave birth to the United Nations, the modern nation-states and global economic systems that, for the most part, are still with us today. The dissolution of the old way leaves us the opportunity to decide, “What kind of future can we create out of the ashes of this destruction?”. However, before we rush into, “Where do we go from here?”, we have to understand, “How did we get here in the first place?”
The Inheritance Project is founded on the principle that in order to consciously choose our future, we must first understand our past.
The old adage “history repeats itself” only rings true if we refuse to learn the lessons history can teach us. Everyone, especially those of us who are leaders, has a responsibility to look back before moving ahead. We must understand the systems and structures that created this crisis if we hope to avoid reproducing them. Crises leave indelible marks on us individually and collectively, often not for the better.
There is a growing body of research that explains how trauma is passed down genetically from generation to generation, most notably through studies of holocaust survivors. Traumatic experiences create epigenetic changes in our DNA. This is a survival strategy, a way of preparing future generations to face and overcome a similar threat. We carry the traumatic experiences of our ancestors in our genes. The stress and malnutrition my grandmother experienced during WWII in occupied Singapore was passed on to my mother, which, in some way, primes her to anticipate further traumatic experiences of malnutrition. While these unconscious mechanisms make biological sense, our conscious minds may well ask the question: Do we want to be in a state of perpetual preparedness- for the next holocaust, the next war, the next pandemic, or the next crisis?
From my work as a business consultant, I know that the most successful organizations are not those in a constant state of fire fighting or “crisis management”. On a less extreme level, I regularly encounter organizations with convoluted technology, processes and operating systems, inherited from past eras. First created as a workaround to some problem or another, these systems ended up sticking around long after the original problem was gone. Nevertheless, changing deeply ingrained, inherited ways of operating can be challenging, especially when faced with managers stuck in a, “That’s just the way things have always been done” mindset. We are now faced with a situation where “the ways things have always been done” is no longer an option. We are being forcefully unstuck and no longer have the luxury to resist change. Change is happening, whether we like it or not. We have the choice to decide: What will we create in response? What adaptations will we pass on to future generations?
If trauma can be inherited, then so can healing. Positive developmental experiences also have the power to create epigenetic shifts. Conscious changes can also be encoded and passed down to future generations. My mother’s intentional, nourishing diet during her pregnancy with me could well have reversed the legacy of malnutrition in my DNA. At work, we can change our technology, processes and systems to make life easier for those who come after us and prepare our organizations for the future.
Often, however, these attempts to make things better do not. Our interventions may leave us with more problems — their utility quickly outstripped by growth and the demands of the present. We find we have created something new, but have still unknowingly repeated the mistakes of the past. To create truly positive changes that prepare the ground for future growth and prosperity, we have to look much deeper than the surface. If we only address systems, structures, policies and processes, we may be unconsciously passing on the values, stories and beliefs that created this crisis in the first place.
This moment is an invitation. You are being invited into a journey of radical inquiry. What are the deeply held individual and collective values, stories and beliefs that created this crisis? Why are so many organizations and individuals left vulnerable to sickness and economic devastation? How did you suddenly find yourself in a swirl of anxiety, negativity and uncertainty?
We must look deep within to discover and explore these patterns on an individual and collective level. Through critical investigation and analysis of our past, we have a chance to consciously transform all the parts of it that no longer serve us and pass on something better. Our inheritance holds the key to our evolution into a more beautiful future.
By Mallory Combemale, the Co-Founder & Chief Strategist of the Inheritance Project. We are an educational platform and consultancy that guides individuals and organizations to unpack their inheritance in order to consciously create their future. Begin your journey by exploring your unique individual inheritance using our Free Online Workbook.
P.S. Read this Charles Eisenstein article for an excellent critical analysis on the roots of our current situation and the collective choices we have ahead of us.
P.P.S. Read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk for the science behind how trauma affects our brain and nervous system, as well as the many paths to healing.