Reimagining Making a Difference


Beyond Impact to the Ancient Fertile Future

Michael Shaun Conaway
Publishing Editor
June 1st, 2023

My journey down the Nile, into the heart the Egyptian soul.

I have just returned from leading and facilitating a life development and spiritual growth retreat in Egypt, visiting the pyramids of Giza and temples and tombs on the Nile between Luxor and Aswan where I had a startling insight about my work as a generative futurist.

Over the past eight years I have dedicated my life to the emerging movement to re-imagine, and re-create this world to be a place that works for everyone and everything. With my film WeRiseUP I documented how we can shift our global success models from consumption to contribution, from the me to the we. At Boldly YOU we have built courses and meditation programs to help people to discover their gifts and purpose and find ways to make a difference for their communities with big and small projects. I am honored to be a part of the impulse to build a better future for humanity and the planet.

Yet there has been one element of this work that has never felt right to me, which is that we have a tendency to want to fix the world and make a positive impact on issues that we care about.

The problem with fixing things is that our global systems are so complicated that fixing one thing can exacerbate a separate problem across the world. For example, using western style industrial agricultural production in Africa has produced an increase in crop yields providing increased food security for the hungry, yet it is causing great economic damage to the small farmer who could not afford the fertilize and till approach of big ag. A knock on effect was the loss of food diversity and nutrient content of the food produced.

Currently Germany is caught between two forces as they try to green their energy production. On one hand they want to transition away from petroleum based energy production towards sustainable energy. On the other, they are closing nuclear power plants across the country to protect the environment and safeguard against potential future nuclear meltdowns. As a result of these two competing solutions there is really nowhere to turn but to coal which accounts for 30% of their production. Coal is by far the dirtiest fossil fuel that they use to produce power. Two steps forward, five steps back.

We can’t apply linear solutions to complicated problems.

The second element of making the world a better place, is the notion of being or creating a positive impact on the world. At its root level, impact is a word that points to a collision between two objects. A car impacts a wall damaging both the car and the wall. A bomb creates an impact crater. Positive impact would be to use a collision which results in a better state or a better result. Again we are back to a linear approach to problem solving.

Complicated problems require complex solutions.

Complexity is found in nature. Living ecosystems are built of complex chains of symbiotic relationships, where the by-product of one species helps in some way the success of another species. Fixing the environment has often caused more damage than help. This has given rise to the rewilding approach of restoring the environment. Wilderness has its own intelligence. The question is how do we get the wilderness to return when it is wild by nature. The answer is to provide the conditions that allow for the regrowth of the wild.

Could we work to provide certain conditions for civilization that give rise to complex solutions?

The birth of ancient civilization took place in floodplains. The floodplains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in Syria and Iraq, gave rise to Mesopotamia, “the land between the rivers.” The floodplains of the Indus River, in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, gave rise to the Harappan/Indus River Civilization. And the river with the world’s greatest delta, the Nile, produced the ancient Egyptian culture. The floods brought nutrient rich silt and sediment to the soil of the floodplain creating fertile soil for farming.

Human civilization was an emergent creation of the floodplain ecosystem.

Sometimes we forget that they are a part of the ecosystems that we live in. This forgetfulness leads to the simpleminded linear thinking that plagues our approach to making the world a better place.

The ancient Egyptians harbored no such foolishness over the course of their 4000 year time span. They celebrated and honored the fertility that the floods brought to the land. They worked both spiritually and physically to ensure that the floods would bring life and prosperity to the land and their people.

In 1902 modern civilization built the first of 14 dams on the Nile and brought about the end of the floodplain fertility. We conquered the wild unpredictability of the floods and achieved linearity. And lost biodiversity, like the blue lotus that previously had flourished on the Nile. We submerged ancient temples where the Egyptians had carved the blue lotus on the walls. And the Nubian people lost thousands of square kilometers of their homelands between Egypt and Sudan.

Walking through the ancient monuments that the Egyptians built and floating along the Nile, the story of fertility was deeply moving. We are beings that live by the cycles of day and night, flood and drought, life and death. Our place is not outside and above these cycles, like an all knowing deity, but rather inside the rhythm of life.

It’s time for us to set aside the notion that we are the masters of this planet and to return to the wild wisdom of the planet. From now on I am relinquishing my drive to make and impact. Rather I am going to dedicate my life into creating a fertile environment for complex life affirming growth to take the lead.

We can help to usher in a new age of fertility where everyone can contribute to the dance of leaving this planet more fertile for the next generation. And our descendants can do the same for their descendants, generation, after generation. We can gain wisdom on how to support the growth of complex systems solving complicated problems, but to do so we have to give up fixing, give up impact and ultimately give up on our entitlement as a species.

On our last day in Aswan we took a boat to the gate of the old Philae temple. Philae was a temple built for Isis the god of fertility. The temple had been flooded with the building of the Aswan Low Dam in 1906.

Philae Temple Aswan

In 1971 the temple was moved 500 meters to higher ground and reconstructed block by block. The old gate was left to mark the spot where the temple had stood for 2300 years before the flood. I swam reverently through the gate and out into the open water thinking of the blue lotus that we went to visit earlier in the day.

Even though the temple had seen such dramatic changes, and although the blue lotus no longer grew wild on the Nile, I felt happy and hopeful for the future. I sensed Isis, the profound power of fertility, and I knew that the flood would come again, the cycle would be restored and civilization would be reborn on the banks of the Nile.

In the meantime, we’ll be looking for PROOF of a thriving future for humanity.

The Generative Futurist
Editor PROOF

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Proof 49 – Reimagining Making a Difference

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PROOF is a digital magazine published by NOW and the Generative Futures Initiative.  The mission of the magazine is to shine a light on people, organisations and ideas that stand as Proof of a Thriving Future.