Finding the stories of our citizen future – and building on them

This morning, I read a wonderful article from BBC Future.

“The challenge is not that the citizen future is difficult to find or complicated to articulate,” it says. “It is simple, rooted in deep truth, and emerging everywhere. But it is hidden because every day people are telling themselves other stories of society, and their role within it. Critically, institutions reinforce these other narratives, taking up the oxygen of imagination, making them seem like the only possibilities.”

And after looking at two common stories about people today – the idea that we are subjects or consumers – it concludes:

It is the old stories that are broken, not humanity.

The fall of the subject story and the rise of the consumer are proof that change at the level of a deep story is possible. The citizen story can replace the consumer, as the consumer replaced the subject. 

In order to realize the citizen future, we must neither accept what we are given as the only possibility, as subjects do; nor throw our toys from the pram when we do not like what is on offer, as consumers do. As citizens, we must propose, not just reject. We must establish a foundation of belief in one another. We must start from where we are, accept responsibility, and create meaningful opportunities for each other to contribute as we do so. We must step up, and step in. As the pioneering architect and designer Buckminster Fuller wrote: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, create a new model that makes the existing models obsolete.”

And the article gives a great many examples of how citizens are doing this – even at a time when so much appears to be falling apart around us.

In order to survive and thrive, we must step into the citizen future. We must see ourselves as citizens – people who actively shape the world around us, who cultivate meaningful connections to their community and institutions, who can imagine a different and better life, who care and take responsibility, and who create opportunities for others to do the same. Crucially, the leaders of our institutions must also see people as citizens, and treat us as such. 

If we can step into the citizen future, we will be able to face our myriad challenges: economic insecurity, ecological emergency, public health threats, political polarisation, and more. We will be able to build a future. We will be able to have a future – together.”

Here is another story, this time from NPR, about how we can connect as people across the world, and learn about each other’s lives. I found it so moving. It is a story about how people connected, via the internet, in the battered city of Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Red Neck, a small town in New York.

Pavel Kuljuk/NPR

And finally, if you would like to think about how we as citizens fit into a world that is changing all around us, check out this video and book from Rethinkx. It tells us all a different story of our world as it faces so many interconnected challenges – a story about how our choices in the face of these changes can lead us to an Age of Freedom. It is powerful, and paradigm-changing. It is a new story – but at the same time, a very old story.