"In a famous essay in 1980, The World of Tomorrow and the Person of Tomorrow, the psychologist Carl Rogers, an American who had worked with groups all over the world, surveyed a rapidly changing landscape at home and abroad and contemplated the future. As the upheavals of the 1960s played out in diverse ways and diverse settings – the beginnings of environmental awareness, social movements advocating equality of gender and race, protests against the seemingly endless war in South East Asia, a revolution in popular culture – Rogers was not the only one to sense a dramatic shift in the culture and the struggling emergence of a new world.
While others feared the loosening of cultural constraint and actively worked to suppress the freedom and confusion that ensued, Rogers chose to see this as a creative moment, a moment of growth and possibility. He heard people reaching for new ways of responding to the challenges of the times that were not merely new applications of old solutions but new ways of being. What, he wondered, would the world of tomorrow look like? What kinds of challenges would it pose to humanity? What kinds of capacities would the crises and opportunities of the future require of us and help us to develop? What, in other words, might we expect of 'persons of tomorrow'?
'I have an uneasy feeling about this chapter’, he wrote. 'In some vague way I believe that what I am saying here will some day be fleshed out much more fully, either by me or someone else.' "
So begins Dancing at the Edge, an analysis of the cultural shifts that are dislocating our world and the qualities and competencies that are needed by individuals, organisations and society at large if we are to navigate our way through the crisis.
Authors Graham Leicester and Maureen O'Hara set out to build on the foundations laid by Carl Rogers and have huge respect for his work. But Rogers's essay makes fascinating reading in its own right.
Rogers described those who would usher in the new era as having the capacity to understand, bring about and absorb a paradigm shift. Quoting the President of the World Future Society approvingly, he said: “The rapid development of technology has freed man from slavery to environmental and biological circumstances.”
And among the ‘potentialities’ that Rogers observed in the ‘Person of Tomorrow’ were an increasing use of (and respect for):
Altered states of consciousness
Telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance
Healing, spiritual and transcendent powers of the individual
Nowhere is it more obvious that Carl Rogers was a man of his time. It was a time when people (in the West at least) still believed that nature in all its forms was largely conquerable and that the future called for a very particular skillset that was strongly associated with the Age of Aquarius.
By contrast, the aspiration of Graham Leicester and Maureen O'Hara is to get people to ground themselves in ‘the context’ rather than rise above it. For them, the keyword is not freedom. Rather than freeing man from the grip of environmental and biological circumstances, Leicester and O’Hara stress the need to recognise those constraints.
The keyword for them is complexity and the underlying competencies they stress for the ‘Person of Tomorrow’ are Psychological Literacy, the capacity to choose the right context, to work alongside others and the capacity to bring to bear the whole self - not just particular skills and tools.
Drawing on extensive research, shadowing of some of today’s most successful cultural, business and political leaders the authors group the other competencies needed by a ‘Person of Tomorrow’ into 4 areas – Learning: to Be, to Be Together, to Know and to Do.