'Futures literacy', hope and fraternity can help us reimagine a better world. Image: Clemence Bergougnoux/Unsplash
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- Our ability to imagine our future is based on our ability to remember the past – something which has been disrupted greatly by COVID-19.
- But the same factor that disrupted our 'normal' has also opened up new possibilities for reimagining and redefining our future.
- Younger generations need to be equipped with three key things – 'futures literacy', hope and fraternity – to build a better world.
"The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be." This quote by the French philosopher and poet Paul Valéry may seem an amusing contradiction at first, but it, in fact, contains great wisdom.
In this philosophical gap between the present and the future, a question emerges: what happens when the foundations on which we base our actions and decisions are shaken so strongly that we no longer feel the ground under our feet?
Our ability to imagine our future is one inscribed in our biology. A growing number of studies show us that our ability to predict what may come is largely based on the same neural mechanism necessary to remember the past. Memory plays a fundamental role in our anticipations.
However, the trouble is that we live in a time in which knowing the past is of little use in imagining the future – as uncertainty, acceleration and growing complexity increasingly characterize our world. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic that split most of our perception of life into a 'before' and an 'after' – a radical and sudden change that has enhanced our feeling of disorientation.
We’ve all been affected by COVID-19 in many ways. But some have been affected more than others because the system we are used to, that of the pre-pandemic world, was unable to respond adequately to the shock.
The good news is that the same disruption that shook our society to the core, has also opened new possibilities for our future. Not only do we have the opportunity to rethink our world completely, we have the responsibility to do so – for the benefit of both ourselves and future generations.
But to build a new world we need a new mindset to be taught to younger generations in order to fulfil the mission of education itself: giving young people the tools to understand the world they live in and to take on the challenges of their time.
Here are three fundamental things that need to be taught to build a better future.
1. Improve 'futures literacy' for all
No-one realizes a future they can't imagine, meaning that we should train our ability to imagine and transform our long-term futures.
UNESCO defines futures literacy as a key competence for the 21st-century, that enables people to better understand the role of the future in in what they see and do. Being future literate, it adds, empowers the imagination and enhances our ability to prepare, recover and invent as changes happen.
But we also need to understand that our image of the future is the result of the conflicting forces that guide our decisions every day – and that image has been so drawn into question by the pandemic to the point that what before was unthinkable is now possible.
Sohail Inayatullah, UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies, represents these influences in a model called the Futures Triangle. Each corner represents one of three different drivers of change that operate simultaneously and with different intensity when people make decisions – the weight of the past, the push of the present and the pull of the future.
By analyzing the interaction of these three forces within the Futures Triangle, we can explore and devise an infinite number of possible and plausible scenarios for the future – which is key to taking responsible action towards creating a better future.
2. Build hope to create change
This brings us straight to the second point. Whenever we can think about a different tomorrow, we are manifesting our freedom to do so. But what is freedom if we don’t have hope? Many people today are disillusioned with the possibility of ever changing things and tend to lose hope – and there is nothing worse than a society without hope.
We have a duty to nurture this important feeling of hope and can do so by having an educational model that pushes young people and children to experiment, learn from their mistakes and not to give up.
Gamifying the learning process instead of giving grades, alongside a creative challenge-based approach to education, should be an integral part of everyone's study path.
3. Embrace fraternity for the collective good
Method and mindset on the one hand, motivational energy on the other: now we need a third factor for future success – the compass that shows us the way.
Individualism is today contributing towards creating a society unable to look towards a common goal. However, there are many social challenges that transcend the individual and are so complex that they cannot be solved by one action.
We need to learn how to collaborate and to base our choices on the awareness that our destiny is shared with all other living beings, past, present, and future. Being interdependent and connected to others means also that the collective good is also for our individual good. This is what the French philosopher Edgar Morin called 'fraternity'.
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By combining these three things – futures literacy (the method), hope (the energy) and fraternity (the compass) – we will have all the tools to we need to embark on this adventurous journey to build a new, and better, future together.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.