At our first International Conference on Personal Meaning in July 2000, my vision was that the Conference would serve as a springboard for a positive revolution in the new millennium.
Dr. David Myers, keynote speaker at the first Meaning Conference, provided compelling evidence on the decline of personal and social well-being in spite of our progress in technology and increase in personal wealth over recent decades. He pointed out the need for a social revolution in terms of restoring social capital, such as community, faith, charitable giving and volunteerism.
Other keynote speakers, Dr. Ervin Yalom, Dr. Ernesto Spinelli and Dr. Jeffrey Zeig, provided profound insights on the important role of compassion, meaning and authenticity in healing and mental health.
Numerous presentations and symposia also emphasised the positive psychology of meaning, optimism and faith in enhancing well-being and recovering the passion for living in a broken world.
Many attendees left the Conference feeling excited about the potential of living a more meaningful and purposeful life. Some felt challenged about the need to humanize an increasingly materialistic, competitive, high-tech society.
Then, September 11 exploded into our history and our consciousness. It was followed by wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Suicide bombings and other forms of terrorist attacks continue to loom ominously on the not too distant horizon.
As if this was not bad enough, high profile corporate scandals have rocked the financial world like tidal waves in quick succession- Enron, Arthur Anderson, Adelphia, Tyco, ImClone, Worldcom and Xerox. What is next?
Against this dark backdrop, the theme for our second Meaning Conference – Freedom, Responsibility and Justice -seems uncannily timely.
My vision for the forthcoming Conference remains unchanged. In fact, I am more convinced than ever that the most effective way to stem the tide of violence, corruption and injustice is to spread a positive revolution at the grassroots level.
There is darkness in high places, darkness in every society, but it all stems from the heart of darkness. That is why the positive revolution needs to take place at the deepest, universal level of humanity.
There has been a lot of talk about the need for random kindness, community building, social capital and ethical reform. Certainly, these are all elements of a positive revolution. But the underlying need is for a spiritual revolution, a spiritual transformation, which encompasses such positive values as love, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, integrity, trust, faith and hope.
In simpler terms, it means acquiring a positive attitude towards self, others and life in general. It means creating a positive climate and contributing to a positive culture. It means being a channel of blessings to others.
This spirit is captured well by the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”
In a strange way, the biggest hindrance to the positive revolution is a conspiracy of silence. This widespread collective silence is motivated by fear — fear of retribution, fear of offending others, and fear of being labelled as a negative, trouble-maker.
The conspiracy of silence is also based on self-deception, which is a form of denial. Many people believe that if we simply focus on the positive, things would improve. This phenomenon of cognitive blindness, which borders on superstition, is more widespread than we care to know.
The positive revolution requires courage to accept and then transform the dark reality. My theory of tragic optimism is a case in point.
However, the positive revolution will go on, slowly but surely – one person at a time, one family at a time, and one community at a time. It will continue in family rooms, lecture halls, counselling clinics, and wherever people meet, to the extent that more people catch the vision. I trust that the Second Meaning Conference will provide a strong impetus to this positive movement.
Once again we are able to recruit a large number of outstanding conference speakers with powerful ideas. Dr. Arun Gandhi’s message on non-violence, Dr. Howard Gardner’s research on excellence and ethics and Dr. Harold Koenig’s address on religion and health are just some of the examples of what is in store for conference participants.
I look forward to seeing you all at the Meaning Conference on July 18-21. When positive people get together, all sorts of positive things could happen. Let’s make this Conference a significant milestone.