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Jim Selman

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The Four Horsemen

Posted: 06/29/10 01:38 PM ET

I was playing a trivia game and had to answer what the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are. I got three out of four, but had to go to go to Wikipedia to get them all: War, Famine, Conquest, and Death. These traditional Biblical symbols mark the 'end of time,' when all things are put right and presumably all karma is erased and this journey will be complete. In researching each of them, I learned that 'conquest' is best translated in today's language as 'corruption.' The ancient notion of 'famine' can also be understood to encompass epidemics and plagues. 'War' represents violence in all forms and Death is pretty self-evident. These seem to me to be a good list of the dark side of "The Force" which threatens our way of life and our collective future.

When I think about the state of the world in the context of the Four Horsemen, it is almost overwhelming. Can we even imagine a world where these 'dark powers' don't prevail? How easily we become resigned to their bleak inevitability and rationalize them as natural and inevitable manifestations of 'the human condition.' I don't know what ancient people thought when these awesome forces were evoked in stories and legends, but they must have certainly seemed like angry instruments of the gods bringing havoc and suffering to humankind.

Today we think about them as literary images, not 'real' entities committed to man's destruction. On the other hand, these four conditions are very real in the world and they are just as destructive as they were in the Book of Revelations or the Book of John. The idea of an 'end' to humanity is today, a real possibility. It isn't so important to determine whether the forces that threaten our future are external or deeply imprinted programs in the human psyche or whether they are self-destructive patterns of a self-referential ego-centered consciousness. More important is the question of whether we are doomed to destruction or do we have a choice about our destiny. Are we the authors of 'the human condition?'

I don't know, but I believe we are all living at a time in history when this question will be answered. Technology, social pressures of population, intercultural and institutionalized conflict and a world that is wired for instant communication and response have brought us to a decisive moment in history.

Do we all become infected with the disease of cynicism and give into our basest instincts and fears or do we take a stand for the possibility of being alive and start a new story about who we are and who we can be for each other?

Do we resign ourselves to hopeless notions of the future or become leaders --wherever we are-- to generate possibilities where none exist?

Is the future a choice or do we become spectators to the inevitable demise and destruction of our values, our world and our possibilities?

I think all of the post-WWII generations will answer these questions and, of necessity, will answer them together. Just as the Baby Boom generation has --by its sheer demographic weight-- written the story of the last half of the twentieth century, they will continue to write the story of the first half of the twenty-first--but in collaboration with all of those younger generations that will write the story of where we go from here.

If the Four Horsemen are symbols of the forces threatening the destruction of humanity, then their progeny are what threaten and paralyze individuals as they approach the last quarter of their lives--isolation, loneliness, boredom and resignation. The Eldering Institute has been created to bring forth a new awareness of who we are and what is possible--to build intergenerational bridges and bring practices into existence that allow us to contribute our life's experience to others in sustainable ways.

I don't know if we'll live to see a world without the Four Horsemen...but as John Wayne would have said, "Just so you boys know, there's a new sheriff in town, so don't come back!"