Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

09/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

This week is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Can you believe it? It seems not so long ago that we were all about "peace, love and music" -- a generation that was going to change the world. And in many ways we did! In CBS's Sunday Morning retrospective on Woodstock, the theme came through that the 'spirit' of that memorable event lives on in our children at outdoor rock concerts across the land. Historians, of course, work hard to understand and explain what happened there and why. But at the end of the day, it was just a 'happening' -- an unexpected and largely unplanned convergence of human beings celebrating life and the possibility of a better world.

I was not there. I was a few years older and didn't even know about it until later. I was busy working and far removed from the surge of spiritual and political energy that was sweeping across America and the world. I was, however, focused on the deepening doubts arising out of Vietnam and despairing of Watergate. I was fairly 'establishment' in those days, but took pride as people of my generation led in bringing about long overdue civil rights and stood resolutely against nuclear arms and environmental exploitation.

Woodstock was something else. It seems to me that it was more about "who we are" than taking on the world's intractable problems. Much of the music, to be sure, was political, but it was also about the brotherhood of man and the possibility of a world in which just being together counts for something. When I think about the past 40 years, I am stunned by all that has happened (and is happening) on our 'hyper-accelerating' Spaceship Earth.

But with all that has changed, I wonder if we have changed...?

I think the underlying message from the "Age of Aquarius" is that we have a choice about who we are and who we can be. This idea is very different from the question of what we do (or what we should do). Most of our understanding of human beings came out of the Industrial Revolution and the Cartesian notion that we are just specialized objects in an objective world and that all problems can be solved if we are clever enough to understand their cause. Psychology aspires to be the operating manual for how the 'human thing' works. The Aquarian message challenges all the various deterministic imperatives about our 'human nature' and the limits to who we are.

But in August of 1969 about 400,000 of us stood arm in arm and rejected this determinism. We somehow looked beyond color, religion, education, class, income and all the other things we've used to separate us from each other. We let go of claiming superiority or exclusivity and attempting, in one way or another, to dominate others or avoid domination. For a few days, we transcended our basest survival instincts and danced and screamed and let the music rock us.

I don't think life is a rock concert. And I can't imagine the world working for long in an open field without plumbing, commerce, and adequate housing, food and water. But I can imagine that if enough of us aspired to be as open and loving and tolerant as those who were there, then we would have a foundation upon which to design a future in which friendship, community, wisdom and peace can exist.