Through the Prism with Ari Wallach and Longpath Labs
Ari Wallach, is a futurist, strategist, and social innovation expert, is the founder and Executive Director of Longpath Labs, an initiative focused on cultivating long-term ways of thinking, acting, and being to create futures of collective human flourishing. We invited him to share how human connection and the past year has shaped his life's work.
What is one of your earliest memories of the power of human connection?
I was a sophomore in college and was part of a leadership program that offered me the chance to visit a foster care home for infants born to mothers with severe addiction. I hadn’t had much interaction with newborns, but I accepted the invitation to hold a young three-and-a-half-week-old child named Anna. My ten-minute hold turned into two hours. To say that experience dramatically changed the vector of my life is an understatement. My understanding of my life up to that point had been very much about myself. My father had passed away a few months before and I was in a “woe is me,” state. I hadn’t fully mourned. Those two hours moved me into a profound boundary-dissolving relationship. The connection I felt with that five-pound being in my arms was a level of emotional empathy I’d never experienced before. My experience with Anna altered my perspective from being solely about “Me Me Me Me” to the possibility of “We We We We.”
What are you working on right now?
I run Longpath Labs, an organization focused on fostering trans-generational empathy; finding connection in an empathic way (emotionally, psychologically, spiritually) both with the generations that are to come and the generations that have come before. Most people are thinking about the long-term as an extension of today. I think of it as connected to the next 1,000+ years. Trans-generational empathy goes both ways, back thousands of generations and forward thousands of generations. The reason this is so difficult is that specifically in the West over the last 300 years, we’ve overemphasized, for understandable reasons, the role of the individual and their own free will. That was an understandable reaction against the hegemonic power of The Church. We needed a correction, but we supplanted it with another hegemonic vision – the secular and autonomous Self. Longpath is a mindset bespoke to this moment in time in which we see ourselves not as isolated units but rather as links in a longer Chain of Being. Our fundamental goal is to be great ancestors to our future descendants and we believe the Longpath mindset is a needed pillar to achieving this outcome.
A significant part of shifting to a Longpath mindset is the understanding that up until about 15,000 years ago, humans didn’t have significant internal dialogue, but the emergence of this phenomenon – talking to ourselves inside of ourselves – affects the relationship we have with ourselves and others. This is why we talk about emotions – how we express and work with them – as heirlooms. Yes, we impact future generations by how we use physical resources and also, in ways we are just starting to understand, in how we pass along emotional architectures – ways understanding, of being and seeing. These emotional architectures are heirlooms that are the cornerstones of how societies adapt, flourish or sometimes regrettably, perish.
We’re in the midst of what we at Longpath call “The Intertidal,” a significant shift in global human culture and narrative, where what has been gives way to what will be. Such drastic changes require a level of adaptability and openness and yet we have seen that most folks are reacting to this Intertidal with fear and rigidity. Adopting a Longpath mindset allows for one to both be protean in this moment and at the same time maintain a telos – or larger goal – centered around Homo sapien and planetary flourishing.
What values guide your work?
Empathy: A nice term that really means the dissolution of boundaries. “No boundaries” isn’t something we’re fully equipped to talk about in Western society, but that’s what true empathy means.
Alignment: Specifically, aligning inner and outer. For a long time, I had inner values that didn’t necessarily align to outer values. I worked with people and on projects that didn’t represent the values I wish to pass onto my children.
Flourishing: It’s a value, a goal and ultimately for me a verb. How do we architect a world where all living things can flourish to their maximum potential without preventing anyone or anything else from flourishing?
How has the experience of the last year affected you and your work?
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, we were getting ready to launch 200 Longpath.Gathers in WeWorks around the world focused on how entrepreneurs and growth-orientated individuals can become great ancestors. We developed practices and modules based on extensive research that included meditations, dialogues, and self-reflection activities. Because of the pandemic, we were forced to stop and reflect on what was really important. We realized the most important aspects of Longpath.Gather was the facilitated in-person conversations. And while we had developed a really complicated multi-week curriculum, it could actually be distilled down into a few hours! We looked into conducting Longpath.Gather via Zoom and decided instead to focus on helping people anchor more deeply into their immediate relationships during the pandemic instead of attempting the larger scale we had our eyes set on in January of 2020. That being said, we hope sooner rather than later to be able to move back into in-person convenings.
As a result of COVID, most people are reassessing their relationship with themselves and their families, which is one of the most important parts of being a great ancestor. Part of the practice of being a great ancestor is no longer seeing yourself “at the end.” Homo sapiens are not at the top of the 9th inning but rather the top of the 3rd inning. So much more to go! We are at the very beginning of something. Watch your emotions and thoughts to understand, how will they impact those around me and those who will come after me?
What's giving you joy right now? What are you hopeful about?
So many things have changed as a result of the pandemic. In addition to finishing my book that will be out next year, I’m also writing a TV show about a future 2050 reality where humans are flourishing. It’s my effort to illustrate how we can encourage a more inclusive way of being in the world that encourages creativity, artistry, and true community.
The most joyful thing in my life right now is my family. Our twelve-year-old twins are in a social cohort of several girls who have been socializing at a distance. I made the rule that, if you come to our backyard, your phones have to be stacked on a table until you leave. They initially objected, but it turns out, our house has become the prime after-school hangout. It’s great to see early adolescents getting out of the internet and developing real human connection with each other.
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