We spend a good portion of our lives learning how to lead ourselves to live in the world.  Our parents are our first leadership role models—teaching us what they know to be true from their own upbringing, experience, and exposure.  They help us learn to survive, navigate, and potentially thrive in a complex, unknown, and ever-changing world.

Depending on their own experiences, our parents filter their worlds and teachings through the lens of the stories they have been taught and subsequently created about the reality they see and interpret around them.  They pass along these stories to us, with the good intention of protecting us from potential harm and with the hope that the benefit of these stories will prepare us to live productive and successful lives.

We do the same with our own children.

These world survival and secrets to life success stories are expanded upon and perpetuated by the cultures we live in.  The “tribes” that surround us offer us our norms for living—the rules for success, right and wrong, and what is “normal” or not.  The country, region, town or city, and even the individual community we grow up in or live in has a hand in shaping the story we learn to believe is the “right” one to live by.

If we want to be deemed as a good citizen or community member, we learn that we must adhere by these predefined norms that define the rules we live by.  Everything from our nationalism, patriotism, religious orientations, courtship rituals, and acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors are outlined and prescribed by these stories about reality that are passed down to us.  We even learn to herald conformity and convention, as they provide a semblance of order and control in the complex, uncertain, and undefined universe we live in.  Our conformity allows us to take solace in knowing the answers to the scary questions about humanity and helps soothes our perpetual fears and questions: “Who are we?”, Why are we here?”, and “What does this all mean?”

These “tribes” we have created since the beginning of humanity to help us survive and keep us safe may no longer be sufficient to help us survive and thrive in the future.   As a human species, we are at the point where the complexity around us can no longer be explained away by another “story”.  The ancient Greeks had the Greek myths to explain nature.  It probably felt quite comforting to know that Apollo rode his chariot in the sky every morning to bring up the sun.  Until it didn’t.  And of course we could fall off the earth since it was flat.  Until it wasn’t.

What I have learned from decades of study of human development academically, as a leadership development practitioner, and as a participant in this human experience, is that we desperately want answers.  Answers to help us protect ourselves and control our destinies.  Answers to guide us.  Answers to help us feel safe.  And we are willing to fight for these answers we have—to keep us protected, safe, and in control.

Yet what if what we need the most is to learn to be comfortable with not having the answers?  What if the fear of not knowing itself is what we must conquer?

What if we could embrace fear of the unknown and sit with it?

What if there is no “right answer”?

What if what we need to learn is not black or white, but gray?

What if we respected and cared for one another without country or culture?

What if the answers we seek are not answers at all?

What if our safety comes not in our different tribal answers, but in our collective unity?

It seems ironic to me that in the face of fear and complexity, simple concepts emerge.