Humanity has been carrying things in vessels for at least 26,000 years. Shards of ancient pottery in China and remnants of basketry in Kenya tell the story.1 Cave paintings suggest that as many as 2.5 millions years ago our ancestors were making and using simple bags.2
Even before we crafted vessels for carrying, we carried one another: infants, tired children, weak or injured members of our families, tribes, communities. We carried food, seeds, a piece of flint, a stone ax, a fresh-caught fish, the charred remains of an animal for a shared and serendipitous meal. The more humans did, the more we moved, the more complex our communities became the more we needed to carry. We developed litters, trained pack animals, built two-wheeled carts and then four-wheeled carriages.
And at some point we evolved to carry ideas, hopes, aspirations. We might carry them in our hearts, our heads, our stories. Our vessels are sometimes solid and real, and at times intangible. Some are lasting and others ephemeral.
The world has been carrying a heavy load over the past year. We have been carrying and sharing a deadly pathogen. While we think of carrying as an action we take with tools that we employ, we ourselves are often the carriers of unseen and unwanted cargo—a virus, a germ, a suspicion, a resentment, a bias. Yet we also carry hopes, dreams and aspirations.
In the US, we continue to carry the pain and damage of racial and social injustice spanning centuries. Many of us carry generational trauma, fearing the potential horror of history repeating itself through xenophobia, racism, facism, war. To counter these fears some of us carry hope, others weapons.
At some point we will return to daily routines where we are carried to work and to play by bicycle, car, bus or train. Some have already returned to a workplace (or never left), while others continue to carry work with us on our laptops, tablets and phones.
Where is humanity and where are we as a civilization and a species? And where do we go now, more than a year into the pandemic? The redesign of a society that works for everyone looms large, as yet unfinished.
In this year’s Carry Forward symposium, the Center for Complexity invites an exploration of where we want to go as the world emerges from the global pandemic. What are the tangible and intangible things we will carry forward without our knowledge or consent? What will we choose to carry forward? Each of us can only carry so much. What will be left behind? Who will be left behind? How will these choices be made? What do we need to carry collectively that can’t be carried alone?
Forward itself is an uncertain direction and destination. Do we agree on the course? Can we each be moving forward—in different directions? If forward is an outpost, where do we set it? Does forward necessitate advancement and imply improvement—or can we imagine it in some new context?
While we may not have a clear understanding of forward, it is clear that there is no going back. Time may be an illusion, a manmade construct, and although we may sometimes wish to go backward, to repair a wrong, to prevent an atrocity, to hug someone we love one final time, we are given no choice in the matter. Time marches on, it waits for no one, it heals all wounds, it is the wisest counsellor and it does not wait for us. It carries us forward. It is up to us to decide what to bring on that journey. At this moment, we are all accountants, staring at a balance sheet, deciding what to carry forward.
As the CfC plans this multi-day, multi-modal series of creative engagements, we welcome collaborators and insights into what we as humans need to carry forward into a future that works for everyone, that embraces creativity, imagination and an ethos of integrity, honesty, decency and equity. What must be left behind and what must we carry forward for our communities—at every scale—to thrive?
Center for Complexity Team,
Justin W. Cook