The paradox of social media, and so much of our technology, is that it keeps us locked in an eternal present, while at the same time creating an eternal archive that never fades away. The result isn’t just higher levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness, it also makes it harder for us to grow and evolve — which is, after all, our essential purpose at the heart of every spiritual and philosophical tradition. Evolution did not stop when we evolved from the apes. There is an instinct embedded in us, our fourth instinct, beyond the more recognized instincts of survival, sex and power, that drives us to evolve and to grow through our mistakes, through pain, and through self-discovery.
But we’ve reached a dangerous moment in our culture where we assume a frozen ideal, a state of arrested development, from which no growth or improvement are assumed possible. Because growth cannot happen without the necessary ingredients of redemption, forgiveness and self-forgiveness. If we’re not allowed to learn from our mistakes, atone for them, become better people, then we can grow neither individually nor collectively. After all, the great documents we live by assume a progression — whether it’s the never-ending journey toward “a more perfect union” or Martin Luther King’s “arc of the moral universe” bending toward justice — and even our Constitution had amendments.
But true change at the systemic level has to be accompanied by change at the personal level. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.” Dr. King knew that, which is why he had made it clear that to change society, “you’ve got to change the heart.”
The word “redemption” comes from the Latin redemptionem — one of its meanings is releasing. Redemption allows us to thrive by being released from our worst moments. And that’s exactly what our modern technology and our current culture make it increasingly difficult to do. By keeping our worst moments in the foreground forever, by keeping all wounds fresh and preventing them from healing over, we’re never able to be released from them, to evolve and make ourselves and our world better. In business, we extol the growth mindset, but a world without redemption enshrines its opposite: the much-despised fixed mindset.