50 Million Cultural Creatives Can Change the World

The following article first appeared in March 2001, published by Chicago’s Conscious Choice magazine. In sharing this perspective about Cultural Creatives, (a name bestowed on us by sociologist/researcher Paul Ray)  I am reminded how very important this cohort of world-changers really is. We’ve lost a decade to the forces of the status quo, to those determined to move the clock backwards.  So now — more than ever — it is our time.

It is so crucial that everyone WAKE UP!  The awakening and mindful action for the good of all and the healing of planet Gaia, Mother Earth, is long overdue. This is a clarion call to of those in the Cultural Creative Cohort.   It is more important than ever, and well past time, to get out of our own way.

[I’ve made some minor edits in the following piece so that it makes sense for 2010.]

How 50 Million Cultural Creatives Can Change the World: A Review and Consideration of The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson

Do you ever feel like you just don’t fit in? Do you feel that people around you have a whole different set of values and beliefs? Do you find things important that aren’t on their radar screens, and vice versa? Are “getting ahead” and “looking out for number one” nowhere on your list, despite the best efforts of the media and consumer culture to persuade you otherwise?

When you speak of your dream — what you hope to accomplish — do you include relationships, concern for the planet and the next generations, social justice, sustainability, and your spiritual development? Do your dreams not look like what “everybody else” wants? Perhaps the mirror that will reflect you and your values back to you just isn’t in place — Yet.

It certainly isn’t available in the established big media companies, most corporate, education, and government institutions, or politics, where there is little or no support for people who dare to express such values. Surprisingly, despite your feelings of isolation, you are far from alone.

In fact, you may be part of a just-now-becoming-visible groundswell of cultural change. You may be a Cultural Creative. With the book, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, Paul Ray and his wife and co-author Sherry Ruth Anderson are trying to hold up a mirror big enough to reflect this population back on itself.

“This book aims to sharpen our collective awareness with an in-depth look into who the Cultural Creatives are and what their emergence means for them and for all of us…. We believe that their self-awareness as a culture will help us all, help our civilization to develop the fresh solutions that we need so urgently now…. We hope that the evidence and the stories presented here will support the Cultural Creatives to grow into the promise they carry, not just for themselves but for the sake of all of us, and for the seventh generation.”

I was eagerly awaiting this book, and it did not disappoint. It outlines the big picture crafted out of research studies done by Ray, a macrosociologist concerned with the evolution of culture. And it is enriched by the personal stories of how individuals are authentically living their values, contributed by Anderson, a psychologist focusing on the qualities of inner experiences. A myriad of connections fire up the “Aha!” reaction, page after page.

“Cultural Creatives,” a phrase coined by Ray, reflects a growing group of people who are, innovation by innovation, changing the mind of our collective culture and reshaping the way we look at the world in which we live.

Fifty Million People Walking Their Talk
Fifty million? The author likens it to a country the size of France springing up in the middle of our nation. It is all but invisible to the media giants who report only on phenomena they can see. Cultural Creatives, until now, have been virtually invisible, except on those rare occasions when celebrities spoke of values, only to be met with scorn and cynicism from reporters. Such reactions have, in the past, effectively silenced all discussion of values in our public discourse, except for those on the Religious Right.

I’d previously written about Paul Ray and the Integral Culture (Conscious Choice, January 1999). At that time, the statistician-sociologist had conducted a significant national baseline study in 1994 sponsored by The Fetzer Institute and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. This random sample of the entire country’s population gave him the statistical evidence to say that there were 44 million Cultural Creatives in the U.S. alone.

A separate nationwide random population sample was selected for a 1999 study done for the Environmental Protection Agency. It served as a follow up and confirmed the findings of the first study with a significant difference — the population had increased from 44 million to 50 million over a period of five years. In hundreds of values-based research studies over thirteen years, in five hundred focus groups, and in sixty depth interviews, Ray connected with and surveyed well over 100,000 people. His findings are a tremendous contribution, providing concrete evidence, which can be replicated, for the cultural shift we are experiencing.

Paul Ray didn’t start out looking for Cultural Creatives. In his role as market research consultant, he worked at American LIVES, where he did values and lifestyle research for a variety of products, companies, and institutions. About fourteen years ago, he started to uncover a consistent percentage of adults who didn’t seem to fit into the usual categories. He noted this seeming irregularity.

Month after month, they consistently appeared. He wondered if their responses had to do with personal growth or with psychology. Upon closer inspection, he determined that these were people exploring a new way of life, with shared values, lifestyles, and worldview. Authenticity was their watchword. In study after study, he found people committed to living their values, to “walking their talk.”

Are You a Cultural Creative?
Ray emphasizes that “Cultural Creatives are the isolated many, not the isolated few.” These 50 million people have constructed their own lifestyles where they have attempted to create a day-to-day congruence between what they do and what they value. In isolation from one another, working on their own, millions have come to the same conclusions and values.

What are the values? How can you tell if you’re a Cultural Creative? Ray and Anderson have come up with nearly twenty values and lifestyle tendencies that mark Cultural Creatives. According to the authors, you are likely to be a Cultural Creative if the following values are important to you:

• You love nature and are deeply concerned about its destruction.
• You are strongly aware of the problems of the whole planet (global warming, destruction of rain forests, overpopulation, lack of ecological sustainability, exploitation of people in poorer countries) and want to see more action on them, such as limiting economic growth.
• You would be willing to pay more taxes or pay more for consumer goods if you knew the money would go to clean up the environment and to stop global warming.
• You place a great deal of importance on developing and maintaining your relationships.
• You value helping other people and bringing out their gifts.
• You actively volunteer.
• You are committed to health and healing, sustainability, and psychological and spiritual development.
• You like the exotic or foreign, and enjoy experiencing and learning about other ways of life.
• You mistrust the cynicism and pessimism of the media.
• You want to be involved in creating a new and better way of life in our country.

Dubbing this a cultural shift, Ray says, “As the culture changes, people change what they think is real. They change life priorities. What we are discovering is that in this group of people — and it is a shift that is happening all over the world — people are sharing care about the planet. They care about ecology. There is a growing concern among this group for personal relationships, personal growth, and with spiritual development…. Once you catch sight of these deep changes and track them, you can discover a lot about what matters most to people and how they will act. Values are the best single predictor of real behavior.”

Where Did Cultural Creatives Come From?
Currently, we live in the Moderns’ world, which has been developing since the Renaissance. Its main assumption is the march of progress. Its watchword is growth. The Modern worldview is so much a part of our cultural assumptions that, like fish in water, we often cannot quite “see” that it is actually a worldview,  not an absolute reality.

The Modern worldview has given us many benefits, including the medicines, air travel, and computers that we take for granted. Yet the single-minded focus of the Modernist agenda has generated intractable problems, including planetary devastation in the service of corporate growth. What Ray calls “Traditionals” respond to these problems by hearkening back to some imaginary “simpler time,” generally with the help of religious fundamentalism. Thus, Traditionals are often opposed to Moderns. Their mutual opposition comprises what the media refer to as the two “sides” in the “culture wars.”

Cultural creatives are part of a heretofore unacknowledged third group whose growing presence has been consistently reflected in Ray’s values-and-lifestyles surveys. This group is neither interested in the get-ahead, materialistic lifestyle of the Moderns, nor the zealous nostalgia of the Traditionals. Cultural Creatives are, by and large, people who have learned a different way to look at the world. Many of them emerged from the ranks of approximately twenty social movements over the past forty years.

“These movements changed our minds,” notes Ray. “They reframed the arguments. They weren’t just out there to grab their share.” Rather, they undertook a process of cultural mind-change, addressing the culture’s core values and lifestyles. “In fact, every facet of the American worldview and every one of its values has been affected by what the new social movements (and the consciousness movements) have taught us over the last forty years.

Cultural Creatives have been involved in more of these movements than the average population,” says Ray. The cumulative effect of all these grassroots movements is that they have shaped people who have built up trust in themselves, who do not have to look at the socially sanctioned arbiters and “authorities” for answers.

According to the authors, Cultural Creatives are accustomed to asking questions, and hanging out in a space of “not knowing.” Thus, they are able to ask tough questions and disrupt the status quo. Traditionals and Moderns perceive this ability as dangerous to business-as-usual, and they are correct.

The authors chart how social movements of the 1960s have “changed our minds” about a complex array of ethical issues — from environmental destruction and nuclear proliferation to civil rights and the role of women in society. They conclude, however, that we are hardly in a moral sewer. Rather, they argue that we are actually more moral now than we were during less conscious eras, eras to which the Traditionals or the Religious Right want to roll back the clocks.

As Ray and Anderson note, “Our moral concerns now are much richer and more complex…. Many problems that were tolerated or simply accepted before the 1960s are completely unacceptable today.” In fact, the authors contend that social activism and inner searching, both psychological and spiritual, are converging. Many Cultural Creatives are active, involved, and interested in a combination of three or more social and consciousness movements; the authors identify a 40 to 80 percent overlap among trends and movements.

This involvement is complemented by independently constructed lifestyles, in which people live in concert with their values and worldviews. In short, Cultural Creatives show a capacity for direct experience and the ability to reflect on that experience. The next step, then, is developing a community where they can share deep values and make the changes they see a need to make.

Connecting with Cultural Creatives
Paul Ray’s research has been instrumental in providing the underpinning for a number of organizations that see their constituencies as Cultural Creatives, or those businesses that serve the needs of Cultural Creatives. It shows that the market for this unwieldy group is growing at the tantalizing rate of 10 to 20 percent per year.

Natural Business magazine predicted that this new “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability” (LOHAS) market would have $230 billion in U.S. sales for 2000, encompassing such business categories as sustainable economy, ecological lifestyles, healthy living, alternative health care, and personal development.

While journals like Conscious Choice served the consumers and activists who comprise the new market, Natural Business has created a business-professional trade magazine geared to companies and industries serving them. The mission of the Natural Business LOHAS Journal is “the promotion of sustainable business as a way to fundamentally alter the landscape for economic, social, and environmental change.” Its aim is to educate readers “about the growing LOHAS industry and to inspire innovation, creativity and dialogue between the companies and individuals that make up this diverse market, fostering a new paradigm of sustainable business practices that can help create positive change.”

[The Boulder-based LOHAS group just finished its annual meeting in late June, 2010. LOHAS market size numbers, depending on the source, are said now to range from $290 billion – $350 billion in consumer sales.]

In the best sense, their book, The Cultural Creatives, embodies a need that the authors so eloquently describe. “Because we are living in the time of the Between, we dare not be lulled into listening to the old stories over and over again. And that means that those who carry the wisdom for our time cannot be simply storytellers. They’ll have to be story-listeners, story-evokers, artists, and teachers of every sort who can call forth the stories we need now.”

As the authors observe, “Cultural Creatives must get together and do things. It’s time we made a new civilization. The promise of the future lies side by side with the threats.” Through their book, Anderson and Ray have begun acting upon their values with credibility, power, and a profound sense of artistry. They offer hope that planetary salvation, although not assured, at least may be an achievable possibility.