News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Adapt and overcome

Last weekend, my wife, Marilyn, and I celebrated our daughter’s graduation from the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Many Sisters parents are celebrating similar milestones for college or high school grads.

It struck me powerfully during all the speeches and ceremonies that Ceili and her diverse and wonderful group of friends have truly learned perhaps the most critical life skill of them all: the ability to adapt and overcome. Despite disruptions and disappointments, opportunities substantively altered or lost, they made the most out of every experience. They rolled with the punches. They didn’t proclaim themselves victims of life’s circumstances — they got behind the mule and plowed.

It would be nice to assure them that the hard part is over, that things are going to get easier from here on out. But that would not be honest. Our 2021 graduates are entering a world full of grave challenges and looming uncertainties that will continue to demand the qualities of resilience and adaptability they have honed in 2020-21.

The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, issued in March, is titled “A More Contested World.”

And, let’s be honest, anybody who thinks that this deeply divided society and grievance-obsessed culture is in shape for a serious contest is likely smoking some of that legal Oregon weed.

Here’s the abstract:

During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of its fragility and demonstrated the inherent risks of high levels of interdependence. In coming years and decades, the world will face more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises.

These challenges will repeatedly test the resilience and adaptability of communities, states, and the international system, often exceeding the capacity of existing systems and models. This looming disequilibrium between existing and future challenges and the ability of institutions and systems to respond is likely to grow and produce greater contestation at every level.

In this more contested world, communities are increasingly fractured as people seek security with like-minded groups based on established and newly prominent identities; states of all types and in all regions are struggling to meet the needs and expectations of more connected, more urban, and more empowered populations; and the international system is more competitive — shaped in part by challenges from a rising China — and at greater risk of conflict as states and non-state actors exploit new sources of power and erode longstanding norms and institutions that have provided some stability in past decades.

These dynamics are not fixed in perpetuity, however, and we envision a variety of plausible scenarios for the world of 2040 — from a democratic renaissance to a transformation in global cooperation spurred by shared tragedy — depending on how these dynamics interact and human choices along the way.

That last bit is lined out in a set of well-crafted, intriguing scenarios, described thus:

Three of the scenarios portray futures in which international challenges become incrementally more severe, and interactions are largely determined by the U.S.-China rivalry.

In ‘Renaissance of Democracies,’ the United States leads a resurgence of democracies. In ‘A World Adrift,’ China is the leading but not globally dominant state, and in ‘Competitive Coexistence,’ the United States and China prosper and compete for leadership in a bifurcated world.

Two other scenarios depict more radical change…

‘Separate Silos’ portrays a world in which globalization has broken down, and economic and security blocs emerge to protect states from mounting threats. ‘Tragedy and Mobilization’ is a story of bottom-up, revolutionary change on the heels of devastating global environmental crises.

Don’t mistake this for a cry of despair. I remain the most optimistic of pessimists. It’s always worthwhile to foreground one of my favorite statements from Dougald Hine, co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project:

“It’s not the apocalypse, of course, it’s just history, but if you thought the shape of history was meant to be an upward curve of progress, then this feels like the apocalypse.”

It seems that the best we can do for our children is to inculcate in them some classical values: a heroic mindset as opposed to a victim’s mindset; a belief in community and serving something greater than self; a spirit of cheerful persistence in the face of adversity.

Stay strong, Class of 2021. You’ve got this.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


Reader Comments(0)