There is a mesa in New Mexico with a ruin atop, a testament to those who once survived there. The first time I stood beside this ruin I wondered what it had to teach me. Was I staring at the remains of a past that would enlighten me, or was I staring at shadows that I would do best to keep away from? 

"What happened?” I asked many times to many people.

“Something as bad or worse than a global thermonuclear war would be today,” a university professor replied some years later.

That ruin atop the mesa led me to an ancient civilization networked by roads. Back then, large villages existed where people gathered to live, worship, and to trade goods from areas as distant as the plains, the jungle, and the ocean. Then the weather patterns changed. Rains stopped regularly falling and the civilization became desperate.

The farmers of this past civilization got out early, at least fifty years before the collapse. Farmers saw their children starving as distribution systems demanded more and more to survive. Specialists were in high demand. Massive construction projects including centralized communities, great houses of worship, and irrigation systems dominated right up until the end. Then windows on exterior walls were filled in, perhaps because crime became rampant as belief broke down and war expanded across the region until (what is believed to be) less than ten percent of the peak population remained. The center hub of this civilization was abandoned.

It took years of education and decades of living for me to grasp one of the lessons from the past: don't gamble away your children's future expecting the environment to always be the same.

As much free-thought as there could have been then about when it was time to change the way things were done, many people remained clinging to shadows (old ways) until it was too late. Even today, more often than not, our free-thinkers still live in a world ruled by dogmatic belief rather than one controlled by empirical knowledge. Too many people are killed by ignoring the obvious.

Human self-centeredness can be a rampant problem in a world of plenty. I don’t know that I will ever completely understand how some today can build such marvels as quantum computers based on light (new ways) while at the same time some in power are still satisfied staring at shadows (old ways). Maybe there will always be those in power who want to keep people in the dark by believing the “world” has always, and will always, be the same. Then again, maybe it comes down to individual choice.

One lesson the ruin atop the mesa in New Mexico taught me was that the paths to light are everywhere. But in times of change, we must be willing to create new paths.