A Return to Innocence

A “Simple” solution to our mental and spiritual health crisis

Ben Fathi
7 min readMar 23, 2024

“It’s late but everything comes next.” — Naomi Shihab Nye.

“I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.” Crazy Horse.

I had a crazy thought the other day, that there’s really only one way we can address the root causes of our mental and spiritual health crisis today, and that is to rebuild our society based on principles of compassion, not greed; of altruism, not avarice; of love, not hate. We need a return to innocence in our value systems.

Unless and until we do so, we’re doomed to forever making small incremental tweaks to a broken system, of putting our fingers in the dike instead of building a fundamentally sound platform for all humans to reach their full potential.

Let’s look at just a few ways such a society would differ from the one we inhabit today.

I’m sure we all agree that in such a society, millions of human beings wouldn’t have to leave their families of origin, abandon their cultures and native tongues, and suffer unimaginable hardships in border no-man’s lands, homeless shelters, refugee camps, and other euphemisms for prisons. Yes, of course, we all agree but yet, somehow, we all also live in a world where we have exactly that.

We will all collectively pay for the genocides and atrocities currently being committed around the world. For make no mistake. Every one of those children will be mentally scarred for the rest of their lives and many of them will go on to harm their own children, knowingly or unknowingly. The Israelis and the Gazans. The Soviets and the Ukrainians. The North Koreans and the South Koreans. The Rohingya in Myanmar. The immigrants amassing at the Southern border of the US. Take your pick. There’s no shortage of examples of man’s inhumanity to man.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about which side is “right” in each of those conflicts but there’s no denying that they will all leave generations to come scarred mentally and spiritually.

Yes, of course, we should do whatever we can to alleviate such suffering but we need more than that. We need to heal ourselves as a species and start actually caring for each other if we want to have any hope in hell of a long term solution. As long as we concentrate on fighting one battle at a time, winning one argument at a time, regardless of which side we’re on, we’re doomed to finding ever more areas in which we disagree.

Yes, of course, no man, woman, or child should feel so alienated as to pick up a machine gun and mow down a dozen other innocent human beings. But if we want to be serious about dealing with root causes, rather than symptoms, we need to understand what caused that schism in the first place.

There are as many reasons to feel alienated in our society as there are humans. The last thing we need is the media hyping up the stereotype of the day and blaming “the redneck with an automatic”, “the jihadi with the turban”, or “the depressed transgender kid”.

Blaming any subgroup of humans for violence against another is missing the point. The whole problem is that we keep forming groups, letting “us vs. them” rule our world. Religion does this, politics does this, culture does this, money does this. And we pass our prejudices and our biases to our children. Any wonder things are getting worse?

Yes, of course, we shouldn’t lock up our kids in schools for the most amazing years of their lives to learn archaic formulas and historical dates that will do them no good twenty years from now when the world economy looks dramatically different, with the advent of AI finally upending the white collar job market.

Yes, of course, there are much better, more compassionate, more holistic, more curious, more authentic educational disciplines we could adopt. Anything would be better than the centuries old system we currently use, a direct descendant of the Prussian model developed to train soldiers who slavishly follow the orders of their leadership!

Yet we all sit around as our children are lulled and numbed and anesthetized and bullied, day in and day out, during the most formative and productive years of their lives. And then we wonder why they have mental health issues later in life.

Yes, of course, we should push for US education reforms but this is a worldwide issue. We need international solutions, global grassroots efforts, universal reprioritizations, and cross-border human connections to make this work.

Yes, of course, in a model society prioritizing mental health, a mother should be fully supported during the nine months of her pregnancy, as well as the first years of her child’s life, burdened with as little stress as possible.

That is the easiest way to ensure not only the mental health of the mother but also that of the child and of generations to come. It is myopic to look at the issue of maternity leave purely from the viewpoint of her financial contribution to the economy and completely ignore its long term implications on human society.

Yes, of course, the father too should be given as much time and support to be the best father he can be. The future of our society depends on that child. And if that means he needs time off from work to be with his family, then so be it. That’s the cost we must bear as a society.

The few hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to the current economy will pay us back in billions saved over generations to come. Money saved in mental health expenses, money not wasted on addictions and perversions, money not spent on cancer and divorces and diets. And why are we just talking about money?

Yes, of course, we should push for a comprehensive overhaul of US government policy on family leave. But, once again, this is about so much more than the US. There are some two hundred countries out there and nine billion of us who need to heal, not just three hundred million.

Yes, of course, no human being should have to suffer through addiction, to any substance or activity. Gambling addiction is as debilitating as is a meth habit. Our current approach to addiction would have us start a hundred more branches of Alcoholics Anonymous, spend millions on nicotine patches, and design a dozen new diets to battle our food addictions. In other words, we would fight every addiction at the level of the symptom.

In that model society, we would instead come to the realization that all of these addictions have a single root cause and just happen to manifest themselves in different ways. Science has shown definitively that addictions are caused not by a random chemical but rather by a lack of social support structures for mental distress. It’s only if and when we internalize that fact that we can start actually helping all addicts, be they alcoholics or sex addicts, workaholics or heroin junkies.

Yes, of course, no woman should ever be battered, no child abused, no sibling estranged, no parent neglected, no neighbor shunned, no colleague mistreated; yet, here we all are, guilty as charged, causing mental anguish all around us.

The scale of the problem is so big, the scope so pervasive, that it touches every aspect of our lives. Maybe you have some of your own “Yes, of courses!” How many do we have to list before we realize that we don’t live by the values we profess? And that we need a fundamental rethinking of our societal value systems if we want to actually make a substantive impact on the mental health of the human species?

“Be the change you want to see in the world” — Mahatma Gandhi.

At the end of the day, we have to realize that this is a relay race. This thing we have all been participating in, this universe, has been going on practically forever and will continue to go on practically forever. We were all shot out of a canon fourteen billion years ago and are still hurtling through space at seventy kilometers per second! If that’s not a race, I don’t know what is.

And we have to realize that this body, this “little s self”, is just a participant in one leg of that relay race. Here now, gone tomorrow.

And we also have to recognize that evolution itself is a relay race, life having given us an elegant way to program future generations. Not only with our genes but also with our thoughts and our deeds.

No, evolution was not conscious. But we are! And we can do so so so much better.

Author’s note: I’ve deleted all my social media accounts (except for Medium) and now depend exclusively on the kindness of strangers to pass the word around about my blog posts. Please share this post with others if you liked it. Thank you.



Ben Fathi

Former {CTO at VMware, VP at Microsoft, SVP at Cisco, Head of Eng & Cloud Ops at Cloudflare}. Recovering distance runner, avid cyclist, newly minted grandpa.