Robert Theobald: The Ultimate Model of Citizenship

By Silha, Stephen | The Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 2000 | Go to article overview

Robert Theobald: The Ultimate Model of Citizenship


Silha, Stephen, The Christian Science Monitor


Every once in a while, you read a book that shakes your world. In 1970, a friend gave me Robert Theobald's "An Alternative Future for America," and I was never the same after that. The book suggested we were headed for disaster - police state, environmental meltdown, economic disparity - unless we created a different future: one in which exponential growth in material things wasn't the primary goal.

Occasionally, when you read a book like that, you find the author is open to dialogue. You meet, become friends, bounce ideas off each other, consult, and co-create. You discover he doesn't always live up to his own ideals, so you don't speak for a time. Then you reconcile and create together again.

That was what it was like for me and Theobald - the agile- minded, big-thinking futurist and socioeconomist who died late last year. He devoted his life to helping people create a positive future. If his memorial service in December in Spokane, Wash. - and online - was any indication, he helped a lot of people ask better questions and transform their lives. He was in a conspiracy with everyone to reach their wildest potential.

Like any futurist - and he preferred the label "radical economist" to futurist - Theobald had his opinions about what would happen in the future. But unlike some others, he suggested there are a number of ways the future can go. And that if we want to survive, we need to learn the skills to make tomorrow different from what it will be if we go on with business as usual.

Born in India, raised in Britain, Theobald dropped out of graduate school at Harvard and went to live in Arizona, where he rode horses and learned from his cats.

But he didn't drop out of world problem-solving. He consulted with President Kennedy on economics, promoting the idea of a guaranteed annual income (later implemented in modified form by President Nixon). He worked with the United Nations, corporate executives, and citizen and church groups on how to create a better future.

He distilled his wisdom into memorable aphorisms:

"Abundance is a free gift."

"You can change the world, but you can't get credit for it."

"You can only teach a person what he already knows. …

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