Nova Campfire: Overcoming the Great Divide

The Nova Campfire, “Overcoming the Great Divide: Quantum Social Change for Personal and Planetary Health,” held on May 7 explored strategies to overcome political polarization and cultural fragmentation that threaten personal and planetary health. Hostile social environments and culture wars undermine mental and physical well-being and pose major obstacles in co-creating solutions to our global challenges. Drawing parallels between quantum physics and social sciences, quantum social change suggests that small actions can lead to meaningful shifts in societal attitudes, beliefs, and structures through our inherent oneness and connection

In collaboration with the Garrison Institute, we examined how to synthesize and harmonize positive goals of all viewpoints through shared values, including approaches that seek to include rather than exclude. We considered how aligning values with actions can create fractal patterns that catalyze change across scales—from individuals to collective and systems change. 

Our panelists discussed these approaches from different perspectives, including the power of individuals in social movements and cultural evolution. We hope to kindle fresh insights into how world views form and how human culture can evolve for the common good. 


Watch the entire event below or scroll down for individual presentations. 

Program and Panelists

There was a brief introduction from Susan Prescott, Director of the Nova Network, and Brian Berman, President and Founder of the Nova Institute for Health. Panelists will speak for approximately 10 minutes, weaving their narrative threads to provide the fabric for discussion that all attendees can then contribute to.


portrait of nova institute founder brian berman

Professor Brian Berman, MD, is President and Founder of Nova Institute for Health and Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he was Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine. He is one of the most highly funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers in the field of integrative and complementary medicine. A pioneer in the field and founder of the first U.S. academic medical center-based program for integrative medicine in 1991, he received two Bravewell Collaborative awards in leadership and service. He continues to conduct NIH-funded research at University of Maryland and promote a broad vision of health through leadership at Nova Institute for Health.

Overcoming Culture Wars for Personal, Social, and Environmental Well-Being

headshot of professor susan prescott

Susan Prescott is Director of the Nova Network. She is a Professor of Planetary Health at University of Western Australia, Editor-in-Chief of Challenges, and a Scholar at the Nova Institute for Health in Baltimore. She is a pediatrician, immunologist, artist, and award-winning author, internationally recognised for her cutting-edge research into the early environmental determinants of health and disease. Her work promotes awareness of the interconnections between personal and planetary health in ways that inspire creative, integrated, and wise approaches, grounded in reciprocity, for social and ecological justice and flourishing futures.

Prescriptions for Political Health: Unlocking the Gridlock of Cultural and Political Polarization at the Roots

Carter Phipps is an author, speaker, and thought leader who works at the intersection of business, personal development, and culture. Carter is the co-founder and Managing Director of the Institute for Cultural Evolution, a nonprofit social policy think-tank inspired by the insights of Integral Philosophy. Carter’s books include Conscious Leadership (Portfolio, 2020), coauthored with Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey and Steve McIntosh, and Evolutionaries (Harper Perennial, 2012). Carter hosts the Thinking Ahead podcast, an in-depth interview show that reflects his broad-ranging and integrative perspective on business, politics, science, technology, consciousness, and more.

Aligning Values and Behavior: Lessons from Regenerative Agriculture

Hannah Gosnell is a Professor of Geography at Oregon State University studying agricultural landscape change, collaborative conservation, climate change, and environmental governance in the context of rural working landscapes. Her research focuses on the human dimensions of rangeland management from a social-ecological systems perspective. She is particularly interested in the social, cultural, and psychological aspects of the transition to regenerative agriculture and the implications for landowners’ capacity to adapt to social, economic and environmental change. Hannah earned her MA and PhD in Geography from the University of Colorado, Boulder and a BA from Brown University.

Fractal Approaches to Quantum Social Change

We’ll share a message from Karen O’Brien, professor in the department of sociology and human geography at the University of Oslo, Norway and co-founder of cCHANGE, a company that supports transformation in a changing climate. With 30 years of research experience, she currently focuses on the relationship between climate change adaptation and transformations to sustainability. She is particularly interested in the role of beliefs, values, world views, and paradigms in generating conscious social change, including an exploration of the potential for “quantum social change.” She has participated in four reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and was named by Web of Science as one of the world’s most influential researchers of the past decade

A Return to the Heart: Awakening Innate Capacities to Shift Attitudes and Behaviors through Grassroots Efforts

Odessa Flores-Vasquez is a key spiritual leader and Senior Associate at Devoted Health. Of Maya/Ojibwa ancestry, Odessa is a Native energy healer, dancer, singer, elder advocate, and mental health practitioner who has spent her life “re-Indigenizing” rituals, ceremonies, and traditions to restore societal balance and promote collective and individual health. Currently, Odessa leads a movement of Elders in building and sustaining communities to reclaim their innate power as wisdom keepers and seven generation changemakers.

Listening to the Voices of Dissent: Bridging Political Polarization through Arts-Based Dialogue

Karen Doyle Grossman is the Executive Director for the Garrison Institute and the founding Vice President at Social Innovations at Mercy Corps, a $400 million international organization operating in 44 countries. In this role, Karen created and directed Mercy Corps’ work to advance highly scalable, double bottom line solutions. At the Aspen Institute, Karen launched the Young Leadership Initiative for executives under the age of 45. She served as associate director for the Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program, leading multi-year initiatives to document, evaluate, and fund innovative anti-poverty strategies in the United States. There, Karen created and founded MicroMentor, the world’s largest community of entrepreneurs and experienced volunteer business mentors.

Interventions to Reduce Meta-Prejudice, Dehumanization, and Partisan Hostility

Alex Landry is a PhD student at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he studies the social psychology of extreme intergroup conflict. His work has largely focused on dehumanization — the process of conceiving of another group of people as less than fully human — and its role in the perpetuation of intergroup hostility. He also studies the psychology of ideological extremism and radicalization, both in terrorist organizations abroad and among American political partisans. 


May 7, 2024


11:00 am – 12:30 pm ET

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is some debate about whether people always experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.