Sunday, March 31, 2013

Giving Way

Belief and Vision

The stories that represent cultural worldviews create expectations that guide the mind’s perception of surroundings. Vision filters for what matches the inner model of reality constructed of personal experience and cultural/educational background. What doesn’t fit the model is often not seen at all. A persistent story told by science creates an image of the universe and everything in it as a machine that can be explained by its parts. That image first began its necessary breakdown when Michael Faraday envisioned the presence of magnetic fields and immaterial forces rose in scientific consciousness. Yet the machine model still directs the reality many people see.

The standards of so much of the modern world are based on hierarchical and mechanical models that fail to see deeper patterns. In the quest for more and more production and accumulation what’s seen as valuable is what will further those narrow goals. The earth is seen as a source of raw material to be exploited. The worldview of native cultures sees the earth as sacred, as all nature deserving respect, and is similar to Chinese Taoism in the emphasis on awareness and harmony with continual flow. The mechanical model makes laws that support the needs of the machine and private ownership though Lao Tzu pointed out that “as laws increase so do the number of rascals.” The enormous apparatus of modern media keeps attention on consumption and the illusion that having things is the source of satisfaction because it serves the purpose of materialist society. Not only is this not a sustainable attitude, it distracts from the satisfactions of being and centers attention outside the self. It promotes a competitive attitude toward others instead of connection through multiple networks in the larger system that supports us as part of the world body. Recognizing this imagery’s effect on what we see and shifting the underlying model is the only way to rescue the planet from the collapsing machine model and re-integrate all the talents and capabilities now relegated to the piles of parts that don’t fit.

Our inner picture of the world affects what we see. The accuracy of what we perceive is strongly influenced by what we already think about it. We may not see at all, what we can’t believe is there. The things we’ve heard in the past are part of the formation of this inner view, stories from the culture in which we’re raised create a bed of imagery we combine into new thoughts. What’s inconsistent with what we understand to be true of reality either is missed altogether or is perceived as a mistake of some kind.  It’s hard to make change when the underlying model still leaves so much out. Like Faraday we need to see the patterns of underlying influence, see how things link in systems within the organism that is ourselves and the larger organism of humanity. We could learn from ancient goddess cultures focusing on connectedness. Gaia has no hierarchy. The consciousness of the earth, like the body, moves toward balance.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Finding the Word


Working to expand cultural diversity can run into opposition over the issue of standards. The creation of standards by a dominant culture marginalizes legitimate values held by other ways of looking at the world. The idea that excellence can only be achieved by matching the dominant value ignores the importance of diversity to ecological health and narrows personal choices in ways that don’t always suit the individual. Whether in regard to children’s test scores or religious morality, criticism, judgment and ranking constrain the development of talents and capabilities outside those limits and deaden the mind.
Younger people see that we are all on a spectrum and no single way of being can be best for each individual. Yet still people stand up and prescribe for everyone the mode of being they themselves practice. When they talk about standards, it’s their standards they want to impose on everyone else. By restricting what’s to be valued, a range of capacities go unnoticed and the richness of the culture thins.

In her book “Jane Addams and the dream of American Democracy”, author Jean Bethke
Elshtain, wrote that Addams felt standardization was a holdover from militarism. She appreciated the diversity of cultures among the immigrants in poor Chicago neighborhoods and created Hull House as a place of art and theatre that welcomed all. Reading about how people dismissed her efforts as lost on the poor I remembered when I was doing a mural for the city, the two homeless men that sat against the wall of the abandoned gas station across the street, watching me paint day after day. When I finally got up the courage to talk to them, I was surprised by their gratitude. They thanked me profusely for bringing some beauty to their part of the city. As I was finishing up a few weeks later, a well dressed man who never stopped or broke stride complimented me on the mural but said it was wasted on the people around there.

Jane Addams knew that art was for everyone. Though she was criticized for bringing art into nurseries and underprivileged communities she insisted that “being surrounded by beauty developed the mind.” It’s through the arts that we find the commonalities between us all. As Jane Addams herself said, ”the things that make men alike are stronger and more primitive than the things that separate them.”  She saw ugliness and beauty as ethical categories and guidance in relation to truth. The general population needs to be reunited with the pleasure of looking at art, of feeling that connection to humankind that response to what’s personally meaningful gives.

Today concrete benefits are demonstrated in the work of Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine. Their “Visual Thinking Strategies” show how talking about art frees up verbal creativity. In her paper on the subject she writes, “In the process of looking at and talking about art, the viewer is developing skills not normally associated with art.” Without fear of wrong answers it strengthens anyone’s ability to generate ideas and fortifies their connection with archetypal themes.