Involved in an exploratory school aiming at nothing less than to change the course of human history, I can feel a profound transformation in my being. The exposure and subsequent discussion are bringing together the threads of things I’ve been reading, viewing and engaged in at a more practical level. I am consolidating the threads into the very core of my being.
I’ve been invited to dinner with former colleagues and have been anticipating the nature of the conversation. I usually look forward to catching up and engaging in their daily gossip, feeling part of that community again.
But I’m no longer part of that community. I’ve moved on. I might be the same person but I’ve gone past the daily programming of admiring the latest wow shoes, the bargains to be had in the high street, and the need to present a facade of success and a donning the mask that needs constant approval from others. I can’t have those conversations anymore.
I am reborn.
It happens when you embark on something that takes you well beyond your comfort zone, is extremely painful or difficult and requires a crossing of the abyss. This isn’t my first rebirth and I feel I have several still to go.
During this transformative process, I have found myself reacting quite strongly and antagonistically to not only some of the questions, but also responses to them.
Something I learned as a teacher is that if you want good thinking and good answers, you need to ask good questions.
So here’s a good question:
What kind of a universe do we live in?
Before you read on, have a think about that for a bit and consider what kind of answer you might present in response to that.
If you are a more critical thinker, you might answer with a question – what do you mean by universe? Do you mean the place where we live, the world as a whole, or the great cosmological whole?
Now take this qualification of the question:
What kind of a universe do we live in?
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live
in a friendly or hostile universe.”
~ Albert Einstein
Please comment on Einstein’s assertion. What do you think?
Before reading further, consider how you might have changed your response to the first question when it is posed that the universe we are talking about can only be friendly or hostile and this is the only choice we have.
It is hardly surprising that one of respondents immediately interpreted the question as “friendly or hostile” and ensuing discussion summarised the choice as “love or fear”.
It was like a red flag to a bull for me. What?!!! I calmed down a bit when someone challenged the dichotomous interpretations of the question.
Years ago I came across a personality theory that I really liked. It didn’t simplify you into a number on a scale of perhaps 3 dimensions, or argue that you have an innate nervous disposition which predisposes you to behave in systematic and patterned ways. This theory argued that how you habitually view the world comes from the way you experience the world, and if you come to understand how you are habitually viewing the world, then you can change it. I undertook his methodology and did learn something quite important about my personality that I could work on and change.
However, there was a problem with the methodology.
It requires you to select seven elements. In the version I did, it was 7 people from my family, friends, workplace and teachers. You are then asked to select three of them and say in what way two are similar and the third is different.
Try it – take your mother, father, and current or most recent romantic partner. In what way are two of these alike but different from the third?
Did you have any difficulty with doing that? Or did it come with ease?
I could say that two are similar in that they are judgemental, but the third is different because they are non-judgemental. So I have one construct that suggests that I think about the world in terms of how judgemental or not people are. The process gets a little more complicated when the constructs themselves are analysed and core constructs are elicited from the dichotomous understanding of people you have produced.
However, how accurate a portrayal do you really have of your personal worldview? Do you really go around making quick bipolar decisions about people? Do you really box them in this way?
Shame on you if you do!
But this kind of thinking is embedded in a media driven culture. Watch most Hollywood and Disney movies and the story is told of some great big baddie who must be overcome by an unlikely hero full of good intent and love. I’m currently watching Grimm and it is full of ‘I’m the good guy who has stop this bad revolution at all costs’, even though the bad guys are saying all we want is a world where we don’t have to be afraid of who we are. Ok, the characters sometimes drift into complexity. The good guys becomes the bad guys even though they are good. It wasn’t their fault, as it was caused by some evil intervention and at heart we understand they are good and will come back to us. And the opposite has occurred the bad guy became good, but we know deep down this can’t last as they are bad at heart.
Darn it, but I love Wes Anderson and Coen Brothers films. They depict humans as they really are: remarkable, deeply complex, flawed, misguided and capable of the complete gamut of emotion and behaviour available to us.
We love films so much because we are capable of empathy and compassion, we are brought along the journey of others and feel it wholeheartedly with them. They are capable of reminding us of our own humanity.
Is not anger born of fear, fear born of love and could not love lead to homicidal capabilities? Does not a mother fear for the safety, well-being and future of her child? Is she not angered when her child is threatened? And is she not capable of killing to protect her child from threat?
Many who have dabbled in psychology will be familiar with Philip Zimbardo’s prison and Milgram’s obedience experiments. Despite the flaws of the former, Zimbardo reviewed his and others’ work in the wake of what transpired at Abu Ghraib prison. To cut a long story short, Zimbardo explained the processes involved in why good people do bad things. He shows how any one of us with certain social factors present could become evil.
I had an experience where I learned that I was capable of killing another human being. My child had been hurt by another adult. It took me a long to come to terms with that, but I have. I crossed the abyss, and came out, I hope, a better human being for the experience and acceptance of that side of myself.
The most astounding fact, according to astrophysicist Neil deGrass Tyson is:
“the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core, under extreme temperatures and pressures.”
“So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes, we are part of this universe. We are in this universe. But perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us.”
The universe I live in is not one that is either friendly or hostile. The universe I live is one I am part of, with all its explosive violence and deep, intense mystery and peace. And that universe lives within me.
Featured Image: Hubble Heritage