Saturday, January 28, 2012

Harmonic Convergence, Anyone?
Thoughts for a New Paradigm
           I’ve taken several on-line political surveys in the past six or eight months which include a question like this: “What do you think is the most important issue we face today?”
            The issues, of course, are provided by the survey and typically include such topics as the economy, the environment, energy, entitlements, defense, taxes. Sometimes I can check “other” and fill in a few words, and what I might have written until a day or two ago was “over-population.”
            My pet theory has been that too many people competing for too few resources distributed unequally throughout the world is a fundamental problem, perhaps even the core reason for the increasing threat of impending disasters on multiple global fronts. Given all the headaches we face, it’s easy to conjure up a fearsome future, with nature’s seasons turned against us, economies failing, hunger and thirst ravaging whole populations, pandemics of unfamiliar diseases, resource wars, mutating insects and vanishing bees....
            Pretty awful scenarios that few would argue are not possible, couldn’t happen.
            But is my assumption correct? Is over-population the root cause of these probabilities?
            Or has Nature sent seven billion souls, with more on the way, to assure enough brain power available on Earth to find solutions?
           I decided that could be a way to look at it, which then causes me to wonder if societies across the globe could be enticed to join in a world-wide priority, something like a war effort—not to destroy a hated enemy but to get along together. All of us, in every nation. Not to conquer, not to compete, not to make a profit and grow rich, but to get along.
            I remember when I was hired as an actor in a five-member theater troupe for young audiences. Except for two of us who lived in the same town, knew each other by sight, but had never spoken, we had never laid eyes on each other before. We were strangers. Yet for the next eight months we would be keeping regular, intimate company, practically living together as we rehearsed and performed and toured throughout our region.
            I wanted to succeed in my new job, of course—be good at it, come across well, impress directors and producers, assure future jobs. But most important, I thought, was for us all to get along. Otherwise, our experience together would be hell.
            Therefore, I made that my conscious priority—to get along with my co-performers. Standing out in my job in a highly competitive field was important but secondary.
            I never discussed this with the others, but, happily, we got along famously together. In fact, we were the most harmonious company in our theater’s recent history up to then, and I doubt any one of us today has a single bad memory of each other or of our time together.
I’m not claiming responsibility for that, I’m just recommending the experience. Cooperation is a tie that binds. It focuses on relationships. Its structures are circular. Competition is the sword that divides. It focuses on winners and losers. Its structures are hierarchical. And unless it is supervised, there are casualties. One casualty could be Mother Earth herself, the ultimate victim of seven billion people competing with one another for a bigger piece of her. What if, for example, the predicted tipping point is reached in Earth’s climate and the weather suddenly and permanently shifts into one of those nightmare scenarios inhospitable to human life, summer or winter? It could happen. It could be happening as I speak.
            So I ask myself: Is the over-reach of human presence on our planet a consequence of our core belief in competition as a way of life? Would cooperation be the better way?
            What if each person could somehow be tasked with the patriotic duty to find ways to get along with the others they meet—not because it’s good and beautiful but because we’ll destroy way too much of ourselves if we don’t. It’s a matter of survival with a minimum of loss. 
            It’s also a new approach, requiring a fundamental paradigm shift forced on us (as most big changes are) by necessity. I’ve even read that it’s a new idea in these parts of the galaxy, and maybe even far beyond. But that’s another story.
            The point is, we human beings have no working memory of cooperation as the organizing principle of our social life. But maybe now it’s a good idea to teach ourselves how to do it, start practicing it, and pass it on as a core value to our children. Maybe our politicians could really mean it when they talk about it as a necessary step if we’re to weather all our present ills. Maybe artists like myself could offer visions of life in a cooperative society, and plays and books and paintings based on a new world view could penetrate the theaters, the book stores, and the galleries.
            Perhaps cooperation could be even more interesting and more fun than competition, if the rewards were true friendships linked across the world.
            Nature cooperates, but human beings have a very mixed record. In the end, of course, we’re all of us forced out the exit, but is that any reason to behave badly while we’re here? From early childhood we’re coached to beat out our classmates for honors and privileges. What if, instead, we were expected and encouraged to choose at least one thing each of us can do on a consistent basis to get along with each other—even just one other person—and then act on that? The ripple effect of good will circling the globe could be very powerful. We could slow down the crazy speed of our lifestyles and catch our collective breath. And that would ease a lot of stress.
            I suppose I dream. I’ve been called a dreamer, nothing very practical about me. But I still think that the most important thing for us to do in our groups, from family to community to country to the world, is make it a priority to get along with each other.
            Is that an idea whose time has come? Or haven’t we had enough yet?


At 5:19 PM , Blogger Tom Ellis said...

Yes, absolutely, Delaney! "You may say I'm a dreamer...but I'm not the only one..." as John Lennon so memorably sang. I am trying something like this in my English 111 class this semester. I am listing, as themes for them to write about, the Four Brahma-Viharas, which I translate (for them) as "Four Useful Attitudes to Cultivate;"

1. Benevolence--an attitude of basic friendliness or good will toward everyone they meet (Maitri)

2. Empathy--the capacity to give a shit about the suffering of others--to want to do something about it when you encounter (inner or outer) suffering(Karuna);

3. Curiosity--an open, joyful capacity to take an interest in things and people you know nothing about, rather like what we all were born with as young children (Mudita);

4. Patience--the willingness to think before you react to provocation or arrogant, stupid behavior of any sort--the ability to chill out (Upeksha).

My basic claim is that, to the exact extent we each cultivate these four useful attitudes, the Five Enemies of Gaia (Greed, Ignorance, Hatred, Denial, and Despair) will shrivel away...

It can't hurt to try it!

At 6:00 PM , Blogger Delaney said...

An excellent guide for cultivating right relationship, Tom. And, as you say, "It can't hurt to try it!"

At 9:11 AM , Blogger Suporna Sarkar said...

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