Friday, March 2, 2007

Friday Reflection: Leaving the Building--Beyond the Spectator Society

We live amid a culture defined by expectation rather than reflection. We breathlessly await The Next Big Thing—the new computer; the next wave in gear or cheap thrills; the coming blockbuster movie or episode of 24; the next story that will have everyone talking. We are a spectator society.

In other words, ours is an escapist, fantasy-driven culture; and our media dutifully follow and further fuel that lust for the titillations of the vicarious thrill. Having worked in corporate America for some 20-odd years and learned something about what motivates power, I can assure you that if Rupert Murdoch believed that delivering thoughtful, probing, and truly critical journalism would be profitable; then he would offer it. But only if he saw that it made more money than his current stock-in-trade of shrill escapism. Until then, Anna Nicole's month-long funeral will always trump Iraq, Darfur, and the corruption in Washington.

Yet, as we suggested yesterday, there is change in the air—even transformation, one would hope. It is not just the outcome of an election four months ago; or the angry voices being heard in the media, the blogosphere, and even on Capitol Hill; or the veterans and servicemen forming alliances to end the Iraq War. It is a sea-change within the heart of each individual who has committed him or herself to an involvement in these things.

Our banner quote for the week is from my Tao of Hogwarts book, and comes from a discussion of Harry Potter's dreams and remote-sensing experiences of Rowling's Book 5. The point of this is not to get into speculation about psi phenomena, channeling, or any of that stuff—these may be valid discussions to have, but are beyond our scope here. I'd prefer that we focus on the messages of both Harry's experiences and those of the citizen-activists through whom we can begin to glean the light of transformation in our world.

I recently took up an invitation from Ode Magazine to offer some suggestions on how they might design their online presence. I gave a few technical recommendations (involving, for example, Web 2.0 practices, search utilization, and user interface optimization); but most of my focus was on designing a website that reflects the magazine's inspiration, its mission statement, if you will.

The magazine's motto is that its readers are "intelligent optimists." So I asked Ode to tell readers up front what it means by "intelligent optimism":

Adopt a Krishnamurti-style of dialectic in explaining clearly your motto. For example (I'm here drawing on my own understanding of the term, which may be wrong or imprecise): "Intelligence is more than intellect; it includes but also surpasses intellect. We are born with heart, brain, and numerous other organs and functions that were designed to work organically, holistically—as a team, if you will. When we are led only by intellect, we are depriving ourselves and the world of all the other functions and talents of the living personality: this is the mistake that many governments, scientists, and even most religions make. To be intelligent is to use all one's mental, feeling, and other human and animal qualities in a harmonious concert of understanding and expression. From this harmony naturally comes optimism, the ability to see the light amid darkness, the potential in problems, the accord within conflict..."

Now this kind of intelligence gets fairly short shrift, even amid liberals, who justifiably don't want to be associated with that Bushspeak ear-to-the-mouth-of-God fantasy. But what we're talking about here is a psychological principle rather than a religious tenet; a guide to personal experience instead of a point of doctrine or belief. It is roughly what Daniel Goleman has famously recommended to us as "emotional intelligence"—though I would much prefer the term "feeling intelligence."

Or would you rather imagine that Intellect is best served by being dragged, naked and alone, out onto the stage of life—the emperor with no clothes, the stone God towering over a desert? Teamwork gets a lot of lip-service in our culture: corporations climb over one another to advertise their team-philosophy, often using famous athletes from our various popular team sports to buttress their claim of being "team-driven." Yet teamwork is the last thing we find in the corporate personality. Compare the org-chart models of the personality and the company below: in government, we have the same thing. There is a CEO / "Decider" who has the power to determine who is (and is not) on the "team" and what the "team" does or doesn't do.

There is, of course, no such thing as teamwork or collegiality in the corporate model of business, government, or the human psyche. Its only reality is the institutional monument of command and control, occupation and profit, conformity driven by fear. That is the building we have to leave, one individual at a time.

This process of the departure from the narrow framework of corporate conformity, from the imprisoning grid of the org chart, is what I sense arising from the grassroots today. It is what I call "the open source society." It uses information not as an end in itself, not as a tool for domination, or as substance to be twisted and altered with shadow; but as a starting point for growth.

So growth and transformation do not occur by following a dictum of "lead, follow, or get out of the way." They are far more about finding the most natural place to be in each moment of every relationship. No one should have to shoulder the burden of being the leader all the time. The same is true within the psyche: intellect works a lot better when it is not the king, not the God of Mind and Being. Often, we only begin with the intellectual, and take off from there. In other words, the different components of the living personality take the lead in turns. As I put it in the Tao of Hogwarts:

This is one reason why there is such an enormous published literature of transformative practice: most of us happen to begin our journeys in this vein through the doorway of an intellectual encounter with a book, or an entire collection of them, before we begin to do the necessary inner work of giving intellect its appropriate (and often rather subordinate) place within the dynamic family of the personality. As Lao Tzu says of the Tao, sometimes it follows, sometimes it leads; but intellect is never meant to be alone.

Pursue, and it eludes you;
Follow, and it vanishes.
Thought cannot hold it,
But you can’t think without it.
(from Tao Te Ching, Chapter 14)

So while we readily and gratefully acknowledge the contributions of organizations like Moveon and Freepress, we have to remember above all that these movements are nourished by every individual who puts down the gossip rag; who turns away from the rant and spectacle of FOX and CNN; who ceases being a spectator in an arena of shadows and opens his whole being to the light of a dawning millennium, and casts its healing and transformative glow upon the decadence and misery around him. Its outward forms in the realms of information, communication, and action are nearly numberless; but it all starts from within the heart of each of us who make the effort to restore the wholeness of the living self.

1 comment:

Galba Bright said...

I enjoyed your deep and insightful post. As a person trying to live an emotionally intelligent life and also having an emotional intelligence blog, I found the connections that you drew between citizen activism and emotional intelligence fascinating.

Thanks, I'll be back for more.