Thursday, June 14, 2007
Loving and Just Civilization
The Central Role of Mutual Empowerment
Overview of This Paper
Can human beings create a civilization in which all people have the opportunity to live happy, fulfilled, empowered, and actualized lives (realizing their full potentials) and in which they
• have optimal health of body and mind along with the confidence that they have the competence and power to sustain that optimal health, and
• are connected harmoniously in life-affirming resonance with other people, with the natural world, and within themselves.
This paper is about the fundamental change that is required for us to create this kind of civilization and the steps to get there. Here are sections which constitute the paper. Each topic is presented as a separate topic on this BLOG.
I look forward to your feedback.
Take care, Bill
1 – We Can Create a Loving and Just Civilization
Even though a sense of disempowerment has grown over thousands of years of human history, we still have the capacity to create a loving and just civilization.
2 – Power and Mutual Empowerment: Changing From Power Over to Power To
The distinction between power over and power to
3 – Emotional Resonance – Growth, Development, Survival
Not only are love and emotional resonance wonderful human experiences, they also are necessary for our healthy growth and development, and, most importantly for our survival.
4 – The Opportunity
Mutually empowering relationships can transform individual and institutional behavior which will result in fundamental change.
5 – The Problem With The Supernatural
God, religion, the supernatural, truth – challenging areas to explore through mutual empowerment.
6 – The Practice
Some initial guidelines for mutually empowering relationships
7 – Actions to Move Us From Here to There
To create our desired civilization, fundamental individual and institutional change must occur.
8 – Guidelines for Individual Action for Individual Behavior Change
There is some behavior change that we may be able to accomplish individually.
9 – Guidelines for Actions for Institutional Change – Actions We Must Take With Others – Mutual Empowering Relationships
Fundamental change will result from the actions of people who have adopted the principles of mutually empowerment. Those of us who commit to these principles will work together both to develop our practice as well as to apply them to promote institutional change.
10 – The Practice of Love on the Path to Love
• Individually, humans instinctually (according to our genetic disposition) strive to be one with the free flowing, liberated universal energy, the spirit of the universe.
• We also strive instinctually to be whole and integrated within our individual beings.
• The final piece of this instinctual trinity is that we strive to be deeply connected with, to be one with, to be in emotional resonance with each other.
Loving and Just Civilization
The Central Role of Mutual Empowerment
We Can Create a Loving and Just Civilization
Can human beings create a civilization in which all people have the opportunity to live happy, fulfilled, empowered, and actualized lives (realizing their full potentials) and in which they
***** have optimal health of body and mind along with the confidence that they have the competence and power to sustain that optimal health, and
***** are connected harmoniously in life-affirming resonance with other people, with the natural world, and within themselves.
If we follow the trajectory of the path established, largely unconsciously, by humans during the past 16,000-plus years, will we create the civilization defined above?
We humans have created dominant institutions and adopted normative modes of individual behavior which threaten to destroy life on Earth, which increasingly disempower people, and which increasingly alienate people from others and from themselves. Fundamental change is required to set us on a different path, one with a different trajectory from the one we are now on.
How will that fundamental change occur?
We will engage in the practice of establishing and enhancing mutually empowering relationships which are based on behaviors which are life affirming. This practice will produce healthy individuals, loving relationships among people, and the transformation of life-negating institutions into life-affirming institutions.
Why have humans failed thus far to create this highly desirable civilization?
We have inherited institutions and behaviors which were derived largely unconsciously over thousands of years. These are predominantly life negating and disempowering. Collectively, to some extent, we already have become disempowered permitting doubt and cynicism to creep into our consciousness. We have knowledge today that permits us to engage in new learning which can transform those institutions and behaviors so that they are life affirming and empowering.
Even though sages over the past thousands of years have taught about enlightened beings and societies, human civilization today still falls far short of what they envisioned. What is different now?
As inspiring as much of the teachings of these sages is, for the most part these teachers did not know what we know today about behavior change. Some people have successfully followed the teaching of these sages and have lived loving lives of service. Nevertheless, the number of such people has been too small to result in these loving ways becoming sufficiently prevalent in our civilization. Today we can define practices for behavior change which are inherently rewarding and fulfilling and which, therefore, will be followed by most people. Those practices will be based in mutual empowerment and will be pursued in many forms of connection with others.
If people already feel essentially disempowered and consider the possibility of a loving, new civilization to be a fantasy/an unrealistic dream, isn’t it already too late to try to create this new civilization?
Individuals may or may not choose to focus explicitly on the goal of creating a new civilization. Minimally, and sufficiently, they will focus on achievable, rewarding, fulfilling incremental steps which will contribute to and change their lives. They will continue on this path, incremental step by incremental step, because with each step their lives will be filled with more life-affirming resonance and love with others. This process will be inherently rewarding and will produce an increase in power to create further change.
That response is not convincing to me. Maybe I could accept what you say if I thought our civilization had the time for that to happen. However, I don’t think we have the time. There are many reasons to believe that within the next five to two hundred years, human life on Earth will be wiped out through some kind of global disaster – ecological, natural, political, biological, social, or military.
You pose the challenge very well. There are two key parts to that challenge. First, I agree with you that the ecological, social, and economic trajectories which are likely given historical trends to this moment will probably result in one of the global disasters which you mention. While those disasters are not inevitable, the challenge to avert them is enormous and urgent.
Second, and perhaps the most important dynamic of all, it is possible that you cannot be convinced by what I have said above, because you have already become too disempowered or are very close to becoming so. Before going further with my response to this question, I offer a short piece from William James:
Suppose, for example that I am climbing in the Alps, and have had the ill-luck to work myself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Being without similar experience, I have no evidence of my ability to perform it successfully; but hope and confidence in myself make me sure I shall not miss my aim, and nerve my feet to execute what without those subjective emotions would perhaps have been impossible.
But suppose that, on the contrary, the emotions of fear and mistrust preponderate ... -- why, then I shall hesitate so long that at last, exhausted and trembling, and launching myself in a moment of despair, I miss my foothold and roll into the abyss.
In this case ... the part of wisdom clearly is to believe what one desires; for the belief is one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object. There are then cases where faith creates its own verification. Believe, and you shall be right, for you shall
save yourself; doubt, and you shall again be right, for you shall perish. The only difference is that to believe is greatly to your advantage.
While there is much that could be discussed in this piece, I am offering it in the context of learning new, mutually empowering behaviors and ways of being as another way of posing your question regarding whether or not we have enough time. Or, still another way of asking whether there are sufficient numbers of us who have not already become too disempowered to meet the considerable challenge. I would be a fool to suggest that I have the answer to that question. And, you cite numerous examples, which I have to agree with, which give a great deal of evidence to suggest that we humans are irreversibly headed in the wrong direction – the path which will lead to our destruction.
We come to a very personal question – to the extent that we can determine and have the power to – how do we want to live our lives? We can strive to do our best, which because of our shortcomings may often not be very life-affirming, to live as if a world based in mutual empowerment is possible and to strive to contribute to that possibility. We keep facing new situations which present us with choices everyday. I am confident that most people want to choose life-affirmation. Being connected in mutually empowering relationships with others can help us find the power to make such choices when we feel individually disempowered.
What does mutual empowerment and a mutually empowering relationship look like?
In mutually empowering relationships different groupings of two or more people interact with each other in a wide variety of activities or purposes. They have an agreement or understanding that in pursuing these activities they will do so in life-affirming ways that enhance the fulfillment and empowerment of all involved. They express and manifest their thoughts and feelings truthfully and freely. They share a commitment to strive not to act in life-negating ways. For example, they strive not to shame, humiliate, or otherwise put down others. They strive not to express power over another person unless there is an understanding or agreement that such power over is appropriate in a given circumstance. Should someone be inclined to act in a life-negating way, there is an agreement among all parties to identify that action and to work together to find and learn alternative, life-affirming actions.
Yikes!!! Stop! OK, OK, I had a moment when I was willing to entertain the possibility that our world and my life could be significantly better than they are. I asked you some questions and you answered. And, then all you were saying seemed like some pretty heady stuff – mutual empowerment, agreements, understandings, life-affirming, life-negating, no put-downs – which seems just way out of touch with reality. This stuff just has no connection with my life. I’m a single mom busting my butt to make ends meet and get even a little bit of time with my kids. I’m a construction worker on a crew with some tough dudes; they’d laugh be out of town, if not worse, if I started talking about any of this stuff around them. I’m a pimply faced teenager trying like hell to be one of the in-crowd. I’m an illegal resident in this country, a low-wage worker with an abusive boss, a middle-level manager caught between an authoritarian boss and a work crew that’s ready to turn on me in an instant. I’m a successful person by just about all conventional measures and still feel a deep emptiness in my life – don’t talk to me about mutual empowerment. Am I being clear – you are not talking my language and are irrelevant to my life!
Wow! I hear you; believe me. Stick with me for a bit. Let’s see where we can go.
You asked me some initial questions which were perfect. They let me lay out in as few words as I could all that I wanted to say. I really don’t need to say any more. If you like, you can work with what I have already laid out in whatever way you find most pertinent to your life. The steps you choose to take may seem small; but, I assure you that they will make a difference that you will like.
I don’t want to get into the position of trying to convince you of anything. It is precisely because of the circumstances of your life and mine that I want us to join together to transform completely these power arrangements which are so stifling and strangling. What is the best scenario if fundamental change does not occur? – thousands of more years of injustice and oppression. What is the worst scenario without fundamental change? – we will by neglect or design bring about the destruction of human civilization.
We can bring about transformation or fundamental change regarding power without violence. Certainly, some of those people who currently express power over others will be reluctant and/or fearful to give up that power. We will give them the opportunity to join those of us who are committed to mutual empowerment. Many of them will experience the positive motivation to join with us. Some will not.
The combined power which results from our mutual empowerment will be unstoppable. We will take necessarily small steps so that we will succeed in this transformation and so that those who fear their loss of power over others will have the opportunity to have their fears mitigated. Many activists and thinkers have already demonstrated that such a transformation is possible. What we need to do now is to turn these initial manifestations into a movement.
If you know what you need to know right now to begin on this path of mutual empowerment, please get on with the actions that need to be taken. If you would like to know about some of the knowledge others have brought into my life which persuades me that life-affirming, mutually empowering relationships can bring about this transformation, I hope you will enjoy reading some or all of what follows.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
Power and Mutual Empowerment: Changing From Power Over to Power To
What is it about power and mutual empowerment that is central to bringing about fundamental change?
The fact that this question is so pertinent and that the concept of mutual empowerment is essentially unknown informs us profoundly. In our protests that these notions are irrelevant to our lives, we are admitting that even though we know that our spirits are being suppressed in so many ways, we have come to accept that we don’t have the power to make a difference – we cry or scream or whimper in silence; we accept cynically that this is as good as it gets. We will look at how and why our spirits will join to create a very different civilization.
However, let’s first examine a bit more specifically mutual empowerment and the difference between “power over” and “power to.” In everyday discourse, power is referred to frequently – most often without any distinction regarding this basic and highly salient distinction between “power over” and “power to.” Jean Baker Miller in her paper “Telling the Truth About Power” sheds light on these matters.
In the paper Miller states:
Along with the obscurity surrounding power comes confusion in the usage of the word. Without reviewing everyone else’s definitions, let me say that we have used the phrase “power-to” to mean the ability to make a change in any situation, large or small, i.e., the ability to move anything from point A to point B without the connotation of restricting or forcing anyone else. For the latter forms of power that imply force, we’ve used the term, “power-over.” In a
basic sense, power-over usually follows from the structural situation whereby one group has more resources and privilege and thus, has more capacity to force or control others. This is the structural power I just referred to above. Structural power is most influential and most important to recognize….
There is great confusion around our use of the term “mutual empowerment.” In all relationships such as parent-child, teacher-student, therapist-patient, and the like, one person clearly has more power than the other; they are not the same, nor are they equal along various dimensions, e.g., age, experience, knowledge of a certain field, etc. Note— these forms of unequal relationships are not the same as the inequalities forced upon certain social groups. In unequal relationships like parent-child, teacher-student, and therapist-patient relationships the goal is for the more powerful person to foster the growth of the other person, that is, to move toward change and toward equality (Miller, 1976). This movement may take a long time as it does in the parent-child relationship. Even without equality there can be mutuality and movement toward more mutuality, as we use the term. Mutuality means joining together in a kind of relationality in which both (or all) participants are engaged, empathic, and growing (Jordan, 1986). Martha and
Judy offer an example. Likewise, a parent and child and also the people in other unequal relationships may participate in many moments when they join in mutual engagement that is benefiting them both, though usually not in the same way or on the same level. We can see this even in studies of mother-infant interaction, e.g., in Tronick’s (1998) and others’ work. Obviously the two people are not the same, nor are they equal. Most importantly, in the therapist-client, the parent-child, and other similarly constructed unequal relationships the more powerful person must take primary responsibility for developing the relationship. The more powerful person has to keep trying to find ways to make the interactions growth fostering, i.e., moving toward fuller mutuality—and eventually equality. …
The issue of power may constitute another reason why we should all continue in ongoing peer or supervision groups because alone, we cannot easily become aware of what we’re not aware of. We all need other people’s input. Peer groups could add the stated goal of doing this inquiry about power for each other. In saying all this, we are really talking about trying to work beyond the values of our society, that is, when we talk about bringing authenticity, mutual empathy, and mutual empowerment to the relationship. …
It is not that [one person’s] greater power will mean less power for the [the other in the relationship]. As we’ve said, that kind of thinking usually follows from a notion of a “zerosum game.” It follows from patriarchal, power-over thinking. Instead, it is a question of reframing
the issue altogether in different terms. The answer is not to just flip over whoever is in the position of power so that the subordinates gain more power but continue operating in the same old dominant-subordinate framework. The issue is to create a new structure altogether. … But maybe we can contribute on an even broader scale in public life. Perhaps we can help to find the ways whereby less powerful groups of people can not only gain power but recast the operation of power, transform the very nature of power. This transformation would change life for all of us.
OK, that’s helpful, and who can disagree with the notion of mutual empowerment? But, I still don’t see what gives you any indication that people will choose to pursue mutually empowering relationships. The few have wielded power over the many for thousands of years. What makes you believe that this will ever change?
The irony here is that the strongest motivation to survive and thrive among humans is at the root of mutual empowerment. In order for an individual person to survive, she needs to be connected in life-affirming, emotional resonance with others. This connection flourishes when there is mutual empowerment among two or more people. Or, in simpler words, humans are most fulfilled, are happiest when they are loving – when they love and are loved. We all know the deep joy of being loving. We also know the deep pain when love is absent or taken away. Once again, it is the relatively unconscious establishment of our current dominant society over thousands of years which has left us disempowered and with the despair and resignation that we cannot experience such a strong presence of love in our lives.
Emotional Resonance – Growth, Development, Survival
We will take a far-too-rapid trip through “A General Theory of Love” by Lewis, Armini, and Lannon, three psychiatrists at University of California San Francisco (UCSF), to gain some insight into matters of love, connection, and emotional resonance and how they relate to mutual empowerment. They write:
We searched, in short, for the science of love. Finding no such system in our own field, we went hunting in other disciplines. Before we were through scavenging, we had gathered together elements from neurodevelopment, evolutional theory, psychopharmacology, neonatology, experimental psychology, and computer science. (p. 12)
A revolutionary paradigm assembled itself around us, and we have remained within it ever since. Within that structure we found new answers to the questions most worth asking about human lives: what are feelings, and why do we have them? What are relationships, and why do they exist? What causes emotional pain, and how can it be mended – with medications,
with psychotherapy, with both? What is therapy, and how does it heal? How should we configure our society to further emotional health? How should we raise our children, and what should we teach them? (p. 13)
Long before science existed, sharp-eyed men and women told each other stories about how
people are, stories that have never lost their power to enchant and instruct. The purpose of using science to investigate human nature is not to replace those stories but to augment and deepen them. Robert Frost once wrote that too many poets delude themselves by thinking the mind is dangerous and must be left out. The principle is mirrored in the study of the brain, where too many experts, out of plain fear, avoid mentioning love.
We think the heart is dangerous and must be left in. The poetic and the veridical, the proven and the unprovable, the heart and the brain – like charged particles of opposing polarity – exert their pulls in different directions. Where they are brought together the result is incandescence. (p. 15)
…common sense suggests that the human brain is likely to be unitary and harmonious. It isn’t.
A homogeneous brain might function better, but humans don’t have one. Evolved
structures answer not to the rules of logic but only to the exigencies of the long chain of survival victories.
Dr. Paul MacLean, an evolutionary neuroanatomist and senior research scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, has argued that the human brain is comprised of three distinct
sub-brains, each the product of a separate age in evolutionary history. The trio intermingles and communicates, but some information is inevitably lost in translation because the subunits differ in their functions, properties, and even their chemistries. His neuroevolutionary finding of the three-in-one, or triune, brain can help explain how some of love’s anarchy arises from ancient history. (p. 21)
The oldest or reptilian brain is a bulbous elaboration of the spinal cord. This brain houses vital control centers – neurons that prompt breathing, swallowing, and heartbeat, and the visual tracking system a frog relies on to snap a dancing dragonfly out of the air. The startle center is
here, too, because a swift reaction to abrupt movement or noise is the principal reason animals have brains at all. (p. 22)
Humanity’s second or limbic brain drapes itself around the first with a languid ease. (p. 24)… As
mammals split off from the reptilian line, a fresh neural structure blossomed with their skulls. This brand new brain transformed not just the mechanics of reproduction but also the organismic orientation toward offspring. Detachment and disinterest mark the parental attitude of the typical reptile, while mammals can enter into subtle and elaborate interactions with their young. (p.25)
The neocortex…is the last and, in humans, the largest of the three brains. (p.26)… Neocortical size has grown in mammals of recent origin, so that dogs and cats have more, and monkeys, more still. In human beings, the neocortex has ballooned to massive proportions…. Speaking, writing, planning, and reasoning all originate in the neocortex. So do the experience of our
senses, what we know as awareness, and our conscious motor control, what we know as will. (p. 27)
Evolution’s stuttering process has fashioned a brain that is fragmented and inharmonious, and to some degree composed of players with competing interests…. The cleavage between reason and passion is an ancient theme but no anachronism; it has endured because it speaks to the deep
human experience of a divided mind. The scientific basis for separating neocortical from limbic brain matter rests on solid neuroanatomical, cellular, and empirical grounds. (p. 31)
But even as it reaps the benefits of reason, modern America plows emotions under – a costly practice that obstructs happiness and misleads people about the nature and significance of their lives. That deliberate imbalance is more damaging than one might suppose. Beyond the
variegated sensations and the helpful motivations, science has discovered emotionality’s deep purpose: the timeworn mechanisms of emotion allow two human beings to receive the contents of each other’s minds. Emotion is the messenger of love; it is the vehicle that carries every signal from one brimming heart to another. For human beings, feeling deeply is synonymous with being alive. (p. 37)
In its present form, the limbic brain is not only the seat of dreams, but also the center of advanced emotionality. The primordial purpose of the limbic brain was to monitor the external world and the internal bodily environment, and to orchestrate their congruence….The neocortical brain, although a latecomer to the emotional scene, also receives limbic directives.
These influence the tone of symbolic activities, like language, and strategic operations, like action planning. And the limbic brain orchestrates brain changes that serve a purely communicative role – in response to limbic stimulation, small muscles on the mammalian face contract in precise configurations. The face is the only place in the body where muscles connect
directly to the skin. The sole purpose of this arrangement is to enable the transmission of a flurry of expressive signals. (pp. 51-53)
Infants are early masters of detecting and expressing emotions, which may help to explain their inborn fascination for faces…. Researchers now know that babies are looking at the expressions on the faces they fix on…. One can demonstrate in this manner that infants just a few days old can distinguish between emotional expressions. (pp. 60 – 61)
With the effulgence of their new brain, mammals developed a capacity we call limbic resonance – a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states. It is limbic resonance that makes looking into the face of another emotionally responsive creature a multi-layered experience. Instead of seeing a pair of eyes as two bespeckled buttons, when we look into the ocular portals to a limbic brain our vision goes deep: the sensations multiply, just as two mirrors placed in opposition create a shimmering ricochet of reflections whose depths recede into infinity. Eye contact, although it occurs
over a gap of yards, is not a metaphor. When we meet the gaze of another, two nervous systems achieve a palpable and intimate apposition…. To the animals capable of bridging the gap between minds, limbic resonance is the door to communal connection. (pp. 63-64)
In the 1940s, psychoanalyst René Spitz…described the fate of orphaned children reared in foundling homes and institutions, as well as babies separated from young mothers in prison. In
deference to the newly validated germ theory of disease, institutional babies were fed and clothed, and kept warm and clean, but they were not played with, handled, or held. Human contact, it was thought, would risk exposing the children to hazardous infections organisms. Spitz found that while the physical needs of children were met, they inevitably became withdrawn and sickly, and lost weight. A great many died…. Spitz had rediscovered that a lack of human interaction – handling, cooing, stroking, baby talk, and play – is fatal to infants. (pp. 69-70)
Some of our somatic systems are closed, self-regulating loops. Others are not. Consider, for instance that women who spend time together frequently find their menstrual cycles coming into spontaneous alignment. This harmonious, hormonal communion demonstrates a bodily
connection that is limbic in nature, because close friends achieve synchrony more readily than those who merely room together.
A number of scientists now believe that somatic concordances like these are not just
normal but necessary for mammals. The mammalian nervous system depends for its
neurophysiologic stability on a system of interactive coordination, wherein steadiness comes from synchronization with nearby attachment figures. Protest is the alarm that follows a breach in these life-sustaining adjustments. If the interruption continues, physiologic rhythms decline into the painful unruliness of despair. (p. 84)
Certain bodily rhythms fall into synchrony with ebb and flow of day and night. These rhythms are termed circadian, from the Latin for “about a day.” A more fitting appellation is circumlucent, because they revolve around light as surely as Earth. Human physiology finds a hub not only in light, but also in the harmonizing activity of nearby limbic brains. Our
neural architecture places relationships at the crux of our lives, where, blazing and warm, they have the power to stabilize. When people are hurting and out of balance, they turn to regulating affiliations: groups, clubs, pets, marriages, friendships, masseuses, chiropractors, the Internet. All carry at least the potential for emotional connection. Together, those bonds do more good
than all the psychotherapists on the planet. (pp. 170-171)
Because our minds seek one another through limbic resonance, because our physiologic
rhythms answer to the call of limbic regulation, because we change one another’s
brains through limbic revision – what we do inside relationships matters more than any other aspect of human life. (pp. 191-192)
Because relationships are mutual, partners share a single fate: no action benefits one
and harms the other. The hard bargainer, who thinks he can win by convincing his partner to meet his needs while circumventing hers, is doomed. (p. 208)
Steeped as they are in limbic physiology, healthy people have trouble forcing their minds into the unfamiliar outline of this reptilian truth: no intrinsic restraint on harming people exists outside the limbic domain. Preparing soldiers for combat involves not only teaching them physical skills necessary to vanquish opponents but also indoctrinating the emotional outlook that creates an Enemy. The psychological goal is achieved by severing mental bonds between Us and Them while simultaneously strengthening intragroup ties.
The Enemy is not like us, both sides tell prospective combatants, they are subnormal, inhuman, less than animals. The average infantryman fights not for lofty political ideals, but because homicidal fiends threaten him and the family of buddies with whom he has labored, suffered, and loved. History brims with the brutality that flows between groups when no limbic tie unites them. (p. 216)
Because mammals need relatedness for their neurophysiology to coalesce correctly, most of what makes a socially functional human comes from connection – the shaping physiologic force of love. Children who get minimal care can grow up to menace a negligent society. Because the primate brain’s intricate, interlocking neural barriers to violence do not self-assemble, a limbically damaged human is deadly. If the neglect is sufficiently profound, the result is a functionally reptilian organism armed with the cunning of the neocortical brain. Such an animal experiences no compunctions about harming others of its kind. It possesses no internal motivation not to kill casually from minor frustration or for minimal gain. (p. 218)
The potential for humanity lives inside every infant, but healthy development is an effort,
not a given. If we do not shelter that spark, guide and nurture it, then we not only lose the life within but we unleash later destruction on ourselves. (p. 219)
Walker Percy wrote that “modern man is estranged from being, from his own being, from the being of other creatures in the world, from transcendent being. He has lost something – what he does not know; he only knows that he is sick unto death with the loss of it.” The mysterious, absent element is a deep and abiding immersion in communal ties. In all of its varied and
protean forms, love is the tether binding our whirling lives. (p. 224)
The adventure of seeking a theory of love is far from over. While science can afford us a closer glimpse of this tower or that soaring wall, the heart’s castle still hangs high in the heavens, shrouded in scudding clouds and obscured by mist. Will science ever announce the complete revelation of all of love’s secrets? Will empiricism ever trace an unbroken path from the highest
stones of the heart’s castle down to the bedrock of certitude?
Of course not. We demand too much if we expect single-handed empiricism to define and lay bare the human soul. Only in concert with art does science become so precise. Both are metaphors through which we strive to know the world and ourselves; both can illuminate inner and outer landscapes with a flash that inspires but whose impermanence necessitates unending rediscovery. (p. 230)
All We Need To Know Is Known
During the past 16,000-plus years, humans, largely unconsciously and by modes of thinking and “knowledge” which are now outmoded and which have been proven wrong, have created dominant institutions and normative modes of individual behavior which threaten to destroy life on Earth and which increasingly disempower individuals. By consciously focusing on what is known about behavior change and social learning, people can quite quickly turn institutions in a life-affirming direction. That does not mean that all of our society’s institutions and structures will change immediately. However, what can happen immediately is the formation of mutually empowering relationships at all levels and in all forms which will begin to wrestle with the questions of how to establish new institutions which are based in and which support mutual empowerment and love.
The beginning of that process and the inherently rewarding experience of millions of people involved in that process would produce a communal sense of love and empowerment which would be impossible for the forces of cynicism and darkness to diminish. Art and science, the intellect and the emotions, the limbic and the neocortical – all these apparently different modes and capacities can complement each other, can harmonize rather than operate in opposition to or in negation of the other. Human beings have the opportunity to embrace what has been learned and to discard the outmoded ways of thinking and believing in order to create fundamental change with wondrous results. There is still much that we will learn. Some of what is unknown may well remain mysterious. Nevertheless, we now have sufficient knowledge to begin practices which will minimize suffering and maximize human fulfillment and love.
Many people by taking small and achievable successive steps will increase their life-affirming actions and decrease their life-negating actions. Most of these steps will be taken in connection with one or more other people in mutually empowering relationships which will transform individual and institutional behavior and which will result in fundamental change towards a sustainable civilization based in love and joy.
Why Will People Take These Small Successive Steps?
People are happiest, most fulfilled, most empowered, and most actualized (realizing their full potential) when they:
*** Have optimal health of body and mind along with the confidence that that they have the competence/power to sustain that optimal health
*** Are connected harmoniously (in life-affirming resonance) within themselves, with other people, and with the natural world
These two basic conditions are inseparably intertwined. Our bodies and minds grow and develop best when we experience connection, love, and life-affirming resonance with another person or persons. At birth those other people are usually our parents. The mother actually has begun establishing that emotional or limbic resonance with her child in utero.
Humans face a supreme existential challenge. The same capacity which permits us to learn language and to create complex human systems and institutions also brings the liability of permitting each of us to be alienated within and from ourselves and, hence, from other people. When we individually are internally alienated or not integrated, we are out of balance in our bodies and minds (including spirits). In this out-of-balance condition, our minds and bodies cannot be optimally healthy – we are vulnerable to disease, insecurity, disempowerment, and confusion.
We humans must consciously engage in practices and in new social learning which can bring these parts of our brain into harmony, into balance, into life-affirming resonance within ourselves and with others if we are to be optimally healthy. Our internal dissonance is projected to others thereby interfering with their inclination towards resonance. Even if their signal or their resonance is clear, that resonance does not have a clear signal to resonate with. If we are confused about who we are, we give confusing messages to others, and undermine our ability to be loving with, to be connected with, or to be in life-affirming resonance with others.
Clarity or confusion regarding emotional resonance starts at the earliest stages of our growth and development. We hunger for resonance – our survival is dependent upon it. Ideally, this resonance is life-affirming. However, we will cling to life-negating resonance if it is all that we know and if the only alternative that seems possible is indifference and isolation. Our emotions may be confirmed and allowed to be expressed by a loving parent; or, they may be denied or squelched by a hateful parent or by a parent who just doesn’t know any better – “don’t cry, be a big boy,” and many like messages essentially confuse us by telling us that what we are feeling is not OK, that we are not OK, that we should squelch and hide those very real emotions that we feel. Before we know it or are able to know it, we have incorporated beliefs that say we are only capable of living in seriously limited ways.
Learning how to connect with others, how to be in life-affirming resonance is a lifelong process. We can make choices about how to feed this lifelong process; or, we may choose consciously or unconsciously to constrain that process. Loving connections or mutually empowering relationships enhance our growth and development, are healing, and are inherently fulfilling and joyful.
Life-affirming connections are essential for full and healthy human growth and development. The individual seeks integration and harmony within oneself. The human brain is complex with one part being the source of emotions (limbic system) and another part (neocortex) being the source of language, thinking, and planning. Furthermore, the brain has right and left hemispheres which assume different functions. The left side of the neocortex is in most people the part which is responsible for our capacity for language. The right side is the seat of broad concepts and artistic expression. The right side of the limbic part of the brain connects more strongly with the right side of the neocortex. The left side of the limbic part may have little or no direct connection with the left side of the neocortex. In order to achieve internal harmony or resonance, our emotional brain needs to communicate clearly with and be understood by our thinking brain. And, the left and right hemispheres of our brain seek to be in balance and unified. We learn about and develop our internal capacities in relation to others with whom we seek emotional or limbic resonance. If we are clear, integrated, and life affirming internally, then our chances of establishing clear, life-affirming resonance with others are significantly enhanced. If we are confused internally, then we will be communicating mixed messages to others, we are limited in our ability to establish life-affirming resonance with others. We can learn how to increase life-affirming resonance with others through engaging in inherently rewarding, mutually empowering interaction with others.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The Problem With The Supernatural
Hmmmmmmmmmm, loving, life-affirming mutual empowering relationships sounds pretty good to me. I think I understand the existential challenge that we are faced with because of the structure of our brains. But, I must admit I am still left with the feeling that all of this stuff you’re writing about is pretty utopian. I just don’t see it happening. You admit that the thinking and beliefs that have brought human civilization to our current destructive, possibly fatal and terminal ways are based in thousands of years of human history. As much as I would like to live in the world you are suggesting is possible, I just don’t see it happening. I hope there is some important thinking or evidence or element that you haven’t presented yet. Is there?
Yes, there is. It is a challenging topic to present clearly, challenging for people to communicate about because they must invoke both the scientific and the artistic – the limbic and the neocortical; nevertheless, it is a topic we must deal with if humans are to become fully empowered. The topic is belief in the supernatural. Please note that the topic is belief in the supernatural, not belief in God or adherence to a specific religion. If one’s belief in God includes belief in the supernatural, then one’s God is relevant to this topic. Also, if one’s adherence to a specific religion includes belief in the supernatural, then one’s religion is relevant to this topic. However, one may have a definition of God and adhere to a religion which does not include a belief in the supernatural. For example, one may define their God as the essence of the awesome and ecstatic experience that they have when they are with someone they love and when they feel as one with that person, or when they feel at one with the life-affirming energy of the universe. Their religion could be a commitment to a practice of service to others and to our planet which has the potential to permit all people to have that experience and to preserve the natural world.
So, what is the problem with believing in the supernatural?
The main twofold problem is the belief in a supernatural God or religion, or for that matter the belief in a supernatural group of pixies. On one hand, such a belief inevitably leads to the believer becoming disempowered to a greater or lesser extent. On another hand, if a supernatural God or religion can be invoked by the believer in a rational dialogue, then the believer possesses an unbeatable Trump Card. If the believer can say at any point, “I know what I say is true because it is the Word of God,” there is no way to argue that point – it is just so. The believer holds that it is true because they have received directly the Word of God, or their Religious Leader who cannot be wrong and has received the Word directly in some form or other. Of course, a considerable problem exists if two people believe that they are the direct or indirect recipients of the Word and if those Words are contradictory. This problem expands to global proportions when countries or other international bodies fight wars or perpetuate terrorism with both sides genuinely believing that God is on their side.
This problem, which is potentially fatal to human civilization, could be fully mitigated if those who believe in supernatural Gods would agree that such beliefs are to be used only to guide people in their individual lives, cannot be used to influence the institutions pertinent to human affairs, cannot be used to justify someone having power over another, and certainly cannot be used to justify killing. There are many people who in following the Word of their God live loving lives, who are respectful of the human dignity of all people, who live lives of service committed to justice and freedom for all people, who live simply while striving to see that all people have the resources they need to live lives of dignity. Such people are making real life-affirming contributions. I happen to believe that their most essential motivation, in fact, comes from inside them, from their capacity for loving resonance with others and the natural world, not from some external supernatural force. I believe that they would be even more empowered, more joyful, more loving, more connected with other people, more free for further growth and development if they did not give away some of that power and love to a supernatural entity.
Even if one restricts God to being solely the guide for one’s individual actions, there is still the likelihood that in doing so that person is giving away power in their life. The central question that all people deal with, consciously or unconsciously, is what does one do when one reaches the realm of the unknown. No matter how much we know individually or collectively, there remain today and will probably remain forever some mysteries, some gaps in knowledge. For example, we can accept as a known that our universe began millions of years ago with the Big Bang. But, we do not know what existed millions of years before the Big Bang. How did all of the matter of the universe compress into a small ball?
With all that science can explain, there is still much that it cannot explain and perhaps will never be able to explain. In the face of that situation, do we then choose to accept that those phenomena that we cannot explain scientifically still must conform to natural laws, even though we don’t yet know what they are or how they work? Or, do we choose to posit a supernatural God whose powers take care of the gaps in our knowledge? Or, instead of God could it be a band of pixies who have these supernatural powers and sit on our shoulders and guide us? Or, did the Big Bang result from a science experiment that a teenager abandoned and that continues to play out and thus far continues undiscovered by our sloppy teenager? Is it incumbent upon those who believe in a supernatural God to prove his existence, or for those who don’t believe in a supernatural God to prove his nonexistence? His existence has not been proven. And, the absolute nonexistence of something cannot be proven. We can only establish that to date there is no evidence of its existence. So, does an individual seek to maximize the “power to” in their life, or does one yield more or less power to a supernatural God? These are questions that we deal with, consciously or unconsciously, every day of our lives. They are examined in clear detail and reason in “Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon” by Daniel C. Dennett.
Much has been written over the centuries about the historic processes by which polytheisms turned into monotheism – belief in gods being replaced by belief in God. What is less often stressed is how this belief in God joined forces with the belief in belief in God to motivate the migration of the concept of God in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) away from concrete anthropomorphism to ever more abstract and depersonalized concepts.
What is remarkable about this can be illuminated by contrast with other conceptual shifts that have occurred during the same period. Fundamental concepts can certainly change over time. Our concept of matter has changed quite radically from the days of the ancient Greek atomists. Our scientific conceptions of time and space today, thanks to clocks and telescopes and Einstein and others, are different from theirs as well. Some historians and philosophers have argued that these shifts are not as gradual as they at first appear but, rather, are abrupt saltations, so drastic that the before and after concepts are “incommensurable” in some way.
Are any of these conceptual revisions actually so revolutionary as to render communication across the ages impossible, as some have argued? The case is hard to make, since we can apparently chart the changes accurately and in detail, understanding them all as we go. In particular, there seems no reason to believe that our everyday conceptions of space and time would be even somewhat alien to Alexander the Great, say, or Aristophanes. We would have little difficulty conversing with either of them about today, tomorrow, and last year, or the
thousands of yards or paces between Athens and Baghdad. But if we tried to converse with the ancients about God, we would find a much larger chasm separating us. I can think of no other concept that has undergone so dramatic a deformation. It is as if their concept of milk had turned into our concept of health, or as if their concept of fire had turned into our concept of energy, and (today, according to many but not all believers) you can’t literally listen to God or literally sit beside Him, but these would be strange claims indeed to the original monotheists. The Old Testament Jehovah, or Yahweh, was quite definitely a super-man (a He, not a She) who could take sides in battles, and be both jealous and wrathful. The original New Testament Lord is more forgiving and loving, but still a Father, not a Mother or a genderless Force, and active in the world, needless to say, through His miracle-performing Son. The genderless Person without a body who nevertheless answers prayers in real time…is still far too anthropomorphic for some, who prefer to speak of a Higher Power…whose characteristics are beyond comprehension – aside from the fact that they are, in some incomprehensible way, good, not evil. Does the Higher Power have (creative) intelligence? In what way? Does It (not He or She) care about us? About anything? The fog of mystery has descended conveniently over all the anthropomorphic features that have not been abandoned outright.
And a further adaptation has been grafted on: it is impolite to ask about these
matters. (pp. 205-206)
We got ourselves caught in a hypocrisy trap, and there is no clear path out. Are we like the families in which the adults go through all the motions of believing in Santa Claus for the sake of the kids, and the kids all pretend still to believe in Santa Claus so as not to spoil the adults’ fun? If only our current predicament were as innocuous and even comical as that! In the adult world of religion, people are dying and killing, with the moderates cowed into silence by the intransigence of the radicals in their own faiths, and many afraid to acknowledge what they actually believe for fear of breaking Granny’s heart, or offending their neighbors to the point of getting run out of town, or worse.
If this is the precious meaning our lives are vouchsafed thanks to our allegiance to one religion or another, it is not such a bargain, in my opinion. Is this the best we can do? Is it not tragic that so many people around the world find themselves enlisted against their will in a conspiracy of silence, either because they secretly believe that most of the world’s population is wasting their lives in delusion (but they are too tenderhearted – or devious – to say so), or because they secretly believe that their own tradition is just such a delusion (but they fear for their own safety if they admit it)? (p. 291)
It is time for the reasonable adherents of all faiths to find the courage and stamina to reverse the tradition that honors helpless love of God – in any tradition. Far from being honorable, it is not even excusable. It is shameful…. There is only one way to respect the substance of any purported God-given moral edict: consider it conscientiously in the full light of reason, using all the evidence at our command. No God that was pleased by displays of unreasoning love would be worthy of worship. (p. 298)
Today we have a similar phenomenon brewing on the religious right: the inevitability of the
End Days, or the Rapture, the coming Armageddon that will separate the blessed from the damned in the final Day of Judgment. Cults and prophets proclaiming the imminent end of the world have been with us for several millennia, and it has been another sour sort of fun to ridicule them the morning after, when they discover that their calculations were a little off. But, … there are some among them who are working hard to “hasten the inevitable,” not merely anticipating the End Days with joy in their hearts, but taking political action to bring about the conditions they think are the prerequisites for that occasion. And these people arenot funny at all. They are dangerous…: they put their allegiance to their creed ahead of their commitment to democracy, to peace, to (earthly) justice – and to truth. If push comes to shove, some of them are prepared to lie and even to kill, to do whatever it takes to help bring what they consider celestial justice to those they consider the sinners. (p. 338)
So, in the end, my central policy recommendation is that we gently, firmly educate the people of the world, so that they can make truly informed choices about their lives. Ignorance is nothing shameful; imposing ignorance is shameful. Most people are not to blame for their own ignorance, but if they willfully pass it on, they are to blame. One might think this is so obvious that it hardly needs proposing, but in many quarters there is substantial resistance to it. People are afraid of being more ignorant than their children – especially, apparently, their daughters. We are going to have to persuade them that there are few pleasures more honorable and joyful than being instructed by your own children. It will be fascinating to see what institutions and projects our children will devise, building on the foundations earlier generations have built and preserved for them, to carry us all safely into the future. (p. 339)
Wow! I had no idea that so much is at stake and that outmoded ways to thinking and believing are so prevalent, so dangerous, and so deeply and unconsciously held by so many. I am beginning to see that I have incorporated many of these outmoded ways. I feel a deep sadness knowing that many of these I have learned at my parents’ knees. I know they have tried to love me and to help me be happy; but, it seems that they have unknowingly passed on many of these outmoded ways. How can I raise these matters with them and with other people whom I care about and to whom I would not want to be hurtful in any way?
Isn’t this a curious dilemma that you pose – you fear that if you speak what you consider to be truth you will be hurting someone you care about! If in speaking the truth, you intend to be right and make someone else wrong – to express some kind of power over them, that person may indeed be hurt. However, you or they can transform that potentially hurtful situation by seeking mutual empowerment. You or they can genuinely seek to understand each other’s truths, without rights or wrongs, without judgments, without the need to put someone else down. Then sharing truths becomes an exciting adventure in which you both move closer and closer to life-affirming resonance. What could be more joyful and meaningful than a life filled with such adventures!
We need to establish mutually empowering relationships and institutions among two or more people who
· have common understandings or, when common understandings do not exist, have agreements reached by consensus of all parties impacted,
· are life-affirming,
· are loving,
· are just,
· are truthful.
If we strive to act in harmony with the five guidelines immediately above; then, we will be practicing mutual empowerment. If sufficient numbers of us commit to such practice, we will transform our human civilization. If we truly commit through mutual empowering relationships to live by these five guidelines, essentially we know all we need to know. From this knowledge we, with others, can determine our specific actions and behaviors and how to put them into practice.
A couple of examples
At first glance it would seem absurd to think that the just-born infant and the parent can have a mutually empowering relationship. In fact, they can have such a relationship. Each relationship must be seen according to the ages or experiences, conditions, and circumstances of those involved in the relationship. Even at birth, the parent and the child ideally have an understanding about mutual empowerment – the understanding is that the parent will do all that she or he can do to love, to serve the needs of the child and to contribute to the child’s empowerment; and, that the child can safely and securely be dependent upon the parent and happily and safely experiment with assuming greater power. The understanding is communicated and confirmed through the behavior of the parent and the child. That understanding fulfills the parent in knowing that these first days of the child’s life are a special time when extraordinary support and love are appropriate, that this support and love will form the foundation for healthy growth and development of the child as well as for the child joyfully assuming ever greater empowerment and responsibility for her or his life. That understanding confirms for the child that he or she is in a safe world which can be trusted and in which the wonders of life can be happily explored. As time passes and as is necessary, the parent and the child can make agreements to ensure that this mutual empowerment continues. Child and parent both are increasingly empowered.
A brief, initial look at partner relationships provides another example. People who meet any time after childhood and explore intimacy bring a great deal of social learning or, popularly stated, “baggage” to the relationship. This baggage may be constructive or not. The couple may immediately have many shared understandings. And, with increasing experience with each other, the couple may find that understandings they thought were shared, in fact are not. Explicit agreements will almost certainly be necessary to help the partners increase their intimacy in mutually empowering ways. As a mundane example, Pat and Terry may have an agreement that Pat will clean the bathroom when it needs it. Terry, perceiving that the bathroom has needed cleaning for three days might lash out at Pat, calling Pat a “lazy slob” for not cleaning the bathroom. First of all, calling Pat a “lazy slob” is not life-affirming and will not contribute to a mutually empowering relationship. Second, Terry and Pat may genuinely have a different perception of what conditions need to exist to determine that the bathroom needs cleaning. So, Terry has lots of options to pursue: Terry can “chill,” can clean the bathroom, can wait to see when Pat will clean the bathroom if Terry says nothing, can say something like, “I thought you were going to clean the bathroom when it needed it; it seems to me that it needs it; what do you think?” Preferably, Terry will choose an option that is nurturing for Terry. If Terry chooses to clean the bathroom and genuinely feels good about doing that, all will be well. If Terry silently and begrudgingly cleans the bathroom, there will be problems ahead. Regardless of what words are used, if Terry is fundamentally wanting to put Pat down, to make Pat wrong, to humiliate Pat, no words are going to work until those feelings are dealt with by Terry alone or by Terry and Pat together.
Isn’t this taking things a bit too far? Are you really serious that partners need to consider all these and the many other factors that could be involved with such a petty situation as cleaning the bathroom and the hundreds of other like situations in life. I want to live my life freely, lightly, spontaneously – not with a lot of rules.
In the grand scheme of things cleaning the bathroom seems pretty unimportant. And, yes, we want our lives to be light, free, and spontaneous. But, most of us have not gotten to the place where our lives are light, free, and spontaneous. They are filled with situations in which people are unhappy, feel compelled to do things that they do not want to do, feel that they lack the power to do anything about it, and have even become resigned to the “fact” that they can do nothing about it. Let’s get empowered about dealing with bathroom-cleaning-type situations and we will then find that we have newfound power to deal with oppressive work situations, civil rights issues, and these other more substantial situations. Of course, I am not suggesting that we wait to address the oppressive work situation or the civil rights abuse. We can practice applying the mutually empowering approach to those and other substantial situations right now. The only way that we will fully develop the mutually empowering approach is through continued practice in the real world. Such practice can, in fact, be light and fun. Often the first essential steps to take to move towards mutual empowerment is non-judgmentally (1) to state that one is not happy with a specific situation (e.g., a bathroom that is dirtier than one likes or a work situation seems unfair), (2) to ask questions which genuinely seek to understand where the other party or parties are coming from, and (3) to strive to reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable to all parties. If people begin implementing these practices in ever-increasing, small and gradual steps from our individual lives to global affairs, the transformation of our current global civilization will be awe-inspiring, all-inclusive, and nonviolent.
What are the steps which, if followed, will take us from our current condition to what we envision as a loving and just society?
These steps do not involve making judgments about what is “right” or “wrong” about what is “good” or “bad.” Rather, we need to determine what actions are life-affirming as differentiated from those actions that are destructive of life – destructive of the natural environment or detrimental to the well being of ourselves or others. Careful thought can inform us to a large extent as to what actions are life-affirming. Doing careful thinking and coming to helpful conclusions regarding life-affirming actions are important steps. And, this thinking needs to be joined with our emotional intelligence so that we will joyfully do what is life-affirming for us and others. We will follow the desired steps because to do so – to act in service of others while nurturing ourselves and to act in harmony and unity with the natural world – is intrinsically rewarding and fulfilling, and adds to our emotional resonance with others. People whose main motivation is to do what they should do eventually abandon these should-motivated actions and become confused or overwhelmed by the complexity of figuring out what they should do. On the other hand, almost all of us have experienced at some point in our lives the intrinsic fulfillment that comes from actions based in service and love. Actions which serve others and which nurture the server manifest the essence of love. Yes, we can create a world where such actions are the usual rather than the exceptional experience.
Personal Behavior Change and Institutional Change Are Both Required
Given that means must be consistent with ends, we might conclude that we, as individuals, only need to act consistently with the essential qualities of the loving and just society that we envision. And, in many cases, that may be a sufficient guide for our actions. However, as we go about our everyday lives, we interact with institutions, for example with the company that employs us or with a government that regulates our actions, in which power sharing may be anything but equitable and in which all parties cannot influence decisions which affect them (two of the key conditions for a loving and just society). In short, we interact with institutions which are unjust and which need to change or be replaced.
Guidelines for Action – Two Dimensions: Individual Change and Institutional Change
While none of our actions is in isolation, it is important to look both at actions that we perform essentially individually as well as those actions we must necessarily take with others in order to produce institutional change.
Guidelines for Individual Action for Individual Behavior Change
This type of individual action, in the context of a sustainable society and individual sustainable living, includes such actions as: using human-powered transportation whenever possible, eating healthy foods in the best balance and quantity, purchasing products that meet our basic needs and that have been produced respecting the natural environment by businesses that treat all of their employees justly, getting regular and sufficient exercise for good health, relieving stress through the appropriate amount of sleep, through walks in nature, through meditation or some other spiritual practice. While in this section we are talking about individual action, we need to remember that there are also highly relevant structural or institutional factors (e.g., factors related to race or class, to income and wealth distribution) impacting one’s freedom of movement or choice that make it more or less difficult for each of us to take these individual actions.
Also, there seems to be an overwhelming number of people and publications that are eager to tell us what actions to take. This advice comes in the form of publications like “Fifty Easy Steps To _____ (e.g., fill in the blank with: Save the Planet, Get Physically Fit, Save Energy, Have Better Sex, Lose Weight, etc.). Such publications have been available for years. Millions of people have read them. However, woefully little human behavior has changed. This lack of behavior change is the result of inadequate guidance for behavior change or behavior change that was pursued ineffectively usually because too large changes were attempted too quickly.
Behavior change has three essential steps which must be taken in ever-repeating, progressing cycles:
· envisioning a goal,
· defining and taking steps to get there,
· assessing progress made towards the goal.
The opportunities for both success and failure in pursuing behavior change are enormous. To succeed, one must define goals which feel true to oneself (not goals which are adopted because some internal or external judge says that one should) and adopt goals that one truly believes in. The steps defined to get to the goals need to be the right size. For example, if in our enthusiasm we define steps that are too big (e.g., running five days a week when previously we had only been walking three days a week, or losing weight too quickly), we fail to accomplish those steps. So, after one or more failures, we consciously or unconsciously decide that we cannot reach these goals; and, we give up. It is far better to err on the side of setting steps that are smaller than we could accomplish than setting larger ones that we cannot achieve. Surely we would consider this scenario to be both comic and tragic, someone repeatedly trying to leap across a thirty-foot stream only to crash into the rocks and water about half way across while others easily walked across on large and secure stepping stones nicely spaced in the stream. Yet, how many times do we repeatedly choose options that fail to take us across our streams!
9 - Guidelines for Actions for Institutional Change – Actions We Must Take With Others – Mutual Empowering Relationships
Structural or institutional dynamics are central in understanding actions for change taken with others – actions of groups, partners, organizations, businesses, governments, families, tribes, and all forms of affiliations. These dynamics are present even in a group of two people. As the size and nature of the group increases and becomes more complex, the dynamics become more complex.
Erik Erikson, a psychologist and cultural anthropologist, was helpful in conceptualizing how we move from individual action to collective action and ethics, and how a reformulation of the golden rule can be a guide for group action.
Individual development occurs in a societal context. Erikson stated, “Indeed, in the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of ego identity. Or else, there may be total self-abnegation (in more or less malignant forms).” And, at the same time Erikson recognizes the need for people eventually to develop ego identities that can embrace all of humanity and that will not treat any person or group of people as “other” or “lesser.” He explains further,
Let me restate that way in which I, as a developmental psychologist, have come to reformulate the golden rule: An adult should strive to do to another what will enhance the other’s growth (at his age, in his condition, and under his circumstances) while at the same time enhancing his, the doer’s, own growth (at his age, in his condition, and under his circumstances). For this, of course, we have to know a lot, but such knowledge today is within our grasp, and at any rate, such knowledge of each other today is a condition for a wider identity.
Erikson then moves from individual to collective ethics:
Interestingly Erikson comes to the same place, but from a different perspective, that Jean Baker Miller and Thomas Lewis, et al come to. Limbic or emotional resonance and rejecting power-over relationships are perfectly consistent with Erikson’s emphasis on the importance of the individual’s development of the “truly wider identity… [which] includes not only the capacity for empathic identification with other people…but also the willingness to understand the otherness as well as the all-too-familiar in ourselves.”
Now, I know as well as the next man that individual and collective ethics have different structures. Yet, collective ethics can be visualized and verbalized only by recourse to what the individual stands for. And so I think that groups living in the same period of history at different stages of collective development may well learn to strive along analogous “golden” lines. A wider identity, however, includes not only the capacity for empathic identification with other people – and especially with people at first perceived as incomprehensively “other” – but also the willingness to understand the otherness as well as the all-too-familiar in ourselves.
What does these people’s thinking tell us regarding social (and therefore also political and economic) institutions and relationships in a loving and just society?
All relationships among individuals must be based on this reformulated golden rule. And, all relationships among groupings of individuals must also be based on the reformulated golden rule. All relationships among individuals and groups of individuals become mutually empowering relationships. These mutually empowering relationships take a wide variety of forms which are constantly changing based on changing ages or experiences, conditions, and circumstances. We can begin the process today of creating new, just institutions while also we either transform, eliminate, or replace existing unjust institutions. We can begin now to act in little ways in our day-to-day lives to engage in the process of making the institutions we interact with become mutually empowering.
Of course, many current institutions manifest qualities which are contrary to a loving and just society – the materially powerful exploit others; benefits of labor are distributed inequitably; decision making does not include all parties affected by the decisions; and so on. For the most part, historically, these inequities have provoked adversarial relationships which have not and will not address root problems. In a mutually empowering relationship, all parties work together to transform the partnership through mutual empowerment and the redistribution of resources. All parties working together towards that transformative goal can bring about the transformation in a speedy way that also allows time for all parties to adapt to the change. In some cases, all parties will see the ultimate benefit of the transformation and will participate willingly. In other cases, those with the institutional power-over will not willingly relinquish power or the opulent will not willingly redistribute their resources. In those cases, those who others are trying to express power over and those who are impoverished will need to make legitimate demands and use, if necessary, creative, nonviolent forms of direct action or civil disobedience to help motivate reluctant parties to join the mutually empowering relationship. In short, those who others are expressing power over must claim and express their power to act for justice and the end of oppression.
Individuals in all of their communications – in the workplace, at home, in their neighborhoods, in government, and throughout civil society – need to commit to a course in new learning regarding communication and conflict resolution. Most all of us need to learn these new ways. We will support each other in the new learning and adopt ground rules, techniques, and processes which help us. There already exist many organizations with skills in these areas from which we can learn and upon which we can build. Here are a few ground rules and processes to promote mutual empowerment:
· All parties affected by a decision are involved in meaningful ways in the decision-making process.
· Maximum information relevant to the decision is available to all parties in a timely manner.
· The parties involved collaboratively attempt to identify, rank, and weigh all of the pros and cons relevant to the issue at hand.
· Facilitation skills are employed in all meetings and other communications to ensure that all voices are heard, meetings are orderly and efficient, ground rules for respect and collaboration are followed, and the like.
· Consensus decision-making processes are used to the greatest extent possible.
· Overall, the ground rules and the decision-making process are determined by principles articulated earlier in this paper regarding mutual empowerment.
Ideally, all entities from local to global will endorse these guidelines for communication and conflict resolution. Hence, these skills will be taught from the first days of formal education. Parents and children will learn these skills. Businesses will confirm the value of these skills both in the effectiveness of the business and also in the happiness and productivity of employees.
In the relationship or institution of the family, partners will no longer try to win arguments about family decisions. Rather, they will engage in mutually respectful, creative, collaborative problem solving.
Parents and other adults in their relationships with children will acknowledge that a fundamental dynamic in their relationship is power – the provision and transfer of it, from adult/parent to child. The infant comes into the world essentially powerless, vulnerable, and totally dependent. Ideally, the parent can provide through love all of the power that the infant needs so that the infant experiences the love and the total connection with the parent. Thus, the child knows security and interdependent power rather than vulnerability and powerlessness. The parent and child then enter into a process from the child’s infancy until he or she becomes a fully actualized adult. The parent transfers and enhances power to the child, celebrates the growing competencies of the child, and allows for an evolution of the love between the parent and child that eventually becomes an adult-to-adult mutually empowering relationship. From this context of mutual empowerment between child and parent a new way of thinking emerges – the child and the parent are both full partners; the child chooses to accept the responsibility that comes with his or her increased freedom and independence; the parent chooses to let go of her or his control and delights in contributing to the child’s increased freedom, power, and responsibility. Both parent and child learn to have choice as individuals and in agreement with each other regarding where they fall on various polarities or continua including power/powerlessness, irresponsibility/responsibility, freedom of movement/restriction of movement as they move through various ages, conditions, and circumstances.
However, throughout history, in most cultures, through happenstance, outmoded ways of thinking, and ignorance, child rearing has taken very different courses. So, it should come as no surprise that humans have created institutions where power is not equitably shared, where authority is abused, where people are oppressed. Through child rearing and through mutually empowering relationships in our institutions, this course can be changed, bringing about wonderful individual and institutional results that are barely imaginable in the environment of our current, dominant power-over modes.
This commitment to mutual empowerment is the most promising means for fundamental and systemic change because through these mutually empowering relationships the participants experience a substantial increase in the love and joy in their lives and also because we all can assume responsibility. For example, by transforming the currently prevalent teacher-student model, mutual empowerment offers greatly expanded possibilities for change. The current teacher-student model is the model of a teacher imparting or transmitting learning to a student in which the power relationship between teacher and student is static. Of course, there are some teachers who facilitate learning through what is essentially mutual empowerment. However, such teachers are rare. And, teachers who are so disposed may or may not have the opportunity to teach in environments or under conditions which support teaching in this way.
A qualified teacher, in the mutual empowerment model, enters into a relationship with the student that is based on encouraging the student to take on more power and responsibility regarding learning, and thus to create conditions for mutual empowerment and the transfer and enhancement of power. Practically, teachers need to understand that they will never be fully prepared to teach if they think they need to know all there is to know about a subject. And, students need to abandon the notion that all they need to do is find the teacher who will inject them with all they need to know. All of us need to learn together how to create and sustain personal and institutional relationships that are based in love and joy at the same time that they are highly effective in accomplishing the tasks that they decide to take on.
Teacher-student dynamics extend far beyond the teacher-student relationship in school, workshop, and academic environments – those dynamics also are pertinent to parent-child, employer-employee, preacher-congregation, coach-player, conductor-musician, commander-soldier, and numerous other relationships. Yes, in all these relationships it is appropriate at times for the accomplishment of specific tasks to have an agreement among all parties involved that there needs to be a hierarchy of command and particular tasks to be accomplished by designated people. And, that hierarchy and definition of tasks is best determined by the active participation and the consent of all parties involved. A problem or breakdown is present when one or more parties claim command and express power over others to the detriment and displeasure of those others.
In the parent-child relationship, when the child is a one-day-old infant, there exists an enormous disparity in power. And, mutual empowerment does not suggest that somehow the parent should negotiate with the infant regarding how much care the parent should provide. With the infant child, the parent assumes responsibility commensurate with the disparity in power. That responsibility is to love and to be of service to the infant in the context of empowerment for the infant, meeting all of the infant’s needs; and, helping the child learn how to communicate clearly about needs, how to acquire power and how to assume responsibility regarding meeting those needs. Since most parents have needs of their own that may at times, given finite time and resources, be in competition with those of the infant, the parent may be unable to be of full service to the infant. In the mutually empowering relationship, the parent is aware that there are consequences of having a lack of time or resources to provide the full service which is ideal. We can hope that in most cases the lack of time and resources is minimal. In these cases, the parent need not feel guilt or remorse and the impact on the infant may be minor. The parent can communicate, yes even to the infant through limbic resonance, that the parent loves the infant and that the parent is a finite and fallible human being – probably, a good lesson for all children. Given these same circumstances, but looked at from the teacher-student framework, it is too easy for the parent to slip into negative attitudes such as: I am the parent; I’m in control; my infant needs to learn a schedule that meets my needs; that’s the real world; and, don’t talk to me about how my behavior may affect the well being of my child.
In short, any time, in the context of the teacher-student model, the teacher, the parent, the employer/boss, says in essence, to the detriment and displeasure of the student, the child, or the employee, “do what I say because I am the authority or the power-over person,” there exists a problem of greater or lesser importance. When a teacher, parent, or boss in the context of mutual empowerment feels an inclination to invoke such power, they realize that there could be a problem and either puts forward another alternative which is effective regarding the task at hand and which meets with the pleasure of the person feeling disempowered; or, they engage the other parties to work together to find alternatives.
Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice."
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
To reach the goal of fundamental change, we must replace the power-over dynamic with that of mutual empowerment. There is essentially no change if those who are oppressed or abused overthrow the oppressors and establish their own version of the power-over dynamic. That version may appear somewhat gentler and kinder at first. But, it is nevertheless the same dynamic; only the roles have been reversed. The persistence of that new version of the power-over dynamic will push human civilization further down its destructive path. Yes, there is some emotional response that may lead us to feel that the oppressors got what they deserved. But, at heart, such a response fuels retribution, retaliation, or humiliation – dynamics which must end if there is ever to be restorative justice or transformation to mutual empowerment.
We must do all that we can to eliminate oppression and the power-over behavior of the oppressors. And, power can be, and probably must be, used to bring about this elimination. But, that power must be power-to – most fundamentally the power to affirm life. Individually, we must do all we can in our power to live lives based on mutual empowerment in everything that we do. Collectively, we must work to eliminate the actions of power-over people and institutions. As we might restrain a child from hitting another child, we can do the parallel action with a power-over adult or institution. In restraining the child, we would do so with love, without humiliation, with understanding, and with the space and exploration to allow that child to learn life-affirming alternatives to hitting another. We can have similar approaches with adults and institutions.
We should be clear then that while we are striving to eliminate oppression, we are doing so by eliminating the power-over dynamic and putting in its place the dynamics of mutual empowerment. Furthermore, while our compassion is quite understandably with those who are oppressed and our antipathy is directed towards the oppressor, we must give all people the opportunity to move into mutually empowering relationships. However, let us not be naïve, most oppressors will not willingly relinquish their power-over; though some will. As we would restrain the hitting child, we need to restrain the oppressor. Restraining an oppressor could mean some kind of physical confinement while giving the former oppressor every opportunity to learn new ways of mutual empowerment. While we realistically expect that those who are oppressed will be far more motivated to move towards mutually empowering relationships and thus be agents for fundamental change, we must allow for and invite former oppressors similarly to be change agents.
What does this all mean in concrete terms? How do we get from here to there? How do we deal with an oppressor who carries out evil acts and who will hang onto power over without the slightest inclination to change?
While the answers to these questions depends upon the circumstances in which we must act, and while those circumstances are often complex, we can provide some guidance by looking at a few examples. Blowing up a building would usually not be seen as a life-affirming action. However, when Jews in work details while experiencing terrible suffering and barely staying alive on the brink of starvation in Nazi concentration camps smuggled explosives bit by bit out of their work locations and made a bomb which blew up one of the killing ovens in that concentration camp rendering it inoperative for the duration of World War II, they took a life-affirming act of considerable courage which probably saved tens of thousands of prisoners. When slavery was legal in the U.S. and a slave chose to escape and was aided by those in the Underground Railroad, those acts were life-affirming and mutually empowering. There are many other examples of this kind in history in countries throughout the world in which people were successful in expressing their collective power to affirm life. Please understand that I am not advocating blowing up buildings nor wholesale disregard of laws. However, I am suggesting that we assess situations as completely and as wisely as we can in which there is human suffering. With that assessment we then need to determine the best ways to speak the truth about those situations and choose life-affirming actions which can mitigate or eliminate that suffering.
Situations other than Nazi concentration camps and slavery may be more difficult to assess. What makes an immigrant settler in Massachusetts in 1776 who from a place of hiding shoots and kills a British Red Coat a patriot or freedom fighter, while an Iraqi in 2007 placing a roadside bomb intended to kill U.S. occupying military is a terrorist? Probably, neither of these actions is life affirming. And, there is little to suggest that either party was involved in advancing a process of mutual empowerment. Both were most likely engaged in trying to reverse the power-over dynamics.
And yet, we are inclined to cheer when the “good guy” kills the “bad guy?” We get some deep pleasure when the non-human monster is slain? Some emotions associated with acts like these are learned. Other such emotions are deeply engrained in our reptilian brains. On the learned side, if we had long-established means and experience with those means which restrained “bad guys” and with compassion gave them the opportunity to become empathic, loving, mutually empowering people; we would find abhorrent and inhumane the killing of such a person.
In our human reptilian brain, there remains deeply engrained to this day after hundreds of thousands of years the hard-wired response of fight or flight which is stimulated in certain dangerous or threatening situations. That fight-or-flight response is not going to go away, at least not in the next hundreds of years. However, the good news is that our brains also have a limbic system and a neocortical system. The limbic system, if permitted the time and circumstance can establish sufficient resonance with the threatening party so that alternatives to killing become possible. Again, given even a second or two, the neocortex brings to the situation the human capacity of choice. So, given this potentially lethal mix of human capacities, it is especially important to take guns, not to mention bombs and nuclear weapons, out of the hands of humans whose reptilian brains might dictate immediate destruction before the limbic or neocortical systems can come into action.
What you offer is helpful. I appreciate the context that you have created. But, I still am unclear as to what to do. Concentration camps and slavery are not part of my everyday experience.
I will respond to your question understanding the perspective from which you present it. However, I must comment first that even though slavery has been abolished in the U.S. in any formal sense, institutional slavery may very well exist in only a more subtle way than slavery existed in the first half of the nineteenth century. In short, hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. work long hours, for low pay, in jobs they find at best unfulfilling, have their family life undermined and still live in poverty. Furthermore, the maldistribution of income and wealth in the U.S. cannot be considered humane. The economic system that produces these situations is perpetuated, consciously or unconsciously, by the few who control the overwhelming majority of the wealth. This maldistribution of wealth and power may be exacerbated under different U.S. administrations. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that this maldistribution has existed throughout U.S. history and for thousands of years in most places throughout the world.
Coming back to the question of what do we do. First, I refer back to the William James story of the climber in the Alps presented in the earlier pages of this paper and to the possible dynamic that too many of us already have accepted the inevitability of the disempowerment of our lives. Even though you have stayed with this paper this far, there may still be a significant voice inside you which is saying something like, “I like what you’re saying; I want to believe that fundamental change is possible; I still don’t see it happening; when I see any signs of it, I will jump right in there with you; in the meantime I have so many demands on my time that all I can do is keep scrambling to keep my life sort of together.” I understand what you are saying. I will discuss below some different contexts for action. I will make two points here. First, we make significant choices is most everything that we do, no matter how mundane and trivial those choices may appear. Second, those choices that we make either contribute to our sense of disempowerment or build our capacity and practice of empowerment. While these two statements are true, it is not always easy to know, particularly in our complex world and lives, where on the empowerment-disempowerment continuum our actions fall. We strive to serve and love our fellow human travelers. At the same time we must nourish ourselves. We must seek alignment, integration, and balance in the universe that is our lives. And, as we have seen earlier, we cannot do this alone because an essential part of each of our balances is emotional resonance and connection with others.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading.Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
From “A Great Wagon”
by Jelaluddin Rumi in “The Essential Rumi” Translations by Coleman Barks, p. 36
When those in power-over invoke power to the detriment and displeasure of those with lesser institutional power, they do so with positive/constructive or negative/destructive intensions. In the context of creating a loving and just society, intentions are secondary because by invoking power-over they have violated the mutually empowering relationship. When the mutually empowering relationship has been violated by the power-over party, the party who is the object of that power has the responsibility to point out that violation to the abuser. Preferably, the abuser will acknowledge the problem and re-engage in the mutually empowering relationship. It is also possible that the apparently abused party may feel displeasure, perceive that the abuser is acting in a way that is disempowering, and be wrong in this perception. Nevertheless, in that situation the displeasure still signals a problem. Time needs to be taken at that point to correct the perception in order for the mutually empowering relationship to move forward. In the context of mutual empowerment, the full range of alternatives is available including the mutual agreement that one party can assume the responsibility of taking on a disproportionate amount of responsibility for a given task, for a period of time, and/or under certain conditions.
Either or both parties may decline consciously or unconsciously to be part of a mutually empowering relationship. Many people today do not participate because they are unaware of the concept of mutual empowerment in which power is shared and can transition to a balance (equal or otherwise, but still equitable) to the pleasure of all parties. In fact, most of our society’s dominant institutions are based on outmoded teacher-student and adversarial models. Our U.S. democracy is a representative democracy – not a participatory democracy. Those in power have most always acted (possessing a range of intentions and values) with the belief that they have the right to wield that power with insufficient regard and sensitivity to the fact that by so doing they may be controlling others to their displeasure and detriment. Yes, there is some order in a representative democracy. Yes, there are many worse forms of government. However, as a result of this kind of democracy, root problems are not addressed. In fact, the roots of domestic and international conflict grow deeper. Resulting problems become more intractable, and more threatening to our society’s well being and to the natural environment our human existence is dependent upon.
Without intense scrutiny of the shortcomings of our representative democracy, most people in the U.S. continue to take for granted that this form of government is the best that we can have and that it eventually will solve root problems. To the contrary, our representative democracy is not the best that we can have and it will not lead to a socially just society because the competitive system that produces our political and economic leaders – the power-over people – for the most part effectively screens out those who might be inclined to engage in mutually empowering relationships that work to redistribute power. Those who may have had values needed to promote and live consistently with social and economic justice have had to compromise their values in order to get ahead, to not appear naïve or too idealistic, to be “realistic.” They may have genuinely believed that they needed to do what they did in order to get to a place of power and influence in order to make the changes that need to be made. But, when they got to that place of power-over, they found that they had given away too many of their principles and that they do not have the integrity and the moral foundation or the popular constituency necessary to support the change they had earlier imagined. The failure of the U.S. democracy to form the bedrock for social and economic justice has led to widespread cynicism regarding the possibility of ever having such a just society. The way out of this cynicism is through large and small mutually empowering relationships at all levels of human relationships committed to mutually agreed upon, shared power to the long-term benefit of all people. Through such a course of collaboration rather than competition, people can learn step by incremental step that families, neighborhoods, communities, societies can, in fact, manifest love and justice.
As the less powerful-over parties wishing to engage the more powerful-over in mutually empowering relationships, we can be savvy about the real world and effective in dealing with reality in the same way that the aikido master is effective and loving. We can stand strong in our centers of clarity and love knowing that the attacker is always off balance. We can deflect attacks, if and when they come, in the same way that the aikido master uses the force of the attack to throw and control the attacker. The aikido master does minimal harm to the attacker since self protection and control of the attacker are the main objectives. The aikido master offers the attacker the opportunity to join in harmony while making clear that repeated attacks will continue to be dealt with effectively.
The party wishing to transform power-over strives to live each moment according to principles of love and justice, always inviting the power-over parties to join in the mutually empowering relationship. If the power-over parties declines the invitation, the change agents do all that they can to manifest their values and to avoid the control and influence of the oppressor. Oppression results from the unjust or cruel expression of authority or power-over. Consistent with the values of a loving and just society, the change agents will strive to bring the power-overs into a mutually empowering relationship by exhausting every legal or formal institutional remedy available. If those approaches fail, the change agents’ most appropriate recourse will probably be various forms of nonviolent direct action or civil disobedience. Sufficient numbers of people following these steps will produce societies based in mutual empowerment. Following these steps will often require discipline – taking stands while inviting all parties to engage in creating mutually empowering relationships – and carrying out hard work. Increased practice in engaging in this work will increase the joy with which the work is done. Some of the power-overs will voluntarily work to redistribute their wealth and power. But, many will be fearful of changing their ways of accumulating and holding onto wealth and power.
The political and legal systems plays an essential role on society’s path to mutual empowerment. Currently, most political and legal systems, including those practiced in the U.S., while advancing some degree of justice also reinforce to a significant degree the current unjust distribution of power and resources. If our society or individual parties were to adopt a path of mutual empowerment, the political and legal systems would provide a set of rules, laws, contracts, agreements, and the like which would ensure that there is an orderly and as-speedy-as-possible process to move from where we are now to the desired condition.
Many of the power-overs will be understandably fearful of what will happen if they give up their power. The less powerful in many cases need to learn the skills to manifest the responsibility that goes along with the assumption of increased power. The political and legal systems can establish the structure which permits this transfer of power to happen successfully. As it occurs successfully, step-by-step, the power-overs will learn not only that their fears are alleviated, but also that they experience greater security and happiness as they move into lives of service and justice.
While we may have sympathy with the oppressed, we should be clear that even though they are oppressed they are not always right, positive, or constructive in their actions. Whether they are more or less right or constructive than the power-overs is of minor consequence in the pursuit of the establishment of mutually empowering relationships. The goal is for all parties to participate in mutually empowering relationships. Only then can problems be solved rather than temporarily held in check or exacerbated.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder he lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder the hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already void of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr. - 1966, Eutaw Alabama church
The unjust expression of power is oppression and violence even in its subtle forms. Humans, consciously and unconsciously, have created and held tightly, often out of fear, to oppressive governing systems for at least 16,000 years with the result that the human spirit is weakening, suffering and injustice are far too prevalent, and we are destroying our natural life-support systems. Human civilizations have traveled this path for so long that we have difficulty imagining another way. However, it is not too late for us to adopt another path.