the muiz

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

‘the answers’

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.” – George Lois

Who has all ‘the answers’? With New Year fast approaching, I have been looking back over the past year’s events – personal and worldwide – and thinking about the mess humanity is in, how we got here, what the year ahead holds in store for us (environmentally, socially and economically) …and of course where I fit into it all: how I could help in some way to improve the planet, or at least my little corner of it.

This is an ongoing ‘musing’, actually - and what most of my ‘blog’ posts are in some way attempting to discuss. But there is also a strong reflexive component to this ‘blog’ - so far unacknowledged, which I would like to briefly refer to and explain today (before continuing with the wider discussion). Basically, the very act of ‘blogging’ assumes a few things: that people would be interested in what I have to say; that I have something useful to say, or something unique to contribute to all that is being said and done in the world already; and that any of us/ all of us can actually change the course of humanity - ‘change the world’ (through our actions, or through our critique of the current status quo, including ‘blogging’).

Well, I do believe all three of those assumptions, or I wouldn’t bother (sharing my opinions, writing, researching or acting to change anything in the world). But my reasons for believing this may not be clear to all reading these ‘blogs’, and may even appear arrogant or naïve to many. I would hope that I don’t come across as if I think I have all ‘the answers’ – or even any idea what all the questions are… But I do have some thoughts around the process of finding these ‘answers’, and my research and reading has led me at least part of the way towards identifying where we often go astray when searching…

Firstly, I don’t write or share my opinions because of a belief in my own importance or ‘specialness’, nor a belief in the superior wisdom or insightfulness of what I have to say. In fact, thinking that only the wise or uniquely insightful have something worth saying and hearing would probably silence most of us – and who are these terribly ‘wise’ people we deem worthy of speaking into our lives anyway? The self-help ‘gurus’? The ‘intellectuals’? The pop psychologists? I distrust them all. As much as politicians. They are all selling something. Most are actually selling themselves: ‘brand’ Deepak Chopra/ Philip Pullman/ Rhonda Byrne... Erggg.

No. No. No. We all have ‘the answers’…and at the same time none of us do. What do I mean by that? Every single person has a unique voice, which is worth listening to because it’s another piece of the puzzle that makes up this nebulous group we call humanity. (You cannot say you love ‘humanity’ if you are not interested in individual human viewpoints…) Each person’s very existence is a ‘gift’ to the rest of us – if we can only learn to see and appreciate these many and varied ‘gifts’ – not only sharing the planet with us, but also enriching our lives by doing so. Every single person sees something we don’t, and is uniquely placed to change the world, or their particular corner of the world… Although each of us see only in part, or can only act in part, together we can see the whole picture, and accomplish everything - and not be overwhelmed!

So what I am saying is simply, don’t look to the ‘experts’ – look at your own experiences and what they have taught you, what your heart tells you… and draw from the experiences and perspectives of as many other people or fields of knowledge as possible… then you will start to see the full picture. What do we lose by listening only to the ‘experts’, the ‘elite’, the ‘educated’, the ‘wise’, or those in our ‘field’ of work or study? We lose the fullness of our humanity - the fullness of life, and community; we lose the depth and breadth of experience and learning that has been gathered already by the ‘elders’, the humble, the marginalised; we lose the fresh perspectives of the young or unindoctrinated; and we lose our own power – our belief in ourselves as able, as agents of change.

On our own, we may not understand it all, we may not have all ‘the answers’…but together, we can work it out. On our own, we may not have the resources needed…but together, we have more than enough. On our own, we may be powerless in the face of ‘the system’…but together, we can change the world.

When approaching peace or sustainability this is particularly true, as we need everyone to be involved and have a voice in discussing our preferred futures. If anyone is left out of the discussion, they will not only feel no ownership over the final outcomes – the less acknowledged fact is we will all have lost something in the process.

By this, of course, I do not mean that we should pander to every misguided, ignorant, selfish or bigoted opinion that is out there, sacrificing discernment and good values in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘political correctness’. But there is a delicate path to be walked here (and many people skilled and trained in walking it, e.g. mediators, community and spiritual leaders, conflict resolution practitioners and so on…) between community needs, community engagement, realistic expectations and goals, and creative conflict transformation.

Peace, and its Siamese twin, sustainability, are not destinations or ‘answers’ as such, but rather ways of being and doing - processes and principles to follow on a path to a preferred future. For this reason, creativity and imagination are more important in the early phases than a detailed plan or ‘answer’ to our problems - which can too easily become bogged down in the details, and too often relapses towards the ‘status quo’… All too soon we find ourselves in yet another straightjacket - the opportunity for deep and lasting change lost in the morass of budgets and bureaucracy…

I found a poem some years ago that says this best – speaking of the potential of poetry (or any creative thinking/ imagining of the future) to set us free to dream beyond what is, and so feel our way into what could be, following our hearts…

Making Peace
By Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.

A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses…

A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
Stanza by stanza into the world,
Each act of living
One of its words, each word
A vibration of light-facets
Of the forming crystal.

Also, within ‘sustainability’ as a burgeoning field of endeavour, there is a tendency to see only the social justice issues, or only the ecological systems that are under threat – whereas of course we need to place equal value and emphasis on the social AND environmental spheres. None of the issues can be resolved in a lasting and sustainable manner without the complete health and balance of the overall system, which is a human/ social AND natural/ ecological system. We function from within the natural world, and are a part of it – it is absurd to imagine we can separate ourselves from our surroundings – our selfish actions impact the natural world, and the natural world’s crises impact us. Simple.

So also with the artificial dichotomy between the humanities/ ‘arts’ and science/ engineering as the most likely fields to generate the much-debated ‘answers’ and solutions to the problems we face today – which is more relevant, more effective, more ‘useful’? Which ‘side’ of the divide should you study or invest your efforts in, to equip you or your country best, to face today’s challenges and priorities? Of course, it’s BOTH AND, not EITHER OR…

Engineers and other technical professionals may have unparalleled and much-needed skills in bridge-building and other infrastructure or technology required to ‘future proof’ our societies and neighbourhoods - but we also need a contingent of metaphorical ‘bridge-builders’ from the humanities side of the knowledge spectrum, to ‘future proof’ our social interactions, political processes, educational approaches and economic systems.

As to the core debate that rages within the humanities subjects themselves – do we focus on the ‘big picture’ - on changing structures and systems, or on individual ‘agency’ and empowerment? Well, of course we need BOTH, simultaneously – we need social change AND personal transformation… revelation (individual) and revolution (social), although peaceful and nonviolent of course!

We need action AND ideas, theories, concepts, discourse and critique…
We need collaboration, teamwork, a willingness to learn from others AND individual contributions, unique perspectives, and initiative
We need to sacrifice - our time, money, effort, our own plans and ideas AND we need to enjoy life, pleasure, people, our personal goals, dreams and hopes…

Furthermore, we need as many ‘generalists’ as we need ‘specialists’ – we need those who have understanding across a broad range of fields and issues, who can envision the path ahead… and then the ‘specialists’ or ‘experts’ can come along and fill in the actual steps along that path. Without vision and a ‘bird’s eye-view’ of what we are doing, there is so much wasted effort - overlapping areas of responsibility, discordant voices all competing for attention (and funding) and a continual reinventing of the wheel.

This is why we can only do it together – the rate and scale of change required, as well as the need to focus on multi-layered, micro and macro level approaches simultaneously, is difficult to enact, maintain or even fully appreciate, as one, limited human being.

Which brings me to the spiritual dimension of this train of thought, and a quick aside for my fellow Christians… For most Christians, ‘the answer’ is simple: God is the answer, and has all the answers… We should turn to God for guidance… “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5). Well, nothing I have written here is intended to dispute that elementary truth of the Christian faith.

But, my fellow Christians, God expects us to run things – we have been entrusted with stewardship of this planet and all on it… We have been designed, equipped and empowered to meet all these challenges, not to sit around waiting for ‘the answers’ to fall from the skies… In fact, God is eagerly anticipating us rising up to the challenges, using our power and giftings for good and for a better world… God wants to hear our ideas, and see our initiatives too…

What do you think “on earth as it is in heaven” means…? God’s will for this planet is love, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, peace, justice, health, abundance, sharing, giving, community, joy, hope, harmony… and we are the ones tasked with bringing all of that about. So best we get busy – there is much to be done, and our hands, feet, brains, mouths have been given for the doing!

But my challenge to all my fellow humans, whether you consider yourself spiritual, intellectual, a pragmatist or otherwise, is: Why are we leaving it all to the politicians, the engineers, the lawyers, the bankers and economists? (and if you are one of these professionals, then why are you only considering these issues from within your own field of expertise?)

Yes, we still need all these worthy professions and roles to be fulfilled (well, maybe not the bankers and financial ‘experts’!?) – only with integrity, passion and vision!! But we also need the dreamers and visionaries, the artists and musicians, the poets and sculptors, the storytellers and historians, the peace builders and community workers, the teachers and mothers… and all those who can see how things could be different, better…

I will leave you with another poem, encountered a few years ago, which for me sums it all up quite well:

The End and the Beginning
By Wislawa Szymborska (translated from Polish by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh)

After every war someone’s got to tidy up.
Things won’t pick themselves up, after all.

Someone’s got to shove the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses can get by.

Someone’s got to trudge through sludge and ashes,
through sofa springs, the shards of glass, the bloody rags.

Someone’s got to lug the post to prop the wall,
someone’s got to glaze the window, set the door in its frame.

No sound bites, no photo opportunities and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone to other wars.

The bridges need to be rebuilt, the railroad stations too.
Shirt sleeves will be rolled to shreds.

Someone, broom in hand, still remembers how it was.
Someone else listens, nodding his unshattered head.

But others are bound to be bustling nearby
who’ll find all that a little boring?

From time to time someone still must dig up a rusted argument
from underneath a bush and haul it off to the dump.

Those who knew what this was all about
make way for those who know little.
And less than that.
And at last nothing less
than nothing.

Someone’s got to lie there
in the grass that covers up the causes
and effects
with a cornstalk in his teeth,
gazing at clouds.

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