So? Anybody Interested in Changing the World?


The people who don’t believe the world can be changed will say there’s no way it can be done.

They’ll say there’s no point.

They’ll ask you – ‘Who do you think you are?’

Ignore them.

The people who think the world can be changed will be willing to keep trying things until we work out how to attempt it.

This is a very interesting talk by Clay Shirky on how we all might start to change the world and how some people have already started…

and just to add to your tool-box –

And finally – a more recent talk by Clay Shirky – this is longer (but will download as a podcast from the Big Ideas site – here – Clay Shirky – Cognitive Surplus, so you can listen later) and it is really a very good sweeping look at the ‘new’ media.

Do You Feel The Love?


The first step in changing our world is an examination of what actually constitutes reality. We are all products of our environment and as a result we inevitably take many things for granted, believing them to be the natural order of things.

Social reality is an expression of human agreement, someone is the president of a country and has the powers of that office because a system of government is created and acknowledged by the inhabitants of that country. When the fundamental agreements which frame belief and behaviour change, social reality will change.(1)

In the early twentieth century, Antonio Gramsci, who spent most of his life in one of Mussolini’s prisons, identified a phenomenon he called cultural hegemony. Gramsci used this term to describe how we all believe that the way things are is the natural order of things.

A good example of how cultural hegemony operates is slavery. There was a time in the Western world when slavery was considered ‘the natural order’. Certain people were seen as a slave class and were owned by other people. Social realities, and even the economies of the time, were built around this idea and nobody – even the slaves in all likelihood – thought there was anything that could be done to change it.  Slavery was, in fact, so much part of social reality that wishing to escape from it was seen as an illness.

In 1851, American physician, Samuel A. Cartwright described a mental illness he called drapetomania – an illness he believed afflicted slaves who were inclined to run away. Cartwright said this illness was a result of masters who, “made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals.“(2)

He went on to say that,

“If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away.“(3)

It’s now clear to us that slavery is not the natural order of things but rather a social reality based on economic motives and mistaken ideas. People like us made that reality.  And, equally, people like us changed that reality.

So, how do we tell the difference between unchangeable reality which is outside of our control and reality that can be changed? As someone pointed out to me recently not everything is possible.  But what happens if we just accept the limitations (as we see them) and don’t try to change things? If God had wanted us to fly he’d have given us wings…

The question is tricky.  How can we tell the difference between mutable and immutable reality before we begin?  Maybe there is a solution just around the corner which we can’t see from where we stand?  Which seems like a good reason to start out.  And yet it is true that some efforts to effect change will be futile – so, how much banging our heads against the unchangeable can we stand before our heads explode?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, by the way.  Sorry.  But maybe you do.

I have been thinking about it though and all I can come up with is that I wonder if the answer is something to do with love?  Not Hollywood love but real, raw, visceral, never-giving-up love.  The kind of love that parents have for their children.  The kind of love that holds the atoms of a stone together.  Where nothing is too hard or not worth the effort even when the chances of success seem slim.  The kind of love that makes us try and try and try even when we fail and fail and fail – and then when we’ve tried everything possible – we try something else.  Maybe we try the impossible.  Because it matters.

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1) Paul Lample, Revelation and Social Reality, p.9

2)  Cartwright, Samuel A. (1851). “Report on the Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race”DeBow’s ReviewXI.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3106t.html. Retrieved 2007-10-04.

3) Arthur L. Caplan, James J. McCartney, and Dominic A. Sisti (2004). Health, Disease, and Illness: Concepts in Medicine. Washington, D.C.:Georgetown University Press. p. 35 ISBN 1589010140.

Love


We all seek love.  We need it.  It holds us together – literally.

The thing about love is that it grabs our attention even while it takes our breath away.

Love shows us what is already true.  It shows us the power lying at the core of everything.  A power that ties us together.  Links our molecules and energy and fates and well-being.  Entangles us like particles moving in response to each other. Wordlessly, remotely, completely bound together forever in a harmonious dance.

Love does have appetites and that makes us fear it as well as long for it.  We see it as a double edged sword to be approached with trepidation.  But there really is no need.

All appetites are natural.  They are just instincts and neither good nor bad.  They just are.

We don’t fear our appetite for food.  We just know that we have to be in control of it and not vice versa.

Love is the same.

Nothing works without it.  It’s like food for our hearts and souls and minds. We can’t be without it.  And we aren’t.  We are beloved of each other.

Could I Do This?


The truth?
I don’t know.
I agree with the sentiments expressed in this short film and admire these people and their courage and their commitment to action and hope and change for the better but I’m not sure I could be as magnanimous if someone took my child.
But I’d really like if I could.
I don’t admire success or fame or accomplishment. I don’t aspire to be like anybody else really – certainly not in regard to what our societies tell me I should want to emulate. But I do aspire to be as open-hearted, as brave and as far-seeing as these people.

Love the One You’re With


Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

The field of interpersonal neurobiology is an exciting new area of research. The more that is discovered about how the brain works, the clearer it is that it is endlessly open to development and change as it rewires itself every single day. It turns out that how you choose to think really does have an effect on your brain – especially when it comes to love.  Loving relationships have the greatest effect on the wiring and rewiring of the brain.

In 2006, researchers in Virginia gave electric shocks to the ankles of women in happy relationships and measured their anxiety beforehand and pain levels during the shocks.  What they discovered was that the same level of electricity administered when holding their partner’s hand reduced their blood pressure and their brains showed a lower neural response to the pain.  Women in troubled relationships didn’t experience the same relief from holding their partners’ hands.

To quote from Diane Ackerman‘s very interesting article, The Brain on Love

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent. (1)

So, what can we learn from this?

That we need love to be healthy and balanced and happy?  We all probably knew this.

But it also says that every smile, every loving touch, every kindness is worthwhile because it resonates and shapes the brain of the recipient.  It says that we should be careful with each other – even when it’s difficult.   And generous with our love – whenever possible.

This song reminds me of Diane Ackerman’s article – I have no idea why, the link is pretty tenuous – but I really like both the song and the video anyway.  So, here it is –

(1) Diane Ackerman, The Brain on Lovehttp://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/

The Future is Made from Wishes


When I first saw this I didn’t think I’d post it as I have posted so much – so many links, so many articles, so many videos – on the importance of the education of girls and the development of women for the welfare of all human societies.  At this point even I am sick of hearing myself talk about this subject.

But I couldn’t talk myself out of posting this.  Please watch it.  It is so comprehensive and so complete that you’ll be glad you did watch it.

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Blind Spots


Nowadays it’s widely accepted, in our rapidly shrinking global village, that we need to learn to work together – learn to live together.

And yet we resist it.

We insist on concentrating on the differences between us.

Colour, race, nationality, religion, politics, culture, gender, age, status, beliefs, thoughts.

Sure we’re different.

There’s no doubt about it.

But how about the ways we are the same?

Why don’t we really concentrate on what we share instead of what separates us?

I really mean that as a question – why don’t we?

What stops us trying to work together?

What are the obstacles to our seeing our similarities?

Can we talk about that?

The Fruits of their Labour


I’ve talked about this before (ages ago) but it strikes me as worth talking about again as it is such a good example of how it is always worth doing what you believe to be right, even when everyone is telling you it won’t change anything.

In July, 1984, a 21 year old cashier in an Irish supermarket – Dunnes Stores- refused to handle two Outspan grapefruit at her checkout. She did this because her union had decided to protest against apartheid in South Africa by not handling South African produce.  The cashier’s name was Mary Manning and she was suspended for her actions.  Ten of her colleagues went on strike to protest  against her treatment and so began a strike that lasted almost three years.

Eventually though, the Dunnes Stores workers prevailed and the Irish government agreed to ban the importing of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was dismantled.

Today in Johannesburg, a street is named after Mary Manning and she and her colleagues have been personally commended by Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

As Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist said –

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Every single thing that every single one of us does all of the time matters in the overall scheme of things.  There is no such thing as a deed – good or bad –that doesn’t have some effect somewhere.

Scary?  Maybe.

But heartening too when you think about it.


Baby Talk (or how I discovered my children weren’t me)


The final story in the trilogy of how I have accidentally learned some life lessons from my children involves my youngest son – Three-of-Three.  He was seven or eight at the time. In this story, the parent (me) and the kids were all snuggled up in bed having a ‘tell-me-stories-about-when-I-was-a-baby’ session.  I was obliging with funny stories about babies eating worms and being afraid of garden hoses and leaves and cacti and somehow it came up that when I was pregnant with Three-of-Three, due to a pregnancy complication (placenta praevia), I had to stay in bed for two full months.  The conversation that ensued went something like this –

Three-of-Three: “But did you stay in bed all the time?”

Me: “I did.”

Three-of-Three: “Every single day for two whole months?”

Me: “Every single minute of every single day.”

Three-of-Three: “But why did you do that?”

Me: “Because if I didn’t you wouldn’t have been able to grow in my tummy.”

Three-of-Three: “Would I have died?”

Me: “Probably.”

Three-of-Three sat up in bed, looked at me very seriously and didn’t say anything for a few seconds, he was obviously thinking about this new information.  Finally, once he’d digested it, with a very solemn expression on his small face he said – “Thanks, Mom.”

I was completely taken aback.  I had always seen that time when I was pregnant with him as being about me.  My experience.  My pregnancy.  My fear.  My worry.  My potential loss.  I saw my two months of being consigned to bed as something I did for myself.

He saw it differently.  He saw himself as a person in his own right, not an extension of me, or even a ‘product’ of me but a whole, distinct other person.

And for the first time, I really realised that that was true.  Not that I hadn’t given lip-service to that idea before – I had.  There was just something about his heart-felt expression of thanks that showed me not only that was he grateful but also that he really wasn’t me.

Which got me to thinking that our children, as well as being born of and influenced (for better or worse) by us are also complete human beings in their own right (also for better or worse).

Which means so are we.  We are products of certain people and certain times and certain environments but that’s not all we are – we are also uniquely ourselves.

Just like Three-of-Three.

Better Together


The human limbic system is composed of a number of areas of the brain – such as the hippocampus and amygdala – which are involved in complex realities such as emotion, behaviour, long term memory and interestingly (to me at least) our sense of smell.

This system is an open-loop system – which simply means it is dependent on factors outside itself for regulation.  There has been extensive research done to confirm what everybody already knows – namely that we are deeply affected by other people when it comes to our emotional well-being and stability.

According to Daniel Goleman, author of books like Emotional Intelligence and The New Leaders, this effect is so profound that it registers physiologically as well as emotionally. He says that even patients in intensive care facilities find the presence of another person so comforting that it perceptibly lowers their blood pressure.

“The open-loop design of the limbic system means that other people can change our very physiology – and so, our emotions.” (1)

Time and again, researchers have found that emotions spread through groups, this ‘spread’ can happen non-verbally as well as verbally, and this appears to be the case simply because of the open-loop design.  It seems that we function together whether we like it or not, even when we don’t consciously choose to do so.  It also seems that we need each other – for better or worse – in order to regulate ourselves, internally, as well as manage the world, externally.

The only way we can live, it seems, is to live together.

So – how might we manage that a bit better?

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(1) Daniel Goleman, The New Leaders, p. 4