I am in love
In what could be turning into a trend, this evening before sitting down to write my newsletter I happened to be out walking with a woman-friend – this time my dear friend Zann. It was a glorious, sparkling winter sunshine evening, with a biting cold wind that was clearing out the cumulative cobwebs from our different days spent in office and workshop venue rooms.
Zann is one of those special people that can make me laugh at the absurdity of life without even a single trace of cynicism or bitterness in her humour. She could be forgiven for bitterness, but has none. She is at the receiving end of some pretty bizarre and unhelpful behaviour from people who ought to be cherishing her – and deeply at that.
This led to us talking about behaviour, and how we treat one another – which as most of my regular readers will know is a favourite topic of mine.
Talking of behaviour, before I go further into this month’s newsletter, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to those of you who wrote in response to June’s newsletter. It became abundantly clear to me from your letters how widespread the experiences of loss and grieving and the need for cocooning are in our world at this time. Thank you for reaching out. Your doing so means the world to me.
A wonderful thing has happened in my life since I wrote June’s newsletter. I have fallen in love. Unfortunately, he is married, has no idea who I am and lives on the other side of the world. But I am smitten.
I have been introduced to the wonderful work of an emotions scientist, co-founder of the Greater Good Science Institute in – yes, you’ve guessed it – California; a man with an astonishing smile and even more astounding head of hair – Dacher Keltner.
There is a weave of threads coming together for me from
Dacher’s inspiring life of research – particularly his latest work on the science of the emotion we call awe;
My troublesome relationship with the Component of Information – as it pertains to media information;
The understanding of the beneficial impact of a particular system of human interaction (behaviour) known as The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment™️.
It’s not exactly a gossamer artwork of warp and weft right now – more like a snarl – but bear with me if you will, and let’s see if I can join the dots!
Summarising Dacher’s work feels a bit like trying to find the words to describe the dance of the Northern Lights, and I am in my early days of absorbing it, but a very crude synopsis goes like this. “We are a hyper-social species. We are the most social of all mammals that’s ever existed, we synchronise with each other, we know each other’s minds. Every survival-relevant task in our hominid evolution, we accomplished socially.”
So, in terms of evolutionary thinking about the human species, we need adaptations that help us to be members of community. Awe is a universal emotion, and its impact on us is to reduce our sense of separate self, sometimes even to the extent of it dissolving, and it enables us to connect deeply with one another and with mystery.
In his research on awe, speaking to people from over 20 very diverse countries, Dacher Keltner and his colleagues have identified eight gateways to the experience of awe: nature, music, visual art, spirituality, big ideas, moral beauty (the courage, strength, selfless acts of kindness of people), collective effervescence, experiences of birth & death.
There’s so much more to say here, but that’s enough for thread one.
Some of you may remember my confessional newsletter from May where I grappled my way through my conflicted relationship with information, particularly that of the media kind – news articles, Twitter, Tik Tok et al. Synchronously, on two separate occasions since then colleagues or participants have chosen this very topic as a subject on which to seek counsel from others in the group – I’m paraphrasing the question here, but something along the lines of “how do you cope with the bombardment and its negative impact on the human nervous system?” “How do you develop discernment and take care of your psychological wellbeing whilst not becoming ignorant and ostrich-like?”
Readers’ comments in letters to me recently have revealed how prevalent feeling overwhelmed is these days. We all know that “good news doesn’t sell”. Raoul Martinez’s brilliant book Creating Freedom revealed to me that the manipulation of news in the media is one of the ways in which we are fooled into thinking we are free whilst being profoundly controlled by powerfully choreographed agendas.
The weave of this second thread with the first is leading me to think that our relationship to consuming news might be life-threatening to our relationship of being able to access awe. Bear in mind here that awe is a pro-evolutionary, pro-social emotion – our accessing it enables us to set aside self-centredness and selfishness. It is an anti-dote for narcissism and egotism.
The thinking in the two Council Process groups I had the privilege to witness divulged that people have to work quite hard in managing their relationship to news and social media consumption in order to stay pro-social and psychologically balanced and self-caring. Over-consumption can happen quickly, and results in polarization, self-righteous opinionatedness, disconnection from self and others, anxiety and depression.
Here comes thread number three and brings us back around full circle to this evening’s walk with my friend Zann, and our shared question about why people don’t seem to appreciate how much easier it is if we just all treat each other well? Having spent one and a half days in the company of a wonderful group of Heads of Department at an inspiring social enterprise organization teaching them the conditions that enable independent thinking, I came away, yet one more time of many in the last 18 years I’ve been privileged to teach The Thinking Environment, present to how life- and people-affirming co-creating a thinking environment is. And how easy, and ease-full it is. How much we all love it. How good it is for us. How much we all want it.
I know that the cynical views of ‘dog eat dog’ and ‘every man out for himself’ are no longer able to be scientifically upheld. Dacher Keltner’s scientifically researched work proves that in fact human evolution is a function of survival of the kindest, and that the gateway to awe called Moral Beauty is one of the most commonly experienced, everyday wonders we respond to and feel connected to one another by.
My students have often heard me muse about what would happen if we could conduct a piece of research in which every single act of human behaviour on Planet Earth in a given day could be recorded. I am happy to go on record to say I BET there would be way more acts of generosity and kindness than those of meanness, violence and greed. WAY MORE! I’ll never be able to prove it, but I stand by my assumption because that is what I see every day in my work.
So, maybe there really is something to be said for cultivating practices that increase our access to awe, which has been proven to reduce activation of the Default Mode Network that triggers us into status-focused, self-obsessive behaviour. And, in my experience, one of the most elegantly simple ways to experience the awe-accessing, being in the presence of how grand and morally beautiful people are, is to listen to them deeply, with genuine interest in their thinking and where it is taking them, with compassion for their feelings, discarding both urgency and the need to compete, whilst noticing what you appreciate about them, and then telling them.