Our society is out of its mind. Well, maybe not quite completely, but it needs to be. We have taken our problem-solving methods so far down the line of “rational thinking” that our primary value is virtually all economic. Yes, we are concerned about the environment, or are we? And yes, we are concerned about social and cultural justice, or are we?
Headlines about the environment are in our faces. It is easy to find out about BP, global warming, climategate, lead poising of children in the Sub-Sahara and volcanic ash. Blog it, Google it, read it to our heart’s content. But does all that information change our behavior? How do we really respond as a society? The evidence that we are really concerned, is underwhelming. My measure of our behavior is not what our government or business community does. I believe both are too sloppy, or into excessive control and greed to make decisions that are in our overall best interest. Instead, I look for behavior patterns exhibited by a large part of our population. Since driving is so closely linked to our concerns about pollution, present and future energy resources and, if you believe some sources, climate, it seems to be a perfect measure of how conscious we are. If you go out on I-5 and drive the speed limit, you will quickly learn how unconscious our general population is. Oh, and Americans shouldn’t feel unnecessarily picked upon. I’ve seen the same behavior in Canada, France and the UK as well.
Three of our biggest social problems are drugs, domestic violence and the oppression of women. These are local as well as regional, national, and international issues. Interestingly we don’t see too many protests, angry mobs, or political rhetoric on these pandemic health and justice issues. Sure, there are occasional articles (Bellingham Herald – June 13) or news programs, but the fact is, we turn the other cheek or a blind eye to behavior that saps our beings far more than immigration, political corruption, or even war do. In fact, we see more outrage expressed at soccer matches than at human rights conflagrations. These other issues are at least in our consciousness, reported on, and occasionally discussed and acted upon. With the exception of some dedicated healthcare, social service, and law enforcement folks, we don’t seem to exhibit a conscious and consistent intolerance for these behaviors, which turn our souls into wastelands.
Our rational-thinking approach has even brought us such profound questions as, “Is a harmonized sales tax a sales tax?” We have rationalized ourselves into arcane, self-serving, overly complex rules based on political (i.e. greed) pressures. It leaves our government coffers emptier and our merchants confused. The rest of us just wonder how we get ourselves into such silly pickles, and how we can get out.
So far this century, the old ways of thinking seem to be producing a lot of unappealing and harmful results. But there are other ways to approach the problems in our lives and complex societies. Two that immediately come to mind are intuition and compassion. Whether viewed as a “gut feeling,” or a carefully developed skill, intuition is often used. Battlefield commanders, scientists, business executives, teachers, moms, and many others use their intuitive abilities at one time or another. Perhaps most often it is used as a last resort, when reason or logic have failed to explain, illuminate, or solve something. Because we seem to be totally addicted to having certainty in our lives, we have driven intuition almost out of our vocabulary, let alone our decision making processes. However intuition works, my sense is that people are widely endowed with it. I believe it is a powerful and trainable skill and can be improved with practice.
Compassion is another trait humans can access when they choose. It seems many of our decisions and choices are made without understanding the possible consequences to others. With the complex natures of science and our society, rational thinking and logic just don’t seem to have enough horsepower to provide good horse-sense. What compassionate thinking provides is an overlay to our decisions. It asks the question, “How will my choice or decision affect others?” Compassion is about being concerned that the actions we take will cause harm.
Using intuition and compassion can move us into new possibilities and the appropriate acceptance of broader responsibilities. We need to let go of believing that rational thinking is the only valid tool at our disposal. We need to lose our rational minds and bring in some new ways of thinking, because the old ways keep giving us the same old results and that's a good definition of failure, if not insanity.