As the world grows smaller, so do some minds
Most psychologists and sociologists seem to agree that in order for humans to function under the tension that the awareness of opposites engenders, we create a transitional, symbolic, expansive "play space" in our psyche.
"That's a lot of five dollar words," my sister Tammy would have said. "Can you please explain using fifty-cent words?"
Sure. Humans have an internal landscape that we hold experiences and perceptions in prior to applying meaning to them. The larger this space, the greater the potential to experience the moment as something new, rather than applying old, pre-conceived meanings to it. The larger the space between our ears, the better we are able to suspend the drive to immediately label and judge, and allow the meanings of experiences to unfold with time, without exerting control. This allows tensions to co-exist in conflict and collaboration until balance or harmony is achieved. It is in this transcendent space that we come to understand that control is an illusion, that our internal realities are subjective, that 'meanings' are ascribed according to our attitudes. Jung called it Transcendent Function.
It goes without saying that some of us create larger spaces than others.
For some, the boundaries of that space are clearly defined, for others, they are limitless. The size of this space is related to traits of fluidity, flexibility and adaptability. When this space is small, people immediately reject ideas that are foreign to them, that call their own beliefs into question, and readily conceive of others as "wrong." Theirs is an ingrained -- perhaps even racial-memory -- mindset known as tribalism. They are, to use a ubiquitous phrase "small-minded idiots." And as the world grows smaller, so do some minds.
In this age when information is readily available, when the corners of the world are reachable by international flight, cellular phone, and internet pipe, I am stunned by the willful ignorance of my society.
But I shouldn't be. I was once a very judgmental person, and I know how easy it is to cling to what we think we know. Over the course of a few months I learned that the world as it existed in my head was a highly subjective place -- by being presented with thoughts, ideas, and concepts that conflicted with my own. I was in high school at the time, a devout Conservative Christian Reaganite Republican, and a teacher in my Senior year American Government class tasked me with an Honors project that involved searching for the answer to a question. And the process of researching the question, of looking outside my normal, comfortable sources of information for answers, of juggling facts and figures and ideas and paradigms that conflicted with my own preconceived notions, literally blew my mind wide open. As a consequence, I learned to do something that is apparently remarkable: I can hold two or more seemingly paradoxical or conflicting concepts in my mind and see them both as being valid.
Like everyone else, I think I know what I know. And like everyone else, I prefer the company of people who are of the same mind-set, and prefer sources of news that present their information with a slant that agrees with my own principles. But unlike most people, I am -aware- of this, and unlike most people, I deliberately seek out people, opinions, and sources of information that make me uncomfortable -- that are in opposition to my own closely-held beliefs -- not because I like conflict, but because I am aware that closed-minded ignorance leads to complacency and that complacency leads down the garden path towards irrationality. Complacent people lose touch with reality because they don't want anything to change. In fact, complacent people have an irrational fear of change. Which we all know is inevitable.
We humans prefer to be comfortable, and once we've arrived at some stability and learned to be comfortable with that new paradigm, we tend to develop the mindset that the way things are now is the way they've always been. Like teenagers today who cannot imagine growing up without internet and cellphones (like I did), and adults today who cannot imagine going shopping with war-ration coupons like our parents and grandparents did. We've come a long way, technologically, and with those jumps in technology that have transformed much of our lives -- how we shop, how we get our information, how we sleep, how we eat, how we love, how we make love, how we get from point A to point B -- we've failed to transform how we think about ourselves, others, and the world. Most of humanity is still stuck in a tribalistic "our way of life v. them."
Many people here in the States are stuck there, stuck clinging to a way of life that is unsustainable and has been slowly unraveling since it reached it's height in the 1970s. And the best example of this and the devolution of our society, and indeed our species, is the failure of education to further develop critical thinking skills and transformative functionality. As the population grows and the corners of the world become more accessible, we're resulting to conflicts and jealous guarding of territory. We're insisting on making someone "other" and in making him "other" we find it easier to make him wrong. And once we've made someone wrong, well... we feel justified in doing whatever we feel is necessary to punish that person and make him see the error of his ways. And as justification, we use the phrases "tradition" and "that is how it's always been," all the while willfully ignorant of the origins of those "traditions" no matter how ancient or recent, and the variety once sanctioned within those traditions.
What comes to mind is marriage. Judeo-Christian marriage as we conceive of of it today has gone through considerable permutations from the social and legal contracts that involved swapping of chattel. My daughter for 10 sheep. My daughter for peace between our families, etc. For centuries, marriages used to happen on church steps because they were considered too venal for the sanctity of the church itself. Eventually marriage became an institution of social control via Churches, and when that happened, all sorts of marriage rites were developed -- and interestingly enough, there are records of same-sex marriage rites and same-sex marriages going back 1000+ years. Did you know that the first white lace wedding dress (worn by Queen Victoria) was a break from tradition? It was a commercial gimmick to spur the sale of English Lace. Ah yes, the power of tradition. But I digress.
Marriage is between one man and one woman, many say. This is sacrosanct, "God's Will." Except of course, where there are well-documented examples of multiple marriages and same-sex marriages all over the histories, many of the latter conducted in the Pope's own parish church, no less. It seems that at one time, Christ's Commandment of Love was followed more literally, and The Church consecrated unions between people who loved each other, regardless of gender.
What on earth does marriage and "tradition" have to do with small minds and transcendent function? Well, here it is: I happen to agree that marriage is between a man and a woman, that it has become a tradition of joining a love-match for the purposes of procreation/child-rearing, pooling assets, and growing old together. I also happen to agree that just as women and minorities should have the same rights to own property, vote, and receive equal pay for equal work as white men, same-sex couples should have the same rights as hetero couples to make a love-match, to raise children together, and to enjoy the spousal benefits of growing old together including inheritance, shared retirement benfits (like Social Security), health care access, etc.
And because the room in my head is so large, I can hold these two seemingly paradoxical ideas in my mind without conflict. I recognize that one, the former, is a Belief, and the other, the latter, is a Right. A rational person understands that Rights trump Beliefs, and regardless of whether or not I believe it is right or wrong for two people to marry, love-matches are love-matches and people in love have a right to marry, to make it a binding social, legal, and in the case of many Churches, a religious contract. And as long as our society conflates the legal rights and responsibilities associated with "civil union" with the religious rite of "marriage" then marriage is a civil right that should be extended to anyone.
Bottom line: I may disagree with what many people believe or say or do, I may consider them ignorant and small-minded and intolerant and just plain wrong, but I will defend their rights to be however they choose to be. Unfortunately, it appears that defenders such as myself are becoming fewer and fewer in number. The world is getting smaller. We're coming into contact with the wondrous diversity of humanity in unprecedented ways. And absent the pursuit of developing people capable of holding two or more seemingly paradoxical or conflicting concepts in mind and see them both as being valid, the ongoing cultural conflicts will continue to escalate from internal to external and our small world will unravel into further judgmental tribalism.
We need to learn how to play together in this sandbox called Earth. Love thy neighbor. Live and let live. Live free or die. Do anything but be small-minded, spreading hate and intolerance, complacency and insanity. What others do in pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness only conflicts with your own pursuits if you think it is so. I adjure you to Find A Way. Our world, and your children, and your grandchildren, are at stake.
Related Articles / References:
Tips from a Missionary on getting along with "others": http://johnlambert.wordpress.com/2008/02/27/traits-ability-to-get-along-well-with-others/
Cheat-sheet on Carl Jung: http://castle.eiu.edu/psych/spencer/Jung.html
Book on Jung's Transformative Function: http://books.google.com/books?id=F29B3MFVKW4C&dq=carl+jung+transcendent+function&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=h-RpTPSwAYugsQOA4MSBBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CDIQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false
Women's Suffrage Movement (world-wide): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage
Civil Rights Movement (world-wide): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_rights_movement
Same-sex marriage in Early Christianity: http://www.jinxiboo.com/blog/2009/5/3/when-same-sex-marriage-was-a-christian-rite.html
The tradition of marriage is always changing: http://archielevine.blogspot.com/2008/11/traditional-marriage-perverts-tradition.html
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