This article was published on Intrepid Ed News on 14 July 2022.
I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the previous four chapters, I have tried to bring to light the tension between the emerging infinite world—where the Metaverse may change our conceptions of time, space, relationships, and reality—and the increasingly localized physical world—where we may produce, consume, and travel as little as possible in order to remain within sustainable planetary boundaries. These chapters involved some theory, some ideas, and some practical elements, often looking through a futurist lens. The future will always be a story we tell ourselves, a projection of our imagination. The future is an infinite set of probabilities: in fact, it is a word that should never be used in the singular. Rather than think of one future that is time-bound, we may want to think of the infinite number of futures we will share.
We share the futures because none of us owns them. We don’t own our present either. We share these with everyone and everything in our immediate and more distant contexts, to a cosmic level even. However our lives unfold, they do so as an interplay with our contexts: where we are, whom we’re with, what’s around us, even the weather… everything influences how our lives unfold. Think of that time when you had a day planned outdoors and it rained buckets. Everything we think and do is in a dynamic relationship with what we generally understand to be those things outside ourselves. We share futures because we have infinite possibilities in front of us, and all are connected to other living things. These futures are always probabilities because the futures never come; they are always in the futures.
Sharing our futures with all living things connects us in a web of life. When we see ourselves as having one unique path all our own, we fall victim to a sort of ego-centrism created by the illusion of ego-centrism. The same illusion that puts the ego at the center puts humans at the center; from ego-centric to anthropocentric. When we see a world where humans are at the apex, the world of Francis Bacon in which humans should “conquer and subdue nature”, where humans and individuals put themselves first, at the expense of other living things, we create the conditions for crises: climate, extinction, socio-economic.
When we place life at the center, when we see the world as bio-centric not anthropocentric, our consciousness shifts. We start to see life as a process of collaboration and synergies rather than competition and individualism.
Placing life at the center means reconsidering how we view our interactions with the world, how we come to see that we are becomings, processes that reflect the dynamic between ourselves and the world, inseparable other than in the constructs of our minds because nothing exists in isolation. This is a return to a more indigenous, holistic view of the world, one that was prevalent before the Scientific Revolution.
On a practical level in schools, this is an opportunity to do the inner work in a different way because we see ourselves not as static entities to be measured, sorted, standardized, and labeled, but as becomings who emerge from this constant interaction between ourselves and our contexts. It is also an opportunity to reconsider our relationships with ourselves by re-considering what is “ourselves.”
In Chapter 4, we explored how a fractal understanding of the world might move us from I to We, seeing ourselves as individuals yet also members of larger groups such as family, local community, region, and planet. We move along this scale of identities. Ubuntu is a Zulu saying that translates as “I am because we are,” where “we” can be a pair, a group, a region, a species, or all life. As we see ourselves as bigger than individuals, our lives continue to unfold as a dynamic relationship with our context. We can adopt a narrative other than the dominant narrative—which rewards measuring, sorting, standardizing, and labeling—by embracing that we are more than individuals, we are also all living things.
We move along the scale of our identities when we re-consider who “we” are, expanding or contracting how we define “we,” going from smaller to bigger and back again. Are we an individual, our group, our organization, our community, our nation? When we see ourselves as more than individuals, when we feel we belong to a greater whole, we open the way for a collective consciousness through shared experiences. “We” still interact with context and becoming is the process that takes place at the event horizon where “we” and our context interact.
This is important because this allows us to do the inner work as a collective. When we see ourselves as belonging to more than ourselves as individuals, we do the inner work together.
This allows us to embrace processes and the circularity of becoming. This allows us to move from I to We, which is that dynamic process where “we” interact with our contexts, both ever-changing. This mimics life (bio-centric) because change and transformation are the primary aspects of nature and humans are part of nature. We cannot stop change, but our actions can influence the course of change. This is the Buddhist understanding of karma, which is the process of cause and effect where our actions and intentions shape (all) our futures** because they ripple throughout. Think of the butterfly effect. This is why actions don’t have to be world-changing. They can be as simple as a conversation, a small gesture, or a change of routine. Even small actions cause a ripple.
This is how the inner work can be done as a collective. Imagine small actions on a local scale or on a planetary scale. Many ripples cause a wave, many waves a tsunami. Collective consciousness comes from the inner work and can be connected to action.
The inner work provides the meaning that infuses our actions. This meaning comes from our intentions. Our intentions come from our values. Our values are born of our reflection on our actions.
Below is a visual representation of this dynamic and circular process. Note that the relationships between the words (the arrows) are the process that the visual intends to highlight. Keep in mind that in spite of the direction of the arrows’ points, the process can be understood as moving clockwise or counterclockwise. I will move counterclockwise in explaining.
There is no singular point of entry into this cycle, but I will begin with the relationship between intentions and actions. Two similar actions with similar outcomes do not necessarily have the same meaning. Action finds meaning in the intention that infuses it.
If I kick the cat, this is an action that happens for all present in the room to see (and hear). My foot came into contact with the cat with enough force to hurt it. The question is, did I mean to kick the cat, or was it an accident? The answer to this question is what infuses my action (kicking the cat) with meaning because it signals my intention. Without intention, action is empty; it is an accident.
(Just to be clear, I have 4 rescued cats whom I would never hurt on purpose. They do tend to be underfoot though, which tests my clumsiness.)
To paraphrase Yong Zhao, the hardest part of teaching is that students are alive. If they were machines, it’d be much easier to get them from point A to point B. What happens when humans interact is never predictable, unlike when we operate a machine. We can only shape the outcome of an interaction, never determine it. Sometimes the outcome is different from what we had intended, but the action itself still carries the meaning of the intention, even if the outcome is what we intended.
Let’s go back to the diagram above. We must go deeper to recognize the sources of our intentions. These sources are our values. Our values shape our intentions. We usually believe our values to be noble and good, and so they are, even if actions have degenerative (unintended) consequences, which we may not realize, or, if we do, we accept that these consequences are in the name of a higher good.
Values don’t come out of nowhere: they are based on how we interpret our experiences within context, and how we reflect on these experiences. Values are intrinsically connected to our worldview, which is also shaped by our experiences. Our values are what we hold, defend, and act upon after consideration, according to what is dear to us. They never appear and always require careful consideration.
The experiences upon which we reflect are our actions, through our interpretation of these actions. Actions can take any form: even sitting still is an action or witnessing someone else is an action. (As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “not to act is to act.”). Our values are shaped by how we reflect on our actions. Did we do the right thing? What did this guy that I saw do? What else could have happened? How do I feel? If there is no reflection, there is no shift in values and the action dissipates as pure karma. If there is reflection, then the act is scrutinized as a function of one’s intentions (did what I intended happen? Why or why not?), which are themselves shaped by our values.
This is the cycle. I want to be clear that it is not a cycle that remains in the cognitive realm. It is embodied. We feel our values as much as we feel our actions, our intentions, and our reflections. Those sensations that emerge are not separate from our thinking.
This cycle is founded in theories of learning, in particular those of educational theorist George Counts who describes learning as having a tripartite nature of thought, commitment (I call it intention), and action. Paulo Freire adds that learning requires praxis as “reflection and action, in such a radical interaction that is one is sacrificed. . . the other immediately suffers.”
And so this cycle, this process is the inner work and it can be done individually or as a collective. Who is “we?” How do we define it? How does it expand and contract? How do we belong?
Yet when we do the inner work individually, we cannot help but attract others with whom we share values, intentions, actions, and reflections. Like a ball of mercury expands as it attracts and subsumes other drops of mercury that fall within its electromagnetic reach, our “we” expand. There is a sort of inevitability that the inner work becomes that of a collective. Do we not seek out those of similar ilk? Do we not share the same sense of change? When we deepen these relationships, we take action together, reflect on these actions, alter our values according to that reflection and develop intentions toward other actions according to our emerging values.
This is what Fritjof Capra describes as the move from self-assertive (I) to integrative (we) tendencies. It involves what deep ecologist Arne Naess explains as the expansion of the self to include others, including non-human life. When we see ourselves as integrated into more than our physical body, as part of a larger ecosystem, then taking care of that ecosystem (ourselves) is natural.
The emerging infinite world that the digital world opens up will expand our social and professional networks. It will allow us to exchange ideas and collaborate with anyone in the world with access to a device (also opening up conversations about equity). We will find ourselves speaking with people around the world in the same language (instant translations) with whom we share passions, interests, and purposes. “We” expands to potentially anyone in the world. There is a danger; we must avoid factionalism.
The increasingly localized physical world may bring us to live in harmony with our bio-region and allow us to remember our relationships with all living things physically close to us: our neighbors as people, animals, and plants. The “We” contracts to those living things around us yet expands in another direction as we see ourselves as more than human, as a member of the bio-collective—all living things that share an interest in the healthfulness of the planet. There is a danger: geographic inequities may be exacerbated.
Where the current system rewards measuring, sorting, standardizing, and labeling, we come together to do the inner work as a collective, to imagine the futures we want to unfold, creating a new cycle of values, intentions, actions, reflection, and new values. We come together as a collective to write a new narrative.
Every moment is an opportunity to be at one. We don’t have to change the system all at once, in fact, we can’t. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” At the same time, we don’t have to wait till a brand new and perfect system replaces the current broken one. We only have to expand who “we” are and together reconsider our values, our intentions, and our actions. We only have to have these conversations openly, asking why is it acceptable that we follow a dominant narrative in K-12 that says the only acceptable future for students is the pathway to university, to a high-paying job, to getting on that meritocratic treadmill. We only have to have these courageous conversations openly, asking why we are so obsessed with performance and quantitative data (more the language of machines than living things) at the expense of potential, essence, and the collective good. We only have to have compassionate conversations openly that make it the norm to learn about different stories, hear different voices, and care about different things.
These conversations connect us to others of the same ilk. They make the discourse of real change acceptable, that Overton Window moving. These conversations attract drops of mercury. They shift values, intentions, and actions. They are the force behind the tsunami.
We can all be activists. Our contexts may not always give us all the freedoms we want, but we don’t get discouraged. We do the inner work as We and live and act by our emerging values.
|↑1||This is what Thich Nhat Hanh described as interbeing. Quantum physics also explains the universe as a complex web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole. Living systems theorists see the world as infinite non-linear relationships, where wholes are nested within each other|
|↑2||If I buy my wife Charlotte a painting she doesn’t like, the outcome is beyond my control, but the intention is well placed, provided I put some thought into which painting to buy. If I bought the first one off the shelf, the meaning behind the intention changes.|
|↑3||Cause and effect in the Buddhist understanding are different from those of the Newtonian understanding insofar as in Buddhism cause and effect are never independent of anything. All actions (events) are interconnected to everything since the Big Bang. This is the concept of dependent origination.|
5 thoughts on “Chapter 5: From I to We—The Source of Becoming”
I think everyone benefits when as individuals we strive towards having a more bio-centric view of the world. This is easier said than done since so much of society and our education systems are built around encouraging an anthropocentric and mainly egocentric point of view. I appreciate the reference of returning to a more indigenous holistic view of the world. I think the article would still make excellent points without the references to Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (both of whom pushed racial hierarchy and white supremacist views).
I have always thought of a bio-centric view as a web showing how we are all connected. I think the graphic showing the connections of intentions and actions also shows interconnectedness. Our actions influence others and the world we share. However, the intentions behind these actions are shaped by our values. I think during this election season it is clear that humans as a collective do have many shared values, but they strongly disagree on what actions to go about achieving the shared values. For example, I would hope that as individuals we all value human life and want to see an end to school shootings. But, there is disagreement on the action steps that have to occur to get there. I agree what the article says about attracting those with similar views and like-mindedness and that becomes a “we”, but I still don’t know how to expand beyond that.
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This post reminds me of the differences between and how both scaffold an understanding of the other: psychology and sociology. Psychology is understanding one’s brain parts and functions, how the nervous system works, how thought, emotion, and sensations work together to create experiences. Sociology on the other hand looks at individuals within their different groups. As I read the blog post I was again reminded of the interconnectedness of humanity. How much my own perception towards my daily life changes due to the weather, the actions/words of others, the seasonal plants and animals I interact with. I was also drawn to the paragraph including the Theodore Roosevelt quote, “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Often I feel overwhelmed by the number of issues within public education that starting ANY solution feels overwhelming and unlikely to make any real big difference. However, I must remember that by simply being purposeful and vocal about my actions and the intentions behind that, others too may show that those intentions and actions are important to them! Perhaps I will find that by being vulnerable to act alone, I become surrounded by similarly impassioned individuals now amplifying our intention collectively!
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Hi Ellen, thank you for your comment. I love what you wrote about vulnerability and surrounding yourself with others of similar ilk. They will give you the safety yo be vulnerable!
Might the education system be “stuck” in its old ways because the people with the power and the money want it to stay that way? Maybe they want to be gate keepers. Maybe they don’t want everyone to succeed–maybe they just tell us that to buy into a system that is broken and wears most of us thin. We give up and stop trying to make it to the “top” where they are. I do understand that change comes from within, as you’ve so beautifully written, because I’ve been working on myself the past 5 years and have learned that our mind is our most powerful tool. How do we send the positive and hopeful message that things can and should be better out into the world louder than the negative and depressing messages we are constantly bombarded with through the media? Will the butterfly effect be enough, fast enough, to save us from catastrophe and devastation? How do we go about influencing educational policy when those who yield the power want to stick to the status quo?
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Hi Victoria, you ask some of the most fundamental of questions. People have been trying to change education for over 100 years, not the least Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and George Courts… and yet the state of education might be worse than it has ever been because of the problems it has created: what with NCLB and race to the Top. And that’s just the US, never mind the reforms from the Tories since David Cameron who made everything about skills. What to do? I keep going back to this idea that we have to approach one moment at a time, one interaction at a time. Education is ideological, but won’t get resolved until the whole system is overthrown, which includes the capitalist system that feeds off hyper-consumption. As you wrote, people with the power and the money want it to stay that way. It doesn’t help those at the top to have a population that asks questions. It didn’t help slaveowners to have a literate slave population. We aren’t slaves, for sure, but the locus of control remains the same.
Education is ideological. Learning is not.
I am more and more thinking that it’s about the local, the very local. The inner work is about ourselves (as individuals) and ourselves (as a community). We give care and welove and that is what is most important. That may be more useful to get kids to university than dragging them through a curriculum, but then we ask ourselves why is it that we want these kids to go university? Or which university? What matters, what are the reasons? No right or wrong, just looking at values. I cannot see the point in trying to change an education system in a society where abortion is allowed to be illegal even though the majority of the US population thinks that it should be allowed in some cases. Or in the UK where there are such chasm between rich and poor, The City and the rest of the country.
We may not have time. You’re right. Then I think… when we say we want to save the planet, we really mean we want to save humanity, ourselves. The planet will be fine. Some species will die off, some will thrive. Maybe that’s liberating rather than depressing. Maybe not. I hope we can reframe it so that it is not depressing and overwhelming but rather an impetus of energy, albeit from anthropocentric roots.
So we treat each other (all living things, including non-human) with kindness, with love, we appreciate that ethics are about love since they are founded on relationships and we care for one another and don’t let ourselves be consumed by consumerism.
And every moment we check ourselves to make sure we’re authentic, and we don’t judge if we realize we’re not.
Just some thoughts on a Monday morning. What do you think?