Transformative Understanding

Welcome to our Inaugural Blog Post: Transformative Understanding

by Denise R. Ames

The Center for Global Awareness is changing!

We are in the process of developing our newest and third program called TURN, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network.

We are continuing our other two programs—Global Awareness for Educators and GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection—but all things must change and we feel it is time to turn our attention to a program near and dear to our hearts. (See the About tab for more details about TURN).

About Turn

Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network encourages lifelong and transformative learning—an engaged and reflective process—to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being.

CGA defines transformative understanding as a process of expanding our consciousness to become more aware of our being in the world. This non-linear process may include recognizing and integrating into one’s awareness— holistic thinking, diverse worldviews, cross-cultural perspectives, experimental wisdom, spirituality, and a mythic journey—with the ultimate goal of promoting personal and global well-being.

By fitting in these seven dimensions or “paths “of transformative understanding into our belief system, we have a greater capacity to achieve a deeper sense of the meaning of our life and engage in the world more thoughtfully.

Why Our TURN Program

We at CGA feel that the human species is at a critical juncture in our long human history. The present is plagued by contentious disagreements and rapid changes in our way of life; the path forward is unclear and uncertain. Our past way of thinking isn’t capable of helping us navigate these murky waters. What can possibly help us make sense of and thrive during these tumultuous and challenging times?

CGA offers the Turn program as a way to help concerned individuals sort out our bewildering situation. We believe that in order for a more enlightened spirit to become a reality, a shift in individual consciousness to one that enfolds different ways of thinking, acting, and being is necessary for real transformation to occur.

About the Turn Blog

We strive to bring attention to and share with our blog readers the seven paths to personal and global well-being. We hope the blog posts will be a way to experience the seven paths. Our blogs will go into more depth about the seven paths, discuss how they can be integrated into our everyday lives, and how these paths can be shared with others. With our blogs, we aim to stimulate conversations, create a network of like-minded people, and inspire individuals to create positive change in their inner and outer worlds.

The primary author of the blog posts is Dr. Denise R. Ames. She is a long-time educator, president of CGA, and the author of seven books. She is eager to share with you the insights she has discovered in developing the TURN program. However, her views may not be shared with all people associated with CGA.

Please consider following our blog and sharing with us and others your thoughts and impressions. We hope that blog posts may contribute to reaching greater awareness and understanding, and the ultimate goal of personal and global well-being.

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A Cooperative Business Model That Works

By Nancy Harmon

The angular structure of the South Valley Economic Development Center (SVEDC) stands out against the vivid blue Albuquerque sky. Located in the South Valley of Albuquerque, a traditionally poor and Hispanic section of the city (see our last blog article), the SVEDC’s new building has a bright, modern design. Together with the flamboyantly colorful mural celebrating valley agriculture that greets visitors, that design signals that this part of the city has been feeling optimistic about its future. Denise and I, as part of our “good news Albuquerque” efforts, set out to discover what it was that was inspiring that optimism. We made two visits and interviewed the director, Josue Olivares.

1 Josue Olivares

Josue Olivares

SVEDC has evolved over several decades from an organization designed to tackle local challenges—such as drainage in the South Valley—to one with the role of economic catalyst for the community, a role that is now extending into the county and the state. Its strategy for growth is a community-centered one that began with Josue, the new director, who came from Monterrey, Mexico. To get things going, he walked the streets of the South Valley, talking with more than 80 people about what they thought the community needed. 2From there, SVEDC programs grew from one new client a year to 75, with a waiting list of more.

To Be, To Build, To Give

The motto of SVEDC is: “To Be, To Build, To Give.” In order to make that happen, they have a well-planned program, whose purpose is to revitalize the economy of the community through supporting and nurturing small-business entrepreneurs. The program comprises three steps.

The first step is called Virtual Incubation, which is a program to help selected entrepreneurs verify a viable business model. To begin, entrepreneurs fill out a comprehensive assessment, through which their skill level is assessed by trained staff members. Each individual is charged an $80 fee for the assessment and evaluation, although prospective low-income entrepreneurs are subsidized for half of that. The goal is to empower people with sound entrepreneurial ideas with the self-confidence and skills to carry them to success.3

Once an entrepreneur’s skill level has been evaluated, he or she is channeled into different programs in order to reach competency in skills such as marketing, accounting, food safety, or distribution. There are different milestones that each individual must achieve before graduating to another skill level.

At the second step, entrepreneurs apply for registrations and permits and fine-tune their business plans. They continue to be guided by business consultants, who aid them in their training. Through all these steps, they can use computers and printers, meeting rooms, copy machines, and other equipment at the SVEDC site.

The Mixing Bowl

One of the most popular programs at SVEDC is a food-industry business incubation program called the Mixing Bowl, a third-step program. The SVEDC building houses one of the largest commercial kitchens in the country. Currently there are 40 Mixing Bowl entrepreneurs, who are at different levels of their training. Different niches in the food industry are represented, ranging from potential caterers to food truck operators, coffee shop owners, vendors at farmer’s markets, and future restaurateurs. Their ideas range from grandma’s salsa recipe to farm-to-table products. Participants pay a $25 membership fee and reasonable usage fees for the equipment in the commercial kitchen. 4 industrial kitchen.JPG

A professional food consultant assists and advises the entrepreneurs through all the milestones of their development. Typically it takes two to eight months to reach the third step, but since many of the clients have full-time jobs and families, it may take a little longer.

Graduating from the Mixing Bowl program may take up to five years, because product development is a lengthy process. Health inspectors regularly make inspections, and it’s not unusual to have to go back to square one in the development of a food item. The cost of the Mixing Bowl program is subsidized at 50% the first year but only 10% the fifth year, motivating the move to independence. Once the entrepreneurs are finished with the program, they are well on their way to entrepreneurial success—without heavy debt to burden their future success. Examples of success that can be seen all over the state—and nationally in some cases—include Heidi’s raspberry products, the New Mexico Pie Company, and Jardines de Moctezuma, a small farm that now sells its products from a storefront. 5 Heidi's jam

SVEDC businesses will soon have a downtown store to showcase their products and are moving ahead into e-commerce. SVEDC support and expertise in packaging and distribution have been crucial as these businesses grow.

A Supportive Business Community

SVEDC has an expensive mission, but it doesn’t have a huge budget. While it gets support from the Kellogg Foundation and the McCune Foundation, it has had to be innovative with staffing to keep costs low. Josue decided to approach business and nonprofit leaders to ask them to volunteer one or two hours a week to mentor these new entrepreneurs. These leaders have been so enthusiastic about the SVEDC mission and its programs that they now contribute many more hours than they were originally asked to give. SVEDC entrepreneurs also get support from a national program called One Million Cups, where local business leaders gather regularly over cups of coffee and tea to share ideas and help one another.

As Denise and I learned more about SVEDC, our admiration grew for the mission of the organization and its community-based approach to making it happen. Not only are carefully planned businesses being created by well-trained owners, but the business community surrounding them now has a stake in their success because of the mentoring process. It is not the cutthroat, competitive business model we often hear about, and it is a beacon of hope in transforming the economy of Albuquerque’s South Valley. 6 SVEDC.JPG

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South Valley, New Mexico, USA

By Nancy Harmon

If you listen to a lot of news coverage and often despair for the future of our country and our world, you are like me—and many of our fellow citizens. While being aware of what’s going on around us is essential if we want to be active, involved citizens, I recognize the dire consequences of news saturation on my mood and sense of well-being. The best panacea for the doldrums of the bad news cycle is some good news, and there’s plenty of it that gets little notice. Denise and I have intentionally set out to discover inspiring places and people here in Albuquerque, where we started in South Valley.South Valley 1 South Valley, New Mexico

The South Valley is a lovely part of this high-desert city. The Rio Grande meanders through it on the east, lined by the longest cottonwood forest in the world. Acequias provide communal arteries for pumping water from the river to the many family farmers in the area. To the north is Route 66 and to the south Isleta Pueblo, a Native community dating back hundreds of years. The West Mesa is burgeoning with housing developments for young families and one community that somehow survives without basic infrastructure like water, electricity, and paved roads. These geographical features help to create the South Valley’s unique identity.South Valley 2 Acequias

You can drive for miles through the South Valley along Isleta Boulevard and see signs in Spanish for tailors, car-repair shops, restaurants serving menudo, paleterias (shops selling popsicles of fresh fruit, lime, and chile) and other locally owned businesses. Brightening the sides of buildings are colorful murals of the Virgin of Guadalupe, flowers, chiles, and peaceful farms. El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) parade has grown over the last 15 years from a small local parade with floats created by school kids to an attraction with floats covered in marigolds and festive skeletons. The parade is so popular that it creates traffic jams on the bridge into the Valley. The one-of-a-kind National Hispanic Cultural Center anchors the culture of the Valley with an art museum, gardens, restaurant, and performance spaces. The rhythms of flamenco and world-beat music reverberate from the stage, and the latest exhibit in the art gallery featured the history and craft of piñatas!South Valley 3

In amongst the rural peacefulness and thriving culture of the area are the homes of residents, many of them Mexican American, who often struggle to make a living. Some work two low-paying jobs and send their children to under-performing local schools. Others work small farms and sell their crops at local farmers’ markets. A few have never left the familiarity of the area to cross the Rio Grande to the main part of the city to the east. Many people on the east side of the city have never visited the South Valley because of its isolation and a reputation for crime. But the unique identity of the Valley and the economic struggles of its residents have led to some interesting and successful innovations.South Valley 4 Rio Grande River

I worked for six years at South Valley Academy, which began in 2004 as a charter high school and now has expanded to include a middle school as well. In spite of the fact that 95% of its student body qualify for free breakfast and lunch, it has a reputation for academic rigor and requires a lot of its teachers and students, many of whom speak English as a second language. One of its most powerful programs is service learning. Every Thursday afternoon, the school commits to sending all students out into the community on school buses; students go to the same site throughout the entire school year. Freshmen tutor in elementary schools, sophomores are placed in nonprofit organizations, juniors are required to find their own placement based on career goals, and seniors research a social-justice issue and create a project with a community partner that contributes to efforts in that area. They present an exhibition to the community in the spring, showcasing their work and reflecting on the process. South Valley 5 South Valley Academy

The program is powerful for a couple of reasons. Because a majority of SVA’s students are immigrants living in this isolated, rural part of the city, the program offers a unique chance for them to explore the wider community and make a contribution to it. The sense of being valued at their site builds self-confidence and a feeling of belonging, and the real-world experience exposes them to skills needed in the workplace. School seems more relevant.

While their work in the community is the most important part of the program, the follow-up back at the school helps students to fit it into a bigger picture. Regularly scheduled classes and activities offered by service-learning staff help students to explore questions that deepen the experience: How does learning happen? What makes a community? What is justice? What factors influence change? Students also write résumés, practice phone and interview skills, and learn about budgets and setting financial goals. The entire school faculty and staff become participants during two site visits each semester that not only provide feedback on each student but also foster a connection between school and community partners. Those partners are invited to a celebration at the school at the end of the year, to thank them for their mentorship. At that time, the bond that has developed between the two is usually very apparent.South Valley 6 South Valley students

While South Valley Academy still has work to do on its scores for PARCC (the achievement test required by the state of New Mexico), I believe that service learning plays a crucial role in SVA’s high graduation and college attendance rates. When students have an opportunity to gain meaningful work experience in their community and feel a sense of consistent contribution to an important effort, they no longer need to be told that education really is important.

Our next blog post will continue the exploration of what works in Albuquerque’s South Valley, with an article on the South Valley Economic Development Center.


Questions to Consider:

1. What is the difference between service learning and community service?

2. In what other ways might educators bring schools and communities together to support real-world education?

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Divided: The Cultural Divide as Seen Through a Religious Lens

What is driving us apart in America? I am very concerned about the deep cultural divide in the United States and the detrimental effects this divide is having on our psychological well-being, democracy, and sustainability efforts for a fragile planet. The warring factions are talking past each other in a frenzied effort to be right. What can be done to help stop the hemorrhaging divisions?1

Of course, the divide is so complex and deep-seated that I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I have thought of a way in which I can shed some light on the divide, through a project involving religious views that I have pieced together.

Religion, in general, has often been accused of causing and promoting divisions in our society, today and throughout history. But religion is not a stand-alone entity with its own independent consciousness and actions. It is made up of people who make decisions and perform actions in the name of religion. To give life meaning, people with different psychological outlooks, experiences, family histories, identities, and geographic locations gravitate to particular religions or other ideological associations that suit them.2

In one of my yoga classes, the instructor was gingerly explaining the religious connections between Buddhism and yoga. Someone in the class indignantly piped up that Buddhism was not a religion and should not be used in a religious context. The instructor, not wanting to cause a stir, quickly demurred. Clearly they had different views on how to define religion. I wanted to say that it depends on the definition of religion, but also wanting to go on with the class, I wisely decided against it.

Since I have been throwing around the term “religion” rather freely, it is time to provide a definition. As expected, I found that there is no scholarly consensus on what precisely constitutes a religion. In fact, I would agree with some thinkers, such as Daniel Dubuisson, who have pointed out that there is a Judeo-Christian and Western bias in the definition and study of religion. Religion is a modern concept that developed from Christianity and was then applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures. Before 1800, when contact with the West was minimal among most of the world’s population, the term “religion” had no meaning. Religion was not a concept separated from everyday life. The notion of a separation of church and state was unimaginable.3

For better or worse, Western ways of thinking and doing have permeated—although they have not completely transformed—cultures around the world. Some argue that regardless of the definition, it is not appropriate to apply the term “religion” to non-Western cultures, which aim mostly to give some sort of meaning to life. Despite this warning, I will go ahead with what I think is an appropriate definition for this blog project.

George Lindbeck defines religion as “a kind of cultural and/or linguistic framework or medium that shapes the entirety of life and thought … it is similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments.”[1] The esteemed sociologist Émile Durkheim defined religion as a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things.” By sacred things, he meant things “set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community.”[2] I like the part in Lindbeck’s definition about religion making possible the description of realities. Therefore, even if one is an avowed atheist, his or her description of reality is framed through a religious lens. Durkheim’s description of religion as a set of beliefs uniting a moral community is important in defining religion. Both definitions are important for my purposes in this blog.

I have pieced together several different ideas to explain what I will be referring to as religion. It may be a cultural system of selected behaviors and practices, usually of an ethical, moral nature and as a way of seeing the world.  These worldviews, texts, sacred places, or prophesies claim to connect humanity to the supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual realm. Different religions may or may not contain a supernatural being or beings.4

Religious practices may include music, dance, art, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, and rituals. On a more somber note, religious practices may include sermons, tributes to deities, sacrifices, funeral and marriage services, meditation, prayer, and acts of public service. Religions often have sacred histories and narratives, which may be preserved in sacred scriptures, symbols, and holy places. Religions may contain symbolic stories, which are sometimes thought of as literally true by followers. These stories, usually mythic in their universal tones, explain the purpose of human life, the origin of place, and our place in the universe. Traditionally, faith, in addition to reason, has been considered a source of religious beliefs.

I find that religion, used in the broadest sense, can give us a glimpse as to how people see reality very differently. As I observe, experience, study, and visit these different religious associations, and as I talk to people who have a religious connection, I hope to show that while these religions appear to be very different on the surface level, at a deep, invisible level, religious beliefs reveal similar psychological foundations and ethical understandings that undergird all human behaviors. These similar psychological foundations and ethical understandings are expressed through mythic stories and legends that can often be found in religious services, if we look beyond the superficial layer. We are taking our cultural differences too literally and driving ourselves further apart, because we are ignoring, or refusing to look deeper into, our consciousness to find the hidden reserve of universal commonalities that bind us together as a species.

In this blog series, I will be exploring some of these profound psychological reasons or mechanisms that unite us as humans. These mechanisms are often expressed in religious settings through mythic stories and legends, which may not be literally true but have an insightful significance.


Questions to Consider

  1. How would you define religion?
  2. Do you have a religious connection? Why or why not?

[1]  George A. Lindbeck,  Nature of Doctrine. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1984, 33.

[2] Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1915.

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. The CGA recently launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. The simple acts of talking and listening allow us to see different perspectives, transcend deep political and cultural divides, and engage with others to create positive change. Please email or visit for more information.

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The Hard Road to “Normal”

Life is hard! This thought came to my mind again after watching an insightful documentary on PBS called Beyond the Wall. It is part of the America Reframed series, now in its sixth season. I am not going to critique the film; instead, I will give my impressions of the thoughts and feelings that were raised for me while viewing the documentary.

It was a way for me to see the lives of a group of men who had been incarcerated for various felonies. Once they were released, the story traced how they had fashioned a new life from the disorder and chaos of their former lives. According to the film, 65% of the inmates were substance abusers when they entered prison.

The film centered on a counselor and his interactions with several of the former inmates. The counselor had previously been an inmate convicted of violent crimes, and a drug user as well. However, with a great deal of difficulty, he had reformed and found he had skills in helping fellow users and felons to sort out their lives. He became credentialed as a counselor, and now he felt it was his calling to help inmates make the painful and difficult transition from their former lives to “normal” lives without drug use, crime, and violence.

I was struck by the fact that many of the former prisoners proudly identified with their past violent acts. One man had tattooed practically his whole body with marks of violent acts, past conquests, and times he had defied death. His status as a young man was wrapped up in violence, drug use, and having “fun.” During the interview, he clearly articulated that living the normal life of hard work and attachment to family was nearly impossible, since he didn’t have any status in that world. He realized he never would be able to attain status in a normal world—the kind of status and respect he had in his former criminal life. After a time of getting straight, guided by the counselor, he returned to his drug abuse and died of an overdose at the age of 32.Inmates

Another former inmate was determined to live a normal life and care for his six children. He got a job at a restaurant, and for a while he worked hard and inched his way up the pay scale. He had dreams of becoming a chef and providing a living for his children. But after several weeks of work, it seemed he was having a difficult time living the normal life. He said the job and home life were boring, and the confidence in his voice that he was going to beat the pull of chaos and disorder was fading. At the end of the film, he was appearing in front of a judge for violence against his wife and children. The judge issued a restraining order, restricting his contact with his children and wife. He later returned to prison.

It struck me that as humans, we have often been tempted by the latest pleasures and stimulations, without regard for the consequences. But in our long history, if one succumbed to these temptations, one’s life would be short lived. Since women have traditionally cared for the children, and have needed help in doing so, out of necessity it has been incumbent upon men to help provide for their children. Although not all men complied, and some women found themselves in dire straits, it has worked well enough to see an exploding human population.

But our society has shifted. What struck me after watching the documentary is that while the state has taken over the responsibility of keeping children alive, the temptations enticing men away from family and community have skyrocketed. The number of drugs has escalated, to the point that users can be in a perpetual state of ecstasy, if they wish. They need to worry only about finding enough funds to keep them in their drug-induced stupor. Shorn of responsibility for their children and obligations to their community, what do these men actually have to live for?

No responsibilities and endless temptations, plus many other factors, have led to a perfect storm for these men of repeated incarcerations, fatherless families, and torn-apart communities. What are the solutions? I think the counselor in the film, who lives this drama out day to day, made some remarks that get to the crux of the issue. He first stated that a deep spiritual connection immensely helps the former inmate in the transition process.  Without it, according to him, most fail. Reframing one’s mind from immediate self-gratification to obtaining satisfaction and worth from helping others is a huge and difficult step.Free Rehab Center, Long Beach, CA

The counselor had at his fingertips a number of halfway houses and detox centers that were readily available for the ex-prisoners. They just had to commit to wanting to go there. That commitment, as evidenced in numerous scenes in the film, was very difficult for them to make. He also said that going outside of oneself to blame someone else or an external entity was a sign that someone was not ready for the hard transformation. One former inmate angrily shouted as he was making another trip back to prison, “They never give you a handbook for what it is like in the outside world.”

I would highly recommend watching this intriguing documentary. We must talk and act sensibly about the complicated issues of incarceration, drug policy, and the breakdown of community. This documentary clearly shows that these intractable problems need a multifaceted solution. Those on the left, who generally favor social programs, and those on the right, who generally advocate for personal responsibility, need to come together. Both of their viewpoints and all of their ideas are needed to help those who are the most vulnerable citizens of our country.


Questions for Educators

  1. Have you ever experienced what it is like to drastically change a behavior or behaviors? Was it difficult for you?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. The CGA recently launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. The simple acts of talking and listening allow us to see different perspectives, transcend deep political and cultural divides, and engage with others to create positive change. Please email or visit for more information.

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Reflections on Humanity and Goats

By Grace Parazzoli

“The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

For the reason Emerson states so perfectly, I crave open water. Surrounded by nothing but sea, and occasional islands in the distance, without phones or internet or material possessions beyond what will fit in a backpack, I am never tired. The world feels like a very different place. Concerns about politics and the future are, temporarily and seemingly miraculously, replaced by something else. I think that something else is pure wonder. bvi sunset

My husband grew up sailing off the coast of Washington State, and every now and then, we leave our urban life to live on a chartered boat for a week at a time. He is captain, while some friends and I contribute odd jobs like cooking, pulling lines, and driving the dinghy that takes us onshore. The last time we did this, we visited the British Virgin Islands, where my husband had been a decade prior, and which he recalled as being lush and beautiful.

Beautiful, yes. The islands were badly hit by Hurricane Irma, and their lush vegetation is just starting to grow back. On some parts of some of the islands, houses are nothing more than floors and shards. The Bitter End Yacht Club on the island Virgin Gorda, which my husband reminisced about loving during his previous trip to the BVI, is decimated. One morning, while docked off Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda, I went on a run and found myself in a graveyard of boats, most damaged beyond repair. hurricane irma

But as we spoke to locals, story after story attested to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of communal bonds. Houses are being rebuilt—together. We heard people make donation requests—not for themselves, but for the local charities they had always supported. One couple on the island of Anegada spoke about the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. They had no electricity and just a few cans of food. What quite literally saved them was a pilot from Puerto Rico who flew over to the island bearing a planeful of pizza! At the time, Puerto Rico had not yet been hit by Hurricane Maria; if only we as a nation could show Puerto Rico the same kindness. 

But we aren’t doing that. I realize that I may be painting a false picture in this article: one in which humans are all humanity—in the sense of compassion and generosity—and nature is a ruthless destroyer. We were only met with kindness during the trip; individually, I do tend to see only the generosity and compassion in people. Yet during the trip, there were undeniable reminders of the collective role of humankind in natural devastation. The one that is most vivid in my mind is the goats.

When we stopped on the island of Prickly Pear, the sight before us was of building foundations, fallen beams, and goats. goats 2The goats were everywhere, meandering around and occasionally stopping to scratch along a piece of debris. They are adorable animals, their symbolism less so. As Center for Global Awareness president Denise Ames wrote in her book Waves of Global Change:

Sailors used to leave goats on islands to guarantee that on their return trips, they would have an abundance of fresh meat. But with no natural predators, the goats bred faster than the sailors could eat them. Lacking natural limits, the goats ultimately devoured the island’s vegetation and over-taxed the environment to such a degree that native species could no longer survive. The multiplying populations of goats in due course starved to death. Our “island” the Earth has suffered the consequences of our goat-like instincts to consume everything in sight without regard for the future. With no natural predators or self-imposed limits, we are in peril of suffering the same fate.

Wildlife biologist Juliet Lamb has noted that half of recorded extinctions have taken place on islands. “Ever since humans began moving around the world, we’ve wreaked havoc by unleashing novel species in sensitive island ecosystems,” Lamb writes. “Rats, rabbits, cats, goats: we love species that breed fast and have voracious, generalist appetites. For an island native, it’s a perfect storm of destruction.” She discusses attempts to eradicate goat and other invasive species, a subject explored with typical profundity by the podcast Radiolab, in the episode “Galapagos.” goats 1

What hath humankind wrought? I haven’t broached the role of global warming in storm patterns and extreme weather conditions, because others have done it much better than I ever could. But in the small creatures that roam around these islands, our influence is undeniable, the uncertainty of our and our planet’s future brought back to mind.

That’s what happens when you stop looking out at the horizon, as Emerson wrote about, and start looking a little closer. The exhaustion returns.


Questions to Consider

  1. Do you agree with the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think about the analogy comparing Earth to islands overpopulated by goats?

The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In February 2018, the CGA launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. Please email or visit for more information.

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Can We Ever Learn to Get Along?

By Nancy Harmon

As you may have read on our website and in previous blogs, the Center for Global Awareness is launching an exciting new effort called Gather: Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. We are making our materials user-friendly for adult study and discussion groups, with the aim of providing opportunities to enhance awareness of critical global issues and create possibilities for reaching across cultural divides in our increasingly combative world. (You can find more information about Gather in recent blogs by Denise and on our website at Denise and I piloted Gather in January by teaching a class called “Worldviews: Five Perspectives on the World.”

Our goal was to introduce our worldviews concept, described in Denise’s book Five Worldviews: The Way We See the World as a way to understand differing points of view with increased empathy, which could help in reaching across cultural divides. We did this through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Oasis, national organizations that provide lifelong educational opportunities for people over 62 by offering affordable classes on a vast variety of topics, from archaeology to yoga. Participants’ curiosity and desire to stay informed and share ideas provided a ready audience for the beginning of our Gather program.


CGA president Denise Ames giving a presentation on worldviews

Many people recognize and are concerned that our discourse in the US has been changing over the years, especially since the last presidential election. It has become so abrasive that we cannot participate in civil discussions of differing ideas. Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend about the recent March for Our Lives, focused on ending gun violence, and he told me of a group of people he knows who didn’t want a pro-life group to march next to them. What a missed chance to find common ground and shared values!

This is just the kind of attitude Gather has been created to explore and respond to—namely, the attitude that “if you don’t agree with us about everything, we are not interested in you.”

Denise and I advertised our class in the Osher and Oasis catalogs as an opportunity to look at five different ways of describing the ideas and beliefs present in the world today: indigenous; modern, including populist left and populist right; fundamentalist; globalized; and transformative (as presented in Denise’s book Five Worldviews). In our class, we examined how people’s values and beliefs are formed, hoping that better understanding can lead to more curiosity and compassion for one another.

Wind turbines

The transformative worldview seeks alternatives to the environmental, economic, and social problems created by globalism.

There was a lot of interest in the topic. Both classes filled up quickly, and one even had a waiting list. After introductions and a brief overview of the syllabus, we gave participants a unique six-question quiz, designed by Denise to help people identify their own worldviews. We were quite surprised to find that nearly everyone in both classes identified with the transformative worldview, which seeks alternatives to the environmental, economic, and social problems created by globalism. A Powerpoint of pictures, cartoons, and posters then illustrated some of the main qualities of each worldview, followed by lively discussions of participants’ experiences with the different worldviews.

We then introduced the ideas of Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist, professor of ethical leadership at New York University, and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. This book takes on the chasm between liberals and conservatives with some fascinating research that also helps to explain our worldviews concept. Haidt’s interviews with a wide variety of people have helped him identify six foundations on which our moral decision-making is based: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression. All have contributed to the survival of the human race throughout history. His book provides convincing evidence that while liberals base decisions mostly on the foundations of care/harm and fairness/cheating, conservatives base their decisions on all the foundations. Thus, the divide emerges. It has now been exacerbated by new political rhetoric and media bias that tend to demonize “the other.”

Haidt believes that the chasm dividing America is the most serious threat to our nation today. His research has led him to the conclusion that, as products of human evolution and the tribalism of the past, we adopt moral beliefs that bind us to those who think like us and blind us to the values of others. In addition, through hundreds of interviews in which he asked people to respond to a moral dilemma, he found that moral decisions come from our gut—from intuition, rather than moral reasoning. Reasoning comes later, as we attempt to justify the decision already made. Haidt contends that we will not be able to change one another’s minds about strongly held beliefs, so we must reach out to the other side to identify common ground.

You may be wondering by now if, during the Gather classes, we accomplished our goal of discovering ways to communicate effectively with those in a different camp. Participants did seem to be convinced that trying to get people to change their minds through discussion—usually an argument—was probably futile. Therefore, going for the common ground made more sense. They came up with a list of ideas that would contribute to a productive and civil conversation. Here is the list:

  1. Show sincere curiosity. Don’t start a discussion unless you really want to know.
  2. Take the heat out with ground rules for discussion from the start. For example, no one gets to talk for more than two minutes without inviting a response.
  3. Examine the disgust factor. We have very strong feelings regarding politics today. Find the human face.
  4. Use respectful language.
  5. Listen actively. Don’t interrupt or try to have your next response at the ready.
  6. Be ready to acknowledge and even appreciate a good point when/if it’s made.
  7. Acknowledge differences, while trying to find commonality. Help each other through the discussion.

7 guidelinesTo some participants, what seemed to be more problematic than having a discussion was finding someone to discuss with. As Haidt has pointed out, we are increasingly able to surround ourselves with ideas and people we agree with. Our mobility allows us to live in neighborhoods of our choice; our news coverage is often reported by journalists with a bias in one direction or another; religious denominations now promote political points of view; and the internet delivers us information tailored to our leanings. Denise and I were hoping for a class made up of various worldviews, yet participants were pretty homogeneous in their worldviews. Some participants believed that people on another side wouldn’t be willing to talk to us. Others didn’t want to risk alienating someone they loved and respected.

How do we find those who are different from us and willing to talk? One example just appeared for my husband and me at a lecture about Trump and Jacksonian politics. My husband asked the presenter how he responded to those who disagreed with him, admitting that he was struggling with this issue. At the end of the event, a man approached us and said, “I’m a Trump supporter, and I’d like to talk with you.”


Questions to Consider

  1. Do you agree with Haidt that we are facing a crisis of civility and understanding that threatens the future of our nation? Why or why not?
  2. If you do agree that there is a crisis, is it important for us as citizens to take responsibility for tackling this crisis?
  3. How can we find people to talk to about these issues?

The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In February 2018, the CGA launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. Please email or visit for more information.

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