A New National Narrative: Cultural Patterns of the Transformative Worldview

In last week’s blog, I discussed the transformative worldview, in which “diverse paths are possible and attainable, and a globalized worldview or other visions of the future are not an inevitable scenario of how the future will or should play out.” Today I will focus on one complex aspect of the transformative worldview: its cultural patterns.

Cultural Patterns of the Transformative Worldview

Many people hold to new and emerging transformative ideals such as cooperation, community, and holistic thinking. “Holistic” means that all the traits of a culture—economic, technological, social, political, religious, ideological, and cultural—interact with and reinforce each other. Holistic thinking also sees the world as an intricately interconnected organism; accentuates uncertainty, approximations, and relativity instead of absolutes; calls for interdependence instead of independence; and recognizes seemingly paradoxical concepts. Highly regarded are Eastern philosophies and religious thought that emphasize cyclical thinking, highlight harmony with nature, and see unity within diversity and diversity within unity.i 08 Gaia, Our Earth

A holistic perspective recognizes that nature, which has been treated for centuries as dead and mechanical, is an animate, invisible organizing power. The Earth, Gaia, is seen as a living organism, interconnected within a web of life. This perspective counters the split between nature and humans, which threatens life on Earth. A holistic view intuits that an underlying consciousness circulates within humans, life on Earth, and the Universe, connecting all into an intricate, interdependent circle of existence.

Some people holding a transformative worldview are embracing alternative forms of spirituality, which depart from the universal religions that arose over 5,000 years ago. The New Age movement, emerging out of the West in the 1960s and 1970s, is an umbrella term that embraces an eclectic array of spiritual beliefs and practices. It encompasses a wide range of personal development strategies and healing tactics to improve human well-being. Deepak Chopra, the spiritual teacher, states that New Age values support conscious evolution, a nonsectarian society, a nonmilitary culture, global sharing, healing the environment, sustainable economies, self-determination, social justice, economic empowerment of the poor, love, and compassion in action. 09 no caption

Some women have resurrected feminist spirituality, which encourages a connection with the sacred feminine and worship of the goddess who they claim has been suppressed by male-dominated universal religions. My cousin, a practicing shaman, performs rituals for clients and friends, such as fire ceremonies, that she contends burn away negative feelings and evil entities, resulting in a cleansing of the soul and renewal of positive energy.

The field of ecopsychology, connecting psychology with ecology, offers many people a way to spiritually connect with Mother Earth. Ecopsychologists maintain that this emotional connection between individuals and the natural world will help them develop sustainable and simple lifestyles and remedy alienation from nature. They support preserving nature on public lands, bringing nature into civic spaces, and connecting nature to their own personal space. Instead of the traditional lawn of green grass and shrubs, my neighbor has a menagerie of native plants that provides a welcome sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. 10

In some ways, postmodernism is part of the transformative worldview. Postmodern thinkers of the 20th century deconstructed the objective, scientific, modern worldview that has held sway for centuries and instead posited that there is no fixed meaning, canon, tradition, or objectivity, only infinity of meaning. This way of thinking erodes classical, rational liberalism, the cornerstone of the modern worldview.ii

Aesthetic expression in a transformative worldview differs from that of the globalized worldview. In many instances, the distance between the observer/observed or entertainer/entertained is reduced or eliminated. A person does not necessarily go to a concert and sit passively as the observer but may participate in the musical production by performing him- or herself or helping with the production. For example, a dancer in the audience might spontaneously participate in the dancing. The professional qualities that make certain artists celebrities are blurred, and the boundaries between the performer and audience fall away. A small, neighborhood theater in Pennsylvania, for example, featured audience participation as they followed sing-along tunes reminiscent of the 1960s television show Sing Along with Mitch. The audience was the performer.  11

Another example is the self-publishing book industry, which has recently skyrocketed. The big publishing houses no longer dictate what will be available to the book-buying public. Instead, individual authors can “self- publish” their own books, freed of restrictions imposed by corporate publishing entities. Also, blogs, tweets, and other forms of social media are not governed by established rules; authors can publish whatever they determine is important to them.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider
1.  Do any of the cultural patterns of the transformative worldview resonate with 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. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

i Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point:  Science, Society, and the Rising Culture (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1982), 21-53.

ii Norman F. Kantor, American Century: Varieties of Culture in Modern Times (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 425-431.

Advertisements
Posted in perspectives, Uncategorized, worldviews | Leave a comment

A New National Narrative: The Transformative Worldview

For the first time in human evolution, the individual life is long enough, and the cultural transformation swift enough, that the individual mind is now a constituent player in the global transformation of human culture. … – William Irwin Thompson

In the last two blogs of 2017, I outlined the unsettling times we are currently experiencing in the United States and much of Europe. There is a populist attack on the Liberalism (not associated with the Democratic Party) that has been entrenched in the psyche of the American citizenry. Liberalism pulls from the traditions of the European Enlightenment, which includes the principles of an open society, democracy, freedom of speech and religion, individual rights and dignity, fairness and justice, checks and balances on governments’ authority, scientific reasoning, and a free-market economy. Populism is displacing Liberalism as a guiding narrative of the American story. But as I have outlined in the last two blogs, populism is fraught with problems.

I suggested that we need a new national narrative. I will describe my vision of a new national narrative in the next several blogs. I call this new narrative a transformative worldview.

An Introduction to the Transformative Worldview

At this point in time, millions of diverse people around the world are actively calling for a different worldview. Some say a different story is urgently needed to assure the continuation of our human species and life as we know it on Earth. Some people in diverse fields—educators, religious leaders, business entrepreneurs, international political leaders, indigenous farmers, political activists, politicians, environmentalists, entertainers, scientists, working people, artists, writers, small business owners, academics, economists, concerned citizens, and many others—are contributing to the creation of what I call a transformative worldview. 01 Our Earth

Those who adhere to a transformative worldview, at least in part, imagine that diverse paths are possible and attainable, and a globalized worldview or other visions of the future are not an inevitable scenario of how the future will or should play out. They are promoting alternative ideas and diverse options for a different worldview and voicing their convictions in a forceful, yet usually peaceful, fashion.

Elements in the formation of a transformative worldview come from diverse sources; some are positive aspects of the four other worldviews (see Five Worldviews). For example, highly regarded from the indigenous worldview is the wisdom of indigenous people who call upon the wise council of their elders, respect and connect with nature, draw on the support of extended family, and value the strong relationship with territorial place. 02 Wise elders, !Kung woman, Africa photo Izla BardavidFrom the modern worldview are gleaned the ideal of liberal democracy, the advancement of scientific inquiry, medical improvements, beneficial technological innovations, public-supported mass education, and progress in the expansion of human rights to include women and people of color. All are noteworthy accomplishments. From the fundamentalist worldview come the close connection to family and community and the recognition of a greater power than individualism alone. The stunning technological developments from the globalized worldview, especially high-speed, integrated computer networks, and reasonably-priced global transportation have provided instantaneous communication, linking diverse people around the globe. Even some indigenous people in remote villages are linked to the internet and use appropriate scientific knowledge for enhancing their own goal of self-sufficiency in food consumption. And some would say that the globalized worldview’s vision of “opening up” the world to unfettered trade has benefited many people with a more materially comfortable standard of living than ever before experienced. 03 Computer technology in Rwanda, Africa

All of these worldviews have some positive contributions in creating a different worldview, but those advancing a transformative worldview believe that there needs to be selectivity and mindfulness in fitting the values of the four other worldviews into a new framework. Therefore, a different worldview needs to continue its evolution and offer alternatives to prevailing notions of cultural uniformity, rigid fundamentalism, corporate dominance, consumer-driven values, selfish individualism, oligarchic concentration of wealth and power, political stalemate, and environmental destruction. Even though those who embrace a transformative worldview have a diverse array of thoughts, beliefs, ideas, theories, lifestyles, choices, and actions that defy rigid categorization, they do share common principles and ideals that I have placed under the umbrella of a transformative worldview.

The transformative worldview is still a minority view, but it is a worldwide movement in which millions of people are reassessing the values of the other worldviews in order to find a more compassionate, equal, sustainable, and community-focused value system. I have organized 10 characteristics that briefly describe the emerging transformative worldview in the U.S. and across the world.

The Transformative Worldview: 10 Characteristics

1. Interdependent Ideals are emerging that focus on interdependence, cooperation, community, connections, support, and altruism rather than greed, aggression, independence, and segmentation. Other descriptors of the transformative worldview include simultaneity, uncertainty, relationships, networks, webs, integration, and diversity. 04

2. Community-Focused Social Values draw upon the wisdom of our elders and their experiential insights. Intense individualism is a learned, aggressive behavior, historically created and promoted by Western society, especially the U.S. A shift to a worldview emphasizing greater cooperative, supportive, and life-enhancing attributes is a viable alternative.

3. Natural Capitalism places priority on the well-being and sustainability of the Earth. It includes socially responsible investing, social entrepreneurship, micro-credit banking, community development, local businesses, self-managed worker-run enterprises, cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, and other forms of management in which individuals have a vested interest in profitability and outcomes. 05 Organic greenhouse farming

4. Ecological Awareness has awakened our insight into the interdependence of everything in nature, where every event has an effect on everything else. Humans are part of the mystery of the Universe and not isolated, separate, and superior entities.

5. Renewable Energy in the form of wind, solar, water, steam, and others is important in countering the dire effects of climate change and stimulating economic development. The devastation caused by a fossil fuel-dependent lifestyle has galvanized world citizens to start shifting from oil and coal dependence to sustainable energy.

6. Peace and Justice Movements connect millions of people instantly with worldwide communication networks. These vigorous movements include democratic reforms, peace efforts, nuclear disarmament, population control, human rights, animal rights, LGBTQ rights, environmental issues, educational reforms, equality, rights for indigenous people, women’s and children’s rights, and others.

7. Sustainable Agriculture is a shift from industrial agricultural that is no longer able to meet the world’s food needs to local and organic farming. 06 Sustainable agriculture, Mexico photo Denise Ames

8. Holistic Health offers alternatives to Western medicine, which is often dominated by a for-profit pharmaceutical industry and invasive medical procedures. It encourages health, well-being, a mostly plant-based diet, and a holistic way to cure diseases ranging from cancer to heart disease.

9. Spirituality includes alternative practices that differ from traditional religious practices. Many traditional religions have accommodated the desire expressed by many people for more connected and personal spiritual experiences, rather than rote adherence to prescribed creeds and rituals. 07 no caption

10. Holistic Education is the key to ushering in alternative changes. Holistic educational practices for adults and youths encourage multi-culturalism, open-mindedness and diversity, inquiry-based learning, multiple intelligences, a global perspective, and a holistic world history!

The transformative worldview is further explained through six patterns—cultural, political, social, economic, technological, and ecological—that I will describe in blog two of this four-part series.


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. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

Posted in globalization, perspectives, Uncategorized, worldviews | Leave a comment

Unsettling Times: A Troubling Transition, Part 2

These are unsettling times. In an optimistic light, we are merely in the midst of a transitional period in which the old ways of doing things are being disrupted and rejected. From a more pessimistic outlook, we are sliding into decline as a great nation, we are saddled with a huge national debt, and the future belongs to China. Yet the path forward is still in an amorphous state.

01 CBS News (1)

CBS News

— “Unsettling Times: A Troubling Transition,” December 12, 2017

In the first part of this three-part blog series, I examined the traditional ways—the Enlightenment, or Liberal, narrative in the United States and much of Europe—that are being soundly rejected. Stepping into the national narrative void is populism—on both the right and left of the political spectrum.

But the question remains: “Can populism become our national narrative?” What would the narrative be on the political right and left? Would there be any compromises? What would bind Americans together?

I believe that populism, on the left and right, is not a viable narrative for the United States. I have highlighted a few points about the populist left and right that make populism very troubling to me. I will distinguish between populism on the right and left when needed.

What Populism Could Mean for America

1) Strong Government or Corporations

The populist left supports a strong national government that makes the rules, such as the breaking up of large corporations, high taxes on the wealthy, and government programs and laws to rectify social inequality. They target corporations as the economic punching bag and cause of inequality. For example, they are lobbying for a single-payer, government-directed health care system. Although health care is certainly in need of separation from the for-profit system, the difficulty of organizing, reforming, and financing universal health care does not seem to be adequately addressed. 08

The populist right targets the government as the economic culprit and argues for a free-market system. They lobby for low taxes on the wealthy and large corporations, despite the evidence that this policy does not create jobs or spur growth. They work to continue to reduce regulations and government oversight. They wish to privatize social security and reduce Medicare and Medicaid, while boosting defense spending.

2)  Reduction of Small and Local Business

The populist left supports minimum-wage laws and health care mandates, which hamper small business. But they don’t have a clear policy for supporting small and local businesses, putting small businesses firmly in the right’s camp. The populist right seems to pay lip service to small and local businesses, while supporting mega corporations as their prime interest. 09 (1)

3) Authoritarian Tendencies

The populist right and left have authoritarian tendencies. The party line takes precedence over finding compromise and exploring options on the other side. Although I would argue that the right has more authoritarian tendencies than the left, actions on campuses in recent years have demonstrated that some people on the left restrict free speech, according to their terms, and reject hearing options on the other side. The actions of President Trump and his administration have clearly demonstrated authoritarian leanings, and they have skirted established protocol in many instances. For example, his presidential decrees have sidestepped the legislative process, such as in immigration and environmental decisions.

4) Compromised Free Speech and Press

Media outlets that espouse a particular party line have flourished in recent years. Although it would appear that this would enhance democracy, their suspect nature of investigating issues and reporting on controversial topics has resulted in conspiracy theories and outright lies. The party’s narrative takes precedence. This development is happening on the populist left and right. 10

5) Withdrawal as a World Leader

There appears to be a tendency in America to withdraw from world leadership and turn inward. For example, the left and right did not support signing the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Although the populist left had reasons for not supporting it, the result has been a retreat from world leadership. The right has vocally proclaimed that the foreign policy agenda is taking care of Number 1—ourselves. The world leadership void, it appears, is gradually being filled economically and diplomatically by China.

6) Blame

Anger on both sides has erupted into frustration and bickering. Each side blames the other for all problems. The populist right has perfected the art of blame, with Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, and Hillary Clinton the targets of their wrath. The populist left lobs general slurs at the other side, such as racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Neither side seems to have viable policy solutions to complex problems. 11

7) A Frayed Social Divide

The political divide is actually a reflection of deep social and cultural divisions. Each side glues itself to one side of an issue—gun control, abortion, affirmative action, taxes, the environment, welfare, immigration, and so on. Compromise or talking across the divide is impossible. The split allegiance among the population makes it difficult to govern and stitch together a national narrative. The result is gridlock and inaction. 12

**

Journalist David Brooks notes in an article in the New York Times, “Today, we have no common national narrative, no shared way of interpreting the flow of events. Without a common story, we don’t know what our national purpose is. We have no common set of goals or ideals.”

Hopefully the populist scenario is a temporary pause, while a new national narrative emerges into the national consciousness. What will this new national narrative be? We all have a stake in writing it.

I will save my ideas for a new national narrative for the last of this three-part blog series, to be published on January 9, 2018.

We are taking a blog break, with no article on December 26.  We will resume our weekly blogs on January 2, 2018.

Happy Holidays!

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider:

  1. What actions on the right and left do you think are perpetuating the social and cultural divide?

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. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

Posted in cultural divide, GATHER, perspectives, politics, populism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unsettling Times: A Troubling Transition

These are unsettling times. In an optimistic light, we are merely in the midst of a transitional period in which the old ways of doing things are being disrupted and rejected. From a more pessimistic outlook, we are sliding into decline as a great nation, we are saddled with a huge national debt, and the future belongs to China. Yet the path forward is still in an amorphous state.

01 CBS News

CBS News

Before envisioning future scenarios, it is important to look over our shoulders at the past and examine why the traditional ways are being so soundly rejected.

Since its birth, the national narrative of America has been firmly planted in the traditions of the European Enlightenment. The principles of an open society, democracy, freedom of speech and religion, individual rights and dignity, fairness and justice, checks and balances on governments’ authority, scientific reasoning, and a free-market economy have been entrenched in the psyche of the American citizenry. A civil war was fought partially over these principles, and the U.S. and its allies struggled against totalitarian fascism on the battlefield during World War II. Although imperfectly realized, these principles have been the backbone of American society. The struggle was to perfect the principles, rather than reject them wholesale. 02 American Progress, John Gast.jpg

Often called Liberalism (not associated with the Democratic Party), Enlightenment principles have frequently clashed with religious conservatives’ beliefs. This uneasy tension has flared up at different times in U.S. history, but generally the Enlightenment narrative has held, as most people have prospered under its banner.

But the Enlightenment narrative, or Liberalism, has been attacked from multiple sides in recent years, and it seems to be splintering more and more each day. Many factors have caused this disruption; I will highlight a few in this blog.

Reasons for the Splintering of the Enlightenment Narrative

1) The government’s guiding of the economy, put in place during the Great Depression and World War II, promoted fairness and opportunity for many Americans. This government policy has been steadily lifted. Now government policy promotes a neoliberal economic model. In this model, policy favors large corporations and the wealthy, while ordinary workers have experienced stagnant wages and fewer benefits. 03

2) The government has pushed economic globalization, in which American workers compete with workers around the world, and companies have outsourced jobs to lower-wage countries. Although about 20% of Americans have profited from this move and the 1% at the top of the wealth scale have done exceedingly well, the remaining 80% of Americans have lagged behind.

3) Sweeping technological changes have disrupted traditional workplaces and companies, again resulting in skewed income distribution to the top earners. Many workers have not kept up with the changing skills needed in a highly sophisticated technological world. 04

4) Differing social values have frayed the nation. For example, at some universities, angry students have denied speakers with different political beliefs from giving speeches. Protesters have shouted down those with whom they disagree. The Enlightenment principles of free speech and rational discourse—the cornerstones of universities—are being challenged. These principles have been under assault by some people at universities for a couple of decades, as some believe they reinforce white privilege and existing power. 05 (1)

5) Highly partisan media outlets have given voice to angry citizens, whose rantings have created a spiral of anger, disenchantment, and demand for change. Conspiracy theories go uncontested on national media platforms and are believed to be true by gullible followers. In many venues, the Enlightenment ideals of reasonable inquiry, civil discourse, and the hearing of all sides of issues have been eroded and replaced with “alternative facts” and outright lies.

6) Disquieting social changes have left many people alienated, depressed, and prone to addictive and destructive behaviors. The social fabrics of American life that have given people stability and order—churches, extended and nuclear families, neighbors, civic organizations, and workplace connections—have frayed, with disastrous results. The epidemics of opioid addiction and depression are a visible reminder of a tattered social fabric. 06 (1)

7) The consumer culture implicitly promises to bring happiness and fulfillment to those consumers who willingly participate in the ritual of shopping. Yet after decades of these promises, and after much consumption, most Americans are not happier. Since the American economy runs on consumerism, this is a paradox that is not easily reconciled.

All of these factors, plus many more not mentioned, have contributed to the uncertainty that is sweeping America, along with other countries around the world. Most politicians seem to be clueless about where we are headed, let alone how they should guide us in this time of uncertainty. 07 Fall of Berlin Wall, 1989

The giddy times after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, signaling the end of Communism in the former Soviet bloc, have resulted in disillusionment. The promises of a neoliberal economic order and democracy, which would improve the lives of Americans and people around the world, have given way to increased authoritarianism and disappointment. Instead of euphoria at having more consumer and entertainment choices, many citizens feel alienated, frustrated, and betrayed by their leaders.

Toward a New National Narrative

The Liberal or Enlightenment narrative has been rejected by many people and has evoked lukewarm support from others. Universities, the former bastions of Enlightenment ideals, have been tepid in supporting this narrative.  Stepping into the national narrative void is populism—on both the right and left of the political spectrum. During the 2016 presidential election, there was a loud rejection of the path the country was taking. Many people called for a political revolution, or they wanted to “shake things up.” Never mind that it was uncertain what things would look like after they were shaken up, or after the revolution took place.

Can populism become our national narrative? What would the narrative be on the political right and left? Would there be any compromises? What would bind Americans together?

This is the first article in a series of three dedicated to America’s national narrative. The next blog article will look at populism as the new national narrative—on the right and on the left. In the final article, I will offer my suggestions for what I think will be a more sustainable, reasonable, and pragmatic national narrative.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. Do you see evidence in your own life to suggest that Enlightenment ideals are being eroded?
  2. Do you think this is a good or bad development?

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. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

Posted in cultural divide, GATHER, History, perspectives, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seeing Diverse Perspectives

The 2016 presidential primaries and general election in the United States were a showcase for seeing events, issues, and people very differently. Not only did the candidates see things differently, but the electorate did as well. The mudslinging, vicious attacks, shouting, pronouncements of greatness, inappropriate behaviors, and clever manipulation of facts that took place reflect something deeper than a candidate trying to win an election. They reflect diverse ways of understanding and interpreting reality.

There were very few words of wisdom uttered to reassure the electorate and make people feel connected as Americans, let alone connected to the global community. If this raw wound is left open without some kind of treatment, these misunderstandings can cause irreparable damage to our democracy, and to open society.

The earth-shattering event of the 2016 U.S. election—as well as many other recent events—has inspired us at the Center for Global Awareness to channel our decades of educational experience into encouraging greater understanding of the differing viewpoints around the world. The program we have created, Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, is a conversation and study program of self-organizing groups of concerned citizens. This program uses a holistic approach called SEEK—See, Evolve, Engage, and Know—to study and talk about issues. Participants go beyond learning information to seeing different perspectives, evolving compassionate attitudes, and actively engaging in creating positive change.

I will explain the See Dimension in this blog article. 06

We define the See Dimension as the skill to view a concept, situation, person, or group from diverse points of view. We see global topics from a wide range of perspectives. The limitations of an individual viewpoint become clear when events seem incomprehensible. Why, for example, are many countries in Europe lurching to the political ultra-right, or why is the Middle East in a cauldron of discontent and uncertainty?

The See Dimension is about understanding that each one of us filters events, issues, and people through particular lenses or perspectives, which shape our interpretation. We would need to understand over seven billion different lenses to accurately comprehend how each person sees the world—an impossibility, to be sure. Added to the complexity is the fact that each person has multiple lenses that act as filters to reality, creating even more confusion and misunderstanding. It’s a wonder that we can get along at all! 07

CGA encourages us to take a big-picture look at the See Dimension. We will have to be comfortable with many generalizations in order to communicate about this vital-but-slippery concept. But we must also realize that below the generalizations are real people facing real anxiety and uncertainty. As a nation, we seem to be missing the point of what unites us. We have elevated the tools and techniques for dividing, condemning, differentiating, and attacking each other, but our toolkit for understanding, compassion, and empathy is at an elementary level. It is far easier to attack and belittle than it is to support and nourish. It is far easier to dismiss the opinions, hopes, and fears of others than to reach out to understand them and relate to their situations, or feel for their plights. The art of negotiation and compromise has given way to standing for our principles in a stoic way, without acknowledging that compromise is crucial in every moment of our lives. 08

We think it is essential to include the See Dimension in our Gather program for an adult audience. Adults have more varied life experiences and will be able to quickly grasp the concepts and appreciate the benefits of integrating it. The See Dimension has been developed to try to make some sense of the multiple perspectives that are expressed by each person. Although the different “modes of seeing” we explore in the See Dimension will not give a complete picture of reality, as this is impossible anyway, its purpose is to give an overview of several different lenses through which reality is perceived.

09 The notion that we are rational creatures who objectively analyze information to arrive at the “best” solution has given way to the reality that we are complex humans with hundreds, if not thousands, of different lenses through which we perceive reality. I believe there is an urgency to connect with our fellow citizens locally, nationally, and globally in order to further a more democratic, equitable, and peaceful world. We believe that understanding and practicing the See Dimension in the Gather program can contribute to realizing this goal.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you ever encountered a person with a different perspective from you on an important issue? How did you handle it?

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. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

Posted in cultural divide, GATHER, perspectives, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Great Cultural Divide: Bridging Differences

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

The presidential election of 2016 may seem like a distant memory. But it was instrumental in exposing simmering cultural, social, and political divides that have been bubbling underneath the surface of American society for some time. I found that I too, like the majority of Americans, had been living in a bubble, and I really didn’t understand the other sides of America. 01

During the long election cycle, I was fixated on learning more about what I call the “cultural divide.” By this I simply mean the ways in which different segments of the American population see the world very differently. It is as if different groups of people each wear glasses with different lenses. If a person were to share her glasses with a person in an opposing group, that person would have a blurry, unfocused vision of the world.

This division is tearing the U.S. apart and has dire consequences for our fragile democracy.

The divisive 2016 election confirmed my intention to start a new program, Gather, the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, at our nonprofit organization, the Center for Global Awareness. The purpose of the program is to provide books and resources to encourage participants to see different perspectives, know about pressing global issues, evolve compassionate attitudes, and engage with others to create positive change. I believe that an answer to our incivility is to support small groups of concerned citizens who gather together to help remedy deep cultural divides. Perhaps that is a lofty goal, but it is, I feel, a worthwhile one.

Effective communication, understanding, and empathy are essential to healing the cultural divide. For many years, I have done work in promoting cross-cultural understanding among different cultural, ethnic, and national groups around the world. I now feel that these cross-cultural skills are desperately needed to better understand our fellow citizens and heal divisions in the United States.

I find that some of the most intense divisions today are cultural divides between the citizenry of rural/urban, college-educated/non-college-educated, and white/people of color. President Trump was able to speak to the white, rural, and non-college-educated voter in ways the college-educated, elite media were unable to understand. Instead, they wrote off his message as ignorant, racist, misogynist, and homophobic, among other judgmental attacks that fed into more divisiveness. 02 Trump Campaign 2016

Part of our Gather program involves telling our own stories and seeing different perspectives. In keeping with this goal, I thought I would share a story with you of how I imagine my extended family may have seen the election of 2016. Perhaps you have relatives or friends who are members of a different political party from you, and you will find a resonance in this story. Here goes….

During the presidential campaigns leading up to the 2016 election, the fierce political divisions in this country were being played out in my extended family as well as across the nation. As a lifelong Democrat, I had an inkling of possible trouble for Democrats during a conversation with my cousin in Rockford, Illinois. Her two sisters, my cousins, were voting for Donald Trump. I was perplexed. They had always been committed Democrats, part of the large swath of blue-collar working-class men and women in the Midwest who had been hard hit by economic globalization and technological change. Why were they switching to this untested candidate?

03 Rockford, Illinois

Rockford, Illinois

My extended family in Rockford, where I grew up, was typical of the movement of people to large industrial cities in the Midwest after World War II. Almost all of my family moved from the bogs of central Wisconsin around Tomah to Rockford, to work in the mass-assembly factories that desperately needed unskilled workers. My father was among them. I grew up in a world of the working class; my father and extended family firmly held working-class cultural values. My working-class roots are still with me at a deep level.

04 Rockford factory

Factory in Rockford

Our family’s cultural values were a mix of tribal affiliations, reliance on one’s own intuitions, and fierce pride. “Book learnin’,” as my father described it, wasn’t all that useful. “Your gut” would tell you the best way to make decisions, and it was best to follow it. During his campaign, Trump said he followed his gut; he didn’t rely on experts or data to drive his decisions. Clinton, on the other hand, had a squad of experts and data crunchers. Trump’s gut instincts seemed to win him the admiration of the working-class people who processed information the same way.

An article in The Atlantic by Salena Zito resonated with me: “When he makes claims like this [on unemployment figures], the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” My family communicated with each other through story, hyperbole, and humor. We told long stories, often repeated, with vivid descriptions of long-ago events or relatives living and departed. Our stories were laced with exaggerations—even outright lies—but we didn’t take them literally. I remember once correcting my father, who was the master of clever tales, on a particular part of his story. I was told, “You just read too many books.”

Trump’s exaggerations and vivid symbols, such as building the wall, would resonate with my family.

My friends, colleagues, and I were appalled at Trump’s scandals and treatment of women. But in my family, scandal was part of the colorful stories we told. Since so many of us had made mistakes and exhibited scandalous or inappropriate behaviors at one time or another, that was largely considered part of life. We didn’t judge these behaviors to be reasons for rejection from the family. I was not surprised that Trump’s scandals were condemned by the voters, but did not preclude their voting for him.

Our extended family had many of the characteristics of a tribe. We stuck together, helped each other, and were leery of outsiders. My grandmother had few friends outside her family. When I was a youngster, my friends were my cousins, and I didn’t venture outside that cocoon until high school. Trump was able to create a visual family, with his bright-red baseball caps and assorted paraphernalia, which proclaimed allegiance to his tribe and membership in the Trump family.  05

Many pundits were perplexed about why Trump, who was a New York billionaire, resonated with white working-class people. My family admired family members who made lots of money but were still “one of them.” One of my cousins is a multimillionaire but still comes to funerals and family reunions. This act is always greeted with words of appreciation and comments such as, “See, he’s still family.” Trump wore expensive suits, but his signature accessory was a baseball cap. He still fit in. Even though his language and demeanor had an air of superiority, he still resonated with his supporters. It was a validation that they were part of his community: one of wealth, glamour, prestige, and accomplishment. They were part of “Trumpland.”

I find these cultural differences fascinating and a key to better understanding a shocking phenomenon: So many working-class people disregarded the “hard, factual data” showing that Trump’s policies would not only not help them but would actually make them worse off economically. And yet they voted for him.

If we are to connect with people outside our inner circle of identity politics, we need to be able to reach out and understand “the other.” For years, the college-educated, myself included, have wanted mainstream white America to understand “the other,” those from other cultures and minorities. Perhaps it is now time to reverse the roles, and for the college-educated, the media, and other “elites” to be the students and learn that white working-class America is not monolithic. It does not uniformly share cultural norms and values. Their culture is different, varied, and worth learning more about. If we are to get past throwing disparaging accusations of racism and misogyny at groups of people, and if we are to more deeply understand who they are, then we will have a better chance of advancing an agenda of greater economic justice, peace, sustainability, and inclusiveness that translates into a greater political stability.

The progressive Democratic left often boils down the cultural divide to economic issues. Jobs are the answer to all divisions. The 1% are causing all problems. I don’t dispute the fact that economic dislocation is a huge factor in swinging the Rust Belt to Trump, but I also think that cultural factors are at work in this disconnect.

Until we are able to more effectively communicate with and understand each other, distrust, hatred, and further divisions will continue and intensify.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you experienced the “cultural divide”?  If so, what is your story?

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. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

 

Posted in cultural divide, Global Community, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Selling in a Globalized World: Observations during Travels to Puerto Vallarta

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Marketing companies have not been blind to the attachment people have to getting a good deal. They have devised an untold number of gimmicks to attract susceptible people to their marketing matrix. Marketing was in full display during a trip I took to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with my son, daughter-in-law, her mother, and a friend. 11

Upon exiting the airplane at the airport, I saw that we would be the object of intense marketing efforts. Swarms of people descended upon us. “Swarms” is not a very nice term to describe the marketers, since they were trying to feed their families and make a living in a globalized economy dedicated to the highly competitive tourism industry. But it was hard to see each person as an individual with unique wants and needs, when all I wanted was to be left alone.

After we escaped the crush of salespeople at the airport, the marketer groups seemed to re-form at the hotel before we could even get checked in. Before I knew it, my son and daughter-in-law were sitting on a couch in the lounge with a person selling discounted prices for massages and a “romantic dinner.” All we had to do was attend an hour-long presentation the next morning about saving money on resort vacations, and a highly discounted massage package would be ours. None of us could resist the temptation, so we signed up for an 8:30 a.m. presentation.  12

Once we had finally checked into our rooms, safe from the crowd of marketers, we decided to take a walk along the inviting beach stretching out before us. After passing by booths of hawkers plying our sensibilities, offering tours to exotic locales and death-defying adventures, we finally reached the glistening ocean. A soft breeze lured us to walk along its shore. But to my surprise, the marketers were lining the beach with horseback-riding treks, trinkets galore, and excursions in watercraft ranging from expensive sailboats to boats that were barely seaworthy. No peace. 13

Puerto Vallarta marketers have refined the art of selling. Since tourism makes up 70% of the town’s economy, and many of the jobs require training, skills, and a rudimentary knowledge of English, those with little education or technical skills must compete with each other for the tourist crumbs. So those at the low socioeconomic level have few options other than to develop their marketing skills, attempting to snare customers who succumb to their persistent tactics.

I find it particularly troubling that many people have to be reduced to survival marketing. Eking out a living at the lowest end of the marketing food chain hardly makes for a viable way of life. It appears to me to be degrading, frustrating, and unsustainable. The way the globalized economy is structured, many people are reduced to such a status. I question whether moving from the countryside to the city is an improvement in the migrant’s way of life. Although farming is a back-breaking occupation, it still gives the farmer dignity and productiveness.  14

When I felt annoyed by the marketers I encountered, I decided to step back and turn my annoyance toward not the individual marketers but the bigger picture. Our modern, globalized society is built upon consumerism as the engine that fuels growth and the continuation of the economy. Consumerism is primary and built in. Thus, at every level of society, marketers are on the loose. From Carlos Slim Helú, the sixth richest man in the world, making money selling cell towers in Mexico, to the gentleman trying to sell us discounts on resort vacations around the world, to the women trying to sell trinkets on the beach, to the man with a stall of Mexican handicrafts, all are participants in the marketing game.  15

Truth be told, I am a marketer too. I am trying to sell the Gather program to adult learners and students and educators. I am using this blog as a forum to show my expertise about global issues, with a goal of persuading people to sign up for Gather and buy a book. Although I may think my aims are more virtuous than those of the guy selling trinkets on the beach, others might not agree.

Nevertheless, I hope that by reflecting deeply about the structure of our economy and how it holistically ties in with the rest of society and who we are as a people, we will pause to consider the type of society we want to forge in the future. Do we really want the whole world to be one big marketplace, each of us reduced to selling our own “product”?

As I walked along the beach in Puerto Vallarta and admired the natural beauty of the ocean, beaches, and wide-open sky, I was comforted by nature’s enchantment. The marketers seemed far out of sight and mind as the waves lapped against my ankles. Then I turned the corner, and I only smiled as a marketer said to me in broken English, “Lady, you want to buy some jewelry? Only $1.”

Indeed, marketing is never far away.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. In what ways are you a marketer?
  2. Do you want the world to be one big marketplace, all of us selling our own “products”?

For more on the global economy, see Dr. Ames’s book The Global Economy: Connecting the Roots of a Holistic System. The global economy will also be one of Gather’s conversation topics, starting January 2018.

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. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

Posted in Global Community, globalization, travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment