I’ve been thinking a lot about schools, children, learning and purpose lately.. I’ve also been listening to a lot, a lot of music that is political, you know. And running through my mind right now is the echo of Maynard James Keenan singing:
“Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind
Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines”
And I ask myself, as I gaze into the sky of another idyllic summer pre-dawn, whether we have just simply got it wrong. Perhaps, I muse, that this is what is missing, that we are so bound up in the material reality that we have, that we ignore that we are literally all part of this cosmos we inhabit. We are unaware that what we are made of came from somewhere out there billions of years ago. We don’t realise that the breath of air we just took carried with it exhalations from life from the expanses of our planet. We, you and I, are part of infinite pathways weaving together to form our world.
This awareness of complexity of being, of the unpredictability of consequence not new in our Western world. Johann Gottlieb Fichte wrote in 1800 “…you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole”. This idea, that simplistic causality is a crude, utilitarian abstraction was then popularised in the 1950’s by Ray Bradbury in “A Sound of Thunder”
He fumbled crazily at the thick slime on his boots. He held up a clod of dirt, trembling.
“No, it can’t be. Not a little thing like that. No!”
Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful, and very dead.
“Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!” cried Eckels.
It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. It Couldn’t change things. Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important! Could it?
In Eastern tradition, paying attention to the effects of our actions is embedded in the notion of karma. Here, there seems to be an acceptance that action and intent is intricately bound with immediate effects but also with internal transformation. Unlike the butterfly effect, this way embraces causality, but does within the context of morality, where an actor’s action and their intentions, attitude, and desires before and during the action influence the consequences, what happens in the future. It is critical to emphasise here that consequence should not be regarded in the ways that we seem to know it, in terms of wealth and standing and success. Rather, consequence bears its weight in the manner in which we carry ourselves, in the ways we treat others and the world we are part of.
If then, we are unable to predict what our actions will result in, the best that we can do is take heed of the idea that a good world must consist of good people, and that a way to achieve this is to pay attention and act in ways that exhibit this.
Unfortunately, bound by our idolatry of reason, we are blinded to this expanse of time and space, and so, we latch onto those seemingly “this makes sense” arguments that are made available to us. We allow ourselves to be persuaded by fine language that speaks to our framed proclivities, and admire those skilful exhortations that stay between the lines of reason, for that is how we are taught to be.
What is problematic here, is that such argument, that which is grounded in research and practice, is developed within the frames we live in; it is culturally embedded. It speaks to us from birth and shapes our beliefs, such that we limit ourselves to that which is immediate. Given that we are a part of this stage, we act to perpetuate it. Consequently, it is not until events push us to the edges of our cages, such that we can feel the bars that enclose us, that we have cause to question. Unfortunately, at times like this, our tendency is to resist the messages that are broadcast and rationalise ourselves back into the cage.
By doing so, we blind ourselves to the notions of connectedness and wholeness and celebrate separateness. We disregard that adherence to our common actions might impact others in unpredictable ways, and, subsequently, we continue to be the voices that have guided us to where we are now. And if we are concerned about our world, maybe we should look forward to what could be rather than just trying to shape what is from within.
The implications for us, as educators, carers, parents and friends, are subtle, but the effects can be profound.
So perhaps, somewhere in the mosaic that considers growing good children, it would be apt to address this. It would be proper to emphasise the unpredictability of future material outcomes both minor and major and, concurrently, to focus on how we carry ourselves in this world, what this means for us, and for those who may be impacted by us, however far-flung that may be.
Perhaps, we need to look deep within, beyond the lines of reason, and ask “what is the right thing to do?”
In doing so, maybe all things that people should do take on a different life, one embedded in humility and principle, one that recognises that we are all part of what exists.
At this moment, one-hundred and fifty million kilometres above me hangs the sun, the magic that provides us with the source for life on this planet. It is time to walk into it and feel its breath.