“The cure for despair is not hope. It’s discovering what we want to do about something we care about.” — Margaret Wheatley
In the last couple of posts, I have looked at one of the four human endowments: self-awareness. The root image for self-awareness is the serpent devouring its tail (or the Uroborus). This image points to how we gain awareness through experience. Early in this series I outlined two types of self-awareness: 1. the “truth-that-our-experience-teaches” which increases our awareness of “the-game-we’re-in” … that is, our awareness whatever is happening right now, and 2. the “impact-of-our-truth” which shows us how we limit our awareness by being faithful to a single idea or purpose. Both types of self-awareness are important. One expands and becomes bigger (#1) while the other balances and limits (#2).
In this post, I want to explore how the “social unknown” impacts both types of awareness. What do I mean by “social unknown”? Well, the more you can share your awareness with the unknown (by holding your awareness lightly) the more you will be influenced by the people around you. Its obvious that we have the power to influence one another in very profound ways: a gentle touch upon the shoulder can be remarkably soothing in a time of distress, while a slap across the face might leave you seeing red for several days or weeks. And our immediate reaction owes a great deal to the sympathy we feel, both for ourselves and for the people around us. But what’ s not clear is how sympathy translates into awareness (or the lack of it).
Margaret Wheatley in her book, Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future, makes tha point “we cannot be creative if we cannot be confused.” The ally we need — if we want to restore hope and belief in the future — is a willingness to be disturbed and confused. When we operate with certainty, our sympathy is already claimed. It’s either “for us” or “against us.” And no conversation can begin until there is enough ambiguity to allow both parties to be present. The willingness to be confused and disturbed takes a lot of maturity. Suspending judgment is one of the harder skills to learn (right up there with suspending our disbelief).
So what does this have to do with the two types of awareness? The “truth-that-our-experience-teaches” must be conditional and flexible. When we share our awareness with the unknown, we must be willing to be elated and surprised, confused and disturbed. The “truth-that-our-experience-teaches” is never certain, so our awareness of “the-game-we’re-in” is provisional; we can lead with an understanding, but we must seek confirmation through inquiry.
And what about the “impact-of-our-truth” awareness? How is that changed? By our willingness to be influenced. “It is not our differences which divide us, its our judgments about each other that do.” To stand on the “social cliff” of relationship and be willing to remake ourselves trades rigidity for flexibility, certainty for inquiry, hierarchy for equality. To stand down from personalized perspectives brings forth a greater good, one that comes from our sharing the unknown. Be willing to admit that no one can figure out everything on their own.
The simplest thing in the world is conversation. It restores hope. But only when centered on something we genuinely care about. Nothing transforms awareness faster than a good conversation. Make use of the “social unknown” wisely for nothing impacts us more deeply than our relationships. Our bodily integrity, mental integrity, and environmental integrity — all three — depend on it.
Thanks for listening!