As part of my holiday readings, I read this lecture by Charles Eisenstein on building a peaceful view of the world, instead of one infused by a war narrative. It’s one of those articles where I get something out of it, where there’s a bunch of sentences I highlight in Instapaper, but not enough to warrant subjecting you all to a 30-minute hashtaggoodlongread because boy do I dislike some parts of it.
It boils down to a critique of a Manichaean view of the world, countered with a holistic, system, almost hippie-like view. We tend to reduce the other to enemies, we call them names and thereby signal that we’re the good guys. We ignore our similarities and the complexity of someone else’s situation in favor of tribalism and dehumanization. We fight, not because there’s no other way, but because it’s the default action when you're the other tribe is the baddie that needs to be eradicated.
It’s funny, at first I misread his name as Charles Einstein, so I assumed he must have been related or at the very least have some of that halo rub of on him. So I think I’ve read his arguments a bit more favorable than I usually would for what turned out to be a long winded Ted talk advocating for compassion.
- “If you can look at the person that you call an enemy and see in them that actually, on a deep level, they want what you want and what all people want – to contribute their gifts to a more beautiful world, to be generous, to belong, to know and to be known, love and be loved, and to serve a purpose beyond themselves – if you can see that, you’ll be able to speak to that, and you’ll be able to create an invitation to that.”
I have a love-hate relationship with this article, as I also have a love-hate relationship with most forms of what I think I can call "holistic thinking". The kind of thinking that extends compassion and love to everyone and everything. I love it on paper, but it's just not that easy in practice, and that part is usually conveniently stepped over.
Or ignored entirely. Another piece of reading was Steve Jobs' biography. In my teens, I became mesmerized with Apple and Jobs and what it stood for - the best of technology and human creativity fused together and polished until perfection. I remember being over the moon as a teenager when we got an iMac as our home computer. It's no surprise then that Jobs became one of my heroes.
Despite that I never really read much about him as a person, other than that he was a polarizing figure and a bit new age-y. I vastly underestimated the degree to which Jobs was both. For someone who was so good at connecting to people with his visions and words, he was also a broken man who lied, cheated, cried and bullied people when he didn't get what he want. He went to India for spiritual enlightenment, but also abandoned his first daughter and then named a computer after her.
It's not that I want to be judgemental of him here, but the juxtaposition of all his spiritual pursuits with anecdotes where he's being a bit of a manipulative jerk most of the time got me thinking. He's an example of precisely the aspect of the whole hippie / holistic thinking that I don't like - you can search enlightenment and embrace the universe & each other all you want, but if it's not actually making you a kinder and better person then what's the point really? What do you have to show for? Do you just feel better or are you actually doing better things because of that perspective?
Maybe that's what I like most about the essay - at least he's asking the reader honestly what it could mean for them to actually be a compassionate person. Because it required you to step down from your high horses. To hesitate before you judge and carefully ponder the circumstances.
I don't do that nearly as often as I think I should. Maybe I hold myself to a too high standard, but I feel like it's a standard worth pursuing.