What and How We Think of People: A Consequential Choice

In the USA and places with related cultures, the dominant paradigm (conception or view) of the human being is a negative one.  It was imposed and is sustained.  As a result of its ongoing influence, both expectations and hopes of humans, in general, are low.  While accepted etiquette prevents much direct and malicious disrespect, forms of What did you expect? and They'll change only at the last minute, or later! and You've got to make it easy, even idiot-proof! are constants in the media and in conversations.  Workarounds, often structural, technological, expensive and/or profitable, far exceed, both in number and impacts, significant appeals to people themselves.  And among everyday people, superficial and traditional differences provoke fears and recommend distancing instead of piquing natural curiosities and encouraging synergistic connections.  Under the circumstances, technology looks more and more like the easier answer to every tough question facing humans.  The situation is tragic and it's costly, to people and to the planet, from which technologies and the energies to power them are made.

The dominant paradigm of human beings is that they are useful, interchangeable things, that only a very small percentage deserve to be more than somewhat secure.  It greatly devalues people's multidimensionality and trivializes individual uniqueness in order to reinforce competition that exploits physical and/or intellectual assets.  Those well-endowed and willing receive authorization to direct, coordinate and manipulate the more ordinary and submissive ones, for greater rewards.  All get some time off from work to allocate and enjoy their compensation the best they can.  The attendant alienation and demoralization combine with fatigue to make void-filling consumption the most common pastime.  The cycles of earning and spending, acquiring and discarding, aka getting by, is what life has become for many, many people.  The situation is tragic and it's costly, to people and their communities, which sorely miss their participation.  Getting by is a choice people make again and again, as if history confirms it's appropriate for them.  If anything, history confirms it is a construct in which some are heavily vested and many are confined and constricted.

It was not always so, and a timeless, available and attractive alternative is the whole person paradigm.  Named by Stephen Covey in The 8th Habit (2004), it is in fact quite old.  The whole person paradigm is positive and essential to the emergence and sustenance of our envisioned resilient communities.  It supports a very different way of relating to and working with each other, not merely cooperative, but also complementary.  It enables us to access and develop boundless resources because the paradigm recognizes, values and celebrates humans' multidimensionality, expressed as body, mind, heart and spirit, and also the uniqueness of each one's integration/manifestation of those four dimensions.

Under present circumstances, these truths are generally buried, waiting as potentials.  We've been doing without them for some time.  Recent history, for all its material progress and development, is a story of doing without.  The next chapter, the one transition folks want to write, is the story of uncovering and unleashing the potentials to self-organize in complementarity.

As we strive to make history, let's make a habit of choosing the view of human beings that is true and which therefore secures and celebrates each and every one.  It calls for so much less technology and energy.  It fosters so much more than getting by.

[copied/pasted from Transition in Action site / wished to add it as a comment on the nonviolence blog, but is too long to be one]

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Comment by Robert Riversong on November 5, 2011 at 6:09pm

You have a much too narrow understanding of a paradigm. It is not merely a "conception or view", but the entire set of unspoken, unacknowledged and often unconscious assumptions from which every conception, every thought, every choice and action arises.

In Plato's Timaeus, he used the term to describe the pattern that the Demiurge (god) used to create the cosmos. It is the basis of everything in our cultural universe - the consensual story that tells us where we came from, who we are, and where we're going.

Comment by Robert Riversong on November 5, 2011 at 9:55pm

The parenthetical terms convey the meaning you're stating: the current conception or understanding of the nature or function of people.

I draw attention to the misuse of the term "paradigm" because of its importance in creating a true-to-life sustainable human culture. We changed our paradigm only once in our evolutionary history: when we chose to abandon the Garden (the natural gift economy) and struggle for a living by the manipulation and management of nature.

We now must shift to an new paradigm if we are to survive as a species, and it will likely have to be some synthesis of the original paradigm and the one we've been living ever since.

I would say that "Recent history, for all its material progress and development, is a story of doing with." That is the cultural story we've been living: acquiring and accumulating - even if that story works for the few to the detriment of the many we all believe it. The next story will have to be learning to live without.

And that's not very different from the old Yankee adage: Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without."


Comment by David Eggleton on November 6, 2011 at 9:16am

Robert, Thanks for saying more here and for separately providing your understanding of this moment for humanity and the planet.  It is eye-opening!

In a reply you saw before I deleted it, I mentioned editing my piece in response to your objection.  In light of your counterbalancing contributions, I'm going to leave my blog as I wrote it and trust readers to find their way.

While I appreciate what you've taught me about the origin and distinction of paradigm, my awareness of it, beginning decades ago, came through others clearly not so protective of it.  Like most words, it is out there being used by writers and speakers both poetically and precisely, for better or worse.

Comment by David Eggleton on November 14, 2011 at 4:02pm

very new video announcing and featuring Stephen Covey's newest book The Third Alternative.  Its recent arrival is uncanny, but by no means exploiting the moment.  The fruit(s) of third alternative thinking is what Covey meant by effectiveness in his first famous book.

Comment by David Eggleton on November 17, 2011 at 7:45pm
Comment by David Eggleton on December 16, 2011 at 9:41am

Robert wrote:  "I would say that "Recent history, for all its material progress and development, is a story of doing with." That is the cultural story we've been living: acquiring and accumulating - even if that story works for the few to the detriment of the many we all believe it. The next story will have to be learning to live without."

I understand his point, but I had chosen this other influence, from Alan Watts:

... the richest and most powerful civilization on earth is so preoccupied with saving time and making money that it has neither taste for life nor capacity for pleasure.  The commonly accepted notion that Americans are materialists is pure bunk.  A materialist is one who loves material, a person devoted to the enjoyment of the physical and immediate present.  By this definition, most Americans are abstractionists.  They hate material, and convert it as swiftly as possible into mountains of junk and clouds of poisonous gas.

Because meaning is among the words one chooses and arranges, our common language gets us only so far.


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