Category Archives: Contemplation and action

Teaching strategic advocacy

Following up on our workshop with Evergreen faculty last week, Roger Conner, Ted Whitesell and I are expanding and updating our website on teaching and learning how to be strategic. Here’s the text of the new home page:

About teaching strategic advocacy

How best can people learn to be effective change agents?  This website is for information about and discussion of teaching strategic thinking and action.

Policy advocates attempt to alter the arc of history, changing the course of events on matters important to the community. Some who engage in such advocacy are paid professionals. More are individual citizens and members of organized groups. Some are agency staff who find themselves in situations where they may affect outcomes.

Successful advocates know how to be strategic: They know what to do and when to act in complex situations with uncertain outcomes. Many courses and texts explain how to analyze a policy problem or explain why things unfolded the way they did, but few teach how to alter what is likely to happen in the future. People usually acquire that ability, if they do, through a process of long experience of observing others and trying (and often failing) themselves. In our experience, however, we have found that these skills can be taught, expediting learning them more quickly and completely. Curriculum for this teaching is a work in progress. We welcome your participation by replying on these pages or on the discussion page.

So far, this website includes

-Roger Conner, Ben Shaine and Ted Whitesell, project coordinators

Love Energy

I’m now clearly feeling love as a flow toward another person, or between two people. While it’s between individuals, the love itself is generic, a kind of energy (whatever that is), metaphorically like light or water. In the moment, I may have a lot of it, or little. Good relationships create more of it, which is then available to flow elsewhere. I feel myself in a force field of love that includes friends, family and acquaintances. Some connections are stronger than others. And flows can move more in one direction than another.

It’s like light, in that it illuminates the particularities of the beloved, the eyes, the fingernails, the smoothness or wrinkle in the skin, in a positive way, while in itself not any of these.

When I go to the gym or do warm-ups for Aikido recently, I go through a series of physical exercises involving feeling & visualizing energy (whatever that is) flowing into, through and from me along various lines. It’s not just mental; muscles, connective tissue and bones are aligning and moving. I think the genius of O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido, was to see such flows as love, translating combat imagery into love. He wrote explicitly about that. I think it can be seen as an interesting take on Jesus’s primary message. Practicing those flows, O’Sensei in his 80’s at 4’11” could respond to multiple simultaneous sword attackers with safety for himself and all of them. I’ve seen videos of that, and it’s similar to what I’ve felt personally with Saotome Sensei, who was his direct student, Mary Heiny Sensei, and other teachers.

Seems that anger and hate can be seen similarly as energy flow. O’Sensei started from aggressive energy in his Japanese combat training, and transformed it. This association of love and hate appears in Christianity in Jesus and the Devil, with the incarnation of Jesus a similarly transformative event. Christian mythology begins with the loving God. Satan rebels against that. Then there is competition between Jesus and Satan for ascendancy.

The Devil is the shadow and Jesus the light. – e.g., take a look at Ary Scheffer’s 1854 painting:

Temptation of Christ, by Ary Scheffer, 1854.
Temptation of Christ, by Ary Scheffer, 1854.

Christ is a Self symbol but lacks wholeness because he only includes the light side. He constellates the Anticrist, God’s other half and the shadow of the Self.

The metaphor of God as light appears in the burning bush and in God’s leading the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years with a pillar of light; the creation was initiated by God’s creation of light. “The LORD my God illumines my darkness,” Psalm 18:28; “The LORD is my light…,” Psalm 27:1. And Jesus carries that on: “…we walk in the light, as he is in the light…,” John 1:7.

In popular imagery today, “receiving the golden light of God:”

receiving the golden light of God

Notice the intense eroticism in this image. God’s love is erotic.

Loss of self

In his opinion piece on “Privacy and the Threat to the Self” in today’s NY Times, Michael P. Lynch discusses how information technology, including megadata analysis, potentially alters the existence of independent selves.

Will be interesting to compare this loss of self with the loss of self that occurs with enlightenment, in Buddhist terms, and the expansion & connection with the larger world in Aikido, and with the communal functioning of insect colonies. And yet Buddhism, Aikido, Christianity, etc., each feature selves who individually achieve and are the paradigmatic exemplars. Same in Nazism.

Engaged and detached

David Brooks
David Brooks
Josh Haner photo/NY Times

In his fine April 29 column, “Engaged or Detached?,” David Brooks says that the person who writes about politics and policy has a choice: She can be an engaged activist supporting a cause, who “provides arguments for the party faithful and builds community by reminding everyone of the errors and villainy of the opposing side.” Or she can be detached, more a teacher than an activist, “shaping people’s perceptions of underlying reality and hoping that she can provide a context in which other people can think.” Or somewhere on the continuum between these two. He concludes,

The detached writer understands that, at the top level, politics is a bipolar struggle for turf. But the real fun is down below, sparking conversations about underlying concepts, underlying reality and the underlying frame of debate.

Not fair! — Brooks is giving the detached writer all the fun. Engaged activists deserve it, too. In my experience, the strategic advocate frequently does this sparking and reframing, morphing and broadening her coalition, open to questioning assumptions. I saw Mo Udall, congressional leader of the historic Alaska lands act conservation effort in the 1970’s, do that with his Lincolnesque humor.* Similar to the writer, the engaged activist works within a continuum between mobilizing the faithful and exploring curiously for ways to blend with others and move in new ways.

* “A Lincolnesque leader is confident enough to be humble — to not feel the need to bluster or dominate, but to be sufficiently sure of one’s own judgment and self-worth to really listen and not be threatened by contrary advice.”
Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe; Lincoln’s Obama; Newsweek (New York); Nov 24, 2008. cited at http://wordsmith.org/words/lincolnesque.html

Efficiency

Now “trials,” taken en bloc mean a disharmony between the self and the world with which it has to deal. Nothing is a trial when we are able to cope with it efficiently.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. Jack Books, 1930, 353.

So, according to Underhill, a difficult situation is defined as disharmony between self and world. Difficulty is not inherent in the situation, but in the actor. Efficient action involves eliminating or disolving that disharmony. Those who live efficiently are not under stress.

Compare, from Wikipedia:

Efficiency is the extent to which time or effort is well used for the intended task or purpose, or the ratio of power consumed to useful power output…

Efficiency …is often used with the specific purpose of relaying the capability of a specific application of effort to produce a specific outcome effectively with a minimum amount or quantity of waste, expense, or unnecessary effort. …In general, efficiency is a measurable concept, quantitatively determined by the ratio of output to input.

… the term economic efficiency refers to the use of resources so as to maximize the production of goods and services.

A next step in this investigation is to similarly compare concepts of “power,” including from, e.g., Thich Naht Hanh’s The Art of Power with that in physics and in politics. The goal here would be to explore if it’s useful to  see two parallel constructs of being and action in these terms. Call them the sacred and the profane? Or the mystical and the economic? I wonder whether Eliade gets into this. (It’s been forty years since I read The Sacred and the Profane.)

It’s not just that the two ways are different. What’s interesting is the ways they are similar. For example, in Aikido these terms are both structural-mechanical, in the anatomical and physiological sense, and emotional-spiritual, in the sense that Underwood and Thich Naht Hahn use them.

Are the similarities just analogies arising from abstractions in our heads, or do they reflect something basic in the real world? The engineer might call the mystic’s language imprecise and meaningless. A mystic might see the engineer’s concepts as a reification and oversimplification of a broader view that incoporates them, what Eliade would call mythological, “tied to cosmic structures and rhythms.”

What happens when both viewpoints are held simultaneously without conflict? The disharmony disappears, efficiently.

Leighton The Return of Persephone 1891
Frederic Leighton, The Return of Persephone (1891)

Political, politics & democracy: Sheldon Wolin’s definitions

I shall take the political to be an expression of the idea that a free society composed of diversities can nonetheless enjoy moments of commonality when, through public deliberations, collective power is used to promote or protect the well being of the collectivity. Politics refers to the legitimized and public contestation, primarily by organized and unequal social powers, over access to the resources available to the public authorities of the collectivity. Politics is continuous, ceaseless, and endless. In contrast, the political is episodic, rare.
… In my understanding, democracy is a project concerned with the political potentialities of ordinary citizens, that is with their
possibilities for becoming political beings through the self-discovery of common concerns and of modes of action for realizing them.

Sheldon WolinSheldon S Wolin. “Fugitive Democracy.” Constellations 1, no. 1 (1994): 11–25, 11.

(Wolin, vibrant into his 80’s, is one of my role models.)

An ongoing inquiry into change and stability in nature, politics and ourselves, by Ben Shaine