Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Educational Strategies to Develop our Society

Moral strategies develop civilized role patterns, and educational strategies civilize individual minds. Moral strategies improve social conditions and assume that individual personalities will move their own peculiarities to the background. Educational strategies appeal to individuals and assume that social conditions will follow suit. Education may transcend academic learning, stimulate personal experience, offer new insights (eye-openers) and show examples. I see three educational strategies that are useful for developing civilization: example strategies, eye-opening or awareness strategies, and deconditioning strategies.
The eye-opening strategy is by far the most popular, because it tries to convert by words. The example strategy works with deeds, a quite different game. Example is the most basic strategy. Even other mammals use it.
A pure example strategy may be to organize cooperatives or communes as illuminating examples for the outside world. Example strategy could also be used outside of these alternative working and living communes. A personnel department that wishes to stimulate cooperation, personal growth, and the quality of leadership in the organization can try to make its own department into a shining example. Likewise, top management sets an important example if it avoids the trap of do-as-I-say-but-don’t-do-as-I-do.
For the eye-opening strategy, language is indispensable. Religions use both example strategy and eye-opening strategy to make converts. Evangelization, literally meaning: spreading the gospel, spreading the ‘good message’, uses preachers, and preachers use words. What the use of words wins in efficiency over the use of deeds, it often loses in validity.
The most effective strategy involves words and deeds going together, right words accompanying right deeds. But example strategy remains basic, because deeds and facts are more basic than words. Therefore, mission is more effective than evangelization, because mission offers facts, although usually only indirectly related to the doctrine it wants to spread. When facts are cited only to induce people to hear words, unbalance is present. Deeds will be exploited, even prostituted, to serve the words. It is easy to feel sympathy and respect for religions such as the Salvation Army that convert mainly by example, or the Quakers who convert almost exclusively by example. This sympathy and respect may be present despite what we think of a religion’s belief or style.
Though writing is hard work, the relationship between words and deeds is a dangerous subject for a writer, so I had better move on to the next subject.
Awareness strategies often use verbal violence. With awareness strategies, people are almost compelled to discover how something works and what they ought to want. Such strategies assume that if people deviate from, say, Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, they deviate only because they yet lack awareness of their own needs. The assumption is that people would like nothing better than to realize themselves, but they are still ignorant of that fact, and therefore they should be made conscious.
Awareness strategy is often relevant, and often not. Many people who have just become aware, are then especially aware of the necessity to make other people aware, too. However, if anything is difficult and burdening, becoming aware is. One consequence, for example, is a realization of impotence. Becoming aware may be so upsetting that preferably it is channeled within a stringent ideological framework. Ideology makes us aware of answers, not of questions.
Becoming aware without practical consequences is a favorite intellectual and emotional infection. It leads to evangelization, the repetitive, stuck-in-a-rut kind of awakening. We have become aware of what makes people and society tick and of what should be done. What we do next is to make other people aware of this insight. We become convinced that if only enough people become aware, then everything will change. In this respect, social movements resemble chain letters. To involve other people in liberating experiences is an addictive surrogate for factual transformation. Movements like Transcendental Meditation solve this problem by believing that if only one percent of people have come around, then society already will change automatically.
Enthusiasts of a new order of things often believe that their gospel will spread over society like wildfire. Luckily, things go differently. When a movement becomes large, it acquires different priorities, different interpretations, different schools, applications to specific areas, combinations with other approaches. There will be conferences, training centers and associations. Tensions grow between the crystallization of an establishment and the urge to return to the simple, original, personal source of inspiration. Tensions grow also between orthodoxy and revisionism. Splits, compromises and new doctrines abound, and the original innovation dissolves in the general turmoil of society, leaving many or just a few fossil institutions.
Even with successful movements, often very little remains that is recognizable, precisely because success leads to absorption into society. Things begin to go much more slowly and in a less revolutionary way than enthusiast protagonists initially assume. In the 1920s people pointed to the success of the cooperative movement, convinced that within several decades the whole society would be organized into cooperatives.
Common reactions to inevitable disappointment are impatience, frustration and pessimism. If little progress is made, this lack of progress is due to people’s lack of awareness or to devious conspiracies of the powers that be. This explanation leads to incrowding of early converts. Their difference with the outside world grows, and so does the need for scapegoats. The oasis accuses the desert of barrenness, and invents demons of barrenness.
The usual scapegoats are the conspicuous insiders in society, those who are as fish in the waters of public institutions: businesspeople, magistrates, politicians, religious authorities. Frustrated outsiders paint these insiders in glaring colors of narrow-mindedness and power (apparently regarding themselves as broad-minded and powerless).
Frustrated converts may feel forced to engage in such unworthy activities as power games, assuming that the evil world will later condone their dirty hands! Often these people become political radicals. Such groups can intersperse progressive and human pieces of wisdom with slogans full of cynicism and power politics.

Educational strategies are, at best, based on a partial acceptance of the present state of affairs. Such strategies imply a certain dissociation from the actual social or organizational state of affairs. The image of another, better society begins to appear in the new ways of thinking and examples shown, in the new experiences gained. Some educational strategies are based on dissociation without taking distance or judging normatively. I call these approaches deconditioning strategies. Classic examples of such strategies are Taoism and, partially inspired by Taoism, Zen Buddhism.
Deconditioning strategies liberate, making us participating outsiders who observe participants of the organization or community we are in. We participate, but with inner freedom, both serious and playful, almost aesthetically. Simultaneously within and outside the situation, we find ourselves free of worry.
To what does Zen lead? A Western student who had been training in Kyoto for seven years answered: ‘No parapsychic experiences, as far as I am aware. But you wake up in the morning and the world is so beautiful you can hardly stand it.’ This remark reveals not a cultivation of sentiment, but a getting rid of filters and dampers.
Deconditioning is a lively and personal experience that can be effective as a change strategy, but with obscure and unpredictable consequences. It is perfection, but in terms of Transactional Analysis, it contains more of the Child than of the Adult. Chang-Tzu wrote beautiful poems about the easy, natural perfection of life. Especially recommended for busy people is Active Life.
A deconditioned person brings about changes as does leaven, without care, without doubts, without intentions, contagiously. Zen is a combination of example strategy and awareness strategy, without putting up examples to reach awareness. In contrast to (Confucian) conditioning, (Taoist) deconditioning is a strictly personal process, although other deconditioned people can stimulate it. Apparently this stimulation can even be done methodically, although this approach remains, as evidenced by Zen Buddhism, precarious and paradoxical.
Precision with ease gives a ‘dancing’ impression. Next to Zen in the Art of Archery and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, there will be Zen in Social Change. Why not? According to Gary Zukav, even the natural scientists dance.
The main lesson of deconditioning strategies for people who want to improve things is to avoid inflated pretensions. Change without wanting to change too much. Find the natural points of access, the natural leverage points. Be yourself. Stay oriented on society and others, with goodwill, but without intentions. This attitude may create an atmosphere of inner freedom and ease in all social activities - perfect freedom, free perfectionism.
A Zen-Buddhist would suggest: ‘Do not entertain ideals, do not present precepts. Liberate without telling people what is good for them or how the world is or should be. Create breathing space, open air, freedom, vitality, light-footed seriousness. Undefinable, light, without any negative emotions, without fear or hate or jealousy and, above all else, without guilt.’ Such an attitude is wise but innocent, and surely dancing.

From: The Ten Global Challenges: How People Make the World. An Essay on Politics, Civilization and Humanity. Ordering the book 

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