Life in the LEGO-verse

"I'm so glad we were able to connect!"

“I’m so glad we were able to connect!”

Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed LEGO (trade mark registered, etc.)

But lately, I have come to wonder if LEGO has changed the way we see the world, or whether LEGO is the result of a change in our worldview.

It all comes down to the words we use. Words shape our thoughts. If we don’t have the right words, we can’t think in certain ways. When we use particular words, they shape the direction in which we think, whether we realize it or not.

I have become sensitized to certain words that seem to be everywhere. They take our thoughts about a better world and instead return us – inexorably — to a world that is increasingly toxic.

No one, no matter how cool the movie or how awesome the song, would believe for a second that we live in a LEGO-verse. Yet over and over we use words to describe relationships and growth that are more easily associated with LEGO blocks than living or growing things. We see all of our systems (social, cultural and ecological) as linear and mechanical, not circular and organic, and are reaping the whirlwind of devastation we have sown as a result.

I have developed the argument at length elsewhere (in Gift Ecology: Reimagining a Sustainable World) that our society has emphasized mechanism over organism. We have turned our experience of nature and each other into something that can be sliced, diced and counted – the “metrical me” living in a material world.

To talk about ourselves in abstraction or separation from natural systems is physically absurd – but we do it all the time. Realizing that there is something wrong with our perspective on life, the universe and everything, we therefore decide it is time to “reconnect with nature.” People will earnestly use this expression, indicating awareness of something being wrong and a desire to …fix it? Rebuild it? Reconnect it? All the while, these same people are usually unaware of the utter absurdity of their language and do not thank me for pointing it out.

Very frostily, I am asked if this is not a good place to start, whether or not I like the words? Isn’t doing something better than doing nothing? Isn’t reconnecting with nature a desirable goal?

And so we are trapped, by our words, in the LEGO-verse. We build relationships, along with communities – not realizing that neither are barns, and certainly not seeing the huge difference between a barn raised by a community and one built to code by a contractor.

We construct, build, connect, and so mire ourselves further in the worldview a sustainable future requires us to escape.

No matter how hard we try to return to an organic view of the universe around and within us, our words get in the way. If you can use those same words to direct someone in the construction of some LEGO artifact, then they don’t fit the curves, resilience and springy-ness of life.

We need to use other words, if we want to think other thoughts. We need to experience relationships, not build friendships. There is good reason and much wisdom behind the aboriginal expressions we would do well to incorporate into our own vision. For me to appreciate the world in which I live, for example, I need to think about “all my relations” not “all my connections.”

After all, social, cultural and ecological systems are not linear. They are a weave of many elements and practices, spiritual and philosophical as well as material, subtle and transient as well as solid and enduring. Caught in the web to which we contribute our own weaving, we can rarely be certain of the outcome of our own actions within a system so complex that no computer system could begin to replicate it, much less understand what it means.

So, if you want to stop the delusion — in your mind and in others — that we live in a linear, mechanical, material world, stop using the words that make such a perspective necessary and inevitable.

Fine yourself a nickel for every time you use the word “connect” when you really mean “relate,” every time you talk about “building” or “constructing” when you mean “growing” or “nurturing.” Donate your fines to a community organization that helps people to grow into a sustainable future.

It will be money well spent. You will feel better and your mind will be clearer (I almost said your brain would work better!).

Your spirit will be nourished as you become more aware, more mindful, of the web of life and community within which you are woven and which you are weaving.

You will live with intention and purpose, as your new words guide your thoughts in creative directions that then give you reasons for doing what your heart tells you needs to be done.

Or, you can keep on using those old words and – like the LEGO characters in the picture above – you can connect with other people instead. You can build a better future, reconstruct society, or reconnect with nature through a more thorough understanding of the building blocks of life.

Your choice – but the words you use indicate the choice you are making and where it leads.

Changing the Game (7)

For a sustainable future, we need to understand life and our relations with other people not in terms of economy or exchange, but as gift… not in expectation of any return, without calculation of cost, but instead as a celebration of Presence with another. In that moment of Presence, the universe changes in the way all of us need it to change.

The sustainability problem reminds me of my favorite arcade game, which I will call “Whack-A-Mole.” Some indeterminate creature pops out of holes in a random pattern, requiring you to whack them with a mallet at an ever increasing rate until the end of the game.

Blessed with good hand-eye coordination, I could always count on winning some pointless prize for whoever was with me.

When it comes to sustainability, however, the whack-a-mole approach will ultimately not be successful.  The game will just get harder and there is no prize at the end – because there will be no end to the creatures that pop out at us faster and faster until we are eventually overwhelmed.

The seventh lesson the Old Savage needs to learn is that skill and good tools will not be enough to solve the problems preventing a sustainable future.

It is not a question of getting better or faster at solving the problems as they emerge – perhaps with more people and more mallets.  Instead, you need to change the game itself.

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Respect for Life (5)

A life is a life, however and wherever it is lived. There is no hierarchy of value inherent in life.

I’ve always liked the aboriginal tradition of the talking stick. Simple or ornately carved in whatever style, it grounds a tradition of respect that a sustainable world needs both to appreciate and adopt.

The tradition requires that, as the group sits in a circle, the talking stick is passed from person to person. Whoever holds the stick commands the respect and attention of the group, for as long as he or she desires, to say whatever needs to be said.

I have watched how this simple act changes a group dynamic, as quiet or shy people – or perhaps those whose command of English is not as strong as the others – blossom into contributors to what is said and done. Sometimes, nothing at all is said – the person holds the stick, the group is silent waiting for what they might say, and then with a gesture or a polite comment, the opportunity is declined for now. Because the stick moves in a circle, it will always come back another time.

It has never been easy for me to participate in these circles, because I have always regarded silence as a void to be filled – if not by someone else’s words, then by my own. Yet the respect that comes from waiting one’s turn, the necessity of thinking before speaking, the realization that the quietest person in the group might have the most important things to say, builds community.

There is no one more important than any other in a circle, and the talking stick reinforces the concept as it moves around.

While the talking stick ceremony confirms the value of the individual in society, in community and in relationship, Western/global culture unfortunately tends to go in the other direction.

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