Posted by: M.C. | 17 February 2011

Connected

Alright, let me step back for a moment from the breathless, quite possibly incoherent thoughts I posted earlier and see if I can more clearly say something about this complexity that the priest-paleontologist-anthropologist-(theologian?) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote about and what it might mean for me now. Of course he was writing more than half a century ago, but he seems to have foreseen pretty well the kind of interconnectedness that technology has made possible. He realized that would move us more and more in the direction of unification, but he also seems to have realized the threats this might pose to what he called “personalization.” In our culture, we often mash together the idea of being a person with the idea of being and individual. But ecology (and politics and sociology and biology and psychology and just about every other branch of science) has taught us that my uniqueness as a person is not something that I can produce individually. It’s the product of my reaction and interaction with the culture and moment in history that surround me. When I pretend that I can make or remake myself without anyone else’s influence and without consequences (for good or ill) for others, I create a dangerous fiction that gives me license to act as though I am the center of the universe. Being a fully conscious person isn’t the same as standing alone as an individual; it means understanding all the forces and people that have shaped me and using that understanding to fully realize my own unique identity. Artists aren’t individuals; they are people who have developed the capacity to absorb what we all experience and translate it back to us in all its complexity and joy and sorrow and deep humor and deep tragedy. And if we’re smart enough to listen, it deepens us and our consciousness too. We lose a piece of that consciousness whenever we squash the ability of a person to grow, and we lose it too when we deify the unmoored, invincible individual over our moral and human obligations and relationships to one another.

Here’s the funny part to me. My ability to connect to others doesn’t come, ultimately, from tweeting and multitasking and surfing and plugging in constantly. If I don’t take time to pause and reflect and see myself clearly, I won’t ever understand how I am connected to others. I’ll always see others through the smeared lens that is my misshapen sense of self. If it’s true that we are unavoidably connected on a deep level, then the ability to understand that connected depends not only on my learning information about the world, it depends on my looking very, very closely at who I am. And this takes commitment. And it takes patience.

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