Reflection 6: Right but Wrong

October 14, 2008

(Copyright © 2008)

I have written about seeing phenomena that are not real (dying crow, crashing plane), and not seeing phenomena representing real objects (mustard jar, sunflowers). Today I write about seeing a phenomenon correctly, but misconstruing or misinterpreting it.

 

I am walking along a bustling city sidewalk in late fall. Jostling crowds of people are moving in both directions. Through a brief gap, I see a familiar figure swinging along ahead of me. I know immediately who it is, an old friend I haven’t seen is several years. The gait is right; the overcoat is right, the hat is right. Yes, even the scarf. Fred! The jolt of recognition gives me a burst of speed as I stride to catch up with him. I weave through the crowd, which has abruptly become an obstacle course. He keeps on and I follow behind, making slow progress. It takes me several minutes to get directly behind him. Should I call out? Grab him by the shoulder? Race by and present myself? I pull up next to him and raise my arm above his shoulder . . . and quickly drop it to my side. Wrong nose, wrong mouth, wrong chin. I’ve been chasing a stranger. A wave of disappointment stops me in my tracks. Now, where was I going?

 

When he briefly taught at Harvard, E.E. Cummings sometimes wrote the comment on student papers, good but poor. Here on a city street I found myself right but wrong. From the back, the figure ahead of me looked like Fred and moved like Fred. I would have sworn it was Fred. From the side, I saw additional details that were not Fred-like at all. An innocent mistake. But under stress of battlefield conditions such suppositions could lead to death from a burst of friendly fire.

 

Consciousness blends two sorts of signals, one perceptual, the other conceptual. The perceptual stream suggests something exists in the world; the conceptual stream tells us what it means to us in our current situation. Chasing after Fred, I didn’t realize that being and meaning were out of joint until my perception was detailed enough to make a positive identification. In which case the meaning I had proposed collapsed in a heap of misidentification.

 

We make such mistakes all the time. Sometimes with trivial consequences, sometimes as life-altering blunders. At the time it seems so fitting and appropriate. Our eyes misted by surging hormones, we marry Ms. or Mr. Wrong. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court aborted the election process so the wrong man became president. When that wrong president later posed for photos on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln with a triumphant banner behind him, the photo op turned out to mischaracterize the developing situation on the ground in Iraq, with disastrous consequences for all concerned.

 

Consciousness is as it leads us to act, and sometimes it meets a low standard of judgment. Greed, jealousy, prejudice, false beliefs, mistaken identity, emotional involvement, and many other factors often skew our estimates of reality. How many prisoners have been put to death for crimes they didn’t commit? How many wars have been ignited by false pride? How many fresh ideas have been trashed in the name of outmoded traditions? How many women and children abused by self-righteous men?

 

Consciousness models both how we see ourselves and the worlds (situations) we claim to live in. Right or wrong, it is powerful stuff. For good or ill, how we couple being and meaning to one another is the essence of our individual lives and the communities we weave around us. Dying crows, mustard jars, sunflowers, and my friend Fred seem like trivial matters. Until you see them as symptomatic of how we all take the world into ourselves, and project ourselves into the world in meaningful ways.

 

When we talk of transforming our lives and culture in order to bring about a better world, we are talking about the revolution in consciousness that will enable us to do that. To change the world, we must envision ourselves and the world differently. If our children are to have a future, we must bring being and meaning together in new ways. It’s as simple and daunting as that.

 

My own mission is going to take time. Stay tuned to this blog for further reflections. ¦

 

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One Response to “Reflection 6: Right but Wrong”

  1. epiphileon said

    Quote ”

    When we talk of transforming our lives and culture in order to bring about a better world, we are talking about the revolution in consciousness that will enable us to do that. To change the world, we must envision ourselves and the world differently. If our children are to have a future, we must bring being and meaning together in new ways. It’s as simple and daunting as that.

    I Think our motivational base is very similar….

    In This Day

    In this day, we must do well,
    we must do well for ourselves,
    we must do well for others,
    and we must do this because,
    we are the people who would be true.

    In this day we must do well.
    this we must do for there is much ill,
    we must do this without fail,
    for the ill that is, is lie
    for we are the people who would be true.

    In this day we must do well
    we are duty bound, in blood honor,
    for people to suffer is loathsome woe,
    we must rise above what was, to become what can be,
    For we are the people who would be true.

    In this day we must do well
    for we would dry the tears of pain,
    lay rest the fears of change, reach for the future,
    for ourselves, for each other, and for our children,
    that we may be, and be becoming, all that human can be,
    For we are the people who would be true.

    In this day, do well, we must,
    we must learn again, each other to trust,
    we must rekindle hope in our hearts,
    we must fill our eyes with this vision
    and with faith, through conviction, in love,
    free ourselves from the lies of the dollar sign eyes,
    for united we must stand and bring change to this land,
    for many to suffer, for the greed of the few, puts lie to.
    We are the people who would be true.

    For the unjustness of the suffering, for the love of our lives,
    and for the sake of the children we doom by our slothful inaction,
    allow the winds of change to once again bring power to the people!

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