Reflection 273: Sensitivity Specks

June 7, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Yesterday at the Quaker Institute for the Future seminar in Bar Harbor, Leonard Joy gave a talk about [I paraphrase throughout] the need to encourage values development so the human community can prove itself worthy of living on Earth. The issue is the survival of the human community on the one planet in the universe that has been hospitable in the past, but is increasingly stressed beyond endurance. The issue is, do we value the gifts our home planet provides us enough to do everything we can to extend our stay, or do we cancel our welcome through unintended indifference, and accept notoriety as an also-ran among other bad-mannered and moribund species?

If things aren’t going right, Leonard said, then we need some form of jolt or epiphany to bring us to our senses so we can see the light, and then develop the wisdom to make a fitting response to that renewed understanding of just how perilous our situation has become. As he sees it, we need to come together in mutual support if we are to deal more kindly with an Earth we ourselves have degraded. What are we to do to save ourselves and the home planet from which we are inseparable?

As I listened to Leonard talk, I carried on a parallel exploration based on an image of sensitivity specks that his words sparked in my mind. I have retained the notion of sensitivity specks since 1956 when I read C.E. Kenneth Meese’s Theory of the Photographic Process. In photographic emulsions, atoms of silver and bromine combine to form small light-sensitive grains suspended in gelatine coated onto a film base. In a camera, when exposed to light through a lens, these specks or granules receive minute amounts of energy, but otherwise appear unchanged as a latent image. Until, that is, they are “developed” in a darkroom and the silver is reduced to metallic silver, appearing black against the clear gelatine that holds those minute specks in place. When unexposed areas of emulsion are removed, the silver produces a photographic negative, that is, an image whose blackness is proportionate to the amount of light it received.

While listening to Leonard speak of being open to an epiphany, my mind was picturing individual people as sensitivity specks waiting to experience the light, which when it came would not change them in any obvious way, but would render them susceptible to development when the effect of their seeing the light—their epiphany—would be revealed. That is, through his or her own experience, each person would realize that she had to adopt ways more in harmony with the Earth, but that result would not become evident until people everywhere had come to the same understanding. Then through mutual support they would recognize one another as earthling brothers and sisters—and the state would support them in developing this new understanding as a guide to the future.

Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how my mind seems to work—through metaphors transforming one way of seeing into another. People as sensitivity specks—that’s a new one. But listening to Leonard, that’s what my mind did with what I heard him talking about. For fifty-six years I have unwittingly hung onto the notion of sensitivity specks, and Leonard’s search for an epiphany brought that image out of its latency to the forefront of my mind.

But what excited me was the realization that epiphanies happen on an individual scale, while their development into a movement can happen only in an atmosphere of mutual support spread through a large segment of the population, which is what Leonard hoped would happen. Not everyone would have the same revelation, but once the word got out, enough people would see the light in a similar way that they could use that renewed understanding to achieve a more satisfying relationship with the Earth.

I am only telling you what happened inside my mind. After all, that’s where the real action takes place in each of us. We make a discovery and, Shazam!, abruptly find ourselves heading in a new direction, together, toward engagements we never thought possible. That’s how mass movements get going, by a great many people coming to the same realization at the same time. It must be in the air, or the hearts of the people—as it was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year. The powers that be will then have the option of supporting the people in their new understanding, or attempting to suppress the revolution as a disturbance of the peace (status quo).

Anyway, here I am listening to Leonard, and I am suddenly excited by the interaction between his words and my mind. We are engaged in a cooperative effort to bring about a values shift among the people around us. Yesterday I bemoaned the hardship of freeing the future from the clutches of the past; today I have hope that such a thing might actually be possible. If only we specks can become enlightened and authentic Citizens of the Earth in time to remedy the damage we have already done through not really paying attention to what we were doing so that after all these centuries, we have come to this, the situation we have brought upon ourselves—and all our children.

Thank you Leonard Joy for kindling this thought in my mind. Thank you Quaker Institute for putting me and Leonard together in the same room. Thank you Earth for nurturing us both and us all.

That’s my latest bulletin from Bar Harbor. I’ve got another in mind from the same encounter, so I want to move on to that. As ever, I remain y’r friend on Earth, –Steve

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