Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.



Social networks, it turns out, tend to magnify whatever they are seeded with.
That's not a reference just to online social networks, but the networks of all social connections people have.  It's something I quoted previously in greater context in the post You Have Three Degrees of Influence, and is from the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.  The book is a fascinating look at a broad collection of recent studies, by the authors and many others, that attempts to understand the dynamics of our social natures and connectedness. What the authors have found is that social networks reach three degrees of influence--to friends of friends of friends, thousands of people when multiplied out for each individual--even though individuals haven't actually met most of those in their networks of influence. Influence ripples across those first three degrees of separation to a significant level then becomes insignificant at a fourth degree. And just as individuals influence others to three degrees, they are influenced by them as well.

The quote more fully:
Networks influence the spread of joy, the search for sexual partners, the maintenance of health, the functioning of markets, and the struggle for democracy.  Yet, social-network effects are not always positive. Depression, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, financial panic, violence, and even suicide also spread.  Social networks, it turns out, tend to magnify whatever they are seeded with.
The quote--and the concept--came to mind recently when I re-shared something that came up in my Facebook feed, the image below with the parable that follows:

There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

So is with our lives... Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all...
That metaphor of seed cross-pollination elegantly captures much of what I hope to get across in so many of my posts on this blog.  Why competition, while a good ingredient, can't be our foundation.  Why we need to take care of each other.  Why cooperation is self-interest.

And it all goes back to what I see more and more as the huge divide between the left and the right politically, between what makes one person identify as progressive and another conservative.  The idea that we influence each other.  Dig deep enough into the logic behind almost any divisive issue and you'll find the idea of cooperative influence driving the progressive argument and individual self-reliance driving the conservative.  It's wrong to not help those in need versus it's wrong to need help from others.  Taxes, for instance.  Those on the left are often in favor of taxes as a way to have joint enterprises and to help each other, while those on the right generally feel taxes take money from the self-reliant and give it to those who haven't earned it in their own right.

This also came across my Facebook feed this morning:

Good intentions . . .

I added the "Good intentions . . . " when I shared it (in spite of the misspelling) because I think most of us, most of the time, have good intentions on both (all) sides of our conflicts.  I can think of any number of times I've passionately spoken up for something, feeling I was doing a good thing, only to realize upon reflection I was creating an unnecessary conflict, overemphasizing a peripheral concern, or simply wrong.  I've seen others do the same.  And I believe those on both (all) sides of the political aisle believe what they are advocating is the right, good thing that will make life better for all of us.

So when I disagree with conservatives I don't doubt their good intentions--and am open to realizing my good intentions are misguided--but I do disagree.  I agree that self-reliance is an essential goal we all need to have.  I don't agree that it is decisive.  We are not pure individuals existing in vacuums and we don't have to view each other purely as competition.  We are all part of social networks, we all influence each other, and we are all stronger when we help each other.  Your self-reliance influences me, my self-reliance influences you, so we strengthen each other that way.  And we also strengthen each other with support and help in those moments when forces undermine and prevent self-reliance, whether they come in the form of natural disasters, employment lay-offs, personal flaws and mistakes (no one is perfect), or any of the other innumerable things that make life difficult.

And it's the insistence on absolute individualism that I believe conservatives get wrong.  They want to deny that we influence each other.  They insist on the vacuum, that everyone is complete master of their own destiny and no outside factors factor.  They believe personal responsibility is all there is and nothing else.

As this article that I previously shared in Predisposed to Be Opposed puts it:
It’s important to try and understand how Conservatives think when it comes to race, crime, social strata and the justice system. We’ll have to cook it down to its essence first. Conservatives believe that we are personally responsible for our lives. The decisions you make dictate what will happen to you. If you make mistakes, you are responsible for those mistakes. You are also responsible for your safety. That’s why Conservatives believe in gun ownership. You should also be responsible for your future (why Conservatives don’t like Social Security) and your health (why Conservatives don’t like Universal Health Care). This idea works in a world where you are in the middle of a prairie, killing buffalo and living off the land. It doesn't work as well when you live in a city of a million people, sharing resources (Why many Conservatives don’t like cities).

Progressives believe in Social responsibility. We are all in this together. That’s why, for Progressives and Liberals, Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and Universal Health care, that all makes sense. To a Progressive, pooling our resources and working together is the smart thing to do for our long term security.

The problems we are facing, why our political leaders can’t agree and why nothing ever gets done, are because these two concepts don’t fit together. You can’t believe that you are personally responsible for your actions and live in a society where we collectively work together to achieve results. You can’t believe that you are responsible for yourself and then be forced to pay taxes for programs you never use. Your brain hates contradictions and will actively fight them. It’s one of the reasons why our political system is a mess. You have people doing things they actually and truly don’t want to do. Don’t get it twisted; no one likes paying taxes. However, Progressives understand that paying taxes is a need, that it helps the collective good of our society. Conservatives are pissed there’s a collective society in the first place. . . .
Another example, one that seems timely in light of yet another mass shooting yesterday (which seems almost needless to say, since that statement could apply to a horrifyingly huge number of yesterdays).  After one of the other recent mass shootings, we had some discussion in the comments on one of my Facebook posts.  An old friend who lives in the heart of self-reliant farm country chimed in in defense of guns as important tools, and in his context they generally are.  One of the things he said during the course of the discussion is that "gun culture" in the U.S. has changed over the course of his lifetime.  That many have gone from seeing guns as tools to seeing them as required weapons in the fight for liberty (or something along those lines).  After delving into that idea, though, he ended with the final proclamation that no one is responsible for mass shootings except the individuals who perpetrate the crimes.

I can't really disagree with that, that final and ultimate responsibility rests on the shoulders of the shooters.  But he made the statement in a way that canceled out his earlier thoughts about the potential influence of a "gun culture."  He dismissed out of hand any blame that might be placed on those in a shooter's network of influence, the cross-pollination that had come from neighboring seeds.  He could admit the existence of a gun culture, but not the existence of social responsibility--which makes gun culture irrelevant when considering, from his perspective, solutions to the issue of mass shootings.  Even when he could name and describe the change in gun culture as part of the problem, he couldn't connect it to any proposals for what we need to do to make things better.

Talking about the surface issues of taxes, guns, and the like isn't going to get us anywhere unless we can go deeper to the underlying good intentions driving the positions.  We need to talk more about cross-pollination.  That it is real.  That it matters.  That it is part of the solution.


At 4/29/2016 10:27 PM, Blogger emmiosie said...

I am preparing a speech for a volunteers award luncheon and I would like to use the quote "Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others" etc. I am hoping you can help by advising me as how best to reference the quote.

Please email a response to

Thank you.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home