Thursday, January 26, 2012

Experience and possibilities

As an experienced engineer, one can easily look at a proposal for something, parse out the important details, and point out flaws and oversights in design. An experienced psychologist can recognise depression by looking at someone's face. An experienced cook will know just how much water to add to rice, not a drop more, not a drop less. It is with age, with awareness, with an openness to the world, that comes experience--experience that allows us to see the world as it is, experience to understand why, and hopefully, experience to change what is not working.

Yet, experience that is not a positive force can also close off possibilities, for many times, all that we know comes only from what we have experienced. Such experience can ward off imagination. If we cannot imagine, how do we move forward given many of the messes we've created? How can we get past the same old, same old (neoliberal economics, utilitarianism, capitalism, communism, socialism, competition, World Trade Organisation, World Bank, United Nations) that many elders are stuck in? How can we reclaim the possibilities of envisioning a fundamentally different world, and acting on those visions? It is clear then that experience and possibility share a complex relationship.

Grace Lee Boggs, the most youthful ninety-six year old philosopher and activist from Detroit, points out in a conversation with Krista Tippett (embedded in this post below) that first and foremost, we must recognise that,
[w]e have so much to rediscover. There are so many creative energies that are part of human history that have been lost because we've been pursuing the almighty dollar. We haven't recognized at what expense we've done that, expense not only of the earth, not only of people of color, but of our own selves. We no longer recognize that we have the capacity within us to create the world anew. We think we are only the victims.
What possibilities open up for us with this new mentality? Only experience can guide us, says Gloria Lowe of We Want Green, Too!:
Ms. Tippett: So I think, when you tell those stories of working with these guys who are so broken, right, I mean it's just layer on layer on layer of grief and loss and tragedy, it sounds debilitating to work with that, right? It sounds like you would lose hope.

Ms. Lowe: Oh, not at all, not at all. Part of my own personal transformation — I think it's probably the transformation that anyone who has a brain injury goes through — is that you lose contact with the things that you've been taught and, in doing so, you become like the birds. You start to do things instinctively. So you know about the human spirit. So all I did was transfer what I already knew and these guys did what was in their spirit to do. They rose up, they rose up, you know, just by, oh, yeah, I've been doing this for years...

...This floor is laid by a guy who had two head injuries in the military, two. I mean, he's lucky to be alive and just the perfection to see him pull a line all the way from the kitchen to the living room, he's so focused. In their art, in their creativity, and laughing, and they were like a family. So the big to-do is really upstairs. People need to see possibilities once you've begun creating them because then the questions come. What is the advantage of doing this? And it's a very real advantage if the law firm that I worked for did Social Security. If a person hasn't worked, their check is $674.

A house this size was roughly 2,000 square feet. The heating bill in this house, heating and light, was $510. So that leaves you $160? It's very difficult to survive off of that. The heating bill in this house now is like $272 after doing a lot of baking and stuff on the holidays. It's a big difference. That $300 allows me to do something else. I talked to Wayne and Myrtle because the field over here, we're going to take that and we're going to create a garden where kids have raspberries and some fruit they can eat and fruit trees and they'll create their own benches and we'll do things so that they can see a different kind of world, a different kind of life. These kids don't know butterflies. I mean, come on. That's kind of — you don't know butterflies? You know, so this was a part of rediscovering who we are as human beings.

Many, especially those that are so embedded in the way things are, might view these words as romantic and idealistic. They are right, for that is the goal. What comes before being able to see new visions of the world, though, is the ability to overcome the fear of leaving behind what we've created so far. And to do that...

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