Sunday, January 25, 2015

How Shall We Sing the Lord's Song?

At the Third International Conference on Creativity and Innovation at Grassroots, I had the great fortune of meeting the luminous Catherine A. Odora Hoppers, South African Research Chair in Development Education at the University of South Africa.  In her presentation, "Epistemology of Hope" she articulated the vital importance of emancipating the language of and social models for "development" from the implicit and explicit influences of colonial hierarchical values.  As her animated presentation captured the audience at the Indian Institute for Management at Ahmedabad, I kept hearing the echo of Boney M's Rivers of Babylon in my mind.

"When the wicked carried us away in captivity;
Required from us a song,
Now how shall we sing the lord's song in a strange land?"

Somewhere between the song and musing whether Catherine was channeling the wisdom of Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of the Mind, I reflected on my presentation the day earlier.  During the Doctoral Colloquium, I made the observation that many of the terms that were being used in the conference: "development", "economy", "knowledge", "innovation", "creativity" and the like have a phenotypic neutrality that belies the energetic framework from which they arise.  And in their unconsidered use and propagation, there is a chance that we may enter into double binds where what we aspire to promote is in fact impaired by an implicit ontological dissonance. 

Let me offer an example.  A young lady in the audience stated that she was involved in "human resources" management at a government sponsored innovation center in India.  Much to her surprise, I asked her if she could give me the Sanskrit word for "human resources".  She looked puzzled.  Those around her had various expressions - some smiled, some shook their heads, and other looked entirely perplexed.  One of the students offered what those around him seemed to concur was the best approximation.  Not familiar with the word, I asked for it's literal translation.  The consensus response centered around a meaning that was basically "humans as tools".  I asked the young lady if she felt that her colleagues would warmly receive being treated as tools or implements to which she recoiled.  "Of course not, Sir," was her response.  "So is there a chance that your title, if altered, could impact your work and the experience of colleagues?," I queried.  What if her job was a purposeful productivity optimization facilitator?

Raghubir, another participant in the Colloquium took the example a step further.  He shared that "economy" in Hindi and Sanskrit is "arthashastra".  He explained that artha is a term describing meaning and purpose while shastra is a term for a body of knowledge.  Would we speak of "economic development" in the same way if what it involved was expanding the base of knowledge around meaning and purpose?  No!  We would need to actually focus on knowledge rather than the propaganda derived from the Adam Smith intoxication which has led to massive resource extinction and wealth disproportionality.  To the Greeks oikonomía (from which our word "economy" was derived) was the management or administration of a household.  Would we use the same language we do around markets and money if we were speaking in reference to how we engage our own families?  Don't answer that one!  Just think about it.

As we were told, "You are what you eat," so too is it the case that the lexicon you use or adopt should be considered carefully.  If you want to perpetuate the system that is dominant, use its lingua franca.  But if you want a different outcome, it may be prudent to consider being more precise with the words we choose.

Rather than exploration in which we the intrepid "explorers" forge our way into unknown lands or fields of inquiry, could we adopt a more suitable posture of education where we are explicit about our own ignorance thereby allowing the unknown to inform?  Rather than discovery where we use old frameworks of familiarity to isolate within, could we adopt a stance of observation in which we see perspective and context?  Rather than conquest in which we lay claim to ownership of what we reduced to description, could we consider integration where we place ourselves into the expanding network of utility?  Rather than colonization where we impose frameworks upon what we shortly before didn't know, could we contribute what we have to build out a more complete experience for ourselves and others?  Rather than commoditization where we exploit and extract to extinction, could we consider fruitful cooperation in which we experience without extermination?  And rather than innovation in which we separate and make special the individual who adapts matter and energy for efficiency, comfort or utility, can we celebrate integral perception in which our focus is on the action giving rise to the artifact?  Sure, these terms won't count on scorecards of development and GDP but who's keeping score?

Note:  For regular Inverted Alchemists, I will be off-line next week in Antarctica and will be back in two weeks.  So, next weekend, share your favorite post with your friends and I'll see you soon!


1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, words do matter and the meaning associated with them can cause an important talk to slip right out of view. I have always felt repugnance arise from the term "human resource" I believe it's the experience of being exploited along with countless others.

    Emotional attachments to words can be very problematic especially if there is a lack of self knowledge. Its formidable bias that's powerful and seems to trump logical reason .The mind seems steps behind in this cascade.


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave