Monday, July 15, 2013

Leading in a Connected, More Empathic -- Dare I Say, Feminine -- World

Last night, while I was ironing linen blouses, I watched a Netflix film called Connected.  Written and created by Webby Awards founder, Tiffany Shlain, it was an oddly organized musing about what it means to be connected in the 21st century.

Her discussion of disappearing honeybees and the intentional killing of sparrows showed graphically how we are connected at a fundamental biological level.

Her stories about the important role her neurologist father played in her life spoke to family connections, that for her, extended back to Russian pogroms against Jews.  She wove the news about his brain cancer in with her story about her pregnancy with twins, -- who came later in her reproductive life through fertility medicine after a successful birth and then five miscarriages.

She talked about her early interest in something that would later be the World Wide Web, and the role it might play in making feminist dreams of work-life balance real by offering flexibility in the way we work.

One theme she developed was the role the Web played in increasing (or releasing) empathy.  We can now see, very quickly, images of suffering and injustice from around the world.  It triggers our naturally empathic selves and, more often than not, forces us to think about the contribution each one of us can make to improving our existence on this planet.  Perhaps the multi-racial protests and millions of Facebook postings following the Zimmerman verdict this past week illustrate this widespread empathic response.

Another theme running through the film was the role of technology in shifting our brains to more left-brained, linear, logical, analytical, symbolic, abstract, temporal, sequential thinking that is associated frequently with a masculine approach to problem-solving.  The left-brain controls speech and writing.  She asserts that the first alphabet took us down this path.  That shift led to great progress, through our increasing understanding of the world.  But, it has now put us at a crossroads.  We will need to make another shift if we want to ensure the survival of human, animal, and plant life on the Earth.

Up till the creation of the first alphabet, human cultures relied more equally on right- and left-brained thinking. The right-brain, expert at holistic problem-solving, pattern recognition, and the processing of emotions, reflected a feminine way in the world.  It processes information synthetically, creatively, and concretely.  It thinks in analogies, suspends judgment, sees relationships between things, and makes leaps of insight based on intuition.  At this early time, these competencies -- and women -- were esteemed, if not revered. Interesting, I thought, if true.

Later, I tied this notion to some recent reading I'd done (who knows the source at this point) about how we are increasingly relying on visual images as our source of information -- TV, on-line films, YouTube videos, Vine, digital photographs, and Instagram.  Are we moving away from the alphabet -- and more linear input -- to a more visual, right-brained means of processing events in the world?

The visual cortex of the brain, positioned at the back, inhabits both hemispheres. Wikipedia explains: "It is highly specialized for processing static and moving objects and is excellent in pattern recognition."  Its five regions map spatial information, create object recognition memory, perceive and process motion, and modulate attention.

At the end of the film, her father dies and, shortly thereafter, one of the twins survives and is born.  Flowers from loved ones and friends filled her home.  She remembered what her father had taught her:

  • Live life to the fullest
  • Be compassionate to others
  • Plant gardens
  • Always laugh at yourself
  • Be curious
  • Make a difference
  • Be present
  • Always remember you are loved
  • If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up way too much space.

She closed by asking us to shift from declaring our independence, to declaring our inter-dependence.  Like a beehive, where no bee can survive on its own, humans are now widely and deeply inter-dependent.

Acknowledging that fact should make us more mindful in the way we live, love, and consume. 

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