Allow me to just dive in.
I love your ideas about learning, I also believe an education is necessary
but not necessarily in the form society demands. I love that you lived
according to this idea by taking your own daughter out of school to travel.
I believe traveling is one of the most enlightening experiences a person
I must ask how you feel about daydreaming and how this conflicts with
your idea about doing things carefully. I must say I can be a little spacey
sometimes and have a tendency of being spontaneous, and it has always
served me well. I was wondering how you feel about when this conflicts
with being precise. I almost feel like it's a piece of artwork, free flowing,
to be a person who is able to go with the flow. This also to a degree
goes against your notion of plan-making.
Next I'm interested in your idea of the truth and being. The idea that
how everything is, is meant to be is a romantic notion but doesn't leave
too much room for free will. I was wondering if you believed in free will
or if you felt this contradicted with the idea of fate and if the two
could exist simultaneously. Also how do you believe religion would play
into this? I seem to find many of my ideas are in fact contradictory.
I love the dreamy ideal of fate and "meant to be" in certain
circumstances but would find them extremely frustrating in others. I believe
we are meant to be self-made people and part of growth and learning is
through our choices and how we adapt to the consequences, good or bad,
that ensue. I also have many opposing notions of being raised Catholic
and believing that we are meant to live with free will yet God is supposed
to be all knowing.
In addition, I was wondering what you think set you on the life path you
are on. Nature? Nurture? Personality? I believe all factors combine to
make the unit but I think it's possible to pinpoint guides and influences
along the way. What steps did you take that led you to where you are in
life in terms of spiritual and self growth? Meditation seems to have been
an important practice in your life. I've had a few experiences with meditation
and found them all very beneficial. I also taught yoga classes which I
find to be one of the best ways to settle your thoughts, which is what
we have been learning about this year.
I enjoyed reading your book this semester. Thank you for helping our class
and Skyping in to talk with us.
much for your most stimulating letter. Yes education, but . . . As Professor
Nordstrom puts it at the end of his emails, "Don't let school interfere
with your education."
daydreaming, also YES. When I was 6 and 7 my parents used to put me to
bed far earlier than I was ready to go. And I used to spend the long period
before falling asleep having what I called "dream thinks." Daydreaming
times are often creative times, times when great ideas bubble up from
the Muse, or the subconscious wiser self, or whatever we want to call
it. Regarding spontaneity vs. planning, in my experience both are appropriate,
but at different times and in different circumstances. I think that life
experience tends to teach us when and where. Sometimes one or the other
doesn't work, and if we're paying attention, that becomes a bit of guidance
for next time.
what set me on my life path, "Nature? Nurture? Personality?,"
and went on to say "I believe all factors combine to make the unit,
but I think it's possible to pinpoint guides and influences along the
way." I agree wholeheartedly. And it ties in with your wondering
about free will, and my contention that, at any given moment, everyone
is doing the best they can. (A good friend of mine perhaps put it better.
His words were, "Everyone is doing the only they can.")
In another book of mine, Matters of Consequence, I went into my
feelings on the subject in some detail:
During the past
several decades, it has become clear that there is not just one, standard
human nature. Instead, each human's inner life and outer behavior
is the joint product of nature and nurture: genes on the one hand
and one's life experience on the other. On the nature side, each of
us arrives on Earth with a set of genetically determined potentials,
some of which are common to all and some of which differ from person
to person. All babies drink, cry, sleep, and wet their diapers. But
some babies sleep their first month away while others cry it away.
Some startle easily; some don't. Some are exceptionally alert and
attentive; others are less so. Some have a generally rejecting attitude,
others a generally accepting one. In addition to these built-in attitudes
and tendencies, each baby is born with a very wide range of undeveloped
potentials. These include intellectual potentials, physical potentials,
musical potentials, artistic potentials, potentials for generosity
and caring, potentials for selfishness and mean-spiritedness, etc.
What is common to all at this early stage of development is, as psychologist
Gardner Murphy put it: "A raw distinctive humanness differing
from the nature of all other creatures and possessing sharper wits,
greater capacity to learn and, above all, keener exploratory functions
and the capacity to discover and use new relationships."
On the nurture
side, it is society's job to take this raw malleable humanness, this
watchful, willful, bundle of potentials, and develop some of them
into functioning actualities. As Murphy pointed out, these "potentialities
are not just incompletenesses but radically new kinds of human nature
In other words, when one set of potentials develops, you get one kind
of person and one expression of "human nature." When another
set develops, you get a different person and a different human nature.
Ruth Benedict and Abraham Maslow stressed this point. They gave examples
of societies peopled by likeable, caring human beings (high-synergy,
all-win societies) and of societies peopled by mean, nasty humans
(low synergy, few-win societies). On the high-synergy side, they pointed
to several Native American societies where community well-being and
personal generosity were highly valued, and where the society's institutions
fostered these attitudes. In these societies, the "richest,"
most admired person was the one who gave away the most at the annual
Potlatch or Sun Dance ceremony. Everyone gained in these societies.
Sadly, many modern
North American societal institutions have been cultivating the opposite
tendency. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, they have encouraged
us to pile up personal wealth and reduce our level of concern about
those less well-off than ourselves. During the second half of the
twentieth century, the dominant culture influenced people to put self
first, to avoid social responsibility, and to replace generosity of
heart with various degrees of unconcern and mean-spiritedness. Neither
the political right nor the political left is blameless in this. When
it was their turn in office, each has pumped the bellows under the
fires of acquisitive consumerism. And both are guilty of failures
of empathy. The right's failure involves ethnic minorities, the poor,
immigrants, women who want to change things, and gays and lesbians.
But, as Michael Lerner has pointed out, the left is also guilty. The
left can empathize with those who are suffering economically or being
deprived of their rights, but it fails to give much weight to the
spiritual suffering of middle-income peopleto the suffering
that comes from living in our society's ethics-and-meaning vacuum.
This failure of empathy is, in Lerner's view, very divisive, and one
reason why the left has not received more political support from middle-income
people than it has.
go about encouraging the adoption of one set of values and behaviors
rather than another is not difficult to understand. It is the matrix
of influences in each person's life that determines which innate
potentials develop into actualities and which do not. The law governing
this phenomenon is simple:
values, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and personality at any point
in their life is the joint product of the physical influences (genes,
nutrition, etc.) and the mental influences (family, education, personal
experience, etc.) that the person has encountered up to that point.
Is that really
true? Doesn't it leave something out? At the very least, it seems
pretty impersonal. Strangely, however, the personal is precisely this
intermixture of genetic makeup, physical influences, and mental acquisitions.
What else is there but the physical substrate at birth and all the
things that happen afterward? It is not all nature, not all in the
genes, not all in the physical makeup. Neither is it all nurture,
all in one's life experience, all in one's learning. Rather, a person
is a combination of both nature and nurture. Together, nature and
nurture cover all the possibilities, including intuition, imagination,
deep spiritual understandingand even free will and Jung's "collective
unconscious," to the extent that they exist. Physical influences
and cultural influences have together made each of us what we are
today. That's the realityand in some eyes the bad news. The
very good news is that this process never stops, and through exposure
to new influences people can change.
exposure to new influences. As I see it, if we happen to be blessed somewhere
along the way by encountering an influence that leads us to seek other
positive influences, we are blessed indeed. To me, the closest thing we
have to free will is this ability to select among influences.
influences that have had the greatest influence in my life were a physical
start that included health, above average intelligence, and curiosity.
I had supportive parents, and early schooling that fed my curiosity rather
than stifling it as many schools do. Success in my engineering career
led to my ego needs being met and my opening up to Maslow's concept of
self-actualization of "becoming all you're capable of becoming."
Much reading after that helped my psychological development, and there's
a list of the books that influenced me psychologically and spiritually
in Chapter 14 of my book Toward Wisdom. But it was mindfulness
meditation, particularly in retreat situations, that has been the most
powerfully transforming influence in my life. Yoga, as you know, is another
meditative practice it is my spouse Bev's first choice.
obviously well-launched toward a satisfying life, Erin. Great to hear
PS All three
of my wisdom-related books are available as free, downloadable, Acrobat
eBooks. Click here
to find out more.