Empathic Civilization

I have had a hell of a time writing anything over the past few weeks. I’ve sit down to write a number of times with only frustration at the helm. I channelled that frustration into a reactive fb post the other day and each response was a taste of the very reactive flavor I first issued. People respond to the energy you carry – in writing, conversation, and body language, even in thought. More and more research shows the correlations between the worlds and systems we believed to be separate. Mind and matter are one presentation of energy bound up together in their unique covenants. Even more to the point… of my point… is one of my favorite youtube shorts, a RSA animate film by Jeremy Rifkin called, “The Empathic Civilization”:

Rifkin communicates a frame of reference, a perspective, that challenges the assumption of separations – what does the Bible have to do with San Francisco? …very little according to the recent study here: http://cities.barna.org/americas-most-bible-minded-cities-2014/ (I’ll come back to this point below)

Rifkin highlights the research from multiple disciplines including child development, neuro-biology, evolutionary biology, sociology, psychology and shows that humans (and now we know multiple species: elephants, dolphins, dogs, cats, etc.) have empathy almost soft-wired – empathic distress and development is as human as our own self-hood, indeed they have evolved together. Empathy is rooted in our mortality, Rifkin explains, and it flows from a celebration of life and the realization that we must support one another to survive. We are homo-empathicus.

Rifkin extends his analysis to ask a question: since the evolution of consciousness has gifted us with empathy, can we now extend that empathy on a global scale… to include those different than us, even other species and our biosphere?

The evolution of consciousness is the key to unlock our empathic potential. There are many brilliant theories that trace the evolution of consciousness from our deep history into the present, see: Jean Gebser, Ken Wilber, Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard De Chardin, Brian Swimme. Here Rifkin describes the evolution of consciousness as a movement from tribal, to theological, to national identity into what he hopes will be an empathic civilization. I like to approach the evolution of consciousness as an integral event which I feel is a more adequate account of what Rifkin describes here, but I want to pull out a case study from my recent experience referenced briefly above. This experience is a good case study because it highlights the responsibility upon us to communicate across/between/through perspectives to grow our empathic civilization.

During my more frustrated state of things last week, I posted a fb response to the study I referenced above. The study claimed to be a survey of the “spiritual climate” of cities in the US by measuring how much people read the Bible and believe the Bible to be accurate. The title of the last blog I couldn’t quite complete to publish was “Between Two Worlds” – of course, emphasizing the difference between the two places I love and call home – San Francisco, CA and Chattanooga, TN. In the study Chattanooga was ranked #1 and SF #97 out of one hundred. Presumably, according to this study, San Francisco has one of the least spiritual climate and Chattanooga the most spiritual climate out of all cites in the US. (I’m sure… because I’m now in Chattanooga 😉

In my fb post I commented that there was a direct inverse relationship between education and reliance on the Bible – generally, the more educated that you are the less reliant on the Bible and visa-versa. Here my comment flowed from a place of privilege in relationship to education and consciousness but not empathy. In highlighting the difference between paradigms – pitting a theological consciousness against a mental/enlightenment phase of consciousness I lost the ability to communicate empathically, indeed, I was expressing a more tribalist mode of consciousness and it communicated the deep frustration I was experiencing personally at the time. I also commented that people’s commitment to the Bible is an inadequate way to measure spirituality. I heard one time that SF was the most spiritual place on the planet because it was only in SF where new ideas encountered the least resistance. Of those in the Bible Belt, I still find the fundamental misunderstanding between symbolic and literal meaning to be a bulwark against conscious growth. Faith is not when mythical or magical beliefs are dogmatically held against the convictions of knowledge… that is despotism and will ultimately lead to the ruin of a religious culture of creativity. Symbolic truth is desperately needed in our time; it, along with empathy is a doorway to the divine.

It takes a tremendous amount of skill to communicate across modes of consciousness, especially as they are figured/experienced as real world problems, people, cities, perspectives. One of the comments that I received after my antagonistic/frustrated fb post was a call to be “better.” It’s true. I pray to be better and to work harder to bridge the worlds I love with empathy, intelligence, and integral consciousness. I also received a post from a former colleague in grad school that sharpened the meaning of my post with the critical insight our education taught us. Both responses reminded me of who I am and of the work that I am fit to perform. I am a builder of our empathic civilization.

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy

The etymology of the word, Philosophy, means the, “love of wisdom.” Nothing comes quite as close to capturing the meaning of my teaching philosophy as this phrase. Love has placed a call upon my life to teach. Wisdom bids me remember those whose knowledge and work paved the road I now have the privilege to follow and in special moments create.
I teach in the Humanities to transform my life and especially the lives of my students. Without that transformative participation learning is significantly diminished and often lost. As a teacher I am most interested in facilitating learning experiences. Largely, that practice is about building conditions hospitable to learning.

Creating the conditions of learning, gaining the power of attention and the openness to explore new ideas requires continued, ongoing practice. In the classroom I learn with my students how to build curriculum suitable to their level of comprehension, focus, and ability. Mediating the timing and content of course lecture and trajectory, facilitating group work, mixed media and presentations are some of my central roles as a teacher.

My task as an educator in the Humanities is to facilitate balance wherever possible. The distance between individual attention – including special needs based learning – and the task of moving the class toward objective learning goals requires a delicate balance. Central to this balance is building a supportive learning environment without losing the power of rigorous, quality work.

There are few blanket prescriptions that I have found that suffice for every learning environment. Still, there are rubrics that help direct assessment. Student feedbacks, verbal critique, one on one advisement, regular level appropriate testing and quizzing are the foundations of classroom grading.

In special circumstances outside mediation and aid is incredibly helpful to a student. As a teacher I honor the porous boundaries between the classroom and the school and further, the individual and the social. What happens inside and outside the classroom affects learning.

Exercising the humility that I am always, already learning how to be a better teacher guides me toward improvement. For the sake of my calling as a professional educator I continue to learn and teach in service of those who have come before me and those students, who will come after me – this is the wisdom that I love so much.