Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Individuals versus the "Collective"
I heard a very good and brief (and that was part of what made it good) speech the other night at a school closing ceremony. The principal compared the graduating class with making a cake. He explained that in making a cake you add sugar, flour, milk, baking soda and other ingredients that on their own really aren't that good. You combine them, add some cooking time and end up with something that is better than the individual parts. He went on to explain that the graduating class was NOT like cake. He said the students were more like apples, and oranges, chocolate and potatoes; ingredients that were better alone, rather than combined. He encouraged the students to think about that as they moved forward making individual decisions, and pursuing personal dreams. Interesting that both kids and parents liked that speech.
The principal might have been venting a bit. I don't think the particular class was the easiest to work with. Certainly we have both historical and modern evidence that documents the destructive power of groups. In emergency management, such negative mass energy has been studied in detail. The Coconut Grove fire in Boston in 1942 where 492 people were killed when fire broke out in a night club is one of those examples often used to predict collective/crowd action. The riots in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup playoffs are perhaps the most recent example. Most of the looters and people that did destructive acts would not likely have acted alone, but once started, it became a mass consciousness that was destructive.
We seemed focused lately on combined energy and we talk about a "collective consciousness". Often the response has been that together, we can bring positive things to the world and make as positive a difference as some of the bigger negative or destructive forces. That may be true. That may also be dangerous. What seems good and positive today, may later appear in history as another great atrocity. When one group or crowd makes a decision on what another group needs, even when decided with the best intentions, the results are often not good in the long run.
Maybe we should all be just working on individual levels. We are schooled to think that very statement is an example of narrow minded thinking and selfishness. Maybe it's not. Maybe we can only see the world from our own individual perspective and perhaps we should put more thought to that. I'm not suggesting we not help other people that want and need help. But maybe we should be looking internal a bit more than we do- even if it feels uncomfortable. Maybe because it feels uncomfortable. It's easier to go with the flow, follow the crowd, jump on a cause to make us feel good about ourselves. But that's making cake, and maybe we are destroying some really good individual ingredients in the process.
Maybe what is best for the universe is to shine our individual lights. To pursue the thoughts, dreams, energies and forces that feel right to us individually- alone. We don't need other people to shine in the same way. Perhaps the universe if fully capable of collecting all that individual positive energy in a way that truly enriches and brings good to us all. Maybe we don't need to figure out how, we just need to do our own thing in a postive way.
My grandmother had a very interesting approach to making cake. As very little kids she let us all into her kitchen at once. She gave each of us a bowl a spoon a small pan. In the center of the table there was flour, sugar and salt. We mixed as much of it together in whatever combination we wanted in our own bowl. There were no instructions. She helped us pour or stir if we wanted help. She left us alone if we didn't. We added water to make it like a paste (also works as glue I found out later!). Once we had our "cake batter" we were allowed to go to the pantry and select whatever we wanted from the shelves. Usually there were gumdrops, sometimes chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, fruit. You could add in peppermints if you wanted. None of cared what anyone else made- we didn't even look. They were all baked in individual pans for the same amount of time. I think our grandmother was the time keeper. Once cooled slightly, we all took them outside and ate our own creations. No one ever wanted to share. Everyone was happy. What was fun that was that we were sharing a space,and a process. We were working together, but all on individual goals, and we were the sole judges of our own creations. As far as my grandmother was concerned, "you made your cake and ate it too". There was a lot of giggling throughout the entire process. It's a great memory. She would have appreciated the Principal's speech I think.