Projects Overview (Explanations)
World Problems Project (Explanations)
World Problems Project
1. Experiential phases and modes
The contents of the core sections of thisEncyclopedia might be understood as linked over time in terms of the problemsand values encountered under different challenges to human development.There are many concepts of the phases of human development (SectionH). The possibility of such an ordering might best be illustrated throughone which links such phases to value dilemmas.
It is instructive, for some purposes, toview phases as succeeding each other in time, possibly over a life cycle.It can also be useful to view such phases as being possible at any stageof a life cycle, but with different probabilities. It may therefore bemore fruitful to consider that an individual of any physical age can beat different experiential ages with respect to each value dilemma.
Different people may thus be faced by differentdilemmas at the same stage of life cycle, or by the same dilemmas whenthey are at different stages of a life cycle.
2. Value crises in a life cycle
In Erik Erikson's scheme (Childhoodand Society, 1963), each individual goes through 8 stages in life.In each stage a value crisis is experienced which is crucial for continueddevelopment. The stages, with their corresponding crises are as follows:
- Infancy (basic trust vs. basic mistrust)
- Early childhood (autonomy vs. doubt)
- Play age (initiative vs. guilt)
- School age (industry vs. inferiority)
- Adolescence (identity vs. role confusion)
- Young adulthood (intimacy vs. isolation)
- Adulthood (generativity vs. stagnation orself-absorption)
- Mature adulthood (integrity vs despair)
Note that each value conflict is not resolvedonce and for all at the time the stage is traversed. It arises again ateach subsequent stage of development. In transcending each crisis, it isneither necessary nor desirable to eliminate the negative portion of thevalue-polarity. The challenge is to ensure the emergence of an appropriatebalance or dynamic between the two value extremes at each stage.
Resolution of any value dilemma cannotreadily be based on any formula or argument. Whilst there may be logicalarguments concerning the nature of the appropriate balance, these willbe challenged by subtleties of experience that will highlight the existenceof degrees of freedom other than those encompassed by any explicable patternof concepts.
3. Moral and ethical dilemmas (virtuesand sins)
An effort has been made by Donald Capps(Deadly Sins and Saving Virtues, 1987) to relate the stages in thislife-cycle theory to the traditional basic sins and corresponding virtuesof the Christian tradition (taking into account reservations concerningmale bias noted by critics of Erikson's original theory). This is of interestbecause of the view that such root sins engender other problems by a sortof "domino effect". Analogous views can be found in other traditions, notablythe Buddhist.
To make such an inquiry more topical, suchroot afflictions, or psycho-social traps, need to be recognized at a grouplevel rather than solely at the individual level. In this way the linkto societal problems is more firmly established.
Capps associates a "deadly sin" with eachstage. Each such sin is appropriate to the corresponding stage as a prominentfactor in the moral or spiritual life of that period, whose basic psychodynamicsit reflects. The sins are not rigidly tied to particular stages but arelinked to them through their common psychodynamics. Sins may thus emergeearlier or later than the stage with which they are primarily associated.Capps elaborates an 8-fold set of sins in the following sequence correspondingto the above stages: gluttony, anger, greed, envy, pride, lust, apathy,melancholy. There are striking resemblances to the Buddhist equivalents(see Section PZ).
4. Group sins or afflictions
With increasing reference in the 1980sto "corporate greed", it is interesting to explore the possible collectiveequivalents to these sins. In the light of Capps analysis, these mightrun as follows:
- Excessive consumption of resources, especiallyenergy
- Collective anger, especially expressed inviolence
- Collective greed, especially in the accumulationof resources
- Collective envy, especially for resourcescontrolled by others
- Collective pride, typically as arrogance andtriumphalism
- Collective lust for power, typically as expansionism
- Collective apathy, typically in response toemerging problems
- Collective despair, typically in acknowledgingcurrent impotence and in recollecting past failures
5. Appropriate responses and saving virtues
Traditionally, and as developed by Eriksonand Capps, there are characteristic saving virtues through which peoplecan most effectively respond to the above sins. Equivalents are to be foundin the Buddhist and other traditions. These too tend to become particularlysignificant at different stages of the life-cycle. Using the same sequence,they are as follows, again expressed in terms of what might be their collectiveequivalents:
- Hope, which is expressed both individuallyand collectively
- Will (or Courage), especially in frequentappeals for the "generation of the political will to change"
- Purpose (or Dedication), increasingly evidentin the formulation of "mission statements" and implicit in "resolutions"
- Competence (or Discipline), increasingly stressedas vital for effective management
- Fidelity or Loyalty, increasingly a concernof corporate human relations programmes and security procedures
- Love, increasingly explicit in "green" approachesto the environment and traditionally implicit in recognition of the "brotherhoodof mankind"
- Care, especially evident in relief programmes
- Wisdom, occasionally acknowledged in callsfor collective wisdom and statesmanship
In the Buddhist tradition, the equivalentsmight be considered to be the component elements of the Eightfold NoblePath:
- Right outlook;
- Right speech;
- Right acts;
- Right livelihood;
- Right endeavour;
- Right mindfulness;
- Right rapture of concentration.
6. Implications for sustainable development
From this perspective the challenge ofsustainable development is one of both comprehending and giving form tobalance. It is the imbalanced resolution of the value dilemmas which engendersproblems. The difficulty is that whilst it may be easy to talk of "balance",it is quite another matter to comprehend its nature in practice (as isreadily appreciated in learning to ride a bicycle). The dynamic balance,or Buddhist "middle way", involves eight degrees of freedom, when expressedin terms such as those above.
7. Proactive response to the challengeof appropriateness
It is ironic that understanding of anysuch scheme of sins and virtues in the West tends to be somewhat passive,in that any significance it has is determined by the slow development througha life-cycle. Any battles against "sin" remain private and personal matters,without any sense of strategy, as with the cultivation of "virtues". Inthis sense any form of personal improvement is considered to be largelyan illusion within establishment institutions and disciplines (except underthe guise of acquisition of marketable skills by training and experience).
By contrast, spiritual traditions in theEast appear to challenge this passive determinism, rejecting the fatalisticsubjection to the current life-cycle in favour of programmes of spiritualdisciplines with acknowledged phases and insights through which the individualis transformed. The West has developed sciences of "development" designedto transform society, whilst assuming that human beings themselves onlychange through ageing and the acquisition of skills. The East has developedsciences of personal transformation, whilst assuming that any effects onsociety are lacking in lasting significance. The West has focused on thegrowth of society, neglecting the growth of the individual. The East hasdone the reverse. The West focuses on the life-cycle of the individual,whereas the East focuses on the spiritual cycle or journey (irrespectiveof how it may relate to the physical life-cycle).
8. Development of insight in learningcycles
Schemes such as the above suggest thatpeople or groups at different learning stages generate different kindsof problems and can usefully cultivate corresponding strengths to counterthem. It is unreasonable to expect any form of general consensus or sharedunderstanding in such a dynamic context. This could only emerge throughinsights into interweaving cycles of development.
Whilst the management skills to organizesuch initiatives have been developed by the West, it is the East whichappears to have a more profound articulation of the qualities of insightthat need to be developed and how they need to be interwoven to reduceproblem generation.
The situation is of course totally confusedby the claims of both management "gurus" in the West and of spiritual "gurus"from the East, all with markets to cultivate and under competitive pressureto offer distinct products to potential customers. It remains to be discoveredhow their genuine insights can be effectively interwoven in response tothe challenge of the times.
9. Disempowering injunctions
If there are eight things to be held inbalance, as when learning to ride a bicycle, injunctions concerning anyof them may be less than helpful. The difficulty is that, although thelearner may have some knowledge of what is meant by any one injunction("care", or "right mindfulness"), this knowledge is limited precisely becausethe person (or group) has not yet learnt its full significance in practice.
Efforts to ensure implementation of theinjunction, through obedience to rules or procedures, do not guaranteeachievement of the requisite level of insight. They may help to orientthe learner, but they may also discourage and disempower. This is particularlythe case when the learner has sufficient insight to recognize that thereal challenge does not lie at the level of mechanical rules and proceduresbut in what amounts to the aesthetics of balance. At this level, it isless a question of whether the rules are obeyed to the letter and morea question of whether balance is maintained. Perfection may lie, as withan important principle of Japanese aesthetics, in the harmony of imperfections.
Exhortation and injunction may in manysituations simply lead to what amounts to "learning fatigue" -- an appropriatecomplement to "compassion fatigue". In this sense they can be totally counter-productive.
In this light, the focus in the internationalcommunity on elaborating declarations, rules and agreements may well orientusefully those addressed, but it fails to address the challenge of howthey are to learn the secrets of balance. Worse, it reinforces the viewsof those focused on single-factor explanations and remedies, such as "marketforces", "peace", "conservation", "equality", or "love". For them the answersare already self-evident and there is no collective learning challenge.Such approaches may be necessary, but they are not sufficient to obtainan understanding of the balance ultimately required for sustainable humandevelopment.
10. Intriguing dilemmas and developmentalkoans
In one sense the issue is the classic challengeof how the learning process can be made attractive, interesting or seductive.However the emphasis is not only learning things which can be taught mechanicallyor by rote. Rather it is the question of catalyzing the leap of imaginationthrough which a new paradigm is grasped experientially enabling energiesto be controlled in new ways. There are some classic responses to thischallenge:
- (a) Sufi tales of Nasruddin: TheSufis have deliberately cultivated an extensive set of teaching stories.They are brief, witty and call for a paradoxical switch in perspective.They may told purely for entertainment, thus ensuring their survival andwide dissemination, or they may be the basis for discussion and meditation.Such fables exist in other cultures. However it is those of the Sufis whichare best designed to maintain the challenge to insight and to resist simplisticinterpretation.
(b) Paradoxical aphorisms: All cultureshave a store of paradoxical aphorisms which point to value dilemmas, holdingtheir tension rather than indicating a simplistic way forward. Of coursethere are many other aphorisms which do the latter.
(c) Zen koans: These are deliberatelydesigned as challenges to understanding, irritating the mind at the levelat which it would like to respond to a dilemma so that finally it is forcedto another level of understanding.
(d) Riddles and puzzles: In manytraditions there are riddles and puzzles, often associated with magic.These point to the need to move beyond obvious modes of understanding tobreakthrough to other forms of insight.
(e) Paradoxical strategies: In psychotherapyincreasing attention is paid to the advantages of enjoining people to actin a manner contrary to that which they expect. Through encouraging themto act in a manner which, at one level, they know to be inappropriate,they achieve a fruitful relationship to what they need to learn.
(f) Meditation: Given the attentionof Buddhists to these issues, it is not surprising that they have developedvery explicit meditation techniques concerned with the development of understandingof the appropriate attitude from which to response to the value dilemmas.These are designed specifically to avoid engendering the kinds of problemswhich result from imbalance. The techniques are not only considered withthe imbalance associated with particular dilemmas, but also with the levelof balance required to respond simultaneously to all the dilemmas. Themandala is one diagrammatic representation of this understanding although,as a mnemonic device, the issue is with what insight meditators can learnto "read" it.
(g) Computer graphics: New developmentsin computer-generated graphics are permitting imagery to be generated whichdoes not conform to the rules of the physical universe. Viewing such imageryis a direct challenge to the imagination and calls for a basic shift inperspective. Such techniques could well be adapted to encourage insightsinto dilemmas and new forms of balance.
8. Encapsulating sets of dilemmas
The classical sets of eight value dilemmasrepresent a well-established approach to human development. It could beargued that the challenge of the times calls for a more powerful statementof the dilemmas of global society. If the issue is not one of learningfacts and responding to injunctions, where is the set of learning "puzzles"enabling individuals to obtain their own unique insights into the kindsof balance required for physical and psychic survival?
Different traditions and cultures mightbe explored to locate the "riddles" to which we are called to respond.Others might be designed by different disciplines. In a period when educationis increasingly problematic, sets of 3, 5, 8, 12, or more intriguing challengescould offer a powerful complement to factual learning. The possibilityis seductive because the answers to the dilemmas cannot be effectivelyverbalized without denaturing them. The "right answer" is one which opensnew vistas and feels "right" for the individual. They are a matter of personal(and possibly group) experience, difficult to share.
How might the challenge of sustainablehuman development be expressed in this way -- as a major step beyond thedisempowering and ineffectual injunctions on which so much confidence isvainly placed by the well-intentioned?
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential