Have you ever been shocked out of your complacency?

Has your worldview ever been so twisted out of shape that you end up standing on the outside looking in? ‎

It happens quite frequently and I think most of us have experienced it at one time or another. Let me explain.

Elizabeth’s cell phone rarely seems to work. When it is though she often leaves it at home, in the van or worse takes it with her without a fresh charge. It’s a little frustrating for those of us who rely on our phones. So June, her Mom, gave her the cell she owns, but rarely uses. She wants my wife to use up some of the minutes she’s been stocking up.  When I get an incoming call from her number it appears on my BlackBerry as “A call from June Rath.” My Mother-in law. Her Mom. My wife.

So there I am driving home from work and planning to pick my kids up after school. Minding my own business. I had just received an email from Elizabeth and everything was fine. Status quo. I was in a comfortable space and listening to an audio book – Buddhism for Busy People. I know. The title makes no sense. My phone plays I’ll Go Crazy, by U2. It’s my ringtone. “A call from June Rath” appears on the screen of my Blackberry. “Why is she phoning me,” I think. “We just saw her yesterday and now she’s back home in Orillia.” I thought that maybe she needed help or perhaps she was stranded with a flat tire – something along those lines. ‎I answered the call. It was Elizabeth. I was stunned. I froze. Shivers up my spine. My immediate thought was how had she been able to drive to Orillia so fast. Why did she go in the first place? How come she hadn’t told me? What about the kids? What’s going on?  The spiral downwards comes quickly.

Then I remembered. It all made sense. Elizabeth had her Mother’s cell. How did I forget that little, but significant detail? A single moment in time that brought with it a shift in perspective and worldview that was, for an instant, a little frightening. I had been shocked out of my complacency. Happens a few times a month to me. And just as quickly as I am shocked out I find myself then back on the inside track. My senses and mind had been thrown off ever so slightly and yet it made a significant difference. Philosophers might call it a phenomenological shift. From one headspace to another in the twinkling of an eye. It’s all about perspective people will say, but the reality is it’s so very true.

For me this is a remarkable reminder of how stuck in our structures, worldviews and mindsets we all really are. It’s why it’s so hard to create; why we have trouble seeing others viewpoints as valid; why there’s so much war in this world. It’s why cross-cultural awareness is tough to be aware of. If you don’t fit into my framework then get the hell out.

We all see the world in a particular way.  That can be both liberating and can suffocate at the same time. It’s the system – one that operates without glitches, for most of us, most of the time. Mathematics works very well if you accept the presuppositions.

My son and a friend were playing checkers on a board that was about one square meter in size. The pieces were as big as coasters and the kids sometimes had to walk around the board to make their moves. It made it hard to play. It was difficult to strategize in any way. The perspective was all off. The board looked like it was smaller and had fewer squares and yet was three times the size of a regular checkers board. It required an understanding that would have allowed us all to indwell the particulars of this different approach to the game. A whole new set of tacit knowledge that we didn’t possess and could only be acquired thought practice. Something here about old dogs and new tricks that is meaningful it seems to me.

“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.”

That’s what Morpheus so rightly said in the brilliant 1999 film The Matrix. Michel Foucault called it Discipline and Punish wrote about it in my December 26th blog. An ideological hold on us that has such a strong grip it tightens as we continue to idly live our lives from day to day.

It’s a particular way of seeing the world that has allowed us to become pleasantly complacent. The power that it wields we rarely see or acknowledge. This structural invisibility or intangibility allows us to move here and there quite easily, but as Foucault says not so freely. We can find ourselves restricted by the very structures that we rely on to do this and that. Does that make any sense? We’re comfortable and so why we would do anything differently. It is what it is after all. The structure allows us to live, but live according to what or whom?

  • Why don’t we want to fight the system?
  • Why do we want to protect it?
  • What’s really in it for us?

Foucault said we run the danger of being so gripped by the framework, worldview and structure that it gets in the way of seeing others, the world and ourselves in their true light.

‎The next time you experience a phenomeno-shift of this kind think about all that holds us back as individuals, communities and Canadians. Imagine breaking out of the framework more often than not. Get outside of that wretched box. Breathe freely.

What are we missing out on because of the assumptions we make that block us from authentic growth, wisdom and change?

DP – 02-2014