With the current dominant world view, there is an enormous tendency to focus on “mass” – mass production, mass consumption – and to focus on quantities – GDP, profit, numbers “in work” etc. This all seems to drive core values of conformity and uniformity. We have ever more protocols and algorithms which are supposed to deliver “evidence based outcomes”. We find one-size-fits-all policies in health care, education, economics and politics. Difference is described as “variation” to be eliminated and “integration” is about forcing people with different values and beliefs to conform.
What values and what kind of world view might develop from a positive prioritisation of difference?
A shift from the general to the particular.
Human beings are brilliant at spotting patterns, classifying them and naming them. We categorise by moving quickly from specific instances to general characteristics. We do that by stripping away the context and homing in on one or a few characteristics. By doing so we quickly lose sight of the individual, of the reality of the uniqueness of every person, every experience, every organism. And we quickly lose sight of the whole.
If we keep our eyes and ears open for the differences, then we take these generalised patterns which we spot and then consider how this particular instance fits, or doesn’t fit into those generalities. In other words we do what Iain McGilchrist describes in his “Divided Brain” – we perceive with the right cerebral hemisphere, analyse and classify a part of that with the left, then hand that analysis back to the right for further integration.
A shift from quantities to qualities.
“Lies, damned lies, and statistics”? Does the total number of people with jobs mean very much? Or is the nature and content of those jobs important? Does it matter if the jobs are zero-hour contracts, or full-time, more than minimum wage contracts? Does it matter if the jobs are to manufacture chemical weapons, or chemotherapy?
In health care, in education, in politics or society, because these are human institutions, its the quality which matters, not just the numbers.
A shift from seeing the world as composed of fixed objects, to seeing the world as a complex system which is continuously growing and evolving.
A shift from conformity to diversity.
Should we all have the same beliefs, the same values and make the same choices? If I choose one modality of health care when I am ill, and you choose another, is that a good thing? Or is it better that we both receive the authorised treatment which the protocol demands? Nature thrives on diversity. Monocultures are not natural.
A shift from a focus on parts to a focus on connections.
When we focus on parts, we tend to reduce what we are considering to objects. But no object exists in isolation. Everybody, every creature and every “thing” on our planet has a history. We all emerge out of what already exists. In the here and now we are inextricably linked to who and what is around us. Our left cerebral hemisphere is great at focusing on the parts. Our right is fabulous at focusing on the connections – the “between-ness” (to use Iain McGilchrist’s term)
A shift to integration.
Integration is the creation of mutually beneficial relationships between well-differentiated parts.
Think of the human body. A heart is distinctly different from a liver. To be healthy we need both, and we need both to be working in ways which maximise the health of the other. Our heart and liver are not in competition. They are not fighting it out to see who survives – only the strongest? Instead, they function best by integrating. I think we can see the same principle at work everywhere – or at least in all complex systems, from living organisms, to families, societies, cultures and environments.
A shift to seeing the flow of change
Nothing stays the same. We have cycles of growth and cycles of destruction. We see change which describe as growth and maturation, from (in the case of human beings) single cells, a spermatozoon and an ovum, to a fertilised egg, which grows into a foetus, a child, and then a fully grown adult. to And from the first moments of the Universe until now we see not just change in terms of growth and maturation, but a direction of change which we call evolution – we see an increase in complexity from the first hydrogen based stars to human beings with consciousness.
Whether in terms of maturation, or evolution, what we see is flourishing – the coming to fullness of all a being can be.
So, here’s my starting list of values
What might the world become if we prioritised these values?