CULTURES OF MEANING
It’s been a quiet sort of shift. More and more people are moving away from the “work-and-spend” mentality that characterized the latter half of the last century. They are looking for more meaning to add to their lives, they say.
Gregg Easterbrook, in his book, THE PROGRESS PARADOX: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, has pointed out, “A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale—involving hundreds of millions of people – and may be recognized as the principal cultural development of our time.“
WHY THE SHIFT?
Easterbrook suggests, after delineating assorted studies by the guys who study “happiness,” that the whole mindset centered around material want didn’t actually work so well.
The people who got all the stuff they ever wanted or could imagine were not appreciably happier than they were before the stuff showed up.
The problem is, the researchers say, we humans tend to get accustomed to a certain circumstance – good or bad — very quickly. When all of our dreams come true, we start to take for granted all of our fulfilled wishes.
All the wise guys down through the ages tried to warn us: The hunger of our built-in Want Bugs is bottomless.
Get the one absolutely gotta-have-it thing today and tomorrow a new gotta-have-it thing will take its place. It’s like all those wants are on some kind of conveyor belt that just keeps turning and churning.
The wise guys told us: The only thing you can do when you’re stuck on a treadmill is to step off. If a lot of people step off the collective treadmill, then it becomes the start of a movement, the start of another cultural iteration.
This curated YouTube video, “Thanks Internet,” published in 2014 by reKindle.org, shows one change that is happening.
The video is a composite of many videos shared on the Internet by the people trying to help make the world a better place for at least one other person. The result is an amazing feel-good bit of work.
The non-profit organization posted a message at the end of the video asking that people go do good deeds, take a video and tag it with #reKindleKindness.
They want to do more of videos like this one.
WHAT’S A CULTURE OF MEANING?
All cultures are “meaningful.” How not? They are the products of the minds and the lifestyles of a group of people who all live together in it.
The ones that hold the most promise for an individual’s well-being and happiness are the ones that amplify positive values and goals.
Cultures that promote kindness, compassion and love rather than fear, hatred and anger and those that seek to lift up other people rather than inflict harm on them tend to be the ones that grow happy people.
Cultures that cultivate cooperation and participation in something bigger than any one person while tolerating and even honoring individual quirks and idiosyncrasies in its members are more likely to be good for you than those that don’t.
We didn’t really need guys in lab coats to tell us that. It’s sort of built into our gut-knowledge.
MEANING IN THE INTERNET AGE
The coolest thing about this postmodern world of ours is our exposure to so many different cultures, sub-cultures, sub-sub-cultures, primal cultures, hybrid cultures, made-up and made-to-order cultures….and so on.
We are, in fact, drowning in all this information about all the doings of people around the world.
We can touch the lives of people from around the world. We can build our own community or tribe of folks from around the globe.
We can even go retro and just touch the life of somebody who lives down the street.
Here’s a YouTube video, “Grow Some Good: Maui School Gardens,” that was published in 2013 by Ken Surrey.
The video was made by Emmy-winning photographer Jess Craven about how one group of neighbors have built a culture of meaning around the concept of connecting kids to the food they eat by building and supporting school gardens.
The garden featured in the video started with three raised beds and grew, becoming nearly quarter of an acre of food garden and learning lab.
The garden this video spotlights is part of an ongoing project of Grow Some Good, a nonprofit group that has helped to establish food gardens and living science labs in local schools all over the island.
The outdoor classroom lessons support school curriculum in science, math, health and agriculture. The kids study traditional Hawaiian plants and learn the growing practices of native Hawaiians. They also experiment with growing and preparing foods from other cultures as well.
The group builds ongoing community partnerships, recruiting volunteers and supporters that include gardeners and farmers, food educators and assorted businesses as well. Local chefs support the gardens through fundraisers, recipe workshops and harvest parties.
I am remembering the struggle I had as a kid memorizing the words of John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island.” My teacher liked torturing us with all kinds of high-sounding ideas. (I loved her dearly so I gamely tried to not mangle the thing too badly.)
I’ve since learned that Donne was a cleric in the Church of England during the 17th century, who was considered to be one of the leading “metaphysical poets” of the Renaissance era.
The poem my teacher made me recite was actually first written by him in 1624 as a prose “meditation”in his DEVOTIONS UPON EMERGENT OCCASIONS.
The Renaissance was another period of incredible change and reawakening, it seems to me. People were searching for meaning and mana in their own ordinary lives back then too.
Confusion and information overload was also a common theme back then.
Just as we are experiencing in our time of great change, the culture and mindset a person chose to embrace back then affected the way he or she walked through the world.
I am thinking it would be a good thing, as part of this exploration of meaning and mana, to feature other stories in this thing about the “cultures of meaning” that our neighbors and cousins and friends are getting into. What do you think?
Here’s a poem:
The true, the beautiful, the good…
Entrance and beckon me.
Their light, like a candle glows,
Softly embracing the warm dark
Full of beloved shadows.
The true keeps me grounded
While the beautiful helps me play,
And the good is a quiet beacon
That shows me the best way.
The good, the beautiful, the true:
Without them you get lost.
You nourish others with the good,
The beautiful nourishes you,
And you can keep your feet on the ground,
If you’ll just remember the true.
The three enfold your smallness in one gigantic yes
And turns the whole of everything
In ways that only bless.
The beautiful, the true, the good:
You have to have all three.
It cannot only be “us” and “them”;
They all require “we.”
And all of them together
Make a wonderment and delight
That fades away if you stare too hard,
Pontificate, posture, postulate and bite.
By Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “October 21” by R. Crap Mariner via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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22 thoughts on “CULTURES OF MEANING”
I like your post, it’s nice to see the shift happening.
Sometimes we feel alone and isolated but in reality we are part of a great change in our society.
Do you think that the time for change is overdue?. After all it won’t be long before we hit the wall, and at the speed we are going everything is going to get obliterated in the crash.
What is your personal take? Will we see the big shift in our lifetime?
As far as I can tell, this world (and the humans on it) have never stopped changing. And, yet, we’ve always pretty much stayed the same. We still need love. We still can lend a helping hand. We can shine up our own place and celebrate the beauty in this world and the heartfulness of all these other guys all around us.
There are always the doom-and-gloom guys who are convinced that we, as a species, are headed for a fall — any day now. I do not count myself as one of that crowd.
The way I figure it, if I can shine up my own act and make beauty as I am able, and if I can welcome and encourage others to play too, then that is one more vote for continuing in the Infinite Game that we are playing.
I only have that one vote and I want to use it well. I hope others will use their votes well too.
Thanks for the visit and for your thoughts. Please do come again.
My my. What a treat! The composite video of strangers helping homeless folk brought tears to my eyes.
I was delighted to read that you believe there is a movement away from “more stuff” towards “more meaning” and fulfillment. It’s certainly clear to me that more stuff isn’t what our hearts truly seek.
Your page is very well laid out and progresses logically from one point to the next. The use of videos instead of static pics accurately depict the nature of the concepts you are illustrating, and with so much more feeling. It is always more challenging to illustrate abstract ideas than to talk about some “thing” that you can point to in the material world. You’ve done a great job there!
I can’t see any way to make it better. Just please continue onward and bring us along on your search for “Cultures of Meaning”. Many Thanks
Hey Joy: Thanks for your visit and your feedback. I do appreciate it. Please do come again….
I truly enjoy reading your blog.
In deed, we can touch people’s life … with a small gesture.
Often times we refrain from doing so, partially because the good deed being abused by few bad apples, and often times just simply because we are being selfish.
It is heart warming to see “A candle looses nothing by lighting up another candle!”
A society will be its fullest when people put others before themselves.
Hey Pamela: Thanks for your visit and for taking the time to comment. I do appreciate it.
Please do come again….
How good it is to read this post , “Cultures of Meaning” reminding us of the need of finding our humanity. Watching the video brought such a lump in my throat and tears to my eyes. It is so easy to just walk on by forgetting that these are real people. People who need to be recognized and acknowledged as fellow human beings.
We have so many unfortunate people living on the streets and a small act of kindness can bring so much happiness to them.
On moving from a house to a flat, I realized just how much “stuff” one collects over a life time. Things that seem so necessary at the time and you get to realize that it is not the “stuff” but the people in your life that matters.
How important it is to pay it forward, we all have a way in which we can do this.
Thank you, for this reminder.
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Jill. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post.
Please do come again.
Hi Netta. If only change were possible. Personally I believe things will change, but it will be gradual. I think it will take about another three hundred years for mankind to completely alter our current ways of thinking. Before we can actually improve life we need to be able to improve leadership. The current political systems in the world are leading us to destruction, these need to change drastically for us to have any hope. I believe a future change will be a spiritual one, not necessarily religious. Many are taking the first steps towards a better world through conservation, self sufficiency and personal development. But while some are heading in the right direction, other are taking us onto a path of hate, war and disease. Sometimes I wonder if man kind is actually evolving or devolving. Thanks for your thought provoking article. I will be returning for more insights, and thanks for the lovely poem. Jim
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Jim.
I do agree that change is happening and that it probably will be gradual — one person at a time. The world now is so very dark sometimes that I do get disheartened as well…until I remember: All you have to do is light one match, one candle, and it’s not so dark anymore.
Please do come again….
My college lecturer told me that every culture is supreme and must be respected. I come from a culture where you are supposed to respect anyone who is older than you. So when an elderly man comes to a room or a bus, you must give him a seat incase there are no enough seats.
Now we have the internet culture whereby there’s a collection of all the cultures of the world. The meeting ground is Facebook and other social medias. In this culture, many good values from our original cultures is going to easily drown if appropriate measures won’t be putting place.
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I think the cool part about this internet culture of ours is that when all the cultures meet and mingle, new ideas can spark up that can enhance our lives in new and better ways.
One of my friends who is a traditional Polynesian canoe-builder likes to say, “King Kamehameha wouldn’t be wearing a malo (a loincloth) if he was living now. He’d go for Armani or a really good pair of jeans!”
It is a truth, that. Keola (my friend) believes in perpetuating our Hawaiian culture, not just preserving the form of it. He works on remembering and honoring our traditions as well as taking them into the future in new ways that are more easily understood in this day and age.
A culture that does not grow just gets stuck in a museum, he says. It dies.
Yes, I believe many of us really desire the true, the beautiful, and the good in our lives, and I am happy there is a shift in the world to looking for some deeper meaning than the “work and spend” mentality.
I think it important that we embrace such changes because they will help us move the world into a better, healthier, more accepting lifestyle. If we can help ourselves, that is good. If we can help someone else, that is even better. The more we explore the meaning of our life, the more we can learn about ourselves.
Thanks for the visit, Fran, and for sharing your thoughts. Of course, I agree….
Please do come again.
Hi Netta! This post is very good. The idea of the conveyor belt that just keeps turning and churning with the Want Bugs is very helpful.
Finding meaning is definitely a game changer and most of us don’t realize that, or at least we live closing our eyes to this reality. If we don’t realize this, we end up being grown-up kids that are constantly chasing the next toy.
There is a lot of food for our thoughts on this article. Thank you very much!
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Henry. I do appreciate it.
Please do come again.
I ran into one of your previous articles and enjoyed the positivity it brought, I decided to do some surfing around the site to see what else I could run into that would make my day better. I must say, I am not disappointed.
As someone who has recently had a bad economic moment because of COVID, I have been trying to find more ways to add meaning to my time. I’ve learned a lot from this article and the past one I read, thank you so much for the info.
Misael, I’m glad you decided to explore my site and that you found another post that helped.
Please do come again.
Thanks for another great article here. I found this interesting and informaive. I think its very true what you say. It will take some time for things to take a turn and change for the better. But, just from watching human behaviours, we can see that there is hope for this and we will get there in the end
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts Kwidzin. I do appreciate it.
Please do come again.
Thank you for writing this interesting post with deep reflections. And it’s true after the internet and that pandemic people made a big change in people lives. The way of looking for work is different , the earnings are done differently and everything is through internet.
It is time where people stop and think what is important and what do we want to do. And the poem you shared which was written in 1624 is very current in our life today.
Claudia, thanks for adding your thoughts to the post. I’m pleased you found it interesting.
Please do come again.