Grasshoppers and Ants

In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” ~ Czesław Miłosz

It is not easy to keep silent when silence is a lie.” ~ Victor Hugo

Mt Blackcomb
Mt Blackcomb

Most of you have probably experienced the “false consensus effect” in yourself: you become interested in a topic (let’s say, “homeschooling”) and suddenly it seems as this is everywhere: you start seeing articles in the news, books in the library, people bring it up to conversations and it becomes easy to find support groups, programs and materials.

Reality is vast and diverse, but we can’t focus on all the things at the same time: otherwise we would go crazy. Our eyes have the capacity to see all what’s in front of them and even on the sides of your head. But your brain is selective and chooses only what it decides is more important or urgent…the other images stay in your brain, but they are ignored by your consciousness and may come up during your dreams or if forced to remember. Similar processes happen with our hearing, feeling, smelling and so on…it is called “selective attention” and when it affects our cognition; its name is “selective perception

The same happens with the topics we focus on: they become “our truth” and we suddenly believe that more people are engaged on the same than what is true. This is the reason behind political and social campaigns gone wrong: leaders and followers over-estimate the numbers of those who support them (“false consensus effect”) and then are surprised when they lose elections or support for an idea…

False consensus is also reinforced by ourselves as we tend to read, watch and listen to media, books and documentaries that have a similar worldview or represent a similar interest. We even hang out with like-minded people or at least work, study and/or live with people who share similar cultural background, economic class and so on: social workers and career counsellors like myself tend to work, at least 9-5 with other social workers and career counsellors.

While both selective attention and perception may have good reasons to exist (imagine how our lives were if we paid attention to absolutely everything in front of us!) and act as both psychological and social protection (of “who” we are and what groups we belong, both human needs), they can also block the flow that is so necessary to solve complex problems (or, as we have, predicaments)

This functions the same both at the individual as at the social/community/global level: there are times in life where we need to force ourselves to be open and accept things that may be against our schemas, beliefs and worldviews…

In the chapter called “Protect, ban, save and stop” of George Marshall’s book “Don’t even think about it” he shares how climate change became an “environmental” issue and how that framed it as something different from other (more urgent in most people’s minds) problems such as war, poverty, unemployment, crime and the sort…

Words, says Marshall have “frames” attached to them and the same happens with other cues or code-guides that become common among people who “belong” to a certain worldview: for many, “environmentalists” or “greens” represent a bunch of doom sayers who are always extremist about “protecting, banning, saving and stopping” things…Marshall shares: “the codes are another strong reason why so many people ignore climate change: the visual and metaphorical language that surrounds climate change marks it, irredeemably, as an environmental issue.” And later he writes: “..for many working people, meatpacking plants, factories, power plants, and traffic jams mean development and paid employment. Multi-lane freeways mean mobility and freedom.”

In other words, when you need to pay the bills, feed your children or keep a roof over your head, climate change sounds like a very far away thing or even a barrier for your personal goals and priorities.

What all this mean to all of us?

I am a lucky person; I was blessed with diversity and wonderful surprises all around me all my life and that made me a pretty open person: I have lived in three different countries/cultures and moved among different groups and classes. In a way, never “belonging” to a particular group, being an out-cast allows you to see things differently and not-so-attached to frames and worldviews…what for others may be a curse, was always an opportunity for me: the opportunity of exploring different worlds and see things from a distance.

My first clash with the reality of “not belonging” and people’s frames came when I was around six-year-old: a classmate (girl) asked me if I believed in God (I guess I was already a bit weird-looking for her standards). When I answered “No” her face became pale and scared. She yelled: “then you must believe in Devil!”…

Ombu tree in Buenos Aires, my city
Ombu tree in Buenos Aires, my city

I didn’t have the words (or the knowledge) at that early age to explain my relationship with trees, animals and the soil, or how I travelled in dreams and had already met a friend who has since manifested through so many humans and events in my life…but I did feel segregated and couldn’t understand why she would see the world as black-and-white (God or Devil) and not be curious enough to ask what I was feeling…

In a comment to my last post, a great blogger and almost sister-in-spirit, Carol, shared a link to a fable: “The Ant and the Grasshopper”. The grasshopper enjoys life while it is fun and easy and mocks the ant that doesn’t join him because she is helping her community to save food for the winter time. As expected, winter comes and ants enjoy communal food while the grasshopper dies of hunger.

I wouldn’t like to be labelled as an ant…or a grasshopper. But there are things I know are truth for everybody in this planet: you and me, “environmentalists”, “deniers”, “delusionals”, “permaculturists” and all those in between, all need fresh air, clean water, soil to grow our food, resources to build shelters and clothes…we all need to live in a relatively stable climate and we all care about our loved ones.

But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can’t last.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

We all live in this planet, but we also live in different “worlds”: people are at different levels of understanding of issues and we all carry our own “frames” on our shoulders…patience and compassion may be good ways of allowing each and every one of us to deal with what’s happening…except that the winter is approaching a bit fast and ants are not enough to deal with the burden of collecting enough food for everybody or sharing the news that better stop the party.

The world is full of colours (and apparently, shades of grey too); the world is full of objects, ideas and people and beings and facts we choose not to perceive due to our selective attention or perception. But when all what we care about is being threatened, we can no longer stick to our lens…

And no matter what the words carry or how the messengers look like, there are times, where blue is blue and red is red…which pill will you choose?

 

On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

For more on Climate Science Denial, check this upcoming course (free MOOC) at edX: https://www.edx.org/course/making-sense-climate-science-denial-uqx-denial101x

8 thoughts on “Grasshoppers and Ants

  1. It’s always so hard to speak from outside of your own perspective, and there is always the need to connect with people who share and offer support. But I also think that as people we are sensual and very attuned to beauty, texture, scent and sound, and the ability to live simply (which is why holidays always feel so good for so many people…getting away from it all).

    It seems so much easier for people to live outside of the system to bring about change/not resist it. But Andy Fisher spoke about the environmental movement as the initiator of conversation, and the way that these conversations will hopefully (one day) become mainstream, and people will live by them. Of course, we can only hope. But I think everyone who adds to those conversations and brings them to life for even one other person adds to the chain of connection which will ultimately make a difference.

    It’s hard work though. I hope you are having a lovely day, Silvia.

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    1. Hi Nicci, there is truth in what you said…but “environmentalists” are abig group and it is also true that some cut all possible communication by the words and frames they use, sometimes being very judgemental, segregating and using doom-like words and images. I thin George Marshall point is how many deniers and those in between have been in many ways more successful transmitting and conveying not only information (or miss information) but also strong feelings…theremaybe a need of a common language, which is difficult because each grouo tends to create its own frames and words…the thing is, climate change is terrible and affects all, not only a few…so it is time to find the commonalities: what all need and the basics of what all want for ourselves and our children…even if all is already lost and doomed, how do we want to spend the time that we have left? And if we are not, what kind of planet, life and options do we want those who come after us to inherit? With few exceptions, I risk that even grasshoppers, if pressed, want tolive good lives and leave something worth behind…

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      1. I think the judgement, shame narratives, can be very isolating, and the move back into feeling, exploring and emotion is so important. This is true with social justice as well, I think. And particularly because when people feel shamed, they withdraw from conversation.

        I also think that people have goodness within, and being able to access that is important. I like the “how do we want to live in the world?” question too. Silivia, have you seen ‘the university of the trees’? They have quite a beautiful program that you might like to connect with.

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      2. Well, all this issue of climate change and its different siblings has created even more judgement and segregation among those who believe and those who don’t, above those who do somthing or live in certain ways and those who don’t and has also created elites of those whose lives climate change has not yet touched and those who have been dramatically affected…we are not excempt from some of these biases as we are part of the predicament. Checking the university of the trees right now, sounds interesting…thanks! 🙂

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  2. Sylvia, I love what you have done with this fable and selective attention. It brought to mind another fable or myth – the gift and curse of Cassandra: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassandra.

    As someone who often listens deeply, observes, and reflects before speaking in meetings or discussions, and then asks deeper questions, I have often been met with silence. Then, someone else returned the conversation to “business as usual” topics as if my question was never spoken. Later, someone else will come up to me and acknowledge that my question got to the heart of issues, but it was too threatening for people. They needed to return to safer topics. Safer topics like taking care of immediate responsibilities without considering the consequences.

    Now, instead of speaking, I try to live what I see as an example. Yet I’m surrounded by people who only live in the moment – worried more about the superficial appearances of their yards or their body images. The chemicals they spread on their lawns, and the disregard they have for their children affects not only my sense of peace, it affects the future state of the earth everyone will inherit. The groups that focus on progressive change, comprised of leaders and followers rather than comrades, tend to be focused on overcoming one “evil” rather than on a larger vision of what could be. Today, as many people in my community rush off to Walmart to buy yet more disposal unnecessary things, I’m at a loss for more effective approaches I can take to help people understand the consequences of inaction and care about others and the earth. (Sorry for the dark mood – sometimes I just need to ask the obvious question – what can we do?)

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    1. Dear Carol, you are an awakener. Your description of the silence and people not paying attention because they can’t process deeper, challenging but necessary questions is not only the story of my life: I think it is alsithe story of ths world and that behind the predicaments we have today…as you mentioned, you just asked a powerful yet terribly difficult question: “what can we do?”…I’m currently taking a break between finals from “Plant Biology” but promise will keep this in mind…the same question has haunted me all these years but its urgency has exacerbated in the last few weeks as reports come more and more serious…as I write this, the sun is shinning after yesterday’s storm and a squirrel is running from one tree to the next. Embrace life, offer love and compassion, build hope by doing little and big things, speak up…be fully aware. That may be my temporary answer…♥

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