Sunday, January 29, 2012

The evolution of myth

I just finished Book #2 A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. In it, she walks through each of the stages of civilization and
discusses the myths of those eras. She's quite matter of fact, which on a subject like myth can be a bit disappointing, because it seems like the richness of the subject is lost in her translation, but she did outline an evolution of myth that I found quite interesting and wanted to share.

People have pretty much always spun myths. These weren't codified in writing, obviously, in the early days, but signs of them still remain. Traditions formed around the myths and children were taught their intricacies. These were life lessons - beliefs on how to deal with the existence we are faced with and as existence changed, so did the character of the myths, although they always dealt with answering the main questions about our life and death.

The earliest myths (based on paleolithic graves and observations among pygmie and Aboriginal tribes) were about transcendent experiences. The Sky God overlooked all and represented the ultimate transcendence. But transcendence is a hard thing to hang your understanding of the universe on. Myths cannot focus on the supernatural alone, but need some connection to humanity. They need to be put into practice in order to reveal their hidden truths. The Sky God eventually "disappeared". Some cultures have myths that details how he was removed from the picture. It would put some mobsters to shame.

Shortly after the Sky God exited, myths were formed that focused more concretely on the reality of death. Society was becoming agrarian and struggled to tie the cycle of the harvest to the passage of their lives. Strong, vengeful female goddesses emerged who set the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in motion.

From the farms, man moved to towns and cities. Myths in the era of urbanization were built to explain order's fight with chaos.

Finally, at the dawn of many of today's established religions, in the scientific era, man turned to logic before myth. To order, to experiment, to evidence. Without myth to give structure and meaning to life, society began to despair. Cruel acts of unspeakable violence emerged as the myths that taught compassion, the ability to identify with your fellow man, were pushed aside in favor of cold, hard facts.

So here we sit. Desperately seeking someone to pull us back to a life full of stories and myth and hope. In need of myths that can help us to understand the latest permutation of life on this planet. Who will take up that lead? Organized religion is mired in ritual that has lost its meaning. Perhaps the arts is a better place to look. And to each and every one of us, telling stories and making life a little better for all who listen.

We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow beings, not simply those who belong to our ethnic, national, or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion,which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a 'resource'.

We need stories - go tell one.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My day job is all about data, and yet...

I believe in data driven decision-making. I believe that data can be the backbone to a story and is often a compelling aspect of changing corporate minds.

But data isn't everything. Data alone is a snore to those not equipped to or interested in swimming in it. Personally, if I'm thrown a bunch of data and forced to digest without the ability to look at the angles that I want to explore myself, I get quite upset and then bored.

In Lincoln on Leadership: Executive strategies for tough times by Donald T Phillips, he talks about Lincoln's proclivity for using story to bring his message home. Many important statements and answers had a story involved, often stories of simple folk on the frontier. Phillips includes a quote from Thomas J Peters and Nancy K Austin:

"It turns out that human beings reason largely by means of stories, not by mounds of data. Stories are memorable. ... They teach. ... If we are serious about ideals, values, motivation, commitment,we will pay attention to the role of stories and myths."

So it depends in part on what the objective of your communication is. Data still has a role in making reasoned decisions. But when seeking emotional buy-in, excitement, motivation, commitment to a cause or value, then the most powerful tool you can use is story.

Leveling up in 2012

Challenged to think about my next level and how I plan to attack it, I focus on much of what I've already posted regarding my themes and challenges for the year. The next level for me will mean cutting down on piles of materials (physical and mental) by starting to USE them. Taking risks, making commitments, staying disciplined - all at levels that aren't default for little miss "you'll find me in the corner with a book".

On this journey, I expect some key guides to help (no commitment needed guys, just by being you). J. Jack & Lorraine. Jenny. Mom & Dad. Probably others.

Let the games begin. (Or crank, since we're a couple of weeks in already.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What ties us together

There are different arguments about how and why we as humans feel a need to connect with others of our kind.

I've been reading and rereading an outline by Stowe Boyd about Social Cognition. He starts off the presentation talking about how language is universal, in a social environment. Lose a kid in the woods to be raised by wolves and he will have no language. Drop two kids on a desert island and they will create their own language.

Stowe then moves to how relationships/ conversations/ and connections unite us and have been proven to help advance adoption of new ideas, scholarly performance, happiness in the workplace, and so on.

Cognition is social, at the core, and much of what people do, or decide to do, is channeled and amplified through connection with others.

Social Cognition, as a discipline, studies how our brains work on relationships. It's a key element of understanding the struggles of the autistic, who make fewer social connections in their brains than the average Joe.

So we are wired to think socially. To draw from relationships to solve the problems that we encounter day to day.
We are also wired to socially build and evolve language.
Social transcends the development of both.
And I would argue that story transcends it all. We are compelled to share our experiences, to work through problems, morals, wonders, and discoveries together, via language and the way we encapsulate this and work things through together is story.

It's universal, fundamental, and shapes our lives at the core.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012 challenges

So, I've had this thought about story for a while now and I haven't really taken it anywhere.

I recently took the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment for work and came out as:
Learner - Kinda' obvious. A love of learning. On a whole string of topics.
Ideation - Again, straightforward. Coming up with new ideas.
Individualization - Focused on understanding what makes each person tick in their own way - realizing that people are different and that solutions need to vary to accommodate (one diet does not fit all, e.g)
Maximizer - Highlighting the strengths in myself and the people around me, rather than getting stuck on what needs improvement. Playing those strengths together to get the best results.
Input - Collecting data from all sorts of sources. Hence my tons of open tabs, bookmarks, to read piles, and whatnot. I'm an information horder. Deal with it.

Taking the first and last of this list, you start to get a bit of a picture of my dilemma around story. I have been absorbing, gathering, bookmarking, reading. Trying to get all the angles I can and in the meantime not doing much movement at all on my own.

This is part of the reasoning behind the theme of Initiative in 2012. One of my big challenges for myself this year is to move from gathering info into action. I'm pretty excited about it actually. It's like when you talk and talk and talk about a project or trip and then it finally starts falling into place. I'm doing a little bit of the jump-up-and-down-and-giggle-and-clap-hands - on the inside, anyway.

The plan is to share challenges more often here, too, throughout the process.

What are your challenges as you set out on your 2012 adventure?