Monday, December 17, 2012

Brief background to "I see you. You matter. I care."

Note:  This post is meant to accompany "I see you.  You matter.  I care."

What follows is just a very quick jaunt through my readings and research in these areas.  It is not exhaustive because I am writing this portion in response to questions that this is all in my head.  It is not well referenced because my goal is not publication, it is insight for practical living.

I see you.

What major religion doesn't start with the premise?  God knows you/You belong to God (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism). You are a part of the universe (Buddhism). 

What philosophy of government doesn't operate under this principle?  You see the point of watching in John Locke, Niccolo Macchiavelli, and incredibly in Foucault.  Seeing is part of governing.  Think of our court systems.  The word of witnesses is the means by which we decide guilt or innocence.

Think psychology and the role of voyeurism.  Or simply think modeling.

Why is it such a big deal to parents that a child is born blind?  Because so much of our thoughts and society function around the ability to see.  Seeing is equated with knowing.  "I see," we say when we understand.

It's also equated with liking and valuing, which every child knows the instant she begins badgering her mother, "Look at me!  Look at me!  See what I can do!"

But looking isn't always easy.  It requires facing that which we would often like to deny.  Seeing takes courage, the first tenet in Brené Brown's description of wholehearted living. It takes being willing to take our eyes off ourselves and turn them outward to the world (not the television, computer screen, or smart phone) around us.

You matter.

Once again, the importance of the individual in the grand scheme of all things underlies most major religions.  We are a piece of the atman (Hinduism).  We are a part of the universe (Buddhism).  We are a chosen people (Judaism).  We are sought after (Christianity).  It matters to us that we matter.


 In governing as well, the individual matters by virtue of the rules he breaks.  Once again, Niccolo Macchiavelli comes to mind, as does Foucault.  Locke and Rousseau both impose limits to liberty, and Marx, who generally rules out the individual and speaks of class as one, recognizes that the breaking of reciprocity/fairness (so called by Jonathan Haidt in his works on morals) underlies the rising of the masses.  Dan Ariely underscores this importance as he studies why we break rules and how we deal with rule breakers.  Both Ariely and Haidt's studies revealed that most people will follow the rules when rule breakers are punished.  The subjects enjoyed watching them punished and, in one of Haidt's studies, contributed to a fund for punishing them.  But the long and the short of it is the premise that individuals (and their actions) matter.

In psychology, mattering is also a big deal.  Erickson's stages of psycho-social development hinge almost exclusively on concepts of mattering in the universe:  trust (do I matter to someone?), autonomy (do I matter enough to make a difference in my own life?), initiative (do I matter enough to make a difference outside myself?), industry (do I matter enough to do something of importance?), identity (who I am matters), intimacy (I matter to someone else), generativity (I matter to this new generation), ego integrity (I have mattered, and I'm ready to move on).  The failures in all of these stages are all failures to matter.

In terms of Brown's fundamentals of wholehearted living, we could call mattering "connection."  We are connected to one another.  In the words of John Donne, "No man is an island,/Entire of itself.../Therefore, send not to know/For whom the bell tolls./It tolls for thee" ("No Man Is an Island," 1624).

I care.

This one is the hard one, but it is just as crucial.  How do we choose to care?  Do we care in the sense that we will bully, punish, and cast out?  Do we care in the sense that we forgive?  Do we forego all consequences?

Brown's hierarchy would call this "compassion," and I will deal later with how I see compassion working.  And I say right now that I am not the poster child for compassion.  It might be hard to find someone with less innate sense of social cues than I have.

Looking through the religions, caring shows perhaps the biggest variation.  Hinduism shows both extremes:  Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer.  Buddhism has varying forms of non-aggression, sometimes bordering on a refusal to participate in the world to which they claim we all belong.  Islam and Judaism (how odd to put them in the same sentence) both adhere to strict rules with severe penalties.  Christianity, as it is practiced, ranges from extreme reliance on the letter of the law and an unforgiving God to the point in which some churches take the forgiveness of sin to the extreme of permissiveness of sin.  How they care is shown in acceptance or rejection and punishment.

The radical nature of religion in theory, apart from religion in general practice, is that it espouses mercy for the weak and lifts up the humble, recognizing the sacredness of life in the least of these.  And that particular belief is found across religions.

In looking at political philosophy, perhaps Macchiavelli makes the most of shows of caring.  Macchiavelli is never one to suggest that the prince should actually care about his subjects, but he does repeatedly show that measures extended to the prince's subjects which demonstrate care and trust will gain the prince valuable allies.  (And to all the guns-rights advocates out there, who may think I pick and choose what I believe, I freely admit that Macchiavelli counseled the prince to arm his subjects because, Macchiavelli believed, it would make the subjects (1) feel the prince cared for them and wanted them to feel secure; (2) feel the prince trusted them and did not fear ill will from them; and (3) prone to fight on the side of the prince should the need arise.)  Locke and Foucault's versions of care were largely hands off unless punishing.  Foucault, I should mention, did not so much propose how a government ought to operate so much as describe how many governments do operate, thus his focus on penal issues and systems may not actually reflect his feelings about ideal forms of government.  Marx focused on providing for life across the board.  Rousseau believed a righteous government would share and cooperate (of course, Rousseau had another thing coming).

In the Western political arena, clearly, care = punishment.

In psychology (and later in educational psychology), care takes on a far different face.  Care is not about separation but attachment.  It is not about penalty but pleasure (Foucault spends three books examining how the seeking of pleasure and the regulations of society but heads).  It is not about pruning but about growth.  It is about nurturing, supporting, uplifting, and healing those within the society.  Theoretically, although not in our psychological practice, the aim is to nurture the individual or group before they come to crisis, so that in crisis they will survive.

Caring in psychology is founded on the ability to empathize.  Empathy with others only happens when one empathizes with one's self and vice versa.  You cannot have one without the other.  I'm not sure where the original thought came from, but several psychologists mention this truth over and over:  Real, Brown, Pipher, Rosenberg, Burns, etc.

In the end, I would argue that this psychological truth is the foundation of Matthew 6:12 "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" and Matthew 7:1-2 "Judge not, that ye be not judged.For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."  It is not that we ought to forgive or ought not to judge.  It is that judgment and forgiveness are reciprocal.  As we do, it shall be done to us.

Caring and empathy in psychology looks a lot like loving your neighbor.  It looks a lot less like hell.  That time may be coming, yes, but if we believe Jude 1:9 "Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee" that not even Michael the Archangel sought fit to judge in God's stead, what role ought those of us who claim to be Christians take in judging our neighbor?

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