Balancing Act

by beccaborrelli


Kalachakra Sand Mandala (Tibet)

Snow Day.

Slept in til 8.

Read in bed til 10.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything tactile. Like in my hand with pages. My Mom gifted me with“The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World” this Christmas.

The book’s author Howard Cutler is an MD interviewing the Dalai Lama. He marries East/West, Science/Spiritual philosophies into one book, and his success creating connections between seemingly oppositional world views is refreshing, especially when dealing with daunting topics like peace and happiness.

The pervading theme of the book is, in order to foster happiness, “Countries/societies/people need to strike a balance between protecting individual freedoms, while preserving security and equity for all within community.” Easier said than done right?

The world has seen both sides of this coin become far too extreme. In Communist countries life is socialized to the point where all aspects of society, as well as individual words and deeds are controlled by one governing body. In the West such a high value is placed on the individual, that people become separated from one another by fear and a sense of superiority.

What’s sad is that both extremes arise from a “right way to  live” mentality that stakes private claim to knowledge.  Cutler uses Denmark and Switzerland as examples- countries whose populations have been ranked as happiest in the world. These countries embrace notions that conflicting truths/ideas/philosophies/methodologies can coexist harmoniously in balance with each other. People in Denmark exercise many rights to personal freedom, but not at the expense of others. Their community and sense of responsibility for one another is strong, but personal identities and differences are respected. A balance this delicate must be maintained wisely, and checks and balances  should be put in place to quell power exploitation. Perhaps what the Founding Fathers had in mind 250 years ago?

The United States is seeing an explosive number of young people becoming increasingly moderate in political orientation, and expressing dissatisfaction with polarized politics. They are tired of making party distinctions. Tired of the tunnel vision. Tired of the right/wrong/black/white agendas. Where is this refreshing new outlook emerging from?

My biased opinion, is that this shift is in part due to an emerging emphasis on Visual, Musical, Theatrical, and Physical Education programs teaching children to think it a multitude of ways for the past 30 years.

Elliot Eisner- an Art Education professor from Stanford created a list of ten lessons the Arts teach that have become staples for Art Teachers everywhere.

1. The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.

2. The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

4. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem-solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.

5. The arts make vivid the fact that words do not, in their literal form or number, exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

6. The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.

Six of the ten items on his list are directly relevant to issues posed by His Holiness and Mr. Cutler in AOH. Of course reading these statements by Eisner is for many, still intangible. Education’s primary concern has been helping socialize children to work in a job, rather than change the world, or create happiness and peace.

On some days, I think that’s slowly changing. On some days I think it’s not.

My hope for the New Year, that this blog becomes a place for the former.

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