Hey there, it’s been a while!
My intention with this series was to write one post a month until I covered a tidy set of pertinent “x-ality for Reality” themes. Clearly, that did not happen. Apologies. My time and attention was co-opted these past months. But I’m back to address the remaining themes in one fell swoop, so we can get on to other matters.
Living well and acting appropriately in the reality that is (rather than the one we wish for or mistake as real) demands a good deal of change on our parts in a variety of ways: how and where we see ourselves, how we think and envision the way things work, the language we use, and whether we understand the consequences of our actions.
And there’s more. Below are some other important items on reality’s list of demands. I discuss each only briefly.
Ethicality for Reality
A moral sense of right and wrong is fairly universal among human cultures. Harder to find is unwavering certainty about which rights and which wrongs are absolute in every situation. Ethics, on the other hand, are more conditional. They serve as guidelines for action within particular circumstances. We find them in professions, subcultures, institutions, organizations, and small groups.
Their function is to spell out particular rights and responsibilities within particular relational contexts with the aim of directing our behaviors, customs, and habits toward the promotion of what’s good for us–individually and collectively.
Although the ultimate context of reality hasn’t changed, there’s an emerging awareness that the assumptions we’ve worked under (e.g., resources will be cheap and plentiful) and the rules we’ve been playing by (e.g., growth is the name of the game) in our more relative realities are changing.
We need a code to live by that aligns with the way reality actually works. It need not be prescriptive about every individual action or behavior, but it should be designed to minimize harm and maximize benefit for ourselves and others, now and in the future.
Practicality for Reality
One reason why our understanding, mental pictures, language, and ethical guidelines are so important is that they are foundational to doing things in ways that make better sense. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Especially now.
Time is running out, we are told. The window of possibility for making a difference that makes a difference is rapidly closing. We need to act . . . and fast. But re-acting–acting on knee-jerk reflexes or according to engrained habitual patterns–will not get the job done and will likely make things worse. As Stephen Jenkinson says in “Elderhood in a Time of Trouble:”
“Solutions are an expression of… the belief systems of the place and the time. They don’t resolve the belief systems, they continue them.”
So, we need to do two things at once: disseminate and cultivate a paradigm that better accords with reality and put this new understanding into practice in our respective contexts through the decisions we make, policies we craft, standards we establish, and in the many actions we need to take to make a difference in both the immediate and long-term future.
Materiality for Reality
Doing things differently in the world requires not only new understandings but also changes in the stuff we use, make, consume, invent, exchange, and in the various material contexts in which we do all that.
This too is an aspect of the culture change so often called for. Getting more specific, this means interrelated changes in the values, beliefs, language and symbols, norms and sanctions, as well as the materials which reflect and reinforce all that. That last part tends to get lost in our overly casual and imprecise uses of the term.
In ways seen and unseen, the nature of materials shape how we feel, think, and act. Consider the psychological, physiological, and socio-environmental effects of a uniform, what we put in our bodies, and the automobile. Less visible to most but no less powerful are the sources of energy we use and how we get them, the chemicals applied to food and allowed to enter our water, the layout of our towns and cities and the various priorities these signal.
As we’ve seen, the kinds of actions required for Transition involve numerous changes at levels of thought, perception, practice, and so on. We must remember that bound up with those are real material changes in the stuff of our lives.
Totality for Reality
To fully participate in reality in the ways described here demands the engagement of all our faculties, what we might colloquially refer to as body-mind-spirit.
Where I live, there’s a disproportionate emphasis on mind (understood here as intellect) and an unfortunate sense of separation among all three. This separation is at the heart of so many of the current crises we seek to transition away from. But how to reunite what’s been torn asunder? How to integrate that which has been divided? How to make us whole people again?
As a teacher, I can’t help but notice the enormous contribution education could, in principle, make here. Widely required, somewhat standardized, and systematically delivered, it’s conceivable that education at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels could serve as an efficient way to cultivate new ways of thinking, seeing, and doing.
In practice, of course, there are huge obstacles to making substantial changes in public K-12 settings, but higher ed has a great deal more flexibility. We should take better advantage of that by redesigning our approach to educate students as whole persons, to engage and empower their totality of being.
Both in terms of what we teach and how we teach it, we can and must do better at helping students understand our:
We, as individuals and societies, are embodied. Ignoring this basic fact gets us into all kinds of big trouble.
Emotionality and Rationality
Undeniably part of our body (though we continue to deny this, at our great peril), the brain we so revere for its thinking and calculating capacities is first and foremost an emotional processor. Not knowing this causes a great deal of confusion.
Emerging from our body-mind complex is the fundamental human need for meaning. We act on this constantly in attending to the mundane business of everyday life. When enacted in the quest to answer life’s big questions–to understand what it all means–that’s spirituality. Denying that urge makes us unwell.
In sum, education is one place we can and should begin, in earnest, to put these back together.
Conventionality for Reality
If you’ve ever tried to drop or change a habit, then you’ve experienced its power! Doing things differently is especially difficult when it goes against the grain of what’s come to be viewed as normal. It takes effort, discipline, and constant vigilance to successfully move in opposition to the main current. At times this is necessary, so it’s good if we’re up to the challenge. But life is hard enough; we don’t want it to be any harder than it has to be.
The best way to ease this burden is to create a new normal, which is the cumulative result of all of the above.
Changing our paradigm, with all that that entails, requires simultaneous diverse efforts from multiple directions at different levels and scales. The efforts are mutually supportive, the process is non-linear.
Though it may initially seem impossible, what we have seen time and again, Frances Hodgson Burnett reminds, is that:
“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they see it can be done—then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” 
Potentiality for Reality
As a result of changing our paradigm, practices, and ways of being in these ways, new vistas will open up. We will be able to see new possibilities, to imagine futures previously unimagined.
Spec-i-ality for Reality
Though I could continue this series indefinitely (really, I could, so many words!), I’ll spare you and close it out by addressing one final need. It’s kind of borderline as an -ality, but it works if you hear it a certain way, as in this scene of the 1984 classic “NeverEnding Story:”
In a context of overly specialized and fragmented knowledge, we need people explicitly tasked with keeping an eye on the big picture, whose job it is to spot and help integrate disparate knowledge relevant to the complex systemic crises confronting us.
As I argue in my book, we need to foster a new kind of specialist who is a generalist. We need more formal ways to make use of the inclinations of the natural synthesists among us and to train our specialists to more readily see where and how their piece of the work fits in the larger puzzle.
I introduced this series by urging us to get to the root of our problems, rather than just dealing with their symptoms.
A central root of our problems is the paradigm under which we mostly operate. This is no secret. The call for “paradigm shift” is ubiquitous, but most never articulate what that means. This series is meant to operationalize this vague idea and give some substance to an otherwise empty platitude in an effort to help realize the transformation on which genuine Transition depends.
This means adjusting how we see, think, talk, value, act, educate, and work in ways that add up to an appropriate response to reality.
That’s a lot of entry points. Which ones are you drawn to? Where can you plug in? Who should you connect with? How can you get started?
Together we can grow something different, something better, something more well-suited for its real conditions.
 Hodgson Burnett, Frances. 1911: 337 The Secret Garden. Harper Collins Publishers.