Monday, May 16, 2011

What are the technologies of the heart

I am hesitant in writing this. This is a post that will contain the words : heart, care, and compassion. As Krista Tippett says in her TED Talk, the term "compassion" is typically reserved for the saintly or the sappy. 

I watched Krista's TED talk yesterday along with a couple others. I always meant to watch all the TED Talks and I have tried to make it a habit. But what inevitably happens is that I start watching two or three a day, and then shortly thereafter, I get TooTooBusy and so I stop so I can attend to the work of my life. But then, after weeks of work, I feel empty and that I'm neglecting some part of my being and I so force myself to watch a couple TED Talks. Sometimes they inspire and resonate. Sometimes they make me feel sick with fear.

So, yesterday I saw Krista's talk about compassion and her plea for us to pay attention to "the technologies of compassion." And I started making a list in my head of possible technologies of compassion:
  • stories
  • the human touch (massage, hugs, hand-holding)
  • yoga
  • conversation
  • play
  • hospitality
  • gift giving
  • singing and music
  • art 
  • dance
  • free time
  • travel, pilgrimage
  • helping someone 
  • being helped
The next TED Talk I saw could not have fit any more closely to Krista's. It is His Holiness the Karmapa's The technology of the heart. I have to admit, I haven't finished watching his talk because his story of being whisked away from his family at age 7 to become a spiritual leader of Tibet struck me and sat with me. On my drive to work this morning, I re-wrote his story in my head as an anti-princess story that went like this...

And yesterday's third TED Talk I saw Eli Pariser's Beware online "filter bubbles". Eli makes a convincing case that as flawed as mass media is and was, at least the editors involved would nominally present "vegetable information" about wars and famines and other bad things that we don't want to see but we know we should whereas new technologies from Google and Facebook don't even pretend to have a moral centre.

And now, just now, the reason why I'm writing this post, I just read a great post by David Weinberger on Ethan Zuckman and the importance of serendipity and being cosmopolitan. And David, I think does a wonderful job of challenging Zuckman's notion that by introducing cosmopolitan elements (using libraries, geocaching, and other novelties) into our media diet that we, privileged North Americans, can come to care for Others Elsewhere.

But David does believe that we can be brought to care. And he uses TED Talks as an example.


Unknown said...

Fascinating post, Mita. And to your list, I'll add cooking. To cook a meal with or for someone you care about, working side by side to assemble the ingredients, haggle over technique, provide encouragement when the dough falls apart, kibbitz while things simmer, and then to sit down and eat with gratitude, in whatever form that takes for you. Sometimes the whole experience fills a void far greater than hunger. Bon appetite!

Lisa said...

I haven't heard the talk - but couldn't we see libraries as technologies of the heart? There's a lot of love in all that stewardship of culture and ideas. And I also want to say this, from noted critical theorist Eve Sedgewick before her death: "what I'm proudest of is having a life where work and love are impossible to tell apart." from A Dialogue on Love.

Mita said...

I think public libraries might be such a technology.

The question to me is how can we bring people to care? How can we ask people to voluntarily take on the suffering of others?

Being a true public space, libraries are one of the few places left where the homeless and the middle class can sit together, albeit, silently.

I'm afraid, as a society, that we are becoming less concerned about poor people. If the larger society doesn't *care* about the disadvantaged, they are not going to support the funding of services that support them.

I'm working through an idea that we libraries have to address and embody radical caring rather than branding.

Anonymous said...

"I'm working through an idea that we libraries have to address and embody radical caring.."

Now that I've inherited a highly underused library here in the middle of nowhere, Maine (Palermo), I am using it as the first home base of Binikou, with the goal of turning it into a space for serving the community's needs for not just information in media, and information in personal experience as well, and also for serving actual material needs. I got a grant to do a whole summer of "Saturday Morning Superfoods" workshops where we explore a nutritious, sustainable, locally growable plant that we also actually plant in the library's new permaculture food forest garden, and give plants to attendees to put in their own gardens. The results of our exploration get put into the Binikou Encyclopedia of Solutions wiki, too. So we not only get real needs met for food (which we, of course, taste test in the workshops too!) in a short and long term ways, and we learn about the plant~food, but we also generate new media information to share with the world.

(Now, I just need to figure out how to attract enough people to the workshops to make it fun! :-)

I see these kinds of interactive, information generating and absorbing kinds of experiences as being so important for creating a sustainable and healthy community.