Posts tagged ‘culture’

May 9, 2015

Television and the human brain: a healthy combination?

Television: love it or hate it, it is here to stay. I was therefore intrigued to read psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge’s discussion of how “the square box” is definitely changing the way the human brain operates. Whether you see these changes as good or bad will depend on your perspective. Check out the following quotes from Doidge’s book The Brain that Changes Itself, then decide for yourself . . . .

  • A recent study of more than 2,600 toddlers shows that early exposure to television between the ages of one and three correlates with problems paying attention and controlling impulses later in childhood. For every hour of TV a toddler watched each day, their chances of developing serious attentional difficulties at age seven increased by 10 percent.
  • About 20 years after the spread of TV, teachers of young children began to notice that their students had become more restless and had increasing difficulty paying attention. The educator Jane Healy documented these changes in her book Endangered Minds. . . . When those children entered college, professors complained of having to “dumb down” their courses each new year, for students who were increasingly interested in “sound bites” and intimidated by reading of any length.
  • The Harvard psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, an expert on attention deficit disorder (ADD), which is genetic, has linked the electronic media to the rise of attention deficit traits, which are not genetic, in much of the population.
  • Television, music videos and video games . . . unfold at a much faster pace than real life, and they are getting faster, which causes people to develop an increased appetite for high-speed transitions in those media. . . . [T]he form of the television medium — cuts, edits, zooms, pans and sudden noises — . . . alters the brain by activating what Pavlov called the “orienting response,” which occurs whenever we sense a sudden change in the world around us, especially sudden movement. We instinctively interrupt whatever we are doing to turn, pay attention and get our bearings. . . . Television triggers this response at a far more rapid rate than we experience it in life, which is why we can’t keep our eyes off the TV screen, even in the middle of an intimate conversation. . . . Because typical music videos, action sequences and commercials trigger orienting responses at a rate of one per second, watching them puts us into continuous orienting response with no recovery. No wonder people report feeling drained from watching TV. Yet we acquire a taste for it and find slower changes boring. The cost is that such activities as reading, complex conversation and listening to lectures become more difficult.

It is inevitable that the dominant media of the day should shape the way we think, act and interact — the same process undoubtedly also occurred with the introduction of the alphabet, the printing press, the radio, etc.

The real question is whether a fast-paced, stimulus-ridden, “always-on” culture a good social change or a bad one. And beyond that, do we even have a choice as to which way the pendulum will swing?

Doidge spends the majority of his book demonstrating how we can consciously rewire brain functioning in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The brain is a “plastic” and changeable medium; with time, dedication and appropriate exercises, stroke victims can recover lost movement, dementia patients can recover lost memories, people with brain deficiencies can recover lost functions, and the elderly can curtail or even reverse age-related cognitive delcine.

It’s a use-it-or-lose-it brain, Doidge says. The ways you can choose to use it — or let your environment influence it — are endless. Check this book out; it’s worth the read.

April 6, 2014

Art is not just in us, it is us

An excellent quote from Sarain Stump, a Shoshone-Cree poet and artist from Wyoming, later co-ordinator of the Indian art program at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College:

Art is us, with our frustrations and hopes, with all of our good and bad feelings. Through art, we can make ourselves clearly understood beyond the barriers of time and space . . . beyond the inhibitions of language. Our art is us as Indian people and its rebirth will be one of the major forces for our people’s rebirth.

Whether we are of First Nations decent or otherwise, our art is our own unique form of expression. It gives us strength and confidence in who we are. It enables us to explore the roots of our being, our culture, our history, and to share those discoveries with the world. And it provides us with a safe outlet for expressing and releasing long-held emotions and experiences, and therefore serves an important healing function.

For these reasons and more, art deserves a place in our lives.

Your art is an essential part of who you are. Please let it shine.

January 6, 2014

If time is a circle, can you live on the edge?

We may not realize it, but the concept of linear time is very much a construct of Western civilization. The idea that a person can physically exist in only one temporal dimension — the present moment — without the ability to move between the past and the future worlds, does not hold sway in many other cultures, where time moves at a different pace or even on a different continuum.

Take, for example, the Haida First Nation living in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), a remote archipelago off the northwest coast of British Columbia. For the Haida, writes author John Vaillant in his 2005 book The Golden Spruce, “time operates more like a spiral, or like the rings of a tree.” Vaillant continues:

There is a saying among the peoples of the Northwest Coast: “The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife,” and Robertson Davidson, [a well-known Haida artist and carver], imagines this edge as a circle. “If you live on the edge of the circle,” he explained in a documentary film, “that is the present moment. What’s inside is knowledge, experience: the past. What’s outside has yet to be experienced. The knife’s edge is so fine that you can live either in the past or in the future. The real trick,” he says, “is to live on the edge.”

It’s an intriguing concept, this idea of time growing outwards like a tree. In this case, time is circular, but the plane is horizontal, not vertical, and the direction of movement is outwards in radial lines from the centre, not in loops around the circumference. Here, the countless “rings” of past life and experience accumulate in the centre of the circle, pushing the present — and the future — ever outwards, but remaining close at hand, consolidated and strong, in case of need. This circle, it seems, would collapse without the foundation of the past to keep it strong; yet the circle would also cease to expand and grow if not for the present moment always moving towards (and into) the future.

As novel as this concept may appear to a linear mind, the Haida perspective does share one thing in common with its Western counterpart — and that is the difficulty of staying in the present moment. The present moment is a knife-edge, says Robertson Davidson; it is easy for a person to slip off that edge into either the past or the future. Whether you slip off that edge in a physical sense or a mental one doesn’t really matter, I’d argue. In the end, the trick is the same:  to live on the edge — not in the sense of embracing risk or pushing boundaries, but in the sense of existing in that hair’s-width space of the present moment.

September 8, 2013

How do you treat your home?

I like this quote from canoeist Bill Mason’s documentary Song of the Paddle, produced in 1978 by the National Film Board of Canada:

Wilderness . . . is a white man’s concept. To the native peoples, the land was not wild, it was home.

 

November 25, 2012

Kuleana: where talent and trajectory (responsibly) meet

I’m always interested in notions about personal destiny and life purpose, and recently I came across a new (to me) branch in this tree of ideas:  the Hawaiian concept of kuleana.  Broadly defined as “responsibility,” kuleana is understood to include a deep accountability to several interconnected realms:  self, family, community, earth, etc.

I discovered the concept in the pages of Terrie M. Williams’ book The Odyssey of KP2:  An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species.  She writes:

Kuleana is a Hawaiian word that has no direct translation into English.  It describes the sense of ancestral-based responsibility that often comes with a unique undertaking or experience.  It is destiny with a DNA underpinning coupled with a realization that you are doing what you were meant to do in this life, the harmonization of talent and trajectory.

In my experience, the happiest individuals are those who have discovered their kuleana.  Such individuals weather hardships, challenges and sacrifices not as obstacles or excuses for failure but as a natural part of life’s adventures.  The entire odyssey called life is a joy.

A beautiful concept — and one that gently encourages us to think and act beyond our own small spheres of perceived influence.  There is so much more out there, all around us, and we are accountable to it (all of it) by simple virtue of the fact that we are, at root, a creation of it.

I also find it noteworthy that kuleana has no direct translation into English.  The concept — with its interconnectedness and wide-ranging responsibility — certainly exists within other indigenous cultures, but it is much less prevalent within “modern” white societies, which tend to be driven more by personal gain than by personal responsibility.  If there were words in English to describe kuleana, would our motivations be different? How can we create the words to fill that gap?

I hope you find your kuleana.  May your life’s journey be an odyssey of joy.

November 2, 2012

Children. . . . The future of our past

My children are the future of my past.

These words come from Alyce Johnson, a professor of First Nations Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia and a member of the Kluane First Nation in Yukon.  She shared them yesterday as she led a group of six women on a “trail talk” along the trails of Forests for the World, a park and demonstration forest in Prince George, B.C.

Alyce spoke to our small group, of which I was a member, about how trails — whether “natural” or “man-made” — carry knowledge of people, landscapes and traditions, and help define languages, narratives and, ultimately, world views.

To me, Alyce’s words drive home the importance of immersing our children in the stories, protocols and traditions of our families, our people, our communities, our earth.  The past (and our cultural histories) cannot be integrated into the future unless carried there by our young ones.  We must therefore equip our children well for the task.

I also love this beautiful quote from a handout Alyce provided during the walk:

I am a map of a storied world expressed from a language that the earth remembers and a people speak.

The Earth remembers, a people speak, and we are one.

(The “Trail Talk” I attended was one of a series organized by the University of Northern British Columbia’s Northern Research Group.)