What’s in a word?

This blog is very much about bringing an extra personal, insightful approach to life and to politics, avoiding bias, propaganda, partiality, ideology, personal attacks. And recognizing all the time that we have to understand and connect to the other side’s point of view. Only when we can inhabit that other side, and understand its motivations, can we express a proper judgement. Of course we don’t and we can’t slow down the process of living too much while we deliberate, but we can develop an instinctive mindset.

Mindfulness and Zen, and other aspects of Buddhism, are part of the mix, but mindfulness in the sense of an ancient wisdom, not picked up as a temporary fad, soon to be discarded as all fads are.

Finding the right words, the right language is a problem. Mindfulness now has two aspects, modern, and therapeutic, and ancient (how about ‘classical’, sounds better). Spirituality is another much-used word, and much abused – mention ‘spirituality’ and people see another word for religion and if so minded they focus on all the divisiveness they associate with religion, rather than it’s capacity to bring people together. So any attempt to bring a broader perspective to human engagement is stifled.

I am talking about a broader perspective – another dimension, another way of approaching life and politics. Even for me spirituality suggests a state of mind that we bring from the outside to bear on the real world, when what I’m arguing is that an open-minded and, if you want, shared-minded approach is something that comes naturally to us. We simply have to recognize it in ourselves, and run with it.

So what word could we use instead of the ‘s’ word? ‘Wisdom’ suggests a meaning beyond the ordinary and day-to-day. Jonathan Rowson (RSA Social Brain blog) refers to people engaging with society and being ‘motivated by their ideals and their feelings and their vision of being part of something bigger than themselves’. That suggests wisdom, and a deeper meaning , but ‘feelings’ and ‘vision’ are soft words. So too ‘something bigger than themselves’.

And the trouble with wisdom is that in the West it readily attaches to the wisdom tradition, with its esoteric associations, whereas the wisdom I’m talking about focuses on understanding human nature, and our potential if we look beyond short-term cravings, misplaced energy and easy satisfaction

Insight is likewise a powerful word. Like mindfulness it has a strong Buddhist association – vipassana or ‘insight’ meditation. But it also has its casual, quotidian meaning, localised rather than universal, and that’s hard to shake.

So we may be stuck with spirituality. But we need to be careful to play down religious connections and focus on intrinsic meaning rather than external religious validation.

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