A new narrative for a new world

Stories are our lifeblood and the way to create one for a ‘globally intimate’ future is through an education that emphasises humanities and the arts

Coomi S Vevaina
is an educator, writer and storyteller

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. William Butler Yeats’s words seem prophetic a century after he penned them in his poem The Second Coming. Social systems have been crumbling for decades but the coronavirus, that deadly bit of protein covered in lipid, has struck the final blow and caused things to actually fall apart globally

We have ‘normalised’ greed, inequality, stress, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding and hatred. We have chosen to ignore the warnings of environmentalists, scientists, social critics and writers of dystopian fiction, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Margaret Atwood, among them, while cussedly persisting with our dysfunctional ways. The powerful, monopolistic 1% of the population has made the idea of ‘earth democracy’ seem an unattainable dream, but the crisis caused by the pandemic has led us to question the ‘false stories’ we have been fed for so long.

Interestingly, we humans do not live on the basis of facts and figures — we live by stories and, as the great American mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Our myths are our reality.” In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari outlines the rise and dissolution of four stories of the 20th century: imperialism, fascism, communism and liberal democracy. He concludes that the world is facing a crisis of narrative as we have no new story to live by. The “anarchy loosed upon the world” could, however, result in a new story based on “global intimacy”.

A question of identity

Planet Earth has witnessed five mass extinctions thus far. As the American futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard put it, “Nature does not preserve species; nature preserves purpose.” The purpose of evolution, as evolutionary scientists tell us, is a movement towards greater intimacy. The terrible pain we are suffering as a result of Covid-19 has resulted in an upsurge of love, compassion and altruism. These emotions could help us create a sustainable future based on a beautiful new story, one that might well take us from an egocentric to an ethnocentric, to a nation-centric, to a world-centric to a cosmo-centric identity.

The ‘conscious evolution’ triggered by cosmo-centric humanism could well be the renaissance of human consciousness, enabling our species to not just survive but thrive. Education is perhaps the most potent means of ushering in this kind of attitudinal change. Rabindranath Tagore once said: “The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.”

Educators everywhere could usher in a massive change in consciousness by working on themselves, first of all, and then by nurturing in young learners what I call ‘source-full intelligence’, which is the unique capacity we humans have of understanding and experiencing our uniqueness and oneness simultaneously. This will enable learners to shift from a self-versus-other to a self-and-other to an all-is-self consciousness.

In the process of nurturing source-full intelligence, what automatically gets enhanced are 21st century skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving, creative thinking, content mastery, change orientation, flexibility, compassion and empathy, and collaboration and communication excellence (with integrity).

The biggest threat to this kind of holistic, consciousness-changing education is the current emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and the marginalisation, even exclusion, of humanities and arts from the curriculum. Atomistic and discipline-centred STEM subjects prepare most of our learners for jobs and some for innovation, but H-TEAMS (humanities — technology, engineering, arts, maths and science) prepare learners for life.

Subjects like literature, history, geography, civics, psychology, sociology and philosophy help create awareness of one’s self and the way humans think and feel (psycho-literacy), awareness of other cultures and social justice issues (socio-literacy) and awareness of our natural environment (geo-literacy). Along with the arts, they help develop the capacity for nuanced perception and nourish the cognitive, affective, social and spiritual domains of development.

Educators could usher in massive change by nurturing ‘source-full intelligence’ in young learners

With source-fully intelligent education, we can enable learners to think vertically and horizontally, connotatively (symbolically, as with poetry, myth, etc) and denotatively (in a literal manner, as with prose). These learners can then, working on their own or in collaboration with others, demonstrate flexibility, compassion, empathy, ethical sense sensitivity, and a commitment to earth democracy.

Education of this sort would inevitably result in the emergence of compassionate leaders who would strive to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and see these realised by the set date of 2030. Learners whose source-full intelligence is developed with H-TEAMS education would find it easy to create and live out a new pro-life story.

Letter from Einstein

Twenty years after his death, Albert Einstein’s daughter, Lieserl, released a letter which her father wrote in 1938. He had asked her to withhold it because he felt humanity was not ready for his message. The message was: “If we want our species to survive, if we have to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.”

The way forward could be easier than imagined. None of us can be good at everything, but every single one of us is good at something. It is that ‘gift’ which makes us singular. If we operate in ethical ways, from a sense of ‘unity consciousness’ rather than ‘polarity consciousness’, the ‘work’ we do in alignment with our gift gives us joy and we get into a state of ‘flow’, ready to give it our hundred percent.

“Follow your bliss” was the advice rendered by Joseph Campbell. When we lovingly and selflessly share our gift with the world, joy, peace and abundance of every kind flows into our lives. By realising that love is not a sentiment to give or withhold (Tagore) but that we ‘are love’, by blending knowledge from the outside world with wisdom that comes from the study of humanities and arts, we can and must create lives that are joyful and socially just for all living beings on the only planet we can call home.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Tata Trusts.