IV. The Weak Link

This is the 4th in a series of postings on whole systems thinking. 

A system is as strong as its weakest link. The link that breaks when a chain is stressed, is the part within the whole, person within the group and nation within the global community that is—or becomes—dysfunctional under stress. 

To counteract the “weak link” principle, we assemble the strongest, most competent, collaborative, creative… people possible, get the best information we can, maintain or replace old equipment, invest time, money or energy in building for the future and elect officials who have demonstrated competence and ethical and principled decision-making abilities when under pressure.

Contemplating The Weak Link

My contemplation on this subject is perfectly summarized in the following quotes.

If it is true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, isn’t it also true a society is only as healthy as its sickest citizen and only as wealthy as its most deprived? 

Maya Angelou

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain.

William James

When we believe that the world makes us, that it determines what we can and cannot do, then we see ourselves as small and weak. But when we understand that we make the world—individually and together—then we become formidable and strong.

Lewis Richmond

 

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III. Holons And Hierarchy

This is the 3rd in a series of postings on whole systems thinking.

A holon is a discrete, living system composed of sub-systems, and is itself a sub-system of larger whole systems—simultaneously a whole and a part. The word isn’t one you’re likely to use or even hear, but because it points to the nestedness of networks, it is one of the cornerstone ideas in systems thinking. An example is the human body, which resides somewhere in the middle between the atoms of its composition and the “world” within which it is a member. In ancient Hindu philosophy, there was a mythological idea of a World Turtle that supports the world on its back, and that turtle was supported by “turtles all the way down.” From the perspective of whole systems, they got it half right—there would also be turtles all the way “up” as well. Fundamentally, to speak of a holon is to reference nested hierarchies, systems within systems, wheels within wheels. Holons are represented in Buddhist mandalas, Russian dolls, fractal geometry and among other things, the universe and the photograph above.

A sampling of holons provides some perspective on their diversity and suggests their application in systems management. Humans and other living creatures are obviously holons, and Nature manages it’s organic systems intrinsically, but not so obvious are higher order systems, those that are managed by human consciousness. These include corporations and businesses, religions and churches, sports and entertainment entities, mass media and medical systems, households, hardware and software manufacturers, farms, educational institutions and more. It also includes natural systems that involve human decision-making including ecosystems, forests, gardens, dams and water processing facilities, cattle ranches and dairy farms, parks, forestry and wildlife management systems. And much more.

So what? Is there any practical benefit to thinking of living systems as holons? Systems thinking is all about relationship. In a nested network, each individual system is dependent upon the functioning of its components. Breakdowns in cell structure or functioning in a body result in dis-integration of the body as a whole. And the successful creation of an initiative—project, business, special interest group, etc.—is determined by the consciousness, competence and responsibility of its constituent human holons. Bottom line: An awareness of systems as holons helps in the design, analysis and management of living systems by helping us to see, appreciate and create functional relations between the members.

It is inappropriate in the extreme, to think of any holon as either inferior or superior to any other holon. Each member, at every level, contributes consciousness, energy and activity to the whole. More to the point, it’s the relationship between functioning holons that determines the condition of the whole. One great basketball player does not make a winning team. It’s the quality of the relationship, the interactions between and among the players that lead to winning. It’s a fundamental principle in systems thinking: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra used the example: “Sugar is made up of three molecules—oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. Where is the sweetness? The sweetness is in the relationship. It is not a quality in any element of sugar. It is an emergent quality that resides only in the system as a whole.” Anyone who cooks understands this—a satisfying meal is greater than the sum of it parts.

I’m reminded of three innovative and successful corporations that operationalized the holon perspective: 3M, MTV and Proctor & Gamble. They each mastered the art of “semipermeability,” being with their customers and building long-term relationships with them in order to constantly understand their needs before their competitors even know they exist. Rather than leaders directing the development and course of products, they began with the customer. It’s simple, but it requires a shift from a top-down administrative structure to one of bottom-up customer satisfaction. And it requires extra effort: Sit face-to-face with as many customers as possible and ask, “What do you want? What do you like and don’t like?. What, in the area of our product line, would be ideal? What’s “cool” and “not cool? And how much would you pay for it?” And then, “As we develop this product, we want you in on it; we want to know if you like it. If you don’t, we’ll go back to the drawing board. Further, we’re going to reward you with some “perks” in appreciation for your time and feedback.” Thinking holistically is good business. 

Contemplating the Social Implications of Holons and Hierarchies

A social holon is any entity that can refer to itself as “we,” a collective. “We the people…” The challenge in any collective is the creation of a structure that benefits both its members and the whole system—society. Always both. Human evolution has largely been a process of trial and error, largely unconscious experiments with a variety of structures including tribes, kingships, peasant societies, monarchies, socialism, communism, capitalism and democracy. And the experiments continue.  

As noted above, from a whole systems perspective, the key to managing a nested network so it functions for the good of the whole as well as its members lies in the relationships and quality of interaction between and among its members. Globally, humanity is still in the experimental stage because we have yet to get diverse and distant relationships right. In my opinion, the reason has to do with operating under the false conception that individuals are separate and independent. We come by this assumption naturally. Everyday observation and experience demonstrate that there’s space that separates us, and I make decisions independently from you. Our experience is not of the “flock” or “school,” as it is with birds and fish. I am me; everything and everyone else is not me. 

What is not apparent in this calculus—and requires substantial education and experience to realize—is that as a holon, the “I” that is me is legion within a web of interrelated and interacting networks. And while it feels like I think independently, much of what I think about has been culturally prescribed. Systemically, when a strand in the web of life is vibrated, the entire web vibrates. Subtly, but nonetheless. Every action, every decision, ripples influences throughout the web. Although we can behave as units of consciousness without regard to other such units, the compounding of these influences and consequences ultimately manifests as breakdowns in the collective system. The “problem” lies in the areas of belief and perception. Beliefs drive perception and perception drives action. The correction lies in a shift in belief from “We are separate and independent.” To “We are interconnected and interdependent.” All wars and personal tragedies can be viewed as evolution’s way of moving us, individually and collectively, toward the accomplishment of this shift. 

Okay, so what does it take to affect that shift? I place my bets in four areas: “responsible parenting,” “whole-person education,” “socially responsible business,.” and “socially responsible media.” Top-down political systems can’t do it. A whole body, including government, grows as a consequence of individual holons relating and interacting in ways that benefit themselves and the more complex holons within which they move and have their being as members. 

In the novel I’m working on, the protagonist, a railroad conductor, engages in a conversation with a passenger who says, “The basis of all our problems—we don’t know who we are.” Indeed, most of us are operating as individuals digging for nuggets of gold in the hills, when the greater treasure can be found by becoming friends and collaborators with the other miners. Relationship builds awareness and increased awareness affects a shift in perception, which in turn creates the desire to seek the good of holons up and down the system’s hierarchy of complexity. 

Who I am depends on who you are. The world is part of me, just as I am part of it. What happens to the world is in some way happening to me. The state of the cultural climate or political climate affects the condition of the geo-climate. When one thing changes, everything else must change too. The qualities of a self (sentience, agency, purpose, and experience of being) are not confined to humans alone. And the results of our actions will come back to affect ourselves, inescapably.

Charles Eisenstein (Author, Social Philosopher)

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II. Autopoiesis (Self-Making)

This is the 2nd in a series of postings on whole systems thinking. In the coming weeks, after the topic is introduced, I’ll offer a contemplation that relates the information to our personal lives and higher order systems.

 

Living systems are cognitive systems, and living is a process of cognition. The statement is valid for all organisms, with and without a nervous system.

                                                                        Humberto Maturana (Chilean neuroscientist)

This statement led Maturana and his colleague, Francisco Varela, a neuroscientist at the University of Santiago, to conclude that a fundamental characteristic of biological systems, is that they are self-making. The word they coined for it is “autopoiesis.” Auto means “self, and poiesis is Greek for “making.” Living systems are individual and interdependent. Unlike machines, which are closed systems, they don’t have an external regulator. They operate on their own.

These researchers observed that “the function of each component is to participate in the production or transformation of other components in the network.” It’s how the system makes itself. In closed, mechanical systems the component is referred to as a “part.” In open, living systems that exchange and express within their environment, the term for the component is “member.” A part is an independent and interchangeable singularity, like an engine part or circuit board. A member participates in a network of interactions where discrete individuals are continuously being produced by its components and in turn contribute to the production of the network’s components.

It’s important to note that autopoiesis is Nature’s way of constructing, maintaining and renewing living organisms. The temptation is to apply it in total to social systems, but human beings are more than their biology. The challenge of managing human social systems is compounded by the facts that their members are intelligent, and no two are alike. Each is an independent decision-maker, and the larger systems within which they are a component are themselves intelligent, decision-making wholes.

What I think we can safely borrow from the phenomenon of autopoiesis, is that the character and functionality of a human social system, whether it works or not, is a function of how it is organized and the quality of interaction among the members. Because these systems are open and not determined or controlled, there’s a need for continuous self-assessment in order to produce feedback on performance. Further, when human systems are unable or unwilling to self-regulate—by merging their needs with the needs of the whole systems above and below it—as we have seen in some corporations—a higher order social system, for instance, a government, can and needs to impose regulations to bring the system into optimal performance according to its design or purpose.

 

Contemplation on Autopoiesis (Self-Making) 

A personal example of this is a lesson I learned early on in the process of long-term film production. Members of the crew were showing up late or at the wrong location, were too tired to work, weren’t appropriately dressed, forgot a prop or didn’t call to say they couldn’t make it to the shoot. They were not self-regulating, so I imposed regulations, one of which was for the production manager to make a “courtesy call” to everyone involved the night before a shoot, to ensure that they would show up, on time, at the right place, have their sleep and food needs met and have the proper equipment, props or costume.

One of the principles of closed system management that applies equally to social systems in the context of autopoiesis advises: “Attend to the parts and the whole takes care of itself.” It’s one of the points made in the novel, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig. When a mechanical system breaks down, the way to get it working again is to locate the dysfunctioning part and attend to it—ascertain what it takes to repair or replace it, then follow through appropriately. When all the parts function according to their design and work together, the whole system will operate as was intended. Systems thinking encourages us to understand relationships. And autopoiesis provides a model from Nature, suggesting that there is wisdom in allowing her to take her course, more often letting life guide relationships and interactions, as opposed to trying to manage or force them.

A benefit of age is hindsight regarding a phenomenon we all experience. Why, when we get a good idea and follow it through with a passion, it doesn’t work out? If only I’d known that ahead of time! Why does the Universe let me invest hours, a day, week or years trying to accomplish something when it doesn’t or can’t happen? Sometimes I’ll drive around to several stores before I find the object I’m looking for. It seems like a waste of time. Why doesn’t my mind—or the Universe—direct me to the one right place? I’m convinced there’s no way to avoid situations like that. And when I think about it, nothing is really a waste of time. Learning occurs. And patience. And those are real values, even an investment that pays dividends in the process of future decision-making.

From the living systems point of view, human beings are self-making, autopoietic. But there’s a paradox. On the one hand, the human body is continuously and automatically maintaining and renewing itself. We can and do influence its health, but it’s largely operating on its own. On the other hand, and sometimes interfering with the body’s natural functioning, we “make” ourselves as “persons”—an integration of body, mind, spirit—based on the assumption that we are in control, that we know what’s best for us. We know what we want, and we generally know what we want to make of ourselves. Nature, or life, wants us to go one way, while the mind or ego inclines us to go another. The net result—conflict. And when conflict becomes acute we experience pain—a signal that indicates system breakdown.

There are two routes to choose from in order to repair human breakdowns—allow Nature or life to move in the direction it will, or continue on the path of willful self-making. As conscious creatures, there’s a fundamental question to be addressed as life unfolds: Am I in charge? Or is life in charge? What I’ve found, operating under both assumptions, is that the latter brings more comfort, joy, confidence and peace. I love the following quote. It’s an expression of complete trust that life, the Universe, the soul—whatever word you prefer—is working out and all is well.

When we stop searching, we start finding. By looking less, we see more. When we allow the light within us to merge with the light that guides us, we experience oneness. Without any effort, we relax into a state where we have no decisions to make. There is no confusion, second-guessing, thinking, or searching for answers. There is just beingness—acceptance of life as it is.

Jacob Israel Liberman

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I. Whole systems Thinking — Introduction

This is the first in a series of blogs on the subject of whole systems thinking. Each week, after the topic is introduced, I’ll offer a contemplation that relates to the headline photograph and text. 

Historically, patterns observed in nature were discussed and documented in China five thousand years ago, before being articulated by Lao Tzu (Gia-fu Feng, 1968) in the 6th Century B.C.E. In 1968, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, regarded as the father of systems science, published General Systems Science, which quickly came to the attention of engineers and physical scientists.

      A decade later, James Grier Miller (1978) elaborated his principles and applied them to living systems in his seminal book entitled Living Systems. Since then, scholars, scientists, engineers, information theorists, artists and philosophers have drawn on these sources and created a gestalt, a way of thinking about complex whole systems from the wristwatch to the universe, in order to better understand, appreciate and especially manage part-whole relationships. The story is told that, after President Kennedy committed the nation to the moon mission, NASA scientists drew heavily upon general systems science as a guiding principle to ensure a successful outcome.

      Simply put, whole systems theory involves the consideration and management of part-whole relationships as a way to better understand and manage complexity. Fundamentally, it’s about getting relationships right. As a thought process, it’s not a panacea, but it has tremendous practical value when it comes to managing complex systems, particularly in the areas of human-machine interfaces, team building, organizational development, business protocols, personal interaction, social cohesion and creative endeavors.

      The benefits are many, not the least of which is understanding the interrelations of mechanical and living systems, including the observation that living systems are constituted of smaller sub-systems and at the same time nested within larger whole systems, all of which are interconnected and interdependent. It’s this observation that gave birth to the concepts “Web Of Life” and “The Systems View of Life.” I highly recommend both publications by physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra (1996). In scientific and technical circles, this framework is referred to as General Systems Science. In other settings, it’s simply spoken of as “Systems Thinking.” Because it has nearly universal application, and because I have been a long term student, practitioner and frequent beneficiary of systems thinking, I wanted to share it with you. I hope you’ll find this series both interesting and useful.

What Is A System?

According to Bertalanffy: “A system can be defined as a set of elements standing in interrelation among themselves and with the environment.”

Closed and Open

In closed systems, no material enters or leaves. All mechanical systems—watches, vehicles, TV sets and other appliances—are closed systems.

Open systems exchange matter with their environment, inputting and outputting, building-up and breaking-down its material components. All living systems are open—and they evolve. Bertalanffy says: “Life is not comfortable setting down in pre-ordained grooves of being; at its best, it is élan vital, inexorably driven towards higher forms of existence.” Mechanical systems perform a function according to design. And that’s all they can do, the movie “Transformers” to the contrary. The function of living systems, on the other hand, is to stay alive and continually make itself more, to grow at the individual level, and in doing so, contribute to the evolution of higher orders of complexity.

Simple And Complex

Within open and closed systems, we can discriminate between simple-systems that have few parts and complex-systems that have many. The more parts an assemblage has, the more complex the relations between them. And the more complex the relations, the greater the need for management in order to overcome a systems worst nightmare—entropy.

Entropy

According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, matter dissipates. Given time, matter diffuses and eventually reverts back to heat energy. All systems are in a constant state of disintegration. Dust to dust.  Iron rusts; bones break; computers fail; noise disrupts communication; relationships and businesses fail; nations and civilizations come to an end. Nothing material, at any scale, endures forever. This would be depressing, were it not for energies that balance entropy—syntropy.

Syntropy

Any energy, work, force or action that retards deterioration or disintegration is considered “syntropic.” Oiling a metallic surface retards rusting. Putting fresh batteries in an electronic device keeps it running. Good dental hygiene prevents gum disease and promotes overall health. Feeding, complementing and rewarding a work crew encourages better performance. Frequent communication improves relationships. When implemented, higher values and ideals enhance social coherence and growth.

Contributors to Syntropy

  • Information: The more and the higher the quality of information input, the more entropy is overcome.
  • Order: Acts of ordering within living systems contribute to its survival and growth because they maintain the parts (members) in right relationship. We may need a microscope or telescope to see the order in the atom, cell or cosmos, but what we find there is exquisite order. It is the arrangement or ordering of atoms, molecules and cells that determine morphology—what it is—including the form of the higher order systems that result from cohesion and unification.
  • Increased Communication: More and better qualities of communication promote knowledge, understanding and the desire to do what’s necessary to keep the system (life) functioning. “Desire” is innate in lower order systems, such as atoms and cells. In humans, it dominates consciousness.
  • Positive or Constructive Fields. Calm, life-enhancing environments promote right relationship, which in turn promotes cooperation, collaboration and intelligent creativity.
Contemplating Our Political System

Our political systems are in crisis because we have a crisis in thinking. Polarization is not the problem. The duration and deepening of self-centered thinking resulting in a state of confusion, discord and inaction—symptomatic of a complex system in need of effective management—is the problem.

In a democracy, differing points of view are natural, normal and necessary. Regardless of the issues, over time, it’s how a society attains balance within its many domains. As with all living systems, with time, all social-political systems grow and become more complex. The challenge for members of the system at every level—citizen to the three branches of government—is to quantify and analyze growth within the system in the context of its changing environment. The “me, my, mine” perspectives of the past, if maintained, will lead to increasingly severe breakdowns and dysfunction. To “heal” a conscious living system, one that is aware of itself, the parts (members) have to shift their thinking about how they relate to one another—and the whole. Systems thinking helps us do this. I’ll elaborate on the “how-to’s” of managing personal and social complexity in postings to come.

Looking back and finger-pointing is a waste of time and it doesn’t help. What’s needed immediately is a society-wide, deep personal understanding that we are each, interrelated and interdependent co-creators of a whole system (nation) that’s an interdependent sub-system of a greater whole system (the global community), every level dependent upon rapidly changing life support systems. Parallel to this is the understanding that the actions of each of us ripple a complex of influences into the environment and the whole within which we are a part.

Small changes in one part of the system can have profound implications for all else in the system… When we make choices about how we live our lives, we are having an impact far beyond our own immediate circumstances. Those impacts can extend not only to the rest of the planet but also to future generations.

                                    John Dunne (Co-editor: Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence)

It bears repeating: human beings are interconnected and interdependent. Everything depends on me. Everything depends on everyone. This deep personal understanding needs to come from parents and educators at all levels. These perspectives can and should also come from television and advertisers, business mission statements and directives and churches. A shift in thinking at the bottom of the social pyramid is the way to gradual but consistent change. A rapid shift, the kind that climate scientists are urging, requires this understanding—and consequent action—at the political level in every nation. Ours would be a great way to start. And that can happen by electing people who understand and appreciate the dynamic of whole systems thinking. Scientists from all nations have sent the message loud and clear: either we learn this way or the hard way.

A human being is part of the Whole… He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

               Albert Einstein

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XXI. Unity & Harmony

This is the 21st and last posting in the series, “The Aesthetic Dimensions.” The first, posted January 6, 2019, explains the series and deals with “Abstraction.” To follow it (at no cost), go to davidlsmithcontemplativephotography.com and click “Follow” (bottom right corner of the Home page). The postings will show up in your mailbox on Sunday mornings. To find other posts in this series click on “Archives” and select a date.

Aesthetically considered, unity is the arrangement or blending of visual elements in a way that’s pleasing. When it works, there’s a feeling of completeness, order, and wholeness. Not one element is out of place or distracting the eye from the central message, feeling or theme. 

I’m reminded of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s comment to an interviewer who asked if he noticed that in one of his films there was a dog in the background relieving himself in the street. I paraphrase: “Of course I saw it! And I allowed it. There’s not one element in any frame of my films that isn’t there purposefully! I either put it there or allowed it to be there.”

In the third posting of this series I talked about “color harmony.” Here, I’m referring to harmony as a design principle that contributes to unity through the use of similar elements, colors, shapes, lines, textures, and patterns. Like Fellini’s comment, everything within the frame is there on purpose—justified.   

Application

Ordinary perception, viewing our everyday world as part of managing day-to-day living, is characterized by shifts in attention from one thing to another within a dynamic and immensely diverse visual field. We look at what’s in front of us and imagine the rest in relation to what’s happening in our lives. It’s egocentric and normal, necessary in order to survive, grow and accomplish. Although this image is an accurate representation of the scene, it is not unified. It’s also a good example of a “complex” image, composed of many elements—sky, barn, shutters, grass, stone, shadow, silo, windows, wires and so on. It provides a lot of information but lacks any emotion or impact.

On the other hand, conscious perception is a choice. It’s seeing as opposed to looking. And that’s not our usual way of engaging the world visually. It’s an activation of the “aesthetic nerve,” an altered state of consciousness where we isolate a subject from its environment in order to see it with understanding eyes, that is, to better understand and appreciate its being, independent of its identity, utility or benefit other than experiencing or capturing the perceptual experience. It’s what drives the creation of art. Art is the creative act or experience, not the end product, which is an artifact—art after the fact. 

Unity is best accomplished through that kind of perception, first by seeing the subject for what it is in itself, then, possibly, introducing elements that relate to it. It’s a matter of reducing or minimizing complexity and variety in favor of simplicity and focus. That’s not to say a complex image, one with many elements, cannot be unified. It can. But it reduces the experience of impact. Consider the following landscapes, for instance:

Here again, an okay image. There’s lots of information—hills, grass, sky, haze. But it lacks impact because it doesn’t express a unified message or theme. It’s important to note: there’s nothing wrong with complex images that lack unity—different approaches depending on what you want to convey. Information or feeling.

Here’s the same kind of subject matter, but now the expression is unified. The image is about ONE THING, and one thing only. Not a lot of information here, but the image has an impact.

Technique

Unification involves the gathering together of elements in a way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As it says on the dollar bill, “out of many, one.” A unified image communicates one message or expresses a single feeling. Nothing about it dilutes or distracts the eye. And an excellent way to accomplish this is through the application of harmony—choosing visual elements and composing them so they’re in an appropriate relationship to the central message or emotion. As recommended in an earlier posting, accentuate the features that define a subject and eliminate any visual elements that distract the eye from where it should be. The challenge of harmony is to find a balance between unity and variety. 

“Harmony is the reflection of unity on the plane of multiplicity.”

Darryl Jones (Photographer)

All of the aesthetic dimensions discussed in this series are tools that can be used to unify images. In constructing and assessing and editing my images relative to unity, I strive for focus upon a single or “core” feeling with the other elements contributing to it. Basically, I don’t want any elements that compete or distract from that core message or feeling.

Contemplating Unity and Harmony in Personal and Social Contexts

The challenge of unity is bringing diverse parts into right relationship with each other and the whole will take care of itself. And that’s accomplished by ensuring the functionality of every part in the system. Otherwise, “one weak link will break the chain.” It’s the fundamental principle of systems science. 

We’ve mastered this when it comes to mechanical and electric systems. Henry Ford capitalized on it by envisioning the whole, an automobile, and making its constituent parts identical so they were interchangeable and functioned together in harmoniously. It resulted, on course, in the assembly line. The same systems principles resulted in the exponential growth in technologies from silicon chips to the Large Hadron Collider, the most complex machine ever built. Currently, it appears that humanity is undergoing a metacrisis of perspective and values, a series of breakdowns that are demonstrating the failures in our thinking and behaviors since the dawning of the Industrial Revolution. But breakdown precedes and urges transformation. 

We know how to make machines and electronic devices that work. We know their parts are designed so they function in right relationship with each other toward a designed purpose. But social systems are composed of thinking parts, more properly “members,” of larger bodies. And each member has a unique perception of themselves and the whole—and their place within it. 

All system designs begin with a vision of the whole. In the United States of America, that vision has been articulated in the founding documents. In living systems—at all levels—it’s neither desirable nor possible to produce members that are identical. To function effectively according to the vision, attention has to be given to the members—all of them, so there are no weak links. 

This is accomplished in the first place by ensuring the health and well-being of all the members. And critically, each member needs to understand that they are an important and needed part of the system. It gives them perspective and purpose. Also, in order for a member to discover their place in the system, they need guidance and opportunity to discover and develop their unique potentials—what’s in their heart to be and do.

In this, the whole system—community, church, interest group, state, nation—has to draw upon the fully functioning members at the top of the social pyramid to support those at the bottom. At the same time, the smallest social system, the family, plays the critical and fundamental role of nurturing and developing children as healthy, unique and whole human beings. Bringing them into right functional relationship—where members support each other—is both a bottom-up and top-down enterprise. And what makes it all work at all levels is open, honest and respectful communication. 

Knowingly or not, all of us are embarked on a common journey in consciousness whose goal is our full awakening to unity with everyone and everything.

Anna Lemkow (Author)

To learn more about part-whole relationships I recommend a paper entitled How Parts Make Up Wholes by Scott Findlay and Paul Thagard. The science is excellent, complex when they deal with physical systems. Later on, however, they describe family and social systems.

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XX. Texture

 

This is the twentieth posting in the series, “The Aesthetic Dimensions.” The first, posted January 6, 2019, explains the series and deals with “Abstraction.” To follow it (at no cost), go to davidlsmithcontemplativephotography.com and click “Follow” (bottom right corner of the Home page). The postings will show up in your mailbox on Sunday mornings. To find other posts in this series click on “Archives” and select a date.

Texture influences how we experience the world through the sense of touch—directly. The tactile sense is so acute and pervasive, images of texture are enough to elicit an experience vicariously. This makes it an important tool for communication and creative expression. When looked at up close or under a microscope, what makes an object textured is consistency in contrast between elements that rise above a surface—hair or fur growing out of the skin, loops rising out of a carpet, bark encompassing a tree trunk. As our fingers or sight moves across a surface we experience the peaks relative to the valleys. 

“In looking at an object we reach out for it. With an invisible finger we move through the space around us, go out to the distinct places where things are found, touch them, catch them, scan their surfaces, trace their borders, explore their texture.”  Rudolf Arnheim (Art theorist and perceptual psychologist)

When the contrast between surface peaks and valleys is low, the surface “feels” smooth. 

As the brightness difference between peaks and valleys increases, so does the texture. It becomes coarse.

Application

Photographically, coarse textures increase the “sensibility” of a subject by tapping into the memory of direct experiences. Think of the difference between a fluffy cat and a hairless cat. Across the board, texture matters! I’ve noticed that gardeners, in particular, are sensitive to texture as well as color. For instance, Linda’s “English country” garden is full of color, and one of her friend’s garden consists of almost no color, but with a variety of textured plants and trees. In between these extremes, I’ve heard gardeners on television talking about an integrated approach where color and texture blend to achieve a balanced experience. The same can be said of photographers. Having come from the “classical” black & white tradition, I’m always looking for and trying to enhance textures. Others are looking for rich and bold color. And then there are those who strike a balance between them by integrating color and texture in their single images and themed presentations.   

Technique

Regardless of the subject, because texture consists of differences between hills and valleys, it’s the direction of light that determines whether it is diminished or enhanced. 

Here, diffused sunlight coming from above minimizes the appearance of texture. So also does front-lighting, even if it’s not diffused. Also, the farther a subject is from the camera, the less noticeable is its texture.

This is a similar subject with identical texture as the above image, but the sunlight is now specular (undiffused) casting sharp shadows not only from the latches but also the hills and valleys in the wood. To maximize texture, position the subject or the main light at a 45º angle to the side. Side lighting “rakes” over the peaks, leaving the valleys in shadow. Also, the closer the camera to the subject, the more prominent the texture.

Contemplating Texture in Personal and Social Contexts

Physically and emotionally, texture plays an important role in our lives. When we need some emotional comforting or just need to relax, we turn to soft chairs, pillows and blankets, and children gravitate to stuffed animals. And we use texture to create the spaces where we live and work. Hard, textureless surfaces such as upholstery, furniture, wall coverings, flooring, plants, and lampshades convey a clean, executive, sharp-edged, masculine sensibility, while these same objects with textured surfaces or coverings contribute to a soft and warm, more comfortable and feminine atmosphere. A luxurious room tends to feature soft or “plush” textures. And while business offices can also be elegant, hard surfaces convey a sense of strength and durability.

“There are no colors in the real world. There are no textures in the real world. There are no fragrances in the real world. There is no beauty. There is no ugliness. Nothing of the sort. Out there is a chaos of energy soup and energy fields. Literally. We take all that and somewhere inside ourselves we create a world. Somewhere inside ourselves, it all happens. The journey of our life.”  Sir John Eccles (Noble Prize in physiology)

Stand back far enough and it becomes clear that there’s also a lifestyle correlation. The observation that the structure of any texture is characterized by its peaks and valleys, raises a question about the “texture” of our lives. Specifically, as a general pattern, where do we stand on the continuum between rugged and smooth, coarse and refined, excitation and equanimity? 

Of course, there is no good or bad, better or worse assessment. And it changes from time to time throughout our lives. But I found it useful to consider my former self at various junctures relative to where I am today. You’d have to tie me down now to get me on a roller-coaster. And what was I thinking, standing at the top of a waterfall, three feet from a 200 ft. drop? For years now, I’ve noted how blessed I am with day-to-day “normal.” I’ve had “peaks” and “valleys” in every domain. Maybe that’s why I now, much prefer the middle path. 

“Every time we invest attention in an idea, a written word, a spectacle; every time we purchase a product; every time we act on a belief; the texture of the future is changed… The world in which our children and their children will live is built, minute by minute, through the choices we endorse with our psychic energy.” Mihaly Csikszenthihalyi (Psychologist)

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XIX. Symmetry

 

This is the 19th posting in the series, “The Aesthetic Dimensions.” The first, posted January 6, 2019, explains the series and deals with “Abstraction.” To follow it (at no cost), go to davidlsmithcontemplativephotography.com and click “Follow” (bottom right corner of the Home page). The postings will show up in your mailbox on Sunday mornings. To find other posts in this series click on “Archives” and select a date.

The word “symmetry” comes from the Greek, synnetria, meaning “Agreement in dimensions, due proportion, arrangement.” As an aesthetic dimension in the arts, symmetry occurs when certain visual elements mirror each other within the frame. The elements don’t have to be identical, as in the image above, but for symmetry to occur they do need to balance in terms of general appearance and physical “weight.” 

The appeal of symmetry is the perfect or near-perfect balance, which engenders sensibilities of order, stability, and harmony—qualities we observe in nature. Often taken for granted, or at least not perceived as being symmetrical are the symmetries of motion throughout the cosmos (spheres rotating around spheres), balance in nature’s geometry (animal horns, leaf patterns, the placement of eyes and ears), and sea creatures such a starfish, urchins and manta rays.

And symmetries in these forms are modeled in mathematics and geometry, quantum and particle physics, architecture and city planning. Even thought processes such as logic utilize symmetry. So also, classical music with its “canons,” and jazz with its variations on a theme. When you begin to look for them, symmetries are everywhere.

It’s important to note that asymmetry, the more common visual experience, is also appealing. Differences between related elements often add interest and character, as in trees and faces where no two sides are identical. 

Application

If the subject matter or situation has the potential for a symmetrical composition, and if the objective is to communicate information, the elements can be loosely related. The elements can even be different, as long as they maintain a balance within the frame.

If, on the other hand, you want the image to generate an emotion, the greater impact is created with elements that mirror each other more precisely.

Technique

Whether you’re walking around with a camera looking for symmetries or constructing an image in the studio by the placement of people or objects, compose the subject by placing the real or imaginary dividing line in the center of the frame. To maximize impact, place both the vertical and horizontal vanishing points in the center of the frame. Besides top to bottom and left to right symmetry, it can also be found in circles—as in the masthead of this blog. 

A mirror or reflections in a window can be used to create symmetry.

Images can be combined to produce mirror-like symmetries.

Objects combined like this can produce abstractions. This was a tin can, pressed into the blacktop.

When shooting a person, they can serve as the centerline between converging trees, landscape, boats or an architectural feature as seen here.

Contemplating Symmetry in Personal and Social Contexts

One of the observations in nonverbal communication is the propensity for human beings to mirror each other when conversing. We cross our legs or arms, stand a certain way, even talk differently with different people in order to diminish contrasts and maintain harmony. In Gestalt psychology, a healthy relationship is “symmetrical.” The parties engage in mirroring behaviors including speech, body language, facial expressions, including the sharing of “complimentary” information and ideas, not because they want to be like the other person, but to respect them by reducing contrasts that could diminish the relationship. Sometimes symmetrical or “blending” behavior is criticized for not being “authentic.” But the other extreme—an interpersonal, asymmetrical attitude that communicates, “This is how I am, like it or not”—builds a wall of separation. 

Systemically in social systems, competition is asymmetrical, tending toward disorder and discord, whereas collaboration is symmetrical, tending toward order and harmony. Because the former values winning or being right, exchanges tend to be assertive and argumentative, at times caustic. The later tends to value the maintenance of the relationship over and above being right or winning an argument. Psychologists who study these patterns in the context of cybernetics—defined by Norbert Weiner as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine”—remind us that neither pattern is the “right” or best way to maintain a relationship. One of the tenants of cybernetics advises that it’s not constructive to look at the problematic behaviors of a system’s individual members. Rather than judge, complain or place blame, the complimentary posture is taking responsibility for the integrity of the system as an organic and dynamic whole. Of course, this applies to all social systems.

Paraphrasing licensed psychologist and family therapist, Marie Hartwell-Walker, in healthy relationships, both personal and social, the pattern of each person’s behavior is complementary to the other. Each person appreciates the others place, potentials, and contributions. This kind of accommodation requires qualities such as reciprocity, empathy, sympathy, acceptance, tolerance, dialogue and respect.

I found one of the citations for “Symmetry” on Wikipedia interesting. It said, “Symmetrical interactions send the moral message ‘we are all the same,’ while asymmetrical interactions may send the message ‘I am special; better than you.’ Peer relationships, such as can be governed by the golden rule, are based on symmetry, whereas power relationships are based on asymmetry.” I italicized the word “may” because I can think the latter message—seeing oneself as “better” than someone else is too strong, and it doesn’t apply across the board. 

Symmetry is the concept that something can undergo a series of transformations—spinning, folding, reflecting, moving through time—and, at the end of all those changes, appear unchanged. It lurks everywhere in the universe, from the configuration of quarks to the arrangement of galaxies in the cosmos.

Stephan Ornes (Science Writer)

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XVIII. Simplicity / Complexity

 

This is the 18th posting in the series, “The Aesthetic Dimensions.” The first, posted January 6, 2019, explains the series and deals with “Abstraction.” To follow it (at no cost), go to davidlsmithcontemplativephotography.com and click “Follow” (bottom right corner of the Home page). The postings will show up in your mailbox on Sunday mornings. To find other posts in this series click on “Archives” and select a date.

The nature of this aesthetic dimension is expressed as a continuum, determined by the number of visual elements within the frame. A photograph of the moon against a black sky with no stars counts as one element. If the light of an airplane is visible, or if there are stars, each is another element. Changes in color, texture, or contrast are not considered elements. A complex image has many elements, a simple one few.

On the one extreme is simplicity where there are very few visual elements. 

On the other end of the continuum, there can be an uncountable number of elements.

Application

When constructing an image toward the accomplishment of an objective—

  • A complex image provides more information, a left brain appeal.
  • A simple image has a greater impact, which has right-brain appeal. 
Technique

When shooting candidly, on the fly, just be aware of how many elements are included in the frame. And have a sense of why you’re taking the picture. Is it to convey information? Or express a feeling? The wider the shot, the more elements. The closer-in you get—or zoom in—the fewer, and generally the greater impact. 

 

In a situation where elements are being placed, as they would be in a studio, a good approach for achieving simplicity is to position all the possible or desirable elements within the frame, then one at a time remove an element to see whether or not it’s really necessary relative to the communication objective. Keep removing elements until the “message,” the point of the image, is singular and powerful. One object in the frame with no visual modifiers is much more impactful than one where the viewer’s eye has to move from point-to-point to understand what the photographer is trying to say or express. The fewer the elements, the closer one comes to the expression of a subject’s essence—reaching the place where, if any one part or element is removed, the subject would no longer identifiable for what it is.

Contemplating Simplicity/Complexity in Personal and Social Contexts

In psychology, the Law of Simplicity states that the whole of an object or situation is more important than its parts. In systems theory, the equivalent is “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  Walking in the forest we observe a tangle of individual trees, bushes, and weeds—chaos. Seen from above, however, perhaps from the vantage of a drone, it reveals itself as a whole entity—a forest, a unified ecosystem that’s more complex than any of its trees. A painting or photograph is more—carries more potential for meaning and emotion—than its elements lined up on a table. Consider further, the frames in a movie, the pixels on a computer image, and a person relative to the cells of the body. 

In the area of perception, gestalt (“worldview”) theorists observe that “We don’t just see the world, we actively interpret what we see, depending on what we’re expecting to see.” The French author Anais Nin said: “We do not see the world as it is; we see it as we are.” In other words, our personal realities are constructs, seamless and continuous attempts to observe or create order and harmony out of chaos—the particulars in life where everything appears to be separate and disconnected. Another tenant of gestalt psychology states that the mind is always seeking the simplest interpretation of experience and unifying it. Acknowledging our tendency to simplify, create order and unify is the principle of Occam’s razor: Simpler explanations of observations should be preferred to more complex ones. 

In terms of practical, everyday living, I’m reminded of Michelangelo’s famous strategy for sculpting the statue of David—in order to maximize order and meaning, chip away the chaos, everything that’s not essentially David. Taking this to heart personally, we can work at chipping away everything within and without that’s not authentically us.

The Law of Simplicity is a top-down way of considering reality. The emphasis is on the whole. Equally valid, just the other side of the reality “coin,” is the Complexity Theory which is bottom-up, placing the emphasis on the parts. Atoms unite to form molecules, which unite to form cells, which unite to form organs, and so on all the way to the universe. Big things have small beginnings. Beyond mechanical systems, the significance of living systems, besides exhibiting the greatest complexity, is that their parts—more properly referred to as “members”—self-organize and emerge in unpredictable ways. This is because each member has a “mind” of its own and makes its own decisions factoring in the environment and relationship to its neighbors. 

Groups of members constitute a kind of “community,” and they self-organize into larger scale structures. Societies arise from and are supported by their members. There can be no elite or administrative head at the top, without cohesion at the bottom. A nation, being composed of a myriad of thinking and deciding units, is a living system. As such, it’s the collective decisions of the members that determine the health, well-being, and growth of social systems, despite top-down influences. Humanity as a whole, has yet to learn from the example of Mahatma Gandhi and a handful of others, that the power to affect relatively rapid and peaceful change at the top resides in the coordinated action of everyday people—for instance, no one going to work or attending school—basically shutting down commerce—until the offensive element(s) at the top step down. They have to because systemically they are no longer in power. Of course, the great challenge is to create mass coherence when it requires personal sacrifice—“skin in the game.” 

Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel Prize laureate in physics, observed that complex systems tend to build pressures within the system—especially understandable in a system divided by strategic philosophies. An example is mass demonstrations. He goes on to say that when the pressure reaches a level which can no longer be contained, change occurs to release it. At the global level, wars are a prime example. The stock market crash of 2008 is a national example. And at the personal level, we’re experiencing the release of pressure in the form of active shooters, individuals whose worldview is so negative and self-defeating the only change they can envision is violence or self-destruction.

What can be done? Systems management that’s bottom-up—promoting the health and well- being of individuals. Everyone has “skin in the game.” It begins with loving and socially responsible parenting at home, including student-parent-teacher-community engagement in schools, and an education that prepares students for happy, well-adjusted and meaningful lives as well as careers. And critically important, home life and educational systems that promote higher values and high aspirations with an emphasis on moral-ethical attainment. The result of a strong and meaningful foundation will be adults well-equipped to learn and grow and face the challenges of the future in ways that fulfill their lives and build the earth for at least seven generations out.  The lesson is simplicity: have concern for the whole. The lesson of complexity: be the best we can be.

For a living system to survive and thrive, from bottom to top, each member needs to feel needed and valued, aware of their contribution to the whole. And they need access to the goods, services, and information necessary to grow, achieve and relate appropriately to other members of the system.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Leonardo da Vinci

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XVII. Shape / Geometry

 

This is the 17th posting in the series, “The Aesthetic Dimensions.” The first, posted January 6, 2019, explains the series and deals with “Abstraction.” To follow it (at no cost), go to davidlsmithcontemplativephotography.com and click “Follow” (bottom right corner of the Home page). The postings will show up in your mailbox on Sunday mornings. To find other posts in this series click on “Archives” and select a date.

A shape is an enclosed space, a two-dimensional form that has length and width. In many instances in photographs, it’s the element that first catches the eye to reveal the subject’s identity. Students learning to draw begin with the fundamental shapes—circles, rectangles, triangles, and ovals. From these, all forms can be drawn by adding and then erasing lines that don’t belong to the subject.

In the early two decades of the twentieth century, single-image “modernist” photographers moved away from the soft focus, painting-like quality of “pictorialism,” preferring sharp focus, clean lines, an emphasis on shape, form and interesting viewpoints that better lenses made possible. Notable photographers in this movement, particularly for their images of objects that emphasize shape, are Ed Weston, Ruth Bernhard, and Paul Caponigro. 

Application

If the purpose of an image is to inform or to communicate quickly, an emphasis on shape is ideal, because it immediately suggests a subject’s size and importance relative to the environment and other visual elements. 

On the other hand, if the purpose is to express a feeling, an emphasis on shape is again warranted, but now with an emphasis on lighting in a way that makes the subject fascinating or unusual. And it’s important to pay attention to the background so it doesn’t compete with the subject. Expressive images need to have an impact, and that’s mainly accomplished by out-of-the-ordinary lighting—in many instances, just one light. 

There are three types of shapes: Organic, geometric, and abstract

Organic shapes are natural, generally consisting of ovals and curves. They’re rarely straight or hard lines, eliciting the sensibilities of order, flow, and beauty.

Geometric shapes often consist of straight lines, usually with clearly defined edges. Unlike organic shapes, they can even be symmetrical.

Abstract shapes are obvious creative constructions. The value of such images is the fascination they provide by being either unreal or a variation on the real.

Technique

In the few books I’ve read on drawing, one of the first lessons is an emphasis on learning to really see a subject, beyond looking at it. The advice to accomplish this is to observe the subject without naming it or even thinking of its function. Instead, to see it as a shape or a combination of shapes made up of lines with highlights and shadows. This is excellent advice for photographers because it strengthens the aesthetic “eye.”

If the objective is to convey information, several shapes can work together with no problem—aesthetically speaking. But when the objective is to convey a feeling, if the situation can be controlled, it would be better to minimize the number of shapes.

Silhouettes emphasize a subject’s shape by diminishing its detail, which is kept in the shadows. They also tend to separate the space into positive (subject) and negative (background), while contributing to a sense of depth.

A lesson learned from my watercolor painting books is that shapes running diagonally across the frame are more dynamic than those that run in a straight line. They may not make sense, but they capture the viewer’s attention.

Considering Shape in Personal and Social Contexts

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first definition of “shape” is “to give a particular form or shape to (something). Another is “to make fit for a particular use, purpose, etc.” The latter definition is curious when applied personally because it raises the question, “Am I fit, in good enough shape to accomplish what I’m here to be and do—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? It’s a good question for contemplation, not only to gain some perspective but also to consider our fitness relative to what appears to be on the horizon.

Socially, we can ask the same question—and even more questions. As a people, what shape are we in nationally? Is the social “body” physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fit, able to perform and create forms that can respond appropriately to change given the possibilities of what lies ahead? Are we planning ahead or spending our time and capital managing real or perceived crises? Are we prioritizing properly? Are our speech and actions reflecting our true values? Are we keeping our “eye on the ball,” not letting ourselves become distracted by the voices of negativity, sensationalism, and hate? While at the personal level these questions appear to be unanswerable beyond opinion or speculation, I think they provide some food for thought.

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XVI. Shadows

This is the 16th posting in the series, “The Aesthetic Dimensions.” The first, posted January 6, 2019, explains the series and deals with “Abstraction.” To follow it (at no cost), go to davidlsmithcontemplativephotography.com and click “Follow” (bottom right corner of the Home page). The postings will show up in your mailbox on Sunday mornings. To find other posts in this series click on “Archives” and select a date.

Shadows are a part of most images, yet they’re generally not given much attention. They do, however, contribute greatly to the illusion of three dimensions and “normal” everyday reality by providing evidence of depth and contrast. 

Used with awareness and purposefulness, they can be a valuable tool as an aesthetic dimension, even turn an ordinary subject into an image that “pops.”

Application

If the communication objective, the point of an image, is to document or convey information, it’s good to be aware of the shadows. Here, I wanted to enhance the sensibility of roundness, so I chose an angle that lengthened the shadows of the ladder and let them lead the eye into the graded shadow to the left. 

When the point of an image is to express a feeling for the subject, shadows can be manipulated so they enhance the positive features of a face or object, and hide less attractive features. It’s the Johnny Mercer song: “You gotta ac-centuate the positive, e-liminat the negative. And don’t mess with Mr. In Between.”

Technique

Shadows have four characteristics: intensity, sharpness, length, and directionality.

Intensity

 

 

 

 

The relative brightness of a shadow depends on how much ambient or “fill” light there is in the situation. Indoors, professionals begin with three lights to create a flattering portrait. A “key” or main light, which is always the brightest, indicates the light’s quality (color), brightness, and direction. With only the key light turned on, it casts a shadow on the opposite side of the face, so a “fill” light is placed on that side to lighten the shadows. The fill light is either less bright than the key or placed at a greater distance from the subject. It’s the fill light—often just a reflector these days—that determines the relative brightness of the shadows. The third light is a backlight, placed high and behind the subject to create a barely noticeable rim of light around the head and shoulders to create separation from the background. This “3-point” lighting setup is an industry guideline, a way to establish a starting point upon which to build variations. Here, the key light is on the left side of my face and the fill light on the right, providing some detail in the shadows.

Shadow Sharpness — Notice the edges

The more “specular” the light source, the sharper the shadow it creates. A specular source often called a “point source,” is tiny and bright with little or no diffusion. It’s the sun at noon on a cloudless day, and it’s a bare 500-1000 watt quartz bulb with no diffusion.

As a light source becomes more diffused, the shadows spread out. Outside, clouds or anything else in the atmosphere diffuses the rays of the sun. Inside or in the studio, diffusion can be created by putting any translucent material in front of a light. High-end camera stores stock a wide variety of materials and equipment for diffusion. 

Shadow Length

The length of a shadow is determined by the angle of the light source to the subject matter. A high light source diminishes the length of the shadows it creates. Conversely, the lower the source, the longer the shadows. Here, the shadows were made to dominate by exposing the film to maintain some detail in the highlights. Doing that makes the shadows go dark to the point of nullifying the ambient light. In reality, because my eyes were adjusted to the situation the shadows were not as pronounced as they are here. 

Shadow Direction

Shadows always fall away from the light source. Regarding the direction they fall, the choice is either to ignore them or use them within a composition to a greater or lesser extent. Photographers and painters will use “cast shadows” to emphasize the size or shape of an object or person.

Contemplating Shadows in Personal and Social Contexts

An anonymous quote in my database says, “The shadow side is just the unconscious not yet enlightened.” If we could see our true nature illuminated, there would be no perception of the shadows side.  

Just as shadows are projections of darkness relative to a light source, so the light within can project shadows, dark areas we prefer not to let out or see. But like shadows cast from the sun or a lamp, like it or not, the dark areas in life keep us grounded in reality and provide a sense of depth and dimension. What do we tend to keep in the shadows? 

As a category, I think they’re the things that appear as discrepancies compared to an idealized perception of how life should be. We’d prefer not to see, hear, or experience poverty, suffering, or violence directly. Experiencing them vicariously in novels, movies, and television is quite enough. Psychiatrist Carl Jung, who had a deep interest in the shadow aspect of personality, said “our failure to recognize, acknowledge and deal with shadow elements is often the root of problems between individuals and within groups and organizations; it is also what fuels prejudice between minority groups or countries and can spark off anything between an interpersonal row and a major war.” 

His comment made me wonder: How best to react or respond to the “shadow elements” that we or others express in everyday living? For insight, I looked for quotes by those who dealt with them head-on.

Poverty — Jesus

  • Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him, there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
  • If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
  • It is more blessed to give than to receive.
  • Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.

Suffering — Buddha

  • Radiate boundless love towards the entire world — above, below, and across — unhindered, without ill will, without enmity. 
  • When watching after yourself, you watch after others. When watching after others, you watch after yourself.
  • Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.
  • As you travel through life, offer good wishes to each being you meet… May I hold myself in compassion. May I meet the suffering and ignorance of others with compassion.

Violence — Mahatma Gandhi

  • I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. 
  • Violence is the weapon of the weak, non-violence that of the strong.
  • Once one assumes an attitude of intolerance, there is no knowing where it will take one. Intolerance, someone has said, is violence to the intellect and hatred is violence to the heart.
  • Conquer the heart of the enemy with truth and love, not by violence.

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