Coalescence

 

Reflecting upon these raindrops, I’m drawn more to their  journey than to my usual inclination to trace subject matter back to its beginnings—perhaps because the first appearance of water on Earth is not yet fully understood. It is known however, that gravity keeps it contained. None of it escapes into space. According to the United States Geological Survey: “If the total amount of water vapor fell as precipitation all at once, the Earth would be covered with only about one inch of water.” But “If all the world’s water was poured on the contiguous United States, it would cover the land to a depth of about 107 miles.”

Getting back to the image, each of these drops and droplets began to take shape as invisible molecules of water vapor high in the atmosphere by attaching themselves to a nearly invisible dust particle. As more and more molecules attached—coalesced—and their weight increased, gravity pulled them down through the atmosphere causing even more coalescence. When a gazillions of these infant droplets grouped together, attracted by their electrical charges, their size increased even more to form a cloud where more attraction and more coalescence resulted in drops that literally, well, drop. The coalescence continues even when the drops splatter and run.

Notice, the drops in this image did not land on the leaf and line up this way for the picture. Their sizes and alignments are a product of their travels, conditioned by the physical forces and electrical fields they encountered along the way. Already, they are changing state, evaporating into the atmosphere. In the liquid state drops of water assume a rounded shape because a sphere requires the least amount of energy to form and has the least possible area for the volume it encloses. That makes it the most economical, energy-efficient way of enclosing and separating two volumes of space—water and surface. Aside from the physics, I love the aesthetics—how the drops are transparent and reflect the sky. Earth and sky integrated.

Another feature that comes to mind when contemplating this image is the water cycle, the change of state: liquid—vapor—solid (ice). It’s a perfect metaphor for transformation because water is constantly changing. Like the universe and all it contains, there is rising and falling. Birth and death. Breathing in, breathing out. Lub dub, lub dub. Drip. Drip.

In preparing this post, I was delighted to find Ken Wilber’s quote in my database. It beautifully conveys the transcendent perspective, connecting being with perception. Having enjoyed a career as a visual communicator, I appreciate the significance of perception and the opportunity to expand it. We become more by seeing ourselves as more. Indeed, looking deeply generates appreciation. And that can take us to the place where we are the sun, the rain and the earth.

You in the very immediateness of your present awareness, are in fact the entire world, in all its frost and fever, in all its glories and its grace, in all its triumphs and its tears. You do not see the sun, you are the sun; you do not hear the rain, you are the rain; you do not feel the earth, you are the earth.

Ken Wilber

About This Image

Raindrops On A Leaf

Theme: Coalescence

File #: DC 3448

It was late evening and after a hard rain, Linda’s garden was dripping wet. I took a rubber gardener’s mat to kneel on, and set my digital camera on a tripod with a macro lens. I did nothing to alter either the leaves or the drops. They were as you see them. The mode on the camera was set on “automatic.” In Photoshop I darkened the background shadows to eliminate some distracting elements.

I invite you to visit my updated portfolio site at: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

(This theme was previously posted in March, 2014)

JOURNALISM ETHICS AND AUDIENCE DISCERNMENT

What’s a citizen to believe? With all the buzz about “false” and “fake” news, foreign influence in elections, intelligence leakers, inflammatory talk shows and social media manipulators how can we know the truth of anything that’s being reported? We can’t. Given any situation that’s reported, we weren’t present to see for ourselves what happened. The news is almost always a second-hand account. And even if we had witnessed an event, our perception of it would differ from that of other observers. Because we’re emotional beings living in constructed personal realities, information sharing will always be subjective. Consistent with the purpose of this blog, my primary intent is to appreciate, in this case, journalism. I’ll also recommend five aids to discernment as antidotes to deception.

First, I want to acknowledge journalism trade organizations and corporations that have formulated codes of ethics, including the journalists who adhere to them. I tip my hat to all who are practicing socially responsible journalism. Although one can earn a degree in journalism, it’s not required in order to be a journalist. It’s a “field,” not a profession where one must have a license to practice. Anyone, even a nine-year-old or a sociopath can claim to be a journalist and publish material. What makes one a “professional” is employment by a company in the news business. And one of the benefits of the professional label is that it accords the journalist respectability because their employers adhere to and enforce a code of ethics. In many companies, across all media, violation of the code can be grounds for dismissal.

In decades past, self-regulation through these codes combined with policies of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) created an atmosphere of public trust. We could generally be confident that we were not being deceived or manipulated. Today, however, largely because deregulation opened the gates to anyone with a microphone or computer who wants to report the news, that trust is being eroded. This is particularly due to certain tabloid, radio, television and internet entities that, despite claims to the contrary, have consistently demonstrated bias and deceptive practices. Even these can profess a code of ethics, but there’s a huge discrepancy when it comes to motivation and intent. It’s the difference between promoting an ideology and, in contrast, reporting information that’s true and accurate while preserving, protecting and strengthening the bond of trust between American journalism and the American people.

Our best protection against entities that would confuse, weaken or threaten this relationship through false news, misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and so on is the individual’s capacity to discern truth from falsehood. Wikipedia defines “discernment” as—

The ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well… It involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities. Considered as a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgment; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others.

*The first aid to discernment is to observe the media provider’s motivation and intention. Is it to persuade, influence, arouse audiences or attract advertisers? Do they blur the lines between news and entertainment or news and opinion to maximize audience share? Are they a pack of hounds pursuing a quarry or ideologues seeking power or converts? Do they exaggerate or hype a story in order to support a social, economic or political agenda? Are they trying to become the moral arbiters of society? Or are they honest brokers of truth? Do they strive to provide relevant, useful evidence-based facts in context to inform, promote understanding and empower citizens to make appropriate—healthy and wise—adjustments to change? My litmus with respect to motivation and intent is “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves…A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit…by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20). In the vernacular: If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

The second aid to discernment is to trust your gut. We can’t entirely trust the mind when it comes to discernment because of the tendency to rationalize or spin information to suit our point of view. Studies show that it’s the unconscious, nonverbal cues like body language, that tell us if we can trust what someone is saying. A study by psychologist Albert Mehrabian found that, with respect to credibility and trust, words contributed 7% of the message, tone of voice 38% and body language 55%. Intuition or gut impressions are important. Can we trust a reporter or presenter when their manner is boisterous? I notice that when an anchorperson, reporter or interviewer is a showboat or makes the story about him or herself, the needle on my trust meter goes way down. It goes down even further when the presenter is aggressive, antagonistic, blaming or boiling over with determination—especially when he intimates that his opinion is the only correct one.

The third aid to discernment has to do with the world-view of a company or reporter. Or both. Their view of the world and human beings is revealed in the pattern of the content they choose to present. It reflects their mentality and values. When we’re watching a newscast, we’re largely standing in the presence of the news director’s consciousness, which represents the corporation’s values. They show us what they deem important and present it in ways consistent with their perception of the audience. On the one hand I knew a news director who at times used language that betrayed his perception of the audience as being stupid, gullible or ignorant. In another situation at a different station, the news director assigned a reporter to exclusively cover “good news in the city.”

If the preponderance of a company’s news stories is consistently negative, it may indicate that those in control of the operation either have a negative worldview or believe that tragedy and mayhem are what their audience wants to see or hear. Balance requires giving substantial time to the alternative—stories that encourage, inspire or empower. A common example of imbalance is when a local television newscast consistently and predominantly covers vehicular accidents, fires, abuses, crime, and corruption. Because these are out-of-the-ordinary events they are newsworthy, but the reason for reporting them is not just to say what happened, it’s also to increase awareness of tragic events so viewers and city planners can take preventative measures. Also, positive events and inspirational stories need to be told because they paint a more complete and balanced picture of the humanity.

The corporation that’s reported to have adopted a policy of maternity leave for both parents and equal pay for women demonstrates that it’s possible, perhaps even more profitable, for a powerful institution to value its employees as much as profit. The story about a church that collects and delivers tons of food and clothing to countries where people are starving encourages us to contribute our time and energy to support them or similar initiatives. It lifts our spirit when we learn that a commercial fisherman released 30 tons of Mackerel in order to save dolphins trapped in his net. When we see Israelis and Palestinians collaborating together successfully our belief that peace is possible is enhanced. The San Francisco woman who turned decommissioned city buses into shower stations for the homeless provided an example of what one person can do to make an enormous contribution to social well-being. And the story of a young Goodwill volunteer who turned over to her manager an envelop containing $10,500. that she found renews our faith in humanity—that people can and will do the right thing. These kinds of stories show the best in us to the rest of us, build trust in our neighbors and confidence in our leaders. In many instances they provide models that can be replicated. Socially responsible journalism functions to educate and empower, not just inform or entertain. Otherwise, the public gets a one-sided, incomplete picture of humanity and society, one that results in passivity and feelings of helplessness, fear, worry and depression.

*The fourth aid to discernment is to listen to our conscience. Philosopher Immanuel Kant, who wrote extensively about ethics and ethical decision-making, considered the human conscience as the ultimate source for informing us of right and wrong. Practically, his “categorical imperative” advised that we “Act on that maxim which you will to become a universal law.” “Categorical” mean unconditional. So the Kantian test in the context of a news presentation asks the question: Would I want the whole world to feel what I’m feeling as a result of this presentation of the news?

*The fifth aid to discernment is to consider the consequences.

Similarly, English philosopher John Stuart Mills proposed the Principle of Utility, recommending that we “Seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” In our context this applies equally to journalists and their viewers and readers to determine what’s right or wrong by considering what news or information would yield the best consequences for the welfare of the society. In Mills’ terms, “The morally right alternative produces the greatest balance of good over evil.” Expressed in personal terms, what in me does a particular news program or reporter encourage? Bonding or fragmentation? Caring or indifference? Tolerance or intolerance? Love or fear? Conflict or collaboration? Action or passivity? Our role as citizen requires that we act in the best interest of both ourselves and society, and responsible journalists help us to do that.

We have to remember, as journalists, that we may be observers but we are not totally disinterested observers. We are not social engineers, but each one of us has a stake in the health of this democracy. Democracy and the social contract that makes it work are held together by a delicate web of trust, and all of us in journalism hold edges of the web. We are not just amused bystanders, watching the idiots screw it up.

Robert MacNeil (Of The MacNeil/Lehrer Report on PBS)

While I’m not proposing a change in anyone else’s media diet, my hope is that these aids to discernment will serve as a nudge to observe the media with eyes wide open, so we’re not duped by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” What we ingest through the media can diminish or enhance our world-view and life experience. It’s a choice we can—and do—make every day.

Journalism is one of the more important arts of democracy, and its ultimate purpose is not to make news, or reputations, or headlines, but simply to make democracy work.

Davis (Buzz) Merritt (Editor and Co-Founder of Public Journalism)

About This Image

Title: Student On The Grass With A Computer

File #: DC 2182

Location: Ohio State University

*Special thanks to my colleague, Dr. Clifford Christians, Emeritus Research Professor of Media Studies and Journalism at the University of Illinois. These “aids to discernment” were extrapolated from the Second Edition (1986) of his textbook Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning. That book is no longer available, but the Ninth Edition (link provide in the title) is an excellent examination of ethics in the modern world.

(I invite you to visit my revised Portfolio Site: David L Smith Photography)

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A Selected List of Codes Of Ethics In Journalism

There are hundreds of national and international media organizations that have codes of ethics, all of them too detailed to be presented here. I encourage you to review at least one. Their values and articulation gives us hope.

National Public Radio “Our journalism is as accurate, fair and complete as possible. Our journalists conduct their work with honesty and respect, and they strive to be both independent and impartial in their efforts. Our methods are transparent and we will be accountable for all we do.” Principles include: Accuracy / Fairness / Completeness / Honesty / Independence / Impartiality / Transparency / Accountability / Respect

Poynter Publishing The Poynter Institute is a school for journalists that also practices journalism. The guidelines describe the values, standards, and practices they pursue.  Their core values include accuracy, independence, interdependence, fairness, transparency, professional responsibility, and helpfulness.

Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) RTDNA is the world’s largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. RTDNA members include local and network news executives, news directors, producers, reporters, photographers, editors, multimedia journalists and digital news professionals in broadcasting, cable, and digital media, as well as journalism educators and students.

American Society of News Editors (ASNE) The ASNE “focuses on leadership development and journalism-related issues. It promotes fair, principled journalism, defends and protects First Amendment rights, and fights for freedom of information and open government among its members. It’s principles include: Responsibility / Freedom of the Press / Independence / Truth and Accuracy / Impartiality / Fair Play.

Associated Press Media Editors Their principles are a model against which news and editorial staff members can measure their performance. “They have been formulated in the belief that news media and the people who produce news content should adhere to the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct.” They include: Responsibility / Accuracy / Integrity / Independence.

Gannett Newspaper Division “We are committed to seeking and reporting the truth in a truthful way / Serving the public interest / Exercising fair play / Maintaining independence / Being accountable / Acting with integrity. Editors have a responsibility to communicate these Principles to newsroom staff members and to the public.”

Society Of Professional Journalists “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity. The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.” Seek Truth and Report It / Minimize Harm / Act Independently / Be Accountable and Transparent.

Journalism Codes of Ethics From Around the World A listing of U.S. and International Ethics Codes

This site provides a clickable list of organizations that publish their codes of ethics. 

Invitation

 

This week I invite you to visit my portfolio website. I replaced 90% of the images there, dropped some categories and added others. The text elements are the same. The purpose of this site is simply to share my images as widely as possible, so if you like what you see please forward a link to those who appreciate photography.

Here’s the link: My Portfolio Web Site

Reality

In this image I reflect on the notion of “reality,” that it’s both individual and a construct. There’s the reality that I, as the photographer, experienced—the bright sun and the people on the hill. Part of that reality includes cars in a parking lot and an observation platform to the right of the walkers, so the reality within the frame is a small fraction of what I experienced. The realities of the individuals walking down the path are entirely different from my experience, each having a unique perspective based on a complex of references, preferences, relationships and motivations. Then there are the realities that you and other observers will read into this image: perhaps humanity’s exploration of the planet, it’s advance into the future or the scale of the Earth and human beings relative to the immensity of the sun. Yet another reality is the image itself, experienced differently on a screen or on paper. These and other realities are quite easily seen and understood because our senses provide our brains with input that constructs meaning based on both our personal and consensus experiences.

What we do not see is an (or “the”) objective reality. While our sensory systems evolved to maximize the potential for survival and growth, they do not detect the realities that give rise to life and form, the worlds of atoms and quanta. For instance, the photons stimulating our retinas as we look at this image. Objectively it has no color. What the brain interprets as color has everything to do with the reflection and absorption properties of surfaces. We say a fabric is “red,” for instance, because the combination of threads absorb the colors of the visible spectrum other than red. Put another way, “Blue” is the experience of a lack of yellow. So while eyes perform the critical task of providing wavelength input and generating stimuli accordingly, it’s actually the brain that “sees” color. The same is true of shape, texture and dimension, properties the brain uses to interpret and construct our visual reality.

Even the experience of a solid is a mental construction. In the quantum realm nothing is solid. In metals and even diamonds, the hardest of rocks, there’s far more space within and between the atoms than there is matter. Same goes for the universe—as we know it. Dark matter could change that perception. At  the that level matter reduces to “quanta” and energy “fields.”

For whatever reason, this image reminded me that the realities of everyday life are personal constructs, moment to moment interpretive creations where all my sensory inputs are filtered through a myriad of past experiences and influences including physiology, ethnicity, psychology, family, education, peer associations, socialization and work to name a few. Even the realities and the symbols that represent them are momentary constructions. Consider how your personal reality would be changed without the words “television” or “time.” I’m reminded of the indigenous people who experienced Spanish galleons for the first time, interpreting them as sea monsters or monster canoes and regarding rifles as barking sticks and fire sticks. New realities rely upon established ones to make sense of them.

On the one hand, the awareness that reality is a construct is humbling. It leads to the observation that we live somewhere in the middle between the ephemeral and immensity. It’s also empowering because, if my personal reality is a construct, I can alter it—make it better. What’s more, the leading edge of consciousness and technology that’s expanding our understanding and capabilities in both directions suggests that something grand is in process. From this perspective, and in the image above, I see us walking into that light with enthusiasm and determination.

If an almost limitless field of action lies open to us in the future, what shall our disposition be, as we contemplate this march ahead? A great hope held in common. 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J.

About This Image

Title: The Leading Edge

Theme: Realities

File #: DC4620

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

I’d been photographing the magnificent landscapes in the Badlands of South Dakota when I saw a turnout where people were walking back and forth on a walkway that led to an overlook and a grand vista. That particular landscape had been and will continue to be photographed by thousands of tourists each year. I’d seen many like it days before, but because there were so many people I had to see for myself what was attracting them. Also, a lifetime in photography has taught me that unusual and powerful images are much more likely to occur when walking rather than driving.

And, it isn’t always the spectacular or unusual subject matter that makes a good photograph, it’s  more about the manner of looking. And as Henri Cartier-Bresson said, it’s about “being there,” being present and prepared for what he called “the decisive moment” when the angle of light, a gust of wind or a fallen rock presents a composition rich in beauty or expression. Happy accidents happen so often, it didn’t matter to me that this lookout was crowded with people taking pictures. Yes, I set up my tripod on the platform and shot the vista like everyone else. And I’m glad I did. But of the exposures I made at that location, the one that eventually spoke to me was this one.

After shooting the vista, a range of pink and red peaks with long shadows, I was back at the car changing batteries and putting the camera in its case. Before closing the trunk lid I took a drink of water and noticed how low the sun had gotten to the horizon since I arrived. Seeing the people in silhouette on the walkway was irresistible, so I got out the camera again and steadied it with my elbows on the roof of the car. The bright flare of the sun was about all I could see on the viewing screen, so I made several exposures hoping to get a pleasing configuration of the walkers that I could barely see at the time because I was facing into the sun. By using a zoom lens the sun was made bigger in the image, but I still had to crop in order to exclude cars in the foreground and the wooden beams of the overlook platform to the right of the walkers.

(Originally posted March, 2013)

Form And Function

 

Aside from the beauty of the reflections, this motorcycle urges me toward two lines of contemplation. The first is a deep appreciation for our capacity to extract elements from the earth and shape them into virtually unlimited forms. Size, shape and surface, even strength of materials and temperature tolerances are a few of the variables that designers and engineers can manipulate—which amazes me! My father, who made tools for the Ford Motor Company, often said that he could make anything from metal. When he heard that I was chipping fossils in creek beds with a hammer and screw driver, he surprised me with a professional looking pick and hammer that he made from a single piece of steel. The handle was textured for gripping and the head had a needle point on one end and a flat prong on the other for prying. I still cherish it.

Having gained the ability to shape the earth into anything we can imagine was certainly a key step in humanity’s ongoing physical and intellectual transformation. By literally having “the whole world in our hands,” the forms we have made, and are continuing to create, are informing us about our values and choices. Do they sustain and build? Or otherwise? This particular form, the motorcycle, peaks my aesthetic nerve. I never owned one, but this image helps me appreciate how so much potential power, visually and literally, can be contained in such a relatively small and beautiful vehicle.

Another line of contemplation derives from the observation that many different forms have been organized into a highly functioning whole. A motorcycle is an excellent example of the often misused term, “synergy,” initially used to describe a system where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, extract any part, no matter how small, and the system will not function as it was designed. There’s also a lesson in diversity here. If all the parts took the same form or performed the same function, they wouldn’t constitute a whole capable of functioning at all. In both physical and social systems, differentiation and diversity are essential for full functioning. It’s the survival and growth strategy that bacteria learned around two billion years ago. “You bring the costumes. He’ll bring the lights. I’ll bring the music. They can sing and dance and we’ll put on a play!” Every part in a machine, and every member of a society has a role to play.

What is anything but spirit taking form?

Alex Gray (Artist)

About This Image

Title: Motorcycle

Theme: Form And Function

File: DF 640

Lebanon, Ohio

I often photograph at classic car shows. I’m not so much interested in a vehicle’s mechanical attributes or performance, although these are sometimes remarkable. What draws me are the impeccable forms and pristine surfaces that are highly reflective. I even dress for these occasions, wearing dark pants, shirt and shoes to avoid or moderate my  reflection. Unfortunately, on the day I made this image, I was wearing a plaid shirt and it shows in the photograph.

Because I go looking for reflections, exquisite light and strong geometries my car images tend to be abstractions rather than whole cars. If you would like to page through a book of these images—and monographs featuring other themes—the title is “Auto Reflections: The Intersection Of Form, Light and Color.” (The link is to www.Blurb.com/bookstore). These are all available through amazon.com by searching: “david l. smith ohio photographer.”

Qualities Of Character

There are certain people in the world who bolster my estimation of humanity and contribute hope for the future. By the quality of their character defined by social theorist Amitai Etzioni as “the psychological muscle that moral conduct requires,” they show the best in us to the rest of us.

Tom, in the image above, is a long time friend. Although we haven’t worked together or seen each other in many years, had fewer than thirty phone conversations and exchanged not many more than two dozen emails in that time, I regularly carry him in my heart as one who consistently demonstrated that kind of muscle. In fact, he was the one who, through word and deed, was the first to help me understand the meaning and value of character.

Before and after working with Tom, I was fortunate to become acquainted with many people of character. They were diverse ethnically, young and old, highly educated and not, religious and not, spiritually minded and not, wealthy and not, extroverts and introverts, activists and observers, professionals and stay-at-home parents. My Dad was among them. Character has to do with who we are, not our status, intelligence or occupation. As such it profoundly influences everything we think, say and do.

Curiously, these people are diverse in another way. The duration of our time together is not a factor in terms of their influence on me. Some of these people I’ve known for a long time. Others I encountered only once and in the space of time as short as an hour. Still others I observed from afar or listened to them speak. One such person I just saw in a television interview. This leads me to the conclusion that demonstrations of strong character make a lasting impression. They stay with us because they stand out. And they inspire by example, showing us the solid and lasting building blocks upon which to construct a satisfying, meaningful, stress free and contributing life.

Even as I write, images of particular individuals flash onto my memory screen. I cherish them and am grateful to them for demonstrating the qualities of character that I believe will see us through the social vagaries and trials set upon us by those who are blind to them. As you read the descriptions below, I know you will think of the special people in your life who have demonstrated them.

We all take notice of exceptionally good people. Even in the world of business they are recognized, as when someone says He’s a good man,” or “She’s our kind of person”—code for “Here’s someone you can trust, a person of honesty and integrity.” I have a theory along these lines: I think the consciously or unconsciously perceived “goodness” of a person is one of the less recognized but most potent attractors in forming significant relationships. Along with karma, it might even be one of the components in love at first sight.

Particular virtues are more or less developed in all of us. They manifest differently from person to person and from time to time, so we acknowledge that we are all works in progress with respect to these qualities. So what are they? The following descriptions are my own, not sourced elsewhere. And it’s important to note that these are not criteria by which I judge people. They are just the outstanding qualities of character that I have experienced and try to emulate.

What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

TRUTH / HONESTY

Seeking the truth, gathering more information before sharing it with others. Honesty is making a good faith effort to always speak the truth as we know it. This includes not hiding the truth so others can base their perceptions and decisions on the reality of a situation.

INTEGRITY TO VIRTUES

Having integrity is being consistently faithful to something or someone. Because Adolf Hitler was totally committed to his vision, it can be said that he was a man of integrity. So it matters greatly what we are faithful to. Men and women of refined character are faithful to a full range of virtues—and they demonstrate them in everyday living.

KINDNESS

Kindness is interacting with others in a way that fosters or maintains a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship, one that enhances rather than harms. Kindness intends to build and support. It’s criticism is constructive and non-judgmental. It accommodates other points of view and seeks an understanding of differences.

INCLUSION

Rather than separate, isolate or disengage people who are different from us, we join, unite and engage them, welcoming the opportunity to explore the possibilities and enrichment that often comes from collaboration.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

When we acknowledge someone they feel good about themselves or what they have done. It encourages a repeat performance and creates a bond between the acknowledger and the acknowledged. It’s one of the primary ways to make someone feel important, worthy or accepted. Whenever someone does something good, however small, there’s an opportunity to make their day. It’s the reason we say “Congratulations,” give a pat on the back and present awards. The greater the acknowledgement the greater the contribution to self-esteem.

GRATITUDE

An expression of gratitude acknowledges that we are not alone, sufficient unto ourselves, that we are thankful for the other and the contribution they make to our lives. As a virtue, gift-giving, sharing and expressing gratitude in return is one of the earliest behaviors of primitive humans. As an act combining acknowledgment and appreciation, it creates bonds.

APPRECIATION

To appreciate is to enjoy, like or celebrate someone or something. Outward expressions of appreciation automatically include acknowledgement. Appreciation as an inner experience enriches the soul through a perception or valuation that’s in alignment with purpose.

HUMILITY

Humility is an acceptance that there’s more to life, living and the universe than the limited mind and experience perceives. Physically, it situates us properly in the scheme of things, between the immensity of the cosmos and the mysteries of the quantum world. Psychologically, it places us somewhere along the continuum between great minds and animal minds. And spiritually it allows us to feel comfortable as we take the next step toward the Great Mystery.

RESPONSIBILITY

Responsibility is doing what we say we’ll do. It’s follow-through. Better to not say “I’ll call you,” than to say you will and not call. If I say I’ll be there, I will be there or you’ll know why not before hand. Better to not commit to a deadline than be late.

RESPECT

Respect is allowing another’s perspective, method, attitude or behavior without demeaning them as a person. While we may disagree with someone, we accept that they have a right to hold and express their views, to do whatever they need to do—as long as it does not harm.

GENEROSITY / SHARING

Both an attitude and an act of giving. Eagerness to share is also a primitive and potent bonding mechanism.

COMPASSION

In the face of another’s suffering that we can do nothing about, we broaden our perspective to see with understanding eyes that their soul is doing what it needs to do. Deep down, compassion desires the health and well-being of all living things, irrespective of circumstances. At a higher vibration, compassion is the companion of universal unconditional love.

RESPECTFUL SPEECH

One of the most common qualities of refinement is a sense of calm in the voice, and a preference for listening rather than speaking. Foul and abusive language which demeans human dignity, is completely absent.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Another of the most common traits of strong character is a positive attitude, irrespective of circumstances. The glass is always half-full.

THOUGHTFULNESS

An act is thoughtful if it expresses concern, respect, celebration or welcome. Irrespective of that which is presented, its method or magnitude, the message is one of caring. In my experience, the thoughtful gifts, consideration or words that makes the biggest impression are those that are unexpected.

SUBSTANTIVE CONVERSATION

We all make small talk and carry on conversations about health, activities and plans. But one of the signposts of a person of refined character is a desire to gracefully move a conversation to topics that are less ego involving and more universal—ideas and perspectives that matter in addition to everyday concerns. When the subject is meaningful there’s a deeper engagement that has the to potential to heal, inform, uplift or inspire.

As a society it’s not enough that we prepare our children to be intellectually strong, creative and skilled. Fundamental to all pursuits is the development and strengthening of character traits, particularly morality and ethics, which as Etzioni said, are an outgrowth.

This is one of the reasons why I favor religious education, irrespective of denomination, especially in the early years. All the major traditions provide rules for good behavior, and while these may be presented in the context of dogma, the qualities imbedded in them are likely to carry over into later life. Even if they don’t, they provide perspectives to rebel against. Religious rules are important because they are based on  virtue, the building blocks that contribute to refinement of the personality. And character.

Because school is formative along with parental and peer influences, it’s the best place to introduce the foundational qualities that will help children succeed and be “good people.” Actually I think that, alongside academics and social and emotional learning, the development of character should be incorporated into the mission of ALL schools. The following is a long quote, but I include it because it evokes consideration along these lines and shows that the wisdom pertaining to goodness and strong character has deep roots in our civilization.

The goal of learning about the good life is not knowledge, but to become good. Since the practice of virtue is the goal for the individual, then ultimately we must turn our eyes to the arena in which this practice plays out—the polis. Legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator; and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one. Laws must be instituted in such a way as to make its citizens good, but the lawmakers must themselves be good in order to do this. Human beings are so naturally political that the relationship between the state and the individual is to some degree reciprocal, but without the state, the individual cannot be good. 

Aristotle

ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Facing The Waves

Location: Big Sur, California

Through the early 80’s, Tom and I were board members of the Association For Responsible Communication. We’d served on a panel at a symposium in the Bay area and, along with his wife, we drove down Highway One to speak at an event in Los Angeles. When we saw the Pacific waves crashing against the rocks we had to stop and look. And photograph. With the sun behind Tom I captured him in silhouette, behind a wave that nearly knocked him off his feet.

Equanimity

 

This image of a flamingo beautifully illustrates the kind of composure referred to as equanimity—steadiness of mind under stress. Calm. His feathers aren’t ruffled. And his posture reminds me of the social science phenomenon of “cocooning,” a term coined in the 90’s by trend forecaster Faith Popcorn to describe how individuals were socializing less and retreating into their homes more. Whereas the trend began in part because of the desire for more people to work at home (even air conditioning was a contributing factor), more recent insecurities such as increased incivility, gun violence and terrorism have contributed to this drawing in. And of course, advances in communications technology have made it much easier to keep the rest of the world at arm’s length.

Whether or not we view cocooning as a positive or negative—perhaps both—the image of the flamingo gathering his wings with a watchful eye suggests to me an appropriate response to the winds that carry breakdown, disappointment, pain or grief. Resistance to these experiences makes them worse. Placing blame and railing against them stirs up negative energy and spreads the misery farther. Gathering ones feathers amounts to standing calm and watchful, allowing the storm to bring what it will. And pass. That’s not to say we should be passive. The time for action is when, through observation and with increased  information relating to opposing perspective, the fuller truth is understood. It’s the opposite of rushing to judgment or acting on information that only supports one perspective.

I’ve always lived with cats. One of the things I’ve observed that’s so marvelous about them, and animals in general—aside from their innate appeal and unique personalities—is that they respond to everything with equanimity. One day we picked up our cat, Indy, and he quickly retracted his paws. Normally they were pink. Now they were dark brown and rough. Yet he walked normally and didn’t vocalize. The vet diagnosed that his paws had been burned, probably from jumping up on the stove when one of the burners was still hot. Animals feel pain like we do, yet they respond to it with equanimity, doing what’s necessary to heal and in the meantime making themselves as comfortable as possible.

Perhaps it’s easier for animals to maintain their composure because their operating systems are driven by instinct rather than self-awareness, but I think we can at least learn from them that acceptance with composure is the more balanced response to upset. In my novel, Jaguar Sun: The Journey of an Ancient Maya Storyteller—the third and last in the trilogy, a young lord, wise beyond his years, gathers his feathers by doing exactly what this flamingo is doing. Standing and watching, carefully observing and assessing the situation before acting. It’s also what Indy did. The word “grace” comes to mind.

With so many viewpoints about any topic, if one person is aggressive about his viewpoint, it is likely to bring imbalance into the situation. What is required is a certain calm, a lack of ego, a lack of delusion that one sees all around every situation, and give some space for others to contribute other viewpoints which would allow the emergence of a balanced view, so that there might be balanced action. There has to be balance for there to be health at any level.

Alan Hammond

About This Image

Flamingo

Theme: Equanimity

File: DC 1486

Location: Disney World, Orlando, Florida

August 25, 2009

Touring Walt Disney World, we came to a place where there were a great number of flamingos. I singled this one out because of the exceptional composition, the mixed hues in his feathers and his open eye. Also, he was close enough that I could fill the frame with the telephoto lens.

The only adjustments I made in Lightroom were to darken the background and increase the clarity to enhance the texture in his feathers.

This post first appeared in June, 2014.

Art And Meaning

Chairs

The random arrangement of elements juxtaposing lights and darks in this image comes near to creating abstraction because the subject matter is easily “read.” Another aesthetic feature here is the number of visual elements, each tonal change representing one element. More elements make an image more complex, so there’s increased potential in the information that can be derived such an image. For instance, a photograph of just one chair would make a statement such as, “Look at this chair.” Consciously or unconsciously the viewer would wonder what’s so special about it? The image of multiple chairs generates many more questions: Where are these chairs? Who sat in them? Is this the random aftermath of a business meeting, party or ceremony? Or were these chairs just set to one side so someone could clean the other side of the deck? And is this really a deck? It could be a boardwalk. Might there be more than meets the eye here?

Abstracted images tend to challenge us, however briefly, to make sense of what we’re seeing. We want to grasp the meaning, part of which has to do with why the artist has set the subject matter apart for us by formalizing it within a frame. What did he or she see? And what’s so special about this subject that we should give it our attention? In this we’re attempting to understand the image-maker as well as the object represented.

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)

In many, if not most instances, the mind of the artist is as important as the subject being represented. We’re always trying to validate our world view or understand if there’s value in someone else’s perception that we might be missing, particularly when there’s a great discrepancy. It’s why art historians, critics and others maintain that the function of art is to challenge, upset or overturn conventional ways of seeing and thinking.

According to social psychologist, Roy Baumeister, “What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans.” This, in my view, is the highest function of fine art. However we engage, use or perceive art, and irrespective of the medium and intent, those who produce it are holding up a mirror to show us who we are, how far we’ve come and what we’re capable of accomplishing.

Art plays a significant roll in meaning, in making sense of diverse personal realities and collective social realities. It attempts, and at times defines what it means to be fully human. Across all levels, media and applications, the making and observation of works of art engages us in acts of self-reflection and discovery. Just as instruments reach out to explore space and the depths of the oceans, works of art reveal the dimensions and beauty of the human spirit—wherever and however they are displayed.

A society that regards the function of art as entertainment and appreciation alone, fails to understand that its engagement is nutrition for the collective soul. Museums are not merely warehouses for historic and contemporary treasures. Realize it or not, in addition to appreciation, these institutions are arenas rich with potential to stimulate the higher human faculties of observation, imagination, empathy, experimentation, discovery, critical thinking, symbology and aesthetic awakening, all toward understanding and making sense of who we are, what we’ve come through and what we can still accomplish. Some may think this a “soft” or inconsequential enterprise compared to commerce, for instance, but I would argue that gaining this understanding—through feeding the individual soul—is essential for maintaining and advancing the quality of life for everyone.

Like the seers and oracles of old, Art sings and shouts from the axis of truth to wake us up to who we are and where we are going.

Alex Gray (Artist)
ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Deck Chairs

File: DC3613

Just wandering around a marina in Florida I came upon these chairs. As noted, they were pushed aside while the long deck was being cleaned.

Union

Although this weld bead is not a good one from the perspective of a welder, it caught my attention as a potentially abstract image, rich with color, texture and highlights. When I came across the image today the word “joining” came to mind, eliciting some observations for contemplation. Some of the metaphoric implications are obvious, others not so much. And because Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J. wrote so extensively about the evolutionary dynamics and implications of union—joining together—I offer some of his quotes that distill the essence of my observations here.

In the first place, I notice that a bead of molten material, itself metal, is used to unify separate pieces of steel. It’s not a different substance that unites, it’s the same in essence, except that it’s in a molten or liquid form. Just so, two individuals with differing values or perspectives can become united in purpose or function by a third party, a “facilitator” who shares their vision or common objective. As long as there is a commonly held outcome, there’s the potential for bonding. And when it’s realized, their strength is increased considerably. The whole has expanded potentials and more capability than the individuals would have had operating separately.

Everything in the universe is made by union and generation—by the coming together of elements that seek out one another, melt together two by two, and are born again in a third.

Teilhard de Chardin S.J.

Metals are “hard-nosed” individuals. They are fixed in their ways, not about to change. They “like” being separate. So much so, they can only be bonded by another metal that has undergone a change of state—transformation—from solid to liquid. In the realm of matter, pliability is a necessary condition for unification. In the human realm this equates to flexibility. And that’s where we have an advantage. Even when individuals are fixed in their ways and disagree, bonding can occur through mutually respectful communication.

Fuller being is closer union.

Teilhard de Chardin S.J.

Importantly, in the above image both pieces of metal retain their individual uniqueness even when they are joined. In the human situation, the molten bead represents the power of agreement and compromise. And that is accomplished in the fires of discussion and debate—which should, like the elements that compose the metal, include everyone who has something at stake in the outcome that will be affected by unification.

True union does not fuse: it differentiates and personalizes.

Teilhard de Chardin S.J.

It may be extending the metaphor too far, but I note in this image that the solidified bead is brighter and shinier than the metals it joins. In the domain of human interaction I take this to indicate that the agent of unification needs to be someone “brighter” in the sense of having an expanded perspective, particularly with regard to the potentials that can be achieved through joining.

Union can only increase through an increase in consciousness, that is to say in vision. That is why the history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen.

Teilhard de Chardin S.J.

The lesson I draw from the metal and human communication analogy is that separate individuals, hardened in their values, beliefs or perspectives, can unite either through intelligent and wise communication or commonly shared experiences. United, individuals are stronger and capable of achieving what could not be achieved by themselves.

I do not exist in order that I may possess; rather I exist in order that I may give of myself, for it is in giving that I am myself. Cosmic life is intrinsically communal. Being is first a “we” before it can become an “I.” 

Teilhard de Chardin S.J

ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Welding Seam

File: DC624

I came upon these pieces of joined metal in a scrap yard. “Smart Sharpening” was used in Photoshop—slightly—to accentuate the textures.

ABOUT TEILHARD

If you would like to read about Teilhard (pronounced: “Tay-yar”), I recommend Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin by Ursula King, revised edition 2015 by Orbis Books. It can be found in most public libraries.

Teilhard’s legacy was the formulation of a comprehensive mystical vision that integrated science and spirituality. Science critics didn’t think he added much to the field of evolution or paleontology. And the Catholic Church banned him from publishing during his lifetime, even exiled him to China to prevent him from speaking. In particular, his views on original sin and evolution presented a threat to dogma. Recent pope’s however, spoke highly of his contributions to Christ-centered spirituality.

It’s perhaps no accident that I chose an image of metal for this contemplation. When Teilhard was a child he collected rocks, drawn to them because they were the hardest, most lasting objects he could find. Then one day he discovered a piece of shiny metal under a cart. Because it was much harder than rock, he thought he’d found something that would last. He said he “cherished” it. When it was left out in the rain for a time he came running to his mother in tears because his precious find was rusting. In telling this years later, he cites the incident as the moment when he became determined to find something that would last forever. He found it in the human spirit.

Snow

 

High in the field of frigid darkness

The place where potentials reside,

Atoms rise, congregate and coalesce.

I am born, a vaporous singularity.

 

Wandering there, I reach out to the closest being

A speck of dust carried in an atmospheric wave,

Clinging, descending.

The order within expresses symmetry, six arms.

 

Growing, gaining mass, I descend

Through neighborhoods of varying cold and wet,

More cold my body flattens.

Less cold my arms grow intricate, needle-like crystals.

 

Descending further and gaining momentum

My I reach out in seven directions,

Ever growing, expanding, tossed in the wind.

I am not alone.

 

Rising, falling, swirling with my neighbors

Uniqueness become clear,

As does substance as we journey together.

The wind stronger now, carrying us to the same destiny.

 

Approaching the earth, falling together in silence

Trees lift their white burdened arms to greet us,

An orange tabby on a windowsill watches, arches its back.

A doe leads her fawn to a leaf-fallen thicket.

 

Beauty and mystery filled the journey

As singularities became a multitude,

Arriving together in silent curtains of white.

Each of us witness to potentials realized in a spectacle of joining.

February 10, 2017

David L. Smith