Know Thyself, Even Communities Need To

30LILIPOH Editor Walter Alexander Interviews Paul H. Ray, PhD
Issue: Winter 2002: Community and the Art of Social Health - Issue #30

We are good people & we care deeply about all human beings, all animals, all sentient beings. We are profoundly troubled by the growing human-generated threats to farmland and forest, to the air, rivers and vast oceans & to the whole earth. We grieve in our hearts at the social injustices of the past, and at the callousness and crass materialism of the present. We hear and see the soundbites and images strewn from newspapers and newscasts full of simplistic views of right and wrong, good and evil, friend and foe. We sense self-serving hands behind them stoking of fires of fear and mistrust among the unsuspecting millions. These forces of entrenched power vastly outnumber and outweigh our small bands of friends and fellow workers for the good. They have subverted and usurped the levers of democratic process, and we, for most intents and purposes, remain isolated and alone.

H.L. Mencken's popular quotation seems to apply: "For every complex problem there is a simple solution, and it is always wrong." The simple picture above of a complex world, according to social researcher and demographer Paul H. Ray, Ph.D., is also wrong. It may accurately portray the feelings of many, but regarding where the numbers actually stand, it is and is becoming increasingly false.

In the book he coauthored, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World (Harmony Books, NY, 2000), Ray described his U.S. report based on 150 thousand survey reports, over 500 values-related focus groups and many in-depth interviews. It showed that 50 million adults from divergent backgrounds share core non-establishment values, outnumbering traditional political voting blocks. The failure of this group to recognize itself or to be recognized by political candidates, Ray showed also in a recent New York Open Center talk, contributed to the outcome of the recent U.S. elections. A paltry 39% of the registered voters actually voted, allowing the backward looking politics of a "tiny minority" (20%) to determine the balance of the Congress. Ray calls this not-yet-recognized group the "cultural creatives." Fifty years ago, U.S. culture was polarized about 50-50 between "moderns" who were typically secular, materialist, urban, up-to-date, stylish and efficient, and "traditionals" who were conservative, pious, rural or small town, "square" and centered on character and reliability. Today, while moderns represent about the same percentage of the cultural pie as then, the traditionals have dwindled to a quarter. The other quarter (actually 26.1%) is the cultural creatives with core concerns of ecology, social issues and responsibility, authenticity, relationships, helping others, personal growth, spirituality, and feminism. They reject materialism, status-oriented consumption, most ads, most TV, big media and the religious right. They favor ecologic sustainability over sentimental environmentalism, feminism over heroic models, and personal growth over personal ambition. World concerns come before nationalistic ones. Other common positions: they condemn corrupt, globalizing megacorporations, want big corporate money out of politics, and want a positive future for their children. While a bit on the "upscale" side, their other demographic attributes range widely and are close to national averages.

Why haven't they found each other and recognized the political potential of their 50 million votes? According to Ray, because their make-up defies old models, they do not yet know how to connect up. For example, they cannot be identified as left-leaning because about a third identify themselves as moderate conservatives. In a conversation following Ray's Open Center talk, Lilipoh asked:

Lilipoh: Is it an atmosphere of fear post-9/11 that keeps the cultural creatives from coalescing as a social/political force?

Paul Ray: Their sense of being isolated translates more to a generalized anxiety than actual fear. It tends also to go along with a quiet sense of helplessness and hopelessness. A large part of what I have been doing is trying to find out what cultural creatives can be mobilized for.

Lilipoh: What have you found out so far?

Paul Ray: Even though they may feel that the world is falling apart and that their spirituality is never going to be respected, the very same cultural creatives tend to have a history of taking on small or large projects in which they've had some effect as volunteers, as creators of community gardens or whatever. They are doing things, so they have some sense of personal efficacy-- and that leads to a kind of practical optimism. They may even apologize for being somewhat optimistic.

Lilipoh: They are doers, then?

Paul Ray: Yes. The cynicism you see in most of modern culture grows out of non- participation, out of never having experienced being involved and learning that you can make a difference as citizens. Frequently, culture creatives have learned this.

Lilipoh: Are they simply activists?

Paul Ray: No, but they have at least a history of having been involved at some time which can be invoked. One of their signature characteristics is that they are willing to take in a number of diverse new ideas and make their own synthesis. The other is that these qualities are not only at the level of the moving center of action, but also at a mind level and at a heart level.

Lilipoh: How does that manifest?

Paul Ray: In their willingness to put heartfelt energy where their values are. They are not just empowering their surface opinions, but acting on their deeply cared about highest priorities in life. That means they can be reached through a heart appeal, not a conventionally emotional appeal, but a heart appeal.

Lilipoh: Could you say more about the difference?

Paul Ray: Not the pump, but the cardiac plexus! A spiritual resonance that is rather different from emotional excitation. The resonant phenomenon of the heart can be described through any number of esoteric traditions in the one I work with in the sound 'ah' and the note 'fa.' If you say heart energy, you are really talking about a quality of connection and a capacity of the eye of the heart to see through obstacles and surface appearances to what's underneath. The eye of the heart has the quality of opening--for example through friendship or through making connection to aspects of the divine that are not too far removed from the egoic level. It can be fairly primitive at the childhood level of empathy, but it can also be a very sophisticated, refined level.

Lilipoh: Will culture creatives connect with each other differently?

Paul Ray: They will be more egalitarian, work more out of a feminine relatedness and a greater willingness to start from deeper values- rather than everyone squeak just right on surface opinions.

Lilipoh: And those deeper values?

Paul Ray: They appear variously as many issues and causes, but they converge toward a conviction, either intellectual or directly perceived, that the planet is one whole interconnected living system. And that connects with spiritual life- not so much with beliefs, but rather experiences. The fact of inner experience having its own validity is a crucial piece, here.

Lilipoh: What helps culture creatives connect with each other?

Paul Ray: They love to hear each others stories about how they got to have the values they have. That leads powerfully to heart connections with each other. In our work shops we sometimes use Sri Ramanaharashi's technique of repeating questions, for example these two: Why is it okay not to feel the world's pain? and the other is- Tell me a world your heart longs for.

Lilipoh: What is the goal of that exercise?

Paul Ray: The person asking the question is simply holding a space for the other to drop into a deeper place than plain egoic opinions. That means dropping the resistance to being in touch with the pain of the world- holding off the planetary crisis because it feels overwhelming.

Lilipoh: Mostly we hide from it.

Paul Ray: Yes, people would rather have a good opinion of themselves. But the resistances have to be felt.

Lilipoh: What happens if they are felt unflinchingly?

Paul Ray: Rumi talks about this crucial step along the way. It leads to seeing the hearts longing and mobilizes it. The longing becomes creative, leads to new insights and inspirations- and the critical piece, to good will and a sense of loving connection to people, living beings and the planet.

Lilipoh: What role do you see for cultural creatives in the near term?

Paul Ray: In social action through civil society. Specifically, right now in calling politics to account, demanding that it be consonant with larger purposes, new values, effects on our children's future and a new sense of the possible.

Lilipoh: Who's listening to you?

Paul Ray: I am on my way to Washington at the invitation of some of the foundations that fund new developments in politics, and of some of the operatives within the political system who run and consult for political campaigns.

Lilipoh: Thank you and Godspeed!