I was at an 85th birthday party last Sunday and had three conversations with people who were each heading organizations that deal with ameliorating the situation for women (and children) in trauma and domestic abuse. I was shocked to learn that none knew what the others were doing. As I travel widely, I’ve found that similar kinds of duplication are happening more than I ever imagined. On a global level I’ve encountered foundation directors who were working in different cultures with comparable financial, medical, ecological, or sociological projects but were unaware of the activities of others.
I first encountered this kind of redundant use of intellectual or financial resources when I was asked to present my work at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow in 2007. One of the scientists presented his latest, hottest research in perceiving the orbs that are visible in the stratosphere and also seen here and there on earth. He presented research well supported by physics and biophysics, but I realized that I’d heard all this years before at an ISSSEEM Conference. I thought, “During the Cold War, in the 1960s, the US government was alarmed by the advances in Russian research in areas then called ‘paranormal’, but the work on orbs was turning up again here as though it were new.”
Subsequently, as I travelled widely in Africa, Asia, and Europe and had the chance to meet people effecting significant change, I saw a great deal of replication. I considered how purposeful and useful it would be to stage a global conference in which many foundation directors would have twenty minutes each to present what they do, what their goals are, where their resources come from, and how they’ve implemented their missions. Sharing could foster forward-looking collaboration rather than wasteful competition.
When I talked to individual foundation directors about this possibility, their initial reaction was to recoil. I think that has to do with the question of ownership: “It’s my foundation. I have spear-headed this initiative and the outcomes are successful.” It is indeed phenomenal when a person can drive a concept into action and inspire others to work with them. And it may seem counter-intuitive to let go of the reigns of leadership of one’s own proven foundation to join forces with another whose different style and function might derail a well-run organization. However, at this time we need to consider sharing what we know and what we can do. By overcoming hesitation and combining forces we could streamline our communal efforts and move forward rather than continually moving sideways.
A way out of pointless duplication is beginning to be found. I was happy to learn that MIT is inaugurating a public access, categorized database for graduate students’ theses. If, for example, someone is interested in quarks they could use existing research as the foundation for further exploration. Although it’s on a more limited scale than working with foundation directors around the world would be, it’s a step in the right direction.
Perhaps this could be a model to further more creative initiatives. We could establish a data-base for global foundation projects which would provide information on what’s already been done and what the current tasks are. First of all an individual or an already existing institution would have to be recruited to initiate the research, which, of course, is easier now with Google, search. Then, let’s say someone is interested in discovering what work is being done to protect elephants or, who is doing what with vaccines, or how to start small businesses in third world countries, or – you name it – it would be easy to find already existing work of others in those areas.
Building a cohesive data bank would also provide a psychological boost. Learning that people are already accomplishing great, life-changing work in the world despite the plethora of challenges can be deeply heartening, a powerful counter-agent to so much pervasive misery. It could stimulate a positive sense of hope, piercing the shadow of depression found everywhere today.
I have observed a distinction between depression and frustration. For example, the people working on the front line in Kenya against poachers who kill elephants and rhinos for their valuable tusks and horns are more frustrated than depressed when they cannot adequately protect the animals against poachers who slip through even the most sophisticated security measures. I would suggest that the difference between depression and frustration lies in the fact that depression results in helplessness and non-action, while frustration may trigger more creative approaches. The energy of inventive, proactive effort is more likely to propel change and to prevent being sidelined by a sense of ineffectiveness. Perhaps, for example, a collective, global initiative could remove the monetary value of ivory. Elephants could be better protected as the great creatures they are if the economic incentive to kill them were removed.
Foundation directors and university presidents have similar roles. Once an entity becomes an institution, it is reactionary by definition and committed to maintaining the status quo. While growth and change may be discussed, there is little impetus for the leaders to follow through since their work usually involves procuring resources to maintain ongoing programs. There may be plenty of talk about innovation but experimentation can be financially problematic. This narrow focus can spawn reluctance to attempt alternative visions.
But suppose the leaders were approached with a new possibility, one that is a proven manner of proceeding? A precedent has been set in free education opportunities on the internet: Open Source and the Kahn Academy. They were both radical initiatives, utter revisions in thought and practice, that have become tremendous boons to equalizing educational opportunities. Rather than having “my” program, or “my” university or “my” foundation, the institutional leaders could say, “We are adopting an innovative, proven method that will encourage sharing knowledge.”
I think of this possibility as the great grandchild of Eastern philosophy’s coming to the West – a migration of concepts that opened hearts, minds, and attitudes. Westerners had been schooled to value ever-increasing material wealth rather than generous behavior and compassionate understanding. During the Middle Ages, the most educated (usually the clergy) were called Natural Philosophers and studied both science and philosophy. There was no separation between the disciplines.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, people specialized in order to perfect machines that would increase production and monetary gain. As their thinking and vision became more constricted and narrower, the chasm between technology/business and philosophy/behavior became impassable. At the Nano-second in world history when the conflation of Eastern philosophy with quantum physics was recognized, this “big bang” of global sharing on a profound level was born. Sharing was hardly the operative word at the time. It was something more like, “Aha, we humans have been moving in similar directions in our very different cultures and we have arrived at a point of fusion. Now, how and where do we go with this knowledge and understanding?”
While I believe that the absorption of Eastern philosophy by the West accompanied by advances in technology introduced significant global change, world cultures have continued to move ahead on their own trajectories. Historically, ideas, theories and technologies have developed in different places at different times or more often, and surprisingly, simultaneously. Enlightened evolutionary thought has circled the globe to permit concerted action to go forward with great advances in perception, development, and aspiration. The Eastern sense of compassion was combined with Western ideas about social action and led to compassion in action. As genes are changed by memes, this great humanistic leap towards thinking beyond ourselves, towards collaboration and altruism, is a crucial point in the unfolding of civilization.
And, just as I was completing this post, I learned about the fine, new information-sharing initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Then I learned about a source of information on nongovernmental organizations working for global social change. We are moving in the right direction.
Gilah Yelin Hirsch is an artist, professor of art, and a multidisciplinary theorist whose wide perspective includes both the material and subtle levels of being, inner and outer realities, and many cultures around the world. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is held in major public and private collections. She is the author of The Double Life of Shulamis Yelin and the creator of the films Cosmography: The Writing of the Universe and Reading the Landscape. She received the Elmer and Alyce Green Award from the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine for her “innovative blending of science and art”.
Her website is www.gilah.com