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WEEKLY VIEWS, REVIEWS & NEWS FROM THE OKANAGAN INSTITUTE

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Going Up the Down Elevator
 
 
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NUMBER 130   ll   FOR THE WEEK OF APRIL 14-20, 2014

Still Yearning for Happiness

When he was 20, Pete Townshend of The Who wrote: "Things they do look awful cold; Hope I die before I get old". He may have thought of himself as a youthful radical, but this view is ancient and conventional.

The "seven ages of man" - the dominant image of the life-course in the 16th and 17th centuries - was almost invariably conceived as a rise in stature and contentedness to middle age, followed by a sharp decline towards the grave.

When we start out on adult life, we are, on average, pretty cheerful. Things go downhill from youth to middle age until they reach a nadir commonly known as the mid-life crisis. So far, so familiar. The surprising part happens after that. Although as we move towards old age we slowly but steadily lose things we treasure - vitality, mental sharpness and looks - we also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness.

This finding has emerged from a new branch of economics that seeks a more satisfactory measure than money of human well-being. Conventional economics uses money as a proxy for utility - the dismal way in which the discipline talks about happiness. But some economists, unconvinced that there is a direct relationship between money and well-being, have decided to go to the nub of the matter and measure happiness itself.

The assumption that money can, should and does buy happiness is the crux of the myth of the Canadian dream. As a nation, we have developed a dangerously false sense of entitlement as well as an inability to delay gratification, which is characteristic of affluenza. Far from guaranteeing happiness, the single-minded pursuit of wealth more often than not destroys happiness.

As new generations move into their peak earning, spending and productivity years, the economy booms on about a 48-year lag. This creates what's called the Spending Wave, which projects economic booms and busts, including stock market cycles, five decades into the future. The turning point in household spending comes for the economy after we reach our late 40s in age, at which point on average we spend less for the rest of our lives. It's not that we live less well, but that we don't need a bigger house, we don't need to support the kids and we don't drive our cars as much. At this point the savings cycle kicks in when we save at the highest rate while we still have higher incomes and lower expenses from the kids leaving the nest. Our average net worth peaks around 64, and we generally re-tire the rubber on our forward progress, and prepare for the last stages of our lives.

Freshsheet Okanagan Media ApplianceFreshsheet The psychological dynamics of affluenza are more complex, and more harmful, than the popularized definition of it as merely "a rich person's disease." People across all socio-economic levels buy into the overriding value within our culture that money solves all problems, thus denial of money-related difficulties is supported by society. Many sufferers of affluenza hesitate to seek help. The affluenza virus impedes our need to feel authentic and autonomous by creating a thin, tough, impermeable barrier of false wants between us and our true desires.

By seeing ourselves and others as possessions that can be bought and sold, we cease to experience ourselves as a person, but instead as a powerless entity whose value depends wholly on that placed upon it by the market, something that is ultimately beyond our control. While we have the illusion of volition throughout our waking hours, like decisions about who to fire or hire and what to buy or sell, these choices are not real to us: they are part of a virtual reality. This is because the decisions concern matters unconnected with our core, true needs.

This leaves us with the feeling that we are an actor in a play rather than living a real life. The "marketing existence" is an act: it is false, a game we play. Our chameleonism, hyper-competitiveness and Machiavellianism prevent us telling the truth or being told it. If we are ever honest, it is only as part of our manipulativeness we may use truth-telling sometimes, but to foster trust in order to trick someone, be it a lover or a colleague. This inauthenticity and lack of autonomy leave us feeling outside ourselves, at one remove. It makes us very prone to personality disorders and to any purchasable, snatched snacks of reality, or glimpses thereof, be it through mindless status-seeking, drugs, drink or sex addiction.

So what can we learn from all this? Perhaps being mindful of not being too materialistic and being subsumed by affluenza might help. If the weight of consumerism and financial pressure is fundamental in making us the most unhappy we will ever be throughout our lives during our late 40s, perhaps we need to approach our lives and choices in a more open-minded, creative and emotionally and economically sustainable way.


The Pleasures of Handicraft

WE'RE HAPPIER AND HEALTHIER WITH TOOLS IN OUR HANDS

Anyone who's spent significant time creating with their hands can appreciate the distinctive satisfaction it evokes. That's true whether it's printing, painting, carpentry, knitting, carving, gardening or ship-bottling.

Handicraft, as wide a spectrum as it can encompass, isn't about routine chores or fix-its. There's a difference between grudgingly doing home repairs to save money and savouring the experience of meticulously renovating our own home. It's about the love of the craft on some level. Not everyone would put it in those specific terms, but the people who practice handicraft acknowledge they're drawn to what they do on some subconscious level. Picking up a familiar tool feels comfortable, even calming. The balance of its weight in our hand feels sure and honest and real.

Spending an hour at one's own backyard workspace, basement studio, or garage workbench, however plain or disheveled, feels like time in a secluded oasis. It's in the craft that we find focus inspiration even. The brush or needles, chisel or knife, spade or hammer become an unconscious extension of self. The mind devises, but the hand itself thinks, designs, knows.

In its fullness, we lose ourselves in the full physical experience of craft in the sensory nuances, in the emotional associations, in the intuitive energy. We're the happier and healthier for these endeavors.

Many of us partake in handicraft arts with only personal interest or perhaps familial, but not necessarily cultural affiliations. Nonetheless, there's still a gratification that comes from its connection with tradition.

Freshsheet We understand somehow that we're one in a long line of individuals who have practiced the art for decades, centuries, even millennia. The urge to create what is useful and tangible is deeply human. There's something about it that releases stress and brings us back to center.

We develop a reverence for the craft and even a relationship with the tools themselves. They can become more personal than the items we build or create. For those of us who know or have known a craftsman or woman, we honour that association.

We pass many things on through the generations. What means the most, however, are the things that our forebears used and made. A decorative item reminds us of a great-grandparent's home, but a tool or even a baking pan that we saw a grandparent use over the years makes us absorb his or her very presence. We see the years and feel their hands in the wear of the item. Likewise, in the creations they made, we preserve a glimpse of their creativity, a parcel of their lifetime. In our own arts, we enjoy and undoubtedly share and send forward the same.

The short film below shows such a person at work on his craft. 85 year old Ray Gascoigne has been around boats his whole life, as a shipwright, a merchant sailor, and now as a ship builder on the smallest dry dock there is: a bottle. Ray is a man full of creative energy. His art is healthy, inspires care, dedication and patience. His skill demonstrates clearly what it is to build, create, and make sense. The film, by Melbourne-based Smith Journal and production studio Commoner, picks through the wood chips to tell the story of a craft honed over 60 years, and the man behind it. A step-by-step account of the process was featured in the magazine.




IDEAS WORTH CONSIDERING

Tech Stalkers Are Watching Us

Imagine a world where everything we do is collected, stored, analyzed, and, more often than not, packaged and sold to strangers. It turns out that world is closer than we may think, or like.

Google - no stranger to mass snooping - recently announced its $3 billion purchase of Nest, a company that manufactures intelligent smoke detectors and thermostats. Google believes Nest's vision of the "conscious home" will prove profitable indeed. And there's no denying how cool the technology is. Their smoke detector can differentiate between burnt toast and true danger. In the wee hours, it will conveniently shine its nightlight as you shuffle to the toilet. It speaks rather than beeps. If there's a problem, it can contact the fire department. And that's only the beginning.

Okanagan Media ApplianceFreshsheetThe fact that these technologies are so cool and potentially useful shouldn't, however, blind us to their invasiveness. They operate all day every day, silently gathering data on everything we do, without our permission, and without us even knowing about it.

The dangers aren't theoretical. A British blogger discovered that his new smart TV was snooping on him. Every time he changed the channel, his activity was logged and transmitted unencrypted to the manufacturer. He checked the TV's option screen and found that the setting "collection of watching info" was turned on by default. He figured out how to turn it off, but it didn't matter. The information continued to flow to the company anyway.

Freshsheet Techno-evangelists have nice catchphrases for this future utopia of machines delivering a never-ending stream of information: Big Data and the Internet of Things. So abstract, inoffensive and ultimately, so meaningless.

The glowingly optimistic future Internet of Things does have the potential to offer real benefits, but the dark side is this: companies will increasingly know all there is to know about each one of us, and all of us together.

Most people are already aware that virtually everything we do on the Internet is tracked. In the not-too-distant future, however, every other space will be increasingly like cyberspace. With the rise of networked devices, what we do in our homes, in our cars, in stores, and within our communities will be monitored and analyzed in ever more intrusive ways by corporations who, we can be sure, have their own - and not our - best interests in mind.

As more and more household devices - our televisions, our thermostats and security systems, our refrigerators and even our coffeemakers - connect to the Internet, device manufacturers will undoubtedly follow a model of comprehensive data collection and possibly infinite storage. And we shouldn't count on them offering us an opt-out either. They have seen the giants of the online world - the Googles, the Facebooks - make money off their users' personal data and they want a cut of the spoils.

The result: more of what happens behind closed doors will be open to scrutiny by parties we would never invite into our home. And, more and more of our private life will be fodder for commerce.

Our homes will know our secrets, and those secrets will fall into the hands and hard drives of the marketing industry, who will use it to sell us more shiny smart gadgets which will in turn tell our secrets to the data gatherers, storers and sellers.

And we have to ask: shouldn't commercial stalking be a crime?



LEARNING TO CHALLENGE AND CHANGE
Freshsheet

The Narrative Imperative

Over the years, there have been dozens of cases where human infants have been raised by wild animals, including wolves, bears, and tigers. These feral children ran on all fours, and were so fast that it was almost impossible to catch them. They had tremendous senses of sight, smell, and hearing.

These feral humans were always naked, and were indifferent to the cold. Wild children would learn the languages of their adopted parents. They would whine and howl and shriek and bark. When they were caught, and returned to human society, most of them never learned how to walk well on two legs. They were uncomfortable being upright, and their walking was a clumsy hobble. Few of them learned to speak more than a few words, even after years of teaching.

Most of the magic that humans possess - like speaking or walking on two legs - is not built into our hardware. Our magic lies in our software, our learned knowledge, that is accumulated and passed on through the generations in our stories. We teach through stories, and stories carry our learning into the world.

Freshsheet The Story School
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We humans didn't become powerful because of our ability to make and use tools. We had big brains long before we learned how to make stone tools or build fires. Humans became powerful because of our mastery of language - the power of our stories. We studied nature intensively, learned a great deal about the ways of plants and animals, and built stories around this knowledge. We learned stalking from the cats, tracking from the wolves, deception from the opossums, trapping from the spiders, community from the apes, and joy from the chipmunks. We learned the finest magic of all beings, and enriched our stories with it.

Freshsheet Stories are our software. Stories are the heart and soul of every culture. Stories define who we are, what we believe, and how we behave. Stories are our most important and powerful possessions.

Good stories produce cultures that live in balance with the Earth, and bad stories produce cultures like the one we see around us. Stories created our problems, but stories can be changed. Stories must be changed, and the sooner the better.
Freshsheet
Freshsheet The Story School is about narratives. Narratives that explain, entertain, engage, energize and elevate. Narratives that demonstrate how things get done, how ideas get formed and delivered. Narratives that persuade. Narratives about change and opportunity, about setting and realizing goals and about accomplishing the nearly impossible.

The programs at the Story School are for people who aspire to deep knowledge about design, technique, technology, and to business mastery. The faculty are practise leaders tasked with delivering a rich and meaningful learning experience.

Watch this space for details.



Freshsheet
The Story School | Better Narratives   •   Programs: Media | Pictures | Terroir | Writing | Sageing | Youth | Design



COMMENTARY

It is time to ask the great questions: How can we make a better world? What must we do to serve the emerging New Story? These questions help us clarify and define. They prompt us to articulate goals lofty enough to lift us out of petty preoccupations and unite us in pursuit of objectives worthy of our best efforts. ¶ The world is hungry for vision. At a time when whole systems are in transition and global forces challenge all authority, there is an insistence in the mud, contractions shiver through the earth womb, patterns of possibility strain to emerge from the rough clay of changing social structures. This is the child who is now being born. - Jean Houston



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Finally, there is a club that will have us. Limited memberships available. Get in early before they're gone: www.proofclub.ca
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Proof. The Club for Creatives
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Club | Laboratory | School | Kitchen | Gallery | Lounge | Workshop | Speakeasy | Incubator | Library | Makerspace | Emporium | Studio




The Journey of Creative Ageing

The most recent issue of the Okanagan Institute journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude is online at www.sageing.ca

A volunteer publication of the Okanagan Institute, intended as an initiative for collaboration and sharing, the journal presents the opportunity for the free exchange of wisdom gleaned from creative engagement, and is focused on honouring the transformational power of creativity.
We hope that your perspective on the arts and creative engagement might also change as you read stories of Okanagan artists, experienced and emerging, who engage in art for the joy of stimulating personal and community wisdom and well-being.
Freshsheet Sage-ing Okanagan Institute

Freshsheet A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS & AGING
"One of the strengths that sages possess, regardless of age, is a willingness to be educated by all things. Curiosity leads them to learn from all they encounter. They do not judge people or situations. When one relaxes into just being, everything can nourish and stimulate. For those who embrace life as a sage-ing experience, things come to them from the world and from the events in their lives. By taking time and giving attention to creatively respond to what might at first seem ordinary and not deserving of notice, life ripens with significance and meaning."

To view online go to www.sageing.ca