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Thursday, 27 November 2008

myths, morals, and emotions

It is a wonderful thing to look at a place in time, a place underneath this canopy of vapours and say 'there was a moment when we took a real step forward'.

When we mastered fire, learned to write, or stepped upon the moon, one can look and say there was material, real progress encapsulated in a moment.

When can one say such things about our emotional development? Was there a moment when we learned to love unconditionally as individuals and as communities? A moment when we learned (or relearned) a wider compassion? Have all those moments then been lost again?

From the world of myth i believe we can consider some possibilities. In Karen Armstrong's 'A Short History of Myth', she speaks of several critical periods in our relationship to myths and how they served our emotional and moral needs.

Since the beginning of the written word and the foundation of cities, the stories of Gods were of wresting order from chaos and of the power of those deities through nature. Mankind was trembling and fragile in the face of the world. Our emotional lives would I believe have reflected this fragility. Then as cities grew and life became somewhat more secure, those myths lost resonance and new myths were needed. Around this time (800-200BCE) several major religious figures sprung up across the globe in Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tse (or the writings attributed to him), Zoroaster, the Judaic prophets and others.

This was also an emotional revolution, expressed though myth and played out through our morality. No longer were Gods to be appeased by superficial ritual or controlled by a priestly caste. It required an internal attitude change in every individual, something that would also require a massive change in our individual emotional responses. If we were to live morally, our emotions needed to pay heed and ultimately homage to our morals. This is a revolution we are still feeling today.

There has, according to Armstrong, been another revolution, in the Enlightenment. However I am still sceptical of this as i think of that period as being about trying to effect return to axial values through reason rather than an attempt to generate something entirely new. Though perhaps it is like Chou En Lai's famous opinion on the impact of the French Revolution - 'it's too soon to tell."

In the West our material lives have changed beyond all recognition, giving an opportunity for knowledge and wisdom almost beyond the dreams of avarice. Our emotional lives on the other hand seem as much a struggle now as they were when Job was lamenting the cruelty of his fate.

Is it perhaps time for another leap forward in our hearts?

4 comments:

Branwen said...

An interesting point Calum. I hadn’t really thought of it before. Why everything around us changes, progresses, yet they doesn’t seem to be any progression within ourselves...Apart from supposedly being more civilised. ..LOL

Linda S. Socha said...

Beautifully said and thought provoking....Your writing in engaging with an undercurrent which feels at home for me. I sometimes think we are emotionally like a part of a Baroque cultural movement in a space age technological world and so perhaps we live our feeling and material lives in a position that makes personal integration difficult...even as we fantasize we approach it...it becomes elusive..just out of reach....the ring on the carousel..
Linda

scot in exile said...

Everything does change Branwen, and I wonder if our problem is also one of forgetfulness that stops our development.

Sometimes i think Baroque may be giving us too much credit, Linda! perhaps you are nature more optimistic than I... For me, until we can understand our emotions better we may never integrate them, as they'll always be playing catch up to the material.

Branwen said...

You are much too intelligent for me to argue with you Calum.

Goodnight. Sweet dreams