Benevolence and Beauty

When I talk to people about my visions for the future and technology, nearly everyone will warn me with a myriad of threats and challenges nested deeply in a core belief system that humans are capable of so much more corruption than love. I disagree.

I believe that we are shifting from a world whose core functions rely on antiquated notions of power, subjugation, and mistrust to one that is based on community care ethics, a desire for personal and social thriving, and a return to living in flow with nature rather than in opposition to it. And I do not think this is a radical or mystical idea. Climate change is forcing us to neglect old industrial-age notions of humans conquering nature. When we surrender and live in resonance with nature, something in our soul opens up again. Patriarchal modes of behaving are no longer relevant — fighting, competing, and conquering are useless in this context. The ways in which capitalistic structures view humanity seem to take us at our weakest, most vulnerable, and to venerate us when we are the most exploited. I think that is really sad. The result is that most people feel obligated to fulfill societal pressures that reflect their personal growth and identity, and feel deep shame and guilt for anything that radically counters it. Even as an unabashedly nonconforming person, I am not immune to this pressure. I often feel my self-worth is tied to my success in life, which culture has implanted into my mind to involve finding a life partner, owning a home, and gaining recognition from the public for my work — none of which have been adequately achieved.

In addition to this, most people feel that other people are generally untrustworthy and mean. When I bring up empathy as my research topic, many people claim that empathic relating should be a default for human conduct. And yet, at the same time these same individuals seem to lack a genuine belief or hope that humans are fundamentally capable of such kind behavior. The responses go a little something like this: “Yeah, but we can’t trust the wealthy people who fund such technologies to be made. They are too powerful, and power corrupts the way people think. And if you make something with good intentions, someone will always misuse it.” Generally, I agree that power is a corrupting force, and that misuse is always possible. However, I also believe very strongly in the genuine goodness and capacity for love in every human being and the benevolent power (not corruptive power) that these forces can collectively bring into the world. When the world shifts its guiding forces from corruptive power towards this benevolent power, then we have nothing to fear. I really believe that. And I think it’s already starting to happen.

My general view is that technology is just a tool, like any other tool. There is nothing particularly special about technology except that it can endow new possibilities for our brains and our bodies to open up new perspectives. Yes, a small part of me wants to live in a world that is genuinely futuristic, where people have augmented sensory devices, high tech gadgets, clothing that mixes threads and wires, and we no longer rely on gasoline and concrete. But more than that I just want people to return to a simple awareness of what it is to be human, to exist in a world with other humans and to want to bring the most joy and light into the world. For me, technology has always been a return to the obvious. I want people to remember the simple beauties of being alive. I want people to really be open to seeing one another as subjective, living beings with entire universes of experience that we can draw upon to better understand and reflect upon a shared human experience. And in this way, I think technology offers some really cool tools.

I realized recently that I do believe that the technology I am working to bring into the world is somehow arriving at the right time in the collective emergence of a new style of leadership. I do believe that we are living through the fall of patriarchy and the rise of a new worldview and leadership that is more inclusive, more discursive, more tolerant, and ultimately more accepting. I really believe that it is insufficient to just be dissatisfied with the current structures that are oppressive or otherwise detrimental to human prospering. I believe that this dissatisfaction and righteous anger is essential, but not sufficient. We need more — we need hope. We need a vision for the world that we want to move towards creating. We can’t just be frustrated and fed up because that shuts down our nervous system from the creative and collaborative potential of bringing fourth the new view of a better world. I’ve always believed this.

The pandemic has forced us into a realization of how essential social support in individual relationships and community is for all of us in our ives. I believe that this can allow us to strengthen our collective intention to care for and work together towards common goals, both everyday and long-term.

Another realization I have had is that people are generally warm and kind. I’ve lived in seven countries now and I have experienced an overwhelming social net of kindness…everywhere, honestly. Sometimes this kindness is tainted by someone’s dissatisfaction with themselves in that moment or on that day. That’s very sad, but I can sense that it is not directed towards me in any way. Kindness can also be tainted by fear, and that is horrible. Alas, I have a daily practice of making eye contact with strangers I pass on the street. And I can tell you confidently that most people respond with kindness. People seem happy to be recognized, to be seen, and to have a little moment of mutual awareness. This gives me hope. My point here is that I want people to be aware that the capacity and eagerness for love and acceptance (given and received) is easily visible to me in most people in most places. I think this is really important to remember when we are so bombarded by humans’ capacity for mistreatment and hate.

I think there is some laziness to the assumption that kindness is a basic skill that does not need to be practiced or developed. Throughout or lives we will experience conditions of the world in our own private lives and the lives of others that challenge us, and that require new skills in compassion and kindness. We can value kindness, and imagine a world full of kindness, but still be careful not to write it off as something obvious and easy. In reality, honestly, in my experience kindness is often not the easiest or most obvious choice. I think a lot of this starts with how we treat ourselves. Or perhaps we wait for an opportunity to express kindness, rather than just generously giving it. For example, I write stupid little notes in broken German to my neighbors to tell them that I appreciate little things that they do. And often, this is met with disbelief — people actually think I am being passive aggressive! But I do it anyway because I think that bringing more positivity into the world is a nice thing to do even if people think it is strange. Sometimes while walking down the street I move into a doorstep or something so that a couple has space to pass because I’m usually not in a rush and it’s a simple act of kindness. This is met with a range of responses — sometimes people say thank you, smile and laugh, and other times people look at me with a judgmental side-eye. I always smile to let people know that it’s that I am a moving away because of fear. And I’m not always my best, kindest self — sometimes I’m hot, in a rush, upset, or otherwise not socially attuned. But when I have energy to give, I do. And even if people don’t show gratitude, I think it matters.

Is fear a barrier to love? I have been really struck by two quotes recently. The first is from the film American Beauty, during the famous “paper bag” scene. The character says (paraphrased), “That’s when I knew there was this entire life behind things, this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there is no reason to be afraid, ever…there is so much beauty.” The second quote is from Bill Hicks, who says, “Don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride…The eyes of love see us all as one.” Both quotes also strike upon the importance of remembering this insight that essentially there is no reason to be afraid, ever. This is the key to opening our eyes to beauty, benevolence, and love. I keep wondering about this. In a meditation course I am following on kindness, the narrator mentions that we can tell ourselves when we have mean thoughts towards ourselves that those are not needed. It’s so simple, yet effective. I wonder if the same is possible for a lot of the fears we experience. Can we just tell ourselves that these are really unnecessary fears? Can releasing fears be a gateway to experiencing more love? I definitely think it can be, but maybe it is first important to name the fears that are being released.

While reading Brene Brown, I was struck by her definition of shame. Essentially, she expresses that shame is based on a fear which can form into a belief that we are unworthy or undeserving of love. While many of my readers might have loving partners, I think many of us still maintain a semblance of this fear. We think that we are not doing things in the right way that others will receive kindly, for example. Or we think that others are just generally unkind, which I think can be another way to deflect responsibility for bringing more love into the world. So here we can name two fears that are barriers to love: shame and blame.

When the benevolent and loving forces in individuals and collectives emerge and a technology arrives that helps to guide people into a deeper awareness of themselves and others, I think something really beautiful could happen. I am not blind to the potential for power-mongering and corruption, but I think we can often make a choice to move in our own direction. I have made this choice consistently throughout my life, and while it has been difficult I am confident that it has, and continues to be, the right choice. I think individuals give too much power to the “status quo.” We lack self-efficacy and feel that we are powerless to stop the greater corrupt forces that run the game or rule the world. And yet, that has never been true, I feel.

I envision a world where people want to learn about one another. This curiosity will be fostered and facilitated through technologies that open up more channels to communicate various aspects of embodied and subjective experiences. We will develop elaborate language for emotional experiences, and begin to desire experiencing more emotions and experiencing emotions more richly and deeply. We will remember how beautiful it is to feel. Navigating difficult emotions together will allow us to feel connected.

I could decide that bringing fourth my vision and my designs into the world could be too risky, for example. I could worry that it would get into the wrong hands. But this would deny the beauty and benevolence that I think it could also bring. There are ways to do it that do not require corruption, I trust. For example, there are humanitarian grants that fund research that is designed to promote human flourishing and capacities for kindness. My whole project is based on the fact that I think compassion is a skill that must be practiced and developed, and that can be cultivated throughout the course of one’s life. So my goal is to provide a framework and some tools (with and without technology) to help people become aware of their strengths and shortcomings with compassion, and to grow and develop their skills. Skillful compassion: a new framework for how we live our lives. I think that I can find a way to navigate the “powers” of funding and accessibility for such technologies and tools to stay true to my vision and intention, and I trust in people to receive these tools with grace, striving, and humility. I think it would be really amazing if this became part of our education systems from primary school to college and into the work force.

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