The Brin Exercise for Reinstating Humility

My name is Armchair Anarchist, and I am a cynic. I know, it’s bad; negative thoughts, blah blah blah. I am one of those people who tends to view my fellow man as hopelessly blind and ignorant – following the news, locally and internationally, certainly doesn’t help. (As a vague attempt to redeem myself, I would add that I am also highly cynical about myself and my own inability to learn from the most obvious mistakes.) I don’t *want* to be a cynic, or enjoy it. I just *am* one. It’s a burden. I attempt to deal with it, and to not bombard my friends and co-workers with it (admittedly, with little success, as people who know me in meatspace will know all too well).

It would appear the SF writer David Brin has run into similar problems, and has developed a thought-experiment to dispel these negative vibes. He’s been participating in the big diffuse Intelligent Design debate that is raging across the blogosphere (as well as more ‘conventional’ channels of communication), and hence encountered a number of cynical responses in his comment logs. This is how he describes the exercise:

Go do Brin’s Exercise… I command you! Go to a street corner, preferably one with a very busy four (or twelve!) way stop signage, where people must negotiate traffic rules every second, with little hand-flicks and nods. Do a slow 360. Notice all the things that are working! The quiet and efficient courtesies, the technologies, the tiny acts of honesty and cooperation. The hidden competence of a myriad professionals that make all the switches turn on time and fill the restaurants with food. Do not let a patch of one square degree pass your view without comment, or noticing something that you took for granted before! If you finish the turn having counted less than a thousand miracles, start over!

He’s got a point. The whole post is a well reasoned call-to-arms, and corny as it may sound, it has lightened my mood somewhat. I shall try to keep it in mind for future low moments, especially long days at the library where I am exposed to breathtaking displays of individual ignorance. People aren’t perfect…but we’ve done some pretty amazing stuff as a race, and overall things keep improving incrementally. There is hope for us yet. I believe!

One thought on “The Brin Exercise for Reinstating Humility”

  1. Of the things I’ve learned living in a rural environment are that ripples go out from all of us–circles, vibrations–beginning with each life form, tree, bug, fish and person. They pass through us on the way to still more. Wavelets linger and “sensate”. What we build–how we move and unfold–undulates. It’s our fingerprint and common bond. The ripples spew my dog, or the cat, or the mouse and in a hurry. The hum of the plaza is in the field. Sensations of stress, contentment, or hunger pulse. Proximity amplifies.

    For the traveling ripple, the journey affects. The attentive animal reads it and the busiest tree changes hourly. After a while, we all get a gist of what’s on and where the current flows, who’s around and who’s out of sync. I get a read on which cat’s prowling, if the dog’s sleeping or if there’s a foreboding in the back field. As well, we all act upon it, creating a chaotic array of noise, intent, alertness, relaxation, hesitation, and intuition. Climbing in the van and turning on the radio is a fair way to get a break.

    I enjoy going downtown. It’s a chance to get a break from the electricity of living things. The grand expanses of concrete and glass are a nice insulator. A busy intersection is almost stone dead. The human inhabitants take up so much surface area there isn’t the concentration of a million lifeforms per inch. It’s lonelier after a while, but a good break from the living.

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