Storytellers for the Masses
“You know, Mister Rico,
the world is giving
answers each day.
Lua called out in her soft melodic way across the bonfire preemptively cutting off Jack from what would surely have been an escalating and nasty war of words with Tucker,
“Oh, Mister Ri-co. Want to hear my version of the song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy?’”
She probably figured it was time for a ‘lifeline of humor’ to relieve some tension in the group, and I was always thrilled to listen to her lyrical improvisations.
She took out her ukulele and sang with a most engaging islandy accent:
De businessmon say, Oh come now, get off it
De planet is fine. (while he gets de profit)
Don’t worry; be happy
De politician say, No need to be sour
De world is just fine.”(while he gots de power)
Don’t worry; be happy
De preacher mon say, No need for despair
De Good Lord take care of de land, sea, and air
Don’t worry; be happy
De science mon say, I do dis for you
I look and I wonder to see what is true
Don’t’ worry mon, soon you see it too
Clapping, I responded,
Jack, nodding his head in approval, said,
Some of the others offered half-hearted applause.
Captain Bob suggested that everyone turn in early for the night to get some rest for an early morning departure the next day — a good night’s sleep is one of the best natural defenses against seasickness. We would have three long days at sea ahead of us before reaching our next island destination.
To wind down the evening and lighten the mood, I sang a few Jimmy Buffet tunes and commented on the fine meal Lua had prepared for us.
We finished eating and the passengers headed back to their cabins for the night.
Paul and Julie walked back together, as did Tucker and Clara — arguing about something yet playfully bumping into each other on occasion as they made their way across the soft, uneven beach sand.
Bob, Lua, and I broke down the canopy tent and packed up the supplies to bring them back to the boat. Bob retrieved the video camera from behind the trees.
Would SlimC like the footage from this evening? Things were certainly heating up, but not with the love, romance, or emotional drama he was hoping for.
Tomorrow we would leave this comfortable beach behind and spend three days together at sea. Bob and I both shared a mild anxiety about what might happen on this next leg of the journey.
There would be nowhere to go if things got out of hand between angry, stressed, or panicking passengers — no island forests to escape into, no secluded beach coves for some wind-down alone time.
Lua, a seasoned crew member with plenty of experience aboard cruising boats with ‘green’ passengers, also knew how difficult and tense these long ocean passages could be, yet she was remarkably relaxed and buoyant.
She did not seem the least concerned about the next few days at sea. Hmm …
Lua asked as we slowly walked back to Kalea,
“That was a fascinating conversation on the beach. Don’t you think so, Mister Rico?”
“Yeah, sure was.”
“You were listening, weren’t you? You know, there is a big difference between listening and just waiting for your turn to speak. Tucker is a natural extrovert and big talker, a personality type that is well-suited for success in a society dominated by a pervasive ‘culture of personality,’ excessive celebrity worship, and where one’s ‘brand,’ hollow though it may be, exerts a strong gravitational pull of tribal identity. It is an operating mode that has infected many of the institutions today. But I’ve always preferred to listen more than talk. One learns more from listening than speaking. A bit of wisdom and understanding is the reward you get for more listening and less talking. Most people do not listen very well. Either their minds are a constant whirlwind of their own thoughts, beliefs, ideas, opinions, and conclusions, or they think talking is somehow strong while listening is weak.”
From my own experiences, I had observed that almost every problem within a family always seems to start with bad communication. Someone simply isn’t listening.
Lua went on to say,
“Listening is such an important act. It requires us to be fully present, and that takes practice, but listening doesn’t have to involve anything else at that moment. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen. Listening to somebody, completely, attentively, is more than just hearing and processing the words they say. When you are truly listening, you are also paying attention to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not just the verbal part of it.”
“And you are also paying attention to the motivation behind what is being said? ‘De businessmon say, oh come now get off it, de planet is fine, (while he gets de profit!)’. It is important to pay attention to the whole of what is being communicated, which includes the deeper motivations of the messenger.”
“Yes. I was listening to the words of your song about the businessman, the politician, the preacher, and the scientist each having very different motivations for what they were saying. They are each offering a very different story, aren't they?”
Lua stated firmly,
“Stories matter! They have real power. Think about it; to control society, you don’t need to control its courts or armies, all you need to do is control its stories.”
And television and Madison Avenue are telling most of the stories most of the time to most of the people, I thought to myself.
Mass media organizations are essentially the culture producers in modern society.
The increasingly monopolized private sphere of the media — effectively a ‘consciousness industry’ — diverts and distracts attention away from important political and social issues, insulating existing networks of power and domination from any serious challenges.
The post-war creation of mass consumer culture — consumerism — as a response to overproduction from cheap fossil fuels and innovation and fueled by a global annual advertising budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars, along with the expansion of easy credit, has been a boon to many and thus shielded the dominant growth-based political economy from meaningful social criticism.
Consumerism, unlike the ordinary consumption levels humans beings require to live well, is a deliberate organizing principle of a linear and wasteful take-make-use-lose economy based on abundant cheap fossil fuels and overcapacity of production.
Sadly, even mainstream environmental discourse has been seduced by the siren song of consumerism (as ecomodernism), proffering ‘green consumption’ and recycling (a.k.a., Garbage 2.0) as legitimate, feel-good, technological, market-based responses to ecological crises.
Media exposure, much of which reinforces consumer culture norms and economic growth narratives, occupies from one-third to one-half of people’s waking hours.
Clearly, any program of transformative culture change must confront the substantial role of the media in reinforcing dominant discourses of economic growth and consumerism. It must generate and disseminate an alternative story.
For example, the size of human society defined by the boundary between the economy and the ecosphere has an optimum, and the energy and material throughput provided by the ecosphere to physically maintain and replenish the human economic subsystem must be ecologically sustainable.
The goal of an economy should be to minimize natural inputs to attain a sufficient standard of living. This can be done by slowly and carefully evaluating and applying efficient technologies aimed at genuinely valuable purposes.
The ultimate purpose of an economy, after all, is the maintenance and enjoyment of life for a long time at a sufficient level of wealth for a good life. It should produce more dignity — nutritious food, freedom from fear, adequate clothing, meaningful work — for people over time.
The economy should not simply be an ‘idiot machine’ that maximizes waste in an attempt to satiate what are obviously insatiable human desires for material wealth and extremes of comfort, convenience, and security.
I understood what Lua was saying about extroverts and ‘culture of personality’ because, like her, I am among that group of one-third to one-half of people who would be classified as introverts. We are good at listening because it is natural for us. But asking us to go to a social gathering of strangers ‘just for fun’ is like asking a risk-averse person to take up skydiving just for fun. It isn’t.
Today’s hyper-competitive mainland culture in the U.S. is a culture for extroverts. Many introverts have to fake it, costing them energy, authenticity and even physical health.
Lua was from an island culture that recognized the value of introverts with its ‘culture of character.’ Its citizens are fully aware that the quiet ones are those that read, write, cook, fish, surf.
They are the artists, engineers, thinkers, and solvers of complex problems. They have real power just as extroverts do, but theirs is soft power, quiet power — power that feels no need to dominate, intimidate, or control others.
‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world,’ Gandhi counseled.
Back in the eighteenth century, delegates at the Continental Congress said that George Washington was the quietest man in the room and the best listener. He was mindfully tuning in to the emergent desires of the group as they debated and deliberated and came to realize that independence from Great Britain was the genuine will of his ‘tribe.’
By becoming an advocate for what the group wanted to do after attentively listening to everyone, he naturally became its leader.
Lua explained that listening also means listening to yourself, which requires solitude. And solitude is the catalyst for innovation and creativity and is necessary for the deeper thinking required to solve problems at their roots — and to create beautiful art.
“To listen carefully, or observe something with the utmost attention, is the purest form of love. And love is no less essential for human happiness and well-being than food, water, and shelter.”
She whispered to me,
“You know, Mister Rico, the world is giving answers each day. Just listen.”