Interconnected World Views in our Ever-Changing Place

image by @derisawaswati via instagram

Four Ph.D. students in CIIS’s Transformative Studies program came together to explore the idea of interconnections and cosmopolitanism. Inspired by  Lata Mani’s The Integral Nature of Things and Seyla Benhabib’s Another Cosmopolitanism.

“One cannot be present to others unless one is also present to oneself.”
– Lata Mani (p. 63)


Caitlin Gill embodied her response with a video, accompanied by music chosen by Zee Morrison, and a poem.

How can you situate yourself in this world?  by Caitlin Gill

What is this world?

This world that feels as though I should live under a blindfold to preserve my sense of self.

To remember who I am

Who am i

The still empty space living in the center of my being

Where my eyes meet the end of my nose

Where my eyes meet the horizon

Where my eyes meet your eyes

Where my eyes meet my heart

Where my eyes beat in my chest

Where my eyes create new scenes

Where my eyes take away take away take away my own ignorance

Where my eyes try to see themselves

Where my eyes go blind in an effort to see

Where my eyes strain

Where my eyes cry, tear, tear, side eye glance, periphery vision, seeing as an infant, seeing as an elder, seeing blurry, seeing crosseyed, seeing at all

I stand. I stare. I sit. I stare. I lay down. I stare.

Unapologetically stare.

Uncomfortably stare.

Mindfully stare.

Take off the blindfold.


image by @thegloriousdetached_i via instagram

And then Marianne Ingheim and Hillary Carey sat down to interview each other about their topics of inquiry.

HC: Hello Marianne, this has been a compelling way to explore the topics from our reading. Caitlin’s response is so unique to her–yet inspired by Zee. And here you and I are sitting down to see what we can learn from each other, despite our topics being so different.

MI: I agree, it has been wonderful to see how each of us responds uniquely, with our own perspectives.

HC: I have been eager to ask you about your inquiry topic of self-compassion and how you approach Mani’s idea of being “interconnected”? 

MI: Mani’s idea of interconnectedness is similar to Kristin Neff’s “common humanity.” Neff, a pioneer in the research on self-compassion, defines self-compassion as containing three elements: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. By self-kindness, she means a loving acceptance of ourselves exactly as we are. By mindfulness, she means a balanced awareness of our suffering. Common humanity she defines as a feeling of being “connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering” (Self-compassion, p. 41).

Common humanity is the feeling of being connected to other people through our shared experience of suffering. For we all suffer. We all have moments of pain, and we all make mistakes. When we remind ourselves of this shared humanity, the suffering we’re going through feels less intense. We feel less alone, and our experience feels less abnormal. We may not like it, but suffering is in fact normal. It’s just part of the human experience.

In addition to alleviating our own suffering, remembering our common humanity can spur our desire to alleviate the suffering of others. It’s a common misconception that self-compassion makes us selfish and less compassionate towards others. Quite the opposite. When we recognize that we are all in this together and we give ourselves compassion, it naturally spills over to those around us. Neff’s research confirms that the more self-compassionate we are, the more compassion we have for other people.

Emphasizing our common humanity doesn’t mean denying our uniqueness. It’s not about erasing difference. In fact, self-compassion is all about embracing your authentic self. I think that the more we do that, the more we’re able to appreciate the uniqueness of others.

HC: Mani’s approach to dignity, “meeting our neighbors in suffering and joy,” seems like it has resonance with compassion. How would Kristin Neff build on that idea?

MI: The word “compassion” means “to suffer with”. It’s not pity, which involves looking down on someone from a privileged position, and it’s not codependency, which involves losing yourself in the other’s suffering.

Neff points to the difference between
self-compassion and self-pity by emphasizing common humanity. If I’m feeling sorry for myself, I’m feeling separate from everyone else. I’m feeling alone in my suffering, and I don’t see you and your suffering, or that we are all in this together. I don’t see our common humanity.

Pity comes from a place of fear and separation. Compassion comes from a place of love—love for myself and for all of humanity.

Mani talks about being “present” to one another. This has to do with mindfulness, holding in loving awareness whatever is going on within ourselves and among those around us. She beautifully says, “One cannot be present to others unless one is also present to oneself” (p. 63). This is so true! We must first be willing to meet ourselves in suffering and joy. Then, we can truly be present to the suffering and joy of others.

HC: Because of your international citizenship background, when I heard the French president talk about nationalism versus patriotism, I thought of our class and your experiences.

What do you think of this idea that President Macron said, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying, ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace and what is essential: its moral values.”

MI: I love this! And I think it ties in with Mani’s idea of interconnectedness. When we recognize our common humanity, we are less likely to see our own interests as the only interests that matter. If we are all in this together, then the interests of all of us matter.

My home country of Denmark struggles with reconciling the desire to take good care of her own people through welfare programs and the lesser desire to take care of immigrants. It’s a tricky situation. As Seyla Benhabib puts it in Another cosmopolitanism, “The modern state system is caught between sovereignty and hospitality” (31, italics in original).

How can we reconcile the rights of a democratic state with the universal rights of citizens of the world? How do we ensure everyone’s right to a dignified life? Philosophically, it’s a no-brainer. Of course we take care of each other. But when you’re on the ground in, say, Lebanon, with more refugees than the country can handle, what do you do then?

I don’t have the answer, except to say that nationalism is not it!

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image courtesy of @conservatoryofflowers via instagram

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Marianne: So now it’s your turn, Hillary. Your inquiry is about understanding and altering attitudes among white Americans who don’t believe that racism still exists. Am I getting that right?

HC: Yes, that’s where I am currently focused. My inquiry started with my frustration at that denial of racism as a damaging practice. Our text from Gergen on Social Construction helped me see racism as a construction that some people are refusing to acknowledge…

or, perhaps more accurately, some people have constructed an idea of America as a country where racism has been fixed and is now finished, and many people subscribe to that belief.

MI: I know we’re early in the dissertation process, but I’m curious if you have any ideas about why some white Americans would deny that racism exists. Do they believe we’ve resolved this issue as a society?

HC: That’s exactly why I decided to go back to school. I don’t understand it, and I want to be able to understand people and have empathy for this not insignificant portion of the population who are more offended by the label, “racist” than by racist behavior. Even as I talk about it I can feel the anger rising up in my body. There have been a few books that are helping me to understand. Robin DiAngelo is known for her book, “White Fragility,” but she also has another book written earlier, “What Does it Mean to be White?” She offers some possible answers to your question, DiAngelo suggests that white people have been buffered from ever having to think about, or experience, the negative impacts of racial aggression, so it is easy to deny, and uncomfortable to talk about.

White people get angry when racism is brought up because it is a discomfort that they are often able to avoid. And it brings up a defensiveness of white ancestors and white culture. Another book that has been helpful is Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s book, “Racism Without Racists” which proposes that in our current “colorblind” era where we say that race doesn’t matter, it denies the structural and institutional inequities that have been dominated by white supremacy since the birth of our country. If we can turn a blind eye to the detrimental effects that decades of negative effects on the lives of people of color, then we can continue on supporting the structures that work well enough for white people. To be blunt, it benefits white people to not look under the rock to see the ugliness, and there is no harm to the white men in power to perpetuate the idea that everything is fine for all citizens if they just work hard enough and keep out of trouble.

MI: Do you see this as a uniquely American phenomenon?

HC: That’s a fascinating question. Racism itself certainly isn’t limited to the United States, but perhaps this racism-denial is. I often want to blame Fox News for perpetuating false ideas that are satiating to conservatives. So my first instinct is to say that our bifurcated news media has helped fan the flames of denial. But I am not sure. Thank you, I hadn’t thought to compare that aspect of it to other geographies, but I think that could be very helpful.

MI: In The integral nature of things, Lata Mani talks about interconnectedness. I wonder how this relates to your inquiry.  

HC: I think you helped to answer this in our previous conversation about your inquiry into self-compassion.

Marianne, you said earlier, “When we recognize that we are all in this together and we give ourselves compassion, it naturally spills over to those around us.” That gives me hope that perhaps a way for me to help people recognize the harm that is being done to others through racism, is to help them develop their own self-compassion or to heal the wounds they have that make them too defensive to see the plight of others.

Mani describes it this way, “The refusal to see how things are interconnected has led us to imagine life and politics as being about ‘staking our claim on the world,’…essentially external to us and existing for us (p.227).” She goes on to describe rare it is for societies to support a view where we see everyone as equal to us. What I hear you saying is that increased self-compassion is a way toward that.

MI: Yes, it absolutely is. Now, another question based on Mani’s text, which criticizes the politics of difference and emphasizes commonality (p.83): I wonder how we can emphasize both uniqueness and commonality, and how this relates to your question of racism?

HC: Yes, It’s an interesting tension, but I think Mani speaks to it well with this idea, “offer a basis for envisioning forms of solidarity and affiliation that are not contingent on sameness.” And perhaps, again, you’ve offered a potential aspect of a solution with your question, Marianne. Solidarity as Americans is something that can unite us across color lines. I am often thinking about whether helping people to see that we are better together as a country if we are not turning our backs to injustice. And breaking down the structural racism is about giving everyone a more similar experience.

But if we look at our country’s history, something like Red Lining– where banks would lend money to homeowners in certain (white) neighborhood and not others (majority black neighborhoods). Or when the government financed many new housing developments and underwrote the loans at very low-interest rates so that people could buy affordable homes after the war… the people they allowed to buy homes were only white. I drive past one of those developments just south of San Francisco. Those homes were purchased for $10,000… and are now worth more than $1million. The capacity to build wealth that was provided for white people and not others is what emphasizes the differences between white and black families today. It’s not always the cultural difference that needs to be talked about, it’s the unequal paths that we have walked through the U.S. that bring us to our present state of disparity. I would like to be able to see that as moving toward solidarity of the country.

MI: What else might help white Americans change their attitude about racism?

HC: I am not sure. As a designer, I’m comfortable with ambiguity. I like problems that don’t have clear answers. Though sometimes I do worry that I’m tackling a problem that is too difficult for me to make progress on. But simply that it is a worthwhile question keeps me going. And I appreciate that this conversation with you has brought out several new possible perspectives on the problem that I haven’t thought about before. Other ideas I can imagine would have to do with a more tangible, accessible view of our nation’s history. We have not made reparations for any of the horrors that have been conducted on non-whites in the name of our country’s progress. There is a new museum developed by the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama called The Legacy Museum that makes the history of lynching in the U.S. more tangible and experiential. I think that idea is beautiful. For me, it is an example of design used to present ideas to people in a new way. So I’d like to think about a way of making the injustices in our history more present and easier to understand the repercussions. Or dealing with present-day conversations, making the offensive things said by government officials more clearly understood by non-People of Color.

MI: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

HC: No, this has been wonderful to talk with you, thank you for your great questions.


“The individual is not only a moral bring who is a member of a universal moral community but is also a person entitled to a certain status in a moral civil society.”
– Seyla Benhabib (p. 149)

REFERENCES
Benhabib, S. (2006). Another Cosmopolitanism. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York: William Morrow.

Mani, L. (2013). The Integral Nature of Things. India: Routledge.

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  • Hillary Carey is currently a first-year student in the Transformative Studies PhD program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her background is in Design Research which she plans to apply to the complex social issue of racism in the United States.
  • Caitlin Gill is a performance artist and is continuing her education in the Transformative Studies program at CIIS.
  • Marianne Ingheim is a writer, currently at work on a book about her personal journey to self-compassion, as well as a Ph.D. student in the Transformative Studies program at CIIS. Her research will focus on the role of self-compassion in personal transformation.
  • Zee Morrison has a Masters of Yoga Studies, is an actress, and is now pursuing her doctorate with an inquiry exploring healing the African diaspora.

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