Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nature and Ambiguity

This week I experienced the first synthesis of my graduate studies in conflict resolution at American and my studies here of theater at Dell'Arte. The idea was proposed by my writing teacher Lauren who is a talented playwright. She gave a short lecture last week on the evolution of humankind and use of mask as ritual and performance. Her presentation focused on the way that early humans used the natural world around them to create masks. She noted a book by Paul Shephard written in the 70's titled Nature and Madness where the author posits that by growing up in and around nature, humankind gains the ability to understand ambiguity on a very fundamental level. Shephard argues that as humankind loses more direct contact with nature, we miss out on the subtleties of ambiguity and in turn our propensity towards conflict increases. When humankind is unable to understand that all things in the world are not black or white, good or bad, evil or holy, then humanity is unable to transcend and resolve conflicts in a fluid creative manner. This type of creative fluid problem solving is achieved when one has an understanding of paradox and ambiguity. That if something or someone is different, they are not necessarily bad.

Much of my favorite studies at American University revolved around the political theory of constructivism and that humanity has constructed a narrative of war and peace in such a rigid way that we perpetuate our own demise due to a social construct. The hope that lies in social constructivism is that we become conscious of our choice to construct our world in polarity and transcend this archaic way of thinking.

Shephard's theory supports the conflict resolution analysis by arguing that being in touch with nature at an early age allows for human's brains to implicitly strengthen this cognitive skill of understanding and reacting to ambiguity with grace.

As I continue to pay attention to nature as a foundation for the creation of theater, I see the effects of this understanding in my personal life as well. It is a bit difficult to pinpoint qualitative or quantitative results but there is a level of calm, happiness, generosity and compassion that I feel growing in relation to taking a step back out of the din of city life. 

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