I remember 20 years or so ago, being introduced to and embracing the spider web as a metaphor for the inter-connectedness among all living things. I don't remember whether Chief Seattle's words below were my first encounter with the analogy or whether it was from another of the many influencers in my life who spoke to this idea:
Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
~ Chief Seattle, 1854 ~
But I do remember how profoundly it affected me. In the mid-1990s, I converted to a new spirituality that was more centrally built around this worldview. My spouse and I named our first pet rabbit "web". And at our wedding, to symbolize our interrelatedness, we tossed around a ball of yarn from attendee to attendee until my grandma was tangled up with my spouse's college buddy in a way that defies most all definitions of "the natural order of things". It was a concept that stuck with me.
I also recall sitting in English class at Iowa State University discussing the similarities between the anti-narrative, story weaving styles of Leslie Marmon Silko in her novel Ceremony and Toni Morrison in Beloved. These two brilliant writers made conscious decisions to ditch the writing conventions of the dominant culture in exchange for a more culturally relevant, and just plain more interesting mode of communicating one's point of view.
As with any generation
the oral tradition depends upon each person
listening and remembering a portion
and it is together--
all of us remembering what we have heard together--
that creates the whole story
the long story of the people.
-Leslie Marmon Silko
If I close my eyes, I can transport myself back to that classroom where, as our instructor compared the storytelling techniques of these authors to that of a spider weaving her web, I sat scanning the faces of the other students in the circle looking for some indication of interest that might connect us beyond English 420. DID YOU JUST HEAR THAT? THE STORY IS A WEB AND WE GET TO TRAVERSE IT IN PATTERNS THAT THE STORYTELLER HAS DEVISED FOR US SO THAT WE MAY ALL BE CONNECTED THROUGH HER TALE! AND TIME ISN'T LINEAR EITHER! FOR GOODNESS SAKES PEOPLE, ARE YOU GETTING THIS?
Either the web-as-analogy concept wasn't as interesting to my classmates or my seated-but-ready-to-pounce position scared them off. Not dissimilar to Leslie Marmon Silko's main character, Tayo, I sometimes questioned my sanity as I failed to establish a linear narrative that might allow others to engage with me in a more clear and direct manner.
He cried the relief he felt at finally seeing the pattern, the way all the stories fit together – the old stories, the war stories, their stories – to become the story that was still being told. He was not crazy; he had never been crazy. He had only seen and heard the world as it always was: NO BOUNDARIES, ONLY TRANSITIONS THROUGH ALL DISTANCES AND TIME.
Perhaps not in English class, but a shared vision of our interconnectedness has allowed me to connect in meaningful ways, with my family, my students, my colleagues, and my community. And, as it turns out, l
iving one's life with an awareness that what I do to you, I do to myself turns out to be a pretty decent way to go about it. Getting tangled up in decency feels
pretty good too. Social psychologist, Jennifer Aaker
, has researched what makes us happy and she states “the happiest people are those who have stopped chasing happiness and instead search for meaningfulness.”
I use this idea when assigning my college of medicine students to design a social change intervention that they would like to see the following semester's students implement. I encourage them to choose something that is meaningful to them. I ask them to choose something that will make them smile and feel really good if they happen to be walking across campus and come upon a group of students who are implementing their social change initiative.
It makes me very happy to send off masses of nurses who are entangled in decency having woven happiness into their future and having an ability to see how they are connected with one another, with the issues they affect, and with society at large. When I walk across campus and see a former student collecting items for the food pantry I smile and I feel really good. In the end, the assignment is my social change initiative and it keeps me connected with my students beyond Sociology 102.
to read strand 2 of this post.