Focus on Consciousness

by Michael McGinnis

Recently in the media we have seen a lot of attention placed on the problem of violence by men against women. The media is doing what it does best — informing the country about the existence, importance and immediacy of a problem. Various interest groups with their publicity campaign of wearing a white ribbon for a week, have the same goal of public awareness.

It seems, however, that the interest groups and media are better at identifying the problem than in offering solutions for it. Treating or punishing men who are aggressive towards women is like spot-repairing individual leaks in the bottom of a boat with a rotten hull. While looking after one problem area — even if we make that part of the hull the strongest part of the ship —there are still innumerable other potential trouble spots where disasters can flare at any time. And frequently do, as the media headlines remind us of more lurid crimes. Much of the effort directed at the problem is not helping to gain ground in arriving at a solution.

If we understand this problem better, we are more likely to be able to develop a successful strategy to deal with it. The first step is to realize that the amount of violence in general, as reflected by the incidence of serious crime, has been increasing for decades. This is not only a problem of violence by men against women, or men against men, or parents against children. An even more important problem is violence against self — whether in suicide, disease, alcoholism, drug abuse or activities like reckless driving. I estimate that 80% of violence is self-directed: our neighbours, friends and family only feel the more or less occasional eruptions of pools of antagonism which are latent in each of us.

Just as the problems named above are not separate, but symptomatic manifestations of one underlying illness, so we are misdirected in treating each problem separately and hoping for a cure. This is similar to treating the boils of a patient with blood poisoning, but ignoring the systemic infection. The new Canadian gun control laws, again, treat symptoms, only and not the disease of spirit or consciousness involved.

I visualize a situation where there have been a rash of children falling off of cliffs. The concerned parents band together and lobby government directly and via public awareness campaigns using the media with their important message: cliffs must be outlawed (or at least restricted to a maximum height of 2 m) and the law of gravity must be repealed. Apparently, the best intentions will not be very useful if understanding of the problem is insufficient.

Many sociologists or psychologists regard man as a set of separate behaviors, some of which produce social or personal problems. One such behavior is expression of anger. A psychologist might try to change the behavior of a person with violent anger to a form which is more socially acceptable. This approach may not deal with underlying causes of negativity, may not attempt to correct the problem until much damage has been done to self or others, and may never detect serious problems unless a crime is committed. With a treatment that addresses effects, and not causes, it is no wonder that we losing our various "war on drugs", "war on crime", "war on child abuse", etc.

What, then, is the illness, and in what direction might a remedy be found? It is more productive to view man as a range of states of consciousness—from very life denying: including fear, anger and boredom, to profoundly life affirming states. Most people pay little attention to their states of consciousness, do not recognize responsibility for their states of consciousness, and are easily influenced by things around them that might result in a more destructive — or more constructive — state of consciousness.

In other words, negative influences in society further "negativize" the consciousness of a great many people, with the destructive deeds that follow being the effects of a poor state of consciousness. Influences that spread negativity are not hard to find: popular entertainment of a very violent and negative nature, available in books, movies, videos and music, have a coarsening effect on those who view them, and on their actions for some time after — as a result of the degradation of their state of consciousness.

Many of us would be able to relate incidents verifying this. A satellite TV channel was broadcast around town a few years ago,free for the residents to see. On mornings after a horror movie, there was generally an eruption of physically and emotionally violent behavior in the children at the school where I teach. Those children, open to any influence around them, and lacking the discrimination to make wise choices, were drawn towards to a lower state of consciousness by the entertainment they watched.

Another fount of negativity is the continual diet of criticism found particularly in the electronic media. Public media criticism serves as an amplifier to make that trait even stronger in the consciousness of the country.

The situation we have with the spread of destructive states of consciousness is reminiscent of the time before the discovery of germs and the importance of public sanitation as a means to control contagious diseases. Great epidemics of communicable diseases swept the world, and weren't stopped because people then didn't know what caused diseases and what measures would control them. Yet once the rather subtle causes of these illnesses were found, controls became possible. The public media today spread emotional disease like the open sewers of past centuries spread physical disease.

What actions would need to be taken from this point to develop this idea further? Each person can act individually in knowing that whatever influences he subjects himself and his friends and family to become part of people's states of consciousness, which will be reflected in future attitudes and acts. Every time a decision is made to choose a more positive state of consciousness for yourself, the states of consciousness of others are lifted a little. This realm of personal reflection and choice is the most abundant source for the raising of consciousness.

Eventually, government could become more successful in treating social problems by working to uplift public consciousness. This is different from the public education that government does extensively now, to limited effect. This will not happen until the paradigm of various problems as manifestations of consciousness is accepted. The experts who advise governments on development of programs to deal with social problems, such as violence against women, must realize the inadequacy of current behaviorist models of personality, and be willing to test alternative models, such as the model implied in this article.

Each of us is responsible for the part of the consciousness we contribute to the whole of humanity. Various means exist to raise one's consciousness: uplifting music is one way. The goal of many spiritual paths or religions is the enrichment, cleansing and development of consciousness. In the end, one's state of consciousness — like one's health — is an individual responsibility.

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