Co-creation, Self-Preservation, and Connection: An Alternative View of Human Nature
How we choose to view our basic nature affects our way of life directly. If we believe we are fundamentally flawed and that all the pain and suffering we experience is simply who we are, then things will likely remain as they are. What if we try out a different view of humanity?
What follows is an alternative view of human nature based on observations extrapolated from daily life and from studying the life-ways and cultural practices of Paleolithic peoples. This view of human nature is based upon the belief that as humans we are malleable and capable of a great variety of behaviors. Rather than being fundamentally flawed, we have some basic needs and motivations which are addressed and influenced through cultural beliefs and structures.
These are some possible key aspects of human nature:
We ask What’s in it for me?
We seek birth-to-death security;
We desire to co-create;
We seek contact and interaction with other people;
We crave group acceptance and to be desirable for procreative purposes;
We grapple with identity.
We ask “What’s in it for me?”
This sounds somewhat “dog-eat-dog”, but it need not be. Prioritizing our own best interests is a form of self-preservation and protection, which doesn’t always happen at the expense of others. In short, it means simply that anything we do has to benefit us in ways we recognize (what we recognize as a benefit is, of course, shaped by cultural values). The benefits of a given experience or action include the more tangible aspects of life such as food, water, and shelter. They also include companionship, intimacy, or a sense of belonging. In a given situation, “What’s in it for me?” may be a place to sleep or it may be an experience of friendship. In the context of tribe, one’s own self-interest is often also good for the group.
When we shift our cultural values, our understanding of “What’s in it for me?” changes. In our current cultural paradigm, people mainly look for financial or power-based incentives. But if we begin to value people and new experiences more, suddenly opportunities that once seemed unimportant become much more interesting. Imagine an unemployed woman is offered the chance to help out on a farm run by friendly and supportive people in exchange for free room and board. From our current cultural paradigm, there isn’t much in it for her. She’s not getting paid for the work, nor does it get her any closer to finding paid work or improving her socioeconomic standing. Yet from the cultural perspective of wealth = kinship + health, here is a chance to engage in co-creative work with some interesting people who may become lifelong friends.
We seek birth-to-death security.
Every human being wants to know that their basic needs will be met – that they will have food, shelter, and be safe in sickness and old age. This is part of our basic human nature, our need to survive. If we feel the threat of our needs not being met, we will do whatever it takes to try to regain our footing.
Our current culture presents the belief that money/ possessions/power is the only way to be assured that we will have food, shelter, and be cared for in times of physical vulnerability. As long as we have enough money, then we can tap into our reserves to pay others to care for us in infirmity. Yet our belief that money can keep us safe is largely an illusion. Stocks and bonds can disappear overnight, and even when we can afford health care it doesn’t necessarily meet our needs (especially after we’ve lived out of balance for so long and created deep-seeded dis-ease conditions within ourselves).
It is possible for humans to find birth-to-death security through strong kinship relationships and through ongoing maintenance of personal health. If we live for health, personal growth, and nourishing relationships in the present moment, we generate the conditions for ongoing wealth throughout our lives. Even if we lose some of our kin or fall into an accident, the combined efforts of those we love can see us through difficult times. What’s more, the work we do (and which our kin help us to do through mirroring) to learn the lessons presented to us in the school of everyday life assist in preventing patterns of dis-ease and emotional blockage.
We desire to co-create.
It is our basic nature (not what our culture says but in our psychology) to desire – desire to co-create in this world, to use our hands to shape all the world’s gifts into forms we imagine. We naturally want to make whatever we can design and manifest, whether it be shaping clay into pots or turning iron into tools or building planes and cars. It is a process of co-creation, because all the materials and forms already exist and we add our own inspiration and energy to shape them into beautiful and useful new forms of our own design. We can’t really create new energy or matter, but we can shape what is already present. The more successful we are at manifesting/co-creating what we imagine, the more confident and safe we feel and the clearer we can see the world as it really is.
When we are first learning, for example, how to cook, we might think we can make a marvelous casserole out of split peas and stale bread. But we might not know to soak and precook the split peas, or we might burn the bread, or omit an important spice. We think we get it, but we don’t yet. We project through inexperience, we can’t manifest what we dreamed, and we miss the spark of divine co-creation. Only through the experience of trying to create the casserole do we learn what ingredients to use and how to process them to make a well-textured and tasty dish. As we get more skilled in our visualization and grasp of the materials and the process, we get better at making “something” out of “nothing”. So when we make a delicious casserole, we savor for a second the co-creative power of perceiving the world clearly enough to manifest what we visualized.
As individual human beings, we strive to see as much of the Great Mystery as clearly as possible. This is not to say we are here to “solve” the Mystery, to understand it completely, for that would remove all the wonder of it. Our purpose is to enjoy the journey of trying to see clearly. For example, when people were observing the earth and stars during the Renaissance in Europe, it was common belief that the earth was the center of the universe. It wasn’t until Galileo Galilei used tools of observation instead of projection to try to describe the mystery more accurately that he found the earth to be circling around the sun. (Many peoples around the world had already described planetary movements this way, but it was new for Galileo’s culture at that time.) His discovery is significant not merely for its impact on the rest of humanity, but for the excitement and joy he must have experienced upon comprehending a new idea after grappling with it so deeply. That kind of magic and joy is our greatest offering to the world as humans, and our reason for being.
Every single man-made thing out in the world is someone’s desire made tangible. Every road, house, building, and basket is the manifestation of a desire to create. When you see a fence, a drum, or even a book or painting, remember that someone dreamed it and manifested it in this reality. The clearer their visualization or plans, the more functional and beautiful it is.
Only through co-creation can we discover the security that comes from realizing that we are part of the world and that we are going to be taken care of (the earth provides).
We seek contact and interaction with other people
At the surface level, our need for companionship begins with the need for touch and conversation. But it extends much more deeply than that. We also need support in our daily learning and growing process. Galileo’s attempts to see the Great Mystery were not necessarily respected or supported in his time – his ideas were frowned upon by the Catholic church, so he publicly denied the validity of his discoveries in order to avoid being hanged. What might have happened if Galileo had lived in a community which supported his efforts? How many more insights could have been discovered? The world of viewpoints is like a great circle (with the Great Mystery at the center) and all of us co-creators looking into the center attempting to discern the Mystery. The more personal work we as individuals do, the less we project onto the world what we want to see and the clearer we see what is really there. As a cooperative or kinship group, our purpose is to support the individual in that personal work – that quest for growth and insight – through kindness, harmony, challenge, and mutual support.
We can support each other in our learning and growing process. Whether physical or emotional, times of crisis and challenge arise in every person’s life. In these times it is especially important that other people in the group remain stable and healthy through one person’s time of trial. At the same time, we can also act as mirrors to each other, offering insight about what we see happening in each other’s lives. From the dietary choices we make to relationship lessons, it is extremely difficult to discern what is happening to us as we experience it. A small example illustrates this well. Imagine you go to visit your mother and wants to cook some sausages. When they turn to mush and stick to the pan, she asks you what she’s missing. You quickly notice that it was not in fact sausage that she put in the pan but frozen bananas. Your mother had been so certain (projecting) she was cooking meat that she needed outside perspective to realize the truth of what was happening. This humorous example illustrates the importance of having people in our lives to mirror for us, to help us see past our own projections. The truth of what is happening is often easily observable, yet each person needs help innumerable times per day from patient and good-humored friends to see what is right in front of them.
Try imagining an example from your own life. Think of some pattern you’ve experienced. Maybe you keep snapping irritably at people. Or maybe you keep promising people you’ll do something and then not being able to follow through. Maybe you just plain feel off and can’t figure out why. Whatever the pattern is, think about how it has emerged in your life, and how it has come to your attention. Imagine – or, if you’re lucky, perhaps this has happened to you – that a deeply trusted friend offered you a very honest assessment of the situation. This kind of mirroring from an outside perspective can mean the difference between resolving confusing emotional and behavioral patterns and repeating them over and over to the point of dis-ease.
Imagine each of the circles on the outside of this wheel is a person. We each look into the center towards the Great Mystery, our personal view obscured by our own projections and beliefs (the curved lines), and it appears we are trying to see around the obstructions or through a fog and all the other seekers are looking towards the center. We are also interacting with each other, and these interactions have the potential to pull us to one side or the other. Through our interactions, we can help illuminate the Mystery for each other (through honest mirroring) or obscure it further by pulling each other’s energy and vision away from the Mystery.
You could have responded to your mother’s culinary confusion with “Oh jeez, Mom, don’t be ridiculous, I’m sure it will turn out fine,” without actually lending the time and patience to examine what was happening. Projections upon projections obscure the Mystery further; the “sausages” would have made it to the dinner table as bananas. We can easily be distracted by each other, forget to look toward the Mystery at all, and abandon the crucial role we play in each other’s lives as mirrors in the quest for truth.
It is natural in each person’s journey for there to be times when the desire to learn and pursue a particular interest or experience wanes. Once we have taken the time to experiment with making casseroles and experienced the delight of figuring out how to manifest it well, we have satiated that desire and learned what we needed to learn from that process. We might then experience a period of melancholy when it appears as if we have no passion anymore – when nothing excites or inspires us to co-create. In these moments, it is important to simply be patient and wait because a new desire will, like spring, arise. It is wise at that time not to overwork or push ourselves to compensate for our emptiness. Like a seed incubating, we need a period of rest and darkness before something emerges. Eventually, we will become excited about making a different dish, or we may be inspired by something else entirely. The same applies to the spaces between relationships.
Despite all the common cultural insistence that we find our path or “calling” and remain in that field of work for the rest of our lives, it may serve us better to believe that it is in our basic human nature to explore something until we have learned enough from it and then naturally move on to something else. Sometimes a passion lasts a lifetime, but more often we enjoy it for a while and then move on to something else, perhaps to return to it again later. If we give ourselves space in life to truly follow our natural dreams and desires, we may learn and experience many different things in life.
Think of children first playing with a toy, learning how it rolls and moves, then tiring of that toy and picking up something different. As they grow and learn, they move forward to more and more complicated and fascinating processes. Games like basic catch and puzzles are replaced with tennis and engineering. This natural curiosity doesn’t have to end when school ends but can continue on for life unless restricted by beliefs or culturally-ingrained behaviors (overwork, emotional repression, and forcing ourselves to do what we don’t want to do).
We grapple with identity.
Most people regardless of ethnicity, religion, or bioregion can agree that there are various physical stages in human growth. Men go from boy/child to teenager to man/father to old man in our culture. Women go from girl to teenager to woman/mother to old woman. If in general we agree upon the physical changes accompanying these stages, it is only a small jump to say that there are emotional shifts which correlate with the physiological changes. Just as the body’s development can be encouraged or stifled through patterns of nutrition and movement, so can the intellect and emotional intelligence be influenced by presence or lack of guidance, attention, and patience. Although the emotional wounds are sometimes harder to see to the untrained eye than the physical symptoms of mistreatment, they are equally as damaging.
As a child, we explore the world freely using all of our senses: testing, tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, seeing, and feeling everything we come into contact with. We do this uninhibited by judgment until we gain our own experience – equally likely to put a spider in our mouth as a piece of candy. Children are full of appetite for desire and experience. The same is true for the emotional body as a child grows: we test our boundaries and use our interaction tools. When hungry or thwarted, we cry and see what the results bring. If we are rewarded with food and touch, then we recognize this as a useful tool and move forward in our desire to explore, but if the basic communication we have (screaming) brings no response or even elicits a negative response (yelling or spanking) then we shut down and learn not to trust the world and the tools we develop are more inward-oriented.
Let’s consider children raised by mature, patient parents within a supportive network of elders and kin. When children in this context demand attention, wanting to be picked up, they are immediately responded to and held until they choose to be set down to interact with the world again. Usually this process doesn’t take long if the children are sure that at any point they can get reassurance again. It is usually only when attention and touch are erratic or non-existent that chronically needy, angry children emerge.
As children grow in trust and strength, there is a deep-seated need for assurance and approval to reassure them that they are valued and can trust that they will not be abandoned. This is where the common demand “Look at me!” comes from. If attention is given consistently and immediately, children start to believe that they are valuable and capable and quickly move on to the next adventure. This is how people grow a healthy internal sense of secure identity and place in the world. But if stifled or not appreciated consistently, their need for approval goes inward unmet and drives them to seek other methods to meet that need – for example, through being better than other people at something, or through material possessions or external beauty that display their worthiness to others. Children are highly impressionable to the values of the culture they find themselves in and especially when their needs are unmet by their close kin, they readily take to heart the messages of the general culture. As a result, many people in our culture grow to be adults who still seek self-worth through external sources: how much money they make, how well they outcompete others or achieve recognition at work, how they look, or who they date.
It is natural for humans to grapple with the question “Who am I?”
As children, adolescents, and even as young adults, we want to feel special. We want to set ourselves apart, to be acknowledged and appreciated for our unique gifts, and to feel that we belong and have a place in the world. But this need not remain a central motivation for us as we transition into more emotionally mature phases of life. That is why our ancestors developed rites of passage – ceremonies which provide youth and young adults a chance to endure a life-changing challenge after which they are recognized as fully-capable adults with responsibilities to their kin. When children’s need for affirmation and attention is satiated, they no longer demand “Look at me!” from the rest of the community and are freed to focus their energy on co-creative exploration (for the sake of exploration, not for getting attention from other people) and giving to others.