“we are all connected to each other, / In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.” Pocahontas in 1995
What’s the big story of the world?
Those days the world seems to be dividing up. People from everywhere reacted with fear to Trump’s debut as a president, each of his executive orders creating more apprehension as for where the US are heading to. And the US apart, the rest of the world is also divided between nationalism or integration in bigger schemes, as we’ve seen with the Brexit and in a few months with French elections, just to mention countries I’m most familiar with. In those times of confusion as to where the world is going, I’m wondering what narrative about the world, out of all those we hear here and there, to retain. My personal answer is this: the story of the world is that we are all very, very connected, way more than we think, and it’s important to realize it and to keep saying it out loud.
Racism, gender equality, financial inequalities, secularism, economic exploitation, criminality, environment, sexual liberty, censure-ship, corruption, disease… Whose country is not affected by all those concerns? Whose life goals are not restricted by at least one of those issues?
We have local problems, but they connect in a big picture.
The Netflix series Sense 8 which appeared in 2015 on our computers is based much on this idea of global connectivity. Eight characters from different regions of the world and with different personalities start entering each other lives through some sort of body swap. While the main plot (the good guys fighting against the evil scary vilain) is quite déjà vu and disappointing, there are some amazing scenes through which one get real food for thoughts on cultural difference and universality. When the Korean character has to decide between sacrificing herself for the sake of her brother or letting him pay for his mistakes, she does not seek advice to the Western characters, some of them who would have probably promoted individualism over familial obligation, but rather turns to the Kenyan character who convinces her that family comes first. At another time a character goes to an orchestra and all the seven others feel moved… The pains and pleasures of each characters are different when looked at in context, but overall the same.
Last week I went to the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) of Osaka. There are exposed thousands of items of peoples from all over the planet, object as diverse as means of transportation, ustensiles, graves, masks, decorations, tools, food, instruments and so on and so forth. Each artifact is tainted of stories: the stories of its purpose and its relation with a precise culture, the story of its uniqueness (or not), the story of its collection and display in the Minpaku. And interestingly, I could see transversal stories: how a long time ago people from New Zealand, from the Andes, from Japan, from Greece all shared beliefs on nature surrounding them, gave human visages to natural elements, saw the importance of worshiping the generous and threatening Earth. Without ever meeting, these cultures were connected. Earth is small enough so that people wonder on the same things, sometimes reach the same conclusions, and some other times don’t.
The 2012 movie from the 2004 novel Cloud Atlas connects not only different spaces but also times together. Set in 6 different spatio-temporal contexts, a big idea of the movie is that each event is influenced by a previous one, and vice-versa each event mark our planet and can be the trigger for another one. The main characters connect through diary, manuscripts, letters, videos made by the one before. Each of them, through their action, affected the future in an unpredictable way, curving the possibilities of the future generation. And so are we, we turn out thinking to ourselves.
Items and stories are two faces of the same coin: the item is the material, evident part; the story is the immaterial, magical part that contains the emotions and feelings of all the intermediaries of the item.
We are all story-makers and story-lovers. We hear, say, read, watch stories all the time, everywhere. The world-wide connection, which connects us with others elsewhere in space and time is another story we tell ourselves. But that does not mean it is false. Indeed, the story of global connection teaches us how emotions are universal, yet how people are unique. It is not a rational story, still a very important one. Call it religion, spirituality, imagination, stage on the spiral dynamic, awareness… the understanding of how holistic the world is is an amazing and endless story for whoever wants to listen to it.
We each read stories in different ways. Some see the world and see countries in competition for power. Or races against others. Some see it as people and companies fighting for money. If someone is convinced of one of those stories and acts upon it, then the story becomes reality. It is thus important to remind ourselves that there are other stories. Stories where we are all not so different, actually quite similar, and can hopefully work together… “And the world will live as one.”