Spontaneous and Relentless Compassion
This TED Talk, is about a geo-political exercise I created for public school children in 1978. Its consistent successful outcome over the last three decades (negotiating and solving fifty inter-locking global problems, and having every nation’s asset value and societal good increased), I would say is based almost entirely upon the nature of the relationship between the teacher and the students, and between the students themselves. The game board itself is a multi-level tower of Plexiglas covered with thousands of game pieces and layer upon layer of complex, global crisis requiring hyper collaborative problem solving, in the midst of chaos, uncertainty, and adversarial pressures. Everything is, and is designed to go wrong on every level and in every sphere... all at once... for everyone.
And yet what I find, when my students are thrown into this super-heated crucible with its recipe for immediate and complete failure, that instead of boiling over they add new ingredients, performing a sort of alchemy, turning leaden problems into gold. Solving problems in the Game is certainly a messy process, with false starts, inaccurate assessments, and wrong-headed impulses. But the thought of there being no way out does not seem to occur to the children, although the situations presented are structured to appear that way. No way out, they come to realize is a self-designated option created by the conceptual mind. This concept actually has no inherent existence in reality.
The children have a lack of pre-conceptions, a lack of experience really, of what has or has not worked, of what can or cannot be useful. Because of that innocence, or naivete, their solutions come across as bold, creative, and often wildly open-hearted. Their failures, which I fully expect and accept, are welcomed as sincere experiments. They are working from a place before perspectives harden and attitudes solidify, where for example, compromise is demonstrated to be a lack of separateness from others, rather than being seen as personal sacrifice. Compromise as a method does not seem to be experienced as a lost of self. Rather the students’ over riding concern in negotiations is for a happier outcome for all.
In the above talk you will hear of myriad problems which national, governmental, ethnic, and tribal bodies are charged with solving. The ingenious, innovative, and often unpredictable solutions the children arrive at astound and delight me, and they are usually solutions, which I and my adult colleagues who ponder their thinking hardly ever conceive of ourselves. Their inspiring creative flexibility, their positive can-do attitude and persistence in making things all right is always moving for me.
One of the World Peace Game's classic examples of this "making things right" in an unorthodox way is the story of the Nin Tribe. In the Game the Nin people, an ethnic minority of an ecologically minded, mid-level nation stake a claim in a gold-rich, mountainous region over their own border inside the territory of a much wealthier neighbor nation. An independent team of archeologists, announcing DNA-confirmed evidence (so posits my crisis scenario) reports that the skeletal remains discovered in this gold-laden terrain are Nin ancestors! Nin religious requirements state that any ancestral remains are never to be moved or disturbed in any way, and that the land where the bones rest is to be considered Nin homeland territory. The Nin therefore, has a religious and cultural duty to occupy that land and honor and protect the remains, despite the fact that the land is actually owned by another nation!
The invaded nation prepares to oust the Nin who they say, have no legal right to live inside the wealthier neighbor's border. There is a tense impasse. After a number of rounds of play and many failed attempts at resolution, no break-through occurs and tensions continue to grow. Quite suddenly the Prime Minister of the wealthy neighbor says she has an insight on how to solve the problem! She asks, what the consequences would be of her becoming a Nin, of converting to their religion! She turns to the children acting as the United Nations body for a ruling. Having never faced such a proposal before, they must discern the parameters and consequences of this solution and then formulate a procedure to allow its implementation. It turns out that the Prime Minister's solution, that of essentially joining the other side immediately eases the tension between the parties and the Nin now see the former enemy as one of their own! They work out an arrangement from a now common point of view.
Of course, not all political and social problems are so easily remedied, but I wonder if we adults could ever be as flexible about something we often consider so fundamental to our own identity. This property-sharing arrangement achieved above, allowed the Nin all the access they needed to their new sacred territory, while also allowing the wealthy nation to retain all its territory and sovereignty.
One can see that this World Peace Game is not very realistic, nor is it meant to be. In truth, the game is merely a pretext for inspiring people to create, develop and practice the tools and processes of problem solving, and creative and critical thinking. By competent, steady and insightful practice, I would hope that we may ultimately be able to use these experiences, based upon a caring relationship to the Earth and to each other to help reduce suffering and increase compassion in the world. I keep hoping that the example of my children, their spontaneous and relentless compassion which I witness decade after decade, might in the coming year be an inspiration to us all.