"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Preconceived Notions

This week the film, Buck, opened in theaters, and it’s worth seeing. This is a guy who was abused within an inch of his life as a child, performed rope tricks blindfolded on the rodeo circuit with his brother - at the command of his tyrant father, and spent the last half of his teenage years in a foster home, along with fifteen other boys – in what must have been a summer camp atmosphere.

The resiliency of the human spirit is astonishing. As an adult, Buck runs horse training seminars, taught Robert Redford how to ride for The Horse Whisperer, and has raised strong, equally resilient daughters, one of whom accompanies him on summer road trips and ropes and rides almost as well as he does.

The horses in the film are magnificent and endearing. The scenery is breath-taking. The loneliness of being on the road nine months of the year is palpable. But the insights Buck shares about horses and human nature, and the gentle humor he infuses into those insights, is priceless. Never in the movie was Buck described as a wounded healer, that is, someone whose ability to heal others stems from also having been damaged. But his willingness to recount the past, and the thoughtful processing of the links between then and now, speak for themselves. This is a man who took all of the pain heaped on him in early life, transcended it, and turned it into a deeply sensitive understanding of what happens inside a horse’s brain when it is confronted by human idiosyncrasy. Buck is a modern mystic, someone able to empathize beyond ordinary understanding, in his interactions with both horses and humans.

Watching Buck changed my preconceived notion of horses (and even animals in a very broad sense), and gifted me with an appreciation I don’t think I could have gotten any other way.

I’ve also been to the gym this week. I love ITunes and my Ipod. There are only three choices for television in the middle of the day. Vapid (soap operas and talk shows), mean-spirited bordering on evil (Jerry Springer and all the judge shows) or confrontational (news and sports channels). I try to score a treadmill at the back of the gym so I can’t see any of the screens. I focus on music, pump it up and get going.

Unless the Ipod dies mid-workout. Which it did. Don’t be a crab. A little television never hurt anyone. I chose The Talk, a women’s show featuring Sharon Osbourne (wife of Ozzy), Holly Robinson Peete (I’ve always liked her) and Sara Gilbert (the daughter on Roseann), along with two other female actresses.

They were talking about the differences between sons and daughters. Oh my God. It was shocking. I know there are differences between boys and girls. But these women were in agreement that having a daughter was harder, a lot harder and almost a handicap. One of the actresses had just had Ultrasound and is expecting a girl. She asked their advice. “Good luck.” one of them offered, but there wasn’t any joy in it. It was all resignation.

“Girls are so full of drama. They wear you out emotionally.” Everyone nodded. “And it goes on forever. Boys move out.”

Fifty-four percent of Americans under the age of 30 would prefer to have a boy.

Never was there any discussion related to whether the drama results because of pre-conceived ideas of what girl children are like. Did it occur to anyone that children (boys and girls) become who they are partly because of what is modeled for them?

I know lots of young women. I have a daughter and four nieces. I haven’t ever felt any real difficulty or drama in our lives because of them. I know it’s out there. It isn’t as though I haven’t witnessed it. When I do, it’s often clear that the seeds of the drama were watered, instead of being weeded out, at home. Where is the mental health of mature parenting? Of mature mothering?

Right now, this is about a man who overcame the preconceived notion of what his life could be like as an adult, and the real time reality of children being raised in an atmosphere of restrictive preconceived notions.

But it’s also about this aspect of human thinking in a broader sense. Read But Is It Art? Cynthia Friedland’s readable guide to art theory and criticism, and it turns out nothing, including art and making, is immune to preconceived notions. Maybe that’s what theory is.

More on Friedland’s book next week.

In the meantime, if you get a chance to go see Buck, grab it. He doesn’t have any pre-conceived notions about what his daughter can do. And you’ll enjoy watching them together.


  1. Jane -- there's a fourth category of daytime TV -- Law & Order reruns! My favorite thing to have on while I quilt; it's mostly talking, so you don't have to actually watch, and you are impelled to stay there working for an hour (46 minutes if you have recorded it) instead of getting a snack or doing the laundry. My most productive studio days are those when they play L&O marathons.

  2. That is just ridiculous! I have two daughters and one son — I had as much angst over him as I did my daughters. We had our trials and tribulations, but in general, motherhood is one of the things I have done best in my life.

  3. I'm glad to hear that Buck is worth the hype. The trailer I saw was promising and I'd certainly like to see it.

    We're in the midst of raising two daughters and one son; it's girl, boy, girl in our family. And the talk on The Talk is rubbish. Their attitude completely negates everyone's individual personality and how they each respond to situations. There's just as much possibility for drama on the sports field as there is in the dance studio (and I've got children in both). I agree that parents often contribute to drama. Makes it hard to keep things mature when parents aren't.

  4. 'Transcending pain,' that's real strength, isn't it!

  5. Easy enough to blame the parents, I guess. Except I've got one girl who is full of drama, and one who isn't. The drama queen is a writer, the other is more math/science oriented. Perhaps the individual is more the issue. And the hormones in our food, perhaps accentuating hormonal issues? The drama queen also happens to be the biggest milk drinker, and at the time, I didn't know about what is in our milk these days. Really, it's very hard to generalize.