"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.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Power of Memes

Today let’s talk about memes. Richard Dawkins coined the word meme (it rhymes with cream) in 1976, and chose the word deliberately because it sounded like gene. He defined a meme as a cultural idea, symbol or practice passed from one person to another through writing, conversation, ritual and/or gesture. (If you’re interested in etymology, the word springs from a Greek term meaning “something imitated.”)

Memes are like genes in the sense that they evolve by being passed from one human generation to the next. We inherit memes just as we inherit genes. But memes are not like genes where it really counts. Your genetic code isn’t easily altered. Your memetic code, on the other hand, can be rejected or accepted. Taking a look at your personal memes can reveal surprising realities about how you think and respond to the world, because as theorists point out, “The memes that replicate effectively spread the farthest and fastest, and some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.”

Detrimental to the welfare of their hosts! In case anyone is wondering, that means some of the ideas you grew up with are bad for you. I have a feeling an inventory of memes related to creativity would read something like this:

I don’t have a creative bone in my body.
I was never any good at (fill in the blank) drawing, painting, singing, writing...
I’m not really an artist.
Men are better artists than women.
I just play around; I don’t really make art.
Artists can’t make a living in this society/city/world.
Quilting isn’t really art; it’s a craft.
Art is more important than craft.
Musicians never make any money.
I am not that creative; anyone could do this.

Sound familiar or do you have your own personalized versions of creativity memes?

You may not be able to change your genetic make-up. But you can recognize the negative energy embedded in the above list of cultural memes and rebuke them. Christiane Northrup calls for an open conversation and confrontation of memes – and suggests that talking about hurtful, limiting memes is the equivalent of vaccinating participants against them. Naming is power. Recognizing a meme as the psychological limitation it represents is the first step in dismantling it.

So I am calling for an open conversation and confrontation of the memes that play out in our sacred creative spaces. An inventory of your outdated, subliminal, and hurtful memes is in order! Make a list and dismiss any idea that doesn’t serve your creative growth. Just because you thought it doesn’t make it true. Get a fresh take and breathe some new creative air. Clarity is good.


  1. I don't know from whence it came or why it has such a hold on my, but fear is pervasive in my mind. My first thought is often a fearful one--seeing an odd shape behind a tree or my son-in-law riding his bicycle for one hundred miles. I am working on it, the grip isn't as strong as it was certainly. I don't think this is a meme; I think it's part of my make-up. Like I said, I'm getting better but it's very strong, even though it's often really pretty silly. I like a scene in Harry Potter when the 'boggart' will assume the shape most feared by the student and as the student imagines this fearsome shape with roller skates or funny clothes, it loses its power.

  2. Is there an age limit for successfully confronting and rebuking "outdated, subliminal and hurtful" memes? If not, to quote Ricky Ricardo, I've "got some 'splainin' to do!" (to myself). Thanks for provoking thought!

  3. This reminds me of a 4th step inventory I took in AA where I listed "old ideas" or principles learned during childhood (memes)and dissected them, saw the lies I told myself (memes)and believed and formed new truths. I did this at 50 and now whenever I start to tell myself some untruth, I recognize it immediately and look for the truth of the situation. One of those memes I used was a mindset I refer to as awefulizing. Now not only do I know I have worth as an artist and person in general but I see others as capable creative wonderful people and not as threatening competitors. When I meet another artist who treats me like a threatening competitor, I can have compassion. Life has never been this good! Let's MAKE!

  4. One of my memes was I didn't need anyone. My most recent 'aha' moment was when I realized that "I needed" someone I didn't feel close to. I've spent serious time trying to analyze the why of this. My daily prayer is to say "I need you". This was hard to face but it was the way I felt.

  5. I've been pondering 'memes' since the day it was posted, and though I've already commented once, here's another thought: The most prevalent and sad meme I deal with is 'I can't draw.' Now I know that isn't true. I've taken classes in drawing and done well. I realized that I've spent bunches of money not just for classes but for software and hardware to attempt to get around this perceived difficulty. My adult son, who has never taken a drawing class, was visiting and creating a father's day card. He simply copied--by drawing--some clip art--and made a fun card. I'd have printed the clip art, gone to Kinko's to enlarge it and developed a sophisticated method of transferring it onto the card or just glued the larger size on. I used to think someone sometime told me I couldn't draw and that may be the case, but I'm thinking that the barricade, much more than a barrier, is within me. I should draw every day, but I'm not very good at 'shoulds,' there are too many of them. Being aware will be a great help, that, and doing the work. Thank you for the challenges!