To metamorphose is to transform. This site is an exploration of change (why we avoid it, how we can achieve it, who inspires us along the way) and the conditions required for transformation. Founded and curated by Simran Sethi.

The Gift Relationship (Questions, Not Answers)

In 1970, English social theorist Richard Titmuss upended the blood-banking system with his book The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy in which he explained the fundamental differences in how British people and Americans approached the blood used for transfusions. In the British system, all blood is classified as a gift. In the American system, blood is both donated and purchased (or sold). Titmuss goes on to say this profit motive compromises the supply - causing shortages, waste and increased health risks due compromised product (blood sold by desperate people and bought by unscrupulous profit-maximizers). 

There has been a fair amount of research that questions the nuances of this work, but the basic questions remain. Lewis Hyde explains, “Medical sociologists have been drawn to questions of gift exchanges because they have come to understand that the ethics of gift-giving make it a form of commerce appropriate to the transfer of what we might call, ‘sacred properties,’ in this case parts of the human body.” 

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"The pragmatic approach is to address the demand."   Marco Arment

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This is a site about change. This has to change. 

Via fotojournalismus: Nine-year-old Sujon’s foot was covered with oil as he worked in a vehicle-parts store in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. 

[Credit : Andrew Biraj/Reuters]

Embodied Cognition

Recent advances in understanding what psychologists call “embodied cognition” indicate a surprisingly direct link between mind and body. It turns out that people draw on their bodily experiences in constructing their social reality. Studies show, for example, that someone holding a warm cup of coffee tends to perceive a stranger as having a “warmer” personality. Likewise when holding something heavy, people see things as more serious and important — more “weighty.”

However, until recently it was not known whether bodily experiences could help in generating new ideas and solutions to problems. Our research, which will be published soon in the journal Psychological Science, discovered that it can.”

Suntae Kim, Evan Polman, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks

New York Times, 2/25/12

The Triumph of the Commons

The Triumph of the Commons is a thoughtful collaboration of 55 artists challenging conventional wisdom on prosperity, consumption and the role of creativity and play in problem-solving. 

"If the previous centuries were about protecting society from the tragedy of the commons," the authors posit, "Then this century will be about redesigning society to promote their triumph." 

We see this emerging worldview in crowdsourced entrepreneurship, global grassroots organizing, shared services and revolutionary potlucks.

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(Universal) Guidelines for Participation + Communication

"InterOccupy offers these guidelines to support conversations grounded in respect and accountability;  interactions guided by principles rather than personalities. 
  • Be Curious and Open to Learning: Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view.  Maintain a attitude of exploration and learning.
  • Balance Advocacy and Inquiry:  Seek to learn and understand as much as you might want to persuade.  Conversations are as much about listening as it is about talking.
  • Show Respect and Suspend Judgment:  Setting judgments aside will enable you to learn from others and contribute to others experiencing being respected and appreciated.
  • Seek Alignment rather than Agreement: Alignment is shared intention, whereas agreement is having a shared belief or opinion.
  • Be Purposeful and to the Point: Notice if what you are conveying is or is not “on purpose” to the question at hand.  Notice if you are making the same point more than once.  Do your best to make your point quickly with honesty and depth.

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The Moral Self

I spend much of my time embracing what I once eschewed: the deep and steadfast belief that the most important reason to respond and react to the world is because it’s the right thing to do. This is coming from the daughter of scientists who was employed by MTV News and ended up getting a degree in business: I have worked the science, the trend, and the businesses case. I now return to the place where I started. I do the things I do because my gut and heart tell me they are the right thing to do.  

This engagement is part of what sociologists call our “internal identity standard.” Our identity, or identities, are sets of meaning we hold about our position in groups (Indian), in roles we maintain (teacher) or as individuals. These three bases (group, role, person) are most deeply activated through our interactions with others: my identification as an Indian requires the existence of other Indians, my role as a teacher is contingent upon having students. Our individual identities are a bit more fluid, but still require an interchange between inner and outer worlds.   

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The Climate of Change

At the end of his piece on Peter Gleick’s messy attempt to uncover untruths at the Heartland Institute (what I call Climategate II), New York Times reporter Andy Revkin says, “The only people I see out there in the climate fight who – as far as I can tell — never admit to an error are people with agendas from which they can never stray. They’re perfect.”

He’s being tongue-in-cheek. I get it. But there is something critically important in his statement that should not be overlooked: most people believe they exist well within their agendas. The restauranteur serving organic juice in plastic cups, the journalist flying to Tuvalu to document the impacts of climate change, the professor complaining about gaining weight while ending each day with a bar of chocolate (me), we live out these consistencies every day, locked into rhythms and patterns that we no longer notice. 

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From “I” to “We”

Image and text from the incredibly brilliant No Straight Lines blog:

"Carl Jung made the observation that ‘I’ needs ‘We’ to truly be ‘I’, by which he meant that it is through our connectedness, and the meaning that we make through each other, that we find a sustainable model for humanity. Human identity is created through co-created narrative, the bonds created through deep connections we make when we act collectively as meaningful members of a wider group. This mechanism is a vital component part for the construction of identity and healthy societies…This is our DNA, the fundamental needs of our nature; our bodies, minds and souls are designed to work collectively.

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The body is the root of all our experience, through it all our impressions of the world come and from it all we have to share with the world is expressed.” 

                       Anthony Gormley

From: The Art of Medicine: Mapping the Body in 2,000 Years of Images and Imagination.

Systems Thinking

If the structure creates the behavior, then what does our current structure support and engender? Where are we concordant - and where are we out of sync? I have been thinking a lot about the places - physical or mental - where we are not in alignment with what we truly are and believe in.

This disconnection is a source of discomfort that manifests in myriad ways: tuning out the stories of FoxConn suicides so I can still love my iPhone, believing the “all-natural” (meaningless) label on the side of the frozen burrito at the food co-op so I can eat pork that is likely no better or different than what I’d find at Taco Bell, distracting myself with bad television. The list goes on and on. It seems easier to tune out or give up.  

That is why it is an act of courage to see the Occupy folks in New York City continue to strive for alignment. 

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Do Universal Values Sustain Us?

            Suggesting that common, cross-cultural values sustain us risks accusations of cultural imperialism – that is, my values are universal and yours, if they differ, are simply wrong. The late ethics professor Louis Pojman, however, believed that universal values do unite and sustain us. What distinguishes different cultures, he maintained, is how we act on those shared values.

            For example, Pojman told the story, also cited in academic journals, of a Sudanese tribe that throws deformed newborns into the river, a practice that seems like inhuman infanticide to many other cultures. Further investigation, however, shows a culture of caring: Members of the tribe believe that such infants belong to river-dwelling hippopotami, who can better care for them. Pojman asserted that the tribe was acting on a value – providing the best care for vulnerable infants – that other cultures recognize and honor.

            Pojman offered this list of 10 universal moral principles: (1) Do not kill innocent people. (2) Do not cause unnecessary pain or suffering (this includes torture). (3) Do not steal or cheat. (4) Keep your promises and honor your contracts. (5) Do not deprive another person of his or her freedom. (6) Do justice, treating equals equally and unequals unequally (i.e. beneficial special consideration). (7) Reciprocate: Show gratitude for services rendered. (8) Tell the truth, or, at least, do not lie. (9) Help other people, at least when the cost to oneself is minimal. (10) Obey just laws.

We believe what we want to believe

“The family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation. There must be something in family life that generates factual error. Over-closeness, the noise and heat of being. Perhaps even something deeper like the need to survive. Murray says we are fragile creatures surrounded by a world of hostile facts. Facts threaten our happiness and security. The deeper we delve into things, the looser our structure may seem to become. The family process works towards sealing off the world. Small errors grow heads, fictions proliferate. I tell Murray that ignorance and confusion can’t possibly be the driving forces behind family solidarity. What an idea, what a subversion. He asks me why the strongest family units exist in the least developed societies. Not to know is a weapon of survival, he says. Magic and superstition become entrenched as the powerful orthodoxy of the clan. The family is strongest where objective reality is most likely to be misinterpreted. What a heartless theory, I say. But Murray insists it’s true.” 
― Don DeLillo, “White Noise

This is why I constantly question the facts I hear. I ask, “What proof?” “Can you tell me more?” “Why should I believe that?” Is this protection or is this just me pulling away from the truth?

Here’s more info and explanation about how we’re averse to accepting the facts.

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