Monkey Mind

by Purdom Lindblad

Cross-posted on the Scholars’ Lab blog

A monkey is easily flummoxed by a coconut. A hole is cut into the coconut and filled with sweet food (or something shiny). The monkey slips her hand into the coconut, grasps the treat, and is trapped. She can readily unhand the treat (or shiny object), but is unwilling to let go. Letting go, for monkeys as well as humans, is harder than it sounds.

In my case, letting go means releasing the need to share what I’ve been thinking about lately in a well-formed thesis. What I have to say here is all a bit tangled still.

Humanities requires attention to the world and should be applicable to carving out the ways and means of peace. Peace means shelter, access to resources, work that does not harm people or the planet as much as meaning safety, non-violence, and calm. I often return to a conversation with Veronica in which she said academic study carves out a space to reflect on both the object of study and our present moment.

I also keep returning to Bethany’s DH2014 keynote. What do we work on, what are the priorities, at a moment of mass extinction? Mixed in are bits of floating inspiration, such as designing for care rather than against ourselves. (Why aren’t Vancouver’s bench shelters in every city?)

Further, I have been thinking a great deal about connections and modes of sharing. The new Praxis Network directories are laying the groundwork for more meaningful connections among the students, alumni, and programs of our partnering groups. I think virtual conferences, workshops, and casual meet-ups can go a long way to personalizing the Praxis Network and extending it beyond one’s home program. My colleague, Jeremy, reminds me that much more than the platform for sharing, it is our attention to others, our empathy and willingness to share that forge meaningful connections.

Adding to this mental stew, I recently attended two powerful trainings on bystander intervention at UVa, offered in the wake of our difficult autumn. Jeremy and I, along with 2 other UVa librarians Melinda Baumann and Matthew Vest, attended a 4-day Green Dot training. The premise of Green Dot is that all of us (bystanders) can reduce inter-personal violence (harassment, stalking, sexual violence) by becoming more aware of what is happening around us and checking in on a situation that feels like it could lead to violence.

This idea of checking in was also strongly echoed in a recent Suicide Awareness training offered by CAPS, UVa’s Counseling and Psychological Services. The goals of the Suicide Awareness training were to help people recognize others who are in distress and to provide examples of how to help. Much like Green Dot, the advice was simple–ask. One of the counselors said simply noticing and asking about another’s emotional state could be enough for that person to seek help, even if that person brushes you off. Both Green Dot and the Suicide Awareness training ask for a cultivation of awareness and empathy for the people around us.

I keep mapping the notion of being aware of what’s happening, not ignoring it even when it is awkward or hard, and stepping in to redirect choices that lead to violence back to the bench-shelter, and in less-able-to-articulate it way to Bethany’s keynote, the Praxis Network, and my own research plan for use of Scholars’ Lab R&D time. Bethany asked what are the things we, as a community, attend to.

I am trying to better connect my work in the digital humanities to an active cultivation of empathy and care of people and our planet. I am not advocating for a radical humanities, though that’d be awesome. I am attempting to know the landscape of my own monkey-mind, to better understand what to release as well as what to nurture; when to hold on, and when to let go.