“21st Century Enlightenment” by Matthew Taylor discusses what it means to be an activist, and a humanist, as well. Themes of progressiveness, instigating social change, and activism are explored throughout the video, as well as an in depth analysis of what it means to have empathetic capacity. These issues resonate with my own values and beliefs, and how I can be an activist simply by living according to my values and being a more empathetic individual. Additionally, the concept of ‘progress’ is explored, and what it means to instill social change.
21ST Century Enlightenment: a Reflection
In Matthew Taylor’s video “21st Century Enlightenment,” Taylor discusses the current enlightenment of the century, and how is it likened to a cultural psychotherapy process. Themes of activism, social change, progressive organizing, and community organizing are also delved into in this video. In Taylor’s “21st Century Enlightenment,” issues of social change, progressive organizing, and activism are explored, meriting further discussion and reflection on how it resonates with my own values.
Taylor opens up his discussion with studying the “frailties” of our selves, as well as our limitations as humans. For example, he speaks of how we respond automatically to the world, how we struggle with making balanced long-term decisions, and how we understand relatives better than absolute values. Far from taking on a chastising tone, he stresses the importance of self-awareness, and just how empowering that can be.
As I have grown, and continue to grow and come into my own, I can relate to the power of self-awareness and knowing my limitations. I have become a more independent, yet attentive and cognizant individual as I realize how much I can do with just the power of my own choices and actions. As Taylor states, “it’s actually by understanding that conscious thought is only a part of what drives our behavior that we become better able to exercise self-control.” I think this is analogous to all maturing individuals, as we realize what we actually need contrasts against what we want.
Taylor also explores current demands in the world today, and what issues are prioritized in the world of lawmakers, politicians, and other policy makers. These leaders emphasize fixes to short term issues, rather than cultivating a long-term solution that leads to a happy, progressive, and more empathetic nation. Indeed, other third world countries that were once considered to be far behind, and therefore less accomplished, are now on par with our nation in that they have better health and lifestyles. However, first world nations, such as America’s, continue to face even more problems now: violence, increasing numbers of gangs, threats to the youth, and a growing number of impoverished people as the gap between the wealthy and poor continues to grow.
Taylor’s beliefs on cultivating a more empathetic capacity, and therefore culture overall, resonates with my own beliefs in regards to what our individual and societal goals should be. Indeed, at times our levels of empathy seem to diminish, as we become attuned to seeing violence in our cities and on the television at home. Perhaps if, like Taylor advises, we were to study what enhances and diminishes our empathetic capacity, we would understand the world and our needs better to be a higher functioning, healthier society.
I believe that the world needs more empathetic individuals that genuinely care for the greater good. All to often, leaders are seen promoting issues that are based on a platform of negativity, that engage in incessant self promoting, and employ rigid, discriminatory ways of thinking. Issues, such as negativity, are only obstacles that impair our vision of seeing what the true needs of the world and individuals are. While it is impossible for every individual to have a high capacity of empathy, people that are leaders and are responsible for shaping society and its policies, must have a high capacity of empathy, if they wish to actively and effectively instill change that promotes long term, beneficial results.
Taylor also touches on the topic of activism, and its close relation to humanism and empathy. Taylor questions the mundane expectations of living a certain, prescribed life (education, work, suffering), and comments on the natural tendency to question: is this right? Asking this question invokes thoughts of a kind of life unlived, and a revolutionary way of thinking. Revolutionary, a closely related aspect of humanism, inspires change and creativity: qualities that are necessary to be an effective activist. Expounding upon our basic capacities as independently thinking, creative individuals is something that I think that we forget to do, as we are caught up in the daily grind and whirlwind of life.
This begs the question: who will change the world? Taylor addresses this in the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” A very true statement, I think it is often misinterpreted, however.
While global change is seemingly attributable to only global leaders, such as presidents and chancellors, individuals are capable of inspiring change, if only we begin the change in our selves. We have the power to actively pursue change, to tolerate new ways of thinking, to be less discriminatory, to be less violent, to be more tolerant of other lifestyles. But at some point in history, we began to emphasize the rationality of rules over the rationality of end. This conformity has severely impaired our creativity and ability to be innovative. According to the quote, “ Activism is living out one’s values,” and I think this perfectly captures the sentiment behind my own values and how I respond to social change. I aspire to be a more empathetic, more caring, conscientious individual that can focus not only on the problems at hand, but solutions for the future. By pursuing my higher education, I can be a more aware, informed, critical thinker that knows how to respond to whatever problems will be presented down my path.
In conclusion, Matthew Taylor’s “21st Century Enlightenment” expounds upon themes of activism, humanism, empathetic capacity, and progress. His ideas of enhancing empathetic capacity, cultivating humanism, and harnessing creativity resonate with my own beliefs and goals, and the changes I hope to instill during my lifetime.
- Taylor, M. 21st Century Enlightenment. Retrieved July 30, 2015, from https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/videos/2010/09/rsa-animate—21st-century- enlightenment/rsa-lecture-matthew-taylor-transcript.pdf