Demystification and Reenchantment

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Kenneth Gillgren
Gillgren Communication Services, Inc.

We have observed in our times increasing detachment and cynicism—disenchantment—in the face of social, political and economic structures that are perceived as mystifying. While technological advances in information and communications can serve to democratize the exchange of information, much of the public discourse is dominated by those with a vested interest in protecting positions of power and influence. We need to rediscover the fundamental role of communications in eliciting a reenchanted engagement in the task of building a truly humane society.


This is a meta-pattern that sets the framework for the ethical development and application of communications technologies at all levels


Communications technologies are, like all technologies, value neutral tools that can be used to invite or intimidate, to illuminate or conceal, to liberate or manipulate, to release or stifle creativity, to provide opportunities or erect barriers, to create open communities or gated enclaves, to welcome diversity or rehearse ancient prejudice.

Today we are well aware, although not always well in control, of the sophisticated craftsmanship that can guide the use of these tools and technologies. In the satiric film, Thank You for Smoking, the tobacco lobbyist instructs his son, “If you argue correctly, you are never wrong.” We can understand and laugh/cry at this perspective, for we see it reenacted daily, not only in commercials but in what passes for reasoned political debate.

The objective complexity of the issues we face can become even more resistant to solutions when communications tools are used to twist logic, distorting even the smallest ambiguity to create the perception of deadlock for the purpose of freezing the status quo and preserving current imbalances.

This can be seen in the current debate over global warming. A recent survey on the attitude of the American public on global warming by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that “Roughly four-in-ten (41%) believe human activity such as burning fossil fuels is causing global warming, but just as many say either that warming has been caused by natural patterns in the earth's environment (21%), or that there is no solid evidence of global warming (20%)” and that “public opinion about global warming is deeply polarized along political lines.” This reveals a fundamental challenge of communications in our times. Statistics and scientific evidence alone do not change human behavior or engage people, at a visceral and passionate level, in the resolution of intractable challenges, and can at worst be manipulated to create a baffling fog that stifles effective, concerted action.

We must occasionally step back to reframe the immediate controversy in the broader outlines of the human drama and reestablish the line between wordsmith and spinmeister.
For nearly everyone has experienced at one time or another defining moments of sheer fascination and mystery that reveal a profound sense of connection—the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, an unexpected encounter with the sheer vastness of sea or space, or the intricate complexity of nature, accompanied by the inescapable feeling of somehow being a participant in this vastness and awe-inspiring complexity. There is a reawakening sense of wonder that in itself makes sense, an intuitive appreciation for the sheer mystery of life and for the opportunity to be a part of how that mystery continues to unfold and enliven human events, relationships and structures.

Berman and others point to re-enchantment—of the world, science, life, nature, and art— as the key to not just survival but to reconstructing the fundamental structures of society in the context of mystery and compassion. Gablik, in The Reenchantment of Art writes that re-enchantment “refers to that change in the general social mood toward a more pragmatic idealism and a more integrated value system that brings head and heart together in an ethic of care, as part of the healing of the world.”

This pragmatic idealism provides a far different and ironically more practical foundation for forming public consensus around serious problems such as global warming. The recent strengthening of collaborations bringing together otherwise conflicting evangelical and progressive wings of Christianity around stewardship of the Earth is one sign of how foundational awe and wonder can lead to a willingness to responsibly change behaviors and social structures.

The various forms and modalities of communications in themselves have the power to “bring head and heart together.” From the primal artistry of cave paintings to multimedia Web sites, from the evocative epics of oral tradition to the sophisticated arguments of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, from the visual arts to music, dance, and poetry, we have experienced the ability of communication to reawaken a common sense of mystery and fascination and reopen our own pathways of creative participation.

There are practical implications of this perspective in the civic sphere. Sharp and Beaudry discovered that communications, “properly understood as dialogue, connection and engagement in the process of being a citizen and living in a community” was the “essence of revitalization.” Communications as engagement represents shifts from one-way to two-way, from message-driven to dialogue-driven, from intrusive and persuasive to invitational and deliberative.

Similarly in our own community development experience we observed that the reason we were going through the hassle of attempting to "keep everybody informed all the time" wasn't simply to get information to everyone--we wanted people to know what was happening so that they would want to be a part of it. The newsletters, community meetings, neighborhood gatherings, special interest group sessions, door-to-door surveys, project reports, flyers and posters, along with the work days, inkind (donation) circuits, planning events, leadership training, community festivals and celebrations—all shared the common motivation of sparking and sustaining engagement over the long haul. All served as "communications channels," and while each channel had a "message" to deliver (we weren't just telling good stories to prospective donors--we really needed that lumber!), but the subtext, the underlying intention, was a persistent invitation to participate in the reweaving of the community’s social fabric. We knew we had "won," when someone "new" showed up, when someone "old" took on a new role (and yet someone else stepped into the gap), when a surprising new connection provided the solution to a stubbornly resistant problem.

The highest goal of communications, then, is to demystify and reenchant by transparently conveying meaning in a way that invites, encourages, and supports free and unfettered engagement in alleviating suffering and celebrating the human enterprise. In this context, communication itself becomes not just a reflection but a direct expression of this engagement. And in this respect, effective communication patterns take on the “quality that cannot be named” of Alexander’s Timeless Way of Building.


Therefore apply technologies of communication in service to humanity, based on a sense of wonder and compassion. Orchestrate the selection, development and implementation of communications tools and technologies—drawing upon the entire palette of printed, broadcast, face-to-face, and Internet-based modalities—to invite, encourage, and support broad-based engagement. Develop and incorporate methods to elicit reenchantment—including, perhaps, personal stories, poetry, music, art—to reframe complex issues in the context of a shared experience of fascination and mystery.

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