Teilhard’s Rules For Navigating The Newsphere
“By virtue of the world’s fundamental unity, once a phenomenon has been clearly observed, even only at a single point, its value and roots are simultaneously present everywhere.”
—Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon
“I am a pilgrim from the future,” Teilhard told his young friend Jean Houston, as they talked and walked around New York City’s Central Park many Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1952 until the elder priest’s death in the spring of 1955. “We need more specialists in spirit, and perhaps you will be one,” Teilhard told young Jean. “That has really stood by me for literally the rest of my life,” said Houston, who discovered the true identify of her friend, “Mr. Tayer,” years later when she was an undergraduate at Barnard College. She began reading The Phenomenon of Man and realized its author was none other than the Jesuit mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. “I literally ran into him. He propelled me into the life I now lead,” Houston said of her three-year relationship with Teilhard when she was a teenager living in New York City.2
Houston, a scholar, philosopher, and researcher in human capabilities, is an advisor to UNICEF, a consultant to the United Nation’s Development Program, and one of the principal founders of the Human Potential Movement. “We are being called to a higher order,” Teilhard told Houston as he described the noosphere, the word he invented to describe the collective mind of the planet. “The earth has grown a new skin, a weaving of the consciousness of the planet,” Teilhard said. He described this skin around the earth as a “field of mind,” a living membrane that would grow in “density and complexity” as it reflected the “irresistible tide of intelligence.” We now see the accuracy and elegance of his vision as the growing global web of connections that sophisticated wireless computer networks and digital technologies make possible. These are “outer forms of this inner change,” Houston said as she shared the insights of her mentor, friend, and surrogate father.
Teilhard encouraged Houston to “travel, travel, travel and learn, learn, learn,” and that is what she did visiting more than a hundred countries and studying different living cultures. As a social artist, Houston believes the communal fabric of information, ideas, and experiences is dissolving the “membrane that keeps people from different cultures separate and insular” and promoting a greater flexibility of thought as well as the ability to recognize unconscious patterns. We are able to “exchange social DNA at a remarkable rate,” says Houston, and she believes we have not been prepared for present times—a world of radical complexity, acceleration and emergence. Much of the increasing amplititude of conscious awareness is coming from the Internet, according to Houston, who beautifully describes the growing interconnectedness of human beings as a “cosmic dance.”
I have taken the great liberty of stepping into young Jean Houston’s shoes and imagining what it would be like to walk with and talk to her beloved “Mr. Tayer.” If we were to ask him questions, as she did, about the human condition and our collective consciousness, how would he answer us? What advice would he give to “newspherians” attempting to navigate the sophisticated global news and information environment and the complex tools and systems that support it? How can we best function as “spiritual beings having a human experience”? Through a collation of the work of numerous Teilhardian scholars, integral theorists, a personal interview with Dr. Houston, and my own knowledge, vision and understanding, I have constructed the following rules for navigating the newsphere:
- We are all connected.
- We evolve through our interconnectedness.
- We satisfy our innate hunger for awareness when we consciously consume and create news and information.
- We use technology to help us build and maintain connections.
- We are often not aware of our interconnectedness.
- We must “see or perish.”
- We can design news networks that sustain and support our interdependence.
- We are called to build an integral form of journalism with ourselves at the center.
- We are more powerful than we know.
- We evolve the newsphere when we balance action and acceptance, an integral worldview.
We long for connection, a hunger for awareness of the other. We are evolving through our connections with each other, which are becoming more complex, powerful and sophisticated. Teilhard defined this as the noosphere, the glue that binds us together in a cosmic sense. It is an integral consciousness—the understanding that the human is the “axis and arrow of evolution.” This web of connections is a source of often untapped energy. It is how we grow and change both individually and collectively. Technology helps us grow this global network of complex connections in dynamic and powerful ways.
However, despite our “hunger for awareness,” the primary motivation to send and receive news, we are often deluded and unaware. “What stares us in the face is often the most difficult to perceive,” wrote Teilhard. We must wake up, break through the illusory world of news that deludes us, and take responsibility for our own power and the deep dialogue that is possible. The role of perception is critical in the news environment. Teilhard believed that the whole of life lies in seeing—in learning to focus on what is essential and important and to see with more perfect eyes. See or perish: this is the human condition. “The history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen,” writes Teilhard. We must focus our eyes correctly and recognize patterns.
News stories have lost their essence—Teilhard’s cosmic sense. Instead of connecting us to others, most news reports and coverage of events create a profound disconnect: these types of stories and this style of reporting (that we will define here as “debate-style news”) makes us feel separate from the world instead of an integral part of it. This is not true of all news stories, as we will see. Throughout the history of journalism, there have been many great moments of honest truth-telling. But it is critical to receive a daily sustenance—to know which stories and outlets are draining our energy and which are uplifting reminders of a larger connection to the world.
Integral journalism features dialogue-style reporting and balances action and acceptance, our insides and outsides. News reporting, consumption, and creation can help build bridges and forge connections in new and powerful ways. When this is done, energy increases because it is easier to live without duality or judgment. Sharing information in a dialogue-based, integral way cleverly negotiates the paradoxical role and responsibilities of the personal and the universal mind. Humans are the “axis and arrow of evolution,” according to Teilhard. Progress is made when each person takes responsibility for this power. He believed that it only takes one mind to change the world: “Truth has to appear only once, in a single mind, for it to be impossible for anything ever to prevent it from spreading universally and setting everything else ablaze.”
My favorite quote from Teilhard’s writing is, “What would we do without our enemies?” They prompt action and movement in often uncomfortably ways. But by taking action, as the struggles of truth-tellers reveal, we discover our essence at the point of balance between desperate efforts to grow greater and the resistance to change. This is how we balance our inside and our outside, the creative union that is our rightful inheritance and undertaking. The media ecology is different now: news is a network; open content is self-vetting; and the structure of the newsphere is a sophisticated heterarchy that requires an individual balancing of action and acceptance (an integral worldview) that produces a dialogue not debate style of news.