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Same Planet, Different Worlds

By Lisa Reagan

How Cultural Creatives are transcending alienation and isolation in an industrial world and bringing forward the practical wisdom of conscious living.

In this interview with social scientist Paul H. Ray, Ph.D., Pathways associate editor Lisa Reagan connects the dots between her insights from 15 years of holistic family wellness advocacy and Ray’s investigation of Cultural Creatives, a growing segment of the Western population transforming mainstream culture. Driven by their holistic values, integrated worldview and ability to synthesize vast amounts of information with an inner vision (insight) of wholeness, Cultural Creatives are, in Ray’s words, an “emerging wisdom culture.”

Ray presented his research findings in 2000 with the book Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, written with his wife, Sherry Anderson, Ph.D. In this interview, Ray shares his updated findings from a 2008 study of Cultural Creatives and a peek into his forthcoming book on the critically needed element Cultural Creatives bring to the current failing industrial culture: practical wisdom.

Ray shares with Pathways readers why it is vital that they connect with one another and recognize they are participating in a consciousness-raising movement whose importance and impact will not be reflected in mainstream media, but is measurable by any social scientist who cares to look (and whose job is not dependent on him not looking).

Lisa: When I became an accidental conscious-living advocate 15 years ago, families in my community regularly met to talk about holistic wellness: Where were the resources, support and information we needed? How were we going to do this for ourselves? How could we make sure we didn’t go to jail or have our children taken from us for our choices?

It was overwhelming in the beginning, because few of us understood that wellness was wholeness, and wholeness—or holistic thinking—was not supported in our fragmented, industrial culture.

At the time, we had to truck in organic and gluten- free foods through co-ops. Homeschoolers and homebirthers were targeted by Social Services and threatened with having their children taken away from them. Chiropractors and naturopaths were marginalized by medical doctors, but sought after by parents, quickly becoming our most reliable sources of information and support.

I remember the overriding feeling when we gathered was confusion and surprise that we would have to work this hard to create wellness and make informed choices for our families. It took years to realize that our meetings in churches, homes and community centers to sort out our mission and to devise strategies to advocate for ourselves and other families defined us as a movement. In fact, your book shows clearly that our efforts to bring what was missing into our culture, and the struggle we endured because our culture did not reflect our values back to us, means that we were not just any movement, but a consciousness-raising movement.

Only in hindsight can I see that it took years of sharing our personal experiences with each other to develop a truer counter-reality to the fragmented factoids fed to us by media. It was probably a decade before there was coherence around what was happening: We were a consciousness-raising movement advocating for holistic family wellness in an industrial country that ranked at the bottom of all developed countries for maternal, infant and child wellness.

It probably would have saved me a lot of trouble and grief if I knew about your book at the time, but I didn’t find it until years later. Today, Pathways Connect sponsors more than 300 gathering groups internationally and serves a growing population of readers who, like my original group, travel through a similar process of orientation while sharing support and resources.

How does your social science research into Cultural Creatives apply to Pathways readers and Pathways Connect Gathering Group members?

Paul: There is a very important distinction here that we need to make, and that is the difference between a movement—say the labor movement or various political movements whose objective is to gain power, change the laws, get a better working wage with benefits—and a second kind of movement, a consciousness movement. Anything that is holistic, having to do with wellness, natural healing, organic food and so on, is a part of the consciousness movement.

If you think about the early women’s movement, it was more about raising the consciousness of women to be aware of what their situation was than about “women gotta break through the glass ceiling.” This is not just any old kind of movement, this is a consciousness movement. And that is the big deal. The inner change, the perception of what is real, turns out to be just as important than anything on the outer plans.

Lisa: When we first came together in these groups, we noticed that we came from very different backgrounds. There were people with varied religious and political values, all in one circle. It was as if that aspect of our lives receded and was not important compared to our concern for our children’s health. How does that kind of diversity fit into the Cultural Creative phenomenon?

Paul: It fits extremely well! Cultural Creatives are known to appreciate people from different backgrounds. In fact, they are known to be xenophiles.

What is going on here is that you have an inner unmet need. People who are more intuitive know this. You get the impression from the news media that intuitives couldn’t be more than 10 percent of the population. But they are about 40 percent of the population. The ones who feel an inner pressure to have a more meaningful life and are good at making syntheses and perceiving larger patterns are typically the people who become the core group of the Cultural Creatives, the natural opinion leaders.

So people who are holistic practitioners are the natural opinion leaders of the Cultural Creatives. You have to think of the Cultural Creative phenomenon as a target of concentric circles. At the center are people who work with each other, give talks and write articles, and they are the core group. They pass on new ideas and new insights to lots of other people. These core people are concerned about their inner development and the outer world.

The next ring outward are the people I call the Green Cultural Creatives. They are becoming aware of the core messages, but it takes about 10 years to do a changeover of your lifestyle. People in this group all complain about how they didn’t get the support they need to make this change over the amount of time that it takes—again, up to 10 years.

They say, “I’m all alone here!” Whereas the people in the core “get it,” but only after many years of working on themselves.

Lisa: What we see in our community-building efforts in Pathways Connect is that these differences, which should be barriers, are more likely to be appreciated as our values override the differences.

Paul: That is a very important insight on your part because often Traditionals and Moderns want everybody around them to squeak just right. They have a check-box approach of “do they agree with me on this item and this item?” But if you have a big enough mind and heart to talk about what is really important, not just politics, it makes an enormous difference to a movement. And this is how you know you are involved in a consciousness movement, of course—the appreciation of differences.

Lisa: You weren’t looking for Cultural Creatives when you found them in a marketing research project. What were you looking for?

Paul: Way back in 1985, I had spent time in Canada doing policy research on energy consumption. We found then that the predictor for household energy consumption was people’s values. Not their demographics, not their politics, not their psychology, but their values— what was most important to them in their lives, and also their worldview. Their decisions were based on what was important to them, how they wanted their children to be, how they wanted their country to be and how they wanted their planet to be. Values and their worldview, or how the world works.

As a social scientist, I was looking for a population of people who might be able to deal with the fact of climate change and cared about the environment on one hand, and on the other hand I was teaching meditation on the side and wanted to know who was interested in that. Did values have anything to do with that?

So, I set up a research company because what I wanted were good predictors. What actually does predict what people do? Because demographics were cheap to get, but they were rotten predictors.

I set out to describe human behavior by collecting lots and lots of data. I found that values are terrific predictors. What was new, what nobody expected, was that this values group belonged to subcultures, a way of valuing things, seeing life and talking about the world. We knew about the Traditionals, who were social conservatives and religious conservatives, and the Moderns, who were very materialistic and live by getting and spending.

And then there was this third group that, when we got started, represented about 20 percent of the population and was clearly slowly growing, and clearly had not been there in the few value surveys that had been tried years earlier. As near as anyone could tell, they had not been there before the 1960s. After a while I started to say, “Well, they are more creative about new ways of life. They are more creative about products they want. And there are cultural differences. So they must be ‘Cultural Creatives.”

What was surprising was that we had three competing interpretations of the world, what they wanted their country to be, and different stuff in their houses. So lo and behold, we had a good predictor.

But I am a research scientist and I do statistical modeling, so what I was looking for was: What works? And incidentally, does it have anything to do with the environment or people’s inner lives? The answer was yes, it does. It has a whole lot to do with it, and, incidentally, it is an emerging worldview. Later on we discovered that Cultural Creatives were people who had paid a lot of attention to the new social movements: the women’s movement, the environmental movement, alternative healthcare, organic food, civil rights, native people’s concerns, planetary concerns. Cultural Creatives were three times as likely to be engaged in those social movements as other people, and they often drifted from one movement to another.

We found something really interesting when we did studies of how people used technology. Cultural Creatives read more than other people, and were better informed than other people. Over a number of years, we were beginning to build a picture that showed people who were the best informed, who were trying to put together a better picture of the world around them than they were fed from the media with its fragmented factoids; people who were concerned about developing themselves over their entire lifetime, and not just freezing themselves into one way of life in their twenties. Instead they kept redeveloping and trying new things, experimenting with their own lives.

People who were concerned about alternative healthcare were also the people concerned about organic food. They were also more concerned about spiritual and psychological development over their entire life, we discovered.