Building the Dam Story

At the end, if there is success, one wonders how. Through this wonder one discovers the story. This blog is dedicated to that discovery.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Seeing the Dam-Age

Marshal McLuhan, who coined the phrase "The media is the message", has an anecdote in Gutenberg Galaxy which demonstrates that what one sees in another person, in a situation, in history, is a learned response.

The anecdote centers on a team of French health officials showing a group of African villagers, that had never seen a film before, a public health movie.

After the film was over the team asked the villagers what they had seen. The officials expected to hear something about the health dangers of water after it's been standing too long, which was their own, albeit, perspective and purpose.
And after a period of silence one of the villagers spoke up. "They have chickens there, too," he said.

The health officials were obviously set back by this answer. But what did they expect? The villagers had not learned to see film in the same way. They had not learned what to see. And equally so, the health officials had missed the chickens altogether.

As the Hoover dam was being built, it was very likely that the workers forgot or maybe never even considered why it was being built. In other words, they did not see the "why" of the dam so much as having learned to see the "how" of it. They worked to build what would serve themselves through employment. For most it was all they needed to see.

Perhaps if those same workers had learned to see the whole of what they were creating, for instance, to see the permanent damage the dam would do to the river's ecosystem, it may have changed the course of history.

However for many, what they saw within themselves was desperation, confusion, and disappointment. They'd been taught to see a dream and come close to living it. But then it vanished right before their very eyes. Faced with an economic depression that only a few saw coming, building the dam was viewed as hope itself, as relief from such devastation.

And were there teachers or gurus or spirit guides or what have you on even a single corner? There were just more people like themselves. A generation that would have to learn to see not just their own dreams but also into each other's future.

Today some may view the dam as a sign of our failing times, that it's ruined a great river by capitalizing on the river's wealth.

Yet one can also see the dam for its wealth in and of itself--as a feat such as Stonehenge, without need for anything other than awe.

Nevertheless, it's a icon for discovering "they had chickens, too."

We see what we learn to see. We learn to see the whole.