Monday, November 11, 2013

Who's in Your Neighborhood?

God is...
Using science, technology and evolutionary theory, David Sloan Wilson listens to and reflects on his city of Binghamton, NY. His reflections lead him to ask the right questions and to develop a survey for which he enlisted the help of an enthusiastic school superintendent who is interested in helping children become healthy, productive adults. This allowed Wilson to survey thousands of public school students. He asked them to rate themselves anonymously on a scale of 1 (this doesn’t describe me at all) to 5 (this describes me exactly) with the following statements:

I think it is important to help other people.
I resolve conflicts without anyone getting hurt.
I tell the truth even when it is not easy.
I am helping make my community a better place.
I am trying to help solve social problems.
I am developing respect for other people.
I am sensitive to the needs and feelings of others.
I am serving others in the community.

Wondering if students would honestly describe themselves on the survey, Wilson did a GIS (Geographical Information System) map of the city. He rated such things as Halloween and Christmas decorations and activities; he left ‘lost’ stamped letters lying in neighborhoods seeing which ones were subsequently put in the mail; he took photographs of different neighborhoods and noted garage sales. Social games were played with the school children who took the survey with game titles such as Dictator, Ultimatum and Prisoner’s Dilemma. The web of causation connecting survey results, holiday decorations/activities, lost letters returned, photographs of neighborhoods, and social game results all correlated.

Reflecting back on my own life has led me to know how critical it was to ask the right questions to change the direction of my life, even leaving the church of my birth. Wilson states: “The eternal conflict between benefitting oneself and benefitting one’s group, which suffuses religion and literature, also suffuses the biological world.” But he also notes, “Religious believers aren’t just exhorted to obey the dictates of their faith; they are locked into a system that makes it difficult to do otherwise. In just the same way scientists and scholars are locked into a system that makes it difficult not to seek the truth.” They question.

I shall continue reading “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City One Block at a Time.”

What if we all learned the right questions to ask that lead us to become more healthy and productive citizens?

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