Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Virus of the Mind ~ Richard Brodie

We’ve been shaken out of the magnolias.”  

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I’ve always been particularly fond of that line, from Watch on the Rhine.  Quoted it just the other day to an older friend.  Spoken near the very end of the film, it’s my favorite moment in one of my favorite films.

That’s how I felt – in a positive way – after reading Richard Brodie’s, Virus of the Mind, about six years ago.  It was only today that I realized Richard Brodie did with memes what I hope to do with helping people of all ages live as expansively as possible – he doesn’t set himself up as the great expert, nor does he set out the scientific whys & wherefores of memetics, but simply raised my awareness that they exist & impact my life.  Profoundly.  His book made me look at everything in a fresh new light. 

How to describe a meme?  Whether working at Bryn Athyn Church School, US Healthcare, Prudential, BISYS or with older friends, my work has always involved doing what I can to directly influence individual & group memes.  Back then, we called it “branding.”  Looking back, it’s clear my job as a teacher, a physician liaison, a writer, an account executive all shared a common thread – creating an image/belief in the minds of one that would spread to many.  Aka – a meme. 

A meme is defined as “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The root comes from the Ancient Greek term mimeme, which implies cultural phenomena.  Although the word is often used to describe catch-phrases, popular music & basically anything currently trending, it goes way beyond the hottest new thing going viral on YouTube or sweeping through the Internet & into general culture.

Realized – with a shock – that my brain was host to endless images of others, particularly of myself, that had been wired into my mental circuitry through childhood & early adulthood.  Realizing that freed me to step back, look at the memes that had been running countless programs that had little if any relation to reality, and reconsider.  It gave me the space to reevaluate, reconsider & reconstitute, where necessary, all of my fundamental beliefs.  Actually, all of them – period.

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Virus of the Mind is a book for all ages.  Including my older friends in Late Adulthood.  Maybe especially.

For those seeking fresh perspectives, it can help them see how words formed our concepts which evolved into every sort of belief & ideal, 99.99% of the time without our awareness.   

Take a moment to think about your own birth family, the image & story that surrounds each member.  In our family, the most powerful meme was that Peter & Mim were the smart ones, while Mike & I were the social ones.  If I hadn’t read Brodie first, it’s possible I would never have realized that Mike & I were both social AND bright.  We never excelled because we believed the meme & never gave schoolwork our full effort.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault – it was how a variety of messages were processed by a spectrum of others.  BUT, realizing that in my mid-50s helped me step past a clearly unproductive meme AND embrace a new, positive, empowering one. 

Let me repeat that – in my mid-50s.  And it didn’t really set in until a couple years ago, in my early 60s!  I belief that adults of any age would get a lot out of  Virus of the Mind.  

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Over the years, one constant in my life is my surprise at how often older friends, especially significantly older ones, seem more aware of the existence of life patterns than youngsters under sixty.  My bet is they would get as much from reading Virus of the Mind in their 80s & 90s as I did in my 50s & 60s.  Maybe far more than me, it might help them make better sense of not only global & national events (particularly politics!), but also what makes me tick. 

Maybe they’ll be shaken out of their magnolias, too.  Maybe, like me, their blooms will be better than they could dare dream.

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