The ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ of Life


By Conrad Saldanha

We are witnessing the world becoming ‘Hard’. Right wing extremist beliefs are emerging stronger in nation after nation; even in the so called oldest democracy, the United States of America. We have just seen what happened on Capitol Hill. There could be different reasons for this, however this is an attempt to look at something fundamental which we need to examine in the light of what is taking place in the USA and around the world.

Life is ‘soft’; Death is ‘hard’

We identify with our beliefs. We become our beliefs. They give us certainty. We can no longer live with uncertainty and the greyness of life. We avoid people having beliefs other than our own. We can’t afford dilution of our beliefs. We do not want to experience any discomfort in life. We do not want to face the uncomfortable situation of having to interact with people having different perspectives and beliefs. They become the ‘other’. We want only our perspective and beliefs to prevail. And if we can’t do it with persuasion or even with force then we feel the need to annihilate the ‘other’. Also we don’t have time to spend trying to arrive at a mutually agreeable perspective. The world is moving too fast. By allowing too many discordant voices into play, we can’t get everybody onto the same page and therefore we believe that we can’t move or “progress”. So we arrive at a situation where our views become hardened into an ‘us vs. them’ situation with each one vying for victory over the other. The means used don’t matter.

This situation as delineated above goes against the very grain of life. Life is sensitive, fragile and flexible. Life is soft. Whereas death is hard, rigid and brittle. Life thrives on diversity. Homogeneity in terms of ‘sameness’ is not reflective of life. A linear one — dimensional view of life is not life. Life always tends towards equilibrium, always adjusts to its environment whereas death is always in total equilibrium. We seem to be going against life and courting death.

Union Differentiates

We have created this situation. We have treated nature and ourselves as objects to be studied. We have carpentered nature into units and silos of understanding when nature is actually a seamless unity. E. O. Wilson, the biologist wrote on ‘Consilience’ which stands for unity of all knowledge. He felt that with the rise of the modern sciences, the sense of unity gradually was being lost in the increasing fragmentation and specialization of knowledge.

This same attitude of fragmentary understanding, we have applied to ourselves. So we experience ourselves through our differences, our boundaries, our divisions, in fact our separateness. Separate from one another and separate from nature.

And therefore we fail to realise that we have come from nature and therefore belong to nature. We are not apart from nature. We don’t have to form a relationship with nature. We are already in relationship with nature. Instead of analysing nature with our ‘hard’ methods and tools we need to silently contemplate nature and let it come within us as an experience which is not fragmented. We need to experience its delicate and sensitive network. We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. We ingest food and excrete waste. We are open systems. Continuously communing with nature.

Our skin may divide us in a way and yet being porous and sensitive unites us more deeply with others than we think through the air we breathe and the warmth, and light we experience through our sensitive senses.

We need to experience the ‘softness’ of nature and of ourselves.

We need to experience the ‘softness’ of our common humanity. Healing our ‘fragmentedness’ with the experience of our wholeness. As Teilhard de Chardin said “Union differentiates”. In our union with others and with nature we experience our differentiation. Not in our ‘separatedness’. The digestive system doesn’t experience itself as being separate from the circulatory or immune or any of our other systems. It experiences its fulfillment in and through its relationship with the other systems. We need to see differently. We need to experience the ‘softness’ and connectedness of life.

Man and Woman

Whenever we think of nature, we realise that there is a symbolic correlation between man’s attitude to nature and man’s attitude to woman. The woman is seen as an object inasmuch as nature is seen as an object separate from man. To be raped and exploited. The extractivist attitude denudes the land of its foliage and extracts the minerals from its innards till it is bereft of life. Inasmuch as man extracts pleasure from a woman and discards her like a used merchandise.

Man finds it very difficult to experience ‘soft’ emotion. Emotions like grief, loss and bereavement. He must continuously control these emotions. Put on a façade of strength. To the extent very often he can’t even cry. Becoming emotionally paralysed. He fears everything in his nature that is symbolically feminine and yielding. He becomes ‘hard’ as reflected in the song by Simon and Garfunkel

I am a rock,
I am an island
I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate

But how can he relate to a woman, for if he is to relate to a woman there must be something of the woman in his nature. And so too with the woman. In a world which has been fashioned from the male perspective a woman very often finds herself becoming ‘manlike’ in order to succeed in this manmade world. Thereby foregoing her sensitivity and ‘womanness’. We need to regain the ‘softness’ and sensitivity of life.

Shapes and Flows

Nature’s shapes are not hard. They do not have sharp lines nor possess Euclidean geometry. As Benoit Mandelbrot, a mathematician and polymath stated

‘Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, and lightning does not travel in a straight line.’

In fact he invented Fractal Geometry, a ‘visual geometry of the mind’’ which stressed the ‘soft’ rather than the ‘hard’ as seen in nature. A leaf has edges and boundaries but they are not sharp. Schwenk, an anthroposophist coined the phrase ‘sensitive chaos’. He saw an archetypal principle operating in nature where flow wants to realize itself. He saw this happening in the waves which formed on the desert sand by the ‘rivers of air’. In the ‘network of veins on a beach’ formed by the flow of the ebbing tide. Life is always in motion responding to rhythms. There is softness and sensitivity in nature.

Contrary to how nature grows itself from ‘within’, we pride ourselves with creating forms from ‘without’ like an architect. He/she makes buildings. He/she does not grow them. The form of a perfect cube becomes a symbol of completeness and perfection. However, this symmetrical perfection is rigid and lifeless when compared to the richness of forms so effortlessly grown by nature from within. ‘Soft’ and full of life.

Today we see technology reducing man to hard data making him/her live in a contrived world governed by artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

We more than ever before need to reconnect with nature and ourselves if we are to redeem this earth and ourselves from extinction. Soft is the real hard. Yielding is winning.



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