Demystification and Reenchantment

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Kenneth Gillgren
Gillgren Communication Services, Inc.

For vast numbers of people, virtually every social, political, and economic system has become mystifying in its complexity. On the other hand, some of humankind’s most deep-seated mysteries have become disenchanted in the sense of no longer conveying profound meaning and connection with society as a whole. This reduces political discourse to a battle of special interests, allows the marketplace to dominate in the determination of value, and limits the creativity and energy available to address fundamental challenges.


This pattern addresses the ethical application of communications systems, processes, and tools to clearly distinguish that which is conditionally unknown—gaps in understanding or perception that can be addressed by gaining new knowledge, skill, or experience —and that which is essentially unknowable as the source of profound mystery and fascination. The intent is to transparently convey meaning in a way that invites, encourages, and supports free and unfettered engagement in the human enterprise.


The floodgates of information have opened wide, and every channel and venue of communication is awash in conflicting data and analysis. In this gap between fact and meaning, some people have learned to apply an amazing sophistication in the use of communications tools to manipulate logic and shape opinions, distorting even the smallest ambiguity into a mystifying argument that freezes the status quo and preserves the current imbalance of power and influence. In the satiric film Thank You for Smoking, the tobacco lobbyist instructs his son, ‘‘If you argue correctly, you are never wrong.’’ The impact of mystifying communications can be seen in the debate over global warming. A 2006 survey on the attitude of the American public on global warming by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that ‘‘roughly four-in-ten (41 percent) believe human activity such as burning fossil fuels is causing global warming, but just as many say either that warming has been caused by natural patterns in the earth’s environment (21 percent), or that there is no solid evidence of global warming (20 percent)’’ and that ‘‘public opinion about global warming is deeply polarized along political lines.’’ If you happen to enjoy a position of relative comfort, it is easy to become complacent and detached—despite the mounting international scientific evidence indicating the strong influence of human activity. The double-speak of Orwell’s 1984 has come to life in political and ideological spin control. This reveals a fundamental challenge of communications in our times. Statistics and scientific evidence alone do not change human behavior or engage people, at a visceral and passionate level, in the resolution of intractable challenges and at worst can be manipulated to create a mystifying fog that stifles effective intervention. At the same time, nearly everyone has experienced at one time or another defining moments of sheer fascination and mystery that reveal a profound sense of connection—the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, an unexpected encounter with the sheer vastness of space or the intricate complexity of nature, accompanied by the inescapable feeling of being a participant in this vastness and awe-inspiring complexity. While the meaning of these experiences does not depend on formal religious belief or spiritual affiliation, the expression of this meaning falls into the realm of symbol, song, and poetry. It is a reenchantment—of the world, science, life, nature, art—that reawakens a sense of wonder that in itself makes sense, an intuitive appreciation for the sheer mystery of life and for the opportunity to be part of how that mystery continues to unfold and enliven human events, relationships, and structures. As Gablik (1991) states, reenchantment ‘‘refers to that change in the general social mood toward a more pragmatic idealism and a more integrated value system that brings head and heart together in an ethic of care, as part of the healing of the world.’’ The pragmatic idealism of reenchantment provides a far different and, ironically, more practical foundation for forming public consensus around serious problems such as global warming. The recent strengthening of collaborations bringing together otherwise conflicting evangelical and progressive wings of Christianity around stewardship of the earth is one sign of how foundational awe and wonder can lead to a willingness to change behaviors and social structures responsibly.


Develop and incorporate methods to elicit reenchantment—including, perhaps, personal stories, poetry, music, and art—and reframe complex issues in the context of a shared experience of wonder and mystery.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Our political, economic, and technological systems have become mysterious while the real mysteries no longer carry deep meaning and connection with people and the natural world. Demystification and Reenchantment are needed to convey a perspective that invites, encourages, and supports liberated engagement in the human enterprise.

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