I’m getting caught up on On Being podcasts, and just listened to Krista Tippet’s conversation with Mary Catherine Bateson.  She’s the author of the book Composing a Life, and daughter of anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.

One of the things she touches on is the value of being a participant-observer in life.  It’s something she learned from her parents, who, as good anthropologists, learned to both carefully observe and actively participate in the cultures they were studying.  Bateson notes that the observing part includes self-observation, being aware of how what one is doing and seeing is affecting oneself.

Bateson says: “There’s a huge benefit in being a participant-observer.  There are people who just observe and don’t engage with others.  There are people who just engage and don’t think about what’s happening.  And to learn to be simultaneously observing and learning, but at the same time to be fully present, was a marvelous thing to learn.  And it’s a marvelous way to live, actually.

She doesn’t use the word, but it’s another way of talking about mindfulness.

I wonder if this approach to life as a participant-observer is one of the keys to healthy living in a polarized culture.  It might free us up to be more curious and empathic for why people do what they do, think what they think, and why we respond the way we respond.  It doesn’t exempt us from actively participating in promoting our vision of a just and merciful society, but by mindfully observing our environment and ourselves, it keeps us from becoming a mere function of the system in which we participate.

Easier said than done.  Likely essential for sane and wise living.