“The major problems of the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way people think.”
— Gregory Bateson
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Joel Glanzberg. I had been hearing about Joel and his work from numerous trusted colleagues, including Bill Reed of Regenesis Group and Ginny McGinn of Center for Whole Communities. Joel describes himself as a builder, farmer, teacher, writer, storyteller, naturalist, and permaculturalist. And I would add to that, living systems thinker. Joel has cultivated a practice of seeing and working with patterns of life’s processes, and helps others to do this, for the sake of creating healthier and more whole communities of different kinds.
I was especially interested to hear more from Joel about some of the living systems principles that guide his work, and to think about how these apply to what we at IISC do around network development for social change and focusing on networks as human environments. What appears in quotes and italics below is pulled directly from Joel’s website; the comments in regular text are my own:
- “All life is exchange, and all exchange occurs across boundaries/surfaces. All living things . . . breathe in and out, eat and secrete waste, trade. There must be some kind of difference for exchange to happen: something to exchange and a boundary to exchange across.” Difference is not bad, it is vital! Difference brings dynamism to networks. It’s what we make of difference that can get us in trouble, when we ascribe judgment about differences in preferential ways that marginalizes some and ultimately limits the whole. We need to both embrace difference and create more permeable boundaries in our networks.
- “The more surface area there is, the more exchange is possible. This is why trees, rivers, arteries, and trade networks all branch. Branching creates the greatest possible surface to volume ratio. This enables as much exchange as possible.”Elsewhere I’ve written about the critical nature of edges in networks, and how networks are defined by the quality of these edges. Those on the periphery bring considerable strength to the network, to the extent that they provide lessons about adaptation, a willingness and ability to play in different spaces, and have connections to other domains. Networks are made more robust by exchange and so the more robust the edge, the more robust the network.
- “Cycling of a resource is more important than the amount of a resource. Financial, hydrological and circulatory systems all depend on the continuous cycling of resources to insure adequate supply. Pooling of all of the money or water or blood only happens when the system fails. It is only the continuous exchange of these resources that makes them valuable.” Everyone is called to feed the network, to keep the flow going. Generosity and sharing is the lifeblood of networks; hoarding is their death knell.
- “Life is process, not things. People, money, ideas, and food converge temporarily for exchange and enjoyment. Some thing comes into being for that time, but the exchange and relationships are the point.” I love this point, as it really lifts up the importance of focusing on process design, facilitation and relationship building to support networks in their development. Furthermore, it is important to see that shifts in process and relationships are not simply means of getting to change, but a manifestation of change.
Underlying all of these connections is the idea that we need to move away from an extractive paradigm that has realized certain kinds of value for ever fewer people to a regenerative and life-affirming approach that recognizes and creates new kinds of value that lead to thriving for all.
Curious to hear your reflections.