A friend said that as the snow melted in her Minneapolis neighborhood last week, the smell of smoke from the fires after Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd last summer was released anew into the air. This, as the trial of Derek Chauvin begins in Minneapolis.
This month is a cacophony of anniversaries and markings. It is a year since Louisville Police killed Breonna Taylor, about that since two men killed Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, a 25-year old unarmed Black man, and the start of the trials of Derek Chauvin and Kyle Rittenhouse.
Note that I am trying here to use an active voice after listening to a powerful podcast with Baratunde Thurston and Yahdon Israel talking about how racism and anti-Blackness is built into our use of the passive voice and tendency to make those impact the actors of a sentence. [In other words] George Floyd was not killed by Derek Chauvin; Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd.
This is an important time in our country. While our courts are a far cry from sources of healing or justice, it is critical that we use this system for positive change as much as possible, while we create better systems.
What will happen? We must:
Use this moment to make the courts an instrument of justice.
Work from outside the courthouse to say that we are ready to be a society with real accountability for wrongs that we have committed, both historically and recently.
Shift how we use language to ensure we are attributing actions to the perpetrators of the harm, in this case the death of another human.
Ask, each day, “what can I do differently in my organization to dismantle anti-Blackness and the destructive myth and perpetuation of white supremacy?” and then act on it.
Let’s be active now. In our language and our actions.
In our organization and many others, people are tired and grieving. We have lost loved ones and we have lost access to aspects of our lives that we hold dear. And yet, we need to save energy for the important work and rebuilding ahead. We have to maintain energy in organizations so that the commitment and work does not end after a workshop, or after a team is set up, or after we hire a director of equity. These are just the first steps…
We have to decide, particularly white Americans, if we are willing to step into a real period of reckoning and not just a temporary increase in awareness that is evidenced by the formation of committees and our participation in r marches. The smoke could be the signal of us all going down in flames or it could be the olfactory symbol of rising from the ashes and rebuilding our country.
 Baratunde called the podcast: “a meditation and conversation on analyzing the structure of headlines to reframe/revert the gaze away from the victims as racial objects back to the racial subjects perpetuating the problem….[in other words] George Floyd was not killed by Derek Chauvin; Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd.” (“We’re Having a Moment” Podcast, Episode 4, 2020).
 In the same Podcast, Yahdon Israel (@yahdon on Instagram) reminds us that even well-intentioned campaigns like “Say her name” which helps us to hold up people who were killed and to focus on women as well as men; it doesn’t name the subject or actor and doesn’t name what we are doing or why. Don’t put those impacted in the passive action role: “Black people earn less than…”; “women are killed by men”; “George Floyd was killed”. Who did the killing and why?
Are you feeling a bit weary and maybe even crumbling? You’re not alone. We’re almost at the one-year anniversary mark of the pandemic, a few months out from the storming of the US Capitol, and ten months out from the murder of George Floyd. If you’re working from home, you’re lonely, and if you’re a frontline or health worker, you’re exhausted. The anxiety we’ve all been experiencing is real.
What to do when we feel like this? We need to acknowledge it for sure. And we need to pause because the big reopening is coming and it may not be the cure.
Vaccinations are spreading, warmer weather is returning in parts of the world, and traffic is ramping up. States are rolling back to the “old normal.”
But that “old normal” is not what many of us want. We desire the old normal of hugs, social time, and in-person experience. We crave the return of play and the lightness of habit and ritual. Yet, we don’t want to welcome back stressful mornings, back-to-back meetings, political rancor, and racist violence.
Before it’s too late, we need to reimagine the new normal that replaces old norms with ones like joy, rest, and connection. A new normal that creates oppression-free lives and systems.
It’s time to plan, It’s time to gather your family and plan your new normal. What will you discard from the old, and what will you bring into the new, before the pace of life takes over?
It’s time to gather, Gather your teams and ask, What will your organization live into? What can you do to build and maintain human-centered and anti-racist workplaces and communities?
And for all of us, What do we need in order to heal and repair? It’s been a really tough time. How can we discover new ways to foster self and community care?
The negatives of the old normal will clash with our individual and collective well-being unless we work now to get rid of them.
So, when the snapback of the old calls you,
Stop See Love Slow down And ask yourself,
What can I do right in this moment to bring in a new normal that centers humanity, equity, and living?
We now understand that living is loving and being loved. It’s radical collaboration and sharing. It’s large openings and small slivers of joy.
Look for the small invitations around you to create a new and better normal. Jump in. If we develop the practices of the new normal, we have a chance to create the world we want, not the one that will overtake us yet again if we let it.
“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it.”
A network that I have been a part of for a number of years is seeing the emergent proliferation and strengthening of other related networks (some more adjacent than others) in its shared geographic and issue spaces. While this is welcomed overall, and sets up the potential for a more robust movement network and core-periphery structure (see image below), there are also some discussions within the network about how this proliferation constitutes an opportunity versus a looming threat or conflict.
There is plenty being written about the power of collaboration to solve complex problems and shift undesirable patterns, and one of the persistent barriers to collaboration is the default competitive and protective instinct found in individuals and groups. There are good and long-standing evolutionary reasons for “watching out for number one,” so this impulse can be fairly baked in. And there are also good reasons for understanding and leaning into “collaborative advantage” (see, for example, the work of evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson on multi-level selection).
“One step is to recognize that ‘ideologies extolling individualism, competition, untrammeled free markets, and conversely, disparaging cooperation and equality’ (as Turchin puts it) have no scientific justification. An unregulated organism is a dead organism, for the body politic no less than our own bodies.”
David Sloan Wilson
And of course, there are plenty of examples of “taking the high road” only to have someone else take advantage of this, which can leave us feeling like we are living in the prisoner’s dilemma. So what is a network to do? Well, if your values include collaboration and justice, then you do your best to lead by example. Which is where a recent network stewardship team conversation left us. And as often happens with this group, things continued to marinate and then one of our members sent the following beautiful email, reminding us of her experiences in a related network of networks.
“The dynamics we discussed reminded me a lot of what we have experienced at our organization since 2009, so if you’ll indulge me for a few minutes I’ll try to lay it out here. In late 2007, we piloted a new cooperative venture and launched the FL Collaborative in 2009. Our vision and aspirations were to bring a cross sector of people and organizations together to address the root causes of the problems facing our sector and relevant communities.
One of the first things the FL Collaborative really wanted to focus on was replicating the cooperative model, and our organization was tasked with doing that. And we did. Pretty soon it became clear that we couldn’t both do that and hold the bigger vision and aspirations. But to be honest, I didn’t want to admit that.
By 2011, the LC Network started to emerge from the FL Collaborative. My first reaction was that we have competition. But very soon it became clear that the LC Network was serving a role our staff and the FL Collaborative couldn’t serve. The LC Network was beginning to pull together elements of what it takes to shift the supply chain from one that is value-less to one that is value-full. The kind of technical support the sector and visionaries needed began to emerge through the LC Network.
By 2014, the SF Network (another network) began to percolate out of the FL Collaborative. And again I found myself triggered by the potential competition. What the SF Network was beginning to offer was the ‘social’ space. When our organization and the FL Collaborative were hosting a series of community gatherings and various social events that allowed us to have a public facing part, SF was emerging as being able to offer that. Another thing we could take off of our staff’s plate so we can focus on our bigger vision and aspirations.
The FL Collaborative, in the meanwhile, began to morph into the political and advocacy space. That’s where we think through policy shifts, organizing opportunities, connectivity, and alignment around the broader vision of what the future of the sector and larger system can look like and what it might take to get us there. Those who are engaged in each of these networks are doing things that they can easily wrap their heads around and inspires them most.
Today, I talk about these three networks as three tentacles of an octopus with our organization holding the space of the head of the octopus. Because our staff was not liberated to focus more fully on the shared values, bigger vision, the bigger story, connectivity, etc., all these three networks are interlocked by a shared set of values, a common vision, and organizing strategies.
Our staff are the ones who are asking the bigger questions of each of these networks when they seem to go off track. We are the ones who are finding the resources needed to get them to think about how racial equity is or isn’t showing up there (and we get most of that from [the network for which the readers of the email are the stewardship team]). So without sounding too egotistical, our staff is tasked with holding the moral center of all of this work whether it comes to the connections, strategies, resources, stories, organizing, etc. There is probably a better word than the moral center, but that’s the only thing that is coming to me right now.
More tentacles might emerge, and I hope they do as we identify gaps in this work. And I hope I can remain humble enough to not see them as competition but as a valuable addition to the family.“
It takes work, real intention and effort, to stay grounded and humble, to practice discernment and to keep perspective, to keep asserting the larger picture of complexity, to honor the need for deeper collaboration and more allies, to have faith in the possibilities that we cannot yet see through the growing entanglement of intersections. Even better when you can depend on others to help you out with this! With #gratitude to so many.
“Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses. Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving. Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in, a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen: reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in. This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always, for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”
As a number of networks I am supporting are settling into the lingering reality of operating within our COVID19 context (“2020 still feels like it’s with us!”), uncertain of what resolution will look like or mean, we have been having more conversations about how to maintain momentum around key goals (food justice, health equity, equitable conservation, climate adaptation and mitigation) and also lead with care, supporting collective regenerative capacity. Through explicit asking and reading what is coming up through people’s engagement, here are some ideas for how to keep movement going over this lengthening haul in sustaining fashion.
Put movement into the movement (literally invite people to move their bodies during and in-between on-line and phone meetings)
Leverage the power of one to one conversations (they can often be more nimble and dynamic, including having people walk and talk to one another)
Keep some meetings agenda-free (and follow the emergent energy)
Share stories, music, recipes, jokes, games
Stay open to spontaneity
Lean into humor!
Do a meditation, be silent together
Give grace – “It’s okay to not be okay”
Make space for teach-ins and knowledge sharing
Invite people to not look at screens, and to look out windows
Schedule long meetings as multiple meetings with a shared agenda over time to break it up
Remember this is not ours alone to do or solve and that there are others out there, including those we do not know
What would you add?
“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.“
Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked with a state-wide health equity network, comprised of smaller coalitions, that has been looking at living into being more of a network in thinking and action. After some conversation and consideration, we decided to use a framework that derives from the writings of Madeleine Taylor and Pete Plastrik.
The Connectivity-Alignment-Coordinated Action/Production framework (see graphic above) lifts up three different network modes, through which value and impact is created. First of all, network value and impact is grounded at a fundamental level in creating connectivity, by building linkages and trust between key stakeholders and perhaps unusual bedfellows. This can be done by convening people; closing triangles, sharing stories, data and other forms of information; co-creating knowledge; learning together, etc. Part of the value of this connectivity is that it can lead to orthogonal thinking and bolster individual network participants’ efforts in the shared domain where the network is focused. What also might happen is self-organized action between those who are meeting one another for the first time or getting to know one another better.
“Healthy networks measure their impact, in particular by establishing the links between decentralized network action and outcomes.“
Up a level, networks may be compelled to create some kind of collective and aligned commitment or value proposition in the form of shared vision, values, public statements, etc. This can create greater impact/ripples, and provide additional value to individual participants and self-organized efforts, as they are more prone to head in the same general direction or with some kind of deeper shared understanding of context.
And then there are those instances when there is a call to some form of collective action, such as advocacy, a communications campaign, fundraising, or some other co-produced venture. This can happen even as smaller self-organized action continues (really, from a network perspective, most collective action should be about creating the conditions for those self-organized efforts, which is what is meant by “making the periphery the norm” in network building lingo).
With all of this in mind, after doing interviews, some observation, as well as evaluations and other documentation from the sub-networks of this state-wide advocacy network, a few patterns seemed to surface that suggested ways for the network to strengthen itself and leverage network effects.
Here is a list of what was surfacing as opportunities seen through the C-A-CA/P lens:
In the calls that the network does with its members, there appeared to be more of a one-directional download of information from staff (the hub) to its members (the periphery). And in various documents there appeared to be some suggestion that people were not connecting except through the hub. Furthermore, an annual report said that state partners expressed a desire to know more about one another’s capabilities, constituencies, and connections. All of this suggested an opportunity for creating greater CONNECTIVITY, especially member-to-member.
In an interview the observation was made that on membership calls there were often the same people speaking while others were silent. This suggested that greater CONNECTIVITY could be created for those who were less outspoken and silent. There appeared to be some correlation between those who were longer standing members (more outspoken) and those who were new to the network (more quiet).
In assessments of meetings, comments were made that while people appreciate the great information and education they receive, they were also eager to meet, learn from and strategize with one another. This again suggested an opportunity to strengthen member-to-member CONNECTIVITY.
Questions had come up about whether relationships with state and county lawmakers, behavioral health experts, and others might be better maximized for trust and information sharing. Another area to explore strengthening CONNECTIVITY to and among those stakeholder groups.
Related to the above, while the network’s political capital was appreciated by many members, there were also questions about democratizing that power, and helping members to be more involved in the legislative process. This suggested that beyond creating greater CONNECTIVITY among members, there might be some opportunity to provide COORDINATION support to enhance access.
“Clusters” of members in certain parts of the state had been mentioned in interviews and documents. It was observed that in one region, there is some evidence of people getting tighter and that in another region, organizations were using lists to get together. This lifted up the question about more intentional CONNECTIVITY and ALIGNMENT that the network might suggest or provide to those existing and other potential clusters to strengthen their advocacy work.
An annual report identified some expressed concern about the challenge with creating alignment among collation partners on behavioral health priorities, and that “collective buy-in” and “intentional relationship building” will be key to establishing alignment. This is another reason to keep building that trust and CONNECTIVITY and also to explore actively facilitating ALIGNMENT around core priorities.
It was shared in staff interviews that there have been questions from members about the network’s long-term vision – “Where are you trying to go?” This raised some possible opportunities to facilitate ALIGNMENT around a shared, guiding and galvanizing vision with members.
Related to the above, the suggestion was raised around exploring he coalescing of sub-networks to consolidate and create more ALIGNMENT and COORDINATION between those separate coalitions.
And here is what was offered as a set of initial recommendations:
Consider the points above and if there is agreement among staff about where to weave greater connectivity, facilitate alignment and/or coordinate activity in different domains. Specifically: Who needs to be better connected and what would that achieve? Would alignment around a shared vision and high-level goals be helpful? Who would need to be aligned?
As these opportunities are identified, consider existing network (staff) capacity to provide weaving, facilitation and coordination support. Where and how might this capacity be added or developed?
Think about ways to create greater connectivity within existing calls, meetings and trainings. For example, have a check-in question; invite people to share news, victories, needs; break people into pairs and smaller group discussions; create open space for people to explore interests and opportunities to work together.
Consider creating a toolkit and perhaps a training for building relationships and maximizing connections in networks.
Reach out to less out-spoken and newer coalition members to see if there is anything that would support their participation. Related to this, make sure there is an on-boarding process for new members so that they feel up-to-date and know how to participate.
To gauge “network impact,” follow up with members to see what they do with the content, capacity and connections they get from calls. Are they able to leverage these for greater impact in their communities and regions to create “ripple effects”?
Reach out to other networks to see how they go about democratizing power and opportunity in a network. In addition, look to other groups across the state to see how they are working with grassroots groups to mobilize around policy.
Consider having an open conversation with member organizations about how to strengthen the sub-networks (coalitions) as a network. What ideas do they have? This might include giving them some overview of networks and network effects/impacts.
Consider conducting an assessment to find and leverage “network champions.” Are there certain members who are particularly enthusiastic about and active in network activity and might be ambassadors for the collective work? Might they be more formally enlisted as network weavers?
Consider the virtual tools currently used for keeping members connected (virtual meeting platforms, shared files and documents, archives, private group pages). Are they working? Are people taking full advantage of them? Is there additional value they are looking for that might be provided by other tools?
Consider using a more formal network assessment to look for strengths and areas for growth and improvement in the network’s structures and practices. This could be conducted among staff alone and also include key partners. Examples include “Network Effectiveness: Diagnostic and Development Tool”, “Partnership Self-Assessment Tool” and “Network Health Scorecard.”
At IISC, we’re asking ourselves some hard questions. Are we maintaining the status quo or breaking it? If we are alive in times like this, what are we living for? And whatever that is, we better make it worth it. Because this country has been presented with a mirror and what we see is our ugly reflection, and the choices we now make will have life and death consequences.
So we feel it’s right, and necessary, to ask the hard questions, The questions are rhetorical, but hey, why not, since we’re all talking and trying to be brave.
If we don’t ask for and expect this President’s immediate removal, what are we sanctioning?
If you lost steam for the fight for racial justice that rose up last summer, or if you went back to business as usual after George Floyd died, why is that? Do you realize that racism is always awake even when you’re sleeping?
If you’re shocked about the attempted takeover of our Capitol and country, have you accepted that white supremacy isn’t just present in those that stormed the doors, but are also inside government institutions and within our own elected officials?
If you think diversity training and simple “DEI” initiatives are enough to dismantle structural racism, think again! How can you begin to shift your focus to dismantling structural racism?
If you think you aren’t complicit with racism, ask yourself, “am I too comfortable?”
Yesterday was an epic system failure (or, from another perspective, it’s the system working as it was designed to work), born out of relentless racism, white domination, and male violent entitlement. It’s not extremist. It’s not an aberration. It’s America. If you’re numb or checked out, wake up. If you’re shocked, don’t think more shock isn’t coming. You may feel pain, but that exists for a reason. The pain tells you that you’re alive and alert. We may be striving to do the right thing, but playing it safe is not an option during a 24-7 assault on our humanhood.
Safe is “we can do this later.”
Safe is “someone else will take care of this.”
Safe is “we can talk about ‘equity’ without being laser-focused on tearing down racism.”
Safe is “we can avoid struggle, hard truths and conversations, and real work.”
Transformative change in the food system will not happen unless we work towards racial justice and equity.
Anderson, S., Colasanti, K., Didla, N., and Ogden, C. (2020). A Call to Build Trust and Center Values in Food Systems Work. Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.
In September of 2019, I was fortunate enough to be invited to co-facilitate a gathering of over 70 people from across the U.S. to learn from one other about the work of coordinating state and regional level food system plans. At least that was the initial idea. The gathering was convened by the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University. I was joined in this work by the very generous and talented Noel Didla, Sade Anderson, and Kathryn Collasanti. As is the case with so many good things, the out of the gate vision for the convening gave way to a more emergent planning process that moved us away from purely technical practices and knowledge sharing to the more complex and adaptive work of bringing people together across various lines of difference to have “real talk” and wrestle with tough questions.
What became clear very quickly, with the leadership of Sade and Noel in particular, was that considerations of racial equity and economic justice had to be at the center of our design and facilitation. That included:
how we got in “right relationship” with one another as a team
how we framed the gathering for invitees
who was invited to attend and present at the gathering
the choice of where to have the convening
the way we designed both the agenda and the gathering space
the way we held what essentially became one rich two-day conversation
“I am taking away a lot of thoughts about meeting structure and facilitation from the overall convening planning, structure and flow. The structure of the agenda to put racial equity at the forefront and the structure of the conversations that allowed for honest discussion and audience participation was very effective and made for interesting conversations. These are techniques that would be helpful for us to use in our presentations and to share with food policy councils.”
2019 national gathering participant from the Mid-Atlantic
What we experienced during and heard after the event was pretty encouraging – how for many this was one of the best “conferences” they had ever attended, how people left challenged and inspired, how many of the conversations we started at Wayne County Community College stayed with people and continued.
Our original intent as a co-facilitation team was to write up a report of the event not long after we arrived back in our respective homes. Instead, things simmered for a while and the right time to wrap up the writing emerged during COVI19, as certain things that we had already been emphasizing were put into more stark view.
The linked publication, entitled “A Call to Build Trust and Center Values in Food Systems Work,” is meant to be a way to holding ourselves accountable to the work of racial justice by sharing our reflections on two practices to advance equity that anyone can incorporate into their life and work: building trust and centering values. Here we describe what these threads looked like in this national gathering—including both our personal experiences of the process, the practical event decisions we made, and more about what what participants had to say.
Our collective hope is to challenge readers (and ourselves) to consider the many ways in which food systems activity is either welcoming or exclusionary and either embodies equitable belonging or perpetuates “othering.” And because the conversation must continue, we welcome any reflections and reactions, including how you are leading with values, including racial equity, and trust in 2021.
We turned out in record numbers in the November general election — despite a pandemic, an economic crisis, and so many attempts to stop us. We voted for our communities and the things we care about, and to make life better for all of us. We voted because it is our right to do so. And there is still more to do…
Yes – we still need to phone bank TODAY for tomorrow’s #RunoffElection in Georgia! This election determines control of the senate, and we can all show up for Georgians the way they showed up for the country’s future in November. Sign up NOW to phone bank with @newgeorgiaproject 5-8pm ET (mobilize.us/ngp) or @NAACPYouthCollege 6-7pm ET (bit.ly/GAPhoneBanking)
Recently a long-time member of the Food Solutions New England (FNSE) Network Team let us know that they would be transitioning out of their current job and needing to leave the network, at least the core role they have played. FSNE is entering its second, and critical, decade of work, and going through a transition itself as it strives to better weave together a regional food system that is grounded in racial justice, ecological sustainability and democratic principles. It has been quite the journey, 2020 not withstanding.
This person, and real FSNE champion, gave a tremendous gift in their email, laying out how meaningful their experience has been these last several years. In so doing, there is also a wonderful articulation of what being in a network can be all about. Here is a taste of what was so generously offered:
“What stands out to me when looking back is how many aspects of FSNE’s work are challenging: communicating complex concepts; making the most of limited time when such a rich network of folks gets together; putting up with ambiguity when structure and linearity are so comforting and in demand.
But the rewards from the process are on an equal scale with the challenge: building lasting and meaningful relationships with diverse folks from across the food system; being able to think and strategize about that system in entirely new ways; learning new ways to think and to go about work and life. … in offering this to participants, FSNE is very unique among organizations. …
I’m looking forward to what’s coming next, sensing and hoping that the world at large is more ready to support FSNE’s values now, than it was even a year ago.”
So well said! And we know FSNE is not alone.
Even as the network (along with so many others) navigates complexity and disruption and continues to make “progress” around its “impact areas” (including more dense and diverse connectivity; greater advancement of the vision and values; increased regional alignment around a new food narrative; more collaboration on regional food, farm and fisheries policy; more wide-spread commitment to anti-racism in the food system), it can be hard to “see” all of this in the moment. Like so many things in life, it is only in retrospect that we can get a sense of how far we have come. And also like so many things in life, as our transitioning FSNE colleague expressed so beautifully, it is not just what we can most tangibly measure that matters, but also (and perhaps more so) qualitative change and the nature of our experiences (processes, relationships) along the way.
“Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. … Big, undreamed-of things – the people on the edge see them first.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
I have used the above quote in a number of cases to illustrate a network principle of thinking and action – Don’t get stuck in the core, make the periphery the norm. As we come to the end of 2020 (as arbitrary as that calendrical designation may be), I am thinking about Vonnegut’s words in different and perhaps more expansive ways.
Seemingly many of us have been asked to live (in some cases, even further out) on any number of edges over the past several months – political, economic, psychological, social, spiritual. While exciting in certain cases, it has also been quite exhausting and for some it has been a push to and over the brink.
It is also the case that many have woken or are waking up to the realization that life can only continue in some form or fashion at various edges, especially in times of considerable change. The Aboriginal artist and complexity scientist Tyson Yunkaporta reminds us that from an indigenous perspective –
“Sedentary lifestyles and cultures that do not move with the land or mimic land-based networks in their social systems do not transition well through apocalyptic moments.”
And it would seem we are at an apocalyptic moment, if we take that term to mean a great revelation, along with a call for reckoning, healing and re-creation. “The Great Turning,” maybe, allowing that transitions take us to the edge, because that is where qualitative growth lies.
“Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge.”
– Dr. Rev. Howard Thurman (philosopher, theologian, educator, civil rights leader)
Earlier this year I joined a beautiful community stewarded by Joe Weston, which has been brought together by a common desire to cultivate deeper shared capacity among people for what Joe calls “respectful confrontation” and “fierce civility.” The Weston Network is grounded in a set of practices drawn from martial arts, mindfulness and somatics, which help practitioners cultivate four core pillars – grounding, focus, strength and flexibility. These pillars support people to express and get their needs met in ways that can contribute to co-evolution (my word, not Joe’s), or mutualistic growth in groups and communities. I can really vouch for the power and the personal test of the practice!
A helpful concept that Joe introduced back in March at an in-person workshop, just before things started to close down because of COVID, was the idea that our individual and collective growth is found at “the resilient edge of our resistance.” The idea is that people tend to be resistant at the edges of their comfort zones, for some good reasons. And yet it is also true that staying hunkered down is not always helpful, and may even be dangerous. People also have the capacity to become more resilient at and over the edges of their perceived comfort zone. Life, in fact, requires this!
“Evolution is what happens when patterns that used to define survival become deadly.”
– Nora Bateson (filmmaker, writer, regenerative thinker and educator)
Through the Weston Network, I have been learning more about how to read resistance and sense its invitations beyond, “Don’t move. stay safe!” … feeling these messages in my body and a complex mixes of emotions, along with the dynamism of dancing on different edges. Resistance when met with a combination of respect, rootedness, receptivity, and recreation can build muscle, confidence, and open up new possibilities. How many people have I heard say that one thing they have learned this year is that they are in fact stronger and more adaptive than they might have thought? Or that they have found meaningful connection in struggle and disruption?
“We don’t have to resist entropy … or push the river. We just need to learn how to get out of the way and cooperate with the direction.”
As I have gone and been pushed to my growing edges this year, seen myself and the world from new vantage points, and tasted “resilient power” (Joe Weston’s words), I’ve been contemplating what this looks like as collective practice. And I’ve been dabbling a bit with both the Weston Network practices as well as those of the PROSOCIAL community in a few different groups and networks.
The ACT Matrix (see above) is a tool that individuals andgroups can use to name what matters most to them, along with aligned behaviors, as a way of laying a foundation for transparency, agreement, support and accountability. The Matrix also helps people to name andwork with resistance found in challenging thoughts and emotions that might move them away from their shared values. In essence, this helps to normalize resistance and when used with other ACT practices (defusion, acceptance, presence, self-awareness), can encourage more sustainable, fulfilling (over the long-term), and mutually supportive choices.
I’m eager in the new year to lean more into these different practices with others, knowing that more of us are moving with intention into the “omega” (release) and “alpha” (reorganize) phases of the adaptive cycle (see below). While letting go and stepping into the unknown may not be a very compelling invitation to everyone, I’m hoping that the prospect of finding our resilient power and cultivating regenerative futures will be incentive to keep moving to meet, greet and play on our edges.
I am struck by how the network building and weaving field has really mushroomed over the past several years, and with it, so much learning around approaches, structures, roles, strategy, etc. I regularly hear myself say that there is no one right way to go about “net work” for change (which is why I regularly reference this compendium of thoughts on networks – “A Network Way of Working”). That said, I have found that “principles” (for lack of a better word) for network thinking and action have been helpful in a number of different contexts to support people in finding ways to leverage the promise of networks (or “network effects”).
This is a list that I continue to play with, expanding and contracting given new learning and different contexts. I recently offered the following version to a food system network. Always open to riffs and improvements …
Come First as Givers, Not Takers – Of course people should think about their self-interest, but if everyone holds out for what they are going to get, then nothing gets created in the first place. Generosity leads to generativity.
Support Intricacy & Flow, Beyond Bottlenecks & Hoarding – Many kinds of connection and robust movement of resources of all kinds is what contributes to the adaptive and regenerative capacity of networks.
Make the Periphery the Norm, Don’t Get Stuck in the Core – In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. … Big, undreamed-of things–the people on the edge see them first.”
Work with Others and/or Out Loud, Not in Isolation – Otherwise, what is the point of creating a network?! Connect, cooperate, coordinate, collaborate, and for God’s sake, share!
Value Contributions Before Credentials – Valuable contributions come from all kinds of places and people. Credentials and holding out for a certain kind of “expertise” can get in the way of seeing the greater abundance around you, and benefitting from it.
Lead with Love and a Sense of Abundance, Not Fear and Scarcity – Fear and scarcity narrow our view, shrink our thinking about what is possible, and inhibit our willingness to share. Love is love and does what love does.
Think Spread and Depth Before Scale – Because it’s easier in many ways, can avoids mechanical/replication thinking, and helps to establish a more firm foundation (think roots under the tree).
Support Resilience and Redundancy Instead of Rock Stardom – Because we aren’t all that special and because its not strategic to put all eggs in one basket, however shiny. And then there’s the ego thing …
Trust in Self-Organization & Emergence, Not Permission & Predictability – COVID19 is driving this lesson home, big time. We are not in control. Life is complex, and beautifully so. Evolution is real, and so is people’s capacity to be response-able when they are trusted.
Say “We’re the Leaders!” Instead of “Who is the Leader?” – Who and what are you waiting for? And why?
Do What You Do Best and Connect to the Rest – Stop trying to do it all. It’s not possible, it creates unnecessary competition and it inhibits collaborative efficiencies (yes, they exist).
Attract a Diverse Flock, Not Birds of a Feather – Homophily (like being attracted to like) is a strong tendency in people. In network speak, we should not simply bond, but also bridge. This is important for the wok of equity and inclusion, tapping creativity and innovation, and and tasting spice in Life.
As you review the framework, would you share your responses to the questions below in the comments?
What does it bring up for you?
Where do you find yourself focusing your thinking and efforts?
What might you want to explore, start, continue or further develop, or stop doing in any of the stages?How does the framework help you prioritize and perhaps find empowering areas for action and partnership?
As you navigate the complex times of COVID-19 and racial uprising, consider what it would take to transition through these four dimensions, what needs to be in place, what is already in place, and what we need to reimagine and rebuild.
1 – In the Trauma Dimension: How are we responding to the impact of trauma from COVID, racism, and other shocks?
Racial Equity & Justice:
Are we removing racialized barriers to emergency resources?
Are we using a racial equity impact analysis tool to understand and evaluate our response? Even when we feel rushed?
Are we recognizing deep racial harm in our organization and networks?
Are we pausing and engaging in quick and meaningful stakeholder engagement to guide our responses and ensure less harm?
Are we attending to both relationships and results as we carry out our work?
Are we acting and responding with humility, empathy, and transparency?
Are we practicing presence and accountability?
Are we connecting with diverse networks to gather and share information and foster flows to address critical needs?
2 – In the Reckoning Dimension: How are we grappling with deep distress and the reality of shifting resources? How are we embracing racial uprisings for change? How are we embracing uncertainty?
Racial Equity & Justice:
Are we acknowledging inequities revealed by crisis?
Are we acting to undo the racialized impacts of our actions?
How are we recognizing the leadership of Black people and what are the lessons for our organizations?