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March 19, 2021

The Smell of Smoke: Are We Burning or Rising from the Ashes?

Photo credit: Mark McDermott, webinar for United for a Fair Economy

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[1]. [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[2] 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.


[1] 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).  

[2] 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?

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March 2, 2021

Pandemic Anniversary Reflection: It’s time to Reimagine Before It’s Too Late

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.  

Read these related blog posts:
https://interactioninstitute.org/creating-the-next-100-years/
https://interactioninstitute.org/from-trauma-to-transformative-futures-four-dimensions/

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February 11, 2021

Thinking Like an Octopus (and With a Collaborative Heart): Evolving and Interlocking Networks

“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it.”

Toni Morrison
Image from Giulian Frisoni

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.

SOURCE: Plastrik and Taylor, NET GAINS Workbook, 2006.

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.”

Marge Piercy, from her poem “Seven of Pentacles”

Image by Kent Schimke
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January 8, 2021

The Capitol Coup: Questions to Face

This is not a “statement”.

You don’t need another statement.

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.”

Safe is downright dangerous. 

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January 4, 2021

Civic Engagement, IISC-Style

Dear Friends of IISC,

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)

#TogetherWeVote #GOTV
@AdvancementProject @ apiahf @DemosIdeasAction @naacp @ncai1944 @WeAreUnidosUS @naturbanleague @FIAnational @RaceForward

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November 19, 2020

From Trauma to Transformative Futures: Four Dimensions

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?

Collaboration:

  • 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?

Love:

  • Are we acting and responding with humility, empathy, and transparency?
  • Are we practicing presence and accountability?

Networks:

  • 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?
  • Are we remembering and communicating that equity is not the same as equality
  • Are we designing from and with the margins to approach every problem and solution?

Collaboration:

  • Are we engaged in transparent and collaborative decision-making?
  • Are we facilitating conversations and activities to face the pain and opportunity of this crisis, our potential power together to make change, while also planning for next steps?

Love:

  • Are we embracing where people are? Their feelings, conditions, perspectives?
  • Are we modeling vulnerability as a sign of strength?
  • Are we exploring the reality through the lens of love and possibility?

Networks:

  • Are we setting strategic direction with critical partners? 
  • Are we listening for and following the ideas of BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, people of color)?

3 – In the Healing Dimension: How are we creating the conditions for healing and well-being?

Racial Equity & Justice:

  • Are we supporting BIPOC people and communities to move through trauma, grief and anger toward joy?
  • Are white people leaning into discomfort, trauma and pain, and working that through with other white allies?

Collaboration:

  • Are we generating and living into community care guidelines to support self-care and collective well-being?
  • Are we designing and facilitating in ways that allow people to process holistically – intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually?

Love:

  • Are we convening grounding conversations that allow for brave space, emotions, and truth sharing?
  • Are we offering resources for healing modalities?
  • Are we acknowledging all paths to healing?
  • Are we meeting pain with action and redistributing power and resources?

Networks:

  • Are we deepening networks and attending to flows of resources that create healing and well-being for people?
  • Are we setting up more distributive structures focusing on regenerative flows of resources of many kinds?

4 – In the Transformative Futures Dimension: How are we envisioning and living into equitable and resilient futures?

Racial Equity & Justice:

  • Are we pivoting from supremacist and extractive practices to what is liberating and life-honoring?

Collaboration:

  • Are we facilitating leaders to envision and invest in equitable and resilient futures?

Love:

  • Are we encouraging building futures from the lessons of love, possibility, and shared humanity?

Networks:

  • Are we fostering a new level of learning, sustainability, innovation and radical collaboration with people and our planet?
  • Are we focusing on systems change and building long-term movement?

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November 9, 2020

What Can a Facilitative Leader Do in this Post-Election Moment?

It’s the days after the November 3rd presidential election in the United States. What’s a leader to do in this post-election moment? We believe the most fundamental principle that grounds Facilitative Leadership for Social Change, a transformative learning experience we teach and share with social and racial justice leaders, may shed some light.

The fundamental principle of Facilitative Leadership for Social Change, IISC’s flagship workshop, is that decisions are best made when we tap into the power of participation by involving every person who is a stakeholder in the decisions that impact their lives. Facilitative leaders create a safe environment for participation and collaboration. Those who are still counting ballots – and may soon be recounting ballots – will serve us best by being mindful of this and ensuring that every single vote is counted, as objectively as is humanly possible, and with an eye toward complete transparency.  The integrity of the next steps of the election process and the outcome of any legal challenges depend on this. 

In our organizations and communities, Facilitative Leadership invites us – now more than ever – to be collaborative, strategic, receptive, and adaptable. In this moment, linking arms with others safely in the streets or metaphorically in Zoom rooms, to connect deeply to strategize and engage in the work of racial and social justice with everyone at the table, truly matters. Generating and facilitating authentic conversations that help us to better understand ourselves and our country, and to adapt in peaceful and nonviolent ways to what’s happening now, is deeply needed. Greeting each decision with openness to the ideas and challenges of others without defense and ego can set our communities and leadership on the path to deep transformation. 

We can tap the power of participation by applying the seven practices of Facilitative Leadership:

© 2014 Interaction Institute for Social Change; Adapted with permission from Interaction Associates

Seek Maximum Appropriate Involvement

As we make decisions in the coming hours, days, and weeks about the shape of our country or the work in our offices, seek maximum appropriate involvement. This doesn’t mean that every person must be involved every time you have a decision to make, but it does mean considering who will be impacted by that decision and how best to ensure their voices influence the outcomes of the decision, including making them more equitable.

Discover Shared Meaning

Now is an especially important time for people to engage in conversations, transformative listening, and deep thinking about what is holding us together and what is separating us. What can we learn from this election and the values, behaviors, and interactions that came from it? What assumptions and conclusions have we been making? What new insights do we have about our future?

See Systems

How can we help others understand the ways in which systemic injustice and racism are playing out in our political process, in our work, and in our communities? How can we make more visible the different parts of our system – whether it is institutions like government, education, or health care – so that we can organize for change?

Inspire a Shared Vision

Even if you’re uncertain about the future, what do you understand about humankind and those you work with? What are the possibilities? How can we create and live into more equitable and resilient futures?

Focus on Results, Process, & Relationship

Whether we are with our families watching the election process and legal battles unfold or bringing together managers in our organizations, focus first on how people are doing and the strength of their relationships. And then go about things in a way that honors their human fragility while pointing them towards the results we are working to achieve. 

Design Pathways to Action

Now is the time for us to start thinking about how we can design a pathway for getting what we need and want. The election has revealed once again the depth and level of racism in our cities, towns, and communities. What can we uniquely design to root out racism in ways that will bring along even those we think are not with us?

Facilitate Agreement

How can we work with others and with our government officials to facilitate a peaceful transition and build agreements that allow our nation to heal through the reckonings of COVID, racial violence, and election divisions? The wounds are deep and require challenging conversations that can be harnessed into agreements, concrete actions, and more repaired relationships.

Let’s be our most facilitative selves in this critical moment.

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October 17, 2020

“Lean Weaving”: Creating Networks for a Future of Resilience and Regeneration

I’m fInishing up David Fleming’s book Surviving the Future, and buzzing with ideas and questions about the role of networks, network weaving and energy network science in these times of “systemic release” (see the adaptive cycle above, and more about the cycle here).

Fleming’s book, a curated collection of essays from the heftier Lean Logic, offers some compelling thinking about the trajectory of globalized and national economies – at best de-coupling, de-growth, and regeneration, and at worst catastrophic collapse – and the ways in which intentional and more localized culture building and reclamation as well as capacity conservation, development and management, might steer communities to healthier and more whole places post-market economy.

One of my favorite quotes from Fleming is that large-scale problems do not require large scale solutions; they require small-scale solutions within a large scale framework. That resonated immediately, even if I didn’t know exactly what he meant when I first read it. Re-reading more carefully, I hear Fleming making the argument that to take on systemic breakdown at scale is a fool’s errand – too massive, too slow, too much rigidity to deal with, too much potential conflict, too abstracted from real places and people.

Instead what is required is more nimble small-scale solutions happening iteratively and quickly (relative to how slow things move at larger levels). This suggests that action for resilience must happen at more local and regional levels, connecting diverse players in place, helping to encourage more robust exchanges of all kinds (including multiple “currencies”) and culture building. David Fleming offers the following definition of the lean economy (as opposed to the taut perpetual growth economy): “an economy held together by richly-developed social capital and culture, and organized around the rediscovery of community.” How might we weave that fabric even as others unravel?

Lean (network) weaving (a new term?) would focus on helping to create more intricate, high quality/high trust and diverse connections as well as facilitating robust, nourishing flows in tighter and more grounded cycles and systems. Part of the lean weaving would entail ensuring that smaller systems remain alert, quick and flexible so as to experiment, learn and adapt. And it would also maintain connection and communication between these smaller systems/clusters (Fleming’s “larger framework”), to facilitate learning and feedback of various kinds between them (not unlike proposed bioregional learning centers).

“The more flexible the sub-systems, the longer the expected life of the system as a whole.”

David Fleming

This idea of “lean weaving” also brings to mind the wisdom of network science as taught by Danielle Varda and colleagues at Visible Networks Lab. They make the point that when it comes to creating strong (resilient and regenerative) networks, more can be less in terms of the connections we have. Connectivity, like so much else in our mainstream economy and culture, can be ruled by a relentless growth imperative that is not strategic or sustainable and can cheat us of quality in favor of quantity.

More connections require more energy to manage, meaning there may ultimately be fewer substantive ties if we are spread too thin. Instead, the invitation is to think about how we mindfully maintain a certain number of manageable and enriching strong and weak ties, and think in terms of “structural holes.” For more on this network science view, visit this VNL blog post “We want to let you in on a network science secret – better networking is less networking.”

The COVID19 pandemic along with other mounting challenges may already be presenting the mandate and opportunity to get more keen and lean in our network thinking and weaving, not simply in the spirit of austerity and regression, but to cut an evolutionary path of resilience and regeneration (renewal). Network weavers of all kinds, what are you seeing and doing in this respect?

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September 29, 2020

IISC Community: In case you need to hear it…

Image by Unknown on Pxhere.com

We’re in a pandemic, Trump/Facism exists, racism is unrelenting, and there are wildfires, hurricanes, and floods.
You’re not alone
You’re deeply precious
Your existence truly matters.

We will learn
We will get a vaccine
We will fight the forces of tyranny, desperation, and hate
And time will seem to pass slowly
but we will see our fight pay off.

It’s normal some days and the next hour to feel like you don’t want to
wake up
parent
work
or feel anything
It’s ok to feel like quitting or giving up.

It’s abnormal to work for social and racial justice in individual rooms
by ourselves
or on a lonely but better than no connection Zoom.

in a society that’s hurting us and others.

The work we do is hard and encompassing
Please pause and take care of yourself.

Give yourself a walk around the block
Talk to a friend even if you don’t feel like you want to
Take a personal or sick day just because you need the wellness and healing
Work less than 40 hours (who said 40 hours is even optimal and efficient?)
Free your mind of guilt no matter what you perceive or understand from others
We are here to build
and not necessarily to “serve” which is an anti-self care mindset if we’re not careful.

Your heart and spirit
is our heart and spirit.

Let’s check in on each other. A quick call, text, gif, laugh or spaced visit.

Let’s do one thing.
It will never be small
to help move ourselves
and this country in the direction we desire and imagine.

I love your humanness, your frailty, your strength.

Forgive me if I am not always my best
But I will try my best to
stay brave,
connected,
healthy
and whole
for me,
for you,
and for the world.

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September 27, 2020

Network Weaving in a Time of Breaking, Unraveling and Hunkering Down

For the past month I’ve been checking in with a dozen or so networks that I support and participate in in various ways, looking at how best to navigate these times when in some cases it feels there may be a need to ratchet down or right size expectations. With so much in flux and uncertain, with many new challenges and barriers to how people may have operated in the past, when the impulse might be to pull back or bunker down, what can weavers/coordinators do, what are they doing, to keep their networks and net/collective work vital?

Below is a list of some ideas and practices that I am seeing, hearing, and trying myself, in the name of maintaining baseline connectivity, alignment and coordinated momentum. No one of them is necessarily the “right answer” in every situation, everything being context-dependent and also needing to suit the particular nature and situation of specific networks. And having shared some of these with others, I’ve heard these can be helpful for anyone now working virtually or in-person in times of greater stress. Curious to know what resonates, and what you would add!

  • Bring an open heart to network interactions. People are feeling a lot in these times. It can be important to allow for and acknowledge this.
  • Let people know you are thinking of and appreciate them. One of the practices out there that I’ve seen and am leaning into is people sending “love notes” to others in their networks.
  • Create more frequent, optional and informal opportunities for people to connect. I’ve been seeing and participating in “coffee chats” that happen weekly, bi-weekly and monthly for those who are interested to drop by (virtually), check-in and share gifts and needs. This includes setting up phone calls where people can walk and talk instead of being glued to a screen for videoconferencing.
  • Release your grip on certain standards of performance and accomplishment. This can often create more frustration and exhaustion. Model patience and grace with yourself and others.
  • Allow for, and maybe even celebrate, messiness, malfunctions, and “mistakes.” This is not just about cutting people slack and reducing stress, but also inviting ongoing experimentation, improvisation, creativity and playfulness.
  • Shore up the core of your network. With some coordinating teams working virtually for the first time or much more often, while juggling many other balls, it can be important to establish some basic expectations around communications and other working agreements. What minimally do people need from one another in order to function well in these times? What are they able to give?
  • Find time to disconnect and replenish. From Zoom overload to balancing needs of home and work simultaneously, it can be crucial to find time to disconnect from conversation and interaction.
  • Lean back into alignment. This can be a good time to put a network’s mission, vision and values back in front of its members, to remind people what holds them together and what might ground them more deeply amidst the tumult of the times. How can these values and larger goals provide ballast and guidance?
  • Create more slowness, stillness, spaciousness and even silence in your network interactions. Even when connected, we can practice different kinds of pacing and spacing that can help people to restore, maintain or increase their energy.
  • Stem degenerative flows. The 24 hour news cycles, social media wars, and spirals of outrage can conspire to overwhelm us and suck us dry, especially when there is an insidious fear of missing out. Other than simply disconnecting, we can ask what actually nourishes us in terms of connections and flows of information, interactions and other resources. Be mindful of what you consume, as well as what you send out and communicate with others.
  • Lead with joy and laughter. Because it feels good and can be so radical and welcomed in these times.
  • Really practice shared leadership. All the time, and especially now. Do what you do best and connect to the rest. Remember you are not indispensable and that networks benefit from redundancy of role and function. I was recently in a call with 8 other facilitators to develop both an agenda and executive memo for an important meeting, and while in the past I would have dreaded these kinds of endeavors, in this instance we really needed each other given the complexity of the situation and constrained capacity of each of us.
  • Keep an eye towards bridging. While comfort and care are important, watch the tendency to fall back into familiar patterns and relationships that can bolster bonding (birds of a feather flocking together) in your networks at the expense of bridging to those who are different in some way, shape or form, where those differences are vital to the health of the network and its work. On this front, see this resource, “On Bridging,” from the Othering and Belonging Institute.
  • Keep listening for and helping to meet needs, fill gaps, and leverage opportunities. What are the critical connections and flows that the network is asking for right now? Who can help to create and support these?
  • Ask yourself the following question and see where it takes you:

“What is something I/we can do today that our future network (and collective work) will be grateful for and benefit from?

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September 18, 2020

Cultivating Regenerative Capacity In and Through Networks

A couple of months ago I was invited by Visible Network Labs to give a presentation to the Network Leadership Training Academy on regenerative networks. This was of course done virtually, and I was already wanting to not simply present or talk about the topic, but invite people into some kind of embodiment of it (given regeneration is about bringing life to life!). And so here is how I, along with a team of collaborators, invited people in …

We began with a truncated grounding practice that I received from The Weston Network/Respectful Confrontation community, which invites people to align their energetic center (gut), heart and mind, while cultivating deeper connection to self, surrounding and others. At its best, this practice boosts life force (chi) and gets energy and emotion flowing within and between people. Indications from the Zoom chat afterwards were that a number of people were indeed “rejuvenated” by the practice.

Then we showed a video for the song “The Play” by Minnesota-based singer songwriter Peter Mayer. The imagery is very evocative of the grandeur of life and the lyrics invite the listener/watcher to consider their role as both observer of and participant in this amazing show of creation and evolution. What do you feel moving for you as you take this in? See below:

Then we moved on to a group read (by the diverse, ad hoc and spontaneously named Regenerative Network Players) of a number of quotes that connect to these themes of networks, life, flow and evolution. People were then invited into trios to meet one another and share what caught their attention in one or more of these quotes and why. Inviting you to do the same:

We are the living conduit to all life. When we contemplate the vastness of the interwoven network that we are tied to, our individual threads of life seem far less fragile.” – Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu’ Kwasset, “She Who Brings Light,” Penobscot lawyer and activist, author of Sacred Instructions)

“Life did not take over the planet by combat, but by networking.” – Lynn Margulis  (evolutionary theorist, biologist, science author, educator, and science popularizer)

“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world.” – Toni Morrison

“We must create civilization(s) for equitable human wellbeing within a healthy biosphere. Since our thinking produced self-inflicted existential threats, the main challenge is to find a practical way to reconcile our thinking with the logic of life.” – all-women Emerging New Civilization(s) panel. United Nations 

“The basic pattern of organization of a living system is the network. Ecosystems are understood in terms of food webs, i.e. networks of organisms; organisms are networks of cells, and cells are networks of molecules. More precisely, a living system is a self-generating network within a boundary of its own making. Each component of the network helps to transform and replace other components, and thus the entire network continually creates, or recreates, itself.”  – Fritjof Capra (scientist, educator, activist)

“Ultimately there is no independent heroic ego, only the collective work of sustaining and evolving life by reshaping the relationships between the community and its larger context.” – Carol Sanford (thought leader, regenerative “resource,” author)

“As we learn to become better observers of our aliveness, we can more fully participate in our evolution as human beings and generate sustainable action or change that is aligned with what we care about.” – Eunice Aquilina (somatic and leadership coach, author)

“Seeing energy flows so that we can engage with them in positive ways is not some mystical, esoteric art, but the role of engaged human beings.” – Joel Glanzberg

“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 (author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader)

From there, we moved into a brief presentation on regenerative networks, with some of the following points:

  • Networks are the underlying structure of life.
  • That said, there is sometimes not much life or liveliness in our human networks, and sometimes they can even become deadly.
  • We might think of many of the problems we face in this world as being linked to the difference (as Gregory Bateson once put it) between the way humans think and the way the rest of nature works.
  • A key going forward is getting back in right relationship with the rest of life, and to align with the processes of regeneration.
  • Regeneration points us to the self-feeding, self-renewing processes that living systems (including us) use to nourish their capacity to thrive for long periods of time, as well as their ability to adapt to unexpected, sometimes threatening, circumstances …
  • Long-term human thriving is rooted in large part in healthy socio-ecological webs that are diverse, intricate and dynamic.

So, we then asked, how do we get back in right relationship with the rest of life, including one another, and our role as stewards in and through our networks? The answers to this question are found in the teachers who are literally all around us, in the form of indigenous wisdom and practice, the writings of the likes of adrienne maree brown, Tyson Yunkaporta, Joel Glanzberg, Carol Sanford, Daniel Christian Wahl, and Sally J. Goerner, and in the living world.

We also talked about how stories can help point us in the right directions, including a growing number of cases of the practices of ecosystem restoration and regenerative agriculture (see below).

“What do these stories inspire in our thinking about how we might live and practice in our human networks?” we asked.

And amidst these stories of regenerative practice taking root and growing in different places, we also looked at how these approaches have impacted individual human beings, their life and liveliness. For example, research shows the following:

With the hope and and excitement that these kinds of revelations generate, we then presented a set of measures and design features that might help cultivate greater regenerative potential in and through people’s networks, with some time to discuss what most resonated:

There was not nearly enough time to process all of this very deeply, or to look at a list of network cultivation practices we had at the ready, but we did hear growing curiosity about what it would mean to intentionally focus on developing regenerative potential at the individual, group and larger systemic levels in a variety of contexts, which has expressed itself in follow-up emails and conversations.

Hoping the same will be the case here, if you feel so inspired. What’s moving for you now?

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August 28, 2020

Reclaiming Context, Connection and Collectivity for Regenerative Cultures

Over the last couple of months I have really savored my reading of Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. Yunkaporta is an academic, arts critic and researcher who belongs to the Apalech clan in Queensland, Australia. His book met me during found me in these times of disruption when I was searching to further disrupt myself and pry open some widening cracks in my older ways of thinking, feeling and being.

It is important to say that any review of the book or excerpting from it necessarily de- and re-contextualizes the content, which is a key point Yunkaporta makes – many people are caught up in low context cultures that are rather disconnected from the specifics of place and community. With that awareness, I wanted to offer some take-aways that have helped me to bring different, more energizing, engaging and empowering perspectives to multiple contexts in which I move, in the event that they may help others make enlivening shifts.

Towards the end of the book, Yunkaporta sums up what he and a number of other indigenous people with whom he “yarns” see as an indigenous approach to engaging with living systems – respect, connect, reflect, direct. He offers corresponding embodied centers for doing this work as: gut, heart, head, hands. He also makes the point that Western colonizer cultures reverse this progression, leading with action and control (direct), and only perhaps later capitulating (respect, or “looking again”), if at all, when things do not go according to plan. This “indigenous progression” aligns strongly with a community of practice of which I am a part (Respectful Confrontation/Fierce Civility), which is based in Taoist philosophy and practice, and invites devotees to lead in grounded and focused ways that put one in right relationship with their (multiple) selves and so-called “others.” I can say from experience that this is a very powerful way to prepare myself for engagement, especially in these volatile and unpredictable times.

Yunkaporta also lifts up what Aboriginal and indigenous knowledge asks of those who are attempting to bring about change in complex systems (all living systems). What he calls the “complexity agent protocols” includes:

  • Connectedness (create bonds to self, others and wider networks)
  • Diversity (respect and engage across difference)
  • Interaction (continuously transfer knowledge, energy and resources)
  • Adaptation (remain open to change, as that is the constant)

This, of course, is the much older wisdom that more recent so-called “regenerative” (agriculture, development) efforts are calling for and building upon, engaging the dynamics of network structures and energetic flows that constitute life.

The rest of what follows is a selection of twenty quotes that I pulled from the book, and that I can continue to read from time to time, to jolt my own tendencies towards complacency and stasis.

“Increase is different from growth, because you don’t want the size of the system to grow, but you want the relationships within the system, the exchange within the system, that needs to increase. And you can increase that quite infinitely.”

“Many Aboriginal stories tell us how we must travel in free-ranging patterns, warning us against charging ahead in crazy [linear] ways.”

“All Law-breaking comes from that first evil thought; that original sin of placing yourself above the land or above other people.”

“Nothing is created or destroyed; it just moves and changes, and this is the First Law.”

“Every unit requires velocity and exchange in a stable system, or it will stagnate – this applies to economic and social systems as well as natural ones.”

“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.”

“People today will mostly focus on the points of connection, the nodes of interest like stars in the sky. But the real understanding comes in the spaces in-between, in the relational forces that connect and move the points.”

“If you live a life without violence, you are living an illusion: outsourcing your conflict to unseen powers and detonating it in areas beyond your living space. … The damage of violence is minimized when it is distributed throughout the system rather than centralized into the hands of a few powerful people and their minions.”

“It is difficult to relinquish the illusions of power and delusions of exceptionalism that come with privilege. But it is strangely liberating to realize your true status as a single node in a cooperative network.”

“There is more to narrative than simply telling our stories. We have to compare our stories with the stories of others to seek greater understanding about our reality.”

“There’s no valid way to separate the natural from the synthetic, the digital from the ecological.”

“Most of us today are living in a state of compliance with imposed roles and tasks rather than a heightened state of engagement. We are slaves to a work ethic that is unnatural and unnecessary.”

“The assistance people need is not in learning about Aboriginal knowledge but in remembering their own.”

“The only sustainable way to store data long term is within relationships.”

“[From an Aboriginal perspective] an observer does not try to be objective, but is integrated within a sentient system that is observing itself.”

“Understanding biological networks appropriately means finding a way to belong personally to that system.”

“Somewhere between action and reaction is an interaction, and that’s where all the magic and fun lies.”

“Your culture is not what your hands touch or make – it’s what moves your hands.”

“Guilt is like any other energy: you con’t accumulate it or keep it because it makes you sick and disrupts the system you live in – you have to let it go. Face the truth, make amends, and let it go.”

“Stop asking the question: ‘Are we alone?’ Of course we’re not! Everything in the universe is alive and full of knowledge.”

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