March 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing

-T. S. Eliot, Introduction to Dante’s Inferno.


Our friend and colleague Roberto Cremonini recently shared the above quote with a budding community of practice coming together around networks. It is the epigraph to Imagine, Jonah Lehrer’s latest book on creativity.  It seems to make more sense today than ever before.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are social animals.  Makes me think of the definition of Ubuntu – I am because we are.

This science of networks that we keep talking about is not only rooted in the technology of our day but it seems to come from the earliest understandings of our shared humanity.  In our efforts to apply the science of networks to the work of social change it is important to understand that we must pay attention to new structures, new ways of organizing ourselves, new ways of doing our work.  But it is centrally important that we also pay attention to creating new and better ways of being-with one another.

The most powerful networks that I am a part of, like the most powerful networks that I help facilitate, all seem to have this in common.  The role of trust and authentic relationship seems to be what gives these networks their power.  This power is further harnessed by structures that are flexible enough to let it rip.  There are practices that focus on sharing on transparency of information, on sustaining a healthy balance between hierarchy and autonomy.

But I continue to believe – and to see – that the very power of the network is found in the human connectivity among the people that form it, the power of their shared purpose – their shared intention. This is also the space where we tend to find most resistance when we are trying to build a network.  I can never really understand the idea that we’re going to work for social change together and not be in real relationship with one another.  But this is a remnant of the industrial age, and it is still with us.

I actually think that we can structure ourselves in ways that make a relationship more rather than less likely. We can embed practices that build relationship into our day-to-day work.  But willingness comes first, and the question is – are we willing? When we are not willing to do the real work of turning to one another, that’s when even us, those who want to change the world, end up creating a living hell for one another.

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  • In a world where many are excited about the power of networks empowered by technology, I have a feeling that connections are only happening ‘from the neck up’. A powerful network will have our whole authentic selves in it.

    Beautiful reflection, thank you.

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