Networks for Social Change: Living as Relating

August 17, 2016 3 Comments

Networks, or webs, are core to living systems. Thinking and looking through a network lens can help people to understand the patterns and quality of connection that either make life possible and enable liveliness or threaten life and livelihood.

Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, in their work on “cognition” in living systems, propose that there is no knowing outside of connecting or relating.

“The world as we know it emerges out of the way we relate to each other and the wider natural process.”

In other words, according to Maturana and Varela, it is through connecting and relating that “a world is brought forward.” The quality and qualities of that world depend, in large part, upon how people and other elements of living systems connect and relate to one another.

To this point: I recently had a conversation with a friend and colleague with whom I have been partnered for a few years in some important and innovative social justice work. Having called this meeting, this friend gave me a gift of feedback that for the past several months, I had let our connection go, not tending to it in a way that suggested to her that she and our work together matter. This was not at all my attention, but actions speak for themselves.

I realize now that I had been making choices about pace and space in my life that did not allow for tending to some of what matters most. I thank her for stepping up to let me know, because as she so rightly pointed out, this is not simply about our relationship (which is dear to me) but also about the quality and integrity of our common work (which is central to my life’s work). I thank her for reminding me that:

Caring and connection are both foundational to and foreshadowing of work for  social change, not a sidebar or afterthought. 

How about you? How are you tending to the work of relating in and through your social change efforts? What are you bringing to life, or not bringing to life, through the quality of your attentiveness to connection? What might you do relationally to bring forth more of the world you want to see?

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 03: People hold hands during a rally lead by faith leaders in front of city hall calling for justice in response to the death of Freddie Gray on May 3, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray later died in custody; the Maryland state attorney announced on Friday that charges would be brought against the six police officers who arrested Gray. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)


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