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.”
In sustainable agriculture you hear talk about no and low-till farming. These are approaches that emphasize minimal disturbance of soils to preserve their structural integrity and also to keep carbon in the ground. No-till increases organic matter, water retention and the cycling of nutrients in the ground. As a result it can reduce or eliminate soil erosion, boost fertility and make soils more resilient to various kinds of disruptions. This flies in the face of mainstream approaches that recommend ongoing and significant intervention, “fluffing” soil and digging down to considerable depths to get rid of weeds and aerate the ground. What actually happens can be quite destructive to the long-term productive and regenerative capacity of the soil.
“When we harvest, weed, rake or trim gardens and landscapes, we remove the organic material that feeds the soil.”
Renewal, revival, restoration; spiritual transformation; an aspect of living systems without which there would be no life; a process through which whole new organisms may be created from fractions of organisms; an adaptive and evolutionary trait that plays out at different systemic levels.
Readers of this blog know that at IISC we do not see building networks simply as a tactic, rather networks are more fundamental as structures underlying healthy living systems (ecosystems, human communities, economies, etc.). This is especially true when there is focus on the regenerative potential of social-ecological networks. That is, in paying attention to qualities of diversity, intricacy and flow in network structures, people can support systems’ ability to self-organize, adapt and evolve in ways that deliver vitality to participants and to the whole.
In my conversations with the Research Alliance for Regenerative Economics, we have been developing a list of design principles for and indicators of the human factors in healthy (regenerative) networks. Here is a working list of 12 and readers are invited to offer adjustments, additions, and comments: Read More
“Well meaning people are often trying to solve a problem by answering the wrong question.”
In some cases this is because they have not paused long enough, if at all, to consider the underlying question their efforts are trying to solve (risking “active laziness” which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago). Or, as my colleague Cynthia Silva Parker has said, they are “solving for solution,” essentially promoting and/or fighting over their own preferred approaches. And so they continue to offer the same old, ineffective and outdated, approaches or products. This is especially problematic in a time of such change and flux, when we can’t fall back reliably on what we already know. Read More
“The major problems of the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way people think.”
— Gregory Bateson
|Photo by amazon2008|http://www.flickr.com/photos/21654792@N03/3745280688/in/photolist-6GXxsY-6HCRqv-6L93Kt-6LFLKG-6MN2EA-6MZAwG-6NmnMj-6R9T78-6UuYYo-6VM6LM-6Wp5Qp-6ZcWpt-6ZHMrr-77FoRY-791JEy-79bwHB-7ax4Yo-7by5uN-7eRtnf-7jDnw3-7ohMBM-7qTm6G-9udNCU-bm9Sb8-asJWuq-fKs8H2-7Ayggf-9FUTKz-a5RCkJ-9rzSZ7-dZBjPo-8Hp3rc-bp5GBv-dwmDwx-djnQfa-dWAW1D-8KBQLy-8UdB66-8GFZ2z-7XBigb-8F2Gu4-7ZAMyi-87fnWU-8hZvM3-86ygbJ-81AMAg-9cYH2z-8eHptW-ei6RfC-hbUHL7-bDixAg|
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Joel Glanzberg. I had been hearing about Joel and his work from numerous trusted colleagues, including Bill Reed of Regenesis Group and Ginny McGinn of Center for Whole Communities. Joel describes himself as a builder, farmer, teacher, writer, storyteller, naturalist, and permaculturalist. And I would add to that, living systems thinker. Joel has cultivated a practice of seeing and working with patterns of life’s processes, and helps others to do this, for the sake of creating healthier and more whole communities of different kinds.
|Photo by Derek Keats|http://www.flickr.com/photos/93242958@N00/5975110268/in/photolist-a7117y-emRe8S-dQqpqM-9php24-dQvZtC-8YMYMv-7zavYz-e1zkdz-aLCNuz-9MeCHk-9MfzYB-9MekHF-9Mho3b-89vnnr-9MfG9c-9Mhaow-9D8j3o-9Mehua-9Mh72m-aykWRY-cCSWHs-8MqWXJ-9LFCBt-9MiH7w-9Mh12x-93HasG-azHpQX-aXCs8V-ejaBn1-byQPHp-bkVXyG-byQQ5x-byQPJv-bkVXGC-bkVXGo-a6ZZM9-a6ZZzU-a6ZZqY-8NyJ6R-8NywQV-8NBWXy-8NysTX-8NBpXW-8NC1BU-8Nz18e-a6X98i-a6ZZ7U-8NyEJB-bkVXoL-bkVXwG-byQPMZ|
Edge has its advantages. This is the finding of ecologists and other scientists looking at how peripheral spaces can provide adaptive strength. For example, where different habitats meet, there is considerable fecundity and the extent to which there is more significant overlap there is that much more richness and species able to thrive in more than one setting. Trees make interesting use of edge by maximizing the surface area of their root systems to find and take in nutrients in the soil. We also know that innovation tends to happen where different disciplinary fields meet, and therefore through a porousness and openness to new thinking on the edge. Read More
A couple of weeks ago there was an intriguing article in Next City entitled “The Post-Hero Economy: Learning to Lead Through Networks.” In it, Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz tell the story of some extraordinary attempts to boost a region in the midwestern United States. The focus is not on a leader or leaders, but on a network. As the authors state, “When telling stories of transformation and turnaround, it is tempting to shape them into personal stories about heroes. One charismatic visionary — a mayor, school superintendent, entrepreneur, outraged citizen — steps up and, with unrelenting vigor and inspirational leadership, starts an irreversible cascade of change. But there is a growing body of research suggesting that, as a system or problem becomes more complex, arriving at a solution requires multiple minds from multiple sectors or perspectives.” Read More
|Photo by Kevin Dooley|http://www.flickr.com/photos/12836528@N00/3258088498/in/photolist-5XUycC-5ZvJmF-6gFWtt-6gFWvZ-6gL89J-6Heyht-eafRy7-eafJZN-eaa4RT-9zXw32-9PjRyc-dUBdPR-ePgpZs-bquGjc-e5ErAJ-eiS65F-eiXPrU-eiS5Dk-eiXPfN-eiXP7y-7KUZXR-7KYVF3-7KYY9h-7KYVi5-eak2pE-arc5cE-eafK69-eafK7L-bPDQRR-bswXdc-8WhZdA-8WhXgs-8WeT5F-8WhY57-8WhWxY-8WhXMQ-8WeUqp-7KYZ1N-7KUZiK-7KYWu9-7KYZcA-7KYWd7-7KUYg2-7KUXtF-7KYWPu-7KYZi3-7KYUWU-7KYXPu-7KUZux-7KYTFd-7KUYmi|
It would seem that the only way for our organizations to be of ongoing service to the larger living systems of which they are a part is for them to be adaptive and in a state of ongoing learning and development, to have a fluid state of “fit-ness” and ability to contribute generative value to the larger whole. The only way for this to happen is for the sub-teams and individuals that comprise these organizations to also be in a state of ongoing learning and development. In order to help others grow, we must commit to growing ourselves. The leadership imperative then, is to model a commitment to personal development and to create conditions that encourage ongoing internal qualitative growth. Management and management alone is “horizontal,” over time becomes firefighting, and eventually flatlining. Leadership is “vertical” and takes everything to the next level.
What are you doing to create the time and space for evolution?