Image by Graylight, used under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
As I was just starting work at IISC, back in 2005, our founding Executive Director Marianne Hughes, introduced the staff to the work of John Paul Lederach, and specifically his book The Moral Imagination. As I recall, she did this as a result of a sabbatical during which she explored the power of networks and of art in social change. These two things show up centrally in Lederach’s work. Lederach has spent years doing peace and reconciliation work in some of the most intense and entrenched conflicts in the world. And he writes not really as a master technician, but as a poet, which is very much by intention.
I thought of The Moral Imagination a couple of months ago, when I began to realize how starved many people I meet seem to be for alternatives to what we currently have as mainstream systems in this country. Many are speaking up against and resisting what is not working, has long been unjust, and is fundamentally sustainable, which is crucial. And in the absence of clear alternatives (see “reimagine” and “recreate” in Spirit in Action’s image below), what can ensue is … conflict. Entrenched conflict, with no creative point of release.
I also thought of Lederach’s book, because he writes how central networks, human webs, and authentic human connection is to the work of peacebuilding and reconciliation. Up until recently I had thought about peacebuilding as a field as having more to do with what goes on in “other places” like Ireland, Sudan, Colombia, Tajikistan. If nothing else, these past couple of years have provided a need to adjust that understanding – peacebuilding is needed at home.
So I’ve been scouring Lederach’s writings, and there is a lot that resonates. Lederach was recently featured on a powerful program of On Being with actress and activist America Ferrera (no doubt another reason he has been on my mind). There is much to say about The Moral Imagination, but for now I am offering some passages and quotes that struck a chord and I’m curious to hear what reactions those reading have … Read More
On the heels of the Hunts Point Resiliency Collaboration Lab (about which a blog post is forthcoming) that a team of us from IISC facilitated a couple of weeks ago, I tweeted the following –
“Change the space, change the conversation. Change the conversation, change the possibilities.”
Without getting into all of the details, by shifting what might otherwise might have been a typical meeting through the use of art, music, tactile objects, intentional arrangement of seating, delicious food, robust opportunities for interaction, etc., those in attendance acknowledged that we were able to get to authentic and important conversations that many had been eager to have. And these have opened some opportunities about which people are very excited.
My almost off-handed tweet was picked up and retweeted by a few people, including Nadia von Holzen, who then put together the wonderful graphic above and put it back into the Twittersphere. I love the enhancement and contribution. Thanks, Nadia!
This is another example of what can happen when you “think or work out loud.” In this intricately connected world, you never know who is listening and what gifts they stand poised to bring to your humble offerings.
(I want to give a BIG shout out to Marsha Boyd for helping to inspire this post with her words and spirit. Thank you, Marsha, for your collegiality, mentoring, and leadership by example!)
For the past couple of weeks, I have been savoring a book by Nora Bateson entitled Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing Through Other Patterns. Bateson is a filmmaker, writer and activist, and also the daughter of Gregory Bateson, ground-breaking anthropologist, philosopher, systems thinker, cyberneticist and author of Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Small Arcs of Larger Circles is a mind-stretching and heart-opening amalgamation of essays, poetry, personal stories and excerpts of talks. Throughout Bateson offers a ranging exploration of systems theory and complexity thinking with an invitation to embrace a broader epistemological lens (what people think of as sources of legitimate knowledge) including embodied knowing and aesthetic experience.
In an essay entitled “The Fortune Teller,” Bateson explores the human tendency to stave off consciously or unconsciously anticipated disaster and decline by trying to keep things stable or as they have been. Think the most recent financial crisis. A recent article on the site Evonomics entitled “It Takes a Theory to Beat a Theory” reminds us of the story of former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, a champion of unfettered capitalism. Greenspan fought against initiatives to rein in derivatives markets even as there were signs of turbulence and calls to make substantial changes. On October 23, 2008, Greenspan admitted he was wrong, making the following statement to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: “Those of us who have looked to the self- interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.” But what has significantly changed? Or consider a very recent article about local government efforts in Ventura County, California to site a new fossil fuel plant on a beach starting in 2020 that ignore protests from organized low-income residents concerned about air quality and lack of access to the beaches, and environmental organizations pointing out the real danger stemming from underestimations of sea level rise.
While in some ways understandable (few of us probably like the idea of collapse and chaos), actions taken to preserve a certain kind of order and direction (not to mention power and privilege) can be particularly perverse when they reinforce the very patterns that are leading us down the road to collective ruin. And what more people are beginning to sense is that many social, economic and political patterns that have been established and gotten us to where we are must change for the sake of long-term survival and thriving. Read More
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This is the interrelated structure of all reality.”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That line is one my favorite lines from one of my favorite (probably my favorite) writing of Dr. King: Letter from Birmingham (City) Jail. It’s always resonated really strongly with me and it was also dated on my birth date, 16 April (I write and think about that speech often). Since I heard it, I’ve really tried to live believe it and feel it. I do genuinely think that deeply believing that idea is our (humans) only hope of getting out alive of the mess we’re creating of the planet and our societies.
Well, last week, I felt that interrelatedness in new way. Normally, I would keep stuff like this to myself, but I’ve found that sharing it has done more good than not. And since my colleague, Curtis Ogden, has introduced me to “thinking out loud,” I committed to start trying it. So here goes.
Sometimes you fall in love with a client. There is a sweet spot where your own heart’s purpose is fully aligned with what your client is trying to do in the world. In that sweet spot they are no longer really a client – you become true partners.
I’ve just wrapped up the contracted part of our work with Urban Bush Women, but I’m certain that ours is a partnership that will continue.
I’ve been doing more and more work with arts organizations lately – events like Creative Change and groups like the Arts and Democracy Project. I’ve been seriously considering the role of the arts in our quest for social transformation, and I have to agree with my future wife, Samantha Tan, who is an artist herself – “We’ve exhausted out left-brain approach, linearity found its limits and the problems that we face are now calling on our full self, art is the way.”
Tomorrow’s post is about Creative Change, the retreat I just facilitated in Santa Fe – the intersection of arts and social justice. With that in mind, and in solidarity with working people who are celebrating Labor Day, I thought it would be good to share the following video clip – an excellent example of creativity for social change:
I know I’m coming late to the party, but I saw the Vagina Monologues for the first time this weekend and I was blown away by it. Rather than writing yet another raving review of what evidently is a deeply moving work of art, I want to make a comment on the movement that it has unleashed.
I saw the play as produced by MIT undergraduate students who did it in concert with thousands of others around the world – I think it most appropriate to let V-Day speak for itself: Read More
I am just returning from two weeks in Europe, the longest I’ve spent there. If you’ve ever been to Paris you know how strikingly glorious it is. Geneva and Amsterdam are also special places, with their own distinctive beauty, their own way about them. While there I had the opportunity to visit some amazing museums and I’m truly moved by the experience.
I’m struck by the thought that so much of the intentional beauty that I witnessed emerged out of social movements, intentional social projects – they were proposals for looking at the world, for ways of being in it. Paris seems to have evolved through multiple story lines about its destiny and its place in humanity. The shift from the art of the Louvre to the modern art of the Pompidou, and the biographical development of Van Gogh’s art all make movement very obvious. We can see the developmental shifts, the exploration, the experimentation and the provocation, the passionate search for meaning or definition, the eternal question. Read More