Tag Archive: dialogue

January 22, 2019

Confronting the (White Supremacist/Hyper-Capitalist) “Frenzy of Activism”

“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.”

– Thomas Merton, from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Image from Charles Patrick Ewing, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0,

The quote above has been cited every now and then over the past dozen years or so that I have been with IISC, including a later line – “The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace.” Some combination of these words seem to come to mind and lips more frequently as many of the organizations and networks with which we work are are dealing with oppressive dynamics of overwork and urgency, whether they identify as activist or not.

These dynamics are increasingly recognized as an aspect of white dominant and supremacist culture and hyper-capitalist fervor that reduces many people to “producers” in the workplace and extracts as much labor as they can give. In our race equity and social change work, we see this as part and parcel of the structures that must be named and addressed for justice, liberation and sustainability to be realized.

In a recent workshop with an organization we are supporting through a two-year race, equity and inclusion transformation process, we invited the predominantly white staff into a dialogue circle to unpack their self-identified culture of overwork and urgency, to look more deeply at what they are gaining from this (and who in particular gains most), what they are losing (and who loses most), and what it would take to do commit to creating something different. Here is some of what we have heard, aspects of which are being echoed in various other organizations, networks and communities (curious to know what resonates): Read More

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May 18, 2016

Network Development: Broadening AND Deepening

tree-connected-25793774-pdIn a recent interview with Krista Tippett, on her radio program On Being, the poet/philosopher David Whyte offers up some beautiful reflections about the story behind and theme that runs through his poem “Working Together.” Having been commissioned to write a poem to celebrate the completion of a wildly successful group project, Whyte found inspiration one day while looking out the window of his descending airplane and watching the misty air rushing around the wing, marveling at how the elements of the air and the particular shape of the wing come together to make flight possible. He then rifts on this observation to consider the elements inside of himself, inside everyone, that have yet to be combined, or even discovered, and wonders about the distances that might be bridged as a result. Read More

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April 6, 2016

Peeling Away Layers for Impact in Networks for Change

“If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.”

– William Stafford, From “A Ritual to Read to Each Another”

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A couple of weeks ago I was a participant in a SSIR webinar on network leadership. I spent my air time talking about Food Solutions New England as an example of a social change network that has been leveraging authenticity, generosity and trust to address issues of racial inequity in the food system. In telling the story, I realized that much of it amounts to a gradual process of shedding layers and “making the invisible visible.” Specifically, it has been about making visible power and privilege, connection and disconnection, tacit knowledge and diverse ways of knowing, and complex system dynamics. As a result, many in the network sense we are now in a better position to build from what we have in common, and that it is more likely that the vision of a vibrant, equitable and eco-logical food system will be realized. Read More

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January 5, 2016

Living Systems Lessons for Social Change Networks

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A couple of years ago, I was turned on to the work of Louise Diamond. Diamond has been bringing insights from the dynamics of complex systems to peace building work for many years. Her efforts connect to a growing number of practitioners and thinkers who see the need to approach social change with an ecological and evolutionary mindset. In one of her papers, she extracts some of the “simple rules” that yield core practices for working in this way. Here I have adapted and adjusted some of them in application to network building for change and resilience in food systems. Read More

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December 22, 2014

Making the Invisible Visible

“As long as it remains invisible, it is guaranteed to remain insoluble.”

Margaret Heffernan, from Willful Blindness

Photo by Marie Aschehoug-Clauteaux

As I look back on 2014 through the lens of the work we have done at IISC supporting networks and movements for social justice and system change, one of the most significant themes that I’ve distilled is the value of “making the invisible visible.” This month I’ve facilitated a number of reflection sessions with diverse groups to gauge the development and impact they have felt and observed from our work over the course of the year. I tend to ask people how they see change happening at different levels: self, group, larger systems (organization, neighborhood, community, state, region, etc.). I also like to ask them to reflect via the use of stories, which I find often help to capture and convey developmental processes.

What has come from this sharing is that even though some of the big goals around equity and sustainability remain elusive, there has been movement and a significant part of this development comes down to seeing what had previously been unseen. While the methods for getting to this recognition have varied – from system mapping and analysis to network mapping to structural and power analysis to learning journeys to dialogue and tackling difficult conversations – by creating ample space to see, share and suppose, there has been significant deepening of relationships (to self, other, the work), change processes, and potential impact.

So what is being made visible? Read More

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August 28, 2013

Glimpses of Wholeness

Last Friday, as we closed our joint offering with the Center for Whole Communities, “Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most,” at Knoll Farm, participants and facilitators alike carried forward insights and ongoing questions about what wholeness is and what might help to create more of it in our communities and organizations.  The timing was auspicious as the nation has been marking the anniversary of the March on Washington and reflecting upon the progress we have made towards wholeness as embodied in Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, delivered in a speech 50 years ago today.   Read More

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January 16, 2013

Living Systems Lessons for Networks

I was recently turned on to the work of Louise Diamond by the Plexus Institute.  Diamond has been bringing insights from the dynamics of complex systems to peace building work for many years.  Her efforts connect to a growing number of practitioners and thinkers who see the need to approach social change with an ecological and evolutionary mindset.  In one of her papers, she extracts some of the “simple rules” that yield core practices for working in this way.  Here I have adapted and adjusted some of them in application to network building for food systems change. Read More

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August 15, 2012

Doubt is the Beacon of the Wise

“There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity.”

-Alan Watts

Earlier this week I facilitated and participated in a momentous meeting in one of the state-wide change processes I have been involved with for the past few years.  This meeting featured community and parent organizers, “service providers,” funders, and other educational advocates from across the state in conversation with newly hired state-level staff charged with creating a plan for ensuring greater alignment of state agencies in the direction of better opportunities and outcomes for all young children. Read More

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August 14, 2012

Gathering Voices and Questions

This trailer is from a film about the work of dropping kowledge, an initiative in which IISC’s new President, Ceasar McDowell, has been deeply involved. dropping knowledege “invites you to question yourself and the world around you.” “Every time you ask yourself a question, a new dialogue begins,” and dialogue is a step to reclaiming conversation and its outcomes.

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August 9, 2012

Buyers Are Liars

“Ninety per cent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves – so how can we know anyone else?”

– Sydney J. Harris

Recently I was in a conversation with an acquaintance who is a real estate agent.  We started bantering about houses and communities that would fit our values and lifestyle/family goals.  At a certain point, she said, “You know, we can dream all we want, but as we like to say in real estate, ‘buyers are liars.'”  In response to my baffled look, she added, “Most people think they know what they want, but I find you really have to take people out into the field, ask a lot of questions, show them a bunch of options, and see how they respond.”  Turns out people often end up in a somewhat or completely different place from their originally stated aspirations. Read More

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May 11, 2012

Being and Measuring Whole

They say being a change agent is an inside job.  This summer, we invite you to sharpen your tools and rejuvenate your capacity for leadership through a values-based professional development opportunity in a beautiful retreat setting! Center for Whole Communities (CWC) and Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) are collaborating to offer a four-day residential Whole Measures Workshop July 10 – 13, at CWC’s retreat center at beautiful Knoll Farm in Fayston, VT. Read More

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