I love frisbee and have for as long as I can remember. Recently, as I was entering into a few weeks of sabbatical time away from work, a friend asked me what I thought would be most regenerative of my mind, body and spirit during this time. In addition to rest, slowing down, being generally mindful, and taking a break from screens, social media and the news, one of the things that came top of mind was playing frisbee. I have memories of my teenage and twenty-something self in utter bliss and a sense of timelessness, hurling a disk across a vast expanse at a corner lot in our neighborhood in Flint, Michigan or at a lakeside park in upstate New York with my dad or a friend, feeling the breeze, watching the frisbee glide and rotate against a backdrop of brilliant blue sky and feeling the grass massage my bare feet as I ran to make a catch. Heaven.
This is a love that I seem to have successfully instilled in my three daughters. And one of them, our eldest, has taken it to another level this season through her involvement in her high school varsity ultimate frisbee team. I have only played “ultimate” a couple of times, and very informally, in my lifetime. Growing up in the Midwest US, this was not “a thing” the way that it is here in the northeast. And it turns out that at the high school level in this community, it is taken quite seriously and is played with great skill. Having said that, the culture and success of the ultimate frisbee boys’ team here has been particularly striking in that it seems so different from what one usually thinks about in terms of high performance athletics. The more I have learned and experienced this current high school ultimate frisbee season, especially in the context of these times, the more I have appreciated what is happening right under my nose, forall that it gives to the teenagers involved and would seem to offer a mainstream culture hurting for lack of alternative ways of being, well, more human(e), especially in adolescent and competitive contexts.
My oldest daughter, Annabel, also plays varsity volleyball, which takes up a lot of her time in the fall. When she got involved in frisbee during the spring, one of the first things I noticed was her overall upbeat attitude and holistic appreciation for her teammates and the ultimate culture. “There just isn’t much drama,” Annabel explained to me at one point, “and people are really kind, supportive and frankly mature.” In a sense, ultimate to her is not just a sport, but a way of life. She went on to explain how in ultimate games there are no referees, that players take responsibility for calling fouls and then talking it out if there are any differences of perspective. I’ve witnessed this a number of times in games and have been impressed that even when there is clearly tension and disagreement, the players manage to work it through – some beautiful self-organization and respectful confrontation/ fierce civility on display!
I also came to appreciate early on in this recently completed spring season, the joy-full, heartfelt, and creative expression that comes up during and around games. After one memorable game, the two competing teams sang songs they had composed to one another, conveying appreciation for the adversary. In another case, after one team scored, the other team gave them a standing ovation as a salute to the level of play and skillfulness on display. In a recent tournament finale, the boys’ team was down a couple of points with not much time remaining and called a timeout. Instead of getting down on one another or into a heated strategic conversation, they played music and engaged in a playful dance circle for a couple of minutes, then went on to win the game. And when someone accidentally hurts someone else during play, they make sure to stay engaged with the injured person, showing genuine care and making sure the person gets the support they need.
The camaraderie and respect on display is really remarkable. The boys’ and girls’ teams come to one another’s games and cheer each other on. “You just don’t see this in other sports at the school,” says Annabel. Each time someone scores from either team there is an outburst of celebration from whoever is cheering from the sideline. If someone makes a mistake on the field they are supported by players on and off the field, and the invitation is for everyone to move on. It is not unusual to see the boys come together in a game to hold hands and take a deep breath together to gather themselves, and for both teams to engage in a mindful moment before a game. Annabel says to me, “We genuinely love each other and enjoy being with one another.” This shows and comes through time spent outside of practice and games building relationships and rapport, including through community service projects. (the most recent being at the local survival center).
There is also a core element of mindful inclusion and paying attention to privilege. The boys’ team recently made the decision not to go to a “by invitation only” national conference because of its exclusivity and tendency to only include mostly white teams and privileged schools. The girls’ team, in light of its multi-racial make-up, has had open conversations about anti-racism and anti-sexism. And there has been an attempt to create across programs an authentic and welcoming community for LGBTQ+ team members, including an open embrace of trans athletes.
One last point worth making. There is a very mature invitation by members of the ultimate teams to take personal responsibility and, as Annabel explains it, “focus on controllables, not uncontrollables.” In other words, to enact the serenity prayer, knowing when to push for change and when to let go and just flow with what is. I can see how this is impacting my daughter and her teammates in a time that begs for this kind of discernment.
In a world that can seem at times so unmoored, this spring ultimate frisbee season and the remarkable leadership of these local teens has given me hope for the present and future.
Much of the work we do at IISC includes some element of helping to develop networks for social change. This entails working with diverse groups of individuals and/or organizations to come together and create a common vision and clear pathway to collective action and impact. I’ve been reflecting on how important it can be to not simply focus on creating or developing networks “out there” and across traditional boundaries, but also “in here,” within different recognized borders.
“When a living system is suffering from ill health, the remedy is found by connecting with more of itself.”
– Francisco Varela
The notion that part of the process of healing living systems entails connecting them to more of themselves is derived, in part, from the work of Francisco Varela, the Chilean biologist, philosopher and neuroscientist. As Varela and others have surmised, living systems are networks, including individual people, groups, organizations, and larger social systems. Furthermore, they have noted that when a living system is faltering, the solution will likely be discovered from within it if more and better connections are created. In other words, as Margaret Wheatley puts it,
“A failing system [or network] needs to start talking to itself, especially to those it didn’t know were even part of itself.”
I find it interesting in the context of social change work to consider how the process of re-connecting at and within different systemic levels can be beneficial to those levels and initiatives as wholes.
The following is a slightly modified post from a little over a year ago. In recent months, the notion of puttingcare at the center of “net work” – to ground it, make it real and people accountable – has surfaced a number of times and strengthened. The original post included the phrase “the empathic turn.” Since that time I’ve come to see “caring” as a more appropriate word, rather than “empathy,” as it evokes for me not simply feeling but action. This re-post is inspired by the activists and thought leaders who are about to gather in Oakland, CA for the “Othering and Belonging” Conference, hosted by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
In an essay that I continue to revisit, the poet/essayist/novelist/farmer/ conservationist and champion of sanity, Wendell Berry, talks about what he calls “the turn towards affection.” Having spent many years reflecting on and pushing back against the unfortunate demonstrated human capacity to despoil landscapes and demonize “the other,” he takes a strong stand for both deep rooted connection and . . . imagination:
“For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it.”
In other words, by his assessment, imagination thrives on contact, on an intimate form of knowing that is not simply intellectual, but intimate and holistic. For Berry it is only this kind of knowing that can lead to truly “responsible” action.
Others, past and present, hold the truth and power of this kind of fuller bodied knowing to be self-evident, in environmental conservation and social justice efforts and in what it means to be a responsible human. Professor john a. powell writes in his book Racing to Justice:
“There is a need for an alternative vision, a beloved community where being connected to the other is seen as the foundation of a healthy self, not its destruction, and where the racial other is seen not as the infinite other, but rather as the other that is always and already a part of us.”
One mantra I have for working with groups is, “If you’ve seen one group, you’ve seen one group.” Part of the welcome and challenging nature of collaboration is that in each instance we are dealing with a unique organism or constellation of human beings coming together to get something done. As complex living systems, groups of people are not prone to simple “best practices” for getting them working in a prescribed way. There certainly are some “promising practices,” including what we teach at IISC in our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change courses. Still collaboration, including the practice of group facilitation, is a heuristic undertaking – an experience-based approach to problem solving, learning, and discovery that suggests solutions which are not guaranteed to be optimal. Read More
“Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.”
– Peter Block
|Photo by Bilal Kamoon|http://www.flickr.com/photos/55255903@N07/6835060992/in/photolist-bpZtvb-8A6i9c-8p2AtP-do8Bez-do8JT3-7RiJTU-ao63dG-7Cjh9a-7Co7Fm-ihgH2m-9dXKU2-bgGa4c-8CkodQ-azGM3y-cBFFBS-8ChFDT-bX6EoZ-fPzNoo-9PBH3p-7GZn1X-9iKHnC-8nxop8-9tQh9o-9tMiYv-9tMj4F-7QpV8y-do8JVU-7Co7vW-7Gh8sv-8qQBZ9-eUDNUt-7Gh3sp-9ESmzs-8nAwhG-8nxom2-8nxonr-8nAwhf-8nAwgm|
Three of our IISC blogger-practitioners have been in conversation about 3 questions they are each carrying with them into 2014 to guide and develop their practice to support social change. We invite your reflections on and additions to these: Read More
|Photo by Manuela de Pretis|http://www.flickr.com/photos/24141546@N06/8559396140/in/photolist-e3n9gw-cTpPPN-d1dvTd-d1dvC9-d1dvto-d1dvjW-d1dvbm-cZuvob-cZunHN-9zX8Sz-ax3pnQ-e4wUZj-eaf1p3-bEqAP4-9zJw2f-brvfdL-bEqguP-brvtTs-bEqo76-8Eev3a-bdwXog-9kfqCB-9HgmuC-7L5k6b-ax9ASs-9Nt9k5-c62iqA-bEqygR-f5eTyJ-f4ZDuv-bEqzcZ-bEqoDB-brvFWY-brvpph-83RYMt-bEqrup-fCnaiV-bEqfpi-bEqkhM-bEqpCK-bEqnBe-bEqkVM-bEqdpz-e46RkD-e46RGP-e4cw9J-e4cwju-e46Sxk-e46Rqx-e4cubU-bEqzCR|
When I take time to slow down, as I was able to do over the holiday break last week, my interest is refueled in practices that support our ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world. My line of inquiry is not simply around what can keep us energized, pull us back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but focused on how we can align our internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way and grow ourselves so we can help evolve larger systems. My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology. Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development: Read More
“Ultimately if we are to avoid failure in the most critical work of this century, the deepest reaches of our beings must be brought to bear in honestly reevaluating and shifting the most basic structures of our society.”
The following is a textual recapturing of a Pecha Kucha-like presentation that I gave at an ARNOVA Pre-Conference Session in Hartford, CT two weeks ago. This was part of a 3-hour interactive conversation, co-designed and facilitated with Dr. Angela Frusciante of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, focusing on the power of networks for learning and social change, primarily with academic researchers and philanthropists.
At the Interaction Institute for Social Change, we are in agreement with Professor john a. powell when he points to the need to consider and make fundamental structural changes in our country and communities for the causes of greater social justice and sustainability. Read More
Picking up from Gibran’s post yesterday and continuing in the vein of follow-up to our LLC webinar on collective leadership, I want to respond to some of the questions we did not have a chance to answer or answer fully from participants, including requests for examples of collective leadership in action and inquiries about blocks and how to work through or overcome them. Read More
|Photo by ernohannink|http://www.flickr.com/photos/ernohannink/3931122112|
Last week’s post on “Negativity and Self-Limiting Advocacy” ended up setting off quite a conversation. In light of that, I thought I might further flesh out some of what Barbara Fredrickson recommends via her book Positivity in a chapter entitled “A New Toolkit.” Here she enumerates ways to enhance overall positivity, and therefore broaden our individual and collective minds, build resourcefulness and resilience, and flourish in the direction of our highest aspirations. Here is what she suggests, based on rigorous research: Read More
Talk of tending to our “interior condition” has been in the air and very active on this blog the past couple of weeks (see “What Love Looks Like in Action,”“Between Hope and a Hard Place,” and “Meditation for the Love of It”). In all of these posts there is a thread that makes the point that focusing on our inner selves, expressions of empathy, and cultivating mindfulness and deep connection to self and other(s) are vital to the work of transformational social change. In line with all of this, I’ve been re-reading a wonderful book that speaks about why and how we should make considerations of our individual and collective interiors central to our work.
Picking up from my post the other day (“Pauses for the Cause”) about the process learnings of our recent IISC retreat, I wanted to focus a bit on the content take-aways. As I previously mentioned, the reason for our coming together as a staff was to revisit and dive into the roots of our collaborative practice: networks, equity/power/inclusion, and “the love that does justice.” It wasn’t long before we were wondering whether these are not more appropriately called the lenses through which we look as we go about our collaborative capacity building and change work. And it did not take long after that for us to question whether the labels we have selected for these lenses are the appropriate ones. I want to spend the rest of this post looking at where our conversation took us with respect to love, in particular.
What’s love got to do with it? That was not exactly our guiding question, but we got there eventually through some of our struggles to reach shared understanding and agreement about what we mean when we say “the love that does justice.” Our facilitator engaged us in writing on stickies short phrases and sentences that explained what it means to integrate this into our practice. The activity yielded a plethora of multi-colored squares that we then organized into themes. Here is what emerged, categorically speaking: Read More