Networks are fundamental to life, to liveliness and to livelihood. There is growing recognition of this fact. And at the same time, the frame through which one views networks has a lot to say about how one might be living out and into their potential, or not. For example, I still see people a bit enamored of “social network analysis” (SNA) in a way that concerns. It is the equivalent of pinning an insect to a board and dissecting it. The vitality of any living creature does not lie in understanding its “parts” alone, and pinning anything down does not allow “the observer” to see it in action, in its vitality. This is not to say that SNA cannot be helpful, but to keep in mind that anything frozen is not a true representation of life, and that the very observation of something changes it, as in living systems we are constantly engaged in the making “and bringing forth of worlds” through our interactions (see the work of the late Humberto Maturana) .
Which brings me to the use of “it” in referring to a network, or the idea of “building a network.” A network is not simply an it, it is an “us,” at least when we are referring to social and social-ecological webs. And a network is not simply a means to an end, a “so that,” if you will. Networks always “are” in some sense, in light of the myriad and often invisible connections that exist in our world. And as I have written before, the very nature of networks in terms of their patterns of connection and flow, has a lot to say about human and ecological health and resilience.
The use of “it,” which I certainly fall into, can create a degree of false and, in some cases, dangerous separation. A case could be made that much of what ails mainstream society and the human world is a severe case of distance and abstraction. As Andreas Weber has pointed out, this false separation in mainstream biological sciences can lead to the cutting off of something vital – our feelings and emotion! In The Biology of Wonder, Weber makes the case that far from being superfluous to the study of organisms (including social and and social-ecological networks), feelings (and I would add our bodies below the neck), are the very foundation of Life!
Which is why, increasingly, I am playing with full-bodied ways of engaging people in “network ways of thinking, doing and being” – at individual (internal to our selves – yes, we are networks!), group, and larger systemic scales. Whether it be poetry, music/song, meditation, storytelling, somatic practice, there is an apparent need to enlist people in a “poetic ecology” (in Weber’s words) of net work. This to me is key to helping to realize the regenerative potential of networks, and requires dedicated and deep practice.
What changes, what possibilities arise, when you shift towards “seeing” a given network as an “us” and an “as”?
Over the past couple of months I have brought the poem below into a few different gatherings. Amidst flux, uncertainty, volatility, and pending collapse, it can be difficult to figure out how to orient, what to hold onto. So leave it to the poets to throw us a life line. Or in this case a thread.
William Stafford is a source of consistent solace and sanity to me, and “The Way It Is” I have found particularly grounding …
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Colleagues and I have used this as an opening check-in with various groups and then invited people to name their thread. Here is some of what has come up:
People, those that I care for and who care or me.
The moral arc that bends towards justice.
Courage to hold on to what is possible.
The fire of passion.
Love, love and love.
What is the thread you hold that guides and grounds you in these times?
“Words are how we think, stories are how we link.”
– Christina Baldwin
Last week I had the privilege of facilitating a two-day Network Learning Lab for a remarkable group of conservation leaders and network weavers. I co-designed the session with Olivia Millard and Amanda Wrona of The Nature Conservancy (and at the instigation of Lynn Decker of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network) to connect and strengthen the capacity of those working at the intersection of ecosystem health and human/community development while building networks at local, state, regional, national and global levels. Our design was informed by input given by the participating network weavers themselves about their core challenges and learning objectives, while leaving room for the unexpected – enough spaciousness for the network magic of emergence to happen.
As with other network leadership institutes that we at IISC have had a hand in designing and facilitating, the experience last week had as its foundation plenty of opportunities for the cohort to authentically connect, to get to know one another on both professional and personal levels. And as with both leadership development sessions and ongoing network development initiatives that we support, we turned to storytelling as a way to create bonds and understanding. This included time for the participants to tell brief stories about their networks, doing so in 5 minute informal bursts sprinkled throughout the two days (which could also have been done as Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentations). The intent was to create a bit more understanding of what might make each network unique in its aspirations, attributes and accomplishments and to whet people’s appetites for further conversation at breaks, meals and into the evening.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Maya Angelou
We also set up a couple of exercises within the first hour of the lab for people to hear more about one another’s paths to the work they currently do, not by ticking off their resumes, but by telling stories about what happened to and moved them to be where they are now. Time and again, when I facilitate this kind of exercise, it shifts the tone of the gathering in the direction of greater openness and trust. And as we touched on in our debrief of those exercises, inviting that kind of storytelling into our work can send a signal about what is validated with respect to forms of knowing, expression and parts of ourselves to bring to the table. Along these lines, we also drew from poetry and other forms of creative expression, including a stanza from a favorite William Stafford piece, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” which, to me, gets at the heart of network building … Read More
During virtual meetings with the groups and networks we support at IISC, a regular practice is to begin each call with a personal check-in and often an offering of some kind (poem, quote, video). We do this to set a tone for our meetings, to hear and honor each and everyone’s voice, and to move beyond “business as usual,” which can take the form of a certain kind of doing (“getting down to business”) that may not make room for relationship-building and tapping into other sources of support and inspiration for collective and long-term work.
On a recent IISC staff call, a few of us noted that in recent months many of those with whom we work seem to really crave these check-in times and are willing and even eager to spend more time there, hearing from one another and soaking in the exchange. I was particularly struck by a call last week with the leadership team of a national advocacy network and both the quality of and appreciation for what was shared. Our check-in question was “What did you get from your break that you are bringing into 2018?” As each person shared, there was a palpable sense of tuning in to and gratitude for one another. I had taken notes of the check-ins as they were happening and was contemplating what might be done with them beyond that time of sharing when one of the team members shared the following poem via email, comprised of a mash-up of the various answers:
Uncompromising fierce love of babies
Glittering opportunities for happy hospitality
Calling things what they are
Seeking power out of loss
Listening with attention
Fighting back with sincerity and strength
Focused energy and collective emotional health for real change
Prompting rest and relaxation and playfulness
As I read these lines, I was reminded of the poet Elizabeth Alexander’s observation that what many of us crave in these challenging times is nothing short of “radiance,” “words that shimmer,” and “light in the spiritual darkness.” It was inspiring to see how this light was shared, passed from one to another and grew during our call.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
In the late spring, we had an unseasonably sticky stretch of days where I live, and after school one day, my wife and I took our girls to a local swim hole to cool down. As we eased into the cold water, one of our seven-year-old twins clutched desperately to my torso, not yet willing to put more than a toe or foot in. As the sun beat down, I began to feel both the weight of her body and the ebb of my patience, and I managed to negotiate her to a standing position in water that came to her waist. She continued to clutch my arm vice-like with both of her hands.
After another few minutes it was definitely time for me to go under water. But Maddie was unwilling to release me. I continued to encourage her to let go first, to get her head and shoulders wet. Initially totally reluctant, she got to a point where she was in just up to her neck but was still anxiously squeezing my hand. We did a bit of a dance for a few minutes where she would get to the end of my finger tips with her right hand, seemingly ready to take the plunge, and then the same part-anticipatory part-terrorized expression came to her face and she was back against me.
I kept coaxing her, and then let her know that whether she let go or not, I was going under, and if she was still holding on to me, that she would be doing the same. “Okay, okay!” she yelled, stamping her feet and once again got to the tips of my fingers while breathing rapidly. And this time … she let go. She pushed off and immersed her entire body in the water. She came up shrieking but with a big smile on her face, a bit shocked but also more at home in the water, moving around quite gracefully, actually. She splashed me and laughed and then I dived in. A few minutes later she was swimming along next to me.
I have a practice in most of the networks and collective impact efforts I support, which is to offer poetry at the opening and closing of convenings. I’m struck by how impactful and important people have said this can be for them. In fact, just recently a very well-respected member of the public health community was compelled to say that this is exactly what is missing from the movement, more poetry and artistic expression!
Check out the ways that love of her many identities frees up spoken word artist Jamila Lyiscott to be her full self. She reminds us that a full, loving embrace of yourself and your cultures enables others to see you more fully and embrace all of your cultures, while it makes space for others to do the same for themselves. That’s change making at a personal level that can radiate outward to the entire community. Read More
Kate Tempest and this video were brought to my attention by Tom Kelly of the Sustainability Institute at UNH when he presented Tempest’s work as an “offering,” a ritual opening and closing we use in our meetings of the Food Solutions New England Network Team meetings. It was certainly apt as we were talking about what it means to “put ourselves out there” on various fronts, to enter new territory with one another as we collectively push forward the conversation about New England creating a more just and sustainable regional food system.
I appreciate Tempest putting herself out there in general as a young artist, and this particular poetic rendering of the Icarus tale that suggests the young ambitious man’s “fall” provides lessons for the collective advancement of those whose feet have not “kicked the clouds.” Celebrating boldness and reaching new heights . . .
The research on the role of gratitude in supporting social resilience and thriving is quite compelling. According to the Greater Good Science Center, those who have a higher gratitude quotient or a regular practice of listing and thinking about gratitudes have been shown to experience the most significant boosts in happiness and fewer bouts of illness, have stronger social bonds in one-on-one relationships and with communities, and tend to be more generous. Connected to a host of other related positive emotions, gratitude is also shown to boost people’s willingness to reach out and connect with others, including across lines of difference, to see possibility more expansively, and to maintain a general spirit of openness. What’s not to like about gratitude?
Now imagine gratitude for one multiplied many times over in an ecosystem of social interactions and connections – that is, in a network. Read More
In our collaborative capacity and network development work at IISC, there is considerable complexity to hold. This can create quite a mental exercise for everyone involved – What is the system we are trying to develop/problem we are trying to solve? What are the contributing factors? What is our desired future state? Who should be at the table? What are the systemic leverage points and associated strategies? Etc.
This is necessary work, and it can become incomplete or rather one dimensional when it only taps some of our collective faculties. Read More
|Photo by Ace Abendale Rothschild-Faber |http://www.flickr.com/photos/50809036@N02/5282577422/in/photolist-93NAe5-bATUbs-gV4zgZ-8pZXib-aajHgz-aaxd1T-bES8E1-aeZsVL-adC7oV-9ZbeNe-d6jhdm-aE8uVX-8ocwaF-a6Y5uR-7G2gQK-7Awvkg-93ruBR-bELXgv-8WABY3-8WxxEt-8E1NsT-8YsvVZ-93XFRM-bgKVuk-9JB9Ue-bdAYXM-d6jeZN-d6jePW-9hccxc-d6jh4s-8mraY5-dAkbkS-84LPQd-84HGNZ-84LPP7-9bALtz|
In the regional food system network development that IISC has been supporting, we have been making a habit of building certain rituals into our meetings. One is to invite offerings of various kinds to open and close meetings, an opportunity for people to share what matters most to them and bring more of what moves them to the conversation. The following poem has been making the rounds, and has become a favorite for some of the universals it seems to invoke. Wishing you all a deeply nourishing Thanksgiving. Read More
|Photo by Britt Reints|http://www.flickr.com/photos/23724661@N00/8672736002/in/photolist-edo3g5-bLLq6D-9TNBMk-9K8JD7-877WgZ-87b9gq-87b9J9-87b8db-87b9Zd-877WJK-87bai7-8yUg5m-aBjCdA-cZRB4S-dZibct-bdNMCr-7UxW4y-9TNCwM-9KfTc9-7CXm6D-djaFhx-7NCbqY-fm2CKt-fUCwSF-a7ofHQ-7Za1Bg-dsQ3GS-bqCBEg-8T3Hzn-cRpQcA-djaFet-e3RwjX-9KY7rx-atQEAm-7yZwfM-7yXPYm-84QSeo-cnHVSd-axtohs-8PDUBW-7Nyd36-cu1VmW-9acyQz-dDK9E9-dDK9Hd-9pUsHG-a64ak1-7RfDxU-fCPjk6-9VpVpq-85UK7p|
With appreciations to Carole Martin for passing this along, I wanted to offer this poem as a reminder of the important role of listening in helping to create trust and grounded-ness in the work of social change . . .
Finding What You Didn’t Lose
When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water. Read More