A couple of weeks ago I was in Michigan to do a presentation and discussion with representatives from a number of inspiring networks focused on local food production, food access and public health. I was invited by my gracious hosts at the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University to share a bit of network theory, tell a few stories and cover key concepts around network thinking and action to help advance and cohere some of the good work happening around the state.
Towards the end of that morning session, a couple of the participants mentioned that their heads were swimming and a few acknowledged that along with their excitement, they were struggling with how complex and difficult “net work” can be.
I felt their pain and was moved by their honesty, and offered something along these lines, with a bit of post-event embellishment. … Read More
I’ve had the pleasure of supporting some important work happening through The Nature Conservancy’s Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. According to the FAC website, a fire adapted community “acknowledges and takes responsibility for its wildfire risk, and implements appropriate actions at all levels.” Actions in these fire-threatened communities “address resident safety, homes, neighborhoods, businesses and infrastructure, forests, parks, open spaces and other community assets.” In addition, the point is made that every community is unique in terms of circumstance and capacities, so that local action may look different from place to place.
While there may be differences from community to community in the FAC network, it is also united by a common belief that there is need for more of the right kinds of fire that support the regenerative capacity of ecosystems. As I’ve learned from members of these communities, “cool fires” can be used to help build resilience into forests, feeding and encouraging new growth and diversity.This is actually a practice that goes back a long ways in indigenous communities, which used “prescribed burns” to support the long-term health of the forested landscape, to enrich soil, clear pathways for fauna and support biodiversity, which supported the health of their own communities. However, many of these practices were outlawed and the result of the newer management practices was a drop in health of the forests and a rise in vulnerability of those living in or near them. As one person in the network recently put it, they are now trying to “reclaim” fire and “give fire back to people.”Read More
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.”
“In principle, empathy can override every rule about how to treat others.”
-Frans de Waal
Photo by Vamsi Krishna
Yesterday’s post considered the importance and power of the empathic turn in networks-as-change, to ground people in deep connection with living realities, for the sake of greater imagination, justice, resilience and responsibility. Taking cues from experience and the work and studies of others, here are some thoughts for how to cultivate radical “affection” (to quote Wendell Berry) in networks:
Go beyond abstraction to interaction – go to and meet in real places, explore them, consider how life happens there (see for example Story of Place and Heart and Soul)
“Creating a culture of trust in a network can have a big payoff. Why is this so? First, when trust is well-developed in a network, people are willing to get involved in high-risk projects where their reputation and resources are at stake. These kinds of projects usually have a lot of impact. Next, high levels of trust usually make decision making easier and less time consuming. Finally, a culture of trust enables people to accept and work with people who are quite different from them, which increases the number of people working on network activities.”
|Photo by Mike Baird|http://www.flickr.com/photos/72825507@N00/6827018401/in/photolist-bphfHP-ayA7wy-bKZzec-e4iaNi-aaixFs-bKZArr-e58faj-e52zee-e58ah1-e5838j-e586eo-e58cR5-e584Hq-8Wcf9Q-csNfzU-dftPtq-dZTbw9-bWm4ku-d6vnvU-d6vg8U-awDsBx-dz9vRu-7CW4pj-acYjbQ-agyEHk-9XrqN1-9XouvF-9XowsD-9XrpRj-9XrorW-d6vBWJ-d6vpE5-d6vFUQ-d6voKN-d6vJaN-d6vuLJ-d6vRoQ-d6vUZW-d6vxbE-d6vDLf-d6vSBq-d6vvPL-d6vWoA-d6vXLJ-d6vybf-d6vqN1-d6vQrY-d6vGTA-d6vma9-d6vzeb-d6vKqG|
The importance and power of trust in networks for social change cannot be overstated. Time and again, and despite what might show up as initial resistance, being intentional about getting to know one another beyond titles, official positions, and transactional exchanges reaps tremendous benefit, for all the reasons June Holley mentions above and more. Taking time and making space to build trust helps people to do the important work of social change and is in many cases an embodiment of the change we are trying to make in the world – when we expand our circles of compassion and inclusion; when we create new patterns of opportunity, exchange and resource flows; when we see and validate previously unrecognized or undervalued assets.
|The Alchemy of Wholeness by Armanda Moncton|http://www.flickr.com/photos/armandamoncton/1705798622|
On Sunday, Gibran Rivera and I facilitated a workshop at Connecting for Change/Bioneers by the Bay about change practices for a networked world. Another way of thinking about what we were exploring was to put it in terms of “practices for wholeness.” Part of our premise was and is that we are suffering from a worldview that leads with and to fragmentation and fixity. This is part of our inheritance from the industrial age that strives to understand through division and an associated mindset that believes we can make a separation between observer and observed with no associated impact. For certain tasks, of course, it makes sense and is possible to divide, diagnose and put back together. But this does not make sense, nor is it possible, in the case of complex living systems. Furthermore, we have gotten ourselves in a bind because our habits of thought have led us to thinking that the divisions and categories we have created are in some sense primordial. And so we are hard pressed to believe, or remember, that what we do to our “environment” or “others” we do to ourselves! Read More
|Photo by Coach Cassandra Rae|http://www.flickr.com/photos/cassandrarae/4494566573|
“The process of coming to terms with vulnerability is one that necessarily shifts a person’s values focus to one that emphasizes self-transformation and interdependence.”
The word “vulnerability” seems to be up in many parts of my life. On the home front, there is a lot of discussion about vulnerability as being key to building stronger relationships with my wife and daughters. What this generally means is being more in touch with feelings of not being in control, of concern for those most dear to me, and of desiring greater closeness. At times I seem to be good at ignoring these either because I perceive them as painful or inconvenient, and subsequently create a buffer to my ultimate aim which is depth and richness of connection. Read More