Tag Archive: Wendell Berry

August 29, 2017

Letting Go for Life, Liveliness and Possibility, Part 2: Steps and Supports

“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.”

–Cynthia Occelli 

Photo by lloriquita1, shared under the provision of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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.

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August 30, 2016

Look for and Leverage Elegant Solutions

“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems.”

– Wendell Berry

sunflower1-500x200

An essay that I return to now and then, including over these past summer months, is Wendell Berry‘s “Solving for Pattern.” Published in 1981, the piece essentially considers systemic approaches to more “sustainable “agriculture, though the concept alluded to in the title has wider application. The phrase “solving for pattern” is an invitation to take a larger and longer view of “problem-solving,” to think about interventions that serve a bigger picture in more sustained and multiply beneficial ways.

Solving for pattern, according to Berry, runs counter to reductionist and mechanical solutions, which lend themselves to more predictable and relatively contained situations. When reductionist solutions are applied to more complex and systemic situations, they are more prone to failure and to exacerbating negative aspects. Real-life examples include:

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April 22, 2015

Network Building as Change: Caring Through Connection

The following is a slightly modified post from a little over a year ago. In recent months, the notion of putting care 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.”

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March 12, 2015

Developing Potential Through Networks

“We add value to society-at-large when we dare to connect.”

Gibran Rivera

This week I was in a conversation with someone who asked me what the difference is between “networking” and “network building.” I’ve been asked this before, and certainly do not purport to have the right answer, but it became an opportunity to deepen the conversation that has been evolving in my work and head about what it means to develop potential through and in networks. Here is what popped to mind as a response, actually in the form of a series of questions

Are you thinking about others?

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February 28, 2014

Networks-as-Change: Expanding Empathy

“In principle, empathy can override every rule about how to treat others.”

-Frans de Waal

empathy

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)

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February 27, 2014

Networks-as-Change: The Empathic Turn

In “networks-as-change,” effectiveness is grounded in affectiveness.

In an essay that I continue to revisit, the poet/essayist/novelist/farmer/ conservationist and champion of overall 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 tendency to despoil landscapes and “the other,” he takes a strong stand for both deep rooted connection and . . . imagination: Read More

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December 5, 2012

The Turn Towards Affection

affection

|Photo by Patrizio Cuscito|http://http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirtaph/2282499034/sizes/m/in/photostream|

I think it could be said that so much of what ails us in this day and age stems from a severe case of fragmentation.  The combination of silos, specialization, segregation, industrialization, derivation (think processed food and “derivative” investment instruments), and abstraction has rendered us strangers and adversaries to one another, the larger systems that sustain us, and perhaps even to ourselves.  Hence the call that you see often in this blog for a more holistic view and picture, one rooted in an understanding of the systemic nature of reality.  It is also what drives our approach at IISC in terms of being more network-centric in bringing about progressive social change for healthy whole people, communities, and ecosystems.  This is fundamentally about work that reconnects us to what matters most.  And to be clear, this is not simply heady work, which keeps our minds separate from our bodies and emotional selves.  Perhaps no one says it better than farmer, poet, and land activist Wendell Berry, who in his recent Jefferson Lecture framed the solution to our current situation with the title – “It Turns on Affection.”  Below you will find an excerpt, that I shared this very morning with the Food Systems New England Network Design Team: Read More

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October 20, 2011

The Pattern of the Whole Thing

“We seem to have been living for a long time on the assumption that we can safely deal with parts, leaving the whole to take care of itself. But now the news from everywhere is that we have to begin gathering up the scattered pieces, figuring out where they belong, and putting them back together. For the parts can be reconciled to one another only within the pattern of the whole thing to which they belong.”

Wendell Berry, The Way of Ignorance

Throughout the past few years readers of this blog have seen some discussion about the tensions that exist between those working on individual behavior/spiritual change and those striving for structural transformation. Read More

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November 25, 2010

What We Need Is Here

Thanks giving

|Photo by adrian valenzuela|http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrianv/5110801617|

Wishing you all a restful and nourishing Thanksgiving, along with reminders of the bounty that may be closer than we think.

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

From Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, by Wendell Berry.  Copyright 1998 by Wendell Berry.

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August 20, 2010

“A Vision”

sustainable

|Photo by The Value Web|http://www.flickr.com/photos/thevalueweb/3706831491|

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.

Wendell Berry

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August 20, 2010

"A Vision"

sustainable

|Photo by The Value Web|http://www.flickr.com/photos/thevalueweb/3706831491|

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.

Wendell Berry

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April 29, 2010

Collaboration for Sustainability 2: Framing

WholeCommunities2

|Photo by Peter Forbes|http://www.wholecommunities.org/programs/|

“To work at this work alone is to fail.”

-Wendell Berry

Picking up from where I left off last Thursday . . .  How might collaboration be a key to making the sustainability shift?  At its best, collaboration is the act of modeling complex systems at work, and with awareness and intention comes critical adaptive capacity.   The goal is to achieve collective and distributed intelligence that can respond in timely ways to threats to sustainability (stressed ecosystems, injustice, etc.) and that can be proactive in creating optimal conditions for future generations to meet their needs.  That’s the ideal, right?  How do we get there?

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