The Pattern of the Whole Thing

October 20, 2011 1 Comment

“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. The point has been made that both are necessary. The fact remains that we often find ourselves in rooms with people who are essentially on the same side of the issue, but engaged in “tactical sectarianism,” arguing about whose approach is best. We have discovered that some of this fracturing owes to the inability to understand, or the tendency to forget, the nested nature of systems. Change occurs at multiple levels because this is the nature of life. We are individual organisms (made up of organisms) nested within groups nested within communities (ecosystems, organizations, cities, states, nations, bio-regions) of various sizes and formality nested within each other and a global system. What goes on at one level impacts the other levels. To ignore this reality is, well, to be ignorant and to cheat ourselves of potential impact. Being aware of this reality is the beginning of seeing things more whole.

This is the place from which we launch Whole Measures, our joint offering with the Center for Whole Communities. We ask people to locate their social change work within these concentric circles and to explore where they tend to focus and tend not to focus and what the implications may be. The journey continues from that point through other ways of seeing, being, and doing (including measuring) more holistically, on our way to creating healthier communities. If you are walking this road, we are certainly eager to hear your story, and we invite you to join us for an upcoming opportunity to explore further how we might “transform communities by measuring what matters most.”

We will be holding a Whole Measures workshop in our IISC Boston offices and urban collaboratorium from November 8-10. For more information or to sign up, go to this link. And whether or not you choose to join us, we look forward to hearing how you are engaging in the work of creating healthy whole communities.

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