Bernie Sanders Proposes To Boost Worker-Ownership Of Companies

Dave Johnson

Businesses are run for a profit that goes into the pockets of the business’ “investors.” To be an investor requires that you have money. This is a rigged system that by definition channels the returns and gains of our economy to the people who have money in the first place.

That system forces a terrible business model: investors try to squeeze money out of businesses as fast as they can. Then they move on. People who put the money in have even more money, but leave behind them a trail of squeezed-out ruin. This squeezing of the business involves squeezing the workers, squeezing the product, squeezing the customers and squeezing the government out of any taxes that might be owed.

This is bad for America’s long-term economy, people, environment and — since it brings about intense concentration of wealth — bad for our democracy, too. But hey, it’s great for a few already-wealthy people at the top.

What If The Workers Are The Investors?

What happens if a business is owned and run by the people who work there, and not by some distant investors interested only in profit?

Worker co-ops are businesses owned and operated by the people who work at the company. Instead of squeezing and draining the company, workers, customers and surrounding communities to provide an increasing return for investors, worker-owned companies have an incentive to be responsible, obviously to pay good wages, to respect surrounding communities and the environment (where the workers/owners live) and to make the business a viable long-term operation.

There are great outcomes for worker co-op workers who get decent pay, benefits and dignity on the job. Employee productivity goes up, and they want to come to work so sick days and other absenteeism goes down. This helps the company, and on a large scale would help the economy.

This idea sounds great, but what are conservatives going to say about any plan that boosts working people? Sarah Jaffe, writing at Al Jazeera, in “Can worker cooperatives alleviate income inequality?”, found a quote by Ronald Reagan praising the idea of workers owning the businesses where they work,

…Gar Alperovitz in his book “What Then Must We Do?” notes that it’s not only the historical left that has touted worker ownership. As proof, he offers this 1987 quote from Republican icon Ronald Reagan: “I can’t help but believe that in the future we will see in the United States and throughout the Western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step, employee ownership. It is a path that befits a free people.”

Enter Bernie Sanders

In December, before he was a presidential candidate, Senator Sanders wrote in “An Economic Agenda for America: 12 Steps Forward”, “here are 12 initiatives that I will be fighting for which can restore America’s middle class.” One was his proposal for worker cooperatives,

3. We need to develop new economic models to increase job creation and productivity. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries, we need to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives. Study after study shows that when workers have an ownership stake in the businesses they work for, productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down and employees are much more satisfied with their jobs.

Sanders is serious about this and had previously offered legislation to this effect in 2012, 2009 and previously. In June 2014 Sanders’ website described the plan for legislation he was introducing with Vermont’s Senator Patrick Leahy. He proposed to get the government involved in starting and maintaining worker cooperatives and creating a bank to fund worker ownership. From the post:

Under one bill in Sanders’ package, the U.S. Department of Labor would provide funding to states to establish and expand employee ownership centers. These centers would provide training and technical support for programs promoting employee ownership and participation throughout the country. This legislation is modeled on the success of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center which has done an excellent job in educating workers, retiring business owners, and others about the benefits of worker ownership.

A second bill would create a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to provide loans to help workers purchase businesses through an employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative.

Conor Lynch explains at Salon in, “The radical Bernie Sanders idea that could reclaim America for the 99 percent,” that short of a badly-needed re-engineering of our system, worker co-ops might be a model for getting past the terrible working situation where companies squeeze everyone and unions are not succeeding in fixing things:

This is where worker co-ops, which could be a major and crucial part of future worker movements, come in. After 40 years of crumbling unions, we can say quite honestly that the 20th century union movement, while it helped pave the way for basic worker rights within capitalism, was only a temporary solution. A capitalist must always look for ways to better exploit labor, or cease to be a capitalist — Marx called this the “coercive laws of competition.” As long as we operate within this system (where the very few own capital), worker gains can only be temporary, before they are lost to technology or cheap labor overseas.

Worker co-ops could provide a new platform for future workers movements. Last year, Sanders introduced a bill that would provide states with funding from the Department of Labor to “establish and expand employee ownership centers,” which would “provide training and technical support for programs promoting employee ownership and participation throughout the country.” Another bill would create a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to “provide loans to help workers purchase businesses through an employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative.”

At AlterNet, Zaid Jilani also writes about Sanders’ plan, in “Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Issues Truly Extraordinary Campaign Plank”:

Today, there are 11,000 worker-owned companies in America, and there are up to 120 million Americans who are involved in some form of co-op if you include credit unions in the tally. By endorsing their expansion, Sanders is proving that his differences with his opponents are not just in style but in substance – providing an alternative to the top-down corporations that run our economy.

Jilani provides the example of about Spain’s Mondragon corporation, which describes itself as “one of the leading Spanish business groups, integrated by autonomous and independent cooperatives with production subsidiaries and corporate offices in 41 countries and sales in more than 150.” Mondragon has 74,000 employees and almost 12 billion Euros in total revenue. Jilani writes:

Within the various units of the corporation, workers decide on the direction of production for the company as well as what to do with the profits. While CEO-to-worker pay ratios in the United States have reached over 300-to-1, in Mondragon the cooperative model ensures that in most of its operations, “the ratio of compensation between top executives and the lowest-paid members is between three to one and six to one.”

Why should our system be designed to work only for the already wealthy and encourage business models that squeeze workers, customers, communities, the environment and our country? It is time to take a serious look at the ways our government could work for We the People by helping us to start and buy out companies and otherwise invest in worker-owned businesses.

Bernie Sanders Proposes To Boost Worker-Ownership Of Companies

Posted in Article | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Blind Spot: Uncovering the Grammar of the Social Field

Otto Scharmer’s blog below deserves great consideration and discussion.  

Otto Scharmer   

This blog is a bit longer than usual. But if you are interested in the invisible dimension of leading profound social change — and in a blend of action science and consciousness to illuminate that blind spot — it may be worth the read.

My father is a farmer. As one of the pioneers of bio-dynamic farming in Germany, he devotes all his attention to cultivating the quality of the soil in his fields. That’s exactly what I find myself doing today, though in a very different type of field. My colleagues and I, along with countless change makers, leaders, action researchers and facilitators, are cultivating the quality of the social field. By social field I mean the structure of the relationship among individuals, groups, organizations and systems that gives rise to collective behaviors and outcomes.

When people experience a transformational social shift, they notice a profound change in the atmosphere, in the texture of the social field. But in trying to explain it, they tend to fall back on vague language; and even though people can agree on a surface description of what happened, they don’t usually know why it happened or what words to use to describe it.

Today, in most social systems, we collectively produce results that no one wants. These results show up in the form of environmental, social, and cultural destruction. The ecological divide (which disconnects self from nature), the social divide (which disconnects self from other), and the spiritual divide (which disconnects self from self) shape the larger context in every large system change today.

The intention of this paper is to uncover the grammar of the social field — the key variables that make it possible for the operating logics and modes (states and stages) of a social field to shift.

The Blind Spot

All human beings participate in co-creating the complex social networks that we live in and engage with. Still, despite the fact that seven billion people are busy co-creating this field moment to moment, the process of social reality creation remains enigmatic because it is connected to our blind spot. Most people much of the time experience social reality as something exterior — as a world “out there” that is doing something to us. That is, most of us are unaware of the process that brings our social reality into being in the first place: the source from which our attention, intention, and action originate when we engage with others and with ourselves.

In this essay, I build on the work of one of the twentieth century’s most innovative social scientists, Kurt Lewin. Lewin viewed the social environment as a dynamic field that interacts with human consciousness. Changes in the social environment affect particular types of psychological experience, and vice versa. In his field theory, a field is defined as “the totality of coexisting facts, which are conceived of as mutually interdependent.” He believed that, in order to understand people’s behavior, one had to look at the whole psychological field, or “lifespace,” within which people act. Lifespaces are constructed under the influence of various force vectors.

Accordingly, human behavior is determined by the totality of an individual’s context. This context is a function of the field that exists at the time the behavior occurs. Lewin also looked to the power of underlying forces (needs) to determine behavior by integrating insights from topology (e.g., lifespace), psychology (needs, aspirations, etc.), and sociology (e.g., force fields).

Lewin’s field theory was groundbreaking in twentieth-century social psychology and action research and led to the development of numerous experiments and projects. Awareness and sensitivity training in T-groups in the 1950s and ’60s, and the dialogue practices, and organizational learning methods at the end of the century, are all part of this lineage.

As I write about social fields from a twenty-first-century perspective, I am able to draw on major insights and sources of knowing that were not available to Lewin when he did his pioneering work — specifically, the most recent research on brain plasticity and neurophenomenology, as co-developed in the work of the cognitive scientist Francisco Varela.

A 19-Point Journey through the Social Field

The 19 points outlined below describe a journey through the landscape of the social field. That journey goes directly to the blind spot of leadership and social systems theory: although we look at what leaders do (results) and how they do it (processes), we are by and large unaware of the source of social reality creation, the inner place from which they (and we) operate.

I begin this investigation from a third-person perspective. Every social field has the following characteristics and conditions:

1. Wholeness. Social fields are whole. Because all human beings are connected, what happens to other people also happens to an individual. This is not only because everyone shares the same ecosystem and is connected through multiple interdependencies, but, most important, because all people are directly connected to one another, as becomes manifest when we enter the deeper states of the social field.

2. Boundaries. There is a boundary between the outside and the inside of social fields and social systems. In a recent workshop that I ran with colleagues from the Presencing Institute, one participant missed a 50-minute mindfulness practice designed to teach people how to connect to their deeper sources of creativity and self. When she rejoined the workshop, she described her recognition of that boundary like this: She said

everyone [was talking] from such a deeper level of flow and energy. I must have missed the most important part. I no longer [knew] how to connect to them.

 
 

3. Interiority. What differentiates social fields from social systems is their degree of interiority. Social systems are social fields seen from the outside (the third-person view). At the moment we cross the boundary between them and step inside a social system — that is, at the moment we begin to inquire into its interiority by turning the camera around (from the third-person to the first-person view) — we switch the perspective from the social system to the social field.

Once we cross this threshold we discover the interiority (or being-ness) of this field — its inner landscape. It shows up in the form of different states that transform our first-person experience along the seven dimensions outlined below (points 4-10).

These shifts are well known by many experienced practitioners, innovators, top athletes, and artists. Bill Russell, the legendary basketball player, wrote about these special moments:

Every so often a Celtics game would heat up so that it became more than a physical or even mental game, and would be magical. That feeling is difficult to describe, and I certainly never talked about it when I was playing.

When it happened, I could feel my play rise to a new level. It came rarely, and would last anywhere from five minutes to a whole quarter, or more… It would surround not only me and the other Celtics, but also the players on the other team, and even the referees.

At that special level, all sorts of odd things happened: The game would be in the white heat of competition, and yet somehow I wouldn’t feel competitive, which is a miracle in itself… The game would move so quickly that every fake, cut, and pass would be surprising, and yet nothing could surprise me.

It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion. During those spells, I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken… My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart, but also all the opposing players, and that they all knew me.

There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine.

 

In the moment that the deeper interiority of the social field opens up, the first-person experience for those inside the field tends to shift. Table 1 tracks these changes in how we experience reality along seven different dimensions that each keep shifting as the degree of interiority of a social field deepens (Field 1-4):

2015-06-06-1433597116-9569640-ScreenShot20150606at9.24.17AM.png

Table 1: Four Social Fields, Seven Dimensions of First-Person Experience

4. Time slows down. Time slows down, sometimes to complete stillness. Many of us experience the slowing down in moments of deep listening. As Bill Russell said:

It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion.

 
 

When a social field is going through this shift, its members move from feeling disconnected from time (Field 1), to time becoming chronological, structured as an exterior sequence of events (Field 2), to time then seemingly slowing down and lengthening, causing one to feel as if an interior dimension of time is opening up (Field 3), to finally reaching a place of stillness, where the whole universe seems to be holding its breath, where one feels that something larger is about to be born and break through (Field 4). In Field 4 the boundary between the present and the emerging future seems to collapse. As Bill Russell put it:

During those spells, I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken… My premonitions would be consistently correct.

 
 

5. Space widens. The experience of space opens up. In moments of profound shifts in group processes, participants often sense a widening of the surrounding collective space, particularly upward. When moving from Field 1 to Field 4, the texture of the social space morphs from one-dimensional mental images (Field 1), to a two-dimensional exterior connection between observer and observed (Field 2), to a three-dimensional social space where the observer moves inside what is being observed (Field 3), to a four-dimensional living time-space in which awareness becomes more panoramic and perception takes place from the evolutionary movement of a social field, where one senses the space of future possibility (Field 4).

6. The self-other boundary collapses. Russell wrote about the collapse of the boundary between his team and their opponents:

It would surround not only me and the other Celtics, but also the players on the other team, and even the referees.

 
 

This dimension concerns changes in our experience of intersubjectivity, which can move from polite conformity with existing conventions (Field 1), to interacting with others by discussing real issues and expressing diverse views (Field 2), to connecting and relating to others with empathy and seeing oneself as part of a larger whole (Field 3), to entering a (sacred) space of silence from which a profound sense of connection and collective presence emerges (Field 4).

7. The self is “de-centering.” The experience of self shifts from a localized center-self (Field 1), to a rational self that is anchored and operates from inside the head (Field 2), to a relational self that operates from the heart (Field 3), to an emerging higher self that is connected to and operates from a surrounding sphere of possibility (Field 4). This awareness is sometimes also referred to as panoramic awareness. Russell seems to refer to a panoramic awareness of the entire field, “including all the opposing players.”

8. Materiality changes form and quality. The quality of matter and sensual perception also shifts. For example, in moments when social presencing happens, workshop participants often report a “thickening” and “warming” of light. In moving from Field 1 to Field 4, one’s sense of the planet evolves: from a perception of absence (Field 1), to an awareness of its function as a resource (Field 2), to an awareness of its function as a living system (Field 3), to an appreciation of it as a living being or presence that holds the space for connecting to our deepest levels of humanity (Field 4).

9. Connecting to Source: rule-generating. Connecting to source, or “presencing,” means being present and acting from a direct connection to our deepest source of creativity and self. Connecting to the source often comes with an experience of a presence that isn’t me-centered but operates through me. Sometimes that presence emerges from a relationship with another person. Sometimes that presence is simply felt, a collective awareness that “sees” us from the surrounding sphere. The members of the Circle of Seven referred to this awareness as “the presence of the Circle Being.”

Our quality of agency can be traced to the source from which social action originates: existing habits and rules (Field 1: rule-repeating), responding to exterior conditions (Field 2: rule-realizing), reflection on both exterior and interior conditions (Field 3: rule-reflecting), or the full presence of the source in the now (Field 4: rule-generating).

10. From habitual thinking to presencing. The quality of thought — thinking — creates the world. As we move from Field 1 to Field 4, our quality (and center) of thought moves from habitual, or the absence of true thinking (Field 1), to thinking from the head by relating to the world as a set of exterior objects (Field 2), to thinking as an activity from the heart that allows us to relate to the world from both outside and inside (Field 3), to thinking as an activity at the source of the social field, that is, from an awareness of emerging future possibilities (Field 4). These four modes of thinking embody four different gateways for connecting to the world: habitual thought (downloading), rational thought (seeing), empathic thought (sensing), and generative thought (presencing).

Our first-person experience opens up when the deeper interiority of a social field is activated or awakened (points 4-10). As we move from the third-person (points 1-3) and first-person perspectives (points 4-10) to an integrated perspective that links the first-, second-, and third-person views, we realize that these shifts have profound impacts on the core dynamics of how social systems show up in the world:

11. Co-creativity. A social field, once its deeper interiority is activated, turns into a generative field that allows its participants to access their deepest sources of creativity, both individually and collectively. The co-creative flow that occurs in generative social fields can be, in the words of cognitive psychologist Eleanor Rosch, “shockingly effective.” As the stream of emergence deepens, the relationships between the parts and the whole, between individuals and the social whole, shifts in subtle ways. In Field 1, the self is at the center, inside of its own boundaries, locked into its current identity. As the system moves through Fields 2-4, the self functions with progressively more open boundaries and eventually from its surrounding sphere.

12. Non-locality. Generative social fields regenerate and to some degree replicate or multiply themselves over time – -often over many, many years; they also transcend the boundary of space by becoming non-local. Being non-local means that, once I have a deep heart-to-heart connection with the other, I can feel the impact of this relationship and its real-time changes regardless of our spatial proximity.

13. Matrix of Evolution. Activating the deeper levels of the social field is like reintegrating matter and mind on the level of the collective. If the collective body and mind are separate, social systems will download the patterns of the past (rule-repeating). When the collective body and mind are integrated, we see the rise of generative social expressions that operate from a direct connection to source (rule-generating).

The Matrix of Social Evolution spells out the idea of moving from body-mind separation to integration. On the horizontal axis we see four system levels of action (individual, group, organizational, and systemic); on the vertical axis we see four degrees of separation between matter and mind. In row 1 we see how the social field manifests when there is full separation between collective body and mind — that is, between action and awareness (Field 1: downloading). By contrast, row 4 depicts how the generative social field manifests when there is full integration between the collective body and mind, that is, collective action and awareness (Field 4: presencing).

2015-06-06-1433597168-4584145-Slide1.jpg
Figure 1: Matrix of Social Evolution: Four System Levels, Four Fields of Operating

What is the independent variable that, if shifted, allows us to change the degree of separation between body and mind on the level of the social field?

14. Consciousness. Consciousness is the independent variable that can facilitate a change in the degree of separation between body and mind (or action and awareness) on the level of the collective. The Matrix of Social Evolution spells out the evolution of social fields through four levels of consciousness: traditional (level 1), ego-system awareness (level 2), stakeholder awareness (level 3), and eco-system awareness (level 4). The development of social fields is the embodiment of a human consciousness that is evolving from ego to eco. Viewed from this angle we see the current global ecological and social crisis as a call to shift our way of operating from ego-system to eco-system awareness.

2015-06-06-1433597220-4288332-Slide1.jpg
Figure 2: Matrix of Social Evolution: Embodying an Evolving Consciousness

Most current systems seem to be stuck on operating levels 1 and 2. How do people shift a social system that operates on levels 1-2 (reactive) to levels 3-4 (generative)?

15. Mirroring. To change the operating levels of a social field, people need a mechanism that helps them bend the beam of observation back onto the observing self. When this happens for the individual (micro), we call it mindfulness. Mindfulness is the capacity to pay attention to your attention. When this happens in a group, we call it dialogue. Dialogue is not people talking to each other. Dialogue is the capacity of a system to see itself. What’s missing in today’s capitalism is a set of enabling or mirroring infrastructures that would help our systems to sense and see themselves and thereby remove the barriers preventing the next round of profound institutional innovation and systems change.

Also missing are micro-level enabling conditions that allow individuals and small groups to go through the same shift. What are these conditions?

16. Holding Spaces for Courage, Love, Listening. In early 2015, we asked the 10,000 plus participants in a global U.Lab (an MIT-sponsored MOOC), what it would take to realize their “highest future possibility.” What would it take to bring it into reality “as it desires” (Martin Buber)? Their resounding answer was simple and clear: courage! Then we asked them what support they would need from others in order to actually make it happen, to make it work. Again their answers very clear: love, listening and trust! These responses from a multi-cultural community of change makers are similar to the responses we’ve heard from others. Profound shifts in small groups tend to happen when the two following conditions are in place: (1) individual courage and vulnerability, and (2) a holding space of deep listening with unconditional love.

Which leads me to the final question: how to build the capacity to shift social fields on the scale of the whole? My father, like many good farmers, attends to the quality of the soil on the entire farm. But in social fields, our cultivation efforts are broken into many small and often disconnected pieces.

The recent rise in popularity of mindfulness practices is a positive development that is beginning to reshape professional practices in education, health, and leadership, among other sectors. In almost all cases, however, we see the power of mindfulness applied to the cultivation of the individual, the assumption being that once there is a critical mass of individual practitioners, they will eventually shift and transform the whole system.

That view reflects a naïveté in the current mindfulness movement; it tends to be ignorant about the collective structural dynamics of profound social change. From the perspective of social fields the essential question is: How can we apply the power of mindfulness not only to the cultivation of the individual but also to the transformation of the collective–that is, the evolutionary shift of social fields?

17. Eight acupuncture points. At the core of transforming the current social field from ego-system to eco-system is the transformation of the economy–and of economic thought. Rethinking the key categories of economic thought from ego- to eco-system awareness includes the reframing of:

Nature: from commodity to eco-system
Labor: from jobs to creative entrepreneurship
Capital: from extractive to intentional
Technology: from system-centric to human- and eco-centric
Leadership: from individual heroism to co-sensing & co-shaping the future
Consumption: from consumerism to conscious, collaborative sharing
Coordination: from hierarchy and competition to co-creative fields
Ownership: from state and private to commons-based ownership rights

Facilitating these shifts in the economy requires a whole suite of institutional innovations. These institutional innovations need to be complemented with innovations in learning infrastructures, such as collective cultivation practices that build the collective capacity to co-sense and co-create.

18. Collective cultivation practices: social field mirroring. To activate the fourth level of the Matrix of Evolution (generative fields) not only requires institutional innovations around the eight acupuncture points but also new learning infrastructures that today exist in part on the micro and meso levels (individual and teams) but that are largely missing on the macro and mundo levels (organizations and systems). Figuring out how to co-create these new learning infrastructures is one of the most interesting challenges of our time. At the MITx U.Lab and the Presencing Institute we have developed and tested several building blocks for such collective cultivation practices, including deep listening case clinics, technology-enabled global stillness practices, and Social Presencing Theater. All three of these practices effectively do the same thing: they activate the fourth level of the social field and then turn that field into a mirror that allows the actors to sense and see themselves from the evolving whole.

In the case clinic, the mirroring is effected through deep listening and then reflecting back images, feelings, and gestures that embody the essence of the case at issue. In global stillness practices, the social field is activated by a real-time global community engaged in a guided meditation exercise: people connect to their individual selves, to the planet, and to the collective social field and then look back on themselves from the perspective of the evolving whole. In Social Presencing Theater, an art form that blends mindfulness, constellation practices, and social science, the generative social field is activated through spontaneous body sculptures that represent the deeper dynamics of the current social field, and then inquiry into the possibilities of transformation. The mirroring in Social Presencing Theater happens through first enacting, then debriefing, and finally reflecting on the deeper transformation dynamics of the social field.

These mirroring processes, by activating the fourth level of the social field, have an enormous inspirational and transformative power. The MITx U.Lab demonstrated that the fourth level of the social field can be activated in distributed social fields on a global scale.

Looking back on our investigation of the landscape of the social field, one question remains: What are its core dimensions? Many years ago, my friend and MIT colleague Peter Senge triggered the guiding question that resulted in this paper when he talked about the split between matter and mind. Ever since, the question on my mind has been: What does the mind-matter split mean in the realm of the social field? Today I believe there is not only one such split, but two. The two splits are represented by the two core axes of the social field.

2015-06-06-1433598305-303790-SocialFieldDrawing.jpg
Figure 3: The Double Split of the Social Field: Self-Other, Presence-Absence of Source (Integration-Separation of the Collective Body and Mind)

19. Two core axes of the social field: collective body-mind and self-other. The vertical axis depicts the body-mind split of the collective–that is, the degree of disconnect between collective action and awareness (presence or absence of Source). The other axis depicts the split between self and other–that is, the degree of disconnect between actors in a social system. Currently, the social field suffers from the combined effect of both splits. Case in point: global climate change. We collectively produce results that no one wants: severe climate destabilization. That’s the body-mind split. Why, then, don’t we wake up? Because at this point the second split kicks in: I am so remote from the people who are beginning to feel the worst impact of climate destabilization that in spite of their suffering, nothing motivates me to move from beginning awareness to action.
How does the vertical split, the split between the collective body (collective actions) and mind (awareness) show up in real life? The reintegration shows up in the opening of the mind, of the heart, and of the will (cycle of presencing). The disintegration shows up in their opposites: getting stuck in ONE Truth, ONE collective skin (us vs. them) and ONE fanatical will — a.k.a. fundamentalism or cycle of absencing.

The above acupuncture points and infrastructure innovations around social mirroring are leverage points for overcoming this double split, for reintegrating collective action and collective mind on the scale of the whole.

The recent results of the global MITx U.Lab prototype in early 2015 and related learning experiences that activate the fourth level of the social field represent a very hopeful beginning. They mark the beginning of a new platform and global movement that aims at integrating science, consciousness, and social change by putting the learners into the driver seat of profound personal, relational, and institutional renewal.

Thanks to my colleague Adam Yukelson for very helpful comments and suggestions on a draft of this post!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/otto-scharmer/uncovering-the-grammar-of-the-social-field_b_7524910.html

Posted in Article, Evolutionary, Opinion | Leave a comment

3 Ways Embracing Curiosity Can Change Your Life

EVER WONDER WHAT CURIOSITY CAN DO FOR YOU? AUTHOR WARREN BERGER LOOKS AT HOW THE TENDENCY TO WONDER IS A SECRET TO SUCCESS.

WRITTEN BY Warren Berger

Brian Grazer is one of the most successful producers in Hollywood, with film credits that include SplashA Beautiful Mind, and Apollo 13, along with TV hits such as “24,” “Arrested Development,” “Parenthood,” and the currently red-hot “Empire.” So what has helped Grazer climb to the top in one of the most competitive industries? Clearly, he has strong creative instincts and a great collaborative partner in Ron Howard, with whom Grazer co-founded Imagine Entertainment. But as Grazer sees it, one of his greatest assets—one that has fueled his success at every stage of his career—is his insatiable curiosity.

“Curiosity is what gives energy and insight to everything else I do,” Grazer writes in his new book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. In the book, co-authored with the business writer Charles Fishman, Grazer explains that his penchant for wondering and questioning has consistently led him to new ideas and fresh opportunities, while also helping him to overcome fears, broaden his thinking, and become a better manager of others.

Who knew a little curiosity could accomplish so much?

Well, lots of people, actually. Decades ago, Einstein urged us to “never lose a holy curiosity,” while Walt Disney proclaimed that curiosity was a key to his company’s success (“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”)

More recently, there’s been a fresh wave of champions extolling the virtues of curiosity. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has theorized that innovation is fueled, in part, by the “curiosity quotient” of innovators. The psychologist Todd Kashdan asserts that curiosity has all kinds of life-enhancing benefits, such as improving personal relationships. Author Ian Leslie’s recent book Curious contends that curiosity may be the “most valuable asset” of any society that aspires to progress and creativity.

My own book, A More Beautiful Question, draws a direct connection between curious inquiry and many of today’s most innovative entrepreneurs and designers. Design breakthroughs such as the Squarecredit card reader, Pandora internet radio, the Nest thermostat, and the business model for Airbnb all began with curious people wondering why a particular problem or human need existed—and how it might best be addressed. In today’s Silicon Valley, coming up with the right curious question can ultimately yield a payoff in the billions.

It’s a great time to be curious, right?

Yes and no. With vast amounts of information at our fingertips today, we can quickly learn more about anything that piques our interest—we can satiate curiosity almost as quickly as it arises. But according to author Ian Leslie, that’s not necessarily a good thing. “By making it easier to find answers, the Web threatens habits of deeper inquiry—habits that require patience and focused application,” Leslie writes. In today’s info-drenched environment, it’s all too easy for a curious-minded person to bounce “from one object of attention to another, without reaping insight from any,” states Leslie.
The key to making one’s curiosity more fruitful and productive, according to Leslie, is to harness it at times: to take what scientists call “diversive curiosity” (a non-discriminating interest in anything and everything new) and apply it in a more focused, directed, and sustained manner; this is known as “epistemic curiosity.”

I FOUND MANY OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL INNOVATORS TO BE PEOPLE OF WIDE-RANGING CURIOSITY WHO ALSO KNEW WHEN AND HOW TO NARROW THEIR FOCUS.

In my own research on innovators, I found many of the most successful ones to be people of wide-ranging curiosity who also knew when and how to narrow their focus, channeling their curiosity in a particularly promising direction. The founders of Airbnb, fresh from design school, were curious about a lot of things, but when they found themselves wondering about a particular question—Why were so many people having trouble getting a hotel bed at peak times in San Francisco, while so many other people around town had empty apartments, bedrooms, or available air-mattresses?—that’s when epistemic curiosity kicked in, as they began to pursue that specific issue and eventually acted on it.

I found a similar scenario at work in many innovation stories. From the creation of the Polaroid instant camera,—which began when founder Edwin Land’s curious young daughter wondered, “Why do we have to wait for the picture?”—to the more recent breakthroughs that led to Pandora and Square, in each case the initial curiosity about a particular situation led to a much deeper dive into the problem in an endeavor to solve it. As Grazer notes in his book, “Persistence is what carries curiosity to some worthwhile resolution.”

That may be the most important lesson to learn about getting the most out of curiosity, but it’s not the only one. Here are three more tips, shared by Grazer and others, on how to tap into your natural curiosity and apply it in ways that can help you professionally and personally.

  1. Use curiosity to broaden your horizons and discover new possibilities. How do you find great problems to solve and stories to tell? By getting out of your bubble and exploring the wider world around you with open eyes and ears plus a receptive mind. There are infinite ways to do this; Grazer does it via his “curiosity conversations.” On a regular biweekly basis, he arranges to have a talk with someone outside his domain (over the years, he has chatted with everyone from Andy Warhol and Jonas Salk to Steve Jobs and Barack Obama). “I don’t sit in my office, gazing out the windows at Beverly Hills, waiting for movie ideas to float into my field of vision,” Grazer writes. “I talk to other people. I seek out their perspective and experience and stories, and by doing that I multiply my own experience a thousandfold.”

I encountered a similar philosophy and approach at work with Ideo creative director Paul Bennett, who travels widely, observes local customs and behaviors closely, and documents his findings in his blog, The Curiosity Chronicles. Bennett told me his explorations of other cultures and worlds provide an endless source of inspiration that invariably finds its way back into his work at Ideo.

LET YOUR CURIOSITY RANGE FAR AFIELD, BUT ALSO KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO DIG INTO A PATCH OF FERTILE GROUND.

Having a broad perspective and a wide knowledge base is particularly valuable in today’s multi-disciplinary work environments, where “T-shaped people,” whose skills and knowledge run wide as well as deep, tend to fare well. In terms of broadening one’s interests and being open to many new perspectives, this is where wide-open diversive curiosity can be quite useful, as long as it’s combined with more focused, epistemic curiosity. Let your curiosity range far afield, but also know when it’s time to dig into a patch of fertile ground.

  1. Use curiosity as a self-motivating force.
    In his book, Grazer talks about how curiosity helps him overcome fear and break out of ruts. “It does that by getting you comfortable with being a little uncomfortable,” he writes. When undertaking something potentially risky, “I try to set aside my fear long enough to start asking questions. The questions do two things; they distract me from the queasy feeling, and I learn something about what I’m worried about.”

In my research, I learned that asking questions of oneself can be surprisingly motivational: Embarking on a difficult task by first inquiring, “How might I actually do this?” can be more effective than just ordering yourself to do it. I also found that asking yourself certain questions can help to overcome fear of failure. Part of the reason self-questioning works is that it sparks your own curiosity—and tends to get your mind quickly working on possible strategies and solutions to the challenge at hand.

  1. Use curiosity to inspire and lead others.
    If you share your passionate interests and questions with those around you, it can spark their interest. We tend to think of curiosity as a trait—i.e., you’re either highly curious or you’re not—but author Leslie notes that is more of a state, and that it waxes or wanes depending on circumstance. Studies cited in Leslie’s book show that curiosity seems to flourish in environments where questioning is modeled and encouraged.

Hence, “If you’re the boss, and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company or your group,” according to Grazer. He notes that a leader should strive to foster a culture of inquiry wherein people at all levels are asking each other questions. “That helps break down the barriers between job functions and also helps puncture the idea that the job hierarchy determines who can have a good idea.”

The best thing about curiosity? It’s contagious.

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3045142/3-ways-embracing-curiosity-can-change-your-life?partner=rss

Posted in Article | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

5 Questions for Gar Alperovitz

by Scott Gast (Orion Magazine)

The Next System Project is an effort to “think boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic difficulties facing the United States.” Can you tell us more about it?

It is increasingly obvious to many people that the United States is in a period of social, political, economic, and environmental crisis. On issues of equality, poverty, racial justice, democracy, liberty, and the environment—just to name a few—progress appears to be stalled, or even reversed. Indeed, in many, if not most, important areas, trends have been getting worse for the past three decades or more. It’s also clear that this is no ordinary crisis, at least not one that can be addressed through traditional strategies. The problems run much deeper, and are best understood as part of a deeply rooted, systemic crisis.

A systemic crisis requires systemic answers, and the Next System Project seeks to begin a serious nationwide conversation about what a genuine alternative system—one capable of sustaining democracy, liberty, and equality within ecological limits—might actually look like.

The Next System Project draws an important distinction between systemic challenges and political, economic, or cultural challenges. Climate change, for instance, is a systemic challenge—not simply a political one. Do humans have any previous experience in dealing with problems like this?

There was a time in American history when significant-scale problems could be addressed within the existing system. The New Deal, the Great Society, and early environmental legislation were major accomplishments that were emblematic of this. Not only has that time clearly passed, there is mounting evidence that the conditions that enabled such advances were highly exceptional and not likely to be repeated.

Climate change is perhaps the best example: It’s a crisis that threatens the very existence of our species, and yet for decades we’ve been unable to adequately confront the threat. We are now approaching the point of no return, whereby some dangerous degree of climate change appears inevitable.

There are obviously no guarantees that systemic change can be achieved, even over an extended period of time. But history is full of examples of people coming together to confront seemingly insurmountable problems and, over time, achieving far-reaching change. Just in recent decades, who would have predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet-style communism? Or the end of white supremacy and the Apartheid system in South Africa? Or the crumble of dictatorships across Latin America?

It’s impossible to know how far we can go toward halting climate change and achieving other important goals if we get truly serious about the sources of the problems.

As you said earlier, “systemic crisis require systemic answers.” Are there any examples of these kinds of solutions in play in the world right now?

Change almost always begins at the bottom. Precisely because of the failings of the existing system, around the country (and throughout the world) we are seeing the steady build-up of new experiments and new proposals, new ideas and new activism, and above all a new basis for hope.

Worker-owned firms, for instance, are taking root in several American cities and regions, many of which are inspired by the Mondragón cooperative network (Mondragón offers an alternative to large, for-profit multinational corporations; read more about it in the May/June – July/August 2014 issue). Likewise, in Boulder, Colorado, a powerful movement to put private utilities in the hands of citizens offers the promise of dealing with local sources of global warming.

Urban farming, regional foodsheds, and food hubs—some with important alternative ownership and operational models—are also proliferating around the country. Socially responsible small businesses are forming and gaining legal recognition, and they’re coming together in political and economic alliances.

The list goes on. All of these experiments and models point to different ways of organizing our economic life, ways that begin to suggest some of the elements of a very different system.

How will The Next System Project weave individual initiatives like these into a comprehensive whole?

The first goal of our project is to help legitimate and encourage public discussion of these critical issues. Many on-the-ground practitioners and activists doing this work on a daily basis have important ideas about systemic change—and especially about how, step by step, we might get to an alternative system from the existing one.

There are also many writers and academics who have developed, or are developing, alternative systemic models. One of the goals of the Next System Project is to bring all of these people together in a discussion about how systemic thinking can influence local practice. At this stage, what we need are many, many alternative views—and a far-ranging and open debate, from which, one day, a truly democratic and ecologically sustainable future can emerge.

How can individuals get involved with The Next System Project, and what should we expect in the coming months?

Going forward, the project aims to broaden the discussion around the question: “What comes next?” We will be hosting a national webinar on May 20th; register here.

Through targeted research and on-the-ground engagement, we are also hoping develop plans to explore how a city, a state, a region, and ultimately the nation might incorporate “next-system” thinking. The goal is informed discussion of concrete alternatives, so that we can radically expand the boundaries of political debate in the United States.

People from all walks of life have added their names to the call for a wide-ranging discussion of the systemic crisis, and for the need to begin to define systemic alternatives. To read our statement on the crisis, and to add your name, visit the Next System Project website at www.thenextsystem.org.

Five Questions for Gar Alperovitz

Posted in Article, Evolutionary, Opinion, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Relearning the Art of Asking Questions

 

Proper questioning has become a lost art. The curious four-year-old asks a lot of questions — incessant streams of “Why?” and “Why not?” might sound familiar — but as we grow older, our questioning decreases. In a recent poll of more than 200 of our clients, we found that those with children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions. But those same clients said that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions. Why the drop off?

Think back to your time growing up and in school. Chances are you received the most recognition or reward when you got the correct answers. Later in life, that incentive continues. At work, we often reward those who answer questions, not those who ask them. Questioning conventional wisdom can even lead to being sidelined, isolated, or considered a threat.

Because expectations for decision-making have gone from “get it done soon” to “get it done now” to “it should have been done yesterday,” we tend to jump to conclusions instead of asking more questions. And the unfortunate side effect of not asking enough questions is poor decision-making. That’s why it’s imperative that we slow down and take the time to ask more — and better — questions. At best, we’ll arrive at better conclusions. At worst, we’ll avoid a lot of rework later on.

Aside from not speaking up enough, many professionals don’t think about how different types of questions can lead to different outcomes. You should steer a conversation by asking the right kinds of questions, based on the problem you’re trying to solve. In some cases, you’ll want to expand your view of the problem, rather than keeping it narrowly focused. In others, you may want to challenge basic assumptions or affirm your understanding in order to feel more confident in your conclusions.

Consider these four types of questions — Clarifying, Adjoining, Funneling, and Elevating — each aimed at achieving a different goal:

W150324_POHLMANN_FOURTYPES

Clarifying questions help us better understand what has been said. In many conversations, people speak past one another. Asking clarifying questions can help uncover the real intent behind what is said. These help us understand each other better and lead us toward relevant follow-up questions. “Can you tell me more?” and “Why do you say so?” both fall into this category. People often don’t ask these questions, because they tend to make assumptions and complete any missing parts themselves.

Adjoining questions are used to explore related aspects of the problem that are ignored in the conversation. Questions such as, “How would this concept apply in a different context?” or “What are the related uses of this technology?” fall into this category. For example, asking “How would these insights apply in Canada?” during a discussion on customer life-time value in the U.S. can open a useful discussion on behavioral differences between customers in the U.S. and Canada. Our laser-like focus on immediate tasks often inhibits our asking more of these exploratory questions, but taking time to ask them can help us gain a broader understanding of something.

Funneling questions are used to dive deeper. We ask these to understand how an answer was derived, to challenge assumptions, and to understand the root causes of problems. Examples include: “How did you do the analysis?” and “Why did you not include this step?” Funneling can naturally follow the design of an organization and its offerings, such as, “Can we take this analysis of outdoor products and drive it down to a certain brand of lawn furniture?” Most analytical teams – especially those embedded in business operations – do an excellent job of using these questions.

Elevating questions raise broader issues and highlight the bigger picture. They help you zoom out. Being too immersed in an immediate problem makes it harder to see the overall context behind it. So you can ask, “Taking a step back, what are the larger issues?” or “Are we even addressing the right question?” For example, a discussion on issues like margin decline and decreasing customer satisfaction could turn into a broader discussion of corporate strategy with an elevating question: “Instead of talking about these issues separately, what are the larger trends we should be concerned about? How do they all tie together?” These questions take us to a higher playing field where we can better see connections between individual problems.

In today’s “always on” world, there’s a rush to answer. Ubiquitous access to data and volatile business demands are accelerating this sense of urgency. But we must slow down and understand each other better in order to avoid poor decisions and succeed in this environment. Because asking questions requires a certain amount of vulnerability, corporate cultures must shift to promote this behavior. Leaders should encourage people to ask more questions, based on the goals they’re trying to achieve, instead of having them rush to deliver answers. In order to make the right decisions, people need to start asking the questions that really matter.


Tom Pohlmann is head of values and strategy at Mu Sigma. He was formerly Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer for Forrester Research, and previously led the company’s largest business unit and all of its technology research.


Neethi Mary Thomas is engagement manager at Mu Sigma, where she leads global engagements for Fortune 500 and hyper growth clients in the West coast. She is a seasoned analytics consultant and P&L owner.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Article | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Flourishing inTolerance by John Scherer

As those who work with evolutionary development tag inclusion as the basic capacity promoting growth, blogs such as John Scherer’s here take on greater import.  cgb

  • Posted on 01.24.15 http://scherercenter.com/uncategorized/flourishing-intolerance/

Several things prompted me to write this piece: An extraordinary client who is one of the most open-minded persons I have ever had the privilege of working with; The aftermath of what happened to Charlie Hebdo and a request by ICF Poland for us to give a 60-minute talk in March- our chosen topic is ‘Working with Polarities’. The connector in my mind between the three things is ‘diversity’.

In thinking about this topic of diversity or and our ability to embrace difference, it struck me how open we really need to be in order to allow for difference to exist and thrive.  It is totally counter-intuitive to respond to difference with some form of defence or attack rather than to see it as part of life. Maybe even better is to look at differences in terms of ‘how we fit in each other’s world’, a lovely phrase used by Joe Sacco, Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/jan/09/joe-sacco-on-satire-a-response-to-the-attacks). My realisation is the extent to which we do not like negativity, dissatisfaction, disconfirmation, dissent. We fear being old, ugly, vile, out of control, lost, impotence.  But nature and life is all of these things so how is it that we have come to this place of denial, fear and rejection of nature?

Our fear of difference is especially true in organisation life- we want conformity, unity, consistency—‘alignment’- as close to 100% as possible. We don’t really want to hear ‘no’ and not too much ‘why?’ either. People who push-back are seen to be difficult and problems to be solved or challenges to overcome. Equally, positive people could also be seen to be wrong or fake. We end up in a blandland of political correctness. I am not sure whether we have yet learnt to give and take, to look for ways to accommodate each other- not yet.

If we were to step back a little and examine our expectations and behaviours, we might start to see that our way of thinking and our expectations are totally skewed, lop-sided and unrealistic! To deny that everything has upsides and downsides is to deny life itself: The yes’s and the no’s; the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. If we follow this train of thought, maybe it is not desirable to strive for 100% employee satisfaction. Maybe indicators of employee engagement is discomfort and controversy and in this environment, we would expect that everyone like some things but not everyone will like everything and there are many sub-groups and interest groups and that ‘majority’ is a warning sign? Maybe a grown-up organisation is one where we willingly give up something so that another constituent can get a little of what they want or need. In my view, this type of give and take is not the same as compromise where we feel we are losing something. This behaviour- of accommodating/ making space/ allowing is a feeling that although we are giving up something, we are gaining something as a whole- because someone else is getting something.

In such a diverse organisation, we would not expect someone else to ‘take control’ because we would understand that being able to balance giving and taking is core to maintaining this type of diverse community. Perhaps we would learn to expect that individually, it is normal we don’t always get our way so that others have a chance to get a little of what they need or want. In such a system, we would have an interest in the overall health and balance of the whole and understand that we are part of that whole and as such, we are always contributing to all as all is always contributing to us.

What is the role of leaders in such an organisation? Maybe leaders are the ones who help us individually and as a group to listen and learn from each other. Maybe their role is to facilitate flow- movement of ideas, information, configurations of people. Maybe leadership in this context is simply practicing and modelling an open mind-space and an open organisation space for everyone and everything to naturally flourish.

Posted in Article, Opinion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Eight Acupuncture Points for Transforming Capitalism

Otto Scharmer  www.ottoscharmer.com

Posted: 06/15/2014 9:05 pm EDT Updated: 08/15/2014 5:59 am EDT

I’m just returning from the annual BALLE conference in Oakland. BALLE (the Business Association for Local Living Economies), is the fastest-growing network of sustainable and value-based enterprises in North America. It was founded some fourteen years ago, but the origins of this networked grassroots movement go back to the 1990s, when Judy Wicks, the founder of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia, decided to source and manage her café 100 percent locally and sustainably, using socially just practices. People loved it and it became a legendary success. But instead of turning her winning formula into a regional or national brand, chain, and eventually an empire, she decided to reinvest her profits in the health and well-being of her local community. She set up a foundation through which she taught everything she had learned to her competitors, using her money to help suppliers upgrade in order to serve all the cafés and restaurants in the region.

That shift from ego to eco, that is, from empire building (which is driving the Apples, Googles, and Facebooks of our age) to generating well-being for all, was the original spark that inspired the local living economy movement in many places across North America.

When you look at the local living economy movement today, it’s remarkable to see how much has been accomplished in just the few years since it began. Making our food cycles more local, sustainable, and inclusive has gone from fringe to almost mainstream in just 15 years. Next up for the localization movement: make investment, manufacturing, and production more local and sustainable (by moving money from Wall Street to bio regions, with 3D printing, etc.). As the Wall Street Journal wrote this week, entrepreneurs are turning to a new source of funding: their neighbors.

What’s next? Fifteen years ago the conversation was about localizing and entrepreneurship. Now these things are going mainstream. So what are the pioneers of the movement talking about now? What is the next frontier? What I picked up this week can be best summarized in two words: broadening and deepening.

Broadening means broadening the scope from buying locally to investing locally, focusing more on policy changes, more on empowering marginalized communities, and more on cross-sector collaboration (linking business, government, and civil society).

Deepening means creating room for the interior dimension of leading profound change: expanding the conversation about transformative leadership, mindfulness, compassion, sources of well-being, creativity, and spirituality. It means asking, Who are we today — and who do we want to be tomorrow?

This interior deepening on both the individual and the collective level is a remarkable development that mirrors a broader shift in society today, where ideas like mindfulness have gone mainstream in health, education, and leadership.

And yet at the same time, we also see the noise cranking up: countries falling apart, fragmentation, violence and civil war on the rise in many places, not only Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine.

The challenge of our time is to stay awake to what is happening around us, while also giving most of our loving attention to the seeds of the future that we want to take root in the world. Speaking of seeds, here are eight systemic areas ripe for reinvention that I heard people talking about at the BALLE conference. In combination, they constitute a set of leverage points for transforming the current system:

1. Place: reinvent how we deal with soil and nature. Instead of treating it as a commodity (that we buy, use, and throw away), treat it as an eco-system that we cultivate.
2. Entrepreneurship: reinvent our concept of labor. Instead of thinking of work as a “job,” think about it as entrepreneurship powered by passion and compassion.
3. Money: reinvent our concept of and how we deal with money and financial capital. Instead of extractive, capital should be intentional, serving rather than harming the real economy.
4. Technology: reinvent how we develop technologies. Empower all people to be makers and creators rather than passive recipients.
5. Leadership: reinvent how we lead. Instead of individual heroes, we need people working together to develop a collective capacity to sense and shape the future.
6. Consumption: reinvent how we consume. Instead of promoting consumerism and using metrics like GDP, move toward conscious collaborative consumption and metrics that focus on well-being like Gross National Happiness (GNH) and the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI, which is now being developed in about 20 U.S. states).
7. Governance: reinvent how we coordinate. Move away from being limited to the old three mechanisms, hierarchies, markets, and negotiation among organized interest groups, and move toward a fourth mechanism that operates through awareness based collective action (ABC), through seeing and acting from the whole.
8. Ownership: Advance the old forms of state and private ownership by creating a third category of ownership rights: commons-based ownership that better protect the interests of our children and of future generations.

If we focused on and advanced these eight key acupuncture points we could begin to transform the old system of capitalism into an economy that creates well-being for all (But what is the animating force that could move this ego to eco shift from small seeds to action? What I saw in the BALLE conference, and what I am seeing in various other places across the planet, is that something begins to grow together that belongs together: the power of entrepreneurship — and the power of the awakening intelligence of the heart.

Posted in Article, Evolutionary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue by PARKER J. PALMER

“…I stand among you as one who offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk. And among these people, if they are faithful to their own calling, to their own vocation, and to their own message from God, communication on the deepest level is possible. And the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech and beyond concept.” —The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton

I met Thomas Merton a year after he died. I met him through his writing and through the communion that lies “beyond words,” met him in the seamless way good friends meet again after a long time apart. Without Merton’s friendship and the hope it has given me over the past forty-five years, I’m not sure I could have kept faith with my vocation, even as imperfectly as I have.

My vocational journey to what Merton calls “the margin of society” — at least, the margin of my known world — began in 1969 when I was completing my doctoral work at Berkeley. As the 1960s unfolded, the academic calling that brought me to graduate school had become less and less audible. Vietnam, a spate of assassinations, race riots and “the fire next time” in several major American cities — all of this had me hearing an insistent inner voice saying, “Your vocation is in the community, not the classroom.”

I turned down several opportunities to become a professor, and in July of 1969 moved with my wife and two children to Washington, D.C., to begin work as a community organizer. No one could understand what I was doing, beyond committing professional suicide. In truth, I could not explain it to myself, except to say that it was something I “couldn’t not do,” despite the clear odds against success. I had no training or experience as a community organizer; much of the work had to be funded by grants I had no track record at raising; and I was an idealistic and thin-skinned young man temperamentally unsuited for the hard-nosed world of community organizing.

Compared to accepting a salaried and secure faculty post, as such posts were back in the day, I was stepping off the edge into “a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk.” Companions would have been comforting, but few are to be found when you go over the cliff.

Meeting Merton After five months in D.C. — when the thrill of my free-fall had been replaced by the predictable bruises, cuts, and broken bones — I walked into a used book store near Dupont Circle. A friend had recommended that I read The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. It was not on the shelf, but in the place where it would have been was another book I knew nothing about: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. I remember thinking, “It’s about a mountain and the author’s surname begins with M. Close enough…” So I bought it. That was early in December, 1969.

Merton, I soon learned, had died almost exactly one year earlier. But he came alive as I read his autobiography, as he had for millions before me. I never felt that I had merely discovered a new author worth reading. Instead, I knew I had met a kindred spirit who understood me better than anyone alive, better than I understood myself, a fellow traveler who could accompany me on the strange path I had chosen — or had it chosen me?

Wanting to learn more about my new friend, I set out to read everything he wrote. As Merton devotees know, this turned into a lifetime project. The man published at least sixty books, and that counts only those published while he was alive: I’ve lost count of how many more have been published since his death.

Merton’s posthumous literary output is, I believe, the first documented case of “perish and publish.” A few years after I began reading Merton, I learned about his correspondence with Louis Massignon, a French scholar who introduced Western readers to the life and work of al-Hallaj, a ninth century Muslim mystic. Massignon felt that his relation to al-Hallaj was not so much that of a scholar to his subject as it was “a friendship, a love, a rescue.” He did not mean that he had rescued al-Hallaj from historical obscurity, but that the Muslim mystic had reached out across time to rescue him. That’s what Merton did for me as I read and re-read The Seven Storey Mountain.

Forty years later, I’m still reading him, still finding friendship, love, and rescue — essential elements in serving as a messenger of hope. Imparting hope to others has nothing to do with exhorting or cheering them on. It has everything to do with relationships that honor the soul, encourage the heart, inspire the mind, quicken the step, and heal the wounds we suffer along the way. Merton has companioned me on my journey and illumined my path, offering life-giving ways to look at where I’ve been, where I am right now, and where I’m headed. I want to say a few words about four of those ways.

The Quest for True Self  First comes the pivotal distinction Merton makes between “true self” and “false self,” which helped me understand why I walked away from the groves of academe toward terra incognita. No reasonable person would call my early vocational decision “a good career move.” But looking at it through Merton’s eyes, I came to see that it was a first step on a life-long effort to be responsive to the imperatives of true self, the source of that inner voice that kept saying, “You can’t not do this.” I grew up in the Methodist Church, and I value the gifts that tradition gave me. But at no point on my religious journey — which included religious studies at college, a year at Union Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion, and active memberships in several mainline Protestant denominations — was I introduced to the contemplative stream of spirituality that Merton lived and wrote about. His notion of the quest for true self eventually led me to Quakerism, with its conviction that “there is that of God in every person.” The quest for true self and the quest for God: it’s a distinction without a difference, one that not only salvaged my spiritual life but took me deeper into it.

“Most of us,” as Merton brilliantly observed, “live lives of self-impersonation.” I cannot imagine a sadder way to die than with the sense that I never showed up here on earth as my God-given self. If Merton had offered me nothing else, the encouragement to live from true self would be more than enough to call his relation to me “a friendship, a love, a rescue.”

The Promise of Paradox The notion of paradox was central to Merton’s spiritual and intellectual life, not merely as a philosophical concept but as a lived reality. Given the many apparent contradictions of my life, nothing Merton wrote brought him closer to me in spirit than the epigraph to The Sign of Jonas: “…I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.” It is no accident that my first book featured a lead essay on Merton and was titled The Promise of Paradox. Merton taught me the importance of looking at life not merely in terms of either-or but also in terms of both-and. Paradoxical thinking of this sort is key to creativity, which comes from the capacity to entertain apparently contradictory ideas in a way that stretches the mind and opens the heart to something new. Paradox is also a way of being that’s key to wholeness, which does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. For me, the ability to hold life paradoxically became a life-saver. Among other things, it helped me integrate three devastating experiences of clinical depression, which were as dark for me as it must have been for Jonas inside the belly of that whale. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was the question that came time and again as my quest for light plunged me into darkness. In response, Merton’s lived understanding of paradox came to my rescue. Eventually I was able to see that the closer I move to the source of light, the deeper my shadow becomes. To be whole I have to be able to say I am both shadow and light. Paradoxical thinking can also save us from the crimped and cramped versions of faith that bedevil Christianity and are, at bottom, idolatries that elevate our theological formulae above the living God. Merton — who had a deep appreciation of Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and Sufism — once put this in words so fierce that, if taken seriously, could generate enough energy to transform the Christian world: The Cross is the sign of contradiction — destroying the seriousness of the Law, of the Empire, of the armies…. But the magicians keep turning the cross to their own purposes. Yes, it is for them too a sign of contradiction: the awful blasphemy of the religious magician who makes the cross contradict mercy! This is of course the ultimate temptation of Christianity! To say that Christ has locked all the doors, has given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is seriousness and damnation, inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved — while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy which alone is truly serious, and worthy of being taken seriously.” —from “To Each His Darkness” in Raids on the Unspeakable

The Call to Community For several years after the 1948 publication of The Seven Storey Mountain, the Abbey of Gethsemani was flooded with young men who wanted to join Merton in the monastic life. Though I came to the party twenty years late, I too wanted in. But I had a few liabilities when it came to becoming a Trappist monk, including a wife, three children, and Protestant tendencies. I needed to find another way into “life together” in a spiritual community. So in 1974, I left my community organizing in Washington, D.C. and moved with my family to a Quaker living-learning community called Pendle Hill, located near Philadelphia. For the next eleven years, I shared a daily round of worship, study, work, social outreach, and communal meals with some seventy people in a spiritually-grounded community that was as close as I could get to my image of the life Merton lived. That image was of a “community of solitudes,” of “being alone together,” of a way of life in which a group of people could live more fully into Rilke’s definition of love: “that two (or more) solitudes border, protect and salute one another.” This is not the place to write about the many ways a decade-plus at Pendle Hill deepened and strengthened my sense of vocation, a topic I have explored elsewhere. Suffice it to say that in the Quaker tradition I found a way to join the inner journey with social concerns, and eventually founded a national non-profit, the Center for Courage & Renewal, whose mission is to help people “rejoin soul and role.” My experience at Pendle Hill also gave me the impetus to take one more step toward “the margin of society.” For the past quarter century, I have worked independently as a writer, teacher, and activist, unsheltered by any institution. When my courage to work at the margins wavers, I take heart in what Merton said in his final talk, given to a conference of monks in Bangkok a few hours before he died. Quoting a Tibetan lama who was forced to flee his monastery and his homeland, Merton advised the monks, “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own feet.” In words that ring true for me at a time in history when our major social institutions — religious, economic, and political institutions — are profoundly dysfunctional, Merton goes on to say: “…we can no longer rely on being supported by structures that may be destroyed at any moment by a political power or a political force. You cannot rely on structures. They are good and they should help us, and we should do the best we can with them. But they may be taken away, and if everything is taken away, what do you do next?”

Wholeness in a Broken World As the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe famously reminded us, “things fall apart.” But in “Hagia Sophia,” one of Merton’s most lyrical pieces, he writes about the “hidden wholeness” the spiritual eye can discern beneath the broken surface of things — whether it’s a broken political system, a broken relationship, or a broken heart: “There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness.

This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans These words, too, have served as a source of hope for me. Once one has eyes to see it, wholeness can always be discovered, hidden beneath the broken surface of things. This is more than a soothing notion. It’s an insight that can shape what the Buddhists call “right action,” if we have eyes to see. Here’s an instance of what I mean. In the early 1970s — as I was reading Merton and learning about organizing for racial justice in a rapidly changing neighborhood — I began to understand that my job was not to try to compel people to do things they did not want to do, such as protesting against unscrupulous real estate practices like blockbusting and redlining. Instead, I needed to give them excuses and permissions to do things they really wanted to do — things related to the justice agenda — but were too shy or fearful to do under their own steam. For example, the people in the neighborhood where I lived and worked had already run from “the other” once, driven by the fear that animates white flight. But in their heart of hearts, they had come to understand that there is no place left to run, no place to escape the diversity of the human community, and that embracing it might bring them peace and enrich their lives.

I knew that step one in stopping real estate practices that manipulate fear for profit was simple: give the old-timers and the newcomers frequent chances to meet face-to-face so they could learn that “the other” came bearing blessings, not threats. But instead of asking folks to do the impossible — e.g., “Just knock on a stranger’s door and get to know whoever answers” — my colleagues and I began creating “excuses and permissions” for natural interactions: door-to-door surveys, block parties, ethnic food fairs, and living room conversations about shared interests, to name a few. Amid the racial tensions of our era, we helped people act on their deep-down desire to live in the “hidden wholeness” that lies beneath the broken surface of our lives. And it worked.

Over time, because of our efforts and those of many others, a community that might have ended up shattered became diverse and whole. Things do not always work out so well, of course. History is full of tragically failed visions of possibility, and the more profound the vision, the more likely we are to fall short of achieving it. But even here, Merton has a word of hope for us, a paradoxical word, of course: “…do not depend on the hope of results. …you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.” As long as we are wedded to “effectiveness” we will take on smaller and smaller tasks, for they are the only ones with which we can get results.

If we want to witness to important but impossible values like love, truth and justice, there must be a standard that trumps effectiveness. The name of that standard is “faithfulness.” At the end of the road, I will not be asking about outcomes. I’ll be asking if I was faithful to my gifts, to the needs I saw around me, to the ways in which my gifts might meet those needs, to “the truth of the work itself.” For helping me understand this — and for imbuing me with the faith that, despite my many flaws, I might be able to live this way — I owe a debt of deep gratitude to Thomas Merton, friend, fellow traveler, and messenger of hope. (I have saved my favorite Merton line for the end of this piece, relegating it to the status of a footnote to keep myself from prattling on about it: “I had a pious thought, but I am not going to write it down.”) This essay appears in We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope—Reflections in Honor of His Centenary (1915-2015) from Fons Vitae Press.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 – 5:27am   BY PARKER J. PALMER (@PARKERJPALMER), WEEKLY COLUMNIST http://www.onbeing.org/blog/a-friendship-a-love-a-rescue/7185

Posted in Article, Opinion, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Eight Weeks to a Better Brain

Harvard  Gazette

 

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/
January 21, 2011

By Sue McGreevey, MGH Communications

Participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. In a study that will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at theUniversity of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind — participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images was also taken of a control group of nonmeditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Amishi Jha, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an eight-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Jha was not one of the study investigators.

James Carmody of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the co-authors of the study, which was supported by theNational Institutes of Health, the British Broadcasting Company, and the Mind and Life Institute. For more information on the work of Lazar’s team.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Leading with an Integral Consciousness Emerging from the Future

 Stefan Peter Goetz: an excerpt from his book   Tools of change

If we want to lead with a 7.0 consciousness emerging from the future, then the time is now. With essence and candor for the highest potential of organizations, employees, our families, friends, and for the greater good, it is high time for us to genuinely reveal ourselves, and to live in a truly authentic way. This calls to mind the evocative quote from Mark Twain: „Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

So how can we connect to this way of thinking and doing? How can we access the tools available to us today? How can we handle the complexities of the challenges we face? Our causal, mechanistic mindset has greatly served us when it comes to modern industrial developments, and has ushered in unforeseen results and prosperity. Systematic thinking, which is inspired from the observation of living beings and organisms, has taught us a lot about important connections we find in organizations. So, in order for us to take the next step, we need to use the very best tools in the shed. With these tools, we can manage complexity, create space for manifesting solutions, and allow everyone who is inspired the possibility to participate in the unfolding of brand-new opportunities. The intellect is perfectly capable of finding quick answers to existing problems, but how will it stand up to the complexity of our world in the future, with all of the unforeseen challenges, the apparent paradoxes, and dualities?

In 1935, Albert Einstein and his colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosendesigned a thought experiment[1] encompassing a paradox struggle that led him to this thought: „God does not play dice.“Which means that nothing in life happens purely by chance. Just imagine how powerless we would be in our everyday lives, how chaotic that would be, and which force would prevail, when we wouldn’t be the creators of our own lives, when we would find ourselves in the middle of our lives unable to influence our own destiny? Quantum physics has taught us that an all-encompassing intelligence can be traced down to the smallest sub atomic particles that can connect to other particles, regardless of their geographical distance. The practice of awareness and observance of “reality” has its own direct effect on our “reality”. Englishman Rupert Sheldrake, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry since 1967, describes this phenomenon as a fundamental morphogenetic field in which we are linked in consciousness to all of creation.

Even if this is only a half-truth, it would mean that we need to leave the linear thinking of the 20thcentury behind, and allow ourselves to access an integral way of thinking which holds the key to discovering answers for our future. The answer lies in the integration of our intellect and our intuition. This can be particularly effective when the will is there to become masters of our own trust. In this consciousness, chaos und change take on a whole new meaning – they become the gateway to a limitless life in the flow. What this means is that when you choose a thought, it will manifest itself instantly in the material world, because it is connected to the universal World Wide Web of all conscious people. For all of the control freaks among us, and those who run behind material goals and put their own well-being on the shelf. For those who have up until now, only really found satisfaction through the approval of others. Now is the chance to get approval from the only place that really counts – from within.: „Happy for no good reason.“ You are your own source of joy and fulfillment.

Posted in Article | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment