Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
—Seneca, Roman philosopher and statesman
It is a funny thing about our cultural stories. We seem to tell more of them that reinforce our belief in collapsing systems than ones that inspire a belief in renewing systems. Stories of breakdown are everywhere. We find them in newspapers, in magazines, on TV, in movies, and on the Internet. We know that ecosystems flourish, collapse, and arise anew over time. So do social systems. They rise up, become “too big to fail,” and weaken, even as something new takes shape. New beginnings are all around us. Yet they become visible only when we ask questions focused on possibility.
A renewal is under way, a modern renaissance fueled by the passion and commitment of many who have dared to pursue a dream. In communities, organizations, industries, and other social systems, stories of new ways of living and working are flourishing. They are visible if we simply choose to look for them. Some people and organizations are beginning to do just that. And they are sharing the stories, making this rebirth more apparent to all of us, inspiring more of us to engage.
These closing reflections are a call to act. They invite each of us to engage emergence. I offer some suggestions in these final pages for ways to compassionately disrupt, creatively engage, and wisely renew the systems we all share. I end by describing a promising approach for taking our capacity to engage emergence to scale. Macroscopes—tools that make complexity visible—are a means to reach a turning point in the larger emergence we are collectively experiencing. Just as the dashboard on our car helps us to drive safely, imagine technologies that help us to understand far more complex systems, like power grids or the state of health care. Such is the promise of macroscopes.
This book is about equipping us to work with upheaval and change. It provides practices, principles, and questions for engaging emergence. So let us put these notions to work. We can be part of that renaissance. I begin with three requests:
- Be compassionate disrupters, asking possibility-oriented questions and telling stories of rebirth.
- Creatively engage, interacting with people outside our comfort zone.
- Support wise renewal, seeking more nuanced perspectives that help us to see ourselves in context.
We have an important opportunity to shed light on the renaissance that is under way. This renaissance is engaging millions of people around the world. The more of us asking questions that spark possibilities, the more that renaissance spreads. Even as many of our systems are collapsing, something extensively covered by the media, we are in the midst of a quiet rebirth.
We can disrupt our way to a virtuous cycle of creativity and renewal. If you are skeptical, consider these indicators that something important is happening:
- Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming is a testament to what has germinated in the dark soils of despair.1 Hawken describes a convergence of environmental, indigenous, and social justice movements as the largest social movement in history. This movement, he says, is also the fastest growing movement ever, including more than a million organizations from every country in the world.
- A journalism colleague, Deborah Brandt, was stunned when she began researching stories of transformative change. She found hundreds simply because she started looking. She concludes her research: “[C]onsidering the volume of information and activity around this [change] movement, it warrants its own regular coverage. This movement is spreading through every area, including business, educational, economic, environmental, and spiritual development. Futurists tell us that this century will produce change ten times faster than in the last century.”2
Ironically, journalists can start with telling their own story. Journalism is being reborn, grounded in the deep desire to serve the public good that originally drew most journalists I have met into the field. Through the power of technology, they are discovering that it is more possible today than ever before to deliver on their essential purpose of informing, inspiring, engaging, and activating people to be self-governing. Innovations are everywhere. The scale is currently small, but a thousand flowers are definitely blooming. Is journalism fragmented and chaotic? Absolutely. Do we have a clear answer yet? Not by a long shot. But we are learning and sharing rapidly. A viable model will likely be dynamic, be possibility-oriented, and create an interactive relationship between journalist and community. When such a model coalesces, we will wonder how we could have missed an obvious solution.
Having come through the eye of the storm, journalists will be well equipped to share the story of collapse and rebirth. They can help us all to understand how to apply what they learn about disrupting compassionately, engaging creatively, and renewing wisely. Of course, it isn’t just journalism.
Whatever field of endeavor you are in, look around. The seeds are everywhere. Be willing to be the disruptive force in your world. Do it compassionately, of course. Welcome the disturbances around you. Use them to inspire you to pioneer, to engage the possibilities inherent in the loosening of old habits.
The more we reach beyond our usual friends and colleagues to engage others, the more potential there is for creative outcomes. Get curious about something. Ask yourself a question and be playful with it. Set up your own random encounters. Go someplace you don’t ordinarily go. Talk with people you rarely meet. Engage with an assumption that something good can come of it, and seek it out.
Be part of the media. Since journalists are no longer the sole arbiters of meaning, we all have a role in being the voices of possibility, sharing stories of our cultural renewal. In communities throughout the world, both geographic and interest based, ordinary people are becoming a new breed of journalists. They report on their neighborhood or field. Many create online communities that provide a place to get involved. If a place to gather doesn’t exist in your area, start one. Meet your neighbors.
Be a compassionate voice of possibility in settings that are fixated on what’s wrong. You know what to do. Break the habit that too many of us have, of focusing on what’s wrong. Ask some variant of “Given all of that, what’s possible now?”
Cultivate space for creative engagement. Honor different perspectives, seeking their gifts rather than making them wrong. Since we don’t know which interactions will catalyze a coming together, help create conditions for a myriad of encounters. Listen for what is emerging. Revel in being part of the renewal.
If, like many of us, you’re too busy to start something, then look for the opportunities that show up day to day. Negativity and despair are all around. When you hear them, find the compassion in you to engage creatively. Ask a question of possibility. Maybe you are standing in line at the grocery store or in the silence of an elevator ride. When you overhear a complaint, ask a friendly question. Perhaps, “What do you really want?” Or “What would it look like if it were working?” Take a stand for connection in a time of separation. You never know the difference it can make.
As you engage, notice the threads of meaning that surface. Reflect on what has energy, and name what you sense coming together. Seek the simplicity that arises when tensions coalesce into something novel. But be patient. If you’re working hard to find the pattern, chances are it is too soon. Give it time to steep, even if the mystery is uncomfortable. Find something to enjoy about the engagement itself, the creative exploration of possibilities, to ease your impatience. Wisdom has this annoying way of arising only after you’ve let go of needing to know now.
Seek meaning by making connections visible. New technologies are helping us to find patterns, making complexity understandable. Search for that understanding, particularly when the situation is multifaceted or conflicted.
Imagine a map of the million-plus organizations that Paul Hawken names in Blessed Unrest. What if that map lets us see what’s available in our own backyard and how it relates to other communities, organizations, and activities around the world? Suddenly, we have a highly contextualized understanding of how we all fit together and where each of us can make a difference.
The Promise of the Macroscope
A turning point occurs when we experience ourselves as part of something larger. Perhaps our voice rises in harmony with others. Or we have overcome an obstacle because we used our different skills and abilities to accomplish something together that none of us could have done alone. We change through such experiences. They break through habits of separation that keep us fragmented. Our personal stories become a doorway into the universal. We find ourselves undeniably interconnected, even with those we never saw as part of “us” before.
When people all over the globe viewed our world with no boundaries from space, we experienced ourselves anew. For many of us, this first sight of the Earth from space made visceral what we all knew in the abstract: political borders are human creations. We knew we were connected. Slowly, quietly, this insight triggered an unstoppable journey toward a more respectful relationship with the Earth and among people of all cultures.
“The Blue Marble”3
Emergent change processes create this experience of being part of a larger whole for tens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. While it may change those directly involved, how does it scale? How can we reach that turning point with millions or billions of us?
Technologies—from meditation to the Internet—can amplify our ability to sense how we belong. They can help us to harvest the stories in novel, creative ways. They can bring into broad awareness what we are learning about working well with disruption and difference.
Joel de Rosnay, author of The Symbiotic Man, introduced the notion of the macroscope.4 Just as microscopes help us to see the infinitely small and telescopes help us to see the infinitely large, macroscopes help us to see the infinitely complex. Rather than a single instrument, they are a class of tools for sensing complex interconnections among information, ideas, people, and experiences. Maps, stories, art, media, or some combination of them all could be used as macroscopic tools that would help us to see ourselves in a larger context. For example, consider the brilliant use of technology in a baseball stadium. We are able to experience the game from many angles. At a glance, the scoreboard tells us the state of play. Cameras zoom in so that we can see the action not just on the field but also in the audience. Television dramatically extends the reach of the event. And a history of statistics available online lets both professional commentators and ordinary people put the activities in perspective. We can immerse ourselves in the experience and understand it from many perspectives. Imagine applying such thoughtfulness to making the state of the economy, education, or a war visible to us all.
Both microscopes and telescopes sparked tremendous innovation. Macroscopes have such potential today. They help us to see ourselves in relationship—how we fit with each other and our environment. Because this experience changes our fundamental sense of who we are, macroscopes could be instrumental in helping us to coalesce, surfacing wise, shared meaning out of the disruptions plaguing so many of our systems today.
Imagine: What if we could easily see a range of perspectives? More than side A or B, for or against, what does the nuanced landscape of multiple perspectives on any issue—health care reform, abortion, gay marriage—look like? How do different populations, ages, functions, ethnicities look at it? What if we had the tools to make this information visible? Those tools are coming.
In the spirit of the macroscope, people are creating a myriad of approaches to harvesting stories that enable us see how our diverse cultural narratives fit together. These Web sites, movies, games, and other media help us to see complexity. They change our understanding of who and what is outside and inside a system. The tools are young but taking shape quickly.
For example, the Sunlight Foundation uses cutting-edge technology to make government transparent and accountable.5 One project, OpenGov Tracker, aggregates data from multiple sources to make visible the levels of transparency, participation, collaboration, and innovation in U.S. government agencies.6 Imagine coupling the Sunlight Foundation’s database sophistication with the beautiful visualization tools from Digg—a place for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the Web.7
Such tools will challenge us to develop the skills to bring information to life. They will help us to tell stories through which we experience our differences as creative potential for a wiser, more compassionate society. And the time is none too soon!
As change accelerates, we are well served to understand the effect of our human footprint in both space and time. What would it mean if we could see the speed with which we are using the natural resources of our planet? Would we behave differently if we experienced how interconnected we really are? Creating such contextualized views, seeing coherent maps of how we fit together, engages us deeply—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Context helps us to act locally, informed by a higher order and more global perspective. It can also energize us through generating a gut understanding that we are all in it together. The tools can provide faster, more visible feedback loops with which to understand the consequences of our choices.
New forms of journalism and other types of storytellers are experimenting with these capabilities. For example, Minnesota Public Radio created an online game that the public could play to balance the state budget.8 Not only did people learn more about the challenging trade-offs, but legislators were able to see what mattered to their constituents.
The more stories we harvest that make sense of how our different perspectives fit together, the more we start internalizing a “macroscopic” view—acting from understanding the complex relationships that make us a system. We coalesce at a higher order of complexity, network upon network of interrelated individuals who together form a differentiated, yet coherent, whole.
As we appreciate our interconnectedness, our sense of who is our community expands. The conditions for more trust and courage emerge. We act, knowing something about the collective assumptions and intentions we share. We become clearer about our own work and how we connect with others. New insights, partnerships, and initiatives emerge. Ultimately, we may experience ourselves as being of the Earth, not just on it, which would catalyze a radical shift in the story we tell ourselves about our place in the universe.
When we harvest shared stories big enough to contain us all, something quite new will have emerged on this planet. We are calling into being our collective soul so that our many-storied world can find its way, and each of us our paths through it. And a new cultural narrative is reshaping who we are.
Will it be enough? It is impossible to predict. But given that we know what will happen if we continue on the existing path, why not proceed?
So, go ahead. Walk the path that gives you energy, compassionately disrupting as you go. Keep the flame ablaze for what holds meaning as you join with others to creatively engage, even though you may never know all the good you do. Together, we can help wisdom rise anew. I’ll see you along the way.
Simple Ways to Get Involved
Grow your capacity to engage emergence. Keep stepping up your game, with increasingly complex challenges and diverse groups.
Ask possibility-oriented questions. Be a champion for the appreciative. Especially in unlikely places, inquire into what is working, what is possible given what’s happening.
Interact with people outside your comfort zone. Discover how stimulating it is to experience difference. In the process, you may develop some unexpected partnerships for bringing together diverse groups who care about the same issues.
Seek more nuanced perspectives that help us to see ourselves in context. If you are faced with A-versus-B choices, open up the exploration. Seek out other points of view. Discover the deeper meaning that connects deeply felt needs.
Tell stories of upheaval turned to opportunity. Help take to scale what’s possible when you engage emergence. Share your experiences of working with disruption. Explore using tools that offer a macroscopic view to expand your reach.
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