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Study Notes: Turning to One Another

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Margaret J. Wheatley, Turning to One Another (2002)
1.  Turning to One Another
2.  A Place to Pause and Reflect
3.  Conversation Starters
1.  Turning to One Another
    I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate, or public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.
    Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change -- personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change. 
    For as long as we've been around as humans, as wandering bands of nomads or cave dwellers, we have sat together and shared experiences.
    We have never wanted to be alone. But today, we are alone. We are more fragmented and isolated from one another than ever before. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it as "a radical brokenness in all of existence." We move at frantic speed, spinning out into greater isolation. We seek consolation in everything except each other. The entire world seems hypnotized in the wrong direction -- encouraging us to love things rather than people, to embrace everything new without noticing what's lost or wrong, to choose fear instead of peace. We promise ourselves everything except each other. We've forgotten the source of true contentment and well-being.
    The simplest way to begin finding each other again is to start talking about what we care about. If we could stop ignoring each other, stop engaging in fear-filled gossip, what might we discover?
    Conversation takes time. We need time to sit together, to listen, to worry and dream together. As this age of turmoil tears us apart, we need to reclaim time to be together. Otherwise, we cannot stop the fragmentation.
    And we need to be able to talk with those we have named "enemy".
    I hope we can reclaim conversation as our route back to each other, and as the path forward to a hopeful future. It requires imagination, courage, and faith. These are qualities possessed by everyone. Now is the time to exercise them to their fullest. 
    Why I wrote this book
    Nature organizes much more effectively than we humans do, and quite differently. For example, life works cooperatively, not competitively, in networks of relationships where each depends on the other. I have found life to be the best teacher for the dilemmas of these times.
    Working in the world, I've grown increasingly distressed. Especially in the last few years, things clearly are not going right. Good people are finding it increasingly difficult to do what they know is best. Whether we're in a small village or a major global corporation, in any country and in any type of work, we are being asked to work faster, more competitively, more selfishly -- and to focus only on the short-term. These values cannot lead to anything healthy and sustainable, and they are alarmingly destructive. Even though life is our best teacher, we're not learning her lessons. I believe we must learn quickly now how to work and live together in ways that bring us back to life.
    It is an increasing dark time. It is difficult to do good and lasting work. It is seemingly impossible to create healthy change. We may feel distressed, overwhelmed, numbed, and afraid. But beneath these feelings, ... interestingly different appearances are based on the same human desire for learning, freedom, meaning, and love.
    What's truly hopeful is that we already have the means to evoke more goodness from one another. I have witnessed the astonishing power of good listening and the healing available when someone gives voice to their experience.
    I also have learned that when we begin listening to each other, and when we talk about things that matter to us, the world begins to change. ... all change, even very large and powerful change, begins when a few people start talking with one another about something they care about. Simple conversations held at kitchen tables, or seated on the ground, or leaning against doorways are powerful means to start influencing and changing our world.
    How to use this book
    The intent of this book is to encourage and support you in beginning conversations about things that are important to you and those near you. It has no other purpose.
    Can we restore hope to the future?
    I don't meet many optimistic people anymore. No matter where or with whom, almost everyone is experiencing life as more stressful, more disconnected, and less meaningful than just a few years ago. It's not only there's more change, it's the nature of the change that is upsetting:
    - A small political incident sets of violence that doesn't end.
    - A small computer malfunction disrupts lives for days or weeks.
    - Economic problems in one country cause hardship in many countries.
    - The undetected rage of a person or group suddenly threatens us or someone we love.
    - A disease in one location spreads like wildfire into global contagion.
    - The plagues we hoped to end -- poverty, hunger, illiteracy, violence, disease -- are growing worse.
    These crises appear suddenly in a life or community. They always feel surprising, out of control, and irrational. The world doesn't make sense anymore, and there are no safe places.
    Many comments paint a picture of people everywhere troubled and disturbed by similar things, questioning what the future holds:
    - Problems keep getting bigger; they're never solved. We solve one, and it only creates more.
    - I never learn why something happened. Maybe nobody knows, or it is a conspiracy to keep us from knowing. Who can I believe? Who will tell what's really going on.
    - There're more violence ... Things are out of control and getting worse.
    - I have no time for my family anymore. I'm living a life I don't like.
    - What will the world be like for my children?
    Confronted with so much uncertainty and irrationality, it is affecting us personally and changing how we act and feel. We are more cynical, impatient, fearful, angry, defensive, anxious; more likely to hurt those we love.
    How can we become respected, generous, loving, curious, open, energetic, and ensure that at the end of our lives, we'll feel that we have done meaningful work, created something endured, helped others, raised healthy children?
    What I believe at this time?
    As humans, we often contradict ourselves -- we say one thing and do another. We state who we are, but then act contrary to that. We say open-minded, but then judge someone from their appearance. We say we're a team, but then gossip about a colleague.
    Here are some of my beliefs that motivate my actions:
    People are the solution to the problems that confront us. Technology is not.
    Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals who can go it alone. We want to be together but only isolate ourselves when we're hurt by others. 
    We become hopeful when somebody tells the truth. 
    We have to slow down. Nothing will change for the better until we do. We need time to think, to learn, to get to know each other.
    The cure for despair is not hope. It's discovering what we want to do about something we care about.
    Simple processes
    Once a simple process becomes a technique, it can only grow more complex and difficult. It becomes the specialized knowledge of a few experts and never become simpler.
    Simplicity has a powerful ally -- common sense. Good solutions are always simple.
    The courage of conversation
    I think the greatest source of courage is to realize that if we don't act, nothing will change for the better. Reality doesn't change itself.
    As we work together, we need to include a new and strange ally -- our willingness to be disturbed. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don't know.
    The practice of conversation
    a formal conversation process:
    - we acknowledge one another as equals
    - we try to stay curious about each other
    - we recognize that we need each other's help to become better listeners
    - we slow down so we have time to think and reflect
    - we remember that conversation is the natural way humans think together
    - we expect it to be messy at times


2.  A Place to Pause and Reflect


3.  Conversation Starters
    Do I feel a vocation to be fully human? (P.56)
    The notion of vocation comes from spiritual and philosophical traditions. It describes a "call", work that is given to us, that we are meant to do. We don't decide what our vocation is, we receive it. It always originates from outside us.
    Most of us want to experience a sense of purpose to our lives. If we can hold onto that sense of purpose, they'll be able to deal with whatever life experiences await us. If we don't feel there's a meaning to our lives, life's difficulties can easily overwhelm and discourage us.
    This sense of a purpose beyond ourselves is a universal human experience, no matter our life circumstance. 
    I define for myself what it means to have a vocation to be fully human: generous, open-hearted, and when I extend myself. I don't like becoming afraid of others, or angry at others.
    My faith in future (P.62)
    The future doesn't take from irrationally, it comes from where we are now. It materializes from the actions, values, and beliefs we're practicing now. We're creating the future every day, by what we choose to do. We have to take responsibility for what we are doing in the present. 
    The future is not a predetermined path we're obligated to walk down. We can change direction from here. It requires critical thinking, which luckily is a skill easy to develop in all people. People learn quickly when learning offers the possibility of a better life.
    There is much suffering in the world, and it is increasing.
    Sometimes we confront the pain of the present and counter it with blind faith. We aren't lacking solutions. What we lack is the will to implement them.
    For example, there are sufficient food and resources to provide for everyone on the planet. What we lack is the political will to use these resources equitably, and to distribute them fairly. The same is true with solutions to many environmental problems. 
    We can't continue to operate from this blind faith in human ingenuity, which has already provided solutions. We need to develop the will to act once we know what to do. The gap between knowing and doing is only bridged by the human heart. If we are willing to open hearts to what's really going on, we will find the energy to become active.
    This is how we can restore hope to the future. It's time to notice what's going on, to think about this together, and to make choice about how we will act. We can't keep rejecting solutions when they requires to change our behavior.
    Some of us are contrained by faceless systems of oppression; some of us are held back by a lack of personal courage. We don't need the same answers, but we all need to be asking the same questions. 
    The future won't change until we look thoughtfully at our present. 
    What do I believe about others? (P.70)
    Human goodness seems like an outrageous "fact". In these dark times we are confronted daily with mounting evidence of the great harm we so easily do to on another. We are numbed by frequent genocide, ethnic hatred, and acts of violence committed daily in the world.
    In daily life, we encounter people who are angry, deceitful, intent only on satisfying their own needs. There is so much anger, distrust, greed, and pettiness that we are losing our capacity to work well together. Many of us are more withdrawn and distrustful than ever.
    But, without belief in each other, there really is no hope.
    There is nothing equal to human creativity, human caring, human will. We can be incredibly generous, imaginative, and open-hearted. We can do the impossible, lean and change quickly, and extend instant compassion to those in distress. And these are not behaviors we keep hidden.
    The horrors of the 20th century showed us the worst and the very best of human nature.
    Oppression never occurs between equals. Tyranny starts with the belief that some people are more human than others. There is no other way to justify inhumane treatment except to assume that the pain inflicted on the oppressed is not the same as ours.
    What am I willing to notice in my world? (P.78)
    It's impossible to shut out the world. We are more aware of what's going on than ever before, and there's no way to change that. As hard as we try to close people out, we never really lose awareness of their suffering. The world still gets in and gnaws at our insides.
    How we respond to so much suffering is our choice. We can feel hopeless and overwhilmed by this world; we can turn away and just live the best life we can. Or we can learn to bear witness. We can't change the human experience, but we can turn toward, not away from, those struggling.
    We can turn away, or we can turn toward. These are the only two choices we have.
    When have I experienced good listening? (P.86)
    One of the easiest human acts is also the most healing. Listening to someone. Simply listening. Not advising or coaching, but silently and fully listening.
    Listening creates relationship. 
    Our natural state is to be together. Though we keep moving away from each other, we haven't lost the need to be in relationship. 
    I love the biblical passage: "Whenever two or more are gathered, I am there."
    Am I willing to reclaim time to think? (P.94)
    As a species, humans possess some unique capacities: thinking, questioning, imagining, being curious. As the world speeds up, we're giving away these wonderful human capacities. We're forfeiting the very things that make us human. Our road to hell is being paved with hasty intentions. ... I hope we'll be brave enough to slow things down.
    But I don't expect anybody will give us time to think. We will have to reclaim it for ourselves.
    No one will give you time because thinking is always dangerous to the status quo. Those benefiting from the present system have no interest in new ideas. In fact, thinking is a threat to them. 
    Thinking is not inaction. As soon as we discover something that might work, we act. When the ideas means something to us, the distance between thinking and acting dissolves. 
    What is the relationship I want with the earth? (P.102)
    Other species participate with environment, watch, react. Humans, in contrast, dream, plan, figure things out. Because we have consciousness, we create our own set of rules rather than submitting to the laws of nature that govern all life. We use consciousness to try and bend the world to our own purpose. (But) consciousness has kept us from being in simple partnership with the earth. We've acted as gods rather than as good neighbors.
    During its 4-5 billons years of existence, the earth has experienced 5 earlier massive extinctions. Cycles of destruction are natural to life. But this present one (referred by many scientists as 6th great extinction) is different that something humans created. It was created by humans' own rules, rather than those of nature.
    Instead of honoring nature's principle of no waste, (one's waste is always another species' food), we decided we could accumulate huge amounts of garbage. We ignored life's principle of restrained growth, where growth is related to available resources, and instead assumed that the more growth the better. We ignored life's cyclical nature, where decay is the most essential element in a healthy system, and instead assumed we could always be improving, never resting, never ill, hoping to avoid even death. We ignored life's mode of organizing in small, local systems, where small is beautiful, and instead took pride in building the biggest we could, creating gigantic urban sprawls and organizations so large they are unmanageable.
    There's a principle in ecology that nature always has the last word. And that's what's happening now. 
    One of the biggest flaws in our approach to life is the Western belief that competition creates strong and healthy systems. But competition among individuals and species is not the dominant way life works. Life becomes stronger and more capable through systems of collaboration and partnering, not through competition.
    Life will continue to teach us that we can't make up our own rules.
    I believe the easiest way to become partners (and good neighbors) with life is to get outside, to be in nature and let her teach us. Most of us cannot know the feel of wild places, the sound of a small stream, the shade of a grove of trees.
    We need to feel the power of a storm against our faces, the fury of the wind, the cycles of destruction and creation that are always occurring. We need to experience sunlight shining off swamp grasses, to sit with the sunset, to rest under a tree, to go out in the dark and look up to the stars. If we can do these things, we will fall in love with life again. We will become serious about sustaining life rather than destroying it. And our commitment will help all others who can't ever know what they're missing.
    What is my unique contribution to the whole? (P.112)
    We're apart, separated from each other, fragmented inside ourselves. We are organizing against each other, using ethnicity, gender, tightly-bound identities.
    Very few of us want to continue down the path of separation, or to contribute to more hatred and aggression. 
    It's common to say that everyone is unique, that no two people are exactly the same. Yet how often we forfeit our unique self-expression in order to claim an identity?
    Whenever we get past the categories and stereotypes, when we greet each other as interesting individuals, we are always surprised by who we are. 
    Healing is possible because, in all our diversity, we share the experience of being human. We each have the same longings and feelings. We each feel fear, loneliness, grief. We each want to be happy and to live a meaningful life. 
    When have I experienced working for the common good? (P.122)
    Working for something good beyond ourselves teaches us about the human spirit. When we serve others, we gain more than hope. We gain energy. Work that serves the common good doesn't take away our energy. Instead, energy pours into our bodies through our open hearts and generous spirits.
    Tao Te Ching (600 BC)
    If you want to be a leader ... stop trying to control
    Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.
    The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be.
    The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be.
    The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be.
    Therefore the Master says:
    I let go of the law, and people become honest.
    I let go of economics, and people become prosperous.
    I let go of religion, and people become serene.
    I let go all desire for the common good, and the good become common as grass.
    When do I experience sacred? (P.130)
    In this turbulent time, we crave connection; we long for peace; we want the means to walk through the chaos intact. We are seeking things that are only available through an experience of sacred. Yet sometimes in pursuit of these goals we flee from people and withdraw into an environment we think we can control. Or we blot out our longings with mind-numbing experiences or substances. 
    There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
    Ask "What's possible", not "What's wrong". Keep asking.
    Notice what you care about. Assume that many others share your dreams.
    Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters: talk to people you know, you don't know, and you never talk to.
    Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised. Treasure curiosity more than certainty.
    Invite in everybody who cares to work on what's possible. Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something. Know that creative solutions come from new connections.
    Remember, you don't feel people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together.
    Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.
    Rely on human goodness. Stay together.


Written by Boathill

2009-10-05 at 19:40

Posted in book, study notes

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