Friday, May 30, 2008

Context as a focus for evolutionary interventions

Peggy Holman and I have been exploring the idea that evolution is driven by the interactions of diverse entities in nurturing and challenging contexts. The focus on contexts opens an interesting inquiry: What are influence-able contexts which we can address in ways that may help catalyze positive social evolution? Here are some possible answers:
  • awareness of our roles in systems, inspiring system-conscious behavior
  • legislative / legal constraints and channels for behavior
  • conformity dynamics: social status / taboos / rewards / fashion systems
  • power dynamics
  • location, location, location
  • cultural practices and habits
  • aesthetic space, hospitable environment, beauty that speaks to the heart -- or lack of it
  • support / challenge programs; self-help, mutual-aid, and answerability systems
  • cultural narratives which shape and motivate what is possible, real, good
  • conversations through which the past, present, and/or future are co-created
  • journalism and non-fiction which increase our understanding of the real world and our relationship to it, and engage us (or not)
  • structures -- physical, process, institutional, bureaucracy, etc. -- i.e., what we have to work within and through in order to live, work, move, accomplish, etc.
  • economic factors -- incentives, availability, convenience, cost, pattern of needs met or not met, etc.
  • leadership -- visionary, participatory, wise, etc.
  • meaning -- language / metaphors / memes / perspectives / worldviews / assumptions that enable, shape, expand, contract, or impede our thinking about certain things
  • technologies -- telecom, digital, sustainable, social, etc.; the availability of certain tools
  • hearing, seeing, loving; respect, honoring, appreciation; permissional and dissonance-handling systems (using story, questions, reflection) which make it safe for people to be and to transform
  • locality and distance (localness often helps tighten up important feedback loops)
  • temporal contexts -- pace: slowness and speed, time or lack of time
  • questions and inquiries -- strategic questioning, curiosity, etc.
  • existence of and experience with alternatives to the status quo (e.g., Fran Peavey in India invited people from all castes and genders to her going-away party in a small space so they had to be close to each other, and told a story of MLK being inspired by Gandhi, contradicting cultural imperialism -- and they all sang We Shall Overcome)
  • community, companions, colleagues, friends, networks
  • organizational forms -- hierarchies, flat, networks, etc.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Systems Thinking and the Dalai Lama

Quotes from the Dalai Lama

I feel the individual, oneself, is of course, very important. So, taking care of oneself or looking out for oneself is very justified. But if you look deeper, then one individual no matter how able or strong a person, without society, he or she cannot manage, cannot survive. That’s clear. That’s a reality...In modern times, ...individual futures very much depend on unknown other people, other continents. That’s reality. So therefore, just for one’s own interests you have to take [into consideration] others’ welfare, others’ well-being... Change or events in the outside world eventually affect us.

I believe every human profession or human activity is actually meant for human beings, meant for humanity. Human actions are for human beings—particularly in today’s world. I think in the past, maybe, different sectors carried on work more or less independently. Now today...everything is interdependent, interrelated. That’s the reality. Under these circumstances, it falls on us to work together.

The Dalai Lama -- like many other Buddhists -- is very aware of interconnectedness, interdependence, even "inter-being" (as Joanna Macy puts it).

But that, as important as it is, is not systems thinking. Systems thinking involves the NATURE and STRUCTURE of that interdependence, that interactivity, those relationships -- especially the habitual forms that are used in the exercise of power, or in feedback dynamics, or experienced as reality -- "the way things are" -- and that are maintained by the system as part of its identity. And systems thinking involves more -- including examining widely held built-in assumptions, stories, worldviews and success criteria, and noting where the system is most open or resistant to change, etc.

I see only the most rudimentary understanding of and attention to all this in what I've read so far about or by the Dalai Lama. But I sense a hook or bridge in the fact that systems thinking and systems interventions can be framed as what compassion looks like in our era when human or human-distorted systems are what cause most suffering. There is definitely a hot opportunity for the emergence of systems-conscious Buddhism. And the meta-project of awakening systems. Not only is the next Buddha a collective, but the next enlightenment is collective IN ITS VERY ESSENCE (i.e., not just an accumulation of enlightened beings, but an enlightenment of collectiveness, itself).