At the heart of these questions is our relationship with ourselves–and whether we believe we have the smarts and ability to do what we are called to do. The question beneath the questions: do we believe in ourselves?
The question beneath the questions: do we believe in ourselves?
The beliefs we hold about ourselves shape our relationship with the world around us at every scale (self, family, neighbourhood, organization, city, nation, species). If I believe I have all the answers–and no-one else out there has anything to add–then I set myself up as the expert. If I believe I am incapable of figuring things out for myself then I rely on the directions of others. I am a knower, a teller and a fixer, or someone who does not know, needs to be told, needs to be fixed.
In contrast, if I believe that I don’t have all the answers, that together we will find the right questions and answers, then I contribute to the creation of habitats where we explore questions and discern right action. If I believe that I am capable, with all that I know and don’t know right now, I rely on my–and our–self direction. I contribute to our ability to see together rather than defer to others, and take action together. I am a learner and I help others be learners too.
When I look at myself and the world around me with a lens of scarcity I see all that is wrong. I see that there isn’t enough, there never will be enough, and that there are things to be fixed everywhere. This leads me to a stance where I prefer control, even though I have no control, as well as a stance where I take whatever I can because it might run out. I hoard information. I hoard goods. I hoard relationships. I accumulate all that I can because somehow it will protect me from what I am most afraid of: not having. Worse yet, I believe myself to be not good enough, in need of being fixed, usually expecting others to do the fixing.
When I look at myself and the world around me with a lens of abundance I see all the possibility inherently within each of us. Scarcity distracts us from being who we are because it tells us what is wrong with us. It does not answer, let alone pose the question, “who am I?” Abundance is a stance where I believe in myself and others. Further, it requires me to trust that who I am, and what I have, is more than enough. I don’t need to be “fixed”, but rather to continue my never-ending journey of learning who I am and who we are. Where scarcity constricts, abundance invites our expansion as citizens and as a species.
Where scarcity constricts, abundance invites our expansion as citizens and as a species.
This is about mindset–about me and my world. Do I choose a stance where everything is wrong and begs to be fixed, or do I choose a stance full of trust? I choose the latter, driven by a desire to improve, rather than fix, the world.
The distinction between improve and fix is significant. A fix is simple, mechanical and linear, and keeps us in the present, perhaps the past (we spend great energy fixing things that are no longer a problem). An improvement, in contrast, is more complicated and complex and reaches for a better future. Where a fix can be finished like a task on a check-list, improvements are continuous. Where a fix may be a destination, an improvement is about moving in a direction that will get more clear over time. Where a fix assumes brokenness, improvement accepts that something is not good enough and moves us along.
As we work in our cities this is an important distinction. When we trust what is happening we grow in whole new ways that provide everyone with what they need.
Does the work you do feed your soul or your desire to distract yourself from yourself?
I notice the thrill of consuming, and the indulgence and addictive feelings that surface in me when buying and acquiring new things. (I’m thinking of addiction here as “an unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something (Merriam-Webster).”) I recognize in me the cravings, compulsion, and fixation to consume. I know I can be weak when there is a new shiny object that I feel I need, or I feel will fill me with joy, but truly do not need and the joy will be fleeting, if I am honest with myself. So I have been observing my consumption of goods, wondering what the word consumption really means.
Consumption as a noun:
the act or process of consuming: by using up (use, utilization, expenditure, depletion, exhaustion), or waste (squandering, draining, dissipation)
the utilization of economic goods in the satisfaction of wants or in the process of production resulting in their destruction, deterioration, or transformation
a progressive wasting away of the body especially from pulmonary tuberculosis
To consume as a verb:
to do away with completely: destroy
to spend wastefully: squander
to use up
to eat or drink, especially in great quantity
to enjoy avidly: devour
to engage fully: engross
to utilize as a customer
This word carries a lot with it. It can mean simply the using of something and it can also mean the wasting and destroying and elimination of something. It can also mean the physical wasting away of humans. I propose this: when we use economic goods with a fixation that feeds our cravings and compulsions, we are creating the conditions for our own wasting away.
When we use economic goods with a fixation that feeds our cravings and compulsions, we are creating the conditions for our own wasting away.
In economic terms, consumption is the using of things, of economic goods. But the goods we use–and the work we do to create those goods–are always in relation to our physical habitat. If we are in a poor relationship with the world around us we will deplete it, we will consume it and in so doing we will waste away. If we are in a good relationship with the world around us we will shift and adjust our work to be responsible and responsive to both our needs and the needs of our habitat. When addicted to consuming we are in an unhealthy relationship with our habitat, unable to see that we are fowling our nest. “Consumption” can be the measure of what we use, or it can be a significant–and harmful–distraction from the interrelationships we have with the physical, social and economic habitats around us.
This question of how much we consume is related to the work we choose to do because our work is either driven from our soul, when we do the work that we know we are called to do, or is work driven by how we want to appear to the outside world. The latter is driven by status, by having and accumulating, by keeping up with the Joneses, and with endless consumption. The latter also results in people doing work they don’t want to be doing because they need to pay the bills that come with endless consumption.
The work we do creates our cities, and if the work we do feeds addictive consumption we are creating cities that are, and will, waste away. The habitat we make for ourselves is only as good as we choose to make it. The work we choose shapes our cities–it is a survival skill. This means that if the work we each choose is based in addictive consumption we are harming our city and ourselves. The choice: feed our addictions or feed the habitat that will feed us.
The choice: feed our addictions or feed the habitat that will feed us.
I recognize that addictions are hard to kick. Here’s another economic term to consider: opportunity cost,the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. While consuming goods with abandon I abandon who I am. I consume to feel more like me but it is a trick because it takes me away from me. Consuming connects me to the material world outside me but it also distracts me from my inner world, where I connect with myself and find the work that I truly want to be doing. The same thing happens at the scale of the city. The more we work with abandon, to consume more and more, we are distracted from who we truly are and the work we truly want to be doing. You know this.
Does the work you do feed your soul or your desire to distract yourself from your Self?
Does the work you do feed your soul or your desire to distract yourself from your Self? If you are distracting yourself, you are contributing to your own wasting away, and our wasting away.
I propose mindful consumption. I propose that a citizen that serves the city well is one that is doing the work s/he loves to do. That citizen consumes what s/he needs, s/he takes what s/he needs, and leaves the rest for others. S/he is ever more mindful of how the choices made affect our economic, social and physical habitats. S/he is every more self-aware of mindless action and not so easily distracted from where s/he fits in the world.
At the outset of summer I found myself in the expert trap: I started talking and talking and talking, not leaving any room for anyone else.
Friend A was organizing a big lecture about community connection. Friend B, Friend C and I were talking about how ironic it was to have a bigwig speaker in town to tell us about community connection, with us all sitting there in passive listening mode in a theatre and that we would not make any new connections in our community. So Friend B got in touch with Friend A to see if she would like to circle up and see what could be done. (Friend A is of our tribe of people who see this kind of conundrum.)
The conundrum is that we don’t get to know each other when we sit like this:
Deeply embedded in this shape is expertise and the assumption that she at the front of the room has it and we do not. It is an empty vessel approach, where we, as the audience, need to be filled with all the things we do not know. Moreover, even after we have listened for ages, we are given no opportunity to notice what we know and understand differently, to consolidate what we are learning. And we are not given this opportunity as an individual, or a small groups or large groups. We drink from the firehouse then leave with a few drops of nourishment.
It’s not that this mode of information exchange is not needed–it is, under the right circumstances (see last two posts: shapes of conversation and direction or discernment). My point is this: Friend A was caught in a swirling environment of assumption that the best way to talk about connection was to disconnect ourselves from ourselves, and each other, and assume that the expert outsider has more information on the matter than we do. The ‘machinery’ of the city is caught in the assumption that we need to be told what to do, that we are not capable of figuring this thing out. Embedded in this is the further assumption that if we are simply told, we will go and do it and the problem will be fixed.
Friend A pulled off a remarkable feat. She acknowledged the desire, and in fact the need, to hear what the expert had to say (in theatre mode), then created a new shape that allowed people to meet each other, connect with each other, and figure out what this new information meant for them, for our lives and for our city. She did this:
Instead of leaving with a only a few drops from the firehouse (as is what happens with a lecture), people left having met and connected with people new to them. They met around topics of shared interest. They took some time to notice what the lecture meant to them in practical ways that will change their lives and the city around them; they began to integrate what they learned into their being as individuals and a loose collective. Friend A delivered on connection not just by inviting an expert in, but by creating the conditions for the audience–citizens–to truly hear the expert by connecting with themselves and each other.
I almost wrecked everything for Friend A it because when Friends B, C and I met with her I fell into the expert trap. We sat at an outdoor cafe table on a sunny early summer day and missed that we were sitting in a circle. I didn’t let others speak. I said what I see, much like is written above, and then said it again and again.
Passion, impatience and my own insecurity got the better of me.
One of the reasons I most appreciate the circle as a shape for conversation is that it helps me find my place with others in a way that allows others to also have their place in the conversation. It does not diminish me: it focuses me. And most importantly, it allows us–me and the people I am with–to better see what we need to see. It does not diminish my passion, but allows it to show up more appropriately.
And, of course, the irony is not lost on me. What I was most critical of out in the world was what I was doing myself.
What I was most critical of out in the world was what I was doing myself.
What opportunities do you see in your city to shift from the one-way “expert lecture” to create the conditions for collective discernment? What is your role in this?
In my last post on the shapes of conversation, I made the distinction between forms of meeting that facilitate direction (the board table and the theatre) and those that facilitate listening and discernment of collective action.
These two options–direction and discernment–are quite distinct from each other in terms of their usual shape, their purpose, and the assumptions made by all involved in where the expertise and leadership resides and how information flows. Further, the role of the “host” also differs, from chairing the meeting to creating the space, or a container, in which the discernment can take place.
board table, theatre
small circles, large circle
tell, direct, instruct, set people up to go do something
listen, share, integrate, figure things out together
in one, select few
at the top
from one or few, down to others
from everyone to everyone
chair the meeting
co-create the space, or a “container”
Both approaches are right–in the right circumstances. It is a matter of acknowledging the purpose of the gathering and designing for that purpose. (For more on these purposes, see the shapes of conversations.) But these two choices are not mutually exclusive; the circle can be at the board table and direction can be set in a circle.
These two choices are not mutually exclusive. The circle can be at the board table. Direction can be found in a circle.
We don’t have two clear-cut choices. It’s not as though there will be no discernment for collective action at a board table, or that in working in circle there will be no direction established for the group or for individuals. What we do have to recognize is that regardless of the shape we feel the strong pull of expertise, and the assumption that expertise resides only in one or a few of us.
We have a deep-rooted tendency to feel either that “I am the expert”, or to feel that “they are the experts.” There are times when this is true, like my doctor friend with expertise in infectious diseases that I described last week, who has a clear role to inform and direct other physicians about what to do when unfamiliar diseases present themselves. There are many times when we find ourselves with other people and the expertise is shared, but we operate as though expertise–mine or others’–is what rules the day. When we believe this, it dictates the shape the conversation takes, regardless of our physical form. When we find ourselves in the expert trap, looking for direction, or giving direction, we are not stepping into the shared leadership that we are called to offer.
With the intention of collective discernment the circle shape can find its way around a table. It depends entirely on how we put ourselves in the conversation. Here are a three principles and three practices my The Circle Way Colleagues and I use, developed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.
Leadership rotates among all circle members
Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience
Reliance is on wholeness rather than any person agenda
Speak with intention: note what has relevance to the conversation in the moment
Listen with attention: respect of the learning process for all members of the group
Tend to the well-being of the circle: remain aware of the impact of our contributions
These principles and practices are a simple place to start, yet challenging to implement because they embody a significant cultural shift from our automatic expertise stance, to one that welcomes, invites and accommodates the diverse expertise within and around us.
Openness to vulnerability is leadership–and this kind of leadership is shared and easier to carry if we are brave enough to notice when it is needed.
There is a cultural shift required of us to embody discernment, whether at the board table, or in a circle. We are each required, as citizens, to be self-aware in ways we are not well-practiced, and this self-awareness is a necessary precondition to collective awareness and discernment. At most board tables self-awareness is a scary proposition because it comes with vulnerability, but in this cultural shift vulnerability is not a liability, but a strength. Openness to vulnerability is leadership–and this kind of leadership is shared and easier to carry if we are brave enough to notice when it is needed.
Which principle or practice feels the most scary to you?
The Circle Way Guidelines outline the components of circle, in addition to the principles and practices described above, that help create the conditions for collective discernment in a circle or even at a board table.
**Caveat** This form of conversation is not easily accommodated in a theatre setting for this simple reason: people can’t see each other.
The shape of a meeting reflects the purpose of the meeting: telling or listening. Both are appropriate depending on the intentional purpose of the meeting, and often telling and listening purposes are simultaneous. Here are questions I ask to figure out what shape I will use in preparing for a meeting:
What is the purpose of the gathering?
What needs to be told and who needs to tell it?
Who will be listening and to whom are they listening?
What are we listening for?
What is the shape that serves the purpose?
We are most familiar with two shapes of conversation: the board table and the theatre. These shapes, and our behaviour in these shapes, is about expertise and power; at the front of the room, or at the head of the table, is the one from whom we expect will tell us what to do, the boss or the expert. One person has the answers and the rest expect the answers. One person knows what to do and the others will make it happen.
These are shapes for telling and following, for providing direction.
We all participate in these shapes: the boss/expert expects others to follow and the subordinates have steep expectations of the boss/expert. The boss will say how things will unfold. Subordinates expect clear directions.
The shapes of telling and following are the right choice in the right circumstances. A doctor friend has extensive expertise is infectious diseases and she has a role in the health care system to serve as a resource for front-line doctors. She has knowledge they need in their work; when something strange happens in their practice she tells them what they need to know as a speaker at a conference, at meetings around board tables or by teleconference, or a one-on-one consult. While there is room for questions from front-line doctors to understand what she is telling them, they trust the information she conveys, take it and use it directly. My doctor friend is in the telling role. The front-liners listen and follow.
Listening is a crucial part of telling and following. The subordinates, or the audience, are there to listen and are expected but the boss/expert to listen. This is listening as an individual: I hear what the boss/expert has to say, I take some notes, and I will adjust my actions as dictated.
The shape of a conversation shifts dramatically if the gathering has a purpose different from telling and listening. The intentional purpose of a conversation may be to explore and digest, and figure out a way forward together. In this case, the shape shifts to circle, where the expertise and contributions of everyone–rather than one or select few–are welcomed. The listening is done by individuals and the group because the purpose of the conversation is about collective discernment: we have something to figure out together.
These are shapes for listening–as individuals and as a group–that lead to wise action.
Shapes of listening and discernment are the right choice in the right circumstances. A city planner colleague of mine is working to create a new set of rules to guide infill development in his city and he recognizes that there are people with different perspectives on this that need to be taken into account: other people in city hall, builders and developers, and citizens and community organizations. He recognizes that they all have pieces to the city-puzzle we are making. He needs to listen to them all and he recognizes that as these different perspectives listen to each other, better solutions come forward. He offers, around little tables and within the whole group, ways for people to listen to each other and find ways forward that look after a wide range of interests. This tangibly helps him in his work and it enables everyone else make a city that serves them well.
All of these shapes are right in the right time and place. It all depends on the purpose: telling or listening, direction or conversation.
As you design and prepare for your next gathering, ponder these questions:
What is the purpose of the gathering?
What needs to be told and who needs to tell it?
Who will be listening and to whom are they listening?
Finding work that feels right is both complicated and simple. It is complicated because it can be hard to find. It’s complicated to figure out what we want to do for our work, and then complicated to find the right job, one that suits us and our aspirations. It feels simple when we’ve found it, when we look back and can see it was clear all along, even when we weren’t looking.
For a few years now I’ve been exploring what our work means in our cities and I’ve landed on the understanding that our work is the force that generates cities. Our work matters to our cities because it creates them; it shapes our economic life, our social habitats and our physical habitats.
We are each meant to contribute to our cities through our work. But what is the work we are each meant to contribute? How do we know if we are doing the work we are meant to do? I’ve noticed two things that help me notice if the work I am doing is truly mine to do.
First, work that depletes me is not my work to do. Even if I am good at that work, if it takes energy from me it is time to let it go. It is the work that gives me energy that is the right work to do. This is a simple and staggering realization. It is the work that fuels me that is worthy of being done by me.
If your work depletes you it is not your work to do. (Choose work that fuels your being.)
Second, work done from a place of panic and urgency is from a place of fear and mistrust. There are times when urgency is necessary, when lives are threatened or harm to others is immanent. For most of us this is not the case, yet we behave as if it were. Many of us do work that we believe will not be done if we don’t do it. The opposite would be to trust that with others, all the work that needs to be done will be covered.
Do the work that is yours to do and trust that, with others, all the work that needs to be done will be done.
All the work that needs to be done in the world can not be done by any of us alone. Moreover, we all have different skills and interests, and we have different passions and purposes to pursue in our work. If we trust in this, we make room for ourselves to take very unselfish action and do the work that is authentically ours to do. In doing this, we make the world a better place.
There is a voice inside each of us that tells us about the work we are meant to do. It is in the classes we loved in school. It is in the games we love(d) to play. It is in our hobbies. It is in the things that thrill us. Our duty is not to do the things that someone else says we ought to do, but in figuring out the work we are meant to do.
I am convinced of this: the essence of who we are as mall children gets obscured as we age. The journey of work is to find the lost parts of ourselves and stitch them into the lives we live. This might take years or decades, even a lifetime, yet the time it takes is not a reflection of our worth. The value is in noticing we are on a journey.
At 46 years old I recognize that my own journey unfolds in stages; just when I think I know who I am an the work I am to be doing a wrinkle comes along to nudge (or knock) me into the next stage of my journey. I can feel, though often in ways I can not articulate with words, the direction in which I am moving.
Now as I look at my life story I wonder at how I missed some of the clues, though I recognize that there was no other journey for me to take. I now pay more attention and I can better see the hints and synchronicities that feel like my soul sends to me about where I’m going and the work that’s mine to do. When I pay attention it’s far simpler.
The last few weeks have been startling. Shootings. Killings. A rogue truck in a crowd, intent to kill. Murder of a small child and her father. Racism. Hatred. And a political campaigns in the United States that feel like they either fuel hatred or somehow pretend that it is all going to be ok. I am sensitive to the fact that whatever happens anywhere affects everywhere.
I’m worried about things and yet I find a way to trust that all that is happening is to teach us about ourselves. It is in us to be mean–and good. It is in us to be full of hatred–and love. It is in us to be numb–and pay attention.
What is happening in the world right now is a reminder that if asleep or distracted we miss out on what our choices are, which is in itself a choice. We may well be–collectively–in a place where a jolt is exactly what we need so we pay attention to the world we are creating for ourselves.
When not paying attention we may find ourselves exercising hatred. We may find ourselves oblivious to others’ hatred. We may find ourselves condoning hatred. This can happen at any scale–in myself and my family, in my workplace or neighbourhood, in my city, in my country and across the planet. But it all comes down to me and how I choose to show up.
It all comes down to me and how I choose to show up.
From time to time, I find myself playing a game on my phone, dragged into a place where time no longer matters and I return to my life drained and deadened. I have no idea what’s going on around me. For a while it felt good, but when I come out I am completely disconnected, numbed. Writ large, I see this as Pokemon Go. It can be fun and healthy, or it can be a dangerous distraction from reality–not augmented reality at all. It can get people out getting exercise and meeting each other AND it has the potential to lure them–and all of us–off a cliff, to death. Maybe it is augmented reality in that it demonstrates the lengths we will go to ignore the world around us.
We need distractions that are healthy, that allow us to take in what we need to take in without destroying ourselves by seeing too much. When we each pay attention to what we are called to pay attention to we can find a place of trust where collectively we pay attention to everything. “Distractions” like Facebook can be constructive ways to let each other know what we are paying attention to, or what we are not paying attention to, in that it allows us to see a hint of where our collective attention is placed.
It is not possible for all of us to pay attention to everything. There is too much to pay attention to and we have limits to how much we can take in without harming ourselves. As citizens we each have a responsibility to explore what we care about, to pay attention to what has our attention. I don’t have to pay attention to everything, and neither do you. That’s not how this works. What you do have to notice is what wants to be noticed–by you. That’s what you pay attention to.
I don’t have to pay attention to everything, and neither do you. That’s not how this works. What you do have to do is notice what wants to be noticed–by you.
I choose to notice and witness the world around me. I step in in ways that are true to my heart, and in doing this I play my part. I numb myself from time to time, but mostly I choose to look at the things that upset and scare me so I can learn about myself and so I can learn about the world around me. Often, there is nothing for me to do but simply watch and witness, without turning away. It might look like I pretend everything is ok, but that’s not what’s happening. I carry make my way by looking for what I care about and contributing there.
I’ve also recognized this: if I tune into everything, I can’t tune into the things that matter most to me. and then I can’t do the work I want to be doing. So there’s a fine balance here. It is different for each of us, too. We are not all the same. What is too much for me is insufficient for others, and what is insufficient for me is too much for others.
What do you tune into?
What has your attention that you can’t turn away from?
I resisted, then eventually accepted, an invitation. A friend asked me to come to a meeting to share a bit of a story of some work I’ve ben doing, but I didn’t want to go. I knew ahead of time I would be frustrated, but since it would help my friend in their work, I accepted.
My dread: I knew they would not be listening well.
In the middle of this meeting I started to squirm. I couldn’t sit. Icouldn’t listen. It was exactly as I predicted either because it was my own self-created self-fulfilling prophecy, or I saw only what I wanted to see. I noticed this and took a few deep breaths. As I calmed, this realization came to me:
There is something here for me to learn. Hang in there.
I witnessed people who are really into their jobs, stepping into the difficult work of connecting people with each other, yet they were stuck in the it’s my job to connect you trap. It was our responsibility to name what we wanted to connect with others about and there was one person in the room whose explicit job is to connect us.
The purpose of this meeting was for people across the city doing similar work to meet each other, but since we sat and listened to a handful of stories, hand-picked ahead of time, we didn’t meet each other. We heard great stories (it wasn’t all bad at all) and we left without having met each other. And meeting is an essential part of connecting.
The it’s my job to connect you trap is hard to spot because it’s business as usual, which reinforces our separateness. We did not meet each other because most of the talking was done by the meeting hosts, plus a handful of others identified ahead of time. We did not meet each other because the meeting was not design for us to meet; if we wanted to meet other people with similar interests, we were to connect with the hosts, who would do the connecting.
I realized that they were missing out on the real innovation in their work: to set us up so we connect ourselves. They didn’t need to set themselves up as the critical structure, they need simply to set us up to be the structure.
As hosts, they have a choice: be the connector or create environments where we are the connectors. Create habitats in which we find each other.
Simple processes, now well established with wonderful resources easily available, work wonderfully for this kind of meeting:
World Cafe–founded by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs–is a process that invites participants to explore ideas together and meet each other in far more than superficial ways in a short amount of time.
Open Space Technology–founded by Harrison Owen–is a process that allows a diverse group of people and their diverse ideas to build an agenda together and find people with similar interests.
Both of these process are the heart of what my Art of Hosting colleagues and I call participatory leadership, where we use processes that harness the wisdom of the collective. We do not put ourselves in the hub of the wheel, for that is the I connect you trap. Instead, we create the conditions for self-organizing, so we connect, and then organize ourselves.
The trap tricks you into thinking you need to be at the center of the work, the hub of the wheel. It tricks you into thinking that this is how to connect people and it does this by making your ego think that YOU need to be at the center. In reality, if you are in the center you are in the way of connecting people. There are way more connections possible than you can possibly keep track of or maintain. It’s not your job.
Here’s what I ask myself, to test if the trap is tricking me:
Is the work about me being the connector (in the center)? or
Is the work about as many people and ideas as possible connecting, with or without me?
Setting ourselves up to connect with each other is counter-cultural. There is a lot of inertia in everything we do to keep us separate, even when our work is about connecting with each other. Even my friend, whose work is about connecting people in spectacular ways, is caught in the trap. Are you?
We signed a 30-page contract with a client last week, full of legal details and formalities. It took about 10 minutes to sign it all. As I was getting the corporate seal and my fancy blue pen all ready to do their work, I realized that this formal contract is not as important as the contracts behind the contract. Continue reading Learning journey contracts
This time last week I was licking my wounds. I did not pass a weekend course in advanced wilderness and remote first aid. It might have been the early morning starts. It might have been the impersonal feedback from the instructors. It might have been that I was “off” those days. It might have been the conflicting feedback I felt I was receiving. But the bottom line is the same, whatever the reason.