Encourage youth to leave your city (part 2)

A city that embodies courage, invention, cooperation and openness encourages its youth to leave the city. In heeding the call to adventure they are furthering their own growth and development and, potentially, the growth of their city as well. And if we do two things — encourage their journey and are receptive to the changes their departure and return will bring to us — we are helping our city evolve along with their adventure. We who are left behind are on the journey too.

We who are left behind are on the journey too.

Joseph Campbell identifies three elements of the hero’s journey (see part 1 for more): separation, initiation and return. The hero responds to the call for adventure and separates herself from her everyday world, she undergoes a series of events that test her and a grand ordeal, following which she returns to her community with new insight. It is a substantial personal journey for the hero. It is a journey she must make alone but never without relationship to community; she separates from her community and she returns to her community.

Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is an archetypal human journey that pervades the myths of all cultures, in their stories, symbols, religions and art. Today we no longer pay attention to the journeys of our own people, but rather watch hero stories on big and small screens, fiction and nonfiction alike. We watch without stopping to make sense of what these stories mean for us as citizens and as cities. We do little to notice, let alone punctuate, our own adventures or those of people around us.

The role of community in the hero’s journey is significant and we have some choices to make. When youth leave to embark on their adventures, do we notice? Do we celebrate them? Do we let them know that they will experience tests and hardship and will be welcomed home when the time comes?  When they return, do we notice? Again, do we celebrate them? Do we pause our busy lives and listen to their stories, find ways to incorporate their insights into our lives?

The community-hero relationship

There are three principles embedded in the community-hero relationship. First, as a community we choose to help or hinder the hero’s journey but we are not able to stop it because the call to adventure is strong. Second, the hero’s community is part of the adventure too. Her community is impacted by her desire to go, her departure, and when she returns changed, the community-hero relationship will have to continue to change. Third, this is a community relationship with the hero—its not up to one or two of us to tend to each hero. Community members play varied roles in various heroes lives at various points of time for various lengths of time. It’s an unmappable, unknowable web of community support.

While the hero cycles through a series of stages in Campbell’s journey, the community has similar choices and states. At separation: fight or allow. At initiation: resist or support. At return: disengage or engage.

 

We improve the resilience of our cities by encouraging youth to leave – if we stay in relationship. Some of us will be tuned into the whole adventure of the hero, others of us will have snippets of roles in various heroes journeys and all of this serves well because together, as a community, we are in relationship. Collectively, we need to edge into consciousness that we need to be in relationship with the hero before her adventure, and responsibly guide her into the unknown. We need to be in relationship with her during their adventure, and serve as helpers and allies from time to time. (Everyone needs a helper or few when times are tough.) We need to welcome her home and provide support as she bridges the gap between the mysterious world of adventure and the everyday world to which she has returned. We need to be open to hearing what she has learned and open to being changed by what she has learned.

No single one of us will have a monopoly on supporting the hero; it is only as a community that we will. For my 19-year-old who is moving to Toronto next month, many of us have supported getting her ready: parents, teachers, extended family and friends. While she is on her adventure, people I can’t imagine will serve as helpers and allies, and others yet will challenge and test her. She may return to live in Edmonton, or she may not. An even wider community, perhaps a whole new city, will hear her story of adventure on her return. While I will make myself available to hear her stories I expect that others will hear her too, wherever she finds herself. And I will do the same for heroes who find their way to Edmonton.

The challenge for community

The challenge is that for most of us one of two things has happened: either we have not yet responded to the call for adventure or, if we have, we did not experience a community that explicitly sent us and welcomed our return, offering support and changing along with us. This means that we do not know how to do this work, how to support each other in ways that allow and amplify our conscious evolution.

We do not know how to do this work, how to support each other in ways that allow and amplify our conscious evolution. 

We have lost track of this simple pattern in our lives: separation, initiation and return. In today’s cities we lead busy lives that pull us simultaneously in many directions. We generate so much information for us to pay attention to in the “outside world” that we miss the inner information that informs us about who we are and what’s going on in our lives. We distract ourselves from ourselves and we miss our own plot. We miss the plot of our own personal adventures as well as our cumulative and collective adventures.

There’s a transaction between a city and its young people that can take place at many and all scales, should we choose. In friendships and families, in neighbourhoods and organizations, in cities, a nation, or a planet of cities, all we need to do to start is notice the transitions (separation, initiation, return) that take place when they take place. Its not sufficient for the hero to know this—the community/city needs to participate. The community-hero relationship is about our own becoming.

The community-hero relationship is about our own becoming. 

The transaction

Here’s what I have found at the heart of my alarm at my city wanting to keep youth here, in the name of courage, invention, cooperation and openness: for cities to benefit from the young heeding calls for adventure, the hero does not need to go back to “her” city.” It isn’t about one single city, it’s about all cities and their interconnections.

Our youth, heading out on their hero-adventures, are a means for cities to create interrelationships, an essential element of resiliency. Supporting youth to leave, have their adventure and return means we are supporting the interrelationships, and since more interrelationships means more resilience, we are improving the resilience of our cities by supporting youth. When youth leave my city they go to other cities and my city receives other youth when we are open to them. When we are courageous enough to gift our youth to the cities of the world, we receive hero-adventurers in return. This is a vital transaction for my city—and all cities.

When we are courageous enough to gift our youth to the cities of the world, we receive hero-adventurers in return. This is a vital transaction for my city—and all cities.

This is a truth we all know: to best see our place in the world we need to experience other places. In doing this, we recognize the things we most appreciate about our place and grow ideas about how to improve our place. This is what our hero-adventurers are doing for us. And when they don’t physically return, they are still doing this work in ways we will not see.

If it hero makes her way home to her city of origin, welcome her home and listen to her stories and involve her in making the world in your city a better place. In today’s world there are other forms of return for us to contemplate. She might only visit from time to time, or rarely, in which case we welcome her and celebrate. We can also claim her as ours, appreciating and learning from her contributions, and making our gift to the world explicit.

Our hero-youth are the champions of what we are becoming. A courageous city will encourage our young to leave and explore, from a place of openness that allows us to learn along with them.

A courageous city will encourage our young to leave and explore, from a place of openness…

 

 

 

 


Two related posts:

 

Encourage youth to leave your city (part 1)

A city that is confident in itself encourages youth to go out and experience the world beyond the city they know — not try to keep them at home. A city that is confident in itself trusts that gains received by sending young explorers out into the world exceeds perceived benefits of holding explorers back. A city that is confident in itself trusts that what youth gain in their adventure benefits the city, and other cities. A city that trusts itself gifts its youth to the world.

I found myself at a city council meeting earlier this month listening to a discussion about Edmonton’s brand and reputation (see CBC coverage here) and how Edmonton is living into being Edmonton. Edmonton’s brand is Edmonton itself — who we are — with four themes that describe us: inventive, open, courageous, cooperative.

A key feature of the brand and reputation strategy is attracting 18-34 year-olds to Edmonton. As I listened I heard two threads: attract new young people to Edmonton and keep those that are here. As I thought of my 19-year-old who is thrilled to be leaving Edmonton and explicitly embark on life’s journey, I found the latter thread — to keep young people from leaving — alarming.

I found the latter thread — to keep young people from leaving — alarming. 

My daughter started university here in Edmonton last year and simultaneously made arrangements to transfer to the University of Toronto. She leaves Edmonton next month — and she might not come back. Here’s what we need to remember: it isn’t about leaving, it’s about responding to a call for adventure.

When youth leave our cities, they are not leaving as much as they are moving toward something that will fuel them for the rest of their lives. Those of us “left behind” may feel threatened because others’ self-empowerment threatens our sense of who we are. At the scale of citizen or city, we disguise others’ self empowerment as a threat because it causes us to grow and change, requiring us to be courageous and face our own self-empowerment. The part of us that doesn’t want to rock the boat, that is closed to our own development, is threatened. The part of us that wants to grow and evolve is shut down and blocked. Wanting to “keep” our youth here holds both them and us back.

The drive to respond to the call to adventure, and even resist it, is part of a large pattern of the human journey. My 19-year-old is embarking on an archetypal journey to reach out further into the world and expand herself. It is the thread of the hero-path, as Joseph Campbell calls it, the “standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero” that involves a simple formula that punctuates rites of passage: separation–initiation–return.Leaving, or separating from life as we know it, is something we must do to both grow ourselves and, if we follow through on our/their return, our communities.

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey

For Campbell, it starts with a call to adventure, where the mythological hero sets out voluntarily or is made to cross a threshold of adventure (separation). On the other side of the threshold, in the heart of the adventure, the hero finds tests and magical helpers, and at the height of the adventure experiences an ordeal. Triumph over the ordeal is an expansion of consciousness that involves illumination, transfiguration and freedom (initiation). The final work of the hero’s journey is the return, which is either easy or arduous travel, and the crossing of the return threshold to her people. The journey is not yet complete, for she must reconcile the two worlds she knows: the one that has transformed her and everyday home. She must share what she has learned — the boon, or the elixir — with her community (return).2

Here’s the simple pattern:3

  • Separation: the hero ventures forth from her everyday world into a new world of wonder
  • Initiation: the hero encounters fabulous forces that challenge her — tests — and magical helpers, and she overcomes a supreme ordeal
  • Return: the hero returns from her adventure with stories and lessons for her people, a boon

The hero will go on her journey and we have a choice to be obstacles or helpers. We have another choice on her return, to ignore or shun who she has become, for she will not return as the same person, or to welcome her and her insights. We can choose to thwart or foster their – and our – growth, or we can choose to send and receive our heroes. These choices have implications for our growth as citizens and as a city. We choose to grow or not.

The hero will go on her journey and we have a choice to be obstacles or helpers… These choices have implications for our growth as citizens and as a city. 

For Campbell, the return is about becoming more of ourselves, which means integrating the lessons learned on the adventure. It’s not only about the growth of the hero; she is expected to bring back what the community needs to know. We have to know enough to both send her and receive her on her return. For Edmonton to be radically inventive, open, courageous and cooperative, we will send our youth out into the world knowing the ‘return’ might be a familiar physical return, or something completely different. A city that trusts itself is a wonderful nest from which to leap into the world.

How do you and your city send and receive young people on life’s adventures?  

(In my next post I’ll explore the community-hero relationship.)


NOTES —

  1. Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, New World Library: Novato, California (2008, 3rd ed) p. 23
  2. Ibid p. 211
  3. Ibid p. 23

 

How to say goodbye

When it’s over, it’s over. This is one of the principles of Open Space Technology a conversation process founded by Harrison Owen. The idea is this: when your conversation feels like it is over, ask, “is it over?” If yes, you move on to another conversation that energizes you. If no, you make arrangements to continue. Continue reading How to say goodbye

Say no to this

Staying true to who I am — and figuring out who I am — means choosing what to say yes to and what to say no to. My choices shape everything.

Alexander Hamilton, protagonist in the Broadway hit Hamilton (and founding father of the United States), finds himself in a tricky situation:

I hadn’t slept in a week.

I was weak, I was awake.

You’ve never seen a bastard orphan

More in need of a break.

Longing for Angelica.

Missing my wife.

That’s when Miss Maria Reynolds walked into my life…

And he slept with her, over and over, when he knew he should “say no to this”:

I wish I could say that was the last time.

I said that the last time. It became as pastime. 

A month into this endeavour I received a letter

From a Mr. James Reynolds, even better…

And so the blackmail begins and eventually the truth must come out. When accused of embezzling government funds he has to come clean to Jefferson, Madison and Burr:

She courted me. 

Excorted me to bed and when she had me in a corner 

That’s when Reynolds extorted me

For a sordid fee. 

I paid him quarterly.

I may have mortally wounded my prospects but my papers are orderly!

Jefferson and Madison are clear: “The people won’t know what we know.” His confidence will not be betrayed. Burr teases him: “Alexander, rumors only grow. And we both know what we know.”

Yet Hamilton makes the decision to sabotage his dream of being president of the United states–he comes clean and writes the Reynolds Pamphlet, making his torrid affair explicit. He destroys his dream, his wife and his mistress. And, of course, Jefferson, Madison and Burr celebrate:

He’s never gon’ be present now.

Never gon’ be president now.

That’s one less thing to worry about…

And they are stunned:

Did you ever see somebody ruin their own life?

I, too, am stunned, by the contrast in his behaviour: this inability to say no to Maria Reynolds and his ability to say yes to coming clean. And he comes clean not only with his rivals Jefferson, Madison and Burr (and their gentlemen’s agreement to keep it secret), but he makes the whole affair public.

He couldn’t say no — and it reshaped everything. And then he said yes — and that reshaped everything. What we say yes to and no to shapes our personal and professional lives, and the endless intertwining of our personal and professional lives

I’ve said yes to figuring out what compels me to dig into Hamilton over and over again. I’ve said yes to writing about it to see the possibilities for my work and life. This time, I receive the gift of noticing what I say yes to, and what I say no to. It shines a light on the choices I make that make me the kind of person I am. I am of my own making.

Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda.


What did you say no to that changed your life?  


This is the third post in a series that touch on the Broadway hit Hamilton. It started with Room where it happens, followed by Stay in it.

Do the work that is yours to do

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.

What is the work that is yours to do? 

How do you know that work is yours to do? 

_____

A writer inside and out

When I spend time out on the land, and I listen, it has things to tell me. Last month, while hosting Soul Spark with my friend and colleague Katharine Weinmann, I ventured outside to be on the land a bit before we got started. Continue reading A writer inside and out

City glass

 

One morning last week I noticed the ground shifting.

As the fog lifted while I completed my morning ceremony at the top of my city’s riverbank, I decided to harvest some of the wee bit of sage there. After starting to collect it, I realized I need to make an offering. I stood up. Took a breath.

City Glass - valley in fog

I offer the gift of clear seeing. 

Then I noticed that some of the sage, and even the land on which I have placed a foot, is starting its descent into the river valley. The land is drifting.

I offer the gift of clear seeing when things are drifting. 

After a few moments, I walk away, to make my way to my work day. My mind drifts to an affirmation that has been nagging at me for many months, testing me to see if it is still true, about my ability to see cities. I’ve been asking myself if my work has anything to do with cities anymore.

I notice a truck in the driveway of a home nearing completion of its construction. The name of the company on the truck:

City Glass. 

Glass: a lens or optical instrument; a mirror; a drinking vessel; a greenhouse or cold frame; a window or windowpane; a barometer; a hard, brittle substance usually transparent or translucent made by fusing sand with soda and lime and cooling rapidly. Glass is something we see through. Cities are something I see through, even when drifting.

As glass can be shaped to be a vessel for drinking, the city is a vessel for its citizens. Or the city is a way to see citizens, society, who we are and what makes us tick. This is what I see and understand. This is my work.

Today, I notice that the answer to my question about the role of cities and city-thinking in my life came to me when I gave it time. Over the summer, my visits to the river valley have been rare, but it is in this time, in this place, that the understanding came to me. The place from which I asked the question is where the answer came, both the physical place, and the mental, emotional and spiritual place.

The city and I are deepening our relationship with each other.

I ‘see’ all this about myself as the fog that hovers over Edmonton lifts. And as I make my way through the streets and alleys back to my home, I have to make several detours to avoid a gas leak and the many crews of the utility company tending to  essential infrastructure. A foundational piece of my part of the city had shifted.

What is the essential gift you give to your city, allowing it to come out of the fog?

_____

 

Carrot of potential

 

I have to laugh. The moment I feel I finally have a clear sense of purpose and direction in my work, the universe delivers a tantalizing carrot, enticing me to other work, testing my resolve.

Before this carrot arrived, I called a circle of 14 remarkable people, to begin a dive into an evolutionary purpose I sense we serve for cities: to create the conditions for cities to serve citizens well, and for citizens to serve cities well.

Each of us, in our own ways, are in the throes of discerning the work we are called to do for our city.

Here’s what I caught in our closing words before parting. A carrot of potential…

 

A carrot of potential 
 
A carrot of potential
personally inviting
me to grow
the innovation
in me stretching 
amalgamating
energy in the heart
of the dragon
here, in me
in my city 
emerging 
me
in an ensemble
growing a whole
journey
 
 
_____
 
Nest City - unusual work 1 small
 

Cascading synchronicity

 

There is synchronicity in synchronicity.

Three days ago the words wild synchronicity were front and center in my being; today the words are “cascading synchronicity”.  And it all has to do with walks in the wilderness.

_____

Cascade – Noun

  1. A small waterfall, typically one of several that fall in stages down a steep rocky slope
    • A mass of something that falls or hangs in copious quantities
    • A large number or amount of something occurring at the same time
  2. A process whereby something, typically information or knowledge, is successively passed on
    • A succession of devices or stages in a process, each of which triggers or initiates the next

Cascade – Verb

  1. (Of water) pour downwards rapidly and in large quantities
    • Fall or hang in copious quantities
  2. Pass (something) on to a succession of others
  3. Arrange (a number of devices or objects) in a series or sequence

Origin

  • Mid 17th century from French, from Italian cascara, from cascare “to fall”, based on Latin casus.

(Note – above from Oxford Dictionary)

_____

Three weeks ago I left Washington’s Cascade Mountains, where I went on a wilderness quest, with the support and guidance of Ann Linnea, Christina Baldwin and Deborah Greene-Jacobi (and apprentice guide LeAnn Blackert).  I walked up the meadow of the Smith Canyon Valley, and up the valley to the right to set up a camp on the flank of the Sacred Mountain for 48 hours of solo time, alone in the wild.

The valley
Photo credit: Ann Linnea

Since my return home, having turned my back on the Sacred Mountian, writing has been one of the ways I listen to myself, to integrate and incorporate the experience of the wilderness quest. Much of the writing has surfaced in blog posts:

  1. I went to rewire the reptilian in me
  2. I found myself face to face with the ways Chronos + Kairos time show up in my life
  3. I realized the quest was also about Earth gazing from Earth
  4. I received an invitation to explore  my soul hungers
  5. I noticed wild synchronicity around me

_____

While sitting in the living room this week, I noticed a map my husband left on the coffee table. “Lake Minnewanka,” just north of Banff jumped out at me, and I recalled a walk along the shores of the lake almost seven years ago. I was in the middle of an intense learning experience and our hosts wisely gave us the gift of time that afternoon to integrate what we were learning, and decompress. We had a few choices, one of which was a guided walk in Canada’s Rocky Mountains with Rosemary.

I have to confess that Rosemary drove me nuts. I was hungry to get moving and do something physical after two and half days of sitting and concentration. I was alive to be outside, on the move. And Rosemary kept stopping. And talking. And we hardly moved at all.

I had a conversation with myself about how to handle my frustration. I could just bolt and do my own thing, but since we were a group, my hosts would get in trouble; to bring a group into Banff National Park, you must have a guide. I could just play along. I chose to surrender, to listen to what she was saying. I didn’t give up – I surrendered to Rosemary and her wisdom.

And what I heard was remarkable.

How nature – the wilderness – works is, of course, very similar to how humans work.

Upon returning to the formal part of learning experience, we were asked to write, in free flow, to let out what was in us. Rosemary’s wise words, as I received them, came through:

 

firestorm

eagle nest
beaver dam
broken and whole
sawdust
 
conversation
 
self and selfless
ice and snow
grass and green
onion shoots
 
conversation
 
evidence of animals
not seen
fire and rebirth
not destruction
 
conversation
 
the flames are on
the lee side
when the wind 
blows strong
 
amid the firestorm

 

I recognize this experience with Rosemary at Lake Minnewanka as THE point in my life where I learned to listen.

And then, in my living room, I noticed the name of a river that feeds the lake:

Cascade.

______

These two wilderness experiences have provided me with space into which I can expand into myself, and in so doing I expand my capacity to listen to the world within and around me, and to listen to me within me, and around me.  One experience was quick, the other longer in duration; both significant.

______

Synchronicity.

  1. The simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

(Note  – above from Oxford Dictionary)

______

Noticing synchronicity is an invitation to explore a non-linear world. Noticing synchronicity is noticing a portal into deeper understanding of self, and our relationship with others and our places. It isn’t about explanation, but it is about understanding.

The synchronicity – having the word “cascade” pop into my consciousness as it did – invited me into a conversation with myself about the meaning of the word “cascade” in my life. The result of this conversation with myself is this post. I can see that the wilderness quest naturally flowed from my experience with Rosemary. Even though it was years later, I can see the trajectory; I can see a series of cascading events. The synchronicity is in how I happened upon the word “cascade” on the random map on the coffee table.

I’m betting that these synchronicities, the wild and the cascading, will be foundations for more synchronicities.

What synchronicities are you noticing in your life? How do you explore them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

City evolution inside and outside

 

‘Think about it. We are like water, aren’t we? We can be fluid, flexible when we have to be. But strong and destructive too.’ And something else, I think to myself. Like water, we mostly follow the path of least resistance.
 
Wally Lamb, We Are Water

 

As humanity evolves, so too do the social structures we create to organize ourselves.  In last week’s post, Do it all, all at once, I revealed a series of social structures that illustrate how humanity has organized itself over time. To fully engage the city system, we need to work in all of these structures.

In Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer notice that we first organized communities around place. From this, they articulate four levels of organizing economic structures that correspond with their four structures from last week:

  1. Organizing around centralized power: the state (one sector; centralized state)
  2. Organizing around competition: state plus market (two sectors; decentralized markets)
  3. Organizing around special interest groups: state plus market plus NGOs (three sectors; conflicting relationships)
  4. Organizing around the commons (three sectors; co-creative relationships)

I added two additional structures to Scharmer and Kaufer’s work, and this is how I describe  their modes of organizing, to tease out our evolutionary thread further:

  1. Organizing for flex and flow: the state, the market, NGOs, the field (co-generative relationships for/with the whole)
  2. Organizing for the field: the planet and the field (cosmic, holonic awareness)

_____

This evolutionary movement can be seen in the history of St. John’s, the most eastern point of land in North America. In what appears to be an unplanned city is the story of a settlement’s life conditions over time (Is an unplanned city unplanned Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). The life conditions dictated the purpose of the settlement, what it was organized for and ultimately its shape. The life conditions dictated how they organized: a calm harbour that didn’t freeze; a geographic location in proximity to Europe; fresh water and materials to build shelter; a strategic economic resource in the cod stocks; a strategic military location along shipping routes; the port authority, court house, government house and custom house added order; the prosperity of today’s entrepreneurship pushes the boundaries of moral codes; and today’s social and technology media are changing what we know and how we know it.

Spiral of purposes - 8.005
Spiral of city purposes – what we organize for

The overriding purpose of a city – wherever it is in its development – is to integrate the needs of its people, with its context, to create a habitat in which people survive and thrive. More specific purposes of a city can be varied and be many things at once. We organize to meet all of those those purposes. That is why when engaging with city systems, we must do it all, all at once.

In the midst of all the purposes, at every scale, there are transitions underway. In individuals, in groups, in organizations, in cities, in nations, in our species, Scharmer and Kaufer offer a window into what happens when the transition from one purpose/mode of organizing to another occurs:

“… whenever an economic paradigm is unable to provide useful answers to a period’s biggest challenges, society will enter a transitional period in which, sooner or later, it replaces the existing logic and operating system with an updated and better one. What, then, is the driving force for moving an economy or a society from one operating system to another? We believe that there are two primary ones: exterior challenges (the push factor) and the development of consciousness (the pull factor).” 

As life conditions change around us, we are compelled to respond. As the world becomes more complex, we are compelled to develop our consciousness to be more complex as well. The pattern in St. John’s is a pattern in us all.

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What pulls us along in our evolutionary journey is a dance between the world around us and the world within us.

We are like water.

Perhaps the valley in which we flow is the world around us. At times we flow freely and unhindered, smoothly.  At other times we fall. In some instances we run through narrow passages, carving our own path over time. Other times we hit the rapids with great fanfare, noise and confusion. We are influenced by the wind, the earth, the sun and the moon.

We push and are pushed back.

We are pushed by our cities and we push back.

But how does what we think about our world and our cities change when we realize that we have made them? Our city habitats, and all of the organizing we do within and around them, are made by us. By becoming more conscious of this relationship, we can trigger a new operating system for our cities – and make the move to Scharmer and Kaufer’s fourth structure – where we co-create in the commons.

How does the city make us more conscious of ourselves?

What does the city pull out of us? 

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Some friends and I started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is a post I created while figuring out why this book didn’t go far enough for me.

Here are some earlier posts:

Need to know a bit more about how all this works? Here are 7 principles that frame the emerging spiral, and 6 conditions for evolutionary expansion. And some other stuff:

  1. Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.
  2. Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)
  3. Scharmer, Otto and Katrin Kaufer, Leading From the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., San Franciso (2013)
  4. Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.