Harm happens, intended or not

Not intending to cause harm does not mean that harm is not caused. For those of us causing harm, we use this ‘lack of intention’ as a defence mechanism, to distance ourselves from the discomfort of knowing that we did cause harm. It’s a defence mechanism that makes learning unwelcome because it may mean I have to change my actions, and change my assumptions about who I believe myself to be.

A welcoming city examines how it defends itself from change. Welcoming citizens and organizations examine how we maintains the status quo by denying that we cause harm — even if not intended.

A welcoming city examines how it defends itself from change, how it maintains the status quo by denying that others are harmed. 

Three examples this week:

First, 53% of of LGBTQ youth feel unsafe at school compared to only 3% of heterosexual youth. 44% of LBGTQ youth reported having thoughts of suicide, compared to 26% of heterosexual youth. 50% of LGBTQ students reported participating in self-harming behaviours compared to 35% or heterosexual youth (see Edmonton Community Foundation’s 2017 Vital Signs Report). While we are making efforts, in the form of Gay Straight Alliances in any school where requested by students, for example, we have not created a world safe for LGBTQ students. Most adults don’t intend to hurt LGBTQ youth but we are.

Second, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls began in Edmonton this week. A few headlines involve harm, beyond the obvious harm to the missing and murdered women and girls (my synopsis of messages):

  • I feel alone without the support of the police to find my mother
  • No matter what my mom did, she’s still a missing person
  • They lost the police report
  • I just walked out of the police station – I felt let down
  • The systems in place to serve and protect and help us – what are they doing about violence?
  • RCMP destroyed her belongings before anyone was charged with her death
  • I was let down

(For a sense of what took place, see CBC article, I felt let down, and Metro News article, A sense of relief.)

Again, did anyone mean to cause harm? Most people working to investigate these missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls likely did not, yet harm was done.

A third example this week is the discussion of renaming the Edmonton Eskimos football team; it’s time to stop using the word ‘eskimo’. Several callers to a CBC radio call-in show were adamant that if no ill intent was in play decades ago, that it should not be offensive now. Then or now, the intent to cause harm is not relevant. Not intending to cause harm does not eliminate the fact that harm is caused. It merely helps us pretend we are not causing harm. We need to be courageous enough to acknowledge that we are fully able of causing harm — and then do what we can to mitigate the harm.
Harm is not decided by the person causing the harm. Harm is decided by the person harmed. It is not up to the people in power – the people causing harm – to decide if their actions are justified. It is up to the people in power, however, to listen well and allow themselves to be changed by what their hear. It is up to people harmed to be clear about what caused harm, to be clean ‘in themselves’ that the action and the harm are connected. (I have found myself mad at one person only to realize later that I was mad about something else, for example.)

Harm is not decided by the person causing harm. Harm is decided by the person harmed.

Moreover, writer Sarah Schulman offers a perspective on this:

In my experience, it is the the person who is suffering who wants things to get better, while the person who is repressing their own conflicts usually wants to be the one to feel better (Conflict is Not Abuse).

To all adults out there: if kids are asking for help and they have an idea about how to help themselves, get yourself out of the way.

To all the non-Indigenous / settler people out there, especially those of us in positions of power: listen well. Notice the power we have by virtue of being white, for example. Look for our bias to help us keep our power — its in our selves and the systems we create to continue the power imbalance.

To Edmonton Eskimo fans: there are mixed messages out there from the Inuit community. I hear some are not offended, I hear some are. We need to ask and listen and do what they ask. It has nothing to do with our intentions, or how long this team has been named the Eskimos, or how attached we are to it. It has nothing to do with what the word means. If it’s the right thing to do to keep it, keep it with newfound pride. And if it’s the right thing to let it go, do it with pride and celebration. Both options are in the spirit of reconciliation alive in Edmonton right now — if we listen and act on what we hear.

It’s a bold and uncomfortable place to be, acknowledging that we have caused harm when not intended. But its the right thing to do. A welcoming city accommodates a variety of transportation choices; it also examines how it defends itself from change, by denying that harm is caused.

Because admitting that harm is happening means I have to change. And this is a good civic practice.

Admitting that harm is happening means I have to change. And this is a good civic practice. 


 

A welcoming city has transportation choices

It doesn’t feel good when people in your city scream at you. Last month I was on my bike, on a downtown street, making my way to the new bike lanes a few blocks away. A truck driver yelled at the top of his lungs: USE THE F$&#ING BIKE LANES!!!

Only three days before this happened, I jumped on a bicycle, rode 15 minutes on streets of various sizes that accommodated many modes of transportation — bicycles, pedestrians, scooters, cars, trucks, buses and trams – to get to Utrecht’s Central Station in the Netherlands. I got on a train with my bicycle and in 30 minutes was emerging from Amsterdam’s Central Station with a map in my pocket and two hands on handlebars, to make my way on bustling unfamiliar medieval streets to Park Museumplein and the surrounding sights. I was in the busy throng of people moving in many ways through the city.

There were choices about how to move in Utrecht and Amsterdam. I could choose to move by car, on foot, on a bicycle powered by me or electricity or gas, or by bus, tram or train. The city is designed for choice and the inhabitants live the choices they have made available to themselves. There are people who choose cars. There are people who choose bicycles or scooters. There are people who choose buses, trams and trains. And there are people who choose it all. Most importantly, those choices are available just about everywhere. There is significant public investment made to do this, in the streets and even bicycle parking lots. (Check out this article about the Utrecht Central Station bicycle parking facilities for 22000 bicycles.)

The inhabitants live the choices they have made available to themselves.

There are sensible separations that are responsive to scale and speed, always with a the larger intention to allow choice. There are no bicyles on highways, but bicyles can be on trains or you can ride your bike between cities. In the city proper, bicycles are everywhere and the city is made for it. Make a sidewalk a bit wider, paint it a different colour and there’s room for bicycles on a busy street of any size. On a small local street, bicycles are on the street with the cars. Intersections are made for all modes of transportation and while messy compared to the simplicity of an intersections only for cars, it works perfectly. All people, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation, exhibit care and look out for each other. That’s how it works: accommodation.

All people, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation, exhibit care and look out for each other. That’s how it works: accommodation.

Back in Edmonton, in North America, my experience is a startling contrast. In one 20 minute ride into downtown and back home I realize:

  1. There is no place for me to be. I have to choose to be like a car and be on the road or choose to be like a pedestrian and be on the sidewalk. My ride starts on a quiet street so I choose the street. When the car traffic gets busier I ride on the sidewalk. I don’t like to do this.
  2. The new bicycle path does not go to where I am going, so I choose not to use it, despite wanting to support the public investment.
  3. Friendly drivers don’t know what do to. On a quiet street I choose to ride on the street. At an intersection where I have the stop sign, a driver stops and waves me on. This is nice, but she would not stop like this if I was a car.
  4. The streets with new bicycle lanes downtown do not go where I am going. As I travel through downtown, I pass cross streets with bicycle lanes. I could move south, away from where I am going, to be on a bicycle lane, but that is out of my way and doesn’t feel right. I stay on the street because there are few vehicles.
  5. There isn’t a place to park my bike. I arrive at my destination, Edmonton Tower, for a meeting with City of Edmonton colleagues. There is room for 12 bicycles to park and it is full. I ask, again, for the security personnel to pass along to the management that more facilities for bicycle parking are needed.

    Bicycle parking at Edmonton Tower is oversubscribed.
  6. Some drivers are ANGRY. On my way home, I decide to go out of my way to use one of the new bicycle lanes, so there is one more visible cyclist using this investment. On my way there I find myself on a narrow street with no sidewalk because of construction. This is when the driver screams out his window: USE THE F&%$ING BIKE LANE!!!! I was in the only place I could be to get to the bike lane.
  7. Another driver is ANGRY. A bit later, while crossing a street (on the street like a car) a driver honks his horn at me. I look (maybe it’s someone I know?) and see him moving his fingers as if I should be walking across the street. I shrug my shoulders. He honks again. Longer.

This is not the Edmonton I want to be, where the power of the car dominates the choices of its citizens. But lets be clear — we give the car its power. It is our choice. We attach ourselves to the car life and feel threatened by the choices that are available to all of us. The car brought us a sense of control, an ability to go where we want when we want. This is, however, a form of power over people who by choice or need do not use a car. More of us have control – in the form of choices – if more of us have choices about how to move around in our city.

To be friendly to all modes of transportation, this is what I envision for Edmonton:

  1. Various modes of transportation are available to all citizens. This means both physical access (is the infrastructure there) but also the financial means of the user. This takes place both on the street and also across the city. (Note – street here means the entire public right-of-way.)
  2. Various modes of transportation are available to all citizens EVERYWHERE. It isn’t about choosing specific places where bicycles and buses and trains will go. It’s about choosing specific places where bicycles will not go. Bicycle infrastructure is cheap and easy. Just do it. This takes place both on the street and also across the city.
  3. There are clear rules for how street users behave because there is a clear place for them. Pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle drivers all have their own place to be on the street and know what to expect of each other. The bicycle is not a pedestrian or a car or a train, but since we don’t have a place for bicycles, we have unnecessary conflict between street users.
  4. All street users are courteous and patient. It’s easy to navigate a street for cars or a street for pedestrians. It’s more complicated to navigate a street for cars and pedestrians. It’s more complicated to navigate a street with cars, pedestrians, bicycles, trams and scooters, but it is doable. Millions of humans live this in various parts of the world. The choice is ours, but it will take courage to behave in ways that are courteous and patient both as we recreate our city and figure out how to relate to each other and our city differently.

There is hard work ahead for us in North American cities. We have a built form that serves the car and we need to shift it to include other ways of moving. This is a gargantuan task, but is not the biggest task. The biggest task is to be civil and friendly with each other while doing the difficult work of making cities that serve citizens well.

Some of the bicycle parking at Rotterdam’s Blaak Station near Markthal.

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

 

The world is wide enough

The stories we tell ourselves shape our lives and the world around us. When we are closed to learning more about ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves knock us about and take us wherever they want to take us. If open to learning about ourselves, we see that the stories we tell ourselves are stories we choose, whether consciously or unconsciously.

If open to learning about ourselves, we see that the stories we tell ourselves are stories we choose. 

Continue reading The world is wide enough

Content with invisibility

I’ve noticed lately that the work I do is invisible to most people.

Last weekend I played a lead role as MC and hosted generative conversations at the Council for Canadian Urbanists annual CanU Summit–I was not the topic of conversation. I provided little content and set people up to meet each other and explore how to move their work forward. While they got into conversation and the room buzzed and hummed, I tended to their well-being in invisible ways.

A highlight of the Summit was the conversation I hosted between Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and neighbouring Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin. In the conversation, the Mayor proposed a new national aboriginal museum that made the headlines. The picture that appeared in the newspaper is the Mayor and Chief sharing a laugh, as it should be. Only my microphone and paper are visible in the bottom right corner.

mayor-and-chief-at-canu8

Earlier this month I co-costed two conversations with citizens, business, government and community leaders about how the city learns–and how we can embrace being a city of learners. I found myself, as part of the hosting team, setting them up to make learning habitats, enabling them to identify and embody the living city systems of which they are a part. They did the work, they provided the content and they made meaning of their work. My content was invisible. It was not even my job to make meaning of their work: it was their work to do.

Photo: @britl
Photo: @britl

Nine years ago I walked away from a high-profile job in city hall and shelved the ambition that fuelled my ability to sustain that work. At the CanU Summit I watched the movers and shakers move and shake. I was out of the frame as the Mayor and Chief had a moving conversation. I was looking after plates and spilled coffee as my city figured out how it learns. I have to admit that my ego has a hard time being content with invisibility.

I’ve been wondering, what does the invisibility have to say? Here’s the response:

CONtent vs. conTENT

What are the gifts of invisibility? What is the CONtent I have to offer about invisibility? I realize that the invisible is asking to be made visible, and I also realize that I’ve been making the invisible visible these last few weeks in a series of blog posts. Here’s what I’ve seen and shared over the last few weeks.

About work:

About my approach to life: 

  • A scarcity mindset lends itself to fixing. An abundance mindset invites our expansion as citizens and as a species. (Improve vs. fix)

About hosting others in conversation: 


A big lesson from a participant in a workshop who felt lost and couldn’t find her place in an unfamiliar way of collective listening (listening through World Cafe vs surveys or interviews): I am only one voice in many. (Making meaning as a system).

The feeling of being invisible is part of what we have to grapple with to create cities and communities that will thrive for each and all of us.

Where do you find meaning in your invisibility? 


Note – This post was published in Nest City News on September 30, 2016.


Finding peace

circle-at-old-timers-cabin

Have recent global and local events of tragedy and terror left you overwhelmed and despairing? Do you wonder how it’s possible to see all that is good and true and beautiful when suffering is so prevalent? Would your hope and personal capacity for weathering this turbulence be restored by having occasion to talk and listen with others who, too, are deeply concerned for the well-being of our precious world?

Would your hope and personal capacity for weathering this turbulence be restored by having occasion to talk and listen with others? 

If so, you are invited to join a circle conversation to explore these and other questions. A space where:

  • our stories are safe and sacred
  • we speak with intention
  • we listen with attention and curiosity
  • we offer no advice or critique
  • any answers and insights we might come to are our own

The details:

November 20, 2016 (7-9pm)
Westminster-Steinhauer United Church
10740 – 19th Avenue
Edmonton, AB
NO COST
Here’s where to register. Space is limited.

Your hosts:

Your hosts in this conversation are Beth Sanders and Katharine Weinmann, local teacher-practitioners of The Circle Way, a lightly formalized and structured methodology for respectfully engaging people in meaningful conversation.

Space is limited so please register as soon as possible.


 

Making meaning as a system

If you didn’t personally hear me speak, how is it possible that you heard me? This is the undercurrent of skepticism that surfaced in the closing circle at an event I co-hosted earlier this month. While the gathering generated a great deal of meaning for participants and the client, this question compels me to dig into listening and meaning-making. Who listens and who makes meaning?

If you didn’t personally hear my speak, how is it possible that you heard me?

Here’s the situation: we invited people to 3-hour workshops to explore how a city can be a learning city. We started with a World Cafe, a series of conversations in small groups with a variety of people, as a way for people to get to know each other and dive into the topic. (Our questions reflected the 4 pillars of the UNESCO pillars of learning: learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together.)

After this ‘warm-up’, participants were ready for the big event: to make a 3D model of the city as a learning habitat.

As we making and exploring the models, the groups saw patterns in the metaphors and operating principles. They identified the qualities of the system that wants to come more fully into being. They could see:

  1. Connected webs of relationships with multiple layers of pathways and connections
  2. Circles of life
  3. Synergies and exchanges
  4. Nature and natural, organic processes
  5. Gathering places where people come together
  6. Inclusivity and diversity
  7. Beauty and art, whimsy and creativity, fun
  8. Sustainability and self-sufficiency
  9. Infinite possibilities
  10. A city that evolves by learning

Participants identified a way of knowing, doing, being and living together that creates a city that works for them. For my client, who is figuring out her role in stewarding a project to foster learning in the city, this vision is essential. Her work is to figure out how to nurture this system. Not be the system, or make the learning habitat alone, because one person is not responsible for the well-being of a system. Her role is help it be healthy, to live more fully into its pattern. She is one of many gardeners.

Participants identified a way of knowing, doing, being and living together that creates a city that works for them.

The challenge we face is the inertia of staying in familiar ways of relating with each other and being in relationship with the city around us. Just because we can see and feel a new way of operating does not mean we are ready to jump into it. This tension surfaced in our closing circle: one participant spoke to the work as a state of mind, another voiced skepticism about whether we got what we needed to move the project along. While the former could lean into a new way of ‘hearing’ the system, the latter could not.

The skepticism was about the ability of the process to listen. In a World Cafe the hosts–the ‘official’ listeners–don’t hear the conversations, which means that people are not heard–by the ‘official’ listeners. The assumption: if the ‘authority’ doesn’t hear me directly I am not heard.

Four questions come to mind:

  1. Who has something to say?
  2. Who needs to hear you?
  3. Who will digest what you say and make meaning of it?
  4. Who is responsible to respond to what you have to say?

The purpose of this gathering was not to figure out how one person and a steering committee will roll out a project, but how a whole city can live into a project, and the critical support it needs from the one person and a steering committee. This involves a very different kind of listening.

A conventional way of listening to many people is through an interview or survey, where someone sits down with you to hear what you have to say verbally, or reads what you have written. In this way of listening, you tell me what you know or think directly and then I turn around and make sense of what I have heard from you and everyone else I have heard from. An interview or survey is a familiar way of ‘speaking into’ a system; it’s what we know.

METHOD Interviews, Surveys World Cafe + Model Building
WHAT HAPPENS You tell me what you know and think with no interaction with other people You talk and think and go deeper with other people (who may have very different perspectives)
WHO SPEAKS Individuals Individuals and the whole
WHO LISTENS I listen We listen
WHO MAKES MEANING I analyze and make meaning alone We figure out what it means as a group
WHERE YOU FIT You remain outside the system We are inside and part of the system
OUTCOMES I see what’s happening and I tell you We see what’s happening and we build relationships with each other to figure out what’s next
RESPONSIBILITY  I maintain responsibility We share responsibility
WHY I want to know what people think  (informative) We want to know what we think and figure out our way forward together as a whole (collaborative)

Interviews and surveys are informative tools, with their time and place, not collaborative tools. Their purpose is not in helping a system see the relationships and patterns within itself. The choice for my client: informing herself or the city informing itself. The choice for citizens: rely on her to fix things, or jump in and help to improve (see improve vs. fix).

My client’s work, ultimately, will be to help people see and operate in a system that is not linear and tidy. That is the learning for a learning city. The challenge is to figure out how to nurture this system and do so in a way that honours the familiar, linear ways of learning as well.

As citizens and individuals, we must reconcile this fact: as one voice in a survey, or one voice in a World Cafe, I am only one voice among many. Our choice: entrench in the familiar or expand into new ways of making meaning that include us all.

As citizens and individuals, we must reconcile this fact: as one voice in a survey, or one voice in a World Cafe, I am only one voice among many.


 

Improve vs. fix

Does what you say you want translate into what you do? Consider these questions:

  1. When you want to listen to people do you put yourself at the front of the room?
  2. When you want a group of people to figure something out do you give them directions?
  3. When you want to figure something out for yourself do you defer to experts around you?
  4. Does the work you do feed your soul or your desire to distract yourself from your self?

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.

 

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Mindful consumption

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.

City Emergence Dynamic by hand

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.

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Note – Definitions from oxford dictionaries.com and merriam-webster.com.

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