Village in the city


The purpose of a village is also the purpose of a city. For Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, a village does many things at once: protects and looks after its inhabitants; feeds them and ensures the goods and services needed are on hand; supports the varied work of villagers so they can participate in community commerce; educates and initiates; governs with a social structure of shared mores; builds webs of identity and relationships; and grows the spirit of the place with traditions of meaning.

Baldwin, Linnea, what is a village and what does it do
Source – Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, What is a village and what does it do?

A village is doing many things at once, each of which connects to the story, the heart, of a place. The story is what connects and binds us to each other and is a foundation on which we build our cities.

In any human system, there is a progression of values, and our intelligence, that we experience that form our stories as individuals and any scale of collective (family, organization, village, city). I took at look at how these levels of values show up in the city. We begin with our full attention on our survival, and once that is looked after, our attention expands to focus on: collective survival; economic and military power; authority and moral codes; prosperity and entrepreneurship; diversity of knowledge; then systemic flow and global life force. (For more details on these levels of values, please explore my primer on Spiral Dynamics integral. For their application to the city, start with Is the unplanned city unplanned – part 4.)

As I look at Baldwin and Linnea’s model, I can see several layers of the Spiral. The village looks after the basic survival needs of villagers. It will step in and protect if need be. It has rules and protocols. It recognizes that it is a place where learning takes place. It recognizes that at the heart of the village is story, the glue that binds us. Here’s what happens if I look at the purpose of the city with “villageness” in mind:

What does a city do? 

  1. Meet basic needs of citizens
  2. Nurture shared sense of belonging, for collective survival 
  3. Cultivate pride and identity / protect city from danger
  4. Provide necessary structure to meet citizens’ needs (physical, economic, social)
  5. Create the conditions for property, development and growth
  6. Create the conditions for expanding knowledge, receiving and giving knowledge
  7. Learn to flex and flow with uncertainty and conflicting truths
  8. Serve as Gaia’s reflective organ

A city, just as a village, does many things at once. Not every citizen is doing each of these things all at the same time, but collectively, as our attention shifts to meet the demands of each moment, the city shifts too. The graphic at the top of this post is purposely purple, for the notion of village is firmly rooted in the early stages of human evolution, when we are grappling for collective survival, and where myths, mystery and story were our tools to understand the world.

Cultivating the village in the city is not about going back in time, but rather a way to cultivate a new story to tell ourselves about our cities and our roles in them as citizens. When we do, it will reshape all the layers we have created above the story.



purpose of village-city on spiral



The gifts


Don’t forget the invisible

love in the fire

for sacred work

connecting roots

rooted, deep

together in joy


Don’t forget the invisible

energy that heals

a global family

trusting play

and the delight

in life


Don’t forget the invisible

unexpected resolve

to energize

to carry

to move

and be still


Don’t forget the gifts

of belief

in the big

break through

of collective intelligence

in circle



Poem caught in the closing circle of the Second Fire gathering of the Circle Way, at Marsh House, Whidbey Island, May 3, 2014.



I said yes


I said yes to an invitation

to being

a pioneer, a tributary

sitting, in ambiguity and uncertainty

to build

to give

to never leave, here

the moment, the lineage

the flow of the river

circling, wanting us now

to serve

by yearning

purposefully, carrying,

prototyping, feeling,

feeding, fielding

the field



Poem caught in the opening circle of the Second Fire gathering of the Circle Way, at Marsh House, Whidbey Island, April 30, 2014.



Circling up in Winnipeg


Ever notice how when something is on your mind, more of it comes to you?

I was looking forward to the start of a big meeting in Winnipeg last weekend, where we were bringing people together from across Canada to chart out a new path for a national organization. I knew we were going to sit in a circle to start  our meeting, and the day before we started, as I was walking through Winnipeg to get to our meeting place at The Forks, I noticed circles everywhere I went.

It felt like Winnipeg – and The Forks – was getting ready to host leaders from across the continent, a role this place, where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet, has played for over 6000 years. I also felt Winnipeg was helping me circle up with my Self, and the place in which we were meeting, to prepare.

As a shape in which to have a conversation, the circle allows us to more fully see and hear each other.

The only thing in the way is ourselves.


_____ _____ _____

Correct your mistakes


I snapped at someone in a circle I was hosting this morning.

35 of us were gathering for an 8:30 start.  At 8:30 only about 12 were in the room. By 8:45, with about 20, we decided to start our work and began to move our chairs closer to the center of our circle.  As we did so, a fellow asked me, “Why are you excluding me?” I see now that I didn’t quite get his question and I didn’t take the time to get it either.  I responded with, “What time did you get here?” His response, “10 minutes ago.” Me again, “we’re not excluding you, we are simply moving our chairs to accommodate a smaller group and we have just moved. It’s not intentional. We’ll make room for you.”  We did, and the fellow moved his chair almost into the circle.

It turns out he was one of the people who arrived more or less on time. He stepped to the side of the room for coffee just before we started to move our chairs and since he was not in his chair, his chair did not get moved. When he came back to the circle, what he saw was the rest of us looking after ourselves. We did  not even consider his chair. His question was very fair: “Why are you excluding me?”

After our check-in and launching into small group discussion, I approached the fellow and apologized. My reaction to the situation was not appropriate. While my reaction was not about him, but my frustration with the tardiness of many other people, I took it out on him. I so appreciate that he did not brush off my apology, but simply said I was wrong. He offered to accept my apology and let it go, and we dove into our work. He was wonderfully engaging all morning and took his place on the rim before we closed.

Today’s learnings:

  1. Prepare for the work. In my case, I did not get enough sleep for several nights and this is a contributing factor to my having a short fuse. Each day, each week, I choose how to prepare myself for the work I have to do.
  2. Notice when my frustration levels are rising, note them, ask the circle for what I need, pause, and then respond. I reacted in appropriately to my frustration without acknowledging the fellow’s take on things.  I was hosting the circle and I did not serve him, or the circle well.
  3. Apologize immediately and sincerely.  I am thankful that I noticed and apologized, but I wish I caught it sooner…
  4. Share the apology with others, as appropriate. In the moment, I see now that I should have done it in a way that everyone could hear. That way I can model the agreements AND I can convey my frustration to the circle so we can all deal with it. The tardiness will certainly repeat itself and I will have a choice to make about my response to it.
  5. When shrinking the circle, move others’ chairs first!
And as I explored this in my journal this afternoon, I noticed that the next several days of work are full of flexibility on how I will spend my time. I drew an oracle card asking where I should put my attention. My jaw dropped when I flipped it over:

Correct Your Mistakes


Inviting onlookers

Last week, in a room full of people milling around, I was in conversation with a handful of leaders.  A couple had leadership by virtue of position/status – senior people in an organization.   A couple of others (including myself) also by position/status in that we were the “experts” brought in to teach.  A couple of others were leaders by virtue of their ability to step up and do/say what needs to be done/said.   Just outside our circle was Onlooker.  Listening in.  Hanging on every word.  Clearly interested, but removed from the conversation.  Clearly keen to be a part of what was happening, but clearly separate.

At first, I wondered why Onlooker didn’t just take the initiative to jump in and join.  None of us in conversation would mind.  Clearly, we weren’t speaking of anything top secret to be having such a conversation within earshot of others.  I felt frustrated that this onlooker didn’t just step in – it seemed even sinister that Onlooker would just listen in like that.

So I made an invitation.  “Onlooker, why don’t you step into the circle?  You are welcome to join us.”  “Thank you – I was waiting for the invitation.”

Onlooker was waiting for the invitation. I was floored.

I have been sitting with this question for a few days: whose job is it to make someone feel welcome?  As I reflect, my first reaction was to question why Onlooker didn’t just take the initiative to step in.  I see now that there is a vital relationship between the circle and onlookers:

  • The circle could have something important for the onlooker
  • The onlooker could have something important for the circle
  • One must take initiative to make the connection
  • The other must reciprocate to make the connection
  • If the connection is not made, the possibility is lost or destroyed
  • If the onlooker wants to play, s/he must risk jumping in
  • If the circle wishes to grow and learn, it needs to seek out and invite onlookers

At the heart of this are the possibilities that come with risk.  An onlooker risks indifference or rejection in seeking to play. The circle risks having to shape and adjust to make room for someone new.  The bottom line, though, is that we all know what it feels like to be an outsider.  It is a lonely place to be – even powerless.  Not everyone is always brave and courageous in this place against the power and camaraderie of the circle, so it is necessary for the outer edge of the circle to be permeable and welcoming.

A permeable, expansive circle will:

  • Recognize the power/status of being in/out of the circle
  • Freely invite onlookers
  • Trust the onlooker brings value
  • Expect and welcome the onlooker’s turbulence
  • Adapt and adjust to turbulence
  • Notice what is understood differently

As you read this, onlooker, I invite you to my circle.