Sovereignty is necessarily disruptive

I watched two men well into their 60s get into a physical fight at the ski hill yesterday. I’d taken a break to sit in the sunshine and give my knee a moment to tell me if skiing was a good or bad thing to be doing. I watched a family of three ski up beside the chalet. The woman in her late 40s stepped out of her skis and headed into the chalet. The man (man #1) in his early 60s and a boy of fifteen then stepped out of theirs and walked into the chalet. As I watched this unfold, I had a feeling I should go and tell them that they should put their skis in the racks, rather than leave them laying about, but I chose not to say anything. I also chose to not go and move them myself. My rationale: “it’s a quiet Monday April 30 at Marmot Basin, there’s hardly anyone here, I don’t have much energy for this and what does it matter?” It mattered when a handful of people had to dodge their skis when they came upon them unexpectedly, one of them another man in his 60s.

Man #2 marched up to the skis and picked up a pair and some poles and threw them toward the racks, then another a violent swing of skis. His hands were on the last pair when I saw man #1 heading toward him with great speed. He pushed straight into man #2 with a shove, shouting, “don’t throw my skis”, and they pushed and shoved, with man #1 trying to throw punches. (It still seems stupid to me to fight with a man with a ski in his hands.) In seconds a man nearby was shouting at them to stop, soon joined by the woman now out of the chalet. After a few moments, when man #1 let go, man #2 walked away. I could hear snippets of the woman telling man #1 that his behaviour was bad, that it is important to notice the etiquette of a place and do what is expected, and how he was treating her was not ok.

Violence is not only physical, it is emotional, so do what you need to do to look after yourself, because you’re worth it. 

Now ready ski myself, I had to move by this family of origin to get my skis and ski over to my kids now waiting for me. I paused to say I saw what happened and man #1 snapped at me, so I moved on. The woman stopped me, wanting to know what I saw. I told her: man #2 threw the skis and he should not have done that. I came to say I saw you leave them in a bad place and I chose not to tell you to move them, and I should have. And your man’s reaction to the situation was both inappropriate and way out of proportion.

In a moment, I learned from her that he does not hit her, or is physically rough with her, that they have no money in their shared bank account but he has an unknown amount separately, enough to fund an impromptu trip to Mexico with a hunting buddy.

I said to her, reminding her that I am a total outsider who knows nothing about her situation other than what I just saw, this: violence is not only physical, it is emotional, so do what you need to do to look after yourself, because you’re worth it.

What I did not say to her: when you exercise your sovereignty (I like the language of sovereignty that Heather Plett uses), he is not going to like it. When you put in place the boundaries you need to be not only safe, but healthy, he is not going to like the changes to his life that come with that. He will find the new you disturbing and destructive to his sense of self and he will do everything he can to claw you back into that place that is unhealthy for you–even while telling you he loves you and supports you. In simple terms, he will do this because he won’t like that it means his world must change. In simpler terms, he won’t want to lose the benefits he enjoys with his power over you in the current arrangement.

What I did not say to her: when you exercise your sovereignty, he is not going to like it… He will find the new you disturbing and destructive to his sense of self and he will do everything he can to claw you back into that place that is unhealthy for you–even while telling you he loves you and supports you. In simple terms, he will do this because he won’t like that it means his world must change. In simpler terms, he won’t want to lose the benefits he enjoys with his power over you in the current arrangement. 

To be in relationship without the power imbalance will require two things: she has to do the emotional labour of figuring out what she needs, speaking it, and demanding what she needs when necessary, and he has to do the emotional labour of receiving it and allowing his sense of identity to shift, even be radically changed. She may choose to stay under his power, and he may choose to work hard to keep her there. They will both choose what they are capable of handling (without judgment).

This microcosm of power dynamics is playing out at much larger scales right now. People are figuring out what they need and speaking it and demanding it (#metoo, Black Lives Matter, or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission work in Canada) and those of us in power have a choice: deny and fight, to protect against threats to our sense of identity and power, or accept and welcome the changes that come with finding new ways to live together that are equitable, not skewed in favour of us.

Those of us in power have a choice: deny and fight, to protect against threats to our sense of identity and power, or accept and welcome the changes that come with finding new ways to live together that are equitable, not skewed favour of us. 

I include myself in the ‘us’ here as I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy a life of white privilege. Here’s a question I ask myself: “How does what others share about their experience threaten my sense of identity, and how does that sense of threat lead me to deny their experience so I can maintain my position of privilege”? Deep down, I have a choice about whether to fight to maintain the status quo and my place of privilege, or do the inner work that allows my sense of self to grow into understanding the conscious and unconscious ways I benefit from being white. It is from here that I am able to support others in their growth into their sovereignty without continuing to threaten or harm them.

At small and large scales, this is about how the experience of those who have experienced less power historically is allowed and invited to change the identity of those enjoying power. This is not easy work, for anyone, and it is necessary. It is a struggle about power.

There is the difficult work for the people who exercise their sovereignty—tell of their experience and what they need—and experience and withstand the backlash. There is the difficult work for people traditionally holding power now told to find a way to accommodate the rising sovereignty.

And then I think of the two white men in their 60s, enjoying a day of skiing with friends and family (a privileged life just like mine), fighting each other to protect their skis (not like me). For a moment, a part of me thought we should be supportive of men like this, men I imagine are having a hard time with the pressure to change who they’ve always thought they’ve been (i.e., it’s not ok to touch women when without consent, it’s not ok to deny the experience of People of Color, it’s not ok to deny the attempted cultural genocide of Canada’s Indigenous peoples). It was only a moment before I realized these men are stand-ins for all people who experience the benefits of power, and this pressure to no longer be who we’ve always been is not to be denied; this pressure is necessary and it needs to be experienced or we, as a whole species, will not move through it.

These men are stand-ins for all people who experience the benefits of power, and this pressure to no longer be who we’ve always been is not to be denied; this pressure is necessary and it needs to be experienced or we, as a whole species, will not move through it. 

We are all moving through a recalibration of power relating to any form of inequity (gender, race, etc.). Most often, change only happens when we are sufficiently uncomfortable. Writ large, denying ourselves discomfort is not helpful to our growth as individuals and as a species because we need that discomfort to improve ourselves. White culture, men and boys, or whoever is on the better side of a power imbalance, do not get to dodge the truth of harm because they feel ‘harmed’ by hearing about the harm they’ve caused, or ‘harmed’ by the consequences of their actions. Harm and hurt are not the same thing; when my bad behaviour is pointed out, I am not harmed, I am hurting (though I may feel harm if I have escalated my reaction to be highly defensive of my sense of self).

Telling each other what we need to tell is uncomfortable and necessary. Hearing what we don’t want to hear is uncomfortable and necessary. It hurts. We may feel—or be told—we are causing harm by doing this, but we are causing more harm by not speaking and receiving what needs to be said.

Telling each other what we need to tell them is uncomfortable and necessary. Hearing what we don’t want to hear is uncomfortable and necessary. It hurts. We may feel—or be told—we are causing harm by doing this, but we are causing more harm by not speaking and receiving what needs to be said. Exercising sovereignty is disruptive, as it should be, because it compels us to honestly look at how we relate to each other.


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.


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? 

_____ _____ _____

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.


Do it all, all at once


Do it all, all at once, as appropriate.

That is what is necessary to engage a whole system.

Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, in their work Leading from the Emerging Future, describe four levels of social structures that have emerged as humanity grows and develops. The first three are very familiar to us: (1) where power is centralized at the top, (2) where power is decentralized at the top, and (3) where power becomes relational and networked.

Structure 1
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 1.0
Structure 2
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 2.0
Structure 3
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 3.0

(For readers familiar with the Spiral of values I have previously explored (here’s a primer), Scharmer and Kaufer’s first structure is RED/BLUE, the second BLUE/ORANGE, and the third ORANGE. The fourth, below, is GREEN, with a hint of YELLOW.)

According Scharmer and Kaufer, the fourth structure we are growing into locates power in the social field. They see this clearly, and they see how to create habitats that will allow us to access new knowledge and intelligence that is not accessible with the previous structures.

Structure 4
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 4.0


As the structures have evolved, our levels of listening evolve, along with transformations in our levels of awareness and how we coordinate ourselves. It is a journey that is facilitated by infrastructures to help us tap into our creativity, infrastructures to co-initiate, co-sense, co-inspire, to prototype and  co-evolve.

The journey they articulate is one where the locus of leadership shifts from ego (me-in-we) to eco (we-in-me). They name the journey we are making from self to Self, from me to we. The most important thing they name are the characteristics of habitats that support and sustain learning. The places we make and shape to nourish and foster the transformation under way matter.

Scharmer and Kaufer stop short of saying something important: all structures have value. 

And this leads me to a fifth structure of my own that reflects a leap past the first four to a structure that expects and accepts all structures that Scharmer and Kaufer have identified. We have evolved from structure to structure as they have described. They note that each earlier structure exists in the structures that follow, they leave the reader with a sense that as we advance, we leave the earlier structures behind; they are somehow lesser, no longer appropriate. Their work is incomplete.

My fifth structure, drawing on Spiral Dynamics, is a big leap past structures 1 to 4, because 1+2+3+4=10.  It looks like this.

Structure 5 or 10
How I imagine Structure 5.0 (or 10?)

This fifth structure is characterized by a flex and flow of all four of Scharmer and Kaufer’s structures (in Spiral-speak, this is YELLOW). As conditions dictate, all the earlier structures are appropriate. When there is an emergency and fire-fighters are called to action, structure 1 is perfect. When there is no emergency, structure 2 may be appropriate. The fire chief and his personnel retain their hierarchical expectations and organize themselves to make sure the resources are in place for the next emergency; their power is decentralized. Even further behind the scenes, fire department personnel (can) work collaboratively in a network of city builders to make sure that the design of new neighbourhoods meets the needs of citizens and various other needs that need to be met in our city habitats. Their “turf” gets mixed in with that of many other stakeholders in structure 3.

Structure 4 is appropriate when the context allows the players to sit back and contemplate what they are doing and why. It might be a strategic planning session at the fire hall that involves a diverse range of expertise and experience to make wise choices. From structure 5, we see that the time and place varies for each approach, that they all happen, naturally. Where Scharmer and Kaufer characterize structure 4 as eco-in-me, I characterize structure 5 as all-in-me.

Drawing again on Spiral Dynamics, I sense a sixth structure (TURQUOISE), yet again more complex, that encompasses the expanse of systems of systems at work in life. This structure again builds upon the previous structures, taking into account the field in which all systems work, at every scale.

 Structure 5 or 15


There is a pattern at work in these social structures and within us. What has our attention is expanding. How we organize ourselves is transforming. Here is a summary of these structures. The first 4 belong to Scharmer and Kaufer, the remaining two mine, drawing on the lineage of Spiral Dynamics:

  1. State-centric – hierarchy and control – traditional awareness
  2. Free market – markets and competition – ego-system awareness (ego-in-me)
  3. Social market – networks and negotiation – stakeholder awareness (we-in-me)
  4. Co-creative – seeing and acting from the whole  – eco-system awareness (eco-in-me)
  5. Co-generative – embodiment of the whole – flexibility/spontaneity  awareness (all-in-me)
  6. Holonic experience of being –  expansive planetary connections – global cosmic awareness (Gaia-in-me)

To engage the systems in which we live and work, it is not sufficient to engage only the most recent structure. They all need attention because they all need to be healthy and they all have valuable contributions to make to the system as a whole. We must do it all, all at once, as  conditions require. They are all necessary, in the right time and place.

What social structure are you growing into?


______ ______ ______

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.

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 another piece, on Chapter 8. Here’s what came from my exploration of earlier chapters:

_____ _____ _____

Prototype social habitats


As I prepare to host friends new and old at the November 12-15, 2013 Art of Hosting BIG Decisions gathering, I have engaged in a learning experience with my co-hosts, and a few others, to explore Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer’s new book, Leading from the Emerging Future. As we meet each week, chapter by chapter, new learnings emerge for me as we explore this work individually and collectively.

Scharmer and Kaufer outline the evolution of economic thought and our economy as the evolution of human consciousness. They see a meta-journey of communal then state-centric paradigms, then a free-market paradigm followed by stakeholder or social-market thought. They sense the we may be evolving into an intentional eco-system economy that creates well-being for all. As they take us through 8 acupuncture points that explore how to effect deep systemic change (at the bottom of this post), they remind me that:

  • Our economic life – an essential part of our evolutionary journey – is connected to our view of nature.
  • Our work, and our passion for our work, is how we connect to economic life.
  • Our creativity, individual and collective, is the source of value creation in our economic life.
  • Our shared intention, as individual players connected to a larger whole, serves as strategic direction.
  • Our awareness, of self and whole, allows us to see where we would like to go, and if we are aiming – and moving – in that direction.

Moreover, Scharmer and Kaufer remind me that the Art of Hosting is an invitation to co-create the the world that wants to be. Our time together in November is an opportunity for us to practice “being and doing” the social habitat we long for, where we gather diverse constellations of people to connect with each other to, as Scharmer puts it, co-initiate, co-sense, co-inspire, co-create and co-evolve.

An Art of Hosting gathering is a safe place to invent and prototype social habitats to power and sustain our well-being, and our evolution.

Will you join us in our work to co-create new social habitats here in Edmonton, in just over a month?  November 12-15, 2013


***** *****

Here are Scharmer and Kaufer’s 8 acupuncture points:

  1. Nature – How can we rethink the economy and nature from “take, make, and throw away” to an integrated closed-loop design, in which everything that we take from the earth is returned at the same or a higher level quality?
  2. Labour – How can we relink work – the profession we choose to pursue – with Work – what we really love doing?
  3. Capital – How can we relink the financial economy and the real economy by recycling financial capital into the service and cultivation of ecological, social, and cultural commons?
  4. Technology – How can we create broad access to the core technologies of the third industrial revolution, blending information technology, regenerative energy, and social technologies in order to unleash individual and collective creativity?
  5. Leadership – How can we build a collective leadership capacity to innovate at the scale of the whole system?
  6. Consumption – How can we rebalance the economic playing filed so that consumers can engage in collaborative conscious consumption and become equal partners in an economy that creates well=being for all?
  7. Coordination – How can we end the war of the parts against the whole by shifting the mode of consciousness from ego-system to eco-system awareness?
  8. Ownership – What innovations in property rights would give voice to future generations and facilitate the best societal uses of scarce resources and commons?
 _____ _____ _____

Some friends and I have started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book, chapter by chapter. This is the meaning I made of Chapter 3. Here’s what came of our circle when we met to explore Chapter 1 (Life guard) and Chapter 2 (The antennae of possibility).



Be a conscious citizen


A few years ago, a friend told me that the world is run by those who show up. I’ve wondered since, are cities run by those who show up?

Cities are made by citizens, so all of us who live in and interact with cities have already shown up. Each one of us, as we build or buy homes, choose apartments, and  work to make our communities better places, are making our city. We have all shown up and the evidence that we have show up is simple: we have made cities and we are in an ongoing relationship with cities as we remake them.

The city is a dance of voices and values, where we all have a hand in the creation and recreation of our cities. Civic politicians and developers, along with professional engineers and city planners physically make much of our cities. Civil society makes sure we are organizing ourselves well, and to the standards we expect. As citizens, we work to make our places better.

The real question is whether we are making our cities consciously. 

As we unconsciously engage with our city, we make contributions we are not aware of, both negative and positive. By choosing to live in or interact with a city, we have a hand in running it because we are there. We have shown up, but more often than not we participate unconsciously.  We shape cities, unaware of how our choices shape the city. When we feel we don’t have a say in what happens, it is because we don’t choose to be in relationship with the city. Our choice, at every turn, is how to engage and contribute.

There is showing up and then there is showing up.

Cities are consciously run by those who consciously show up. More than just being in the city in body and mind, there are citizens who throw their heart and soul into their city life.

Conscious citizens put their true self out into the world. They choose to pursue their passion in their work, organize for it, invite and receive feedback.  In doing so, they reshape our cities, allowing our cities to serve us better. The risk to do the work they love is worth it, because it serves their – and our – evolutionary purpose.

Just as I can be with people and not really be there, I can be in my city and not really serve it. The choice is mine. The choice is ours.

What kinds of work make you feel like you are really showing up?


_____ _____ _____

This post is part of Chapter 9 – Be the Best Citizen You Can Be. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

_____ _____ _____


Be an evolutionary agent


“You become the evolutionary agent.”

These words of Andrew Cohen, in Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening, jumped out at me last week. I realized that the chapter title I have been using for Nest City’s 9th chapter, “Be the best citizen you can be” is something else: be an evolutionary agent for your city.

As citizens, our openness to the creative, evolutionary impulse within each and all of us to pursue our passions in our work allows us to make continuous contributions to our personal and collective habitats – cities.

Cohen presents 5 tenets of evolutionary enlightenment, which as both practice and goal, allow the infinite possibility within us to come into Being:

  1. Clarity of Intention. Make a bold, foundational commitment to be a vehicle for the evolutionary impulse in this world. “You are a potential bearer of the future, and therefore the impulse that is driving the evolutionary process is only interested in you according to how much of that potential you are able to fulfill (p. 122).”
  2. The Power of Volition. Embrace unconditional responsibility for what has been yours and ours all along – everything – and make it conscious. This is necessary to make you “available to participate in the present and future in ways that would otherwise not be possible (p 128).”  The evolutionary process does not need “the burden of your own, unresolved negative karma – both personal and cultural (p. 132),” and so you have a free choice, to choose to “activate the process of evolution in and through yourself. You become the evolutionary agent (p. 133).”
  3. Face Everything and Avoid Nothing. Be “emotionally willing to bear a degree of reality – both in regard to yourself and to life itself – that you may have been unwilling to tolerate before (p. 141).” Allow the walls of self-protective denial and avoidance to crumble, and you will wake up to the nature of consciousness, human experience, the complex workings of individual and collective development (p. 142).” Stand tall when you are no longer hiding anything from yourself (p. 143).
  4. The Process Perspective. Conjure a bigger context, a perspective from where you “see your personal experience, which at times can feel overwhelming, within an infinitely larger context. The drama of your personal desires and concerns is … always secondary to the prime directive of the Authentic Self, which is the evolution of the process itself. When you are lit up by the evolutionary impulse, there are times when its creative passion completely overshadows personal concerns … (p. 153).”
  5. Cosmic Conscience. Notice the moral imperative to ensure that the evolutionary process evolves through you. Imagine a kind of cosmocentric care, “not related to your ego, well beyond your self of self and ego. “It comes from a deeper higher part of yourself that is free from all the lesser though very real dimensions of who you really are. When you start to emotionally respond to life from that part of yourself, something extraordinary has begun to happen (p. 165).”

Cohen reminds us that the goal of life is perpetual development, involving both a path and a goal, and that they are the same. The above tenets are practices and explorations and an end-state, one and the same.

They are also a reminder of earlier posts this series, and how cities have come about – through our work, and more specifically, as we pursue our creative passions in our work. (See Concluding city patterns.)

When we choose to fully pursue what the world, or cosmos, calls of us, an pursue our innate desire to respond to our creative impulse, we are serving the evolutionary process itself. When it comes to cities, we are building habitats that serve our very evolution.

It is a free choice to become an evolutionary agent. And being the best citizen you can be means being an evolutionary agent. It means putting the ego aside, remove its ability to sabotage your desire to respond to the cosmic call to let out your creative impulse.

“I invite you to begin now. Begin beautifully.

Begin riding the waves of your joy and interest.” 

Risa F. Kaparo


What does the evolutionary agent in you long to do?

_____ _____ _____

This post is part of Chapter 9 – Be the Best Citizen You Can Be. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

_____ _____ _____

Instrumental and intrinsic purposes


The evolutionary pattern of wholes, or holons, is helpful to understand purpose at scale. To explore this, I draw on the work Arthur Koestler, Ken Wilber and Steve McIntosh, who articulate the sequence of evolutionary emergence where each evolutionary entity, or level, is a whole and a part. Each whole is also a part of larger wholes. Marilyn Hamilton’s nested holarchy of city systems (Figure A) is an example.

Hamilton's nested holarchy of city systems spiffy

Holons, which are each whole, are nested as parts of other holons/wholes. The smaller wholes are more numerous. Imagine the cells that make up your body; they are far more numerous than the one whole body that is you. Likewise, you are one whole, along with many others, that make up the whole family to which you belong, or the organization where you work, or your neighbourhood or city, nation or species.

In looking at the scale of wholes, that are both parts and wholes themselves, the smaller entities are ‘fundamental’ and ‘instrumental’.  Without these smaller wholes to form part of the larger whole, the larger whole does not exist. The smaller the holon, the more fundamental; the more larger holons emerge, the more fundamental the smaller ones become.

Larger holons emerge as entities that transcend and include the smaller holons in new combinations. The larger holons are  not fundamental, but rather ‘significant’. McIntosh on Wilber:

…as evolution produces larger and larger encompassing holonic levels, each new level contains more and more parts and thus more and more whole entities. And as holons come to embrace more whole/parts within themselves, this increases their intrinsic value, or what he calls their ‘evolutionary significance (McIntosh, p. 124-125).’

From an evolutionary perspective, larger holons are more significant than their smaller counterparts, while the small holons remain, and become, more fundamental.

There are two value pulls here: one toward the smaller, fundamental value of encompassed parts, and a second toward the increasing significant value of emergent wholes. While these ‘pulls’ are in opposite directions, they are complementary; they co-exist in relationship with each other. As wholes become larger and more significant, the component wholes that are part of that whole become more fundamental. For McIntosh, this is the nature of evolutionary progress as described by Wilber.

As for evolutionary purpose, McIntosh sees the same complementary relationship between holons with new language: the encompassed parts are of instrumental value, and the emergent wholes are of increasing intrinsic value. Smaller holons serve instrumental purposes and larger holons serve intrinsic purposes.

From an evolutionary perspective, at a macro scale, what happens to purpose at different scales?

For McIntosh, the intrinsic purpose, or value, of evolution itself is not static: “its value is ‘alive, free, thrilling, and always moving (McIntosh, p.  160).'” Yet is also moving in a direction, toward goodness, beauty and truth. Intrinsic purpose is grand and shifty.

The process of growth, however, also involves parts that are no longer growing or emerging, yet they “nevertheless [contribute] to the growth of the emergent levels which encompass those parts as a foundation for further growth (McIntosh, p. 160).”  The holons that are encompassed as parts of larger wholes are of instrumental value to the more complex system of which it is a part. Small holons are in service to larger, more significant holons. They are of instrumental purpose.

Recognizing that larger holons are more significant than smaller holons does not negate the value of smaller holons, for they are fundamental. McIntosh puts it bluntly: ” instrumental value is the complementary equal of intrinsic value (McIntosh, p. 156).”

This exploration is a reminder that small entities are building blocks, and their health and well-being have instrumental purpose and value to the entities in which they are part. It is a legitimate, and not lesser, role to play in evolutionary progress. For McIntosh, this “two-fold purpose that orients our personal development is grounded in evolution’s essential organizing structure of wholes and parts, wherein every whole is also a part and vice a versa. Every evolutionary entity thus partakes of both kinds of purpose (McIntosh, p. 155).”

Every entity is a whole and a part. Every entity has instrumental and intrinsic purpose.

What is your intrinsic purpose?

In what are you of instrumental value?


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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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Further reading…

Koestler, Arthur. A Brief History of Holons, by Mark Edwards

McIntosh, Steve. Evolution’s Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins

Wilber, Ken. Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy



City purpose – survival and improvement


In my last post, the purpose of evolution is evolving, I introduced the work of Steve McIntosh and his book, Evolution’s Purpose.  There is another layer of insight from McIntosh that frames the question of destination and whether we are alive or adrift: first- and second-order purpose.

McIntosh articulates the “evident purpose inherent in the urge to survive and reproduce shared by all forms of life (p. 13)” as a “first-order purpose” that is an instinctual or semi-automatic urge in most animal and plant behaviour. In contrast, “second-order purpose,” is possessed by humans. Here is McIntosh’s take on the nature of human, second-order purpose:

Humans not only have purposes, we have purposes for our purposes; we have relative freedom of choice regarding the urges or impetuses we want to act on and the appetites we want to resist. Moreover, humans can have purposes that require a lifetime of more to fulfil, we can have highly creative purposes, compassionate, loving purposes, and world-changing purposes that improve conditions for everyone (p. 13-14).

Humans experience two orders of purpose: immediate survival of self and the species, and a range of purposes that originate from our agency, that originate in response to our life conditions.

The latter of these two orders of purpose is “a self-reflective type of purpose that includes rational, moral and aesthetic aspirations (p. 88).”  These aspirations are improvements we seek in our life conditions.  Humanity’s creation of cities, if aligned with purpose at all, must have two purposes: survival and improvement.

Cities, as part of the human journey, have two destinations: survival and improvement.

Is your city organized to ensure survival and improvement?

Is your city alive or adrift?


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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

Purpose of evolution is evolving


If the work we do creates our cities, and if, as individuals, we lose our sense of purpose in our work, so do our cities.  If we lose track of where we are going, then the very cities we build that support us on our journey have lost track too.

Last week I started to post “book bits” from Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, with these key questions:

  • What is the role of ‘purpose’ in a city?
  • What makes a city alive?
  • How can we tell when we are adrift?
  • How does the purpose of our individual work connect to the purpose of the city?
  • How, exactly, does our work matter?
Before diving into these questions, a quick touch on purpose and its relationship to evolution.

The work we do is powered by improvement, what we are aiming for when we “scratch the itch”, when we choose to look for ways to fix what is bothering us, or what could simply be better.  We have a drive to improve the quality of our lives. Steve McIntosh, in his new book Evolution’s Purpose, sheds some light on this phenomenon.

We are moved to improve our conditions and this takes place in a self-other dialectic:

…as we are moved to make things better, we inevitably encounter the ever-present dialectic of self and other, which shows up whenever we set out to improve our conditions (p. 154).

We pursue self-improvement and give to wider community:

…our ability to grow and continuousely make things better is predicated on the pursuit of both self-improvement and the giving of ourselves to the larger community (p. 154).

An evolutionary influence is at work:

…as we increasingly experience and understand this developmental impetus, we can perhaps sense that we are encountering an ancient and even sacred influence.  This is an evolutionary impulse, the ultimate source of creativity in the universe (p. 155).

McIntosh makes the case that “grow and thrive as individuals over the long term, we not only have to take care of ourselves, we also have to provide service to something larger than ourselves (p. 154).”  The dialectic between what our current state and the one we desire, akrasia, takes place with another critical dialectic, that of the relationship between individuals and the collective.

The role of science and philosophy, and even spirituality, are explored at length by McIntosh. I refer anyone interested in the argument that evolution has a purpose to McIntosh’s work; it is well laid out.

For this post, it suffices to note that evolution has a purpose of some kind that is co-created by the agency of humanity. Since cities are our creation, they are part of this dynamic. In fact, one of the forms of the individual-collective dialectic described by McIntosh is the relationship between citizen and city.

As we dive into exploring the destination of our city journey, this realization, by McIntosh, is essential:

… as we are moved by evolution, as we growing our ability to experience and create intrinsic value, we come to see how the purpose of evolution itself is still evolving – it cannot be discerned with finality because it is still in the process of being determined by the beings whose choices are required for its creation (emphasis mine, p. 161).

We don’t know where exactly we are going, but we have a hand in where we are going. We don’t know exactly where we will go with our cities, but we have a hand in where they will take us.

Where do we choose to go?

If our work shapes where we go, what work do we choose?



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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

The city as antagonist

In our city life, is the city the antagonist or citizens?

It’s hard to say.  Consider this passage from Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist (p. 234-5):

I am starting to view my past in a different way these days.  Strange to say under the circumstances, but I think now that I used to see my past as a book – a story with a beginning, middle, and end, all of which I knew by heart, and therefore had no reason to even crack the spine.  But now I am starting to see it as something more like a frontier – a landscape I have spent my life cultivating, fortifying against the random elements.  But the landscape is alive, is what I am realizing – is a thing unto itself – and if you’re brave enough to ever leave your house you start to see this.  In fact, the landscape consists of multiple things, multiple wills that shift and change and occasionally assert themselves in force. None of this, you eventually understand, belongs to you – not a rock or flower a broken branch – no matter how you work it, no matter how much scrub you clear.  The ground could decide to open up above your head.
The world is independent.  It moves, and moves on, with or without you.
Everything, that is, except that which you make die.  What you’ve killed is yours, forever – a trophy picked off from the landscape and hung up on your wall.
So you can greet one another each day.

The city, and city life, could be viewed as a story with a beginning, middle and an end.  It could be a story with all three of these elements know (or thought to be known) or it could be a story that has started and we just don’t know the end yet.  Just as the protagonist in The Antagonist, though, I too am starting to see city life as a frontier.  City life both cultivates random elements and fortifies against random elements.  City life is alive.

City live generates new conditions and problems to which we have to adjust.  It causes us random elements.  As the generation of new habitat causes us to adjust and innovate, this is the very skill we need to fortify against random elements.  And as we do this work, endlessly because the story doesn’t have an ending that we can grasp, if there is one.

Just as the protagonist above, our city life consists of multiple things, multiple lives, multiple forces that ‘shift and change and occasionally assert themselves in force.’  As much as the city belongs to us and is created by us, it is not created by me.  No matter how hard I work as an individual, ‘no matter how much scrub [i] clear,’ I do not have control over it.  We create it and we can shape it.  It may or may not work for me.  Whether I am alive or dead, the city will move on with or without me.

What is clear to me, is that while I am in relationship with my city (from within or from afar), I do have control over what I keep from having a full life in cities. While this may appear to be a negative thing, it is crucial. I can choose, with every interaction I have with others, to allow the full potential for cities and citizens to emerge.  I can help my city and citizens be fully alive, if they so choose.

Each of us have this decision –  make things die or create the conditions for things to thrive.

When the city challenges us, it feels like the antagonist.  This a crucial role, creating the challenges and tensions we need to grow.  When we choose to make things die, we are the antagonist, for we keep citizens and the city from reaching their full potential.

I recognize that I can be the kind of antagonist that provides constructive tension.  (Citizens create the very conditions that we have to respond to as a city!)  I also recognize that I can be a destructive antagonist.  When destructive, I aim to be conscious and see the trophy’s on my wall.  I aim to see them and get to know them so that I may learn to serve myself, my fellow citizens and my city well.

I embrace the city and its challenges as a constructive antagonist in my (our) life (lives).  The city creates the life conditions we and I need to grow and evolve.  City life puts us on the frontier.