Raising Our Game

As identified in the strap line above, the Centre for Inclusive Futures summarises its mission as developing sustainable communities which include everyone as equal citizens. Writing the first of this new series of wordpress blogs at the start of 2015, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale of the multiple and interconnected challenges we face in advancing this mission.

The first book I have reviewed this year, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer’s Leading from the Emerging Future (this review is published at: http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/authors/david-towell/leading-from-the-emerging-future.html ) argues powerfully that three major ‘disconnections’ are fundamental to our current ills: an ecological disconnect in which our economies seek to use more resources than we have; a social disconnect in which a small elite (the 1%) dominate the rest of us and leave much of the world in poverty; and a spiritual disconnect in which many of us experience loss of meaning in our lives and work. The recent events in Paris also highlight the challenges of violent conflict, religious intolerance and racism, hardly new phenomena, but all continuing threats to our shared humanity.

On the other hand, on all these challenges there are both local and global movements of resistance which know that a better world is possible. Just one example, I was privileged last November to visit the ‘plurinational state’ of Bolivia and learn at firsthand about efforts, after 500 years of colonialism, exploitation and discrimination, to build a new democracy which respects cultural differences, encourages local autonomy and seeks to advance the well-being of people and planet through the philosophy of buen vivir – none of which of course is easy in a globalised economy where power mostly lies elsewhere.(The picture below is a representation of ‘Pachamama’ – Mother Earth – by the indigenous painter, Mamani Mamani.)

Under the general heading of Networking for a purpose, the first series of these blogs (in 2013) explored how ‘small groups of thoughtful committed citizens’ (to borrow from Margaret Mead’s famous aphorism) can bring about social change inspired by high ideals. The second series (in 2014 – viewed 570 times, the wordpress statistics tell us) picked up this exploration with a focus on Building a better future through civic partnership, continuing the emphasis on citizen networks as drivers of community development, but considering in more detail how grass roots innovation can be scaled up to the level of local democratic authorities, like the municipality.

This third series reflects on some key propositions about transformational change in the previous blogs and seeks to highlight key issues in Raising our game so as to sustain and grow these efforts in the face of contemporary challenges. Combining careful reflection and purposeful activism, in 2015 we need to turn the tide!

A consistent theme throughout the two previous series is the need for a vision which recognises the links between environmental, economic and social challenges and inspires action oriented to achieving better outcomes, wherever possible through identifying ‘win – win’ strategies i.e. which contribute to progress on two or more of these dimensions.

Later in this new series, we shall try to develop a more detailed ‘balanced scorecard’ for shaping and assessing this progress but we can begin by expressing the direction of travel in terms of the goal of living in harmony with ourselves, each other and our planet.

In this blog, I want to enlarge on the first of these harmonies. Probably we find in Gandhi the most celebrated example of what it means to see life as a learning journey in which we constantly reflect on what it means to live according to our highest ideals (my best self) and test out this thinking in daily practice.

The theologian Jose Laguna, drawing on the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’, suggests three phases in moving from reflection to commitment: trying to remove our blinkers so as to see the reality around us; feeling compassion for the experience of others; and taking responsibility for acting to make a positive difference.

This attention to mindfulness and compassion so as to enable us to make a valuable contribution in daily practice is also central to the theory of change elaborated by Scharmer and Kaufer. A subtitle of their book on leadership is Applying Theory U To Transforming Business, Society and Self.

‘Theory U’ is an original approach to understanding how as individuals and networks we can achieve personal and societal change. In essence the ‘U’ refers to the shape of a process for unlearning past assumptions and inventing the new. It requires us to go on a journey together where we look inside ourselves to find our best values, our noblest intentions and look outside ourselves to see that something better is possible. We need to create the opportunities together to observe what is currently happening and listen deeply to other people’s experiences, take time to share and make sense of these observations, support each other in considering what might be better and try out some new ideas and visions on which to build. Our Spanish colleague, Ester Ortega, has tried to capture these ideas in a series of sketches, the simplest of which is below.

Thus the ‘U’ process starts at the top of one side of the U and encourages us to put aside past prejudices and approach things with an open mind, open our hearts to other people’s experiences and look to the ‘emerging future’ to find new possibilities. Coming up the other side of the U, the process encourages us to take some action which tries out our fresh thinking and continue the process of learning together as we make bigger changes.

Living in harmony with our highest selves, we can use our gifts to engage widely in seeking to advance the other two harmonies.