Thursday, May 29, 2014

Possibility of Transformation

The mind is a tricky thing, as each day should clearly remind me. I spent a couple of days last week at the Kettering Foundation

 The Kettering Foundation

in a discussion with others around how to assist building civic capacity for civic engagement. One of our group members who works with communities in chronic poverty gave voice to the loss of empowerment members of that community feel. "They are just trying to survive", she noted. This gave rise to a comment regarding Maszlow's self-actualization pyramid


that explains that issues of survival come before other more ethereal questions. I left the meetings carrying that realization with me and pondering over how we might both move folks out of survival mode and into engagement with their neighbors.

Upon my return I was hunting down some references for a response I had made to a colleague regarding dealing with incivility in a community development approach. On the spur of the moment I decided to query a listserv  with the National Council on Dialogue and Deliberation I am on for some suggestions.

Martin Buber portrait.jpg

The first response was to a lesser known book by Martin Buber, Between Man and Man. That title reminded me that Buber was among, if not The first to use the word Possibilitator.

That memory led me to reflect on a little known book that I read a few years back that just swallowed up my attention for a couple of weeks -  Peter Westoby's and Gerard Dowling's Dialogical Community Development with Depth, Solidarity, and Hospitality.  I found this book that a friend had sent my way on the shelf this morning and found that indeed I had really marked it up. I thought it had been a focus of one of my early Possibilitator blogs, but that proved to be a false memory. I do remember writing about it to others as I was making my way through it, so I thought perchance I had saved some of those writings, but alas, if so, it is well hidden.

The chapter I had marked up the most was one entitled Training for Transformation: The Possibilitators. Since I read this book in 2010 or 2011 and didn't start this blog until the end of 2012, it is pretty clear that this work, more than any other inserted the 'possibilitator' concept into my leaky brain. So this blog is a modest attempt to give the authors their due (although nothing I have written here or in earlier blogs should be attributed to them - except the few excerpted quotes below).

The brief note that I sent to a colleague that started me on this journey was:


Part of the incivility, I would suggest, is our growing tie to winning and losing, whether in debates, elections, football, economics. It is based on seeing  ‘the other’ = the enemy, the opponent, other party… as separate from us. Much as our destruction of our ecological integrity is the result as seeing ourselves separate from nature.

This is reductio ad absurdum. It’s the system that encourages freedom to trump commonwealth, that allow nation-states to ‘compete’ for ‘superiority’ in whatever arena of concern that is of the moment.

When we pull people out of those typical straitjackets and provide a forum with ground rules that provide safety, people will likely be civil and possibilities will emerge if we’re not just simply focusing on ‘which’ of dueling dualities is the right one.

There is a lot of work going on at the face-to-face (and even online) discussion level. But without a discussion of our relationships to each other and the living planet, we’re only tinkering with the symptoms, not the disease in my opinion.

Here are a few of the relevant, and I feel, crucial points that Westoby and Dowling make.

     Vulnerability is critical to re-imagining new ways of being, living, and working in our world; but debate will only lead people into defending known territory and old ways of imagining. (p.192)

     What really inspires people are stories - stories of how other communities are tackling the same kinds of challenges they are experiencing. In this sense the learning space facilitates empowerment, not through depositing information and the use of content-oriented technologies, but through the exchange of inspirational stories. (p.201)

     Stage One of the transformational learning process requires participants to recognize this: to recognize that as an individual "I do not really know the truth", "that my given reality is just one reality". It requires what Arjen Wals and Fanny Heymann (2004, p134ff) call 'frame awareness'. The shift begins when participants are invited to become aware of difference - often through simply listening to others. (P.204)

     The first key step in moving towards action involves reclaiming the ability to wish. It is not so much that people have an inability to wish, but rather that they distrust or suppress their wishes. Deep down, many people desire a different kind of community, a different kind of relationship with their neighbors, a different kind of economic order. However many people also seem content with the world as it is, so it can become easy to simply distrust our desires.
     At the heart of our proposition is the idea that if people do not want something, or do not trust their wanting, then they will go nowhere -  more colloquially, will simply 'go with the flow'. Gerard remembers the axiom that expressed this for him: "Even a dead dog can swim with the current". Therefore at the initial stage of transformational training it is important to engage with people's stories in ways that re-awaken the imagination - particularly in enabling people to express their desire or wish for a new kind of world, challenging the 'given', or re-trusting their dreams and heartfelt desires. (p.207)

A better world is possible and we have only begun to explore the possibilities. These folks offer us some possible approaches to building a world where we see others as connected to, not separate from us.

as Jean Luc Picard might say, "Make it so".

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Politics and Climate Change

Scientific evidence that climate change is real and raising havoc with our collective lives has been steadily mounting. This is all the more clear given recent reports emanating from many quarters,



the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, on the impending collapse of the East Antarctic Ice Shelf. Even conservative columnist David Brooks believes we need to institute a global carbon tax with rebates shared with those on the bottom end of the inequality ladder.

But if we read our local newspaper or listen to newscasts we find a vacuum of serious discussion about anything we might do to mitigate this global disaster or adapt to challenges facing the human family. There is nothing visible in the Michigan legislature or executive branch showing any real leadership on the issue. What is going on in local city or county government is a mystery. 

From my vantage point I see no local or state official who sees this worthy of their time. Perhaps the problem is the human inability to fathom the impacts of parts-per-billion or with projections longer than daily stock reports. Perhaps the size and complexity of the threat has so many in positions of leadership frozen in their tracks. Perhaps we have a predisposition to look for a silver bullet, usually one that has a technological sheen to it, that we’re waiting to arrive gift-wrapped on our doorstep.

Regardless, we can no longer use denial as an excuse, and what the best science can tell us is that once we reach a certain tipping point, the genie cannot be put back into the bottle for hundreds if not thousands of years. So how might we move from our catatonic state into one that begins to face and address the challenges? What are the possibilities and how might we unleash the creative juices of the human family to dream up new solutions?

We know the most effective, fastest, and least expensive approach is to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels from production through disposal. We each are empowered to do so. Turn stuff off except when we’re actually using it. Insulate. Drop the thermostat a degree or two in the winter and raise it a degree or two in the summer. Drive less. Ask our government and businesses to do the same. One way or the other we will share the hardships of nature’s response, so why not start now and think of it as preventative medicine?

While individual actions definitely matter, policies can make better choices easier. The carbon tax with rebates based on income needs would transform the marketplace. Currently the market ignores the costs of climate change, shifting them onto not only future generations but those least able to adapt to the impacts now being felt. We need leadership. In this election year, we should ask every candidate for every office what they propose to do about it if they are elected. Their answers should determine which lever we pull in November. Time is wasting