who are you waiting for?

Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler tell some of the XPrize story, offered for a better cleaning-up solution to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.  Twenty seven teams went after the $1.4 prize.  The most intriguing part of this story involves a team that didn’t actually win but came up with a solution doubled cleaning-up efficiency – they were from outside the industry and had met in a Las Vegas tattoo parlour.  It’s amazing what we can get up to with some imagination and focus.

‘The obstacles are less important that the opportunities if we replace ignorance with insight, inattention with foresight, and inaction with mobilisation … if we realise we are the people we have been waiting for.’*

This oil story reminded me I’d picked up a copy of Winning the Oil End Game, which includes amongst its authors, the wonderfully named Odd-Even Bustnes.  The book offers a vision of an oil-free United States by 2050, naming several policies that would have made this possible.  Would because Donald Trump has come to the White House with environmental policies that owe more to the ignorance, inattention, and inaction, than to insight, foresight, and mobilisation.

Whilst the story and quote are from the oil industry, the truth could be about anything within imagining and shaping a better world.

The greatest threat to a more imaginative future is thinking we know:  The best way to begin a day is to arise knowing we do not know, starting with what we do not know about ourselves and our motivations:

‘The ego self is by definition the unobserved self, because once you see it, the game is over.’^

This ego is the self that is less than we can be.  It is a compassionate activity when we are prepared to look beneath the surface of our life, though some, like E. O.Wilson, discredit compassionate behaviour as hypocritical and calculated:

‘”[Homo sapiens] good behaviour is calculating, often in a wholly conscious way, and his manoueveres are orchestrated by the excruciatingly intricate sanctions and demands of society.”

No doubt, some will use compassion as a technique or skill to get something but there are many who are deeply fascinated at what this means for us as a species. When you think about it, life is all about compassion.  Opening our minds, hearts, and wills are compassionate actions.  Compassion makes it possible to look at ourselves more honestly and hopefully towards our future Self, and then to look at others, our societies, and the environment of which we are a part and are sustained.

H are the most important words:

If we realise we are the people we have been waiting for.

(*From Amory Lovins, Kyle Datta, and Odd-Even Bustnes’ Winning the Oil Endgame.  I use the acronym TEESA to remind me to read around Technology, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Society, Arts – this book is my environmental read.)
(**From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)
(^E. O. Wilson, quoted in Karen Anderson’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)

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give it time, or, the journey out of suckerhood

Yuval Noah Harari claims, ‘history’s choices are not made for the benefit of humans,’ that we’re unable to claim one worldview is better than another.*  Furthermore he purports the notion that cultural ideas are simply parasitical,  inhabiting their human hosts, spreading from person to person and generation to generation in memetic fashion:

‘They multiply and spread from one host to another, occasionally weakening the hosts and sometimes even killing them. … cultures are mental parasites that emerge accidentally, and thereafter take advantage of all people infected by them. … The nationalist virus presented itself as being beeneficial for humans; yet it has been beneficial mostly for itself.’*

I understand what Harari is saying here but it feels like only half the story: the half that says, The stories we tell ourselves, as to how life on earth is best lived, are just that – stories, and we can tell ourselves better stories.  Hugh Macleod and Nassim Taleb give me more hope for our relationship with ideas.  First of all, Hugh Macleod proffers:

‘Helping to fix a company culture and helping a company to become more creative are actually the same thing. … Creativity and culture in the workplace come from the same place. … Creating culture is creating meaning within your organisation.’**

That culture is the product of creativity and creativity needs to be embedded in culture pertains to more than the business world.  We can’t have one without the other.  None of us were very old when we first stepped into our creativity, and at that moment a universe of possibility opened before us and cultures emerged – both large and small.  But, where either of these exist for their own sake, we find absence rather than presence.

Nassim Taleb shares in his inimitable way how openness to another offers the possibility of a better culture:

‘Half of suckerhood is not realising that what you don’t like might be loved by someone else (hence, by you later), and the reverse.’^

There’s no requirement for most of the lines we have drawn between “them and us” when it comes to seeking the way of presence over absence.

‘”We unwittingly amplify commonalities with friends, dissimilarities with strangers, and contrasts with enemies.’^

How would creativity and culture best meet?

Compassion appears best placed as a place of hope, for stepping into another’s world.  Any creativity or culture that unable to step into another’s world is not worth having, though it may be worth fixing – itself a compassionate act.

Two-and-a-half thousand years ago, Confucius expressed what we recognise as the golden rule:

‘people should not put themselves in a special, privileged category but should relate their own experience to that of others “all day and every day.”  Confucius called this ideal ren, a word that originally meant ‘noble’ or ‘worthy’ but which by his time simply meant ‘human.” … A person who behaved with ren “all day and every day” would become a junzi, a mature human.’^^

Of course, this is still a story we tell ourselves, but it’s a pretty good one.

(*From Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.)
(**From Hugh Macleod’s gapingvoid.)
(^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(^^From Karen Anderson’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)

the poet

‘The first breath of morning breaks the dark enough
to let the sky out of night, it gathers up
the trust of trees that leaned with such relief
against the dark, leaves them stripped and lost
to reach ever further into the nowhere of air.’*

John O’Donohue could have written, “It’s the morning and with the increasing light I can see more of my surroundings,” though this wouldn’t have caught my attention.  Instead, by using familiar words in different ways, O’Donohue says more with less: I notice and I feel the dawn.

There’s something about a poet and her poem that can make us feel and value life while we have it.  Soon enough it will be gone and we will be forgotten.

‘Let nothing bless
the human head
that climbed so high
to praise itself.’*

Whilst our willingness to be forgotten may be our greatest humility, this is not about death.  It’s about life and joy.  We’re not dead yet, so while we see the light coming each day to us, we  have life.

‘One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation.  The black moment when the real message of transformation is going to come.  At the darkest moment comes the light.’**

‘The greatest art is an intersection of contrasts … pain and healing, despair and hope, darkness and light.’^

Our art is both myth and poem, holding together that which would normally be missed, helping us to see how things are and that we can overcome and live richly.  I can miss what is already there.

In his pilgrimage, Paulo Coelho’s guide Petrus teaches a simple walking exercise.  At first Coelho feels tortured but then he begins to see more:

“Walk for twenty minutes at half the speed at which you normally walk.  Pay attention to the details, people, and surroundings.  The best time to do this is after lunch.’^^

‘The world was there around me, and I realised that seldom had I paid attention to it.’^^

You are a poet, able to make more with less.

I leave the final word with Coelho’s guide Petrus:

“Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside of you.”^^

(*From John O’Donohue’s Echoes of Memory: Betrayed by Light.)
(**From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^From Erwin McManus’s The Artisan Soul.)
(^^From Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage.)

my poem

For those who seek a different wisdom to the prevailing wisdom, an alternative story to the one often told.

‘I sit, alert
behind the small window
of my mind and watch
the days pass,
strangers,
who have no reason
to look in.’*

Will this wisdom come to us?  Or must we seek the story?

Whilst reflecting on these words from John O’Donohue I reread some words that caught my attention a year ago:

‘All great spirituality is somehow about letting go.’**

Understanding spirituality in its widest sense, I’m wonder if there’s something I must let go if the different story is to come – what my friend Alex McManus has called the ‘open possibility of tomorrow.’^

Another  note catches my eye, this time from Gretchen Rubin:

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”^^

I must miss so many things when I’m not ready.

But sometimes we’re never ready.  What then?

So I wonder how we can make ourselves ready.  That is, how we might open and increase our readiness, though I suspect it isn’t easy.  What if we notice something we want to see some change in?

Jean-Pierre Siméon’s book This is a Poem that Heals Fish tells the story of a child discovering what a poem is and what it does.  Arthur’s fish Leon is stricken with boredom.  His  mother tells him to give the fish a poem, and then leaves for a tuba lesson!  He is left searching for a poem.  After searching in the kitchen to no avail be, Arthur begins to ask people to describe a poem.  Each person gives a different answer; his grandfather tells him:

“A poem, well … It’s what poets make. … Even if the poets do not know it themselves.”*^

After all the answers the boy returns to his fish confused.  He begins by saying he doesn’t know what a poem is but continues with what he knows from all the answers he’s been given – this is, of course, his poem

A poem
is when you have the sky in your mouth.
It is hot like fresh bread,
when you eat it,
a little is always left over.

A poem
is when you hear
the heartbeat of a stone,
when words beat their wings.
It is a song sung in a cage.

A poem
is words turned upside down
and suddenly!
the world is new.*^

This story contains many things but here are two.

Arthur begins with his concern for Leon and a journey begins.

His grandfather’s response really is pointing to how we all have a poem – and we may not know this.  We may use the same words as others, but differently, in telling about the things that matter to us.

The magic of a poem is how we are able to make more with less.

I’ve just picked up Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Step to a Compassionate Life.  Armstrong by telling how she was granted a wish for a better world by TED, so she launched a charter for compassion.

I love the idea of this but we don’t have to wait for TED or anyone else to grant us a wish.  We’ve been granted one already.  We also get to make it come true:

‘You can’t receive what you don’t give,’ as Eckart Tolle said^*

This is about our poem.

When I notice what it is
I notice,
when I turn my attention
to this,
bringing my hands to what I see,
I am discovering
my poem.

(*Cottage, from John O’Donohue’s Echoes of Memory.)
(**From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)
(^From Alex McManus’s Makers of Fire.)
(^^From Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.)
(*^Grandfather in Jean-Pierre Simeon’s This is a Poem that Heals Fish, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings.)
(^*From Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.)

an unredacted life

‘A poem turns words around, upside down, and – suddenly! – the world is new.”

Sometimes a poem is just what we need.

‘In coils of wave, winding in dance, the sea
Is too fluent to feel its own silence,
Only for the sure gaze and grip of share
It would not know itself to be the sea.’*

You are the shore to my sea.  We need each other to know ourselves.

The world of messaging, texts and emails, makes it much easier to hide, for the sea hesitantly approach the shore. It becomes far easier to edit the life others see.  Relationships become more efficient rather than deep.

Hiding is easy, it’s being present that is difficult:

‘Presence is wisdom!  Presence is the one thing necessary, and in any ways, the hardest thing of all.  Just try to keep your heart open, your mind without division or resistance, and your body not somewhere else.’**

Hard but not impossible.  My hope is that,, whilst technology advances, the sea will still reach the shore.

(*From Jean-Pierre Simeon’s This is a Poem That Heals Fish, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings blog.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Echoes of Memory: Expectation.)

(^From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)

focus and breadth

It’s important not to get these the wrong way around.

Covering many things probably means we won’t get a lot done … well.  Bringing a breadth of people to work on something specific provides impact.

‘More breadth … doesn’t cause change … . Focus works.  A sharp edge cuts through the clutter.’*

‘The massively transformative purpose (MTP) galvanises passion, attracting the best talent and inspiring them to give it their all.’**

Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler describe the power of an MTP for focusing and providing breadth in the best ways: twenty five teams compete for the prize offered for the design of spaceships at one hundredth of the cost of the original vehicles sent into space.

We don’t have to get into competitions for designing a new generation of spacecraft to experience the power of the right kinds of focus and breadth.  Who wouldn’t want to harness the power passion, talent, and giving all?

Behind this there are people identifying their personal foci, being able to add this to a breadth of people working together to bring about change, not because they feel they have to but because they want to.

‘In the sphere of material things giving means being rich.  Not she who has much, but she who gives much. … She gives of herself, of the most precious she has, she gives of her life.  This does not necessarily mean that she sacrifices her life for the other – but that she gives her that which is alive in her: she gives her of her knowledge, of her humour, of her sadness – of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in her. … Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.’^

“What stands in the way becomes the way.”^^

What we choose to love comes from within, not without.  Personal responsibility isn’t something forced upon us but is what we come to believe we must do – this in response to the needs we see in the world around us and others may not.  If we really live in a world of abundance rather than one of scarcity, something quite astonishing happens when we understand we have what we need to create a compelling story to live in.

‘Every creative endeavour becomes a realisation of both how limited and unlimited we are.’*^

I know I’m limited – but others complete what I lack.  This is the importance of breadth.

I do know how unlimited you are – because you haven’t come to the end of exploring your passion, talent and giving of your all.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog Holding Your Breadth.)
(**From Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold.)
(^From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.  I have changed the gender from him to her; I don’t think Fromm would mind – he was writing in the 1950s.)
(^^Marcus Aurelius, quoted in Ryan Holliday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)
(*^From Erwin McManus’ The Artisan Soul.)

maps 4.0

‘… it is just coincidence that most people today believe in nationalism, capitalism and human rights.  History cannot be explained deterministically and it cannot be predicted because it is chaotic’*

When he mentions chaos, Yuval Noah Harari is thinking about two levels of chaos – one being the natural world and universe, the other being what happens when we react to this world and universe.  Life cannot be predicted without hindsight, that is, ‘an event that has already taken place has 100% probability.’  As we turn towards the future, the probability percentile drops.**

Harari wouldn’t have known but the order in which he mentions nationalism, capitalism, and human rights, causes me to think of Theory U‘s Societies 1.0 to 3.0.  In a nutshell, 1.0 is an autocratic society in which a few people determine the fates of everyone else.  This spawned 2.0 with the merchant traders and guilds becoming the forerunners of industrial capitalists.  In response to these initiators, groups began to organise themselves for protection, trade unions and, later environmental groups: 3.0.  Each of these have left a hertitage of “maps” and are still creating them – and maps are very important, as Denis Wood is at pains to point out:

‘In no walk of life have people failed to use the power of the map to connect themselves to the world.’^

Denis Wood makes a helpful point when it comes to the shortcomings of Society 3.0 – some are always left out:

‘Accusingly, there seems to be no geography of children, that is, the earth’s surface as the home of children.’^

I think this is changing but there’s always someone left out and this begs the question about what the characteristics of Society 4.0 and its maps will be.  Perhaps this is where we find ourselves but I remind myself that just when you think the world is moving forward, there’s something that happens to yank us back.  I confess my optimism, though.

Maps 4.0, I think, will involve the different ways and places in which we find each other.

‘Every social association that is not face-to-face is injurious to your health.’^^

‘What connects us beyond our kinship ties?  Story.’*^

Whilst 3.o is about rights, 4.0 isn’t about everyone having the same.  It’s going to be more about those who make the discovery that they are able to give and, therefore, to receive:

‘Whoever is capable of giving of himself is rich.’^*

(*From Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.)
(**From Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness.)
(^From Denis Wood’s The Power of Maps.)
(**From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(*^From Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.)
(^*From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)