Boundaries and borders

Only when an organism shares in the ordered relations of its environment does it secure the stability essential to living.*
(John Dewey)

I think we’re realising quiet is important, and we need silence; that silence is not a luxury, but it’s essential.  It’s essential to our quality of life and being able to think straight.  When we become better listeners to nature, we become better listeners to each other.**
(Gordon Hempton, Sound Tracker®)

Boundaries say, “we are here, you are there,” “that is yours, this is mine.”

They are firm and they define who we are:

‘”Mental models” are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.’^

Mental models, though, are not set in stone; we can change them, and we begin at the borders.

Borders are more hopeful: “you have that, I have this – let’s trade.”

In their most extreme extreme forms, borders are where new things emerge, where transformation occurs.  An experience is one thing.  We enter into something for a while and then we leave.   Transformation means something changes for ever.

James Carse would probably encourage us to employ playfulness in order to move from boundaries thinking to borders thinking:

‘To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous. […] On the contrary, when we are playful to each other we relate as free persons and the relationship is open to surprise.’^^

Boundary thinking can witness several sides looking on the same intractable problem and employing the same old solutions.  Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber see this in action in universities, helping us to see how boundary thinking sees the other as something to use for our own benefit:

‘Conversation is instrumentalised and colleagues are turned into “either resources or hindrances.”*^

Border imagines the different sides working together to come up with new solutions:

‘There’s no shortage in today’s world of wicked problems wrapped around beautiful questions – meaning that somewhere deep inside that thorny issue, embedded at the core lies an undiscovered question of great value.’^*

See you at the border.

(*John Dewey, quoted in Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)
(**Gordon Hempton, quoted in Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious 2018.)
(^From Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline.)
(^^From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(*^From Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s The Slow Professor, quoting Frank Martela.)
(^*From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)

“Before” is the new “after”

When we thoroughly know how good we are, we can readily (and creatively) think well about how to improve.  It is as simple as that.*
(Nancy Kline)

There’s a link between appreciation and thinking better.

Appreciation enables blood to flow to our brain, making it possible to improve our thinking:

‘Thinking needs blood, and blood needs Appreciation.  Lovely.’*

We’re all capable of having better ideas and better ideas are what we need for a better world; as James Carse says:

‘Finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries.’**

Perhaps we are more able to become those whom Richard Rohr refers to as ‘seers of alternatives.’^  Instead of waiting for something to happen and react or respond to, we’re initiating possibilities.  These ‘seers of alternatives’ create space for others to explore as they’ve forward by influencing events and inspiring people’:

‘Somebody said that what the world needs is not more geniuses but more genius makers, people who enhance and don’t diminish the gifts of those around them.’^^

Anne Lamott and Ben Hardy help me to see that appreciative people and environments will be marked by kindness and mercy and faith:

‘Pope Francis says the name of God is mercy.  Our name was mercy, too, until we became more productive, more admired and less vulnerable.  We tend to forget it’s still there.’*^

‘Faith is action, and thus also power.  Faith and fear cannot co-exist in the same person at the same time.  Thus action (i.e., faith) and inaction (i.e., fear) are opposites.  Do what you love.  Do it more.  Output all the time.’^*

When we get things this way around, we’re exploring more of what it means to be human.

Before and after pictures are used to provide us with powerful images for how we have moved on.  But the after is not it in the appreciative world, it is the new before.

The best answers will always open up bigger questions.

(*From Nancy Kline’s More Time to Think.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(^From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)
(^^From John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go.)
(*^From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah 
(^*From Ben Hardy’s article: These 20 Pictures Will Teach You More Than Reading 100 Books.)

Fake truth

Mihaly Csikszentmihayi proffers our next challenge as humans as he closes his iconic book on how achieving flow (‘joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life’*).

Flow is about differentiation – basically to know who I am as different to who you are, to know what my contribution is compared to yours.

Now, he says, we must explore how my flow merges with your flow,  with the flow of the universe from which we have emerged, else we face increasing alienation:

‘But complexity consists of integration as well as differentiation.  The task of the next decades and centuries is to realise this under-developed component of the mind.  Just as we have learned to separate ourselves from each other and the environment, we now need to learn how to reunite ourselves with other entities around ys without using our hard-won individuality.’*

We notice how, as we grow up, we move from dependence to independence – when our motivation and goals come from within us.  Now we live in a world where personal independence has never been so powerfully expressed – as individuals, societies, nations.  We need to move from independence to interdependence:

‘Recognising the limitations of human will, accepting a cooperative rather than a ruling role in the universe, we should feel the relief of the exile returning home.  The problem of meaning will then be resolved as the individual’s purpose merges with the universal flow.’*

Rohit Bhargava labels one of the cultural trends he has noticed for 2018 as truthing:

‘As a consequence of eroding trust in media and institutions, people are engaging in a personal quest for the truth based on direct observation and face-to-face interaction.’**

Truthing makes no sense, though, unless we use it on ourselves as well as others.  Otherwise, we may become our own fake news, that is, fake truth.  It’s why the end of the journey is not about knowing something, or feeling something, but doing something, not just once, but repeatedly and in a developing way.  Only as this serves others, however, will we see the kind of reality Csikszentmihalyi hopes for, perhaps expressed here by Roz and Ben Zander:

‘The WE appears when, for a moment, we set aside the story of fear, competition, and struggle, and tell its story.’^

Some more reading about this development from the self to the we, from dependence to interdependence can be found in Tribal Leadership from Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, and Seth Godin’s Tribes.

(*From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(**From Rohit Bargava’s Non Obvious 2018.)
(^From Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

Our must (and our chance of wisdom)

The way to find your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when your really are happy – not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy.  This requires a little bit of self-analysis.  What is it that makes you happy?  stay with it, no matter what people tell you.  This is what I call “following your bliss.”*
(Joseph Campbell)

If you must […].**
(Kerry Hillcoat)

Everyone must.

Everyone has a must, what mythologist Joseph Campbell refers to as “bliss.”

Here we find our wisdom, too.  This life of must or bliss emerges from our humility – that is, our true self (not thinking too high or too low of ourselves); our gratitude – our growing appreciation of all that we have and all that is around us; and our faithfulness – daily seeking ways of living who we are and what we have into some or other expression.  Wisdom is what we know and imagine, and also what we do and give:

‘Activity and reflection should ideally complement and support each other.  Action is blind, reflection impotent.’*

Wisdom cannot be grown in simple systems, either.  It isn’t about repeating, but moving and developing.  Like the sprinter when the gun has fired, human consciousness has taken our hands away and we have to run ourselves upright or stumble and fall.

This must is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would call our authentic project, meaning it comes from within:

‘Authentic projects tend to be intrinsically motivated, chosen for what they are worth in themselves; inauthentic one are motivated by external forces.’^

While must or bliss will produce our systems, the inauthentic project depends on external systems to operate well in order to gain the maximum benefit from it.  The authentic, however, doesn’t wait on the external but is always moving forward.  It produces its own wisdom, whilst at the same time, fully appreciating what it has to receive from those who have gone before, as Csikszentmihalyi reminds us:

‘To discard the hard-won information on how to live accumulated by our ancestors, or to expect to discover a viable set of goals all be oneself, is misguided hubris.’^

Wisdom is the result of each person’s journey of activity and reflection: via activa and via contemplativa as they were once understood and practised.  When we discover and invent ways of bringing this together then we are exploring what David Weinberger is imagining in the delightful long subtitle to his book Too Big To Know, which ends with:

and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room’.^^

(*From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(**Kerry Hillcoat, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.
(^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(^^From David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know.)

It all begins with gratitude

“You should just be grateful.”

Gratitude isn’t an end, it’s only a beginning, like a seed planted.

Gratitude grows into wholeness, a sense that we have enough – maybe not everything, but enough.

And wholeness is generative, allowing us to see al manner of possibilities for giving all we are and have to others.

And when others are grateful for this, more seeds are sown.

Of course, other worlds are available …



Ah.  So you spend the first two decades of your life being told that you’re special, that the future belongs to you.

Then, SPLAT!  You hit the real world and realise JUST how low on the totem pole you are.*
(Hugh Macleod)

The term [autotelic] literally means “a self that has self-contained goals,” and it reflects the idea that such an individual has relatively few goals that do not originate within the self.**
(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Hugh Macleod reflects how some, on realising they are not the centre of the universe, find themselves set free:

‘But for a lucky few, it comes as a moment of joyous, amazing liberation.

Because now you don’t have to pretend anymore.  Because all that’s left is for you is do, is to find something genuinely useful for other people, or face starvation.’*

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies three practices employed by autotelic people to set themselves from from the ego self and become people able to transform their situations and circumstances.  They practice unselfconscious self-assurance; focus their attention outwardly upon the world; and, are open to discovering new solutions

This brought to mind for me, Richard Rohr’s five elemental truths, gleaned from the rites of passage from traditional cultures (hence my doodle).  They shout as loudly today as they ever have.  Their intent is not to put people down but to liberate them to live life fully:

Life is hard;
Your are not as special as you think;
Your life is not abut you;
You are not in control; and,
You are going to die.

These are saying, Okay, got that?  Now we’re ready to live:

‘they are not self-centred; their energy is typically no bent on dominating their environment as much as finding a way to function within it harmoniously’.**

Philip Newell points to life being richer where things happen between people rather than in people:

‘We find our true centre not within the limited confines of our own individuality, family, or nationhood but within the connections between us.’^

There’s a difference between just wanting stuff and needing to provide for the mission we’re on.

There is nothing contradictory between this and Csikszentmihalyi’s self which claims the autotelic person’s goals mostly originate within her or him:

‘A person who pays attention to an interaction instead of worrying about the self obtains a paradoxical result.  She no longer feels like a separate individual, yet herself becomes stronger.’**

(*From gapingvoid’s blog: Where’s my trophy?)
(**From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(^From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)