Care Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

hope copy

This is my broken record moment: a system will do what it was designed to do. Sitting as I am in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest national flashpoint, I feel I have a front row seat to the system activating in response to a challenge.

Our system was designed to prevent “the unity of the commoner” in order to keep the focus off of the ruling aristocracy. This morning I read this sentence in the news: The president is fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political gain. The implication of Trump’s attacks is that there is a binary choice between law and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for Black Americans.

A binary choice. A false choice. The commoners can EITHER have law and order OR they can stand for equal justice for all Americans. With equality comes the possibility of unity and unity is a threat to the system. In other news, just as you might suspect, vigilantism is on the rise. The system is responding exactly as designed.

Here’s the conundrum: we believe that protest and civil unrest are the path to real systems change and yet protest and civil unrest always split the community (prevent the unity of commoners). The path to social change in the USA cannot come from division. It might start there but it has to transcend the designed divide.

While the pandemic rages and the commoners are fighting each other on the streets, the stock market has soared. The United States has the highest level of income inequality among the countries in the G-7 and the gap is growing. It is not an accident that Fox News has its Henny Penny followers running around screaming “Socialism!” at the very time that America boldly steps toward an oligarchy.

My dad used to tell me that I’d educated myself into stupidity and I’d shake my head. Why would anyone choose to be uninformed? An ignorant populace is easily swung by the nose. An ignorant populace might have guns but they are unarmed where the real danger lurks.  It seems a good many of us are happily manipulated, hungrily eating anger and hate rather than asking a question or bothering to scratching the paint to discover if what we’re being sold is true or a con. It’s easy to check a fact or a source but you first must want to do it. That is where we fall down. We simply do not care. We opt for tribal division and easy blame over communal health – again, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Caring enough to question. That, too is an option. Caring enough to question is a possible path forward but requires us to look beyond the spoon-fed-rhetoric, the misinformation campaigns, and the intentionally stoked fires of division. It requires us in our questioning to shift our focus from the fight to the workings of “the ruling aristocracy.”

There’s also this: the businesses in downtown Kenosha and beyond are boarded up. The people of the community came out to paint them with messages of hope and support. Stamped on the hood of a burned out car is an appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans.

The impulse for change and a better world is there. A river of hope is there. The voices from the angry fringe will always shout loudest but I have to believe the vast majority, the quiet people who come out to paint, are looking for a common ground. There is hope, lots of hope, if we can take a look in our national mirror and see that we are doing exactly what the system is determining that we do. If we see it, we might be able to care enough to question, to deny the divide. We might be able to come together. We might be able to find a way to do better, to be better humans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

let'sbebetterhumans website box copy

 

 

Treat The Origin [on KS Friday]

it's a long story copy

Yaki called. He wants to dust off our Prometheus project and give it another whirl. The Creatures Of Prometheus is one of Beethoven’s early works, a ballet that is nigh-on impossible for a contemporary ballet company to afford. Besides a symphony, it requires  scores of dancers. Twelve years ago, Yaki asked if I would write and perform a narrative – a storytelling- that would weave together the movements. It lives among my all-time favorite collaborations. Yesterday he asked, “Can we update it? Can we make it relevant with what’s happening in the world today?’

My first thought: it’s already relevant! It is a creation story. Prometheus is given the task of creating human beings, a man and a woman. Although he is instructed to make them dull and crude, he creates them to be beautiful, to see and appreciate their connection to the earth from which they were made. Angered by his disobedience, Zeus punishes Prometheus by corrupting the new creatures; he fills them with fear and division. He twists their fear into a lust for war. He makes them dull and crude. Now, Prometheus waits for them to remember and recover their original sight, to remember their capacity for pure seeing, fearless living. To drop their madness and return to their senses.

My second thought: people are notoriously incapable of grasping metaphor. It’s the Zeus thing in practice. The update has to be a direct statement. It must leave no doubt and puncture the commitment to dullness. “Gear down!” as Kerri constantly reminds me.

“How can Prometheus speak to Black Lives Matter?” he asked. We are both artists in the later stage of our career.  Yaki added, “I want my work – my art to really speak to what’s happening today. I want it to help.”

I’ve been sitting in his questions since we talked yesterday. We are standing again at a moment in time when change is possible. We are also standing at the moment when the system, a living thing, a wizard of recreation, will fight to maintain itself. Consider: we had this moment with the abolition of slavery and the system responded with Jim Crow. Segregation. Institutional racism. We had the moment again with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the system responded with a draconian judicial/policing/incarceration apparatus, disproportionate tax structures…segregation by legislation (again and again and again).

In our current moment, in this latest moment, how can we make the necessary changes that are not merely the existing system putting a new face on a 400 year old mechanism? Real change requires steps in unknown directions [the rule: if you know where you are going you are merely re-creating what already exists]. How can Prometheus speak to that?

We focus on behavior when we need to stare at the underlying structures. Behavior, as Robert Fritz reminds us, always follows the path of least resistance – the sub-structure determines the path of behavior.

In the story, Prometheus is in it for the long haul. He knows his creatures are made for beauty and will inevitably see beyond their made-up fear and return to their source. They will one day stop listening to the fear mongers and race baiters. They will wake up and recognize that they are not made to be dull and crude and divisive. In fact, quite the opposite. They were made to appreciate and participate in the creation of beauty and betterment. Nature.

Prometheus is in no hurry. He waits for his creatures to remember. He plays the long story. What will that look like?

 

 

IT’S A LONG STORY is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S A LONG STORY

 

treehole website box copy

 

 

 

it’s a long story/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

See The Whole [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

to bee or not to bee copy

The joke from my master’s program was that you couldn’t graduate until you could explain in a sentence what the degree meant. Whole Systems Design with an emphasis on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art. I designed an individual track so I named the emphasis myself. Just don’t ask me what it means. I’ll kill the party going on and on and on. You’ll never get to the snack table. Really. Don’t ask.

Whole systems is the study of how everything – everything – is interrelated. It is only a trick of our brains and the limitations of language that anything can be compartmentalized and understood as separate. Everything interacts as a single system. Roger used to say, “When people hurt their toe they say that it is only their toe that is injured. NO! It’s their whole body that is injured.” Walking funny with a broken toe always gets you in the back and then becomes a pain in the neck. And then you become a whiny pain in the neck and create headaches for everyone in the family. The family complains to their friends and the broken toe spreads discord throughout the land.

Roger’s statement is a whole system’s statement. It highlights the illusion language places on our interrelated world. Language necessarily reduces. It provides the funny fantasy that we are separate, individuals, having little or no impact on the world with our individual actions. If you want an example of the fantasy in full force you need look no further than doubters of humanity’s impact on climate.  All you need do is breathe and you are interacting with the environment. 7.6 billion people driving 1.4 billion cars, not to mention the over 100,000 planes in the air each day, the deforestation of the Amazon…and it is gob-smacking that we require science to state what should be obvious with every breath we take.

I found that the real challenge of defining whole systems design to people at dinner parties was not the reality of inter-relatedness. The notion evokes the inner Mother Teresa in everyone at the table. We all matter and can have an impact. No, the real challenge was that the concept places us – humans – within the system and not sitting atop the creation pyramid. It makes us participants and not landlords. It makes us responsible to the system.  We matter. We have impact.

There is no greater teacher of interrelation than this pandemic. There can be no denying that our actions matter, we are intimately connected, that the smallest choice impacts the whole. Stay at home. Wear a mask. All you need do is breathe and you are interacting with the rest of the world. Literally. Everyday is a master class in interconnection. The polluted air is clearing, the animals are reveling in our quarantine.

And, we’re experiencing the magic language-compartmentalization-game in full force: words like “economy” are being placed against words like “health” as if we need to choose between one and the other. Who lives. Who dies. We’re hearing a ridiculous (and dangerous) framing of reality: the cure can’t be worse than the disease. There is no separation. The system is whole, dynamic and supports the actions and choices of all members in the system.

The toe is pandemic-broken. The whole body is hurting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TO BEE

 

heart rock website box copy

 

Yoga-Waiting and Knowing sharpened copy 2

knowing and waiting, mixed media, 48 x 48IN

Let It Peel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Jonathan told us that a tree must split its bark in order to grow.

It’s a theme. A snake must shed its skin. A bird molts its old feathers making room for new growth. A caterpillar sheds its identity entirely. Out with the old and in with the new. The forest burns and rejuvenation begins.

It is so easy to say, this bit of sage advice. Let go of that old skin! Make room for the new! Change is not supposed to be easy!

Robert tells me that many of his peers, actors becoming older actors, are no longer getting cast. There are fewer parts for aging actors. “They are angry,” he said, “They are having a hard time reinventing themselves.”

Holding tight to the old skin. It’s necessary for a while. It’s important to embrace the security of the known before stepping out the door. But clutching the old skin too long brews a sour path.

Dwight tells me that to try and recreate and/or wear the old skin is a fool’s path. He reminded me of the many times, walking down the streets of Los Angeles, I’d pass an old body squeezed and painted into the trappings of youth. There was nothing to do but look away. “Let go,” I’d whisper.

One of the few rules of systems change is that if you know where you are going you will merely recreate what already exists. Growth, like learning, is always in the direction of the unknown. Always.

Lately, Kerri and I ask each other many times each day, “What do you think will happen?” We discuss the options, spin the variations, play out the scenarios, and, in the end, we arrive at the same conclusion. We don’t know.

Bark is peeling everywhere. We must be growing.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEELING BARK

 

SurrenderNow framed copy

surrender now. a good name for a painting and even better advice when your bark is flying off.

 

closeup at jonathans website box copy

surrender now ©️ 2015 david robinson

 

Emerge

694. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Old structures do not like to give way to the new. The old structure, whether it is a personal identity or organizational system, resists change.

When I stepped off the plane Moira only said, “It’s bitter.” She meant the temperature; it was 16 degrees and the wind was blowing. We laughed and she drove me to campus to stay in the Illini Union Hotel on the campus of the University of Illinois. It’s a beautiful campus even with the wind chill making my eyes water. The hotel is actually within the student union, a massive brick and white-pillared structure that shouts, “academia!” It is solid and hallowed with history.

This university like all universities is an institution of education in a time that institutions of education are being pummeled by the waves of change. The internet is revolutionizing access to information and the power of the individual to create, pursue, investigate, and participate. The very role of “teacher” or “professor” is no longer relevant in it’s old definition and the new form is yet to emerge.

I’ve heard conversations questioning the very role of a campus in the face of the new world. There is most certainly a role but what is it? It’s emerging. Tuitions are unmanageable and unrealistic. In many circles the question, “Why not to put the money into a business start up instead college?” is leading the way. Experience is the best teacher and there are great business courses online and much information is free. Why not go into debt with something that has the potential to generate income than something that will strain your income for years to come? It’s a valid argument.

In various places around the country teachers are now refusing to administer the standardized tests. Students are refusing to take them. Finally, we are asking, “Why? What is the point? And what are we trying to do?” After all, what does it mean to learn?
This is the new form starting to emerge. The old is fighting back, ratcheting down and trying to contain and constrain. It is only a matter of time.

The old structure will fight the new, even if the old is irrelevant. Even if its existence impedes growth instead of facilitates it. In this way, organizations are no different than people. The imagination is never welcome in the old house but imaginations have a way of taking over and something new, wondrous, magical, and completely unpredictable always emerges.