Saturday, January 17, 2009

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

This is another great Margaret Wheatley book – beautiful, poetic, and insightful. She begins with an excerpt from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:

“You must give birth to your images.
They are the future waiting to be born.
Fear is not the strangeness you feel.
The future must enter you long before it happens.
Just wait for the birth,
for the hour of new clarity.”

Her premise is in the first paragraph: “I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate or public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.”

Later she writes, “For as long as we’ve been around as humans, as wandering bands of nomads or cave dwellers, we have sat together and shared experiences. We’ve painted images on rock walls, recounted dreams and visions, told stories of the day, and generally felt comforted to be in the world together. When the world became fearsome, we came together. When the world called us to explore its edges, we journeyed together. Whatever we did, we did it together.

We have never wanted to be alone. But today we are alone. We are more fragmented and isolated from one another than ever before. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it as ‘a radical brokenness in all of our existence.’ We move at such frantic speed, spinning out into greater isolation. We seek consolation in everything except each other.”

We live in complex times. On the other side of today’s complexity is simplicity. She quotes Oliver Wendell Homes:

"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

Real conversations are not easy. “For conversations to take us into this deeper realm, I believe we have to practice several new behaviors.”:

1. Acknowledge each other as equals
2. Stay curious about each other
3. Recognize that we need each others help to become better listeners
4. Slow down so we have time to think and reflect
5. Remember that conversation is the natural way humans think together
6. Expect it to be messy at times

“Sometimes we hesitate to listen for differences because we don’t want to change. We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things. If we don’t listen, things can stay as they are and we won’t have to expend any energy. But most of us do see things in our life or in the world that we would like to be different. If that’s true, we have to listen more not less. And we have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty.

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and intentions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly. We rediscover we’re creative.”

Read the book. She writes better than I can describe what she has written.

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Margaret Wheatley, Berrett-Koehler, 2002, 158 p

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