On my Mind
It seems that we have an epidemic, if not a pandemic, of bewilderment. I wrote a few weeks ago about the downsides of specialisation in pursuit of efficiency, and I’m beginning to think that it is compounded by a real lack of clarity in those places where we most need it. We have a war in Ukraine where our chosen response is sanctions, except where they’e inconvenient to us. We have a flashing red light on climate change that barely made day two of the headlines, whilst lobbyists for fracking did. We have challenges in the NHS and respond with technocratic money based answers rather than with concern we are treating citizens as consumables.
Instead, we get into a lather over an Indian National with perfectly legal non-dom (if politically toxic) tax status. It’s rather like the drunk looking for his car keys under the lamp post because that’s where the light is better. It’s true of course that legality, morality, politics and money have never made comfortable bedfellows, but that’s been the case for nearly three hundred years since capitalism got going, and it has shaped our corporations and politics into the awesomely effective extractive machines that they have become.
Describing a problem though doesn’t solve it – if it did, the industry that is commentary would have solved it long ago. I’m much more interested in what we do, where we are, with what we’ve got, as Theodore Roosevelt had it.
I have no reason to think that our current crop of politicians are any less bright, capable or committed than their predecessors – after all, they largely come from the same closed shop schools and universities, so why is it that they appear so inept and ineffective?
I suggest that it is because you can only get clarity in the centre if the edge is not too far away, and in the last fifty years not only has the edge become much, much further away, there are more edges. There’s the technology edge, the education edge, the migration edge, the financial services edge, the corporate edge, the Rise of China and the Decline of America edges, the rampant inequality edge and of course that pesky, largely imaginary European Union edge.
We find ourselves with governance brought up and educated for a world that no longer exists, and who have little experience of what life is like on the edges. They are as bewildered as the rest of us.
Which I think means that, if we find ourselves on an edge, we need to find a new centre. In network theory, they talk about “betweenness centrality”. Highly connected nodes away from the centre that shape the overall system.
We need to find our nodes, our communities where we can be heard and connected to the actions that will shape them. In an ideal world, it would be our local authorities, but they are now so heavily neutered, and as mired in the same world view as the centre that is seems unlikely – although not impossible – this article on LinkedIn by Jon Alexander shines a light.
Our communities might be our work (if we’re lucky), or a profession, a craft, a club or a neighbourhood. Or, we may just need to create our own. We need community.
The best way I have found to get clarity is not to look for it, but to let it find you. It doesn’t have to involve yoga, or candles, or chanting but it does require mindful conversation. Real connection to others and a sharing of what we are noticing – in our heads, our hearts and our respective guts. Full spectrum conversation within a community.
It is ridiculously easy to do online, and provides a space to talk about things that we probably cannot at work, and sometimes at home. Here are a few resources that I’m aware of (there are many more – and if you are one, focused more on communities than money, I’d like to know about you)
Clarity also demands love – of community, or of subject, or of cause or all three. Not the fluffy bunny, cuddly, Easter Bunny variety, but the type described by Eric Fromm:
Waiting for centralised government to get clarity seems like a very long wait. Doing it on our own is lonely – we need others to shine lights for us, and right now, within reach of each of us is someone, and something to love. Loving invites clarity. Clarity brings purpose, and purpose creates movement.
The edge, not the centre is where what is next happens, and the edge is where most of us find ourselves. We don’t want to be alone.
Staying where we are, waiting for a guide, diminishes us. I think it’s time to find a community, take a deep breath, and take a step forwards.
Energising me this week
I’d forgotten how much I love Ellen Langer’s work until a conversation with David Zinger reminded me. This short talk, on mindful conversations, is wonderful.
Susan Cain’s “Quiet” has become a classic, and her follow on, “Bittersweet” promises to be. Here she is talking with Scott Barry Kaufman. A valuable provocation for our times.
“Yet there is hope. Because something is happening. There is a coalescence. A different story is rising and ripening. It is a story of who we are as humans, what we are capable of, and how we might work together to reimagine and rebuild our world.” From the Foreword by Brian Eno to Jon Alexander’s “Citizens“. Here’s another short clip from Jon.
We’re all Beginners at this.
Waiting for someone else to bring clarity is tempting…
“But in real life that guy never turns up. He’s never there. He’s busy handing out advice in the next universe over. In our world no one ever knows what to do, and everyone’s just as clueless and full of crap as everyone else, and you have to figure it all out by yourself. And even after you’ve figured it out and done it, you’ll never know whether you were right or wrong. You’ll never know if you put the ring in the right volcano, or if things might have gone better if you hadn’t. There’s no answers in the back of the book.”― Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land
Tiny Thought (from fs.blog.)
Many ideas get dismissed because they come from someone we don’t like.
You would never choose to only use half your talent but that is effectively what you’re doing when you dismiss useful ideas from people you don’t like.
You can agree with the idea without needing to agree with the person.