Cultivating Resilience

Last week I was at an inspiring meeting in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  A dozen of us gathered from different parts of the US to continue an exploration of common ground.  There’s a confluence happening.  Especially over the last decade people have been working with different words to explore the same questions: How do we create healthy communities?  Communities where happiness is pursued, not  consumption.  Communities where people live with the graceful bounty of this planet rather than destroying it.  Communities where both excessive poverty and excessive wealth are outside community norms.

They’ve been called sustainable communities and thriving communities and resilient communities.  A whole Transition Towns movement has grown up to help communities see how to move from where they are now to where they want to be.  Just how similar are these different efforts?

Definitions

Many names are used to describe a similar possibility:

  • One Thriving Communities website asks:  How do you know a thriving community when you meet one?  Information and resources flow smoothly through the community from where these assets exists to where they can be best applied. The people within a thriving community feel cared for, acknowledged, and yearn to give back to their community as a whole as well as to the people within it. There is a sense that the community becomes greater than the sum of the parts. The community becomes resilient to shifting outside forces and responsive to the needs of its members. A thriving community does not become passive, instead it holds a balance of tension to uplift  the community as a whole.
  •  A website about Resilient Communities suggests Resilient communities are capable of bouncing back from adverse situations. They can do this by actively influencing and preparing for economic, social and environmental change. When times are bad they can call upon the myriad of resources that make them a healthy community. A high level of social capital means that they have access to good information and communication networks in times of difficulty, and can call upon a wide range of resources.
  • Bay Localize says that we inspire and support Bay Area residents in building equitable, resilient communities. We confront the challenges of climate instability, rising energy costs, and recession by boosting our region’s capacity to provide for everyone’s needs, sustainably and equitably. We achieve this by equipping local leaders with flexible tools, models, and policies that strengthen their communities. Why local? Why now? Humanity is at a turning point. We’re using so much of the Earth’s resources that we’re endangering the very life-support systems upon which we all depend. At the same time, too many people in our communities are going without the basics to lead healthy lives. The task of our generation is to learn to live happily on fewer resources, to distribute these resources equitably, and to make our communities resilient enough to withstand the bumps in the road along the way.
  • Transition US says that its movement  is comprised of vibrant, grassroots community initiatives that seek to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. Transition Initiatives differentiate themselves from other sustainability and “environmental” groups by seeking to mitigate these converging global crises by engaging their communities in home-grown, citizen-led education, action, and multi-stakeholder planning to increase local self reliance and resilience.
  • Shuli Goodman, a friend and colleague of mine, gives a robust definition of the term sustainability, a term that has fallen out of favor in many places (who wants to just be sustainable?).  Shuli suggests sustainability is conceived of as a journey, perhaps even a hero’s journey, with the promise of transformation and redemption. It is not something we arrive at and then are done with . We cannot buy it or make it–it’s not a product. Rather than a destination, sustainability is an emergent process with multiple developmental stages leading towards respect and care–a practice of non-harm to our collective natural capital. Or, from a more positive perspective, sustainability is a journey towards personal and planetary health.

These movements use different language to talk about themselves, but listening beyond the words, they embrace  a resonant set of purposes supporting the creation of healthy communities.  What would become possible if we started to be able to see this as a meta-movement of transformation?

Resources

Already an amazing array of resources has been assembled to support people working in these domains.  Much of what each movement has done is still relatively invisible.  What would happen if their knowledge became a common resource?  Some of examples I’ve seen for the first time in the last week include:

✓        Transition US has a delightful Knowledge Hub, personally stewarded by people in the field, which provides access to a wide range of resources.

✓        The Post Carbon Institute has grown a set of resources at Energy Bulletin which will soon be part of the core materials for a  new website: http://www.resilience.org.

✓        Bioneers website hosts a body of resources gathered over the last 20 years from a wide range or areas and with the guidance and support of both participants and  presenters in their remarkable annual conferences.

✓        Bay Localize has, among other things, created a remarkable Community Resilience Tool Kit which provides access to an array of resources.

These are just a few examples, of course, of what’s already out there ready for wider use.  It’s pretty amazing when I stop to think about all this.  Many, many people have been working away, often quite quietly, to discover how to make a difference in their lives and local communities.  They’ve engaged in numerous experiments, sometimes succeeding and other times failing and always learning as fast as possible.  The resources available on these and other websites are the fruits of many years of many people’s labor.  It’s now time to move them out  into the world, going to a wider scale.

From Emergence to Transformational Change

There’s a new way of thinking about how change is created that is present in this work.  For the last decade at The Berkana Institute we worked with many communities around the world that shared some key principles and beliefs about change which apply here as well:

  • Every community is filled with leaders
  • Whatever the problem, community itself has the answers
  • We don’t have to wait for anyone. We have many resources with which to make things better now
  • We need a clear sense of direction AND we need to know the elegant, minimum next step
  • We proceed one step at a time, making the path by walking it
  • Local work evolves to create transformative social change when connected to similar work around the world

In other words, we do this work together.  Stepping forward, experimenting, learning, and finding that elegant minimum next step.  In past years, those of us concerned about these areas have been engaging in a variety of incremental change efforts.  It’s great work.  Individual people are improving their lives and finding more contentment.  But overall our directions continue to be unsustainable.  One of my questions is how does our important work, which has been guided by principles of emergence, actually lead to transformational change?  How do we increase the impact of our work?  Incremental change just isn’t good enough:  Disasters are happening and systems are collapsing because of the choices we as humans have made about how to live on the planet.  How do we transform?

I’ve been reading Shuli Goodman’s dissertation on Organizational and Community Transformations after a Catastrophic Event.  Her entire dissertation is a fine and promising piece of work.  Shuli has looked at the journey of  a number of US that have used disasters as a springboard for transformation.  Her dissertation also led me to a remarkable article by Connie Gersick from the early nineties:  Revolutionary Change Theories: A Multilevel Exploration of the Punctuated Equilibrium Paradigm.  The article uses the concept of punctuated equilibrium to distinguish between incremental change and transformative change.  I like the way Gersick distinguishes between incremental change and transformative change.  Incremental change, she says, is when we change the height of the hoops on the basketball court — the game is still basically the same.  Transformative change happens when we remove the hoops entirely — it is a whole new ball game.  Moving the hoops around isn’t enough.  We need a whole new plan for how we live on this small planet of ours.  I want to share a few excerpts from Gersick’s article:

Deep structures  persist and limit change during equilibrium periods, and it is what disassembles, reconfigures, and enforces wholesale transformation during revolutionary punctuations. And we, my friends are in a period of “revolutionary punctuations”

Gradualist paradigms imply that systems can “accept” virtually any change, any time, as long as it is small enough; big changes result from the insensible accumulation of small ones. In contrast, punctuated equilibrium suggests that, for most of systems’ histories, there are limits beyond which “change is actively prevented, rather than always potential but merely suppressed because no adaptive advantage would accrue.”  It appears that we’re now at one of those punctuated equilibrium points.  One of the ramifications of this is that the future — form, structure, relationships, content — does not exist and cannot be seen.  Our great challenge and opportunity is to work with it as it emerges.

This piece of research from the early nineties makes five key assertions based on comparative analysis based on analysis of change and transformation from seven different bodies of work on individuals, groups, organizations, scientific field, biological species and grand theories:

  • Systems evolve through the alternation of periods of equilibrium, in which persistent underlying structures permit only incremental change, and periods of revolution, in which these underlying structures are fundamentally altered.
  • Systems do not evolve through a gradual blending from one state to the next. Systems’ histories are unique. They do not necessarily evolve from lower to higher states, through universal hierarchies of stages, or toward pre-set ends.
  • Deep structure is a network of fundamental, interdependent “choices,” of the basic configuration into which a system’s units are organized, and the activities that maintain both this configuration and the system’s resource exchange with the environment. Deep structure in human systems is largely implicit.
  • During equilibrium periods, systems maintain and carry out the choices of their deep structure. Systems make adjustments that preserve the deep structure against internal and external perturbations, and move incrementally along paths built into the deep structure. Pursuit of stable deep structure choices may result in behavior that is turbulent on the surface.
  • Revolutions are relatively brief periods when a system’s deep structure comes apart, leaving it in disarray until the period ends, with the “choices” around which a new deep structure forms. Revolutionary outcomes, based on interactions of systems’ historical resources with current events, are not predictable: they may or may not leave a system better off. Revolutions vary in magnitude.

It seems to me that our work now is to consciously create a new set of deep structures which simply support better ways for all of us to live on this  planet of ours.

Collaboratory

Some of us think that it is time to become much more intentional about collaboration.   Numerous synchronicities and synergies are available when people passionate about building healthy communities embrace each other’s work.  Leaders of some of these efforts have started to come together in a new effort — a Thriving and Resilient Communities “Collaboratory” — to share ideas, build and strengthen relationships and to begin to co-create a broader impact – a system of influence.   The Threshold Foundation has provided some initial support for  the development of this Collaboratory, helping to bring  these different bodies of work closer together.

We’ve begun to take some initial steps:

  • We’re bringing people and organizations from these different efforts together to build relationships and to learn more about each other’s work. A limited number of face-to-face meetings, regular phone and Skype calls, sharing of ideas and documents in Google Docs, and beginning to build out of a project wiki are among the initial steps to understand each other’s work and strengthen relationships.
  • Scott Spann from Innate Strategies  will be helping to build relationships and to increase clarity across the network.  We’re hoping that Scott’s approach can help these separate efforts understand themselves as a meta-movement.  His work is powerful.  For example, Innate Strategies designed and launched the RE-AMP collaboration of 24 members from utilities, government, non-profits and foundations who wanted to increase renewable energy in the Midwest U.S. Levels of confidence and trust among the participants by clarifying each of their individual needs and strategies and integrating all 24 perspectives into a unified view of their system with a single, shared goal.
  • For more than 20 years, the annual Bioneers Conference has brought increasing numbers of people together to learn with each other about new ways of building enduring and healthy communities.  This fall’s conference will be preceded by a one-day intensive where we hope to draw together more than 400 practitioners working to create thriving/resilient/sustainable communities to learn with each other and to explore this larger movement.  This event will be one major attempt at further mapping this growing field of endeavor.
  • The Collaboratory is beginning to call together this wide field because we believe that as these connections and relationships are made, even more compassionate action will follow.  It is an exciting time.

Our overall intent in doing this is to Name, Connect, Nourish and Illuminate this field. Berkana also articulated this four step process — name trailblazing leaders and communities, connect them to one another, nourish them with relationships, learning, resources, and support, and illuminate their stories as important examples of the future taking place right now — as one way in which important work grows to larger scale.

At Berkana, we spoke of this as the work of developing systems of influence.  In this case, we’re working to manifest a meta-movement which is truly transformative. Watch for more news of the Collaboratory as our work unfolds.

A Last Note:  Dialog

I want to add one more thing, in conclusion, to this somewhat long blog.  We’re not just talking about structural and technical changes here.  The only way these changes will endure is if they grow from a strong field of relationships in which we learn to  be in community again.

I’m told that one of the biggest limitations in current community movements is not technical — it is relational.  People’s egos get in the way.  They find it impossible to hold the tension of differences.  They are unable to listen deeply for understanding rather than rushing to judgments.  When there is an overwhelming and obvious disaster, we can put those things aside and work together.  However, we’ve lost some of the relationship skills which make it possible to continue to do this week-in, week-out for the rest of our lives.

The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter movement, in the US and around the world, has been helping people learn how to reweave this relational field.  This is one of the essential capacities in building a transformational movement.

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Resilient Japan

Hello friends,

Right now my work has taken me to Japan — in a big way.  We’ve launched a new website:  www.resilientjapan.org as host for this work and the commentary I am writing from there.  I will be bringing some of this over into Resilient Communities, because it is the same work.  But right now most of my writing is on this small new website.  Please come see what’s happening beneath the visible surface in Japan.

I’m working closely with Art of Hosting – Japan and KDI’s Future Centers — both described in earlier blogs from my work in Japan last year.

Blessings,  Bob

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One week in Japan

Mt. Fuji revealed itself today, for the first time since I’ve been in Kiyosato, a small town in the mountains a couple of hours south and west of Tokyo.  This silent sentinel is always on the rim, hosting Japan.  Often hidden by many layers of clouds, it is always there.  Sometimes just a glimmer… I love it when Fuji-san shows itself.  It helps me to quiet my spirit and simply be present.  Again and again, that is what many of you have said in these  days:  Stay present.  Be where you are.  Notice what calls your attention.  Act with respect, compassion and dignity.  Stay clear while staying unattached.  Be prepared to be surprised.  Stay connected.

Yesterday we met for a day to sense why might want to happen.  Let me give a little background.  The KEEP at Kiyosato (http://www.ackeep.org/) was started in the 1930s by an American named Paul Rusch who brought modern farming practices to Japan.  He helped people here transform their mountainside into a demonstration center for new ways to raise cattle.  Along the way he helped to build a hospital here, another in Tokyo and founded a University in Tokyo.  Quite a guy, to say the least.  His spirit is deeply present here, although he died in his early eighties more than 30 years ago.  There never was a grand plan for the KEEP, it simply evolved overtime, working with the people and possibilities present in this one small area in Japan.

Among other things, it is a lovely space now where groups come to meet and people arrive for quiet retreats.  Last year we held two major training events for Art of Hosting here.  While the Tohoku region where the disasters struck on 3/11 is some 250 miles to the north, the disasters struck here as well.  First, and most powerful, it shows up in the subtle field.  The deep connections which hold people together in Japan also mean that the grief in one part is felt throughout.  So there is a deep collective grieving here.  People say time and time again is that the future for all of Japan is different now.  Some things may stay the same, but everything needs to be re-imagined.  The new Japan that emerges will be grounded in traditional values and beliefs, they say, and the future is different now.  Secondly, on a more material level, everyone is affected as well.  Occupancy at the KEEP is down to 30%.  Most young people have lost their part-time jobs.  Rolling power black-outs have hit all of Japan, including here.  Quakes have happened here in the last month as well.  People know their lives have changed.  They’re not sure how.

The week after 3/11, Yamamoto-san, a wonderful deeply present man who has been here for many years, got in the KEEPs bus and drove to Fukushima, the area where the power plants are.  He had to do something.  Somehow he found his way to one shelter among many.  A sports complex, it has some of the best conditions around.  2000 people — mostly in their 60s and 70s — now live there.  Only a small portion of the total number displaced by the disasters.  Only a small portion and totally overwhelming as well.  He brought 43 people back to the KEEP to stay in better conditions for a while.  A small drop in the bucket, but it was what he could do.  43 people who could sleep in real beds, have real baths, eat real food.  43 people who could be warm even while they still shivered with their grief.  Yamamoto-san took this small step, not knowing what was next — but trusting this beginning.

So yesterday we met?  What is next.  What can this small place do that might make a difference?  A difference in the lives of people who live near here, those from Fukushima, those from other parts of Japan.  A difference in the lives of those who work here are have seen the future they know disappear.  It is easy to get overwhelmed.  I know I did when I first heard Yamamoto-san’s story.  2000 people living with almost no privacy in a sports complex; for four weeks each day the government has brought them rice balls to eat.  Four weeks in which life as they know it is gone — and nothing in sight.  What can make a difference?

Kato-san had just returned from Sendai, a region he has been many times before.  When he got off the train, he knew the difference.  Not just the broken buildings — but what was in the air.  It just felt different.  Subdued, almost glazed over.  He saw some young people and talked with them.  Wandering aimlessly in the rubble they wanted to know — what can we do?  He had no answers of course.  Almost overwhelmed by his own sense of grief and loss, he could only stand with theirs.  Devastation, devastation, overwhleming devastation made even more real by the many pockets where life looks like normal.  Stores destroyed.  Stores shuttered.  Stores opened.  Side-by-side.

We spent the morning just dwelling in our confusion.  Sharing impressions.  Letting the grief flow.  Bewildered.  2000 people.  What could the KEEP do.  And what about the people here, and elsewhere in Japan, with their own grief.  We went on a trip to visit to the Paul Rusch Museum here to see what inspiration it might provide.  Paul’s story is quite inspiring.  By the end of his life, his motto of “do your best, and make it first class” was well know here.  It reminds me of the principle “get a clear sense of direction and then find the minimum elegant next step,” something Berkana has learned from the World Cafe Community.

What’s the direction?  Where are the starting points?  What resources does the KEEP have and how can they be used?  What can be done to invite people into their wholeness?  What might make a difference.  Many of us started drawing concentric circles  KEEP in the middle, then Kiyosato, then Fukushima, then all of Japan, then all of the World.  It’s all connected.  AND, one of the things Paul Rusch did was he connected people.

By the end of the day, there was still no clarity.  What’s the stone to drop in the middle of the concentric circles so they become ripples, leading outward to a newness?  A sense was present that some of what the KEEP might do is around youth and youth leading.  A sense that this facility has a new purpose.  A wondering if it might be one of the Future Centers — places of innovation to discover the future — needed now in Japan.

This morning an idea began to crystalize.  Yamamoto-san leaves tomorrow for Fukushima for three days.  He goes to discover what they have — not what they need.  He goes to look for several youth who have dealt with their grief enough to be ready to stand with each other to discover a next step.  Contours of a possibility began to be visible.  We will host an 3 day event at the KEEP in the middle of May.  It will be for around 100 people.  Most of them will be youth.  The majority will come from Fukushima and they will come from three sources — youth living inside the sports complex shelter who are starting to come back to life, youth serving in the shelter, and youth from the “normal area” around the shelter.  They’ll be joined by 25 or so youth from the Kiyosato area and 25 or so from Tokyo.  Purposes envisioned for this gathering include:

  1. Be in our grief together.  Be in all the different griefs surfaced by these disasters.
  2. Enjoy and breathe in this beauty.
  3. Connecting youth of different ages with each other as well as with other generations.
  4. Begin to see  the resources we have and how to use them.  What strengths, what assets, what dreams, what skills, what muscles?
  5. Learn some about how to host dialogues that matter, which surface grief and joy and possibilities and actions.
  6. Begin to support each other in making the changes we need ourselves, while visible to and connected with each other.
  7. Sensing into what else is possible in each of our lives and in each of our regions.

Of course, this will emerge and shift and change.  It may be something entirely different when Yamamoto-san returns.  But I think the core will remain:  releasing grief while continuing to stand with it. Connecting with each other.  Regaining some measure of authority over our own lives.  Discovering the minimum elegant steps which will allow self-organizing to emerge everywhere, and especially in the Tohoku Region, in Fukushima, at this one shelter for 2000 people whose lives have shifted so dramatically.

Honored to be here in these conversations.  Providing a listening presence and occasionally being able to speak in stories and ideas from Berkana’s work around the world.

Blessings,

Bob

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Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan

bridge1

In a week I’ll be headed back to my beloved Japan.  What will I find there?  Community.  Friends and family.  Colleagues. Grief.  Destruction. Possibility. Fear. Hope.  All those and more.  My heart quivers some.  I am almost overwhelmed by all the images and stories that have flooded in over the last two weeks since the […]

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Collaboration: Essential Ingredient for Resilience

A new insight emerged – as it usually does – in a conversation between friends. Bob has been a long time sparring partner for me and so when I was reflecting on a year’s project of co-creating and activating a new collaboration model within our Hub, it was Bob I turned to for his usual […]

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Nanzan University Human Relations Centre

People

Ten years ago Tsumura-sensei created the Human Relations Center at Nanzan University in Nagoya.  Twenty years before, he had been trained by NTL – National Training Laboratories for Experiential Learning – in “T” Group processes.  He became passionate about experiential learning. What I hadn’t understood was that “T” group work is really a key ancestor […]

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Unleashing Leadership and Inspiring Innovation and Creativity in Japan

atwork

Once again I am awake in the middle of the Japanese night.  Head and heart buzzing from yesterday’s work.  I was invited to join KDI — Knowledge Management Initiative in Tokyo for a afternoon workshop with participants in their new Future Center.  KDI was started 10 years ago to work with knowledge creation and realationships […]

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Bootcamp is Over

Bootcamp is over. Those are the words that came to me last month when I was working  in Phoenix with people from the St. Luke’s Health Initiatives.  My trip to Phoenix came right after I returned from almost a month in southern Africa.  What I heard and saw in Phoenix fit into the same pattern […]

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Alchemy of Opposites

Alchemy of Opposites

I thought when I headed off to southern Africa in early November, I would have a spacious time for reflection, learning, and writing here.  That wasn’t the case.  I was engaged in pretty much non-stop work in various systems.  AND, because I went with the intention of reflecting and learning, I carried that spirit into […]

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