An Extinction Rebellion (XR) friend confided in me that he wasn’t sure he could trust other XR people he was meeting online via text. I knew how he felt. I don’t fully trust people I haven’t connected with deeply, who’s voices I haven’t heard and who’s motivations and concerns haven’t yet spoken to me. That partly promoted this short essay.
If you’ll indulge me a little, this excerpt from David Whyte’s poem Self Portrait brings in the crucial value of the personal:
I want to know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
Good thinking and action are natural results of connectivity. When we don’t know others deeply, and perhaps don’t even know them a little bit – these strangers with weird names in internet text places – the hidden stuff we don’t know drowns out what can be seen and limits what can be talked about. Ghost voices roam the chat rooms uncertain of who they can trust with what. All the creative energy in the room takes second place to the elephants we walk around and can’t acknowledge. Yet those excluded parts carry the juicy voices that everyone needs to move forward. To summarize we need to know each other well if we’re to work well together.
But the XR community in Canada doesn’t know each other. Individuals don’t know how safe or welcome it is to bring what they have forward. That’s very normal human behaviour. To the extent that this is the case, we play a waiting game with each other, talking about XR issues in an abstract or theoretical way, unsure of how it’s landing or what the permission level is for what can be said. We may become extinct before we get on the same page.
Deep connectivity is the soil out of which good work grows. In my view, people come to XR because they want to change their lives and the world. That’s why I came and what I imagine I see in the fresh face of everyone that walks in the door of a physical meeting. They may be responding to an unconscious realization that those two are two faces of the same thing. They are parts of the same thing according to leading thinkers and the intuition of millions of people. I’ll leave the discussion of that for now.
The point is that meeting XRs demands with others, must change your personal life or it’s nothing. A condition of that is you have to get to know something of the insides of the people you’re working with, to see what they’ve got. The principle is reminiscent of the very old ritual of the handshake in which potential enemies show that their weapon hand is empty and that it’s willing to touch the other. Now we don’t carry spears and swords. We carry identities based on superficial differences no one’s ever asked us to explore. They’re not easy to put down as our weapons.
The appearance may be that there’s no time to build connectivity, to meet each other as humans and tell each other what we’re here for in our own words. The reality may be that there’s no time not to do this. Without the good soil built by trust and connectivity the good action can’t be seen. Nor will the people have the strength to carry it out together.
The skills to do this are widely known though not mainstream. Nor are they popular because they involve us being transparent about where we stand. It’s easier to take the social default that says they have to change and grow while we, the anointed (in Thomas Sowell’s phrase), only have to sit pretty with the answers. But if we take that position, we exclude all the folks on the other side. We don’t make common cause with them. The radical position is that everyone is on our side. The seeming other carry the medicine we need. But we can only see that when we give up special status for ourselves.
We can’t really expect others to step outside of their comfort zone without us stepping outside of ours. Change doesn’t work that way. Conflict works that way.
The regenerative culture that XR talks about is not a feel good add on. It’s the foundation.
I’d be happy to lead or co-lead an online experience (XR Canada Community Foundations?) for a dozen or more people who’d like to explore this. It’s risky and fun.
Read some of what people have said about my work here.
I’ve done the particular protocol many times. Among them, a now-successful start-up in Spain with participants from many countries, an international collection of alternative participants (we met online but an in-person conference emerged), ongoing work over some years with people attempting to re-invent organizations around integral operating principles, leaders from a 60k plus men’s leadership organization, and more.
Top image from tripsavvy.com