Why washing dishes, playfulness and shared food are metaphors for an holistic community
I have long been concerned by our 'efficient', solution focussed society, rushing from A to B, priding ourselves on 'outcomes' and 'solutions':
Intoxicated by technology and pride, humanity is often oblivious to the folly that comes with cleverness and power: a perpetually unprecedented condition we might call "modern stupid" — the stupidity of ease. Leunig, The Age, 13 November 2010
I have often wondered about the value of reflection, and where it fits in our perpetual refinement. I know from my 'day job' that rapid prototyping, design thinking and creativity produce messier, but more exciting approaches to wicked problems.
Guest in a converation
This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest in a converation hosted by Adrian Pyle (who has the enviable title 'Director of Relationships Innovation' for the Uniting Church). At this conversation was a diverse mix of entrepreneurs, online communicators, designers, psychologists, historians, theologians. Our only connection was Adrian.
We met to talk about community, mess, voices, conversation, spaces and what a connected, holistic neighbourhood could be. We arrived not sure of exactly why we had been asked, but prepared to offer our authentic (messy), selves to discuss provocative ideas about what a neighbourhood could be.
I was moved to tears, laughed, heard stories, and reflected on wisdom that I would one day love to posess. I was perplexed, challenged and safe.
Otto Scharmer's U Theory
We were asked to consider Otto Scharmer 's U theory of organisational and societal change. This notes that change that identifies a problem at and tries to implement an immediate fix to reach solution is not sustainable.... it doesn't recognise the people, places and things involved in a scenario and is not, in Sharmer's words 'present' to the whole....
He suggests that by becoming 'Present' to the whole (going via C) we can better implement authentic change (thanks Adrian, I borrowed some of your succinct words!).
Essentially, A (1) - B (2) is the modern paradigm which assumes things can be acted on objectively to solve outcomes based problems. Let's say the 'OUTCOMEs' based conversation.
We were asked to consider what a 'U-shaped' approach to community and neighbourhood building would look like. To take the day to retreat and reflect...
For me my immediate take outs are below - there is much much more, but I need to let it bubble around...
Actions don't create relationships, but relationships often create actions
Playgrounds are a wonderful metaphor for healthy community. They are inherently playful, they support legitimate risk.. Kids meet, form groups, negotiate, play, fight, split and then regroup. Separate groups create temporary mergers for the purpose of a grander scheme... People go home when they've had enough. They support individual and group play and people with ideas can share them and then move on. They are different every visit.. The community is yet supported by structures which at their best spark imagination, but don't control it.
Frameworks that use real life tasks support conversation
My second metaphor is washing dishes. As a child my sisters and I were often on dish duty. Again this structured activity provides a reason for people to come together. I have had many conversations over dishes. They provide an opportunity for conversation, for relationship, for laughter and more serious conversation, and often for cross-generational discussion.
My third metaphor is around shared meals. It is important to be both a host and a guest. So many 'projects' and organisations focus around a small group of people being hosts, and forgets about the importance of being a guest. Yesterday I was a guest, It was rich, humbling experience where I learnt so much from those around me. Surely strong holistic communities are about periods of both give and take.
I love the ritual of shared meals, another structured, everyday activity as enabler of a richer more reflective experience.
It's about being where people are, and not making people go to a purpose built place or environment.
All these metaphors are in the U. They are ordinary and remarkable, about action and space, about authenticity and presence, about participation, and voluntary exclusion. They are about the temporary, the ephemeral and about the bubbling up of things. They are about being able to give what you have, whether that is short term or long term, it is about the confidence to value who and what you are within the world, which encourages sharing.
It's trial and error, short term, constantly bubbling up new clusters, each as lovely as the last, however long it lasts.
So what did I learn:
- It is the relationships which are important.
- Conversations are not constant, they have lapses, quiet patches, patches where some people lead and others listen, but this can change in an instant.
- Structure and space is important, but only in as much as it provides a structure and a framework for inherently playful conversation.
- We are not equal or the same and a truly spiritual holistic path acknowledges this.
- One size cannot and never will fit all.
- Playful doesn't mean trivial or flippant, it enables creative discovery.
- Solutions can't be rushed, they need to emerge out of rich, authentic communication.. so.. a 1 year funded project, just won't cut it.
- An iterative, prototyping approach to community is more likely to enable relective and contemplative thinking.
- Nobody likes 'meetings' everybody loves stories.
- People opportunities to feel secure and safe enough to see the value in who and what they are. Only then will the really powerful connections emerge.
- Stop rushing for the outcome.
Yesterday with a bunch of strangers I was truly myself. I felt excited and empowered and very peaceful. I did not feel driven to 'reach a solution' but excited by a vision of community which supported people to create the skills and the frameworks to be like this.
I felt immensley grateful to have been 'invited', and blown away by the generosity of spirit I encountered. I have no idea what we achieved, but I know I want to carry on! I have had my own reality reframed by the remarkable people I met - and surely that is true community.
Most of all I thank Adrian for enabling a framework which supported people he knew to learn from each other, share each other's fears, and possibly move some ideas at some point - when we have been through the U - to somewhere else..... and for having the courage to ask what and where the church can be...