One role a journal like GEO can play is to provide a platform for our movements to reflect on their doings. The “Scaling-Up” theme currently running is an example. Also, a recent article by Carl Ratner is another as was one of my recent blogs.
The purpose of such a platform, in my mind, is to probe and explore how we are doing with regards to our values, actions, and commitments. It is not to nail a bunch of theses to a door. It requires a patient, inquisitive approach to self-reflecting that is damned assertive, yet never dogmatic or uncompromisingly opinionated. Humble, but never wishy-washy. Empathic, not simply supportive.
Everything we are doing is an experiment in constant need of feedback and re-evaluation—personally and collectively. We are exploring how to move from the world as it is now toward a world that is not-yet. We are the proverbial blind folks trying to get some kind of understanding of that weird elephant. We have to talk and think together endlessly, especially when clashing. The point of this talking is to identify mistakes and failings so we can find out how we can do better, not who is right.
None of this is easy to do. Ask any married couple who have come down from their honeymoon. Or just ask yourself in moments of unusual truthfulness.
If we think of ourselves in this way then it is difficult to take on the righteous role of “speaking truth” to some kind of “power.” It also raises the bar for fluff promotion pieces. What we are trying to do is damn difficult, so what we write ought to be measuring up so some demanding standards. And when we are clashing, which is often and understandable, deep listening needs to trump provocation. But then, speaking from a place of listening deeply can be very provocative without attempting to be so.
(I hope my writing isn't plodding along pedantically here. My apologies if it is. Feeling rather thick today.)
Often we tend to forget that we—individually and institutionally—are in the process of discovering and becoming what our movements are all about. We are full of contradictions and conflicts, learning as we go along. For example, cooperation. All of the political economic and social justice movements work to promote a world of greater cooperation. That work begins at the beginning of every day with how we are interacting with each other. It concludes on the same note at the end of every day. Relentlessly challenging.
This calls for melding two skills: empathy and conceptual clarity. Empathy by itself will not build the institutions we need for our movements. Conceptual clarity by itself will never navigate us adequately through what Richard Sennett calls “that frought, ambiguous zone of experience where skill and competence encounter resistance and intractable difference.” That zone is precisely where we need for cooperation to prevail rather than domination.
Engaging in this zone online is even more challenging. Just putting out “my opinion” is a very slippery slope. It usually takes no responsibility for being wrong or “out of tune.” “Well, it’s just my opinion.” I violated this to a certain degree in a recent blog. Fortunately, the editor on the other side (Neal Gorenflo of Shareable.Net) responded by both appreciating what was useful and criticizing where he thought I was off base. A cooperative exchange followed with both of us amending our respective pieces.
The humility that comes with knowing that I am one of the blind dudes exploring the elephant is vital to collective self-reflection. It is a key factor that will lead me to ask questions in order to find out more about the thinking, desires, and struggles of someone or institution I am clashing with. To find out why they think what they think, or do what they do.
When someone comes at me with criticism, their humility and empathy will be the factors that will allow me to breathe and respond honestly and with genuine self-reflection. (Even when they catch with me with my hand in the cookie jar. Well, hopefully.) I know that I am in a space that will help shape my contribution to our working our way through our “fraught zone” of difference and ambiguity. It will enable us to reach either 1) an agreement to disagree, and/or 2) an enriched understanding of each other the complexity of the issues at hand, and/or 3) a change of minds, and/or 4) a major breakthrough for all of us of one or more kinds.
Then we go on trying to figure out what this damn elephant and what it means.
I have more to say , but this is already long enough. Let me end with just noting two other things:
- Cooperation is an “earned experience” like playing the cello or making furniture. So we should make every conversation a “rehearsal” or “workshop.”
- Ideas don’t exist just “out there.” They are in me and you, the whole of me or you no matter how consciously or unconsciously we know this.