Sunday, December 8, 2013

The only way is together

I have had a several experiences lately that have led to a more embodied sense of both the futile and counter-productive nature of “getting” anybody to do anything, at least on a long-term basis and in a way that doesn't ultimately feel terrible. As a simple example, say I am on a walk in the woods with a friend. I might want to go one way, while she might want to go another. I could try to persuade her to go where I want to go, and I may have a lot of well-informed reasons about why "my way" is the best way. But, if my goal is to truly be with my friend, to be connected and in relationship, I would be best served by working with her to figure out what works for both of us, rendering "my way" pretty pointless. Sure - there's a possibility that together we might go over a cliff, but as much as I'd like to think it's not the case, I could just as easily end up over the cliff going my own way.

More and more, I feel like my world view is shifting to such a relational perspective that I simply don’t want to convince anybody to do anything. It feels aggressive and at times violent to me, not to mention full of hubris, and ultimately impossible in a complex world. What I really want to do is the thing that emerges as the thing we want to do together. I know I don’t have the answers for anybody else and I know I don’t know the way for "us" alone. I might have some wisdom that contributes to what we can do together, as do you. So, how do we work together?

As you can imagine, this perspective tends to go against my scientific training, where expertise is the name of the game - my value is pretty intricately tied to knowing the way. So, I'm trying to reimagine the role of my own expertise in a connected worldview, as I think many other people are trying to do. In science communication and engagement, it might look a whole lot more like giving information, which we are largely pretty good at, but instead of needing people to understand that information in the same way that we do (by, for example, testing whether they know if electrons or atoms are smaller), we could ask what it is *they* understand, and go from there. It might also mean a lot more engaging with the "so what" ourselves by gaining relational capacities, like deep listening, conflict resolution, and contemplation, that allow us to engage with others in transformative ways.

So, the real question for me these days is: how do we create the processes and relationships that allow collective movement to emerge? I just don't see any other way.

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