Do we compete for the creative powers of the world? (that is: democratizing consciousness and why you should care)
::Do we compete for the creative energies of re-imagining the world?::
The world is in dire need of a new imagination. Literally, we need to see things anew and re-imagine everything, because now more than any other time in recent history do we need to come up with solutions to some of our pressing problems that require leaps of creativity, boldness, and imagine-ation. This creativity though is hampered by some of the very structural causes of the problems we need to solve. Our institutions, structures, and social norms work on our cognition of our surrounding reality in such way that the world shows up as ‘finished’ to us: best we can do is to adapt and navigate our systems – much rarer are messages that ask us to truly re-think the pillars of our societal structures. By definition, though, the world is not completely ‘finished’ as there is also a part that is ‘unfinished’: there is an aspect of the world which is not given and that must be actualized by the individual free-willed initiative. Like a skilled poet who left his best artwork missing a final line -not that she overlook the finale, rather she is inviting you to co-create the end with your own creativity. Put it another way, we can consider the realms of freedom as outlined in these two territories. Everything which seems ‘finished’ can be seen as the realm of the constraints that we must deal with and creatively adapt to; this territory of the ‘finished’ in a dialectic dance outlines the rest that is out of it, which is the territory of the ‘unfinished’. Like an ever-changing shore line, the finished world draws the boundary of the unfinished: everything beyond that line is what is open for our creative power of imagination. The boundaries of our constraints delineate where our freedom begins. In this space of freedom comes the power of our consciousness to bring about genuine creativity into the world, to create things anew, to challenge the old structures by creating new ones or by assigning new meanings to the preformed, culturally given meanings we were taught. (I borrow this idea of finished vs unfinished from a beautiful book called The Metamorphosis of the Given).
In this piece I argue that if any type of hegemony is creating divisions on the fundamental equality and oneness of the people of the world then this perception also influences the perceived access to the creative powers to re-imagine the world in novel ways, bringing into existence realities that were never seen before.
To explain this, let me go farther back. For the last few thousands of years as humankind we have been widely distributed into very diverse societies, tribes, ways to organize our lives as collectives of people, and most often different groups have been in competition over political, military, and economic supremacy. We have seen throughout history how when a group dominates over another a type of cultural hegemony takes place.
Fast forward until some two centuries ago. Marx and Engels in The Capital postulate that a minority of people was oppressing a majority by possession of capital and profiting over the hard work of the “proletariat” (the working class). By the virtue of these imbalances, a very unequal and unjust societal system was in place and class warfare was all about re-balancing that and achieving a supremacy of the working class via radical redistribution of wealth.
The current economic systems appears to be built in such a way that allows only to a limited number of people to have a greater freedom to pursue their passions, aspirations, and to use their most creative energies. Imagine for a moment to plot Maslow’s pyramid of human needs on a chart and to write beside the different levels of such a pyramid what would be the corresponding jobs linked to such satisfaction of needs in the global economy. What jobs satisfy the needs at each of the levels? Now I wish to invite you to accept two ideas as working premises for this argument:
1) The economic system is shifting and more and more people in ‘privileged’ economies are using the freedom to pursue jobs and careers that satisfy their deepest aspirations and unlock their creativity;
2) The current economic system is built in a way that allows only to certain people such freedom to unlock their creative energies. A lot of others are either dealing with more pressing needs or forced to contribute to the world economy’s equivalent of the Maslow pyramid by necessity, forced by economic structures that shape the world today.
A person’s creative work is still relying on a ton of less exciting jobs which lay out the structural conditions upon which that one job was made possible.
Now, whether it was distribution of wealth, military oppression, or market forces creating divisions between nations or within societies, my argument is that these hegemonies have also affected the redistribution of the creative energies to redesign the world. When you look at any type of cultural supremacy, it is first and foremost a domination of the imagination, of language, of cultural identity, which affects both the perception of the ‘given’ and the feeling of entitlement for bringing about the ‘not given’ into the world. I have recently visited a few countries in Africa and was quite amazed at how much the education system in countries like Zimbabwe and Uganda is still shaped by the British blueprint. There are systems that culturally shape us which can give a biased perception of who we are as a people and may re-define our history (think about how many movies people the world over watch every day and get shaped in their worldview by how Hollywood sees the world). Historical footprints are another example that comes in handy. Some nations are still constructing their identity as a young independent country and thus need to find their rightful place in the world, also in terms of what unique gifts they can bring. But when the people of a nation have been oppressed for years, or centuries, this history affects their self-perception when we come together to re-imagine our common destiny as a human species. If people have been serving a king for centuries, have not possessed their own land, and have been told to shut up for too long, they have learned a different narrative about a man’s life purpose, what is happiness, what can a man contribute to change his society. It is likely that such a legacy of being dominated has shaped a worldview influenced by fatalism and historic determinism (narratives such as: ‘things are never going to change’, ‘society changes by forces beyond my control’, etc.)
And by analogy you could extend this reasoning to a large number of situations. Countries, ethnic groups, have been competing for power and maybe this has affected the creative powers as well.
It has long been held -and more philosophy is shifting towards this tenet- that our consciousness creates reality. (Building on this book by the late Willis Harman, I outline some examples of such a shift in thinking). After studying the human brain for decades, Nobel laureate Roger Sperry argued that one of the fundamental flaws in our scientific thinking was the dismissal of consciousness as a causal reality. In its easiest expressions, we can see how thought generates action, how a vision, a dream, an aspiration takes place in the world of our imagination before being manifested in the external reality. I believe that this has always been true, but it is only recently that we are becoming aware of the processes by which we make our imagination and our consciousness work to create our reality.
If (better say when) humankind wakes up to this realization, a few exciting things will happen -and some of them are surfacing already now in the global dialogue.
– People who have been oppressed by a perception of unfair treatments will realize their immense power. Whether it is market injustice, unfair wealth distribution, oppression from a totalitarian regime, people will realize that any of such systems, even the most despicable and unbearable ones, are resting upon a sense of legitimacy given by the oppressed. This legitimacy is resting in a thought, and consciousness can change thought at thought-speed. One day a million people wake up and say “we don’t agree to be oppressed anymore”. The source of revolutions resides in the human mind for it is just a thought – and regimes have understood that and try and control that thought more than anything else.
– The source of authority will progressively shift from external to internal. Obedience will carry a newer meaning as obedience to inner truth much more than obedience to any external authority.
To wrap it up, if it is indeed true that we might be competing for these creative powers, it is important for me to open up that conversation. If we are indeed shifting towards the realization that our consciousness creates reality, then this may be an incredibly important factor that can empower people in shaping their destiny -as individuals, and as collectives. I deeply care about these creative forces to shape the world being democratized as much as possible. Would this enlightenment be only a matter for a handful of white men who could take a year off, travel to India, go to spiritual retreats, and the like? While a lot of people are still working from a worldview that doesn’t allow them to recognize that they have the power to change their life conditions for the better? It is a bleak scenario in which this disparity would only create another form of supremacy, equally detestable.
It is my wish that these creative powers, that this awareness and recognition of our most precious sources of creativity, be democratized and made accessible to all, for the benefit of a real re-distribution of our true wealth which begins from a democracy of access to our consciousness and its powers.
No matter at which stage of my life I have been, I have always been longing for exploring my purpose and going deep into conversations around my role in the world.
Over the past five years I have been immersed in an incredible environment where stimulating conversations happened all the time. Lucky to be around the MSLS community, people who connect with their purpose and push you on those conversations. I have also learned a lot via co-organizing the Leadership Thread of the MSLS course.
The majority of the world’s population is young. Everywhere I ask, it seems that the educational system needs to adapt fast enough to meet the expectations of this generation to be conscious citizens of the world. Education shall be seen a service to give back to society (Schumacher posited in Small is Beautiful, 1973). All this has made me desire to call for a leadership course that would provide an opportunity for youngsters to have a potentially “transformational” experience to deeply investigate their purpose and their contribution onto the world.
What is sketched from here on is my reflections and notes after the Pro-Action Cafe’ in Copenhagen during the Art of Hosting Learning Village (Dec 2-4, 2011, See my previous post). This is the idea that I brought forward:
“Leadership in the Deep End: A theory U shaped course for youngsters. An individual and collective journey of exploration and connection to the source”.
::What is the Quest behind the question?::
I need to explore “what is needed in the world?” From which source am I operating? I am working from (within) the desire of making inner revolutions happen. (I need to bring more clarity around the intention). Eve Ensler argues: when we give away what we need the most you heal the broken part in ourselves. I have experienced a slow but substantial inner change over the last seven years and I feel ready for the next steps. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity when I was younger to expand my zone of “proximal development” through drama, music, literature and meaningful conversations with friends. All this showed me a doorway to something to aspire to. And lately the environment in which I have been has challenged me gently and decisively to always connect with my purpose and being intentional about how I show up in the world and intend to make a positive contribution. Out of gratitude towards what life has given to me, and out of desire to give back. My own “fire” and passion arises from a desire: I have seen the potential of personal transformation in a relatively short time and I really LOVE to be outsmarted by the people I can help coach / mentor. I have faith in the courage and craving for life of this generation (except for my neighbors upstairs who are wasting their time with a loud party with tasteless music, but alas) and believe they are longing for meaning and positive change in the world.
::What is missing?::
I need to explore more who is this course for. Who is the ideal audience for it? I envision the young.
But wait a minute. Transition from what to what? Martin Luther King puts it in his beautiful rhetoric
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
At what developmental stage are they at? At what level of experience?* Perhaps it is possible to assess at what level or stage are people at by the beginning of the course and plan intentionally with them to stretch them onto a further developmental level.
At whichever point of the spectrum you are the idea would be to broaden the scope of that awareness to reach out towards a positive contribution to the world. The journey shall create some conditions for inner revolutions around the fire happen. A revolution at the personal level that is mirrored by a community revolution.
What are some conditions for inner revolutions and community revolutions to happen? A few that I can think of for now: Trust in the entire group to share deep feelings; Connection with the sense of what’s sacred and trusting oneself;
(*on this I am grateful to Barrett Brown who recommended to me the article “Seven transformations of Leadership” on HBR (opens pdf here) This article posits that it’s possible to assess at what developmental stage are people at.)
::What next steps will I take?::
Connect. There are many amazing courses and leadership journeys already happening out there. One example is Embercombe – I need to connect with them and experience the Journey (Note: I wrote this on my journal in December, but now that I type I have actually gone to Embercombe myself for a leadership journey and was quite fantastic).
– Connect with people who are comfortable with being in nature. I need to reach out to people who are experienced, skilled, rooted in paths of self-development (not necessarily leadership courses).
– It’s time for it! People are ready for it and to deepen their personal leadership journeys. I got the recommendation to consider the masculine and the feminine component of leadership alike, to go beyond labels…
– I was recommended to tap into the power of storytelling skills through the stages of the leadership journey (couldn’t agree more!) And to
– Connect with rituals and ceremonies. Not replicating any but creating meaningful rituals for the group.
::What am I grateful for?::
At the end of the dialogues I felt gratitude towards all the participants for questioning my motivation! It is always a bliss to go deeper into my purpose and question it. I feel gratitude for sitting down with me and sharing their perspectives and wisdom. I also feel grateful for the invitation that has come from some to create this leadership journey together.
Lastly I feel grateful for giving me a sense of support through the simple act of witnessing. Your listening really gave me the strong conviction that the times are ready for this journey and that there is a need out there for such inner revolutions to happen.
Lastly. Please consider this blog post an open invitation for all to create this course together! It is of crucial importance that this idea go out and be co-owned and created by all. You are invited and most welcome in designing this journey.
If you are an economist, you are not going to like this post, but you will find it interesting anyways.
In the last two weeks I did a couple of things that are completely irrational, from an economic perspective. They both make sense against my values though, and against my agenda to build a small community around me here in Karlskrona, Sweden, where I live now. The first was to pay a fine that no one asked me to pay for. The second was to give a gift to two ladies I don’t remember the name of.
Fine, then. I was in the public library downtown to give back two books that I had borrowed and kept with me for too long. When I tried to renew my booking, to keep them for a few more weeks, the lady at the library prints a receipt with my status and gives me the books with it. The receipt says that I have to pay a fine for having kept them for too long. The equivalent of less than five dollars, no big deal. But the lady doesn’t notice the fine and gives me the books anyway. I make her notice that I have to pay the fine, and give her the money. I could have easily not paid, but I really wanted to. The lending system at that library is already quite generous: you can keep up to three books for quite a long time, and the fine if you give them back is negligible. As a person who has grown up in a culture in Italy where people tend to bend (or dodge) the rules any time they can (sorry for the generalization, my fellow citizens!) I am always amazed by the level of mutual trust in Swedish society and how trusting people are. I also acknowledge that such system relies on a balance. If a considerable amount of people would start taking advantage of how trusting people are, the trust could get lost easily within the system. Vice-versa, every time an action is intentional in strengthening that trust, the system gets more solid and robust.
Tiramisu for social change. There is an adorable café here in town where wonderful and caring ladies work to make the atmosphere lovely, calm and welcoming. Their kindness is the real trademark of the café for me and many other guests who come. One day I sat on a small table by myself at ground floor when a group of customers came in, and one of them was on a wheelchair. It took me a minute to realize that they were looking at my table since it was the most apt to sit on because of the space the wheelchair needs. As I noticed they were looking, I stood up and told me I was very glad to give my table to them, and I went upstairs. The lady at the café thanks me very kindly. A minute later, without saying anything, she comes at my table and brings me a cookie with a big smile. I found it such an act of care and out of pure kindness, it really made my day. Out of that sentiment of gratitude towards them, I have been thinking for a while of building some bridges with them in a more intentional way. So I thought about making a cake for them. Since the best one I can make is the tiramisu, I made them a tiramisu for them this morning and brought to them this afternoon. I explained that it is a simple act of gratitude for them and their kindness, and if they like it enough I would be happy to teach them how I make it and they might add it to their dessert menu. They seemed very happy for the gift and are going to try it this afternoon when they close.
I hope this is the start of a connection about hosting dinners and building bridges with the community in Karlskrona and with them especially. Before going to them to give the cake, I wrote on my journal “I am not bringing you a tiramisu, I am bringing you a social experiment!”
Coincidence, probably: last night I started reading “Getting to Maybe”, a book about how society is changed, and so far I find it quite interesting so far. A simple concept put clearly in the first chapter of the book is about complexity of social systems and the value of intentionality in the game of social change. Social systems are per definition complex, and when we are operating for change in them there is no guarantee to success. Still,
“If you intend to do something you make a deliberate commitment to act to bring about change”.
When you do so, you are always dealing with the emerging factors that are beyond your control. (Which to me makes even a stronger case for being intentional about the changes you intend to make, BTW!)
The game of social change is on.