As many people are confronted with some of the realities of living in a highly complex social and ecological world, they find that the tools in their toolkit are simple tools. Simple problem solving tools are appropriate for complicated systems not complex ones. Approaches for solving mechanical and technical problems (complicated) are not appropriate for solving highly complex social and living system problems. The inadequacy of our simple tools can drive us to put undue trust in confident leaders, groupthink and mytho-poetic “strongmen”. I believe that we are currently seeing this trend in both the political left and right.
What actually allows us to effectively engage in complexity are practices in simplicity. This includes practices in prayer, meditation, zooming out to the macro, silence, contemplation. Where simple tools try to solve a problem, simplicity practices seek peace and belonging within a situation and perhaps a next step or deeper understanding.
One of the challenges in front of us is to discern what system we are working in and what approach is appropriate. In education, our work is to help young people practice this discernment through the different stages of development. This is one of the reasons mindfulness and other practices in simplicity are so important in educational settings.
For perhaps the first time in human history we are becoming conscious of our participation in our own evolution. For better or worse, we are beginning to understand the influence our thoughts, beliefs, interactions, behaviours and systems have on who we become as a species. No one person or powerful group controls this, it emerges from us all.
In response to this, author and Integral Coach Terry Patten often talks of the need to set intentions for transformation in three areas.
Inner: Soul work, shadow work, spiritual practices, mindfulness, dis-identification with thoughts and beliefs.
Inter: Community work, We Space, collaboration, listening circles.
Outer: Actions, changed behaviours, projects, new systems.
In response to the growing awareness of how our participation in current systems perpetuates racial, economic, social and ecological injustice, I encourage us all to find ways to set new intentions in these three areas, Inner, Inter and Outer.
For more on this, Terry Patten’s book “The New Republic of the Heart” is a great place to start.
It is possible that our current ways of being together are coming to their natural end. Our old social contracts, economic systems and governance structures no longer fit with the the more integrated ways of thinking and being that are emerging.
The past week here in South Minneapolis has been heart breaking, traumatic, exhausting, challenging, powerful and encouraging. I have cried at some point each day. When I heard what happened, when I watched my neighbourhood buildings burn, when I finally watched the video, when I swept up glass for days with neighbours, when I visited the memorial down the street, when I listened to stories of hurt, when I gathered with those on our block to organise night shifts to guard against racist extremists.
Some mainstream media continue to frame the events following the murder of George Floyd in dualistic terms along old party lines. The old story of separation and opposition. Us versus them, order versus chaos, peace versus violence, right versus left. But here in South Minneapolis, as in many other places, another story is emerging. One where, rather than demanding change from the powerful elites, we collaborate to imagine and create more humane and compassionate ways of being together. There is an awareness that we do not want to return to the former ‘peace’ that was only peace for some and we do not want to simply make changes within the same paradigm.
It is early days, but there seems to be a growing disparity between the maturing of our being, and our societal structures. This gives me hope that more integrated ways of being together might be ready to emerge.
In a world dominated by strong opinions and fast answers it is easy to forget the simple act of remaining open and curious when encountering otherness. Without a sense of wonder, we can rush to judgement and bypass transformative learning and growth. Similarly, when we give our answers and conclusions to young people, we can rob them of the rewarding process of working out difficult things for themselves. What we can do is guide them from ‘encounter’ to ‘wonder’ to ‘understanding’ to ‘action’. In this way we can help them develop their own unique pathways to wisdom and discernment. Pathways they can then follow without us.
In the upheavals this global pandemic is causing in education, I am hopeful that we can use this time to reflect on the larger purpose of education. Rather than provide the economy with more human capital, we might redesign education to prioritise whole human development towards more integrated ways of being, in the context of a thriving more-than-human world.
In this season of quarantine and working from home I have been able to complete the first few videos of series I am calling “Conscious Educators”. They can be found here on my website under ‘Videos & Resources’ or on YouTube.
Only when we understand ourselves as intrinsically connected with all that is can we begin to accept and forgive our current reality. From this place of acceptance and participation will come the creative solutions to our most urgent problems.
For education to be the transformative experience the future needs it to be, educators must lead the way in their continued personal development. This involves a transition from the dominant paradigm of separation, competition and opposition to one of deep interconnectedness, acceptance and creativity.
I propose that the current economic systems are antithetical to and resist the cultural transitions needed.
What I believe is needed is a transition to an economic paradigm based on wisdom. Wisdom embodies a way of being in the world based on an understanding of deep interconnection. Charles Eisenstein refers to this as “interbeing”. In this paradigm harm can never be externalized and thus wisdom not only seeks to do no harm, but benefit as many as possible while contributing to further connection. In this way, wisdom and discernment (meaning-making and sense-making) must be guided by relationships of love (other-orientedness) and humility (awareness of the tendency for self-deception). These virtues are not routinely considered in economics, yet most of us do not want to live in a world void of love, compassion or humility.
Education could be an ideal incubator space for the development of such wisdom economics.
Sustainable, or even desirable futures, seem to be demanding that we become the wise ones (homo sapiens) we proclaimed ourselves to be. The current ecological crises can be seen as a result of the continued development of exterior science and technology (knowledge) without the complimentary interior (wisdom) development to guide its application.
I propose that just as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has been developed as an integrated approach to develop knowledge and marketable skills (exteriors), PEDS (Philosophy, Ethics, Design/Art and Spirituality) might contribute to the needed development of human wisdom (interiors). It is perhaps the reintegration of these two different ontologies that might result in more sustainable ways of being in the world.
A human decentred moral philosophy does not deny the uniqueness and value of humanity. Rather, it celebrates human uniqueness and value in its potential to contribute to the mutual flourishing of life in new and unexplored ways. From a human development and cultural evolution perspective, the current paradigm that exerts superiority and dominance over other life is a stage that must be transcended and included in a larger perspective. Responding to the existential risks posed by the dominant anthropocentric worldview, education is now charged to contribute to human development that expands beyond the human-centred, towards more eco-centric or integral ways of being in the world. These ways of being are explored through four themes in ‘Article Seven’.
Prioritising the healthy expansion of consciousness in an education environment requires a critical review of all aspects of that system. Staff hiring, training and personal/professional development might include the use of tools and traditions such as Integral Theory, AQAL, the Enneagram or Jungian architypes. Pedagogy might be redesigned in terms of developmental frameworks such as Spiral Dynamics, multiple intelligences and emancipatory learning principles. Traditional school structures such as grade levels, centralised buildings, siloed learning by domain, standardised assessment and rigid teacher-led programming might be reconsidered. Finally, the transition to a transformative futures-oriented learning community requires strategic partnerships with individuals and groups (locally and globally) that reflect and demonstrate real world applications of the four themes of interconnectedness, mutuality, collaboration and transformation.