Facing the Abyss

The last several posts have been about navigating the gritty realism before us. This one follows suit. And gives the reason I choose to focus on thrivability.

Months burn by bringing ever more forecasts of catastrophe. Ocean ph, glacier melt, that crazy island of plastic in the Pacific, economic meltdown, emergent disease, famine, and so much more. Those who believe that we are god’s chosen people stand in stoic denial, and the rest of us can sense the weight of imminent convergent crisis. At first I was hopeful that we could address these issues. Then I was saddened as the bombardment of horror stories of a terrible future kept coming. Before long I felt myself on the edge of the abyss. I have always been concerned with the ethics of our future and what we are doing today that will set our trajectories for tomorrow. The darkness ahead got darker. US politics made it seem like we were on a completely suicidal course to revel in our own collapse. The abyss loomed grandly.

I took a drive in 07 across half the country (and back). I looked at the Grand Canyon. And wow, we are surely facing erosion of possibilities on that grand of a scale. Except ours is not so lovely. And then I went to the Petrified Forest park. Time grew very long. Here were huge trees, very likely older than my life span. They grew, they died, they fell into a swampy area, and they became rock. I looked above me at the gorgeous night sky that evening. Stars whose lives span millions of years cluttered the desert sky with their energetic light (racing light years across the universe). We are so incredibly tiny. The hugeness of our crisis faded. We may destroy ourselves or fall back into earlier states of culture as current structures massively fail. Or not. On some future path, we could destroy half the planet or all of it. The vast universe will hardly note it. It is always in a state of change, existing in time frames that are simply incomprehensible to the human mind. This is an abyss – the edge of the mind’s ability to grasp time and space and our incredible vanity at thinking that we or the planet matter to anything outside ourselves.

Zooming in and out is such a powerful skill in managing awareness. But I will explain that elsewhere. Here, let’s stand at the abyss together. Look out into the everythingness…and the nothingness. Our own destruction…and how our frail existence as individuals and even as a planet is infinitesimally small in the space of the universe.

I accepted that and some peace came to me. But what now? If I can hold a perspective in which my heart doesn’t collapse from the suffering we have and bring on ourselves in our present and future, then what? What do I do now with this frail, precious, wild, and very temporary life I have?

My email signature reads: “Act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.” — Buddha

Let’s imagine the arcs of the future streaming before us. To the left, let us see the future that stems from inaction – failure to change course. It is riddled with crisis and vast human and living system suffering. Likely large scale migrations as one area becomes toxic (in actuality or in energy and access to resources). Disparities in wealth, aka access to the things we need, escalates into greater and greater Extremistan. To the right, let us be powerfully visionary and imagine the best possible future. Turn off the inner skeptic. Imagine future generations enjoying natural areas and clean air, imagine everyone having ready access to water and healthy foods, medical care, shelter, etc, where they are free from gross conflicts and free to pursue their passions.

The real future is somewhere in the middle, I suspect. But, for this thought experiment, let’s assume that one can either be a pessimist (left) or an optimist (right).

If I live my day to day life believing that the only possible outcome is the future to the left, why should I take any action? Why should I even get up in the morning? My brief life might be full of some immediate pleasures, but it will end with no inspiring legacy and a terrible shame that thousands and thousands of years of human evolution collapsed in my day. Personally, choosing to believe that feels like suicide of the spirit to me. It is all for naught. Don’t bother leaving a sign to mark the grave.

If I live my day to day life believing that the possibility (without being totally blind to the brutal facts before us) – that there is some possibility to move from the stream on the left to the stream on the right…in my lifetime it might not be 100% to the right, but maybe 70%? Where might it go? What might I do to move that path to the right – toward possibilities of humans evolving in dynamic relationship to the systems around us – toward thriving?

I can’t tell you what the future holds. We are not there yet. Sure we can do trending and trajectories, but in a world of tipping points, phase shifts, and extremistan logic, I don’t trust those very much. (It could be much worse or suddenly shift course). I can tell you that I am choosing, consciously choosing, the belief in the possibility of the future on the right – the thrivable one. It is not about truth – philosophy makes a mess of truth… It is about what is useful to believe. It is about believing in something so I can get up in the morning and greet my friends with a heart bursting with love.

The steps we take each day determine the fate of our present…and guide us into a future together. Which future do you want to head toward? Which dream do you want to believe in? For all visions of the future are only dreams in the mind. Which dreams are useful to you today?

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Choosing Life

In a recent conversation about thrivability, population issues came up. Will co-creating a thrivable world mean that we control population and to what extent? I am sure some could make an argument for a radical altering of the human population as a strategy to get to a thrivable world, considering what a drain on resources so many people on the planet are. This is not what the person in conversation with me was suggesting. However, I can imagine it. And I can imagine the case for it. Do we all die from impending crisis, or do we make some difficult choices about who gets to live so that the species and the planet can continue. Let me be super clear, I do not think that particular choice is feasible nor worth pursuing.

However, something very clear emerged for me in that conversation. We are already choosing who gets to live and who dies. Sure we don’t usually use guns or put them in camps. Well sorta…if you consider refugee camps. And no, we don’t have their names and their ID numbers. But as long as we have the technology to save lives AND we aren’t using them because we claim money is a scarce resource…then we are choosing for people without adequate access to money to die. Maybe not all of them…but  far too many than we would like to admit and keep our conscious clear.

Sometimes people have to die for others to live. Sometimes war might even be worth having. I can’t feel right about making some unilateral claim that all death is bad nor that many should end up dying so that some other maintains their right to live. I think this is a messy business. I am talking about life and death here, but it is present in other less charged spaces too – the responsibility we are not owning collectively.

If we know what it takes to save a life, and we don’t save it… then we are already choosing life and death for others. If we know what it takes to save a life, and saving it won’t take anything away from our ability to live… then we have made an “interesting” ethical choice. And we better thank our lucky stars we are on this side of the equation.

Creating a thrivable world is not about becoming responsible for the lives of others and their well being. A thrivable world is about recognizing that we are already responsible for the lives of others and their well being, and then making conscious compassionate choices.

The big example that comes to mind here is malaria. The US used to have tons of malaria in certain parts of the country. Then DDT killed it off, mostly. But before DDT killed it off in Africa, we realized how horrible it was on the environment. So DDT is used in very limited circumstances in Africa (and elsewhere). And we run charity programs – voluntary programs – to disperse insecticide treated nets. In some cases we hope a market option will work (although we killed the DDT market option). Often the charities involved play on our pity and compassion. And it works and is true… Malaria is a horrible disease, clogging blood flow, preventing people from working and learning, weighing down the possibilities of large sections of Sub-Saharan Africa. But we try to hold it at arms length – them over there…those poor things can’t help themselves… Hello? We participated in this situation. Maybe not you personally, but the culture and country you belong to has. We are complicit in it. It is not them over there…the ones we…over here…are allowing to die…because there isn’t enough pity to go around. It is us over there, under a different set of circumstances – ones we are partly responsible for…and it is not pity, but our shame that pulls us under into inaction.

Do we hang our heads in shame, complicit in the collapse of humanity and evolutionary progress? Or do we shake off the malaise, acknowledge our responsibility, and leap forward to help ourselves and our kind? You have both a responsibility to do your part and a responsibility to make sure that others doing their part are networked with you to address the issue. You are one of the lucky ones future generations need most. You may not be able to change all your behaviors, nor live some pure life of no moral gray space. I know I can’t. Can we admit that while we strive for a thrivable future, the path forward is complex, and it requires us all holding metaphorical hands. Together, we can become less complicit in our own destruction. Together, we can hold our heads up high singing halalujah for our actions taken under our shared responsibilities. Together, we can co-create a thrivable world.

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Facing the Brutal Facts

Pretext: I have been enjoying Good to Great which talks about great companies and how they face the brutal facts (and other qualities of great companies). And it really feels to me like we must be absolutely sure that while thrivability is about thinking positivitly, it is NOT about avoiding the brutal facts of what is. Only by facing those facts can we co-create a future that can really be different from what we have now in ways that work for us.

Today I read a dialogue Published on Tuesday, August 18, 2009 by The Guardian/UK Is There Any Point in Fighting to Stave off Industrial Apocalypse. The collapse of civilisation will bring us a saner world, says Paul Kingsnorth. No, counters George Monbiot – we can’t let billions perish by George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorth.

I must disagree with both gentleman. For some reason, it all calls to mind some lessons I learned from the Black Swan about extremistan. Yes, many of our charts are going vertical. And yes, that seems to suggest that overlapping crisis will compound into catastrophe. But while it holds our current activities and technologies fairly stable, it assume complete vertiginous rise of problems. However, if you look at charts for our technology, you also see the strong vertical assent of the line on the chart. And let’s also hold all this a little lightly, as we all know statistics can be tricky business, all determined by perspective and rarely able to capture system dynamics (at least not these silly bar and line charts). But I leave it to my friends in visualization to explain the pitfalls better.

So why, when I admit the compounding crisis that we are already in the midst of (not just near the brink of), do I passionately pursue thrivability? Is it a little too optimistic and sunny-dispositioned for the brutal facts we face?

I am not sure if millions or billions will die. But this is not some future to be avoided, it is already the present. Millions already die–from measles, malaria, water borne disease, AIDS, lack of access to healthcare in general. Three years of working on savekids.org taught me that. What is more terrifiying than millions or even billions dying is that is won’t come as a shock to the system…it may ramp up from current rates, but I am skeptical that we, as a whole, will pay much attention. That is horrifically sad. Yet, we can see it happening all the time – millions of Americans hardly noticing, if they notice at all, the death of thousands of farmers in India (by suicide because they honor was crushed by financial crisis). So, millions or billions may die. As humans have died throughout our whole history. Some tragically and by preventable methods. I accept this at a deep spiritual level, even as it makes my heart shudder.

The brutal facts of our current state, I acknowledge – whether it is death from overpopulation (in the form of disease, starvation, and poverty) or the crisis in our oceans and air, our plants and farms, our ecosystems as a whole. A massive downward spiral as many downward spirals converge and amplify each other.

And, there are breakthroughs in this breakdown. Consciousness evolving, collective intelligence emerging, upward spirals seeding, evolving and growing.

I am less concerned with paper vs plastic and whether that has an impact on the environment or how much impact changing your lightbulbs will have. And I am much more interested in how the awareness that we are connected -that your use of everyday items impacts the world and our collective being – how that awareness, the new myth for us to operate within, emerges. The Story of Stuff being told, passed on, and repeated until it permeates our whole culture. And it has been emerging, from what I gather, for my whole life. I was born in the early 70s, and it feels to me like this was seeded then, if not earlier.

Will we come together, as we did during the world wars? Will there be victory gardens again? Will we, as we have before, make willing sacrifice so that humanity may face a brighter day? I believe thrivability is about inspiring that possibility of a brighter day – naming it, taking action toward it, and collectively shifting from downward cycles to breakthroughs and upward cycles. I think those trend charts don’t take into account that our world is more a world of extremistan than ever before. And while we may face extreme crisis, we may also see extreme innovation, connection, cooperation, and transformation.

That does not mean I think we will be saved by technology, be able to remain as we are, or won’t face huge losses (on many fronts). It does mean, I think there can be a positive outcome that makes it a worthwhile transformation to undergo. That this is part of a greater evolutionary flow raising our consciousness and our myths and the actions that come from them. A thrivable world will not fall into our laps with ease, it is something we will commit to with all our heart and being, making something much more amazing than what we have now – possible, plausible, indeed, powerfully and magnificently real.

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Beyond Survival

I have been listening to Good to Great on CD while in transit.

It proposes that great people as well as great organizations, to not merely survive but to prevail, require 2 things:

  1. to have unwavering faith that we will prevail AND
  2. an ability to face the brutal facts.

And this resonates with something I feel strongly about with Thrivability. Faith we will not only survive but also will thrive. We must honestly and courageously face the real gritty ugly indeed brutal facts of where we are now. We seek not to gloss over or daly in soft hopes. And without losing hope at this precipice, set the vision for what we want instead. Then we can charge forth with faith in our future and unwavering commitment to each other. Toward not just a good earth, a tolerable one, survival, but to a great earth, great lives, and thriving.

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Problems and Solutions

We are getting clearer and clearer about what our problems are. And even the complexity of them is getting less fuzzy, as you can see at visual complexity: http://www.visualcomplexity.com/vc/project.cfm?id=689

Their image:

The materials shown on this page are copyright protected by their authors and/or respective institutions.

The materials shown on this page are copyright protected by their authors and/or respective institutions.

I want to see a map of our solutions. :) Let’s be solution-focused! I want to see how the web of it is woven tightly over and around these troubled nodes. And I want it to look like mint, taking over the garden, ivy upon the wall, and growing like kudzu until the whole image is immersed in green swirls of solutions creating a flourishing world for our children and future generations.

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Thrivable.org Gratitudes

Yesterday, a small groups of individuals committed to thrivability and thrivable.org met for a phone call together. While I have been meeting and speaking with folks across the country, indeed, around the world about thrivability, this was our first group experience. While what that will unfold is still emergent, I want to celebrate what has brought us to this milestone. So here are my thanks and acknowledgments, as best I can. The true list is much longer, but I will point here to some highlights. In absolutely NO particular order whatsoever.

Tracy Gary – deep thanks for over three years (going on four) of partnership. Tracy has grown my abilities, my awareness, and helped shaped my thoughts on leadership and transformational philanthropy (a key in thrivability). Thank you Tracy for charging me with finding resources for this work and challenging me to be clearer and clearer.

Valdis Krebs – He said to me in November of 2005 that I was a network weaver, and I have been trying to live up to that ever since. Through Valdis, I have been striving to understand networks and the visualization of them. How do we see ourselves. And more recently, our conversations about thriving comunities and networks has stimulated my quest even further. And best of all, our music/poetry collaboration has my heart and creativity soaring.

Steve Crandell – We connected on difference, and discovered our similarities. At the core, Steve has been a most solid friend. Profound appreciation for the sharing we have. Additionally, Steve has built my understanding of climate change, collaboration, creativity, and innovation through amazing stories. And his model of humility guides me each day.

Ken Homer – Meeting on twitter was a huge gift for me. Thank you Ken, for guidance on my spiritual path, for amazing and discerning awareness of collaboration and conversation, and for crystal clear high value explanations.

Jerry Michalski – What can I say Jerry? Like Tom below, important parts of my network depended on my connection to Jerry Michalski. He has championed me, challenged me, invited me, and welcomed me into his circle and home. I have learned much from him about the fine art of synthesizing information, and Jerry is absolutely world class.

Arthur Brock – So few blend the craftsmanship of communication, the discernment of understanding, and the visionary view Arthur brings to the world. I owe most of what I understand about currencies and reputation to Arthur Brock‘s teachings, and he has challenged me to have deep integrity in my life. Thank you for your transformative friendship.

Evonne Heyning – Let’s talk about love, unicorns, and lightning. Evonne exemplifies community building and care. She has taught me so much about leadership, relationships, trust, intangible currencies, games, nurturing, and being. She has believed in me, encouraged me, and challenged me to dream bigger. I do as I do because Evonne influenced and nurtured me.

Jill Palermo – Coach Jill. First, I would not be the coach I am without the collaboration we shared in coaching training. Second, Jill was the one who lured me deeply into being organic. Thirdly, thanks to weekly laser pair-coaching, things are moving forward with thrivability. Jill is a model of entrepreneurship and boldness.

Gil Friend – I met Gil a few times through mutual connections before we sat face to face, but when finally talked one on one, I knew thrivability would be successful. Gil is a model of thrivability himself and has been striving for others to achieve it as well.

Kevin Jones – I knew the work long before I knew the man. I watched from afar, admiring the crafting of the work – collective intelligence led to Xigi and Good Capital and the SoCap conference. Kevin is brilliant, visionary, and productive. I am deeply grateful for both his influence on me, and I am eager to learn more from his sharp thinking.

Kevin Clark – Jerry introduced us, and Kevin has been generous with me ever since. His advice on building the movement of thrivability has been invaluable in shaping my direction. I am thrilled to have his wisdom guiding the emergence of this effort.

And not on the call, but a few of the people that helped bring me to this point:

Peace Tile

Peace Tile

Leif Utne – I met Leif when he and his dad crashed my San Fran dinner party, and I have been inspired by him ever since. Whether it was doing my first karoake or touring co-housing, Yes magazine, and Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Leif has taken me on new adventures.

CM Magowan – First he made me laugh, then he charged me to be clear. The last several years, I have heard him model clarity on business model and plan. I know I can always hear it straight from him. Thanks for being a trusted friend. Also, thanks for the connection with Brian Lewis, who has inspired me about what is possible with our water as well as poked and prodded me toward this juncture.

Tom Munnecke – Tom has a longer list on my gratitude. For here, let me say, I can look at my network map and ses how precariously it rests on Tom’s introductions via Uplift Academy. Furthermore, he solidified my ideas about solution-focus, uplift, and better world building. I would not be striving for thrivability without Tom’s influence.

Grass Commons – From building tools for thrivability to hosting and wagneering the thrivable site itself, the Grass Commons team and in particular Lewis Hoffman and Ethan McCutchen have been invaluable in the development of this work. They have listened to me talk endless through ideas as I shaped them as well as cheered me on to next steps. Thank you.

Appropedia – It started with the Open Sustainability Conference, where we even had a session on thrivability, and since then Lonny, Chris, and the others at Appropedia have been helpful in pointing out thrivable projects, demonstrating thrivable tools and practices, and bringing my attention to the power of open and appropriate technology. They have also been leaders in spreading the word. Thank you.

Frank Hamilton – After listening to me talk about thrivability for months, Frank offered to give me a few hours a month of his time and ability to move the project forward. He has challenged me to be clear, shown me models to consider, and believed in me.  Thank you Frank!

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Thriving community

How do you know a thriving community when you meet one?
Information and resources flow smoothly through the community from where these assets exists to where they can be best applied. The people within a thriving community feel cared for, acknowledged, and yearn to give back to their community as a whole as well as the people within it. There is a sense that the community becomes greater than the some of the parts. The community becomes resilient to shifting outside forces and responsive to the needs of its members. A thriving community does not become passive, instead it holds a balance of tension for the uplift of the community as a whole.

How do we achieve thriving communities?

We encourage connection, we foster a sense of shared purpose, we highlight small as well as large successes. We celebrate the best in the people around us, and we challenge each other to strive further toward our edges. A thriving community generates a sense of meaningful engagement. Conversations in thriving communities foster a sense of something greater than ourselves that we are working together for. Both in the big picture and also visible in our everyday tasks. A gift economy emerges with an expanding sense of pay it forward and longer and longer timeframes on the expectations of when one will get their payback. (I really mean that second link, very much. scroll down to his definitions for high value time.)

What do you think?

What thriving communities have you encountered?

How did you recognize them as thriving?

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