reaperJon Husband of Wirearchy recently drew my attention to Margaret Wheatley’s site, and particularly this article. I have encountered Margaret’s work and writing often in recent years, and share both her concern about the fundamental problems of business and society in 2003, and her optimism about the opportunity for change. Here are a couple of excerpts from this recent article that I found especially inspiring:

I experience this as a dark time for America, where we have lost our way. I search to find the means for us to see clearly through the darkness. I want us to be able to see both the destruction, and the stars. I felt this even before we chose war, for more fundamental reasons. In the past several years, America has embraced values that cannot create a sustainable society and world. Presently, we organize our activities around beliefs that are inherently life-destroying. We believe that growth can be endless, that competition creates healthy relationships, that consumption need have no limits, that meaning is found in things, that aggression brings peace. Societies that use these values end up, as do all voracious predators in nature, dead.

I know that most Americans would be shocked at this list of national values, but I see them clearly in our behaviors and the choices we make. I also know that this is not who we want to be, so how did we get here? What happened to our ideals about life, liberty, democracy, independence, imagination?

This devolution frequently happens to individuals, organizations, and nations. It’s a gradual and nearly invisible process where values quite contrary to those we treasure seep in and grow in power. As these contrary values are used in more and more decisions, higher principles recede into the background and have little influence. We may still think they matter, but they aren’t guiding our behavior. Usually, it takes a crisis and deep distress for us to look honestly at ourselves and notice who we’ve become.

I feel that America is standing on the edge of an abyss, a dark night of the soul. In a dark night, meaning is lost, identity disintegrates, and we move into that most creative of spaces, chaos. W.B.Yeats powerfully describes a dark night in “The Second Coming.”
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I have no idea if America will acknowledge this dark night that feels so obvious to me. I can only hope some of us will be brave enough to ask, “What do I love about America that I want to preserve at all costs?” This question takes us into deep territory, revealing the qualities of life and human community that truly inspire us. And our connection to each other strengthens as we dwell in this life-affirming space. I always leave these conversations reenergized, stronger, bolder.

At a personal level, I fear waking one morning from this awful trance that has dulled my imagination and heart, and wonder what happened to the energy and ideals I once had as an American. In his poem, “The Truly Great,” British poet Stephen Spender warned that we must: “Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother with noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.” Sacred values erode so slowly, lost to our awareness through subtle, darkening forces. I hope we can find the means to see through this dark night.

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  1. Nui says:

    Strange, Dave, how we seem to read the same people. In my recent class presentation which I haven’t yet blogged about, I quoted some words from Wheatley as well. It was from her book, “Leadership and the New Science”, in her last chapter, Epilogue, she writes, “Dark times are normal to life, there’s nothing wrong with us when we periodically plunge into the abyss.” I find her interpretation of “New Science” into a personal worldview and her application of it to business consultancy very interesting. This “new” worldview gives us hope that we can indeed “save our world”. And I am learning through integrating these new insights into my psyche, that true to the observations of Quantum Physics, it could be as simple as just a radical change of perspective of the observer that changes reality. Magaret Wheatley also says that what we need are companions on this discovery of a new perspective. She says, “We need each other to test our ideas, to share what we’re learning, to help us see in new ways, to listen to our stories. We need each other to forgive us when we fail, to trust us with their dreams, to offer their hope when we’ve lost our own”. I think that is behind what makes blogging such a great tool for social change during these dark times!

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