My list of 16 essential human capacities
THIS IS PODCAST #1 (16:40) — CLICK ON THIS ARCHIVE.ORG LINK TO LISTEN TO IT. TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS.
As a prelude to this interview, to tell you a bit about this very wise young man, I want to share a quote from Thomas Merton that Chris posted on his blog today:
I do not know if I have found answers. When I first became a monk, yes, I was more sure of ‘answers’. But as I grow old in the monastic life and advance further into solitude, I become aware that I have only begun to seek the questions. And what are the questions? Can man make sense out of his existence? Can man honestly give his life meaning merely by adopting a certain set of explanations which pretend to tell him why the world began and where it will end, why there is evil and what is necessary for a good life?
My brother, perhaps in my solitude I have become as it were an explorer for you, a searcher in realms which you are not able to visit. I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man’s heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts. An arid, rocky, dark land of the soul, sometimes illuminated by strange fires which men fear and peopled by specters which men studiously avoid except in their nightmares. And in this area I have learned that one cannot truly know hope unless he has found out how like despair hope is.
How to Save the World has been talking about the need for what I call Let-Self-Change, a process of self-learning, adaptation and building of self-sufficiency and resilience that is, I believe, what we must all do before we can hope to be able to make the world a better place, a more sustainable place, and before we can start to create models that will be useful to future generations when our civilization starts to fall apart from its own excesses and fragilities.
So the first question I asked Chris was about capacities, and specifically what capacities he thought were necessary for us each to acquire and nurture in others as agents for positive change.
He identified three capacities. The first was capacity to act. This capacity entails the freedom to act, the courage to act, and the wisdom to know what actions to take. Getting that wisdom, through community and communication, is the second capacity:
CHRIS: Sometimes it surprises people to learn that I’m a really big fan of action, of doing things. So, I think the first capacity is being able to act… The second capacity is ‘how do you gain wisdom’? … I have this thought that what you need to do to gain the wisest possible action is to sit down with other people. We can make a plan to change the world but we don’t really know the limits of our own wisdom until we sit down with a group of other people and say ‘what is the wisest course of action here?’…
So the second capacity is the capacity to get wisdom from others by sitting down with them and re-learning how to be in communication with them. I was reminded of a teaching from the Nuu-chah-nulth tribes here on the West Coast of Vancouver Island that says that it is a mark of a person’s character if you’re able to ask for help when you need it. The person who can’t ask for help is held in low esteem.
DAVE: The third capacity, Chris said, is sustainability of one’s actions, and all three capacities are connected.
CHRIS: The third capacity is that, if you’re going to go to all the trouble of acting and gaining wisdom from others, is to make it last. So sustainability is the third capacity. And sustainability is all about being in relationship — to others, to the enterprise, the environment, the community. If you’re not in relationship with something, you have no stake in its future, no investment in it. If you have a relationship, there is a level of accountability, like in the old days when business was done with a handshake. There is real accountability when we’re working with friends…
So sustainability depends on your ability to have a deep relationship with whatever you want to see lasting…So for me those are the three capacities. Taking action. Taking wise action. And taking wise action that lasts.
DAVE: I said to Chris that I thought the third of these capacities, sustainability, must surely be the hardest, because it entails a huge commitment of time and energy and attention, in a time when we are all just too busy to sustain attention on anything. Chris mentioned a speech he attended by Desmond Tutu in answer to this:
CHRIS: What separates you and me from Desmond Tutu is that he wasn’t a citizen of his own country, he wasn’t able to speak his own mind, he wasn’t able legally to organize, and yet he did all this stuff, and it was just a question of what he chose to do with the 24 hours in his day. It’s a question of being selective about what really has heart and meaning for you.
DAVE: We talked then about how you can help engender these capacities in others. I was aware from previous conversations that Chris’ children, and many of the children in his community, are home schooled. I asked him how he found time for this along with all the other important and demanding things he was doing. He told me it required looking at learning a completely different way from the way school systems do:
CHRIS: We call it Life Learning, the positive appellation of ‘Unschooling‘ ..
One of the things Life Learning has taught me is that the more you let go of inappropriate control the easier things get, and this is a lesson also from Open Space, by the way. We feel the need to be in control of our children’s education, and lots of people who decide to introduce home schooling feel the need to reproduce the school environment in their house, to know how and what their children are learning. They look to the education system to show them how to do this, so lots of home school parents will do things like test their kids to give them confidence that it’s all working. We don’t do any of that in our house, because it’s not conclusively known in the education system whether any of that testing works…
It forces you into a more narrow box, and doesn’t allow the child’s learning to uncover the complex relationships that actually make up the world. They divide the world into subject ‘chunks’ when the world isn’t made up that way. The world wasn’t designed with math, geography, physics etc., all separate. So having a much more interrelated experience of the world is our approach. In terms of finding time to do this, this is something my partner and I are pretty single-minded about. We carve out a whole lot of time to be present with our kids.
My daughter and I both subscribe to StumbleUpon and we’ll send each other interesting items and she’ll be all over it, so then for the next week we’ll be talking about sacred architecture or quantum physics or Edgar Allan Poe [DAVE: So the focus is on helping her discover, rather than teaching?] Right, it’s enabling her to learn rather than teaching her. This ‘strewing and conversation‘ approach applies to websites, to books, to people, to opportunities, we just throw them out there, and some of them the kids take up, and some they don’t. And then we talk about it, about the experiences, and engage with them and be present with each other.
DAVE: Chris went on to explain that this approach, rather than providing a shallow education on a lot of subjects, allows children to learn profoundly by studying subjects that they feel passionate about in more depth than a school curriculum would normally allow:
CHRIS: The experience of watching my children and other unschooled kids who dive deep into something is that the entire world is accessible through any door, so that whether you decide to become a martial arts master or study medicine or learn circus arts like my kids are doing right now, or my daughter who’s looking at sacred geometry…
When you engage deeply into these spheres, the whole world is there for you, the whole world opens up. That’s where you see sustainability happen…So my kids develop relationships with ideas, they develop relationships with other people, they develop relationships with our community, so that when it looks as if something is going to happen with those ideas, with that community, they’re right there.
DAVE: At this point we talked about entrepreneurship, and the terror and self-doubt most young people have about making a living for themselves. I asked Chris, as an entrepreneur himself, if he had any advice for young people thinking of creating an enterprise. He talked about the advice that John Holt, one of the grandfathers of the unschooling movement, offered on this subject:
CHRIS: It’s not particular knowledge you need, it’s just the ability to know how to learn. Because we’re not going to know what’s going to be needed in the future. You need to be able to learn and adapt to new environments and new knowledge, knowledge we don’t even know is needed. So the first thing you need to do is let go of the idea that somebody can tell you how to do this, to run this business or to be in business at all. I know lots of entrepreneurs who didn’t have a clue what they were doing, didn’t go to business school. That didn’t stop them. They just knew that this was a useful thing to do, that it should be possible to make a living doing it, that they could contribute.
[Because of technical problems I turned off the recorder at this point. You’ll have to take my word that I’ve captured what Chris said during the last few minutes of our conversation.]
DAVE: Chris went on to say that his advice, and perhaps John Holt’s, to aspiring entrepreneurs would be: Just Do It. Converse with prospective customers and partners and people who know more than you do. Make those relationships a permanent part of what drives and informs your business decisions. Most importantly, he said, echoing the message of my book, never try to do any of this alone. He also recommended an out-of-print book on entrepreneurship called Get a Life, that I reviewed and summarized on my blog, and refer to as well in my book.
We then transitioned to the concept Chris called ‘active relationships’ which, he stressed, are much deeper and more pervasive than just ‘networks’. Chris consciously uses the terms ‘relationships’ and ‘communities’ instead of ‘networks’ and I got the sense that he finds mere ‘networks’ to be unsatisfying and shallow because they often lack essential elements of active relationships and true communities, elements like passion, commitment, accountability and responsibility.
I asked Chris how we can go about finding people with whom to build meaningful active relationships, for business partnerships and for other reasons. His answer was to draw on another critical element of Open Space — the Invitation. A well-crafted invitation, he reiterated, will attract the right people for any endeavour, whether it be an Open Space event, a prospective business partnership, or any other important activity involving relationship.
Active relationships, he said, are built not on role or control but on friendship, trust and shared passion. I’ve gone so far as to use the word ‘love’ to describe these relationships.
My last question for Chris was what books he’s read that have taught him the most, and about what. His answer, perhaps not surprisingly, was that he doesn’t read books for instruction, he reads them for inspiration. You learn, he said, by doing. What a book can do is to inspire you to do, to act.
We ended up talking a bit about leadership, and the cult of leadership that seems to pervade many businesses, where the executives are credited, unduly, for almost all of the enterprise’s success, and criticized, unfairly, for almost all of its failures. What, I asked Chris, can we do about that, to get organizations to realize that a business is nothing more than the actions of all of its people. Perhaps, Chris replied, we need to discover that we don’t need leaders. Hey, he said, there’s an interesting subject for your next podcast.
And indeed that will be the subject of Podcast #2 next week. Stay tuned and tell me, at How to Save the World, what you thought of this one, and how I can make future podcasts better. Until then, this is DavePollard. Thanks for listening.
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