Tag Archives: Change

Thinking about Nonviolence as a Result of Reading Ahimsa

Being a believer in nonviolence in today’s world is perplexing. So, when I read a book that I think might help people to consider the possibility of thinking broadly about the practical human value of nonviolence, I want to recommend it. Not because this piece of fiction has answers. I recommend it because it might be provocative. I think, we as a human race, have a lot of interdependent thinking to do about how to get along.

The book Ahimsa (a·him·sa /əˈhimˌsä)by Supriya Kelkar gets us thinking about resolving conflict, how we want to be with others and the future.

Kelkar, the author, was born and still lives in the Midwest. She earned her BA at the University of Michigan. AHIMSA, is inspired by her great-grandmother’s role in the Indian freedom movement. This book is marketed as a middle-grade novel. I see it as a book for everyone. If I were a high school or college teacher teaching social studies, history, humanities or civil rights I would consider assigning it. If I were a third (I started my career as a third grade teacher) or fourth grade teacher I would consider reading it aloud.

The story is captivating. Fascinating in that the story is complex, revealing and beckons you to want to know more about the struggles of oppressed people. The issues faced by the characters are fundamental liberty and life. They include: trust across difference, power and privilege, the friendship of a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, a mother dedicating her self to a cause, India in the 1940’s, the caste system (untouchables), non violence, education in India,authoritarian British rule, Mahatma Gandhi’s deeply held view of ahimsa, well devolved characters authentically navigating the realities of complexity.

According to Wikipedia, Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues and an important tenet of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. Ahimsa has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences. While ancient scholars of Hinduism pioneered and over time perfected the principles of Ahimsa, the concept reached an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism. Most popularly, Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in the principle of ahimsa.

Ahimsa’s precept of ’cause no injury’ includes one’s deeds, words, and thoughts. Classical literature of Hinduism such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as modern scholars debate principles of Ahimsa when one is faced with war and situations requiring self-defence. The historic literature from India and modern discussions have contributed to theories of Just War, and theories of appropriate self-defence. From Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahimsa

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Marching Democracy into the Future

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Those who march, write and engage in other forward looking activity exercise civic leadership. We are part of the energy that will shape the future.  We are involved.  By being involved we can influence and contribute. That is democracy!!!

Here is what we know about civic engagement from the work of Chrislip and O’Malley.

– Leadership is an activity, not a position.

– Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.

– Progress starts with you and must include engaging others.

– Your purpose must be clear.

– Make no mistake: leadership is risky, both professionally and personally.

Often, when we think about leadership our thoughts go to individuals who attempt to exercise their power and control.  Yet, as we see with the current levels of civic engagement, we can re-frame our thinking to realize that leadership is: showing up engaged and ready to connect with others to make things better.

The concepts of “better” can seem not specific. So, I suggest that in America in 2018 “better” fits the language of The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation (from researching Wikipedia) under the heading of The Great Binding Law:  “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”  A Chief of the Onondaga Nation writes: “We are looking ahead to make every decision that we make relates to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. … What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky explain that leaders who work to address challenges from an adaptive point of view will be, “required to step into unknown space and disturbing the equilibrium, it is an activity that is inherently uncertain, risky for the organization as well as for the individual, and, for these reasons, often disruptive and disorienting.”

We can’t pretend that the changes that need to happen to activate our democracy will not entail some uncertainty and potentially disruptive and disorienting experiences.  And, we must ask ourselves, would we rather hold onto the status quo?  Or, are we ready to build the future together?

You don’t start with all of the answers when you are breathing new life into our democracy. The work of today’s engaged citizen is not linear. “Doing this work requires flexibility and openness – even in defining success. The pathway is not a straight line, and because working through an adaptive challenge will always involve distributing some losses, albeit in the service of an important purpose, the systemic dynamics that ensue, the politics of change, will have many unpredictable elements.”

So, just because this kind of civic engagement isn’t predictable and some of the present preferred system won’t likely become part of the future – why not start working for dramatic improvements?  The future is a terrible thing to waste.  Now is the time to use the present to get to work toward the best for all children.  In fact, for all children seven generations from now.

Wikipedia post. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability

For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership, by David D. Chrislip and  Ed O’Malley, KLC Press, 2013, pages 159, 164, 165 and 166

Heifetz, Grashow, Linsky from their book: The Practices of Adaptive Leadership (2009) pages 28 & 31 

Being an Other-fucused Person Can Contribute Greatly to the Common Good!

Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Results by Robert E. Quinn (2000)

I like this book. I recommend it to people that are thinking about how a family, group, organization or big system (like a government) moves forward, backward or becomes stagnant. He makes the point that what seem unchangeable might, in fact, be changeable. Also like the book because it sets out the kind of tasks and paths that reasonable normal people might benefit from following to move a family, group, organization or big system toward the common good.

 

This book is ambitious and, as a result, paints a clear broad picture of what it takes to contribute to and impact groups or large systems. Complexity is embraced by the author and, therefore, his change method is not the norm. He explains and makes sense of the challenge to focus on the common good (What Quinn also called the ‘journey of collective fulfillment’) for organizations and groups of people.

 

Quinn makes the point that he feels that ordinary people can become profoundly affected as change agents.

 

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Probes and Questions Can be Valuable to Expand Learning

Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Marilee Adams

The title is straightforward and true, both from my experience and from watching others that are excellent at asking good questions. Not questions to ‘trip people up’ – but questions that help to further everyone’s understanding of the topic. On one level, this concept of ‘changing your questions will change your life’ sounds one dimensional and I am here to tell you that Marilee Adams’ message is complex and daunting. Daunting because just wanting to make this kind of change is just a beginning. It can be a challenging and very proactive journey. I recommend this book to folks who are intentional about self-growth. For anyone who wants to contribute to groups in positive ways and who wants grow and learn – this is a good read!Change_your_questions_change

Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Results by Robert E Quinn (2000)

This book is ambitious and as a result paints a clear broad picture of what it takes to be in groups or large systems. Complexity is embraced by the author and therefore his change method is not the norm.

He explains and makes sense of the challenge to focus on the common good (What Quinn also called the ‘journey of collective fulfillment’) for organizations and groups of people. Quinn makes the point that he feels that ordinary people can become profoundly affected as change agents.

I like this book. I recommend it to people that are thinking about how a family, group, organization or big system (like government) moves forward, backwards or becomes stagnant. He makes the point that what seem unchangeable might in fact be changeable. I also like the book because it sets out the kind of tasks and paths that reasonable normal people might benefit from following to move a family, group, organization or big system toward the common good.

Prescription for These Times: A Thousand Acts of Civility

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As a 67 year old guy, who has been in engaged public service for decades, I believe that much can be accomplished when ‘we’ choose to work ‘across differences’ in service to the common good. I have been part of such efforts. I have seen things occur when people have focused on the common good. It can happen!

And today, here in America, it seems that ‘commonality’ is not prized. From my perspective today’s politics are ripe with discord, dysfunction and degradation of others. I agree with Parker J. Palmer when he writes that the politics of today seem to be “intent on dividing us so deeply that there will be no more ‘we’ in ‘We the People’ — and thus no way for us to reach even a rough consensus on the common good to which we can hold our leaders accountable.” He sees hope if we can breathe in new life to ‘We the People’.

I choose to be hopeful. I believe that hope is bigger than fear, discouragement and weariness put together. I also believe that action is better than inaction. This is not a time to let frustration immobilize us – We the People! The ‘us’ I refer to is everyone. People who see things differently are willing to struggle toward a better future together.

Palmer has come to the conclusion that: “Though much of our political discourse is toxic, ‘politics’ is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.   Yes, that’s a vision of politics that will never be fully achieved. But every time someone abandons that vision and turns to cynicism, democracy suffers one more wound in the death of a thousand cuts.   Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility.”

Take a minute to read his entire essay, Breathing New Life into “We the People” and begin your ‘thousand acts of civility’. Begin to re-frame the situations you encounter into opportunities. Opportunities build to relationships were we ‘turn from ire to inquiry’ and all benefit from creative, respectful engagement.

 

 

 

Practice Does Matter!!!

We are works in progress: And we are products of our past. This is true of us as individuals and as a species. Sometimes we can find ourselves thinking that change, growth, improvement or progress gets stalled or stopped. We doubt that we, as individuals or as groups, can do much more than just become resigned to stagnation.

We doubt that we can get out the rut we are in. We are pretty sure that we are not going to reach our aspirations because the journey is taking too long and the path is “crazy” confusing and unclear. We are not sure what to try to “get better” at so we can achieve the desired progress.

I have enjoyed reading and thinking about the book: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. From my point of view Coyle makes the case that continuing to develop, change, grow, and improve is not just possible – it is how biology works.  It is not an accident when we get good at something.  In fact, we are hard wired to be able to adapt, change and evolve as individuals – and by extension as groups.  He also reinforces my belief that effort and intentionality make a difference.

Here are some of Coyle’s thoughts:

Nature/nurture has been a terrifically popular model because it’s clear and dramatic, and it speaks to a wide variety of phenomena in the natural world. But when it comes to explaining human talent, it has a slight problem: it’s vague to the point of meaninglessness. Thinking that talent comes from genes and environment is like thinking that cookies come from sugar, flour, and butter. It’s true enough, but not sufficiently detailed to be useful. To get beyond the outmoded nature/nurture model, we need to begin with a clear picture of how genes actually work.

Genes are not cosmic playing cards. They are evolution tested instruction books that build the immensely complicated machines that are us. They contain the blueprints, literally written in nucleotides, to construct our minds and bodies in the smallest detail. The task of design and construction is hugely complex but essentially straightforward: the genes instruct the cells to make the eyelash like this, the toenail like that.

When it comes to behavior, however, genes are forced to deal with a unique design challenge. Human beings move around through a big, varied world. They encounter all sorts of dangers, opportunities, and novel experiences. Things happen quickly, which means that behavior—skills—need to change quickly. The challenge is, how do you write an instruction book for behavior? How do our genes, sitting quietly inside our cells, help us adapt to an ever-changing, ever-dangerous world?

To help address this problem, our genes have evolved to do a sensible thing: they contain instructions to build our circuitry with preset urges, proclivities, and instincts. Genes construct our brains so that when we encounter certain stimuli— a tasty meal, rotting meat, a stalking tiger, or a potential mate—a factory-loaded neural program kicks into gear, using emotions to guide our behavior in a useful direction. We feel hunger when we smell a meal, disgust when we smell rotten meat, fear when we see a tiger, desire when we see a potential mate. Guided by these preset neural programs, we navigate toward a solution.

That strategy works well for creating behaviors to deal with rotten meat and potential mates. After all, writing instructions to build an urge-circuit is relatively simple: if X,then Y. But what about creating complex higher behaviors, like playing the saxophone or Scrabble? As we’ve seen, higher skills are made of million-neuron chains working together with exquisite millisecond timing. The question of acquiring higher skills is really a question of design strategy. What’s the
best strategy for writing instructions to build a machine that can learn immensely complicated skills?

One obvious design strategy would be for the genes to prewire for the skill. The genes would provide detailed step-by-step instructions to build the precise circuits needed to perform the desired skill: to play music, or juggle, or do calculus.

When the right stimulus came along, all the prebuilt wiring would connect up and start firing away, and the talent would appear: Babe Ruth starts whacking homers, Beethoven starts composing symphonies. This design strategy would seem to make sense (after all, what could be more straightforward?), but in fact it has two big problems. First, it’s expensive, biologically speaking. Building those elaborate circuits takes resources and time, which have to come at the expense of some other design feature. Second, it’s a gamble with fate. Prewiring to create a genius software programmer doesn’t help if it’s 1850; and prewiring for a genius blacksmith would be useless today. In the space of a generation, or a few hundred miles, certain higher skills flip from being crucial to being trivial and vice versa.

To put it simply, prewiring a million-wire circuit for a complex higher skill is a stupid and expensive bet for genes to make. Our genes, however, having survived the gauntlet of the past few million years, aren’t in the business of making stupid and expensive bets. (Other genes might have been, but they’re long gone by now, along with the lineages that carried them.)*

Now let’s consider a different design strategy. Instead of prewiring for specific skills, what if the genes dealt with the skill issue by building millions of tiny broadband installers and distributing them throughout the circuits of the brain? The broadband installers wouldn’t be particularly complicated—in fact, they’d all be identical, wrapping wires with insulation to make the circuits work faster and smoother. They would work according to a single rule: whatever circuits are fired most and most urgently, are the ones where the installers will go. Skill circuits that are fired often will receive more broadband; skills that are fired less often, with less urgency, will receive less broadband. Pages 69 – 71

In this multifaceted world where forward progress often seems slow or stagnated: Where change often appears to be minimal or retro – There is a reasonable path toward developing and becoming more able to contribute in these complex times.

These are ‘our times’. We, if we want to be contributors, need to be willing to grow and develop ourselves. That means we have to be willing to “do things” poorly at first – so over time – we might do those same things with more elegance, grace and effectiveness.

What kinds of “things” might we want to get better at? That is a good question for each of us to sort out and answer. Here is my vision of what “things” we should consider being willing to “do” enough to improve our practice.

Engaging – reaching out and truly interacting with- others across differences.
Listening deeply to others by truly ‘seeking to understand, as Covey encouraged.
Collaborating with others to reach outcomes embraced by all.
Seeking the common good, as opposed to seeking to ‘win’ while others ‘lose”.

As Coyle suggestioned in The Talent Code: ”Whatever circuits are fired most and most urgently, are the ones where the installers will go. Skill circuits that are fired often will receive more broadband; skills that are fired less often, with less urgency, will receive less broadband.” So, the circuits that will help us, as a species, to get better at the four dispositions and behaviors I just mentioned are the ones we need to be “firing frequently”. Practice does matter!!!

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