Transforming Our World
Working Together for Meaningful Change
by Linda Sechrist
With all the chaos occurring in the world today, it is challenging to remain centered and not feel overwhelmed. Every shocking headline seems to pull the proverbial rug out from under us. Thought leader Laureen Golden explains the dilemma this way: “Psychologically, we were raised, educated and socialized in a world that no longer really exists. We have a new world that we must navigate, and we need a new psychology, a whole new way of being for that world. Reducing, compartmentalizing, separating things in order to understand them no longer works for us. It’s going to take work to get out of this paradigm.”
Drawing from her background in education and social work, Golden ponders, “How does that new psychology develop when all our institutions charged with cultivating consciousness—schools, families, religious institutions and organizations—are set in the 19th and 20th centuries? Since learning is how we go from one paradigm to another, where do we go to learn the skills and the structures we need to be successful in such a complex world? We can’t do it individually. We must learn in collectives.”
The paradigm shift envisioned by Golden offers an opportunity for us to access innovative methods of learning, discovery and connection, such as sociocracy (a self-governance system based on the equality of its members); systems thinking (an approach to complexity that looks at the whole and analyzes relationships, rather than splitting it into smaller pieces); permaculture (exploring natural ecosystems as a whole); circle methods (thinking things through as a group); and Indigenous wisdom (focusing on the interconnectedness of all things).
All of these methods focus on an ethos of collaboration and teach us how to discern wisdom, which is different than knowledge. By engaging in these conversations and explorations, we learn that if we tug on any one part of the web of life, we tug the whole web—an important analogy for our times.
A Beloved Community Co-Creating an Island of Sanity Through Collaboration
Instead of shouting, “The sky is falling, and the seas are rising,” in response to a world that is unraveling and experiencing the growing realities of global warming, residents of St. Petersburg, Florida, are embracing resilience. To prove that the future is born in webs of human conversation, the city is counting on collective intelligence to emerge.
Among the tools city participants are employing is The World Café, developed by Juanita Brown and David Isaac, which allows people to host group conversations around thoughtful questions. The concept is designed to evoke deeper listening and give rise to solutions for today’s challenges in a more conscious, intentional and strategic way. Forty citizens have taken The World Café facilitation course. Employing a simple and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue, this methodology enables participants to clarify the context, create hospitable space, explore questions that matter, encourage everyone’s contribution, connect diverse perspectives, listen together for patterns and insights, and share collective discoveries.
Other important work being applied is that of bestselling author and longtime community organizer Margaret Wheatley. Her training, which is designed to cultivate what she calls “Warriors of the Human Spirit,” arouses people’s inherent generosity, creativity, compassion and need for community. Known as a big-systems thinker throughout her 45-year career, Wheatley has concluded that the only opportunity for change is at the local level. Questions that encourage collective learning became integral to creating cohesiveness in St. Petersburg this year.
Dr. Donella Meadows’ “systems thinking” has helped St. Petersburg participants understand that living systems begin as networks, shift to intentional communities of practice and evolve into powerful systems capable of influence. Also instructive has been “complexity theory”, which helped participants recognize human systems as organizations, families and communities.
“The city leaders felt conversations were important enough to invest $20,000 to cultivate a culture of conversational leadership in the neighborhoods. Another $25,000 was granted by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay to research the outcomes. Now, the Florida Council of Churches, University of South Florida, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and The Connection Partners have received a Community Vibrancy grant of $14,500 to pilot conversations in three neighborhoods, spreading the skills in creating participatory democracy. Participants will host conversations in their own neighborhoods,” says St. Petersburg resident Sharon Joy Kleitsch, founder of The Connection Partners and a longtime catalyst for applying strategic actions based on the new sciences of complexity theory, strategic thinking and quantum science.
“Those who have used World Café as a tool know that a culture of conversational leadership offers citizens the opportunity to experience a sense of oneness and connectedness. We’ve explored what happens when we share feelings of care, compassion and appreciation toward a beloved community,” says Kleitsch. “We found that group resonance, profound personal involvement and deeply engrossing, interactive conversation supports a City of Compassion and an International City of Peace, which St. Petersburg was chosen to be. I want to be sure that people understand that we do not have answers. Together, we are exploring pathways and listening for the answers to emerge.”
Since 2020, a thoughtfully selected group of Florida activists—including participants from St. Petersburg—have been holding weekly online Zoom conversations that matter. In 2021, they were joined by participants from Ohio to study the Capra Course, which is based on The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision by bestselling author Fritjof Capra.
“What we discovered after only two weeks was that we were ourselves a living system connecting to itself and becoming self-organized,” says Kleitsch. “We became aware that we were learning together. We were sharing what we were learning around subjects such as honoring Indigenous peoples, local food systems, the human right to clean water, reimaging capitalism and many more subjects. We’ve also bifurcated into a Sarasota [Florida] cohort. The key is, we were not random. We were a self-selected study group learning collaboratively, which is the best way I recommend activists study the Capra Course.”
Argerie Vasilakes, who is researching outcomes, explains that her work is dedicated to helping teams, communities and organizations become more coherent. “I start with traditional ways of thinking about our relationships with nature that native peoples have never forgotten—humans are part of nature, not apart from nature,” she explains. “To me, human organizations, communities, families and governments are also part of nature and examples of natural ecosystems. So, I naturally look at things from a living systems perspective.”
Vasilakes advises, “In a group that is learning together, such as those in the St. Petersburg neighborhoods, group conversations organized around questions specifically crafted for the context and desired purpose of the World Café evoke a deeper kind of listening, the most important factor determining the success of a Café. They spark learning conversations that can produce insights and innovation for meeting the challenges they face. Through practicing shared listening and paying attention to themes, patterns and insights, participants begin to sense a connection to the larger whole.”
According to Wheatley, the important work is to foster critical connections. She believes it is not necessary to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, she suggests we connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships and tools like The World Café, we can develop the new knowledge, practices and commitment that lead to broad-based change.
Wheatley sometimes opens her interviews with an ancient Hopi prophecy that reads as if it were applicable to our current times: “Here now is a river flowing very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore. They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. The elders say, ‘Let go of the shore, push off and go into the middle of the river. Keep your heads above the water. Know the river has its destination.’ The elders say, ‘See who is in there with you and celebrate.’ At this time in history, we are to take nothing seriously; least of all, ourselves. Gather yourselves. Everything we do now must be done in a spirit of celebration, for we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Seeing who is in the river of chaos with us, we can choose to respond with, “How can I serve with what I have, where I am?” This is what any Warrior of the Human Spirit would say because in the same river of chaos, there are also the seeds of transformation. In these turbulent times when all the old boundaries are unravelling and all the old certainties are dissolving, there is a possibility for creative transformation if we work together.
Linda Sechrist is Natural Awakenings’ senior staff writer.
Tools for Co-Creating Beloved Communities
- New Dimensions Radio (NewDimensions.org)
- A good explanation of complexity theory is at Tinyurl.com/ComplexityTheoryExplained
- Lynn McTaggart’s books, including: Living with Intention: The Science of Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World and The Power of Eight: Harnessing the Miraculous Energies of a Small Group to Heal Others and the World