I split my New Year’s Day up between helping out family, watching (intentionally!) the delightfully scary “Bandersnatch”, and taking a course online called “U-Lab.” It seemed a nice balance of pleasure, responsibility, and personal improvement. A good day.
It would be hard for me to describe what the course U-Lab was about (you can take it yourself, though, for free, if you like). Perhaps it would be best to simply let them describe it:
This 90-minute course will introduce you to Theory U, a framework and method developed at MIT and practiced by individuals, organizations and larger communities around the world to learn from the emerging future.
Some of you are already rolling your eyes, and I get that – all I can tell you is that while this course does get into the the high-concept philosophy stuff, it also spends a good amount of time talking hard economic theory as well as asking, bluntly, of itself: how can this practice scale? What is the actual practical use of it? If you have a spare 90 minutes, you could do a lot worse. It’s the introduction to a bigger program that is going strong.
But there’s one part in particular that resonated, a message that I believe would be useful for each of us, personally.
Presencing and Absencing
They talk in the course about the two kinds of journeys that result in change. One path is called “presencing” (where they get the name of their Institute from) and it involves things like reflection, communication, and being open to collaborating on improving the world.
The other journey is “absencing” – choosing deliberately to ignore other perspectives, to invalidate experiences other than your own, and to shift responsibility from ourselves and our contribution to the problems.
It’s not a subtle idea in terms of who and what they are talking about, and you can see that from the article linked to the picture here (illustrated by the amazing Kelvy Bird). In fact, if you’re like me (perhaps a bit inclined towards the visual side of things) you have already seen how those swooping arrows make a clear delineation between the sides. Just the thing for a glyph on a secret door, or a badge, or a tattoo. Maybe a flag?
Then Otto Scharmer, the lecturer, put the brakes on it. He acknowledged that it’s really easy to turn this into another dichotomy of “Us” and “Them.”
Then he explains why it’s really nothing but “Us.”
The thing is, he points out, we don’t usually get up in the morning, stretch, yawn, and say “How can I increase the divide between the resources available on the planet and our rate of consumption? Most people don’t wake and wonder “How can I keep inequality and injustice going just a little better today? But somehow these things keep happening…so why is that?
The suggestion is that every day, with every action, we are – all of us – doing something on one of these journeys. Sometimes we are seeing others, sometimes we are denying the facts in front of our eyes. Sometimes we can be fully present, and sometimes we are deliberately absent because “I just literally can not.”
That’s part of being human. That’s the reality. That’s Aquaman.
Sorry for the abrupt shift, but watching that movie was also part of my holiday, and aside from it just being so pretty, I really enjoyed that the main characters were not all-good or all-bad (well, if they were all-bad, it was understandable due to their environment/upbringing). You understood that the villain had their reasons for the bad things, and you saw how the hero was flawed but still tried to do the good things.
We need more characters like that. We need to see that in each other – especially in those who we have “othered” deliberately, choosing to be “absent” from understanding them.
By the way, that does not mean “giving them a voice and a place at the table.” It’s not a “why can’t we just be friends.” It’s more along the lines of “it’s not enough to know your enemy – you need to understand them.”
In fact, it’s possibly not about the enemy at all. To paraphrase a key concept in the course, it’s not so much about overcoming your enemy as examining the systems that allow them to remain in that role.
Resolution, Deresolution, Same Difference
This week – and honestly, this month – the personal development world will be split with opinions about how to set and keep resolutions as well as why you shouldn’t bother because they don’t work anyway.
I’m going to suggest that instead of “resolving to do better” we resolve to simply be more aware. First of ourselves, and then, occasionally, as we are able, of others, maybe even of others that we really don’t want to be aware of.
That’s my New Year’s message. Let me know how it goes for you!