mad in pursuit journal


Follow the disturbance,2

"I'm all for progress. It's change I can't stand." Mark Twain

I'll cut to the chase...

Joy was over on Friday and coaxed me to contribute some of my skills to Project Empower, most simply described as a workshop series for women who want to take charge of their lives. My instant reaction was NO — I have an art life I'm trying to live .

dialogueJoy went on to talk about her vision of Project Empower — more of a grassroots movement, where empowered women would then take on leadership roles to bring other women along. A learning organization. Self-sustaining. Ecological. Non-hierarchical.

"You left the Institution disillusioned. Disappointed that your learning organization got overridden with a male-dominated hierarchy," she said. "You were putting new wine into old bottles. Here's your chance to see those principles really work."

A do-over. Instead of throwing my hat in the ring with a male social worker who turned out to be a corporate wannabe, I'd be joining forces with a female preacher who has already spent a lifetime living the learning organization principles and who has turned her garden into a labyrinth.

But it isn't just about them, is it? I'm different too. Back in the nineties (I realize now) I wanted nothing more than to be the Insider, the consiglieri, the high priestess of systems reform. I won't say I was drunk on power, but maybe a little tipsy. I was betrayed because I had to play by boys' rules: titles, span of control, politics, dominance at every conference table discussion.

On Friday, when Joy left, I was still feeling resistant. We agreed to let things emerge.

But then I remembered Meg Wheatley (see yesterday)and looked up what she's saying now.

I believe that the old leadership paradigm has failed us and that our current systems will continue to unravel. This has changed what I do and who I choose to support. I no longer spend any time trying to fix or repair the old, or to improve old leadership methods. I spend all of my time now supporting those giving birth to the new, those pioneering with new approaches to organizing and leading. In communities all over the world, there are many brave pioneers experimenting with new approaches for resolving the most difficult societal problems. These new leaders have abandoned traditional practices of hierarchy, power, and bureaucracy. They believe in people's innate creativity and caring. They know that most people can be awakened to be active in determining what goes on in their communities and organizations. They practice consistent innovation and courage-wherever they see a problem, they also see possibility. They figure out how to respond. If one response doesn't work, they try another. They naturally think in terms of interconnectedness, following problems wherever they lead, addressing multiple causes rather than single symptoms. They think in terms of complex global systems and yet also understand this world as a global village. [Wheatley, Supporting Pioneering Leaders as Communities of Practice, 2002]

Back when I was facilitating dialogue sessions, one of the guidelines was to "follow the disturbance." Natural systems change when they are disturbed — an old tree falls in the forest and makes a circle of light for new growth. My mantra became follow the disturbance. Joy is disturbing me. So I guess I better follow her. Something great will happen.


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Disturb Me, Please! by Meg Wheatley

Social Capitalist Awards 2007: 43 Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World. Fast Company, Dec 2006/Jan 2007.

Art As A Spark for Social Change. Terry Tempest Williams. At World Changing.

Barefoot Artists. Lily Yeh. Based in Philadelphia.

Berkana Institute connects and supports pioneering, life-affirming leaders around the world who strengthen their communities by working with the wisdom and wealth already present in its people, traditions and environment. We define a leader as anyone who wants to help, who is willing to step forward to create change in their world. And we know that the leaders we need are already here.