When a system is dying…

A few weeks ago, with 9ft snowbanks , it started to rain. I live on the world’s biggest salt marsh, and it was just cold enough the soil was partially frozen, so water had nowhere to go. Parts of our downtown flooded and so did our road.

Within 12 hrs the flood had frozen all the way up to our farmers market. The IPCC reports that other than New Orleans, the place where I live –nestled on the Chignecto Isthmus, the land bridge from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia– is the most at-risk place in Turtle Island for Climate Change.

I’m just reading the already-ignored 2022 IPCC report, amidst a sea change of geopolitics and looming war, without even a breath after the releif/terror of hearing where I live is lifting COVID restrictions….
I’m thinking about the “Theory of Two Loops.”

When one system is dying, we are often in a state of hypernormalization, going about our daily mundane even when it feels wholly disconnected from reality & the work we know needs doing (a term coined to describe the feeling of citizens right before the fall of the USSR).
Everyone takes their roles in these exhausting moments, but without midwives of new emerging systems, without hospice care for the dying systems, without inspired leadership, without building public trust, without exemplars of how we can do differently for public good… We feel lost and hopeless. Let alone after long seasons of isolating during a pandemic.
For me, it is releiving to just name we’re in a somewhat familiar emergent space. A chaotic one, struggle to make sense and make order– but it is a familiar one. One of the gifts of the pandemic was for people to see the emperor has no clothes. One of the gifts of working in Social Innovation & System’s Change is having frameworks for understanding emergent spaces.

Much of my work is in navigating the Chaordic Path-– where many folks are not comfortable !

Today, I’m just gently reminding y’all that a system dying is scary, and feels untethered and painful. Art of Hosting practioners call it ‘The Groan Zone.’ Emergence is often found in the spaces between Chaos & Order– But I’m hoping that when we ground in connection, nurturing, dreaming… we can do better. We can *feel* better and build the roots for the pragmatic optimism the world needs right now. But it’s not an individual problem, a lonely endeavour– and thinking of it that way is exhausting and is injuring us all. We are all participating in this system change, even if to survive we’re in a hypernormalisation autopilot.

‘In reality, there is a distinct phase that is neither, or both divergent and convergent, when group members experience impatience, frustration, question the process or purpose of the workshop and in general feel very uncomfortable. This is the groan zone. ‘
This diamond of participation is from Sam Kaner’s work and the depiction is from delightful Chris Corrigan

People are fighting about the wrong things . We’re grounded in capitalism, individualistic desires, colonial & imperialist systems, plutocrat-run algorithms and brains hardwired for tribalism. And the way we fight without dignity, without nurturing care, without nuance and making our beliefs our identity.. we’re using the master’s tools. We’re wielding the tools of our oppression to try and break our chains. As someone who feels like nuance is bliss, whos favorite work is bringing disperate groups together for public good, who loves people of many political stripes and opinions and ages— This moment? Feels dehumanizing. Not honouring our whole selves our the wholeness of others. That is not the world I am trying to build.

In these moments, I treat people I don’t agree with– even when it take a lot of conscious effort– as though their reality matters, they matter, and I listen twice to understand. Because I want to be treated that way, and because I consider us all part of a spiritual family. Left, Right… all the tools of misinformation, dehumanization, dismissal, us and them? Are being used too much by all sides of political spectrums.

As Audre Lorde says…. “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

Allowing myself to take space, to breathe, being gentle with myself isn’t just something I’ve ‘earned’ –it’s a very basic need that has to be met. In my convalesence, I am making sure to not only be less cruel to myself but to make space for other people’s flawed humanity. Because I am trying to stop using the master’s tools. Even when the work, and the moment, feels so urgent.

After burnout, after loss, after almost dying, after collective trauma and dismantling communities and our collective coping mechanisms… I feel especially human. I have more space for meeting other people wherever they are. I once felt invincible, even if it was a pretend mode of self-neglect. Now I feel so fragile, so open, so imperfect. And am trying to reframe ‘feeling especially human’ as… Super Human. It is a radical act to care for myself wholly, to not be motivated by productivity, fear, self-loathing… trying to earn my externalized value. Nurturing? Is something I’m eager to do in all the spheres of my life– including on the internet, in politics, in public. But it starts with not being so cruel to ourselves, not throwing out the dissonance but looking at it, interrogating it and honouring we’re in the groan zone.

When I see the way people are fighting and divided right now, it looks to me like disconnection. Like a reflection of our cruel inner voices, judging ourselves and scapegoating others to build a story of why this is all happening.

You’ll see me nestling in harder, trying to switch out depth for productivity, working hard on healing myself and sending extra love where I think it matters…. I hope you’re investing in your foundations of change too❤️