I have always thought that single truths were dodgy. Of course, that thought was not necessarily my own originally and we rarely know where the pieces of our insights come from. But I recently went back to the wonderful Will McWhinney and his Paths of Change and found this:
The important point to understand is that “no person or group operates entirely out of a single (archetypal) view of reality”. Europeans in the past lived in the sensory world complemented by the unitary world of religion. It is a “mark of a healthy and mature person, culture, or society” to be able effectively to combine archetypes (p. 29).
The big insight behind Paths of Change is that when we need to come at truth differently, we can’t stay in our comfortable home base, we need to move the sort of thought system we are using, and we need to move more than once. The big paths of change are called Revitalisation and Renaissance. The first thoroughly reimagines and reclothes how things are thought to work, and the second relies on a complete death and rebirth.
Nora Bateson tweeted recently that our thought system will not deliver us from the mess our thought system has made. That should not need saying but it does. Put in other terms, Brian Kernighan, inventor of the C programming language, said that you mustn’t write the cleverest code you can, because in order to debug that code you must be cleverer still.
Here is an anecdote about me learning that lesson many moons ago. I used to support a colleague who many of you may know, Esther Ridsdale. She would come to me for a strange blend of moral and technical support. She had a small consultancy company called CSPI that did work mainly in the health economy. Esther’s beef was that she did all the work lining up contracts and that the people who did the work on those contracts made more money, more easily, than she did. She thought that the solution to this sense of unfairness must lie in the way of divvying up the proceeds of the work. She wanted me to advise on the scheme that everyone would agree was fair.
Johari windows and pigeonholes
Another colleague once spent the lunchbreak during a day’s meeting telling me about a model he was keen on that classified people into different types. When I explained to him that I disliked classifying people and especially disliked being pigeonholed myself, he told me that showed I was one of those sort of people.
To classify people is already to take a superior position, as though you can see things that they can’t. Jung spoke in depth and at length about personality types and, some time later, Myers and Briggs produced a commercial travesty of his work. Of course, there are things that you and I have in common and things where we differ: the subtlety is all in what I assume I can do with that information. I might assume with Myers and Briggs that it gives me power and leverage, or I might use it to reinforce my sense of the different logics at work when we converse, of the difficulty of real communication.
There are lots of Johari windows: two-by-two models that open up a space for thinking differently about an issue. The McWhinney model has stayed with me all my working life. The first dimension goes from a single reality to a full plurality of realities. You can see why that is a lovely dimension to explore where people are coming from. The second is the dimension from determinism to free will.
So, in this Johari window we arrive at the four fundamental worldviews that may need to be traversed:
Unitary: there is a single reality that is deterministic in its nature. Nothing we can do about reality. The law is the law.
Mythic: There is single meaning that can allows us to understand what is and that understanding allows us to play our parts in the unfolding of reality. We have agency within a story.
Social: There are many ways in which people make sense of the world and those ways intertwine to help provide reality to each other
Sensory: The world is full of things that we can experience via our senses. Those things are what they are, and they have no meaning because they are all just sensory experiences of local reality
I have played fast and loose with McWhinney’s descriptions here, to try and give a sense of why we might want to stand in this pair of shoes and then in that pair, and to think of traversing these realities as a journey of mutual discovery. It is important that none of the worldviews is held to be a key to the others.
If we return briefly to revitalisation and renaissance, then one is clockwise and the other anticlockwise through these positions, and the insight is that these paths are completely and utterly different. They are different in feel and different in outcomes. They are different in motivation and different in rhetoric. They set peoples’ stories and lives on different trajectories.
I once organised a day’s workshop for the directors at Tesco, and I arranged for them to traverse these four archetypal ways of encountering the world. At the time (it may have changed), Tesco were not at all used to working with consultants. Anyway, right at the start of the day, one of these directors got cold feet and stated, “we don’t play games”. I am afraid, dear reader, that I didn’t cope very well with this outright rejection of what needed to be understood.
Our path of change
It would be hard to find someone who does not think we are in some pivotal change situation. That we are moving from one awful but at least familiar state to another state. Of course, the idiots trying to muscle in on the action want us to believe that they hold the keys to a brighter future at the same time as they are destroying any future we might have had. Literally destroying the basis for life and social coexistence.
If this is a major change then we are on a major path of change, one of the great paths. I am going to surmise that we must be on the path of renaissance, simply because there is an extinction going on. Something is dying a death of a thousand cuts. If something is dying, something will be reborn. We need quite desperately to understand what will be reborn and the path it will take. The history of revolutions is not great, and indeed the idiots just referred to are relying on chaos and destruction giving them the levers of power.
The unitary archetype we are in is one of there being no options. No-one chooses austerity. It is something that is held to be inevitable. There are precisely no choices to be made. Neoliberal economics is held to be an iron law, a unitary archetype in which we are all bound whether we like it or not.
The death of this archetype is one way to escape it. The institutions that were orchestrating austerity and the subversion of politics collapse under their own contradictions. It is no longer possible to believe that they have authority, still less that they represent the only choice. What was an edifice of power becomes rubble and ashes like a Syrian city.
What comes next?
The next archetype in the renaissance grand path is the mythic. We move from a determinist position where what happens is written in the stars to one where the future is suddenly available for a new story. There is essentially a vacuum in which a new myth appears. To state it passively like that is to deny the new aspect of free will in this situation: the future is no longer determined but is the creature of the choice of myth.
The next archetype in the journey is the social, with multiple realities created by independent acts of will. To acknowledge in the new myth that this is the viable way for humans to live is to thoroughly abandon and leave dead and buried the sense of constriction and impossibility that consumes us at present and that characterises our dying unitary situation. So, we already know that the new myth enables a proper social multiplicity, without a dominant sector claiming, for instance, that white people are salvation. We can use the prevalence or absence of such social scars to see whether the new myth is liberating in its conception of freedom.
When people say that we have to relate to each other with more tolerance and empathy, to accept and welcome diversity of perspective and very being, they are not asking us to be nice to each other for the sake of peace. They are saying, the best of them anyhow, that in the new myth it will be obvious that freedom comes from embracing all that. As obvious as not being able to spend money you haven’t got, which turns out to be just wrong, mainly because we are in the wrong story.
The furthest reach of the journey is the sensory, the mass of seemingly independent data about the things in our world. The current myth of austerity and neoliberalism has essentially broken itself on the rocks of the sensory. It just doesn’t work. The things that we can observe, measure, see with our own eyes, show that the myth is not working, that the world doesn’t work the way people in power claim it does.
At this furthest reach of the journey we have to find, in the same way, that the new myth does deliver at the level of logical and “scientific” investigation and modelling. For instance, the current ecosystemic crises will be seen to be capable of resolution when we are in a story that sees them as central to freedom. It is our current myth that is killing us, all too literally. We need to see another set of connections and be prepared to live them. This is less a call to action than a call to embrace something more alive.
My journey has been along this road; trying not to be cynical while recognising that the claims of the institutions of our time are simply not remotely true or sustainable as a social position has been my work, such as it is. Part of the rhetoric or neoliberalism is to demand solutions from its critics. The wonderfully fecund Occupy movement was criticised continually for not having a central structure with demands. Now Greta Thunberg encapsulates that new position more visibly and acceptably: “you are stealing our future”. We are so obviously trashing future generations because we cannot resolve our issues in the current myth.
The sensory does not have answers. Big data only allows exploitation, not insight. And the unitary is what has failed. That is the logic of the current renaissance. If you like, we need a myth that is satisfying to Greta Thunberg and her colleagues in arms around the world. We have already unified them, but in a negative way, as an opposition. They totally outclass our current leaders, but we must not ask them for solutions, or they will be used. It’s worth re-reading that — you can be right about the myth while being absolutely wrong about what needs to be done.
In the great paths of change, there is a return that consolidates what has been done. The change in effectiveness in the sensory can be picked up to reconfirm and reinforce that social changes that are so obviously necessary. And the social systems can play back into the myth that has made everything possible anew. We simply need to embrace the possibility and then the reality of living a different way. And not to weep for the dinosaurs that go extinct in the GOP and the Tory party. We don’t owe them a thing, let alone the lives of future generations.
 The canonical Johari window is of things known and unknown, by ourselves and by others. In this article, we’ve used the term to refer to any such matrix that “helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others.”
 Free will, the way most people claim it as a dogmatically obvious attribute of being human, I find nauseating, and determinism the way people use it to avoid responsibility equally so!
 This point may be where many worldviews fall down — none is the key to any other. It’s not uncommon to hear practitioners of particular disciplines talk as though theirs is the panacea, that if only those in power would apply this set of techniques to a complex problem, all would be well (or at least better).
 Need ourselves a picture at this point, since clockwise and widdershins require a common plane and point of reference. Mocked one up, but maybe got the arrows the wrong way around — revitalization is perhaps better as the inner cycle.
 cf. Schumpeter’s gale
 “we must not ask them for solutions, or they will be used” — the mythic power is essential, but their articulations will be rooted in the unitary. Just like Nassim Taleb’s prescription to listen to the wisdom of the elders (white beards) who will be correct in their conclusions but wrong about the methods.