Radical Realism

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Visual by Kelvy Bird

Dear Friends, as we enter the new year, I would like to take a moment to reflect on 2021 and to set the intention for 2022. What did we learn in 2021? Three things stand out for me.

Humility. Whatever we thought or predicted would happen in 2021 probably changed multiple times over the course of the year. Starting with the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, the accelerated impact of climate change, not to mention Delta and Omicron, time and again we saw that reality keeps changing around us. Our established concepts and ways of knowing need to soften and make way for what Prof. Edgar Schein calls “humble inquiry.”

Reflexivity. Reflecting on how societies respond to these challenges has made me aware how often we look for the source of the problems we face outside of ourselves rather than inside- inside our own country’s boundaries or inside ourselves. This outdated view exists in all cultures, but is especially apparent in the US, where I live. Twenty years ago, in 2001, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 presented an opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirror. Today, 20 years since the “war on terror” was launched, and 8 trillion dollars later, we realize that the enemy we were fighting was in fact much closer to home.

Which takes us to January 6, 2021. Again, we see a superpower armed to the teeth against perceived threats from outside, yet utterly helpless against the domestic terror of white supremacy (i.e., threats originating from within).

We live in a moment of “reflexive modernity,” which Ulrich Beck defined as the increased backfiring of our own past actions onto our current conditions. It’s a moment also known as the Anthropocene, the age of humans. In the Anthropocene, most of our planet’s major problems are caused by human beings. As long as we refuse to see ourselves in the mirror, pain and suffering will continue to increase.

But if we look honestly at our reflection in the mirror, then we can begin to bend our perspective from a silo to a systems view, from a mindset operating with ego-system awareness to one that operates with eco-system awareness. When that happens, we can change course as a collective, as a whole system. We can be in service of radical regeneration through bridging the ecological, social, and spiritual divides.

The Presencing Institute was founded 15 years ago with a single purpose in mind: to develop and democratize access to the methods, tools, and practice fields that help institutions, systems, and communities to transform themselves from ego to eco ways of operating. Which brings me to the third learning experience of 2021.

Action Confidence. Hope and action confidence are largely missing from our contemporary culture. We live in a culture that has a strong undercurrent of depression, anxiety, and fear. So where do hope and action confidence come from? They originate from within. To access them, we need to shift the inner place from which we operate.

Hope is not to be confused with delusional optimism. Hope and action confidence are grounded in radical realism: a realism that is not only in touch with what currently is, but also in touch with a field of possibility that needs us to manifest. In short: Action confidence is an “inside job” that requires us to tap into our highest (future) Selves.

Humility. Reflexivity. Action Confidence. What does this triad call on us to do? It calls on us to cultivate our interior condition to shift the locus of cognition, listening, and action from inside ourselves (ego) to outside ourselves (eco). Shifting the locus of cognition is the essence of Open Mind; shifting the locus of listening is the essence of Open Heart; and shifting the locus of action is the essence of Open Will.

We know that this profound transformation of our civilization is not going to be easy. It’s not going to happen overnight. And it will require all of us to show up with our best Selves, time and again. But for the first time in my life, I feel that it’s actually within reach. It’s why we are here. And all these transformations, large and small, are already being seeded and prototyped around the world.

Where? Here is a link that offers a glimpse of some of these positive transformations. Check it out: Annual Report

How will the radical regeneration of our key civilizational institutions happen? Not by delegating it to Big Money, Big Tech, or Big Gov. If it’s going to work, it will be sparked by a movement that works from EVERYWHERE: bottom-up, top-down, middle-out, and outside-in, in countless cross-sector and cross-systems initiatives. These seeds start small, then they take root, grow, interconnect, and finally they learn to collaborate at scale in order to shift how the larger ecosystems operate. Presently that movement is still in its infancy. To realize its full potential, it needs a top-notch support structure: a school for transformation.

Over the next couple of years, 2022–2023, we have the unique opportunity to prototype such a support structure by synthesizing everything that we have learned to make it relevant to that emerging movement and to the decade(s) of transformation ahead. Our vision and intention is to integrate and extend the methods, tools, practices, and pathways that we have developed in a new platform and ecosystem tentatively called u.school for transformation.

If you want to be part of this collective effort, check out our site and our peer-reviewed journal. You can support these activities by paying it forward here. The most significant years of this decade and century are beginning now.

Thanks to my colleague Kelvy Bird for the wonderful visual at the opening of this reflection! For other blog posts check out: homepage

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

Read the article in Dutch — in Traditional Chinese — in Spanish — in Japanese — in Italian — in French

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How can we build our collective capacities for transformation in the face of accelerating social and environmental breakdowns?

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Otto Scharmer

Otto Scharmer

Senior Lecturer, MIT. Co-founder, Presencing Institute. www.ottoscharmer.com

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