Spaces for Growth, an introduction.
“A person lives not only their personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of their epoch and their contemporaries.” Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, 1924
“We do not solve our problems, we outgrow them.” Carl Jung, Collected Works, 1938
Spaces for Growth, Introduction
Nobody reading this post in the shadow of a violent geopolitical crisis, an ongoing global pandemic, dangerous climate change and numerous other worrying trends needs any reminding that we live in powerful times.
They are both challenging and revealing. Arundhati Roy captured the imagination in early April 2020 when she wrote about “the pandemic as portal” to a better world. But she also described it as a rupture, “an opportunity to rethink the doomsday machine”.
In normal times we tend to go about our lives largely oblivious to the structures, institutions, processes and shared values that shape our behaviours. Like the iceberg, most of this lies invisible below the surface. We can see more clearly now. Deep structures of love, power and justice have been brought to light and social/political patterns of great strain are on display for all to see.
There are more proximate challenges too. The global public health crisis is far from over. The economic consequences will play out over at least a decade, to say nothing of other pressing issues starved of attention, locally and globally, while we have concentrated our efforts on responding to Coronavirus. This is the landscape of recovery and renewal.
Our organisation, International Futures Forum (IFF), has for some time been tracking three emergencies: a real emergency (the challenges we face in the world), a conceptual emergency (making sense of the world to take on those challenges) and an existential emergency (how all of this leaves us feeling at a human level).
These are not distinct: they are all connected. Yet as the pandemic has unfolded and our capacity to thrive in a landscape of deep uncertainty and profound loss has been tested, it is the existential emergency, the human consequences of living in powerful times, that has dominated the scene.
That is the subject of this project. For it is in the boundless potential of the human system, the ways in which we choose to live our lives in patterns of relationship with other lives, that our hopes for a better future ultimately lie. Learning how to draw that potential from us, individually and collectively, is an urgent task — one that IFF, Koreo and we hope many others are ready to take on.
Together we need to support individuals, groups, organisations, communities, institutions, human beings in all formations to expand, to develop and to grow, to rise to the occasion.
At heart this is a learning journey of three steps, which broadly give this series its structure across five posts.
The first step is awareness. We can expand our natural capacities to take in what is going on around us. We can learn to feel at home in a confusing and uncertain landscape rather than constantly buffeted and overwhelmed. We are born to live in this environment. We are a part of it. We are at least as complex as the circumstances whirling around us. We have been disrupted, knocked off balance, pitched into an unfamiliar, uncertain, fast-changing and contested landscape. We need to pause, reflect, look around, come to our senses, find our feet. The first post takes up this theme, exploring how we can learn to read the landscape better so that we feel more at home in it rather than constantly overwhelmed.
The second step is transformative growth.e. Just because we can read the landscape does not mean we necessarily know how to inhabit it, still less how to influence it. We know that as human beings we have tremendous potential and often surprise ourselves with our competence and capacity when pushed to the edge in times of crisis. What are the ways of knowing, being and being together that we need to develop to flourish and act effectively in these times?
The second and third posts explore what we need to develop in ourselves — the 21st century competencies — and how we can do so, including a detailed discussion of the kinds of ‘spaces’ (literal and metaphorical, physical and virtual) we need to create and maintain to encourage such growth and the hosts and guides able to ‘hold’ them.
The third step is action. Once we have it all together, we are confident participants rather than victims in a turbulent world, and we have allowed the circumstances to bring forth and develop our innate 21st century competencies to live well in this moment — how then should we act to address the crisis, respond to the emergencies, tackle the challenges and shift our systems to a better place? We need to act wisely and to act well.
The fourth and fifth posts in the series explore transformative action designed to shift our systems and patterns of activity towards our aspirations for the future. They focus on the skills of the producer and the ability to work effectively in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty to realise ambitious, culture-shifting intentions. The final post includes some simple first moves and sources of support to encourage transformative action, starting with ‘small acts of creative transgression’. This final post echoes the messages of the whole series: that we already have all we need, and can start wherever we are.
The 21st century is a new culture, a world that has never existed before — we are all immigrants, many are refugees who must adapt to a new world. For years IFF has been focused on understanding the deeper story of this new century and how we can create the enabling spaces where inherent human creative competencies can be set free to explore and build the emerging culture — where new 21st century ways of being, knowing, doing and being together can be realised.
The practice of creating and holding these spaces for people, communities, organisations and networks dedicated to social change has been Koreo’s key concern since its launch in 2004. Having since worked widely in UK civil society, from place-based leadership development to national communities of practice, their work — like IFF’s — continues to be underpinned by the exploration of what it takes to hold meaningful space for people pursuing change in a world defined by the scale and complexity of the issues we face, and the transformations needed to address them.
This series of posts is another contribution to that work/exploration, written with and for Koreo and their partners across civil society. We have high hopes that through our joint efforts, and the work of other like-minded organisations, we will see much greater ease of access to the kinds of space for human growth and development discussed here: conversational spaces, civic spaces, virtual spaces, work spaces, learning spaces. Who knows, perhaps in time these principles will start to inform our formal structures of education, and even our politics.
Our shared goal is to enable 21st century people to become artists of their own lives, in supportive patterns of relationship with others, doing meaningful work, offering practical hope. If we are to rise to the challenge of this century we will need all of this and all of us. Revealing the abundance that lies in our humanity and the full magnificence of the human being.
Graham Leicester & Maureen O’Hara, International Futures Forum