Posted by steve on August 21, 2013
Reflections on my experiences at this year’s Future Perfect festival that brings does and thinkers of sustainability together
Arriving on the island
The Future Perfect Festival, held on the Stockholm archipelago Island of Grinda, wrapped up recently. The event, now in its third year, is designed to provide a space for those engaged emotionally and professionally in sustainability; a space where they can gather, engage in dialogue and co-create.
Future Perfect, the brainchild of John Manoochehri, is a unique kind of festival, and it is badly needed. Even if, like myself, you are engaged in sustainability on an almost daily basis, the topic is far too wide for any one mind to take in. We need to listen to each others perspective. If we as a species are going to successfully transition away from the present counter-sustainable culture we live in we need to do it together. This means talking, listening to each other, sparking ideas off each other, trying ideas out, coming up with ideas together, and developing our perspective by reflecting in the company of those who both agree and disagree with us.
To me it means engaging in double -loop learning. Single loop learning assesses the strategies being used by looking at outcome and trying corrections and then assessing the outcome, trying new corrections and so on. Double-loop learning is to look at outcomes and assess assumptions behind strategies and the values of the outcomes. Just now there is, for example, a huge debate about economic growth. Instead of using the single loop mode of changing taxes, negative incentives to get off unemployment and tax breaks for corporations, the double-loop mode questions (for example) whether economic growth is desirable at all, and if there should not be a minimum wage paid to all regardless of if they work or not.
A fascinating comment on this topic came up in one of the evening debates: one speaker suggested that the transfer of money from one person to another is an expression of that person’s appreciation of the other, and that we did not want to see a reduction in economic transactions as that would mean a reduction in the love and appreciation each of us share.
Anyway, if we are going to have dialogues that move deeper into double loop mode, we need to get to know who we can talk to, and we need a space, even if it is just once a year, that facilitates that. The Future Perfect set-up manages to do just that always in a comfortable, open setting surrounded by the Swedish countryside looking its summer best.
Just a few moments after arriving I was plunged into a fascinating dialogue experience What do young people want? With Kim Jakobsson, Magnus Åkerlind who have toured Swedish Schools to engage youth in sustainability. The session was expertly facilitated by Per Hörberg from http://www.navigatororganisation.se/ and Gustav Elmberger http://www.samutveckling.se/ who got us to sit in a circle, and reflect on the idea that if we were all-powerful, what would we do to connect youth to sustainability.
The breadth and depth of ideas was impressive. It was great to be reminded that it’s is not the lack of solutions, tools or ideas that is stopping us creating the future we want, but the lack of concerted action.
JAK’s Tom Strömberg
After lunch it was my turn to participate in a panel meeting with representatives from JAK bank, including the bank’s ethics representative, Tom Strömberg. I represented the Swedish Transition movement. Transition is a network of people working locally to make their communities resilient to energy shortages, climate change and economic downturn. For me, when asked about local production and consumption I identified three good sustainable reasons to do it:
- The money stays in the community and goes around again, and jobs stay in the community. As money leaks out for the community, for example when you buy fossil fuel, jobs leak with them.
- Producing locally requires less transport and therefore the transport footprint is less
- Doing business with people you know is far different from doing business with strangers from far away: it builds community and community means resilience.
The other things is it is easier to get away from being just a consumer. We all need to be owners, producers and consumers.
It is in the dialogue that you develop your own arguments, and it is fascinating when you think something is self evident and you find yourself finding new ways to explain them. Take the issue of us always having traded with each other. We have had global trade for thousands of years. Would it not be better just create an app that trades everything all over the world? Not so fast. The heavy things in your life are also the basics: a roof over your head and food on the table and social cohesion: a community of 100 or more. The heavy things require fossil-fuel (and cooled) transport. The lighter things that you do not need everyday can of course much easier come from afar. Or heavy things that you only purchase seldom.
Space to book conversations
In my consulting I help with framing strategy that gives real value back to people and the environment while ensuring financial stability. I see how it is getting harder and harder to take on the leadership role, as the challenges mount. I think that the Future Perfect set-up is a good one for leaders. There are several things that Future Perfect does well.
- It creates a space for dialogue. Not just the “mental space” but also the way the programme is organised and the physical meeting spaces encourage dialogue, structured and spontaneous.
- It gets people excited about working on solutions together. Of course we live in a competitive business environment, but true cooperation between government, civic society and business is needed if we are to find ways forward.
- It hosts dialogues well, bringing out the best in its speakers. Future Perfect has knack of identifying just the right speaker and combination of speakers to quickly get to the heart of the matter. And the dialogue forms they have been using and developing – including the quick presentation in the panel and the probing follow-up questions – are enlightening and stimulating to follow.
- It brings people together. As guest speaker Internet Philosopher Alexander Bard said in an interview for the Web-TV channel that broadcast from the festival “I like to see other people involved in the ecological to movement to discuss how we can avoid disaster”.
In grammar, Future Perfect is the name of the tense that I usually explain as “standing in the future looking back”. In English it is expressed in the form of (point in time) + (actor) will have +(event expressed in past tense). This is my “future perfect statement”: In 2030, society will no longer use fossil fuels or emit greenhouse gasses. Future Perfect will have made a pivotal contribution; it will have brought us together and will have helped us have those difficult reflections and conversations that gave us insight and resolve to make the change. What Future Perfect statement would YOU like to make?
Posted by steve on July 31, 2013
Manitonquat leads the dance
Back in July, participants from Sweden and Denmark gathered for the annual Circle Way camp hosted by Manitonquat, a Native American who bases his teachings on traditional tribal ways.
The camp, held at the Mundekulla conference center, has been going for some 11 years now. This year for the first time they were joined by people from the Swedish Transition movement.
TRIBES WORK FOR RESILIENCE
There is a lot for Transitioners to gain from learning about these traditional ways as I discovered right from the opening ceremonies. Firstly, the whole meaning of forming a tribe and living in a tribe is to create security and safety for all members, a good environment for the next generations to grow up in, and a way for the elders to pass on their wisdom.
To me it makes a lot of sense; it is about resilience. A group of people who are organised, supportive, open and warm will be able to handle a lot of the challenges thrown at them, far better than each individually, especially if the talents and gifts (as well s the experience) of each member can be put to good use.
With each individual contributing to their full, the tribe will make good decisions, create a warm and supportive atmosphere, and build a place to grow up and thrive in.
It’s all about love and appreciation
Apart from resilience, one thing that struck me is the focus on love and appreciation that lies at the core of the old ways. I remember many of my first meetings with the Transition movement; they all started with people turning to each other expressing what they appreciated about where they lived, food, holidays etc. It always gave the right frame to start the meetings off. And Appreciative Inquiry, the problem-solving method based on looking at what is working uses the same frame of mind. Manitonquat takes it one step further. He uses the idea of humans as being a unique “mothers and others” creatures. Because of the long time it takes to reach adulthood, and the amount of attention and care needed, human children’s needs extend far beyond what two parents can provide. The child needs the tribe to grow up.
For humans to evolve, we need a lot of contact with children
And, according to Manitonquat, it is a two way street: for us adults to grow, we need the connection with children, they challenge us to find out hearts and our love, and to open up to continue our own growth. Appreciation, love, compassion, so much a part of the human experience, are all brought out in us by children. And in that mode we become creative and generous, the energies needed to evolve humankind.
So much of the customs and practices we learned at the Camp have to do with personal growth: creating a secure and safe environment, creating a space that invites the peace everyone longs for into their lives, putting everyone’s talents and gifts to good use, and securing the community for the next generation.
IT IS A PERMACULTURE APPROACH
Standing in the ceremonies and listening to Manitonquat I got the strong feeling that I was experiencing a permaculture approach to creating a healthy and healing culture: you design practices and customs to support that culture, and you take good care of them. Just as the design for food provision gives food security, the design for cohesion brings security to every member from a social point of view. It is easy to brush off traditions and ceremonies as being artifacts from a less developed past that are just, like the appendix, hanging around with no real function. Not so from a North American Indian view: they are the very tools of survival.
IS SO DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE
So, how do you actually go about bringing people together to form the tribe? Manitonquat says that in all living things there must be some kind of original instructions. And that finding a resonance with these instructions is something that every human being can do. If we just get started, we might let our intuition guide us.
It all starts by standing in a circle and holding hands. Looking around at the people present to see them and having everyone expressing their shared intention and appreciation of that which we resonate with. We did it several times during the camp and it always felt good. It is deceptively simple, but it needs to be done in a sincere way, and with sensitivity to all the people present.
I was reminded again how similar it was to the way we start Transition information meetings, where we get people to share their favourite place or food or holiday spot, to remind attendees that we come from a place where we want to preserve the Earth for ourselves to appreciate and enjoy and to hand it on to others.
LISTENING BUILDS RESILIENCE
The practices Manitonquat teach contain a lot of powerful techniques of listening, I would say on par or maybe better than those taught on top leadership and counselling courses. Again, deceptively simple. In the resilient community, when going through tough changes, everyone needs emotional support. With a whole tribe armed with a sincere wish to help and powerful techniques it is just to grab the person of your choice and get going!
Being listened to, unconditionally like that was for me actually a wonderful experience. I have been through a pretty tough past six months and hadn’t realised just how much it had been dragging me down until I got the chance to participate in the session where I got heard and listened to, as one of the techniques is called, actively.
Another similar approach they use is called “discharging”. You give the other person 10 minutes (enough to express, not enough to burden the listener) to express the difficult, negative feelings and emotions they are carrying, and then you get to swap roles.
Just the efficacy of this practice is born out by academic research: in one experiment, hospital patients who spent 20 minutes writing about difficult emotional issues healed faster than the control group who did not express in that way. Follow this link.
YOU NEED A CLAN AND A TRIBE
Let me just explain this bit about the ideal size of a community: our temporary “tribe” was about 70 people including children (who were, by the way always welcome to take part in the common activities). I think the ideal tribe size is larger, I should guess that it needs to be no larger than you can hear everyone’s voice when sitting in a circle, and no larger than everyone can make a contribution. But to make it work you need smaller groups too. We divided into clans of 5-6, to not only take on some of the practical tasks needed to be done at the camp but to also create a support group. I guess in native practices one of the clans you belong to is through blood relations. Anyway, our clan was there to be supportive in listening and we had several sessions where we just got the opportunity to talk and be listened to.
It sounds simple, it is, but done with sensitivity I believe a clan approach as a support group could be useful to Transitioners or any community. Being a human in this modern world, in these challenging times is not easy. Having someone to talk to like that is truly valuable, and healing.
Manitonquat was saying how they always had a ceremonial clown. Part of the whole thing is not to take yourself too seriously. In fact, doing a good job of making a bit of a fool of yourself is highly encouraged. One evening we had an “open stage” session where each clan did a skit. Mostly humorous, sometimes profound it reminded me of how much your own home grown entertainment is thousands of times better than that you see manufactured for television!
TRANSITION IS ALSO ABOUT DESIGNING THE CULTURE YOU WANT
I had the opportunity together with Pella Thiel to run a session to introduce the Transition movement. We did a few “mapping” exercises where people stand physically in the room relative to where they live. It felt right to talk about the compass directions. As we saw later, traditional native practices are infused with a sense of North, South East West literally and figuratively. Then we talked about the oil, climate, money and social challenges we see and how we are responding at a local level.
THE STORIES WE TELL ARE FORMING OUR CULTURE
As I was talking about oil I felt a sense of being a story teller. Manitonquat has another name: Medicine Story, and he IS a great story teller. In the North American Indian tradition stories are enlightening and healing, they are educational and entertaining. Just as working with a sense of space and direction gives us orientation, stories help orient us in time. Maybe that is why children like to hear the same story, and maybe why I am still drawn to the drama of the oil story.
That is another thing I take away from the camp: the importance of telling the Transition story in a way that gives an orientation and a sense of time.
We got a lot of good feedback from participants who had not yet heard of Transition. They saw a way they could connect with people locally to invite them to circles and for themselves to get involved in the practical side of creating the culture they wanted.
PARTING AS FRIENDS
I loved the final parting ceremonies, from singing a “goodbye, see you again” song to dancing in a long line past each other, giving a little “nod” of recognition and thanks for the time together, the circle sharing of what we most appreciated and what we take with us to use in our own community.
FIND OUT MORE
Highly recommended are Manitonquat ‘s books on Amazon (link) and his website if you would like to attend a camp.
TAKING IT ONE STEP FURTHER
I left feeling inspired to see what I can do in my own community, my family and Transition groups to apply the insight and wisdom from the camp. I considered introducing a few activities in a way that suits the group and Swedish culture. The Viking culture had something called a “round” where everyone got the chance to speak, rather like the talking stick of the Native Americans. That works well even when introduced to people new to the idea of community.
I really appreciated the way the camp was outdoors a lot and integrated with the children. The kids had a lot of space to play and run around, they had their parents close by, but it was more than just a camping holiday because of all the activities. Something to build on, at least for the few months the Swedish climate allows it.
REFLECTION: CAN RETURNING TO TRIBES BE PART OF A GLOBAL EVOLUTION?
In his recently-released talk, Robert Gilman of the Context Institute argues that we have a new freedon to evolve. We are so highly connected (75% of the world population have access to a mobile phone) and highly mobile, we could evolve from being stuck in our immediate groups (town, corporation) to move into new, consensual groupings in new forms of cooperation. Certainly, adopting and buidling on the old ways, combining with new forms of social enterprise could form the foundation of the transition to the healthy, healing culture we long to be part of.