Seeing Systems — Lessons from A Computer Novice

Much of the work that I’m involved in is to see systems. To learn, even relearn or remember, how to work with a broader level of connection. There are always the parts. Yup. And there is always the collection of the parts. Yup. Like most, I have spent a lot of time trying to work with more complex arrangements of parts.

There is something more, however, that is not just working with broader compilations of parts. It is, instead, working with the wholeness of the system that has “no parts.” This is quite a mind-teaser. The science of the last 300 years has taught us well, engrained in us really, the world view that to understand complexity, we must see those delightful, measurable parts. Any of us in western world live in this as a fundamental cultural medium. Yet, a growing practice is to let go of even seeing through the “lens of parts.” Seeing systems. “Seeing wholeness” is the invitation.

I noticed a simple way to see this recently. It became apparent as I worked through a crashed computer (fried motherboard) that then required me to work on a new laptop. Beyond the loss of some data and the frustration of reloading programs, searching for updated drivers, etc., I loved the sense of a “clean” laptop. It didn’t yet have too much junk loaded on it or defaulted onto it. It’s performance was as advertised. It felt faster than my old laptop — the boot process was one minute rather than 10. Feels good, right.

As I added programs, as well as some updated versions of programs, it didn’t take long to feel my new computer start to slow down and feel clunky. Granted, I’m not computer guy, so my attention and wisdom might be a little low here, but I found it incredibly frustrating to notice that many of the programs, the parts, that I wanted to add to my system, couldn’t seem to be in good communication with the other parts. All of them were indiviudally good. And I live with the assumptions that each of them, if the only program on my computer, would work swimmingly well. However, with each there was a background level of technical hocus pocus that didn’t seem to be in full communication with the whole of the system. Each seemed to have built into it defaults that place it in startup menu or that sometimes replaced existing defaults. The short of it is that my new system, with its great spiffy new components and programs, doesn’t work in such a spiffy way.

To get to the bottom of it through each of the parts is to hear repeated claims that amount to “our program works well; it must be one of your other programs.” Does that sound familiar? Departments that actually are telling the truth, yet not able to see the outcome of interaction with other departments and programs. It is the pattern that often results in great blame of the other for a characteristic that we just don’t see enough of — more of the system.

I’m grateful for a computer that works. Let’s be clear. I’m also greatful for what I assume is intense research and development into the next level of integration and seeing systems in computer world. Let’s be clear on that too. And I’m aware of the operating mode of our time that does fascinating things with parts. Cool. But oh how the invitation of our times is to see more of the system, and even come to see it as “no parts.” Well beyond the realtive insignificance of my computer, does this feel familiar in our major societal systems — health care (what a raging debate these days in the US), education, energy…? Feels like a huge invitation and challenge that many of us need to be in now.

Camp Valor

Just returned today from being a helper and counselor for three days at Camp Valor, a summer camp for about 50 kids and siblings with bleeding disorders. We actually left early today. Though scheduled to conclude tomorrow, we were evacuated from the area — Camp Wapiti in the Stansbury Range of the Oquirrh Mountains. A lightning strike started the fire late last night. I just saw a news report stating that 22,000 acres have now burned.

The camp was inspiring. I’m reflective tonight, realizing I’m missing what would have been our last night together sharing skits together. The bleeding disorders world is filled with inspiring people. From kids (this camp is for kids 8-13 years old) to counselor associates to counselors and leaders of the foundation. Last night we all participated in a “Golden Pine Cone Ceremony,” a chance for each kid, counselor, and others to name something or someone that they felt gratitude for, and then ceremonally place the pine cone in the bon fire. Some spoke of loved ones who have died. Others spoke of friends in the camp. It was touching.

A few other things that I loved from this camp:

– Being with friends, other parents, like Mya Anderson, and being able to share a few stories of our early days in raising our children with hemophilia and what we’ve learned over the years.

– Listening to Chad Hymas, an amazing being and speaker. In a farming accident, he was left paralyzed from his chest down. His story is one of perserverance. Of humor. Of gifting each other with time. Of being creative. He told his personal story, of which I know many varieties from the bleeding disorders world. It is one of doing what seems like it can’t be done.

– I loved offering a few practices with the kids that I’ve learned with friend, Chris Corrigan. Rock-balancing, which was great while waiting for next rotations. I love it when the kids see the rocks and wonder how it is done. They see the seemingly impossible in front of them. Even better when they try them. And juggling — particularly good this time while we waited in our evacuation space with a very gracious group of people in the Elks Lodge.

– Seeing the Air Med helecopter (demo unrelated to the fire), hearing a few stories of their work. Similarly with three SWAT Medics (again, unrelated to the fire). Those are people with some serious training behind them.

– Sleeping outside in the field. I was on my own for this one. And woke to see the lightning that started the fires.

– The SPLORE staff that worked with us again this year. They are a great group of inspiring leaders themselves. I love their commitment to recycling and conservation. It isn’t easy to do with kids. These SPLORE friends — Chala, Zach, Beth, Josh, Megan and others are really great to be with.

– I loved the Tai Chi class in the morning. This is a practice I could get into more.

I loved the feeling of being with this community. And in some way found myself very happy to be in the simplicity of purpose together. Camp is about wellness. About education. About helping kids learn to infuse and improve their self care. It is straight forward and clear. I’ll save it for another post, but the gift of this for me was reflections on the straight forward in my work.

Let’s Fall In Love

I’ve heard many people talk about the importance of relationships in the critical work of today. Building trust. Improving communications. I’ve deeply appreciated the friendships and working relations with those that speak so boldly and honestly about love. Sharon Joy Kleitsch is one of those. A lovely and fierce activitist for shifting consciousness. We spoke together earlier this week, the day after her 71st birthday, about the work needed in these times. It was a gift to me to notice what thoughts were sparking for me as we talked about supporting a shift of consciousness through IONS and other means in the Tampa area. Here’s a few of them:

– Let’s fall in love. Naming the importance of dropping barriers and coming into the energy and resonance of love. It occured to me that as we open ourselves to the resonance of love — no, not the romantic kind, though it has its appeal also — we drop the barriers so that our resonance can mingle and entangle with others. In so doing, we open ourselves to love, and thus to creating together. Things that are created in love — projects, initatives, programs — have a much better chance of lasting and accomplishing what we care about. Particularly in community and networks where authority structures can’t impose actions.

– What we give our attention to, grows. This is a common principle I use in explaining participative leadership and in particular, appreciative inquiry. What a thing to think of an energy and resonance of love growing, of deep relationships, that can support our work in these times. It’s needed, no?

– This is not a rehearsal. This is the fierce voice from Sharon Joy. I know many sweet qualities and experiences with Sharon Joy and others in her community. She, like myself, like many others, are feeling an added fierceness about the call of these times now. Not a rehearsal. We are called now to hold to the deepest purpose. I’ve heard Sharon Joy state this many times. One recently, regarding the IONS conference. The purpose is not conferences. It is a shift in consciousness. What a gift to see that fierceness and feel it strengthen in me, and in many of us.

Reflections from Labour Union Education

Deeply appreciating these words from colleague and friend, Tamara Levine of the Canadian Labour Congress. She is writing the words below to introduce her colleagues in New Zealand to attend an Art of Hosting that I’m coleading in August. She is reflecting on an event that I hosted with Chris Corrigan and Esther Matte, and a great bunch of union leaders.

“The Art of Hosting (AoH) (see is about ways to bring people together in conversations that matter in response to a powerful question in order to strengthen our work and our communities. It’s about emphasizing the value of building relationships and learning into our work so that our work and our communities can become more grounded, relevant, and stronger.

I met Tenneson about a year ago when he co-facilitated a 3-day session with staff of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the largest union in Canada. The question developed by the CUPE planning group for the invitation to that session was “What more can local unions be?”. CUPE participants left the session with deep bonds to each other, to the work, and with a new set of skills to bring to how they organize more participatory and meaningful meetings and conferences, write more dynamic courses, revitalize union locals, etc. Since then, the ripples of AoH continue to spread throughout the organization, bringing new energy, enthusiasm and possibilities.

Last fall, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Education Department was beginning to plan a retreat for our Education Advisory Committee. The CUPE rep on the committee highly recommended that we use AoH both as a way to host the retreat and as a training session for those who would attend. We started planning what came to be called our “Learning Circle” in December with a committee of affiliate reps and three facilitators, including Tenneson, hoping that we might get 25 or 30 participants. However, because of the fabulous planning and invitation process, because word of AoH was getting out into the movement, and because of the enthusiasm of the planning committee members within their own organizations, we had 70 participants at the CLC Learning Circle in May who responded to our question ” What is needed from us as activists and labour educators in these challenging times?”

I’ve attached some of the eloquent comments that have been coming in from participants at the Learning Circle FYI. Like in CUPE, the stories of how Aoh is infusing the work of the labour movement continue to inspire. Hosting the Learning Circle was seen as an important and valuable convening role for the CLC to play as the national central labour body.