Order for Free

It was in the early 1990s that I first learned of the concept, “order for free.” It was a term that I heard through the writings of scientist, Stuart Kaufmann.

I was in my early days of working with Meg Wheatley and The Berkana Institute, where “self-organization” and “living systems” were at the center of what we did, taught, and held dialogues about. These are people and ways of thinking that remain central to me in the work I do and in the life I live today.

The above photo, which stirs up all kinds of “order for free” imagery in me, was on my sidewalk two days ago. The temperature has dropped to mid-twenties Fahrenheit where I live. So it’s cold. Below freezing. There had been an inch of snow the previous day.

There’s so much beauty in this image. I didn’t create it. My neighbors didn’t. It’s just there — order for free — on a plain old grey sidewalk that leads to the carpark.

One of the teachings that remains important to me, that I also first learned in the early 90s, is about the relationship between chaos and order. The area of overlap in the image below is where the self-organizing occurs, the order for free. The natural pattern. The beauty — flowered patterns of ice on the grey sidewalk that weren’t the result of anyone’s plan.

My buddy Chris Corrigan recently reposted one of his recorded teachings on this relationship between chaos and order, offered in a faith community setting — it’s brilliant, and applicable for any of us interested in such self-organizing.

So, returning back to a very important question from that early time with Meg and Berkana — what could we learn from living, self-organizing systems, in which there is an order for free, that teaches us about how to build community today? This is a question that has accompanied me for 30 years now, yet still feels fresh and vibrant.

In short, I know that I rely on clarifying and growing values, practices of commitment, shared learning, community and relationship. This is the important work that is both deeply inner and outer in individuals and groups, teams, and community.

What I seek, and have come to love with so many, is this glimpse of the order for free, found in the most mundane of places, that transforms the individual and collective heart to do good. How beautiful to be a part of such efforts.

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