June 22, 2018

Tipping into the light

Written by Jennifer Garvey BergerJennifer Garvey Berger

I am writing this in Ireland, in the fishing village of Dingle, where I have come to search for the past. My dad and I are here to find out who we were before our ancestors set sail from this lovely country and found themselves in Massachusetts, where the more recent and more familiar family history begins. In this village on the edge of the Atlantic, I am constantly aware of the forces that played out for my great great grandparents as they decided to start a new life for themselves. How did they make sense of their choices? How afraid were they? How did they know that it was time to give up what they had to create a new possibility for themselves and for their children and grandchildren?

I have spent the last year or so trying to figure out what to do about us—us as humans, I mean. There are dark forces in the world and they seem so much bigger than anything my small life can ever touch. I’m never going to be president of a country or the leader of a corporation massive enough to make a huge difference in the most important issues humanity has ever faced. I have a sense that we teeter between a world where our best human instincts—compassion, connection, kindness, ingenuity—are at battle with our worst ones—nationalism, racism, fear, conservatism (by which I mean a harkening back to the past rather than looking forward). All of us have all of these forces inside us, and our surroundings seem to amplify one set of ideas or the other. What can a single person do to influence those surroundings?

Well, in truth, only a handful of single people have ever been able to do much, and often what a single person can do is tip towards horror rather than beauty. But single people can attract and support other people to create collectives of people who do spectacular things. I guess we think of that as leadership—gathering people together to connect to common purpose and bring out the goodness in our humanity.

I want to be part of that story. And I think that we—all of you reading this blog—are well-placed to be part of that story. We are a collective of goodness that can spread and help shift the world from tipping into darkness to tipping into light.

I’ve just written a book about the mindtraps that snatch us—those ways we are designed for a simpler world and get trapped by the quirks of our wiring in our bodies and brains that pull us to behaving exactly the wrong way when we’re faced with complexity, uncertainty, and change. The situation calls on us to take other perspectives? We tend to close down. The situation calls on us to release control to let many new possibilities emerge? We tend to grasp more tightly. The situation calls on us to understand and appreciate the many many drivers another human being has in her life? We tend to create a simple story and stick to it. They probably were once, but these are not helpful reflexes anymore.

This means that we need to grow beyond who we have been and the unhelpful reflexes that we were born with, and move into new ways of being humans, ways that are more sustainable and more helpful in this interconnected and interdependent world of ours. I am not sure how we are going to create a movement of people big enough tip us into the light and out of the forces of peril. But I do know some things about how that might work.

The first thing is that I know we’ll need each other. We’ll need to think hard and play hard and support one another to learn to be different.  We can do this by learning together, by listening deeply to one another, and by reaching across differences—not to paper over them, but to learn from them to expand ourselves and our view of the world.

We’ll all each have to do our own work. We’ll have to confront in us the parts we don’t like, not to polish ourselves into perfection, but to understand our growing edges, to accept ourselves as we are today in order to grow into who we’ll be tomorrow.

And we’ll have to look out into the world in new ways. We will have to watch out for those instincts that are so basic in us that optimize for our short term and personal interests and stretch into those parts of us that are more generous, more community minded, more future oriented. We will have to give up some things we love. But we will receive far more in exchange.

I don’t know how to make any of this happen. But there are some experiments that might help us begin. First, you could come and learn with us virtually in a program we call Conversations at the Growing Edge—this is about coaching, yes, but even more it is about compassion and listening and understanding. It is for anyone who cares about our fundamental human nature. And you could come learn with us in London on 20 September as we collaborate with two other firms to push against the edge of our understanding of what it means to thrive in our complex world. And you can email me and let me know your ideas, which I’ll try to write about in my blog and take forward as I can.

My sense is that it’s time for all of us to start new lives for ourselves now. We don’t have to take a ship to faraway places and be cut off from all we have known before, but we do have to venture off into the unknown and risk who we have been.

Want to step aboard?

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