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Walk Out Walk On

Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze

Here are a few of my notes…

The whole globe is shook up, so what are you going to do when things are falling apart? You’re either

going to become more fundamentalist and try to hold things together, or you’re going to forsake the old ambitions and goals and live life as an experiment, making it up as you go along. —Pema Chödrön

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We’ll see that lasting change doesn’t start from the top of a system, but from deep inside it, when people step forward to solve a problem, then move on to the next issue that needs addressing. We’ll see how much becomes possible when we abandon hope of being saved by the perfect leader or the perfect program, and instead look inside our community to notice that the resources and wisdom we need are already here.

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Are you willing to risk being changed by this journey?

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Confusing moments are wonderful opportunities to observe our minds more closely. If something’s provoked or startled me, it’s because I assumed something different was true. I thought things worked like this, but now I’m not so sure. …

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Because when we seek to scale things up, we move vertically, we presume linear time, we build on what has come before. But constant forward progress is an illusion. In reality, life is cyclical, undulating in loops and waves, two steps forward, one step back—and a whole lot of steps sideways.

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RASA is not only about inventing technologies for urban agriculture. It’s about weaving together people who wish to reunite Oaxaqueños with their food sovereignty, which means their right to decide for themselves what they eat and their ability to produce it. They do this by inviting people to share their skills, to garden together, and to have a good time. In the language of Unitierra, what RASA is up to is co-motion rather than promotion: spreading ideas through contagion rather than pushing people in a particular direction.

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Suppose that there are no universal solutions to global problems—like poverty, hunger, or environmental destruction. Suppose that the kind of large-scale systems change that many of us have been yearning for emerges when local actions get connected globally—while preserving their deeply local culture, flavor, and form. What if people working at the local level were able to learn from one another, practice together, and share their knowledge—freely and fluidly—with communities anywhere? This is the nature of trans-local learning, and it happens when separate, local efforts connect with each other, then grow and transform as people exchange ideas that together give rise to new systems with greater impact and influence.

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But we believed that for an idea or innovation to be meaningful and lasting, it needed to arise from the unique conditions of people and place. As Meg Wheatley often reminded us at our gatherings, people only support what they create.

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French winemakers use the term terroir to describe the unique characteristics that place bestows on each varietal. It is what makes us desire champagne from France, coffee from Kenya, cigars from Cuba, and sourdough from San Francisco. The word itself means something like “a sense of place,” which emerges from the unique qualities of soil, climate, and topography.

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Modern winemakers have learned to embrace the notion of scaling across: the movement around the world of winemaking practices and techniques that have preserved deep reverence for the uniqueness of place, for the gift of terroir that today has generated bountiful flavors, styles, and vintages on five continents.

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In other words, conventional wisdom tells us to use the same irrigation, measure out the same slant of hillside, and plonk down our grapes. And then somehow we’re surprised when the wine tastes bad.

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In fact, it only takes a little bit of digging to discover that even in corporations, exchanging best practices often doesn’t work. What does work is when teams from one organization travel to another and, through that experience, see themselves more clearly, strengthen their relationships, and renew their creativity.

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When I was in business school, “scaling up” was how most of us thought about growth. We understood it to mean adding more parts where the parts all look the same. And we assumed that most systems were ripe for replication, that one size could fit all. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time that this approach was problematic—especially in the context of communities.

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But a single model cannot account for the differences between urban and rural communities or between Mexicans and Americans. In the context of community change, our work is to foster networks of relationships through which ideas and beliefs can travel, adapt, evolve, and grow. We’re not ignoring scaling up; we’re resisting it because we’ve found that for most communities, it doesn’t work. Scaling across invites communities to learn from one another and solve their own problems in their own particular way.

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What these many success stories reveal is that change happens differently than many of us imagine. It doesn’t happen from top-down support, or elaborate plans, or from the best-practice or franchise model. It happens as small local efforts create and develop solutions that then travel freely through networks of relationship.

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Scaling up relies on another assumption, one that is fervently believed, but rarely true in experience. The assumption is that people do what they’re told. So instructions get issued, policies get pronounced. When we don’t follow them, bosses just create more. When we still fail to obey, we’re labeled as resistant or lazy. Consider your own experience. How do you feel when someone presents you with a finished plan or outline, when the steps, the curriculum, the process are set down in great detail? Do you gratefully accept it, excited to implement it to the letter of the law? Or do you poke holes in it, noticing where it needs changing, where you disagree?

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If you’ve done any of these things, you’re just like the rest of us. People don’t support things that are forced on them. We don’t act responsibly on behalf of plans and programs created without us. We resist being changed, not change itself.

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People often say, “We don’t want to waste time reinventing the wheel.” But we do need to reinvent the wheel. And it’s never a waste of time. What we learn from others’ successful innovations is that wheels are possible. What others invent can inspire us to become inventive, can show us what’s achievable. Then we have to take it from there.

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People eagerly support those things we’ve had a hand in creating; we’re motivated to keep going by discovering for ourselves what works (and what doesn’t). Engaged with others in problem solving, inventing, and learning, we discover that we’re creative, caring, intelligent. When we have the chance to meet with other wheel inventors, our energy, confidence, and boldness grow and grow.

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Like Brazil’s fruit, nobody knows exactly how many favelas there are, or how many people live in them. What we do know is that their growth is also relentless, and that there are enough of them to assume that when it comes to transforming life in a favela, no one is coming to help. Instead, the residents of Brazil’s tenements must rely on their own fertile imaginations, their own capacity to generate the possibility of a different world. Which is why Edgard, Rodrigo, and Mariana are inviting the residents of Paquetá, its children, parents and grandparents—those who have been branded illiterate, apathetic, and in need—to attend a two-day urban planning conference.

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Of course, every game has rules, and Edgard offers these four: 1. Whatever we build has to be simple, accessible, and easy. 2. It can’t cost anything—whatever tools and materials we might need, we’ll have to find a way to obtain without paying for them. 3. The product has to be something that we create collectively and with our hands. (It can’t be an idea.) 4. It has to meet a real need in the community—as defined by the community.

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In the words of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire: I am convinced that in order for us to create something, we need to start creating. We cannot wait to create tomorrow, but we have to start creating. I am sure that in trying to create something inside of history we have to begin to have some dreams. If you don’t have any kind of dream I am sure it’s impossible to create something.

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Everything is a constant process of discovery and creation. Messes happen. Sometimes one person builds half a wall and then someone else comes along and tears it down to start another. Redundancy happens. There is chaos and confusion—and there is also laughter and joy and pride.

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We have expertise. But instead of relying on our expertise, we all pitch in wherever we can, and a community is rediscovered. Together, we become garbage collectors and ditch diggers and bricklayers—side-by-side with the eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds who will be visiting this garden every day.

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Gently, he explained to me how his approach would stabilize the stairway and make it last longer. How with a few more hands, we’d be able to get it done quickly. And that without the hard work I had already put in, he would not have seen what he could create. Yes, play creates chaos and redundancy and confusion. But it also creates the space in which we invent together, we inspire each other, and we talk through our differences. I continue to be grateful today for the messes we made in the children’s garden.

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When the old recipe is used, you may be surprised to discover what’s happened to your creation twelve months down the road or so. No one is using the community center or someone has ripped the planks off the benches in the public square. This is to be expected—no one bothered to ask the community members what they thought their needs might be. No one invited them to talk about their own dreams and experiment with bringing them to fruition.

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Play returns us to a state in which we can see what’s possible—not what’s so. When we look through the eyes of play, we see a children’s garden; when we look through the eyes of power, we see only trash.

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The Oasis Game disrupts the power differential between the urban poor and the professional problem solvers by putting them side-by-side and handing them a basket of crayons and rubber cement. Edgard, Rodrigo, Mariana and the rest of the Elos team have walked out of the notion that we need to leverage power to produce results. They have walked on to the belief that creativity is in everyone, play unleashes that creativity, and if we want to create a healthy and resilient community, we need to invite the members of that community to play together. When we play, everything once again becomes possible.

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Yet many leaders assume that people are machines, that we can be programmed, motivated, and supervised through external force and authority. This “command-and-control” leadership smothers basic human capacities such as intelligence, creativity, caring, dreaming. Yet it is the most common form of leadership worldwide. When it doesn’t work, those in power simply apply more force. They threaten, cajole, reward, punish, police, legislate.

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Power of this kind has a predictable outcome: it breeds powerlessness. People accept the message they’ve heard so consistently, that they’re helpless without a strong leader. They become dependent and passive, waiting for a leader to rescue them, and their growing dependency leaves leaders with no choice. They must take control if anything is going to get done.

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Why do we place more value on struggle than on ease? Joseph Campbell, a wise mystic and scholar, said that we can identify our gifts by noticing what is easiest for us to do. He advised you to “follow your bliss.” Few people understand what he was talking about.

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But all living things resist whatever threatens their very life, and so the spark grew brighter, and fought against the cold and the darkness. And since that time there is also the eternal battle of Fire and Ice, of light and of darkness, throughout this universe. The Wise Ones know that this is a battle that must always be fought but never won. Only the Great Spirit, Unkulunkulu, may watch over such a titanic struggle and remain calm, for the battle goes this way and that, and all life struggles in its embrace.

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For blacks, it is a crime to sit on a Whites Only bench. As Nelson Mandela recalls in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom,

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What Dorah learned living in a rural community she’s now applying to life in the city. “We start from a place of abundance—knowing that we’ve got what we need—and we operate from that,” she says. “We’re not looking to other people to solve our problems; we work to maximize our own potential.”

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“We just cannot come and say, ‘Oh, my responsibility is health, and I’m just going to come here and only look at health. I’m just going to give these people drugs and help them survive AIDS.’ You need to look at what it is they are eating and where they are living. What kind of houses are they living in? What kind of energy are they using? It’s not only about one thing. Once you start addressing this, it’s going to lead you to that. Once you own that one, it’s going to lead to another.” She’s interested in how we can look at people’s lives holistically—the whole system—rather than just one problem at a time.

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Start anywhere, follow it everywhere. It started with the small act of photographers figuring out how to secure their livelihood. As the park became more secure, people’s attention turned toward the children; with day care established, people could focus on the parents; as the parents learned to read and obtain employment, attention shifted to the youth. And so on.

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But because of the nature of the relationships and the kind of people that have been involved, you can’t duplicate what happened in Joubert Park in any other place.” She invited them instead to join her in Joubert Park to listen to their stories, share resources and ideas, and create learning relationships. But she was emphatic that the local community would have to discover its own path. “The people have to do it by themselves,” she says. “It can’t come from those who don’t live what’s happening day to day in the area.”

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When I was first introduced to the phrase “Start anywhere, follow it everywhere” in 2002, it had an immediate impact on me. I had recently quit my job as a consultant, where I was often hired to design a road map for clients to travel from their current state to some desired future. One reason I had quit was because I realized that the journey never unfolds the way we say it will.

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They aren’t trying to solve the problem of homelessness; they’re figuring out how to support homeless people in Joubert Park. They’re not trying to eliminate illiteracy; they’re teaching their neighbors to read. In Joubert Park, solving problems always begins with knowing where we are.

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We live in a world of never-ending complexity, but complexity isn’t the problem. Complex systems are filled with challenges and conflicts that are unavoidable, but these aren’t the problem, either. The central problem is how we work with complexity.

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We recognize that we don’t solve problems one by one. And we relax because we don’t have to solve them all at once. We start, anywhere, and see where the work takes us next.

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Once we start anywhere, we have to stay alert to where we are, what we’re learning and what’s next. It’s not about how well our plan is working, but whether we notice the signals swirling around us. What are presentmoment opportunities, who’s shown up willing to work with us?

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Go inside. Start anywhere. Follow it everywhere.

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History plays a critical role in how we shape the future. What we tell ourselves about the past gives us ground (even though these stories change). People who persevere know where they come from. They stand on the firm shoulders of their ancestors and draw sustenance from the old stories. We humans need to know that we participate in something bigger, that traditions will outlast us, that history will continue to unfold beyond this moment.

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A bell rings, piercing the heavy air and reverberating off the massive granite boulders that perch inexplicably on the land, like gods and guardians protecting the circle. It is a call for silence, which the Kufundees say is also part of the conversation. There is no need for action now; you are not meant to do anything. You are invited to bear witness to another’s suffering, to listen deeply with your heart wide open—without leaping up to fix, heal, soothe, or respond. This, perhaps, is the essence of what it means to be in Zimbabwe in these times: to engage in the excruciatingly difficult practice of simply bearing witness.

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“I asked them what they used to do before they got handouts of fertilizer and seeds,” Marianne continues. “They said they didn’t remember! So we agreed to ask the elders.” Marianne and several of the villagers called a circle with the elders and asked them to describe their agricultural practices prior to the 1980s, when the Green Revolution arrived in their home.

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Marianne listened thoughtfully to their proposal. Then she said, “The only way I could accept your gracious offering is if you were willing to purchase an irrigation system for all villages in Zimbabwe. For we are a demonstration center, and how could we demonstrate ways of cultivating resilient food systems if we relied on a technology to which others had no access?”

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Zimbabwe is hardly the first country in recent history to endure a sudden, sweeping food system collapse. Cuba had been touted as another miracle of the Green Revolution—until the Soviet Union fell apart. Almost overnight, Cuba lost its supply of oil, the essential resource that fuels industrial agriculture. Within a year, over 80 percent of Cuba’s foreign trade disappeared. Suddenly, there were no chemical fertilizers, no seeds, no fuel for tractors and irrigation systems, no way to obtain spare parts. Between 1989 and 1993, the average Cuban lost twenty pounds.51

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In 1989, Cuba did not have a resilient food system. When oil was withdrawn from the structure, the entire system collapsed like a Jenga tower. That is because the Cuban food system wasn’t designed for resilience; rather, it was designed to be maximally efficient.

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In his book Resilience Thinking, co-authored with David Salt, Walker reflects on the risks of our efficiency addiction. “The more you optimize elements of a complex system of humans and nature for some specific goal,” he writes, “the more you diminish that system’s resilience. A drive for an efficient optimal state outcome has the effect of making the total system more vulnerable to shocks and disturbances.”

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It is time to walk out of the illusion of stability, to walk out of the addiction to the efficient optimal state. Life always bursts through the door—why not expect it? A resilience approach knows that uncertainty and surprise are inevitable. Writes Walker, “Resilience thinking is about understanding and engaging with a changing world. By understanding how and why the system as a whole is changing, we are better placed to build a capacity to work with change, as opposed to being a victim of it.”

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No one would deny the need for those who have resources to help support Zimbabwe in climbing out of its current morass. The trouble begins when we commit ourselves to a narrow set of beliefs about the optimal path. The Sachs approach would have Zimbabweans waiting on foreign aid to jump-start the economy—just like the villagers who were once found waiting on donated fertilizer and seeds to jump start their crops. Kufundees have walked out of the limiting beliefs that result from kowtowing to efficiency. They have walked on to declare that we have what we need—now let’s get our hands in the dirt.

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But then the long-term consequences clamor for attention. If we would look at, for example, the Green Revolution, we’d see that hunger didn’t end. That now, in addition to hunger, there are polluted streams and fields, toxic factory farms, and dislocated rural people who’ve lost their cultures, who are crowded into cities, homeless and hungry. We’d see we’re in more trouble now than when we began, that an efficient solution spawned many more problems more difficult to solve than just hunger.

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As more people experience hardships and loss, resilience has become a popular word. It’s often described as a personal capacity, something we need to develop on our own. But like any of life’s strengths, resilience grows in relationships, in community. This is what the Kufundees so clearly teach us.

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Sad to say, dependency is an unintended consequence of helpfulness. Whenever we receive help, it’s easy to let that person or group take over. The more they offer, the more we can just sit idly by and wait for rescue. Yet over time, this backfires. We can lose confidence in our abilities, forget what we once knew, and think of ourselves as poor and needy.

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Manish talked repeatedly about swaraj, Gandhi’s invitation to take responsibility for ourselves. He would patiently explain how Shikshantar’s work was to experiment with creating our own learning, weaning ourselves from the ready-made world where all that’s expected of us is to be good consumers.

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Homo giftus offers goods and services freely, without any expectation of return. Its value is measured by the quality of our relationships rather than the quantity of our profit. Our capacity to give is infinite, unconstrained by shortages and fear of scarcity. Perhaps what’s most incredible about the culture of Homo giftus is that it shows up every time our transactional culture breaks down—in times of human-made and natural disasters, grief and illness, celebration and joy.

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one of the programs of The Berkana Institute that supports younger leaders in discovering right livelihood (Amanda’s note: great question to explore)

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Mukesh is now cultivating a network of relationships among local farmers, many of whom are starting similar projects of their own. He is gifting his knowledge, his time, his assistance—while still selling his fertilizer. This is the path of right livelihood, a mindful way of living that balances service with self-interest, community vitality with economic security. This is what it might look like to transact in the market as little as necessary to sustain our health and well-being—while giving as much of ourselves as we can to our community.

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Growth promises some illusion of greater freedom and security—if I accumulate more stuff, I don’t have to depend on others, I don’t have to negotiate with others, I have a new kind of power. The accumulation of stuff becomes our primary spiritual and psychological purpose and dominant social identity—rather than the quality of our relationships, our creativity, or our consciousness.”

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But as Manish points out, as a consequence of believing in unlimited growth, we’re now living in a culture of destruction. “In transactional culture, we use and throw away people, resources and ideas,” he says. “Everything can be converted into a commodity until there’s nothing sacred left. Land, water, air, seeds, even grandmother’s cookies—our most intimate and profound aspects of life—are subject to this commodification.

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Gandhi talked about the notion of trusteeship: We are not really owners of anything. Nature doesn’t work with ownership. We are guardians or trustees, stewarding resources that are part of a commons of human beings and life on the planet. We don’t have a right to hoard things—or to mindlessly throw them away.”

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It’s like a game of financial musical chairs where there just aren’t enough seats to go around, and someone’s got to get kicked out of the game.72 We are stuck in a positive feedback loop, Greco says, where debt begets interest, and interest begets more debt. After a point, none of this has anything to do with the actual production of goods and services. We just need to keep growing fast enough to stay ahead of ourselves—and everyone else. So we run around in a frenzy, hoping we won’t be the one left standing without a chair.

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Gift culture is about trusteeship, about stewarding the commons rather than ourselves. It’s about taking care of the whole so that everyone has enough. We offer what we can, and we value gifts on our own terms—rather than those dictated by the marketplace. We turn to one another for our needs—to local businesses, teachers, artists, gardeners, craftspeople—rather than to the anonymity of the global marketplace. We walk out of our identity as Homo economicus, and we walk on to discover the patterns and practices of Homo giftus.

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Krishnamurti: Does life have a meaning, a purpose? Is not living in itself its own purpose, its own meaning? Why do we want more?

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Gandhi: Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom or self-rule] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away. Krishnamurti: In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself. Tagore: I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.

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These messages are so powerful in modern global culture that it takes a great deal of awareness and discipline to silence their seductive lures. If we don’t like what’s happening to ourselves, our children, our colleagues, and our communities as we continue down the path of endless accumulation, then we need to reclaim the life we want. As at Shikshantar, we can practice swaraj, self-rule. We can practice swaraj by turning off the insistent cries of consumerism. We can think about what we really need, when enough’s enough. We can consider how we want to feel at the end of our lives, what achievements will have enduring value.

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Most of us already know this, even as we’re struggling with transactional culture. We’ve had experiences of working together without thought of personal gain; we’ve shared moments of hard yet purposeful work that gave us more satisfaction than any object or paycheck ever could. These experiences, wherever they’ve occurred, give us a glimpse of how humans are meant to live together. What creates lasting happiness in life? What few things become most important as we approach the end of life? Isn’t it about family and relationships? Isn’t it that we’ve contributed, that in some small way we’ve made life better for our children, for others, for the future?

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When we speak of offering work as a gift, it doesn’t mean that we stop charging money for our services. We have to be realistic about the world we live in. But we can change how we offer our work at more subtle levels. We can notice all the strings we attach to our efforts—our need for approval, recognition, status, appreciation—and think about whether we want to cut them.

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If you’d like to experiment with exploring your work as gift, here are some things to consider about gifts and gifting. A gift is a gift when: I offer it freely. There are no conditions. I give it because I want people to have it. I do not need to gain from it personally. I let go of needing the gift to be appreciated. I don’t call attention to how hard I’ve worked, what it’s taken me to get here, how dedicated and committed I am, what a good generous person I am. I don’t look for approval, recognition, or thanks. I offer my work, then turn away. I don’t stand and wait for compliments. I don’t expect any kind of gratitude. I don’t resent the people who didn’t thank me. I let go of what I just offered. I move on, looking for the next place I might contribute.

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More than 2,500 years ago, the Athenians decided it would be a good idea if every adult citizen (excluding women and slaves, of course) had the right to have his say and vote on legislation. All that was required to speak or propose a law was Ho boulomenos, “he who wishes”—someone willing to take the initiative and stand in front of his fellow citizenry to speak on behalf of what matters.

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I’m learning how to control my heroic urges. When I’m in meetings or with a group, sometimes I literally sit on my hands, reminding myself to refrain from offering a solution. I’ve learned that when I listen rather than tell, when I wait for the community’s wisdom to surface rather than impulsively offer my own, then so much more is possible. We are smarter together than we are apart—an assumption that lies at the root of democracy.

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However well intentioned the intervention might be, it is always rooted in the belief that people need help, they can’t help themselves, and it is our duty to “interrupt” their experience on their behalf.

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Stories of intervention gone awry abound with laughable absurdity—were it not for the deadly serious suffering they inflict on people’s lives and livelihoods. Yemen is on the brink of a water crisis after replacing its centuries-old practice of harvesting rainwater for crops with a World Bank-driven approach to irrigated agriculture that has tapped out underground aquifers.

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Intervention is not fundamentally flawed. In fact, it is essential for protecting people who are being victimized by brutality greater than they can withstand—from domestic violence to genocide. But it’s a short-term strategy for the immediate situation; any longer-term change requires the engagement of the person or people.

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It is time to walk out of the interventionist mindset of outside experts. Now more than ever as humanity’s challenges converge, we need to learn from one another.

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The convivial society built on friendship is messy but enduring. It listens to each and every voice, it receives all contributions. It values as equal the wisdom of people who live differently. The empty-vessel paradigm of learning is fundamentally founded on the inequality between the professional and the amateur, the expert and the ignoramus, the so-called developed and underdeveloped. It’s like the nutritionist who prescribes a perfectly balanced diet. But nourishment that satisfies the body and soul requires far more than the right blend of vitamins and minerals. True nourishment arises from the intimate connection between human beings, the precious moments of mutuality and trust that emerge when we turn to one another. True nourishment is about the joy of sharing a meal, including the messiness of preparation and the hard labor of cleaning up, the botched brownies and the victorious soufflé, the stories, laughter, and tears that show up whenever people open their hearts to one another, whenever we offer our friendship.

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Grameen Bank trusted this unconventional approach to poverty because it knew that poor people have all the skills, creativity, and ingenuity they need; it is the economic and societal barriers embedded in our cultures that are inhibiting their success. “Government decision-makers, international consultants, and many NGOs usually start from the opposite assumption—that people are poor because they lack skills,” Yunus writes in his book,

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Friendship creates a container in which we can co-create, support one another, and bounce back from the conflicts that arise. Conflict is an inevitable consequence of interdependence; the more interdependent we are, the more conflict there’s likely to be. But when friendship is present, so, too, is our commitment to stay together and work things out. We open our hearts to each other, knowing that we need kindred spirits—especially when the going gets tough. We can walk out alone, but we can only walk on in friendship.

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When friendship fades and we no longer feel responsible for taking care of each other, what also disappears is our own sense of personal competence. Where do we turn when we need advice? Do we consult our own experience or immediately ask an expert? When there’s a problem at work, do we come together as colleagues to try and figure things out, or do we import a solution from elsewhere? If a friend comes to us in crisis, do we offer our companionship, or do we refer him or her to a book or DVD? Experts are important, absolutely. But it’s our dependence on them as the first or only choice that bears watching.

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Friendship takes time. The easiest way to discover its strong threads is to work together. This company of friends, who traveled from afar to labor on a Greek hillside, knew this from their own experience. They’d learned, as we’ve seen in every visit, that the most reliable way to develop good relationships is to engage together in hard work that has a tangible outcome. Working side-by-side, we learn things about each other, we notice skills and talents, we focus less on interpersonal dramas than on figuring out how to get work done. We often become friends even with people we at first had no interest in.

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I meet many people who are tired of command-and-control tactics. They want to find new ways of leading, but they don’t know how. They often say, “I just need to get out of the way.” This statement scares me. Leaders have critical work to do to engage people and redistribute power. The leaders we’ll meet in Columbus didn’t get out of the way; instead, they’ve used their power to create the means to engage people and communities in solving their own problems.

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the Art of Hosting. She’s going to explain it to you, but be patient. It’s more than one thing; it may not fit any familiar categories. People come to Art of Hosting events to learn how to host a variety of conversational processes. These conversational processes are used with diverse groups to resolve conflicts, develop strategy, analyze issues and develop action plans. But it’s more than a collection of problem-solving tools. At its core, and what allows it to flower in so many different forms and places, the Art of Hosting is a philosophy, a set of beliefs and values that are embodied in every process and in every person who learns how to host.

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Tuesday’s personal description is that Art of Hosting “is a practice, like yoga or meditation. There are tools in it, for sure—social technologies like circle, Open Space, and World Café that surface a group’s collective intelligence through conversation. But there are deeper patterns present in the Art of Hosting that invite us to be authentic, to stay in inquiry, to build community.”

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These twenty-six people sitting in circle are all experimenters; they’re learning what it means to lead as a host. They come together every three months as a community of practice to encourage, support, and learn from one another.

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Similar stories surface from others at OSU, although outside the community of practice, they’re often kept below the radar. “We call it stealth hosting,” Deb explains. “The department chairs want to bring it in, but they know they can’t call it ‘World Café’ with their faculty. Faculty can be pretty mean to each other. And they don’t want to be laughed at. You put your reputation on the line when you try something new.” So Tuesday and Deb find other ways to bring it in, knowing that good things will emerge. “Particularly in faculty culture, people are desperate for connection,” Deb adds. “At the end of a program, people will come up to us and say, ‘This is the first time I’ve felt part of something—part of human connection and part of community.’ That is what we’re all thirsty for.”

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The reason it can be difficult to see is because the Art of Hosting is an operating system, like Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. So far, all you’ve seen are two different applications, the Foodbank and OSU.

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The reason it can be difficult to see is because the Art of Hosting is an operating system, like Windows, Mac OS, or Linux.

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The Art of Hosting is like Linux, freely offering its source code for leaders to achieve order without control. Its code is a set of principles and practices for how to host conversations that matter: setting intention, creating hospitable space, asking powerful questions, surfacing collective intelligence, trusting emergence, finding mates, harvesting learning, and moving into wise action. Like Linux, the Art of Hosting operating system encourages experimentation and sharing worldwide. What’s emerged is a vibrant global community of people discovering that the wisdom we need exists not in any one of us, but in all of us.

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Several beliefs feed our trust in heroic leadership: Leaders have the answers. People do what they’re told. High risk requires high control. When we believe this, we willingly give away our power. We wait for leaders to direct us, assuming they know what they’re doing. Many leaders enthusiastically accept the power we hand over. But we’re all caught in a terrible illusion. When problems are complex, there are no simple answers; no one person, no matter how brilliant, can make things better. And even though some surrender personal freedoms in exchange for pledges of security, how can any leader these days guarantee that we’ll be secure?

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If we want to find solutions to our most challenging problems, we need to transform our ideas about effective leadership. We need to walk out of our reliance on the leader-as-hero and invite in the leader-as-host.

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Leaders learn to trust that everyone has gifts to offer, and that most people want to work on behalf of something greater than themselves. In some cases, these leaders serve as mirrors, so that people can see their skills and potential, those that have been buried under years of disregard. Over time, as conversational processes become the normal way of meeting, communities discover they have new skills. They can examine problems in depth, make use of each other’s diverse insights, and create robust solutions. Leaders, and those they happily host, take on large-scale, intractable problems and discover they’re capable of solving them.

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The citizens of Columbus, Ohio, are slowly but steadily walking out of a model of heroic leadership that most Americans assume is the only way to lead.

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It’s a huge countercultural act to do something as simple as dropping a talking piece into the conversation. People like the solutions that come out of a more collective way of operating. I believe hosting taps into a basic human need to be connected and to be connected in as unconditional a way as possible.”

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For Tuesday Ryan-Hart, when we practice hosting, we are learning how to be together better.

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Well, “it is time for all the heroes to go home,” as the poet William Stafford wrote.

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You’re acting as a hero when you believe that if you just work harder and put in more hours, you’ll fix things; that if you just become smarter or learn a new technique, you’ll be able to solve problems for others. You’re acting as a hero if you take on more and more projects and causes, no matter how worthy, and have less time for the people you love and the activities that nourish you. You’re playing the hero if you still hold the belief that it’s up to you to save the situation, the person, the world.

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They used their positional power to convene people, not to tell them what to do. They learned that their city—any city—is rich in resources, and that the easiest way to discover these is to bring diverse people together in good conversations.

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Hosting meaningful conversations isn’t about getting people to like each other or feel good. It’s about creating the means for problems to get solved, for teams to function well, for people to become energetic activists.

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When you see a pile of trash, do you think of Edgard and a children’s garden? When you pass a fruit tree, are you reminded of Ticha and his arborloos? When you walk through a dirty city park, do you imagine how the local community might get engaged? When you see your child struggling or being bored in school, do you think of the learners at Unitierra who create their own education? When you sit in a meeting, do you wonder how it might be different if Tuesday or Phil were hosting?

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In their actions, they aspire to follow eight principles. Woven together as a whole, these are a powerful and coherent theory for how to foster systemic change and create healthy and resilient communities.

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Start anywhere, follow it everywhere.

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We make our path by walking it.

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If the road looks familiar, if we’ve walked it before, if we feel comfortable knowing where we’re going, then we aren’t walking on, we aren’t pioneering something new. Walk Ons make their path by walking.

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We have what we need.

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The leaders we need are already here.

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The pattern here is simple: People see something in their world that needs to change, and they step forward to take that first action. They don’t declare themselves “a leader”; they just start acting to change things. A leader is anyone willing to help, anyone willing to take those first steps to remedy a situation or create a new possibility.

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We are living the worlds we want today.

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We walk at the pace of the slowest. The Zapatistas say we walk to make the road better, we must listen as we walk, and we must walk at the pace of the slowest. If we wish to build healthy and resilient communities, we can’t leave anyone behind. So we take the journey as slowly as we need to.

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Speed is not our goal. Growth is not our purpose. Winning is not evidence of our success. What gifts do we discover as we slow down, look around, invite more people in, and enjoy our well-companioned journey?

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We listen, even to the whispers.

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We hear these voices only if we create the spaces to listen.

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We turn to one another.

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In company with our friends worldwide, we’ve developed simple practices for sustaining ourselves as Walk Ons and for resisting the strong gravity of familiar ways. These practices are: Name, Connect, Nourish, Illuminate.

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Naming is being able to claim publicly who we are and what we’re walking on to. Whenever we give ourselves a new name, it’s a way of making visible our intentions. What are you walking out of, and why? By walking on, who are you choosing to be? However you name yourself, choose a name that encourages you to move forward, that challenges you to be fearless. I am a Zapatista. I am a Walk Out. I am an edge-walker. I am a leader. I am daring to live the future now. How will you name yourself?

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Connecting is finding others who share our purpose, who hear our new name and say, “Me, too!” None of us can do this work alone—we need each other to support, encourage, and console one another. We need companions to think with, celebrate with, cry with, dance with. We need companions to lessen the loneliness, to keep us going when the work gets hard, when the world tells us we’re lunatics. Skilled pioneers never venture forth alone, and neither can you. Whom will you connect with?

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Nourishing is turning to one another for ideas, knowledge, practices, and dreams. Among us, we already have a great deal of experience and expertise. When we affiliate with other Walk Ons, we inspire, provoke, and support each other. Ideas and inventions flow among us, like the bicimáquinas, the Oasis Game, the arborloos. When we gather together, we learn quickly from one another, discovering new ideas and solutions, like at the Art of Learning Centering, as in the Art of Hosting communities of practice. Together we discover that we have what we need. Where will you turn for nourishment?

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Illuminating is sharing our stories so many more people can know we’re out there and join in. Walking out is never easy, and walking on is often invisible. Our work comes from the future and is difficult to see through current lenses. By shining a light on our pioneering efforts, we bring the future into focus. Little by little, our work becomes recognizable as evidence of what’s possible, of what a new world could be. This book has been an experience of illuminating that future. What stories will you illuminate?

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There are no easy answers, only a long string of unanswerable questions that slam into us once we return home from our journeys and discover that we’re no longer comfortable where we are. Questions like: How do I hold what I now know? How do I live in integrity with my beliefs? How can I hold my own hypocrisy with compassion? When do I engage and stay—and when do I walk out? What am I willing to walk on to?

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