Creating Communities of Permission

In Giving Permission,”(posted December 20, 2018), I did a deep dive into what I believe it means to have a community of inclusion; one that is built on giving its residents permission to be and do what drives them. While it can be, we cannot assume that this permission is implied. Permission requires engagement. It is the antithesis of indifference, which is too often commonplace. It’s taking the time and exerting the mental energy to acknowledge that your fellow residents, whether or not they hold the same demographic characteristics or social standing you may (for better or worse) … still warrant your attention, reaction and respect. Without this acknowledgement, your community has little chance of equitably moving forward in a sustainable way. Through this acknowledgement we build healthy communities founded on neighborly engagement that can act as an ad hoc social safety net; one to compensate for the one too often left to fray by our decaying institutions.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The first step to achieving this model of embrace is for us to individually reach out and actively make it a point to include – to give permission, to our neighbors and fellow community members . Every encounter is an opportunity to “raise the collective tide.” And the more we engage, the easier it becomes. Turn acknowledgement and benevolent engagement into new community norms and expectations. Through these norms and expectations of inclusion we are giving permission for others to feel comfortable in being who they are and pursuing what they may dream. We are making engagement and permission contagious. We’re creating an ecosystem of strength and support under the assumption that engaged diversity will benefit us all. Repeating what John Kennedy famously said: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

The higher our levels of engagement are individually and collectively, the more well; physically, mentally and socially we will become. Engagement creates agency and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.

Our community focus should be to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity – personally, socially and civically through behaviors that benefit us physically, mentally and socially. 

The question is … how do we create this ecosystem that nudges people towards this positive activity? Forcing people to be benevolent and kind will probably only produce the opposite effect. Our efforts must be rooted in action, not just conversation; physical engagement that organically grows from the individual and collective needs and desires of the people. We need to create a journey where all citizens will travel together … all pursuing our own dreams in parallel – but also in collaboration for the good of the community.

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“On the Road” … Embracing the Journey

About twenty years ago while building my recruiting firm, I coined a term, “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” In a nutshell it means; in life and all its nuances (including work): it’s the journey that matters not the destination. It’s our experiences that create the human beings we are. But maybe more than that – it’s how we think about those experiences and most of all … how we react to them.

Not being tied to the destination through an overly rigid plan can provide a sense of relief; a freedom to act, assess and adjust; a going with the flow. All the best laid plans will eventually go awry. Being unnecessarily shackled to an arbitrary figment of utopia creates a detachment from what’s happening around us. As community leaders and change instigators we too often relentlessly pursue control; trying to stay meticulously on task in pursuit of this utopia. Regrettably this “utopia” was probably conceived under circumstances far different what we are confronting today – bringing a disaffected approach to the issues of current relevance.

 

“The difficulty we face is that the ecology of the biosphere is at odds with the ecology of our institutions.” ~ Nora Bateson

Decision makers and the researchers they depend on have an overwhelming habit of thinking in terms of functioning parts (especially those in the academic, scientific and medical communities). Our human tendency is to deconstruct our complex world into smaller, digestible, independent parts. These “parts” are much easier to understand in isolation rather than in their entangled, chaotic whole. This is misleading for our future inquiry of living, co-evolving systems.

We must evolve from a culture of static planning to one of learning to appreciate the messiness of uncertainty and contextual interconnectedness. Our mission can’t be control – but rather the nurture of ever changing relationships. Nora Bateson has led pioneering work in the world of this “messiness.” Like with my “On the Road to Your Perfect World,” Bateson looks at the world as journey of relationships – and the actions and reactions needed to respond to the volatility and unpredictable nature of them. All we can do is prepare best we can and adapt accordingly. By no means should we trash our goals and objectives, but see them in more nebulous terms; more of a guiding force than an equivalent of a personal and civic GPS unit. The destination we’ve plugged in may not be anything like what we’ll see when we arrive there, assuming there’s even a place to arrive to. We must be always collectively learning and readjusting as we go. Batesom calls this phenomenon, Symmathesy: learning together. It’s imperative we understand that all parts are connected and the learning opportunities due from changes in circumstances are available to all parties.

Just as a virus is constantly adapting as the immune system trying to defeat it, the change movement must learn to evolve. Being wedded to the form that leads to early success is a sure route to failure. Unless the change effort mutates to fight the organisational anti-bodies, its legacy will be nothing more than a sense of what might have been. You may not be able to plan in advance just when or how you will need to change the way you change, but you need to be very aware that at some point you will have to. What you end up with may not be what you first envisaged, but it will be real and lasting.

The key is to see change as not simply about moving from A to B. The key is to see it as a much more fluid and organic process. You never really know where it might end up. As the organisational identity acts to re-assert itself, the rebels and radicals need to morph their efforts into something else. The approaches and energy that provoke the response are not the same as the approaches and energy that overcome that response. The leadership that manages the status quo is not the leadership the moves into a radically new space. (How the Organization Subverts its Subsersives – John Atkinson)

A primary obstruction to the “fluid and organic process” Atkinson described above is silos. Traditional institutions and conventional organizations are built on hierarchy and the silos that support them. Communication, let alone collaboration is seldom fluid in these situations. Their structures are built for preservation and the illusion of certainty. What we need is the antithesis of this – a phenomenon constructed to accommodate uncertainty and a flow that optimizes resource maximization, taking advantage of the situational skills and abilities of those in our community.

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Building a Rhizomes-based Decentralized Ecosystem

How can we design our communities in a way that we encourage an inclusive journey of contribution and well-being for all our citizens. How can we create environments where everyone has an opportunity to realize their place – whatever and wherever that may be. Just resorting to traditional social and civic institutions and the hierarchies that reinforce them is not the solution. We need new alternatives: and what better place to look than in nature.

Biologists say trees are social beings. They can count, learn and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of dangers by sending electrical signals across a fungal network and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through roots. (Marije van Zomeren)

One of nature’s most effective means of sustainability is the rhizome. The rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow perpendicular to the force of gravity. The rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards if resources permit. If a rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant … and a new node of above ground activity.

Collaboration organization

In 2016, during my construction of the blog series On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” I came across “A Thousand Plateaus” and the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – specifically their concept of rhizomes and how their actions in nature can be extrapolated in terms of an alternative view of societal development.

“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)

Deleuze and Guattari broke down their rhizomatic social philosophy into components. From these components we can engineer our version of a locally based civic engagement platform that nurtures inclusion, self-expression and most of all permission.

  • Rhizome: Rather than using the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the single origin of “things” and looks towards conclusion of those “things” (the destination); a rhizome continually establishes connections between threads of meaningful communication, organizations of power, and other influences (including arts, sciences, and social struggles). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and formal organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In this model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water; spreading towards available spaces or in the application of community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the type.
  • Nomad: Nomadism is a way of life that exists outside of the traditional organizational or societal norm (at least in modern times). The nomad is a way of being in the middle or between points. It is characterized by movement and change, and is unfettered by systems of conventional organization. The goal of the nomad is only to continue to move within the “intermezzo.” (the journey rather than the destination). This constant state activity prevents itself from existing for the sake of existing as organizations and institutions most often do. The goal is to make things happen; to find opportunities and solutions, not just to “be.” This nomadic behavior also lends itself to the individual focusing on what interests them and where they can contribute the most, rather than just working within the constraints of a pre-defined, often inefficient role or job. In short, being a nomad can greatly enhance ones sense of engagement and well-being. Or according to the Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard, be the evolved man.”
  • Smooth Space: The platform or naked infrastructure on which the community and in turn the array of “need and opportunity based activities” operate is called the Smooth Space. This platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences that inhabit it. These influences can include meaningful communication, existing organizations (government and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of Community 3.0, the Smooth Space is the Front Porch network (the small business community), healthcare providers,NGOs and the members of the community who are their patrons, along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and creates on its Smooth Space will determine the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the rhizome structure and its Smooth Space to nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community (e.g. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization) that produce positive societal outcomes.
  • Body Without Organs: Body Without Organs is what happens. It is the result of what the rhizome social philosophy using the nomadic actions of its components operating on the Smooth Space. In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the variables of the community are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its members, organizations and businesses; it is its Body Without Organs. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one; NIMBYism and gated communities, or more communal; tolerant and welcoming, or closed and siloed; Wall Street or Main Street. This is the community’s personality. But rather than the personality being dictated by those in the high rungs of a traditionally mandated hierarchy (e.g. government) – it will come to form through the participation of those who live there … those on the streets, no matter their social stature. How the community directly responds to its needs and opportunities will be what it is.

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james rizzi city main
James Rizzi

Nurturing a Societal Evolution

How do we tie all this together into a functioning array of response to needs and opportunities while not resorting back to traditional top-heavy hierarchies? Our focus must be on the empowerment, not just the management of our civic ecosystem. The Smooth Space is your community’s desktop, its workspace. Let it take form as the situation dictates.

“Too many algorithms are centrally designed with a singular philosophical view of the world, using contextual data but via a single lens” ~ Indy Johar

The flow arising from our appreciation for situational awareness and adjustment will be the cornerstone of our community’s inclusive success.

  • Journey of Engagements: It’s about the incremental journey of permission and engagements that specifically benefit the individual and collective health and well-being of the community … not the plan and destination.
  • Unique solutions: There are no “best case” solutions (since there is no one context); only engagements specific to one of multiple contexts and delivered in a decentralized manner. The specifics of the engagements that prove most beneficial are the ones most applicable to the parties involved and the situation at the time.
  • Stories of engagements provide context: Proper context is best arrived at through stories and anecdotes of our engagements as they depict unique situational alternatives that lay on the matrix of our community’s Smooth Space. And it’s with these stories we can manage the relationship that make up our community’s every-changing intermezzo.

“Our challenge is not bringing order to successful chaos but creating successful chaos within a well-ordered failure.” ~ Charles Marohn, ‘Strong Towns’

Let the journey begin …

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