is society collapsing?

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You could be forgiven for perhaps thinking so.

The ramifications of the vote a few days ago have generated some dramatic activity. Financial markets wavering, Prime Ministers resigning, political parties in disarray, arguments beginning across the channel, countries in our United Kingdom expressing a view, again, that they do not wish to be united. Yet…

I’ve just mown my grass. I’m sitting outside now with a cup of tea. My mower started, water spewed from the tap in order for me to brew my tea, the sun is shining, my neighbour said ‘hello’, a fly wants to share my biscuit, an aircraft passes overhead…

What is society?

One dictionary definition is…

the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.

another…

an organised group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes.

On that basis the society that is the road I live in, is fine. We are, more or less, operating as an ordered aggregate of people living in a community for a variety of purposes. A local society, I grant you, so let’s look bigger, much bigger.

As a species, we live on a planet. We have little choice really than to live together. We do so for pragmatic purposes, to breathe, to survive, to reproduce as a human race. It’s more or less organised, more or less ordered.

Much is wrong with it though. Some groups fight, for political or religious reasons. Some groups have little, others arguably too much. Some prosper, some starve. Some believe in one set of values or world order, some another. Our cultural histories are significantly different. We speak a multitude of languages. We raise our children and operate in our communities differently. We come together for a variety of reasons beyond survival. In some respects we are organised, ordered. In many we are not.

But even this massively faulty, culturally disparate, often blind society works, more or less. It does so because fundamentally human beings are social animals. We want to ge in groups, to be together, to belong. We have a deep need to connect and to be accepted. Even the terrorist suicide bomber seeks to belong. To his or her faith and to the community or society or afterlife they believe in. We live in relationship systems.

I passed a man sitting in the street on Friday. He had a dog, a blanket, a cardboard mat and was begging. This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and he was begging. I can’t rescue him, I can’t take him in or solve his problems, but I can acknowledge him. Acknowledge his existence. His humanity. So I spoke to him. I said hello and asked him how he was. Maybe I should have given him money. Maybe that would have been more important. But money is transient. Money isn’t what makes society. If anything money destroys it.

For me society has at its core, humanity. Human recognising human. Not necessarily agreeing, not necessarily believing the same things, not necessarily speaking the same language, not necessarily living in the same way, not necessarily having the same choices, past, present or future, not necessarily wanting the same things. But human beings nonetheless. It seems to me as long as we have that, society will survive. Hopefully it will blossom and grow.

Say ‘hello’ to someone today.
Maybe offer them something.
Maybe perform a random act of kindness.
Maybe say sorry.
Maybe just smile.

…the guilt of growth

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I wrote yesterday about the innocence of belonging. The compelling sense of loyalty to the tribal rules, thereby securing our belonging.

Yet growth and personal development draw us to move to new systems of belonging – school, university, new organisations, new teams and maybe to create our own family system. As we grow and develop, we risk belonging to earlier ‘clans’ by electing to behave in different ways in new tribes. Behaving and acting in the fashion of the new clan customs ensures our belonging in the new group, but risks our belonging in earlier groups on our life journey.

This tension between growth and belonging, guilt and innocence is described in Systemic Constellations theory as ‘Personal conscience’. Sometimes particular ‘rules of belonging’ to older clans can entangle us later in life. Holding us back, like a rubber bungee, making freedom and growth hard.

When you feel stuck, look over your shoulder and ask yourself, “to whom or what am I being loyal in staying stuck like this?”

What you find there may surprise you.

Acknowledge what is.

 

the innocence of belonging…

guilt innocence personal conscience

As a child you may well have travelled to your grandparents with your family.

Perhaps at one set of grandparents, you were allowed to spread your toys out on the floor and generally make a mess? Perhaps at the other grandparentjs you had to wait to get down from the table after tea, and keep your elbows off the table? Maybe your family visits were to aunts, uncles, cousins?

Whatever your personal experiences as a child at your relatives, you somehow knew the rules. The actions and ways of being and behaving that were the family customs in that house; that clan, that ‘tribe’. By complying with those actions and customs, you cemented your belonging.

We do this following our sports team. We wear the uniform, travel in groups, sing the songs, tell stories of the history. We do this in organisations too, we call it the culture around here, and we (often) unconsciously comply in order to create belonging and connection.

This search for belonging starts in our family of birth. We learn the ways of being and the customs and actions that are the norm in the family. The clan culture. By being loyal to those customs and ways of being, we ensure we belong. We are accepted into the tribe by remaining ‘innocent’ to those tribal rules. This is a crucial learning for one so young.

Our sense of need to be loyal to the customs of belonging, particularly to our birth family system, is strong. Very strong. This need to belong, to remain ‘innocent’, is compelling. When we stray from it, in a sense, we experience ‘guilt’ – guilt that we are risking our belonging.

This ‘guilt’ and ‘innocence’ form part of the theory of personal conscience, from Systemic Constellation practice. More tomorrow…

 

when we would do well to be the beach

What is is

When you go to the beach, you walk on the pebbles. You see some pebbles are rounded, polished, worn smooth in the rub of nature. You see some are sharp, jagged, fractured in the storm of collision. Some pebbles carry history in fossilised form. Some are small. Some large. Some brown. Some grey. Some multicoloured. And you observe this and you allow it.

When you go to the beach, you see the sea. Water crashes in foam, surging for freedom. Water retreats in liquid fellowship. Foams, retreats, foams, retreats, foams, retreats in enduring rhythm. And you see this and you understand. And you accept the way that it is.

And in all of this, you don’t get emotional about it. You appreciate the beach. The pebbles. The sea.

What is, is.

But when you meet other human beings, you lose all that.
You say “he’s too this” and “I’m too that”.
You say “if only she wasn’t…” and “I should be…”.
You say “They are different” and “I am not enough”.

Judgement comes in.

Maybe we should see people as the sea and the pebbles, and appreciate them as they are.

What is, is.

Inspired by Ram Dass

 

the direction of love and hate

love hate constellation personal conscience
I was reminded yesterday of a this quote…

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him

GK Chesterton

It was offered in the context of the recent Paris attacks, but it reminded me of the truth in this for us all, not just for the soldier, the man on the battlefield, the terrorist. We all have a bond, a love of what shaped us, what gives us belonging, those ‘like us’ who give us a place. We feel strong ties to our formative experiences; strong connections to our family of birth; a place where we learned the unspoken rules of belonging. Where we experienced love. We all have strong attachment to familiarity, to the system we operate in, to its customs and culture and to the way of working we have become aligned to. It too gives us a sense of place, a sense of belonging.

Perhaps this in part explains why change can be hard? We have to let go of connections, friends, customs, behaviours, ways of being which have given us a security.

Maybe we don’t hate the change we face, but rather we resist it from a place of love for what has gone before? What is, or will be, behind us?

#prayforParis

our connections through time and space…

human connection
Systems of connection intrigue me. In Organisation Development we describe the organisation as a complex social system.

People are connected to each other. Connected to their friends and colleagues, to other individuals, teams and functions by responsibilities, processes and activities. Their behaviours, in part, defined by those connections and systems.

This isn’t just the realm of organisation though. It is like this in society too. People are connected to their neighbours, the street, the village. They are connected to their relations and friends.

If you were to float above the earth you would see the ‘neural pathways’ created on the earth’s surface to support these connections – the motorway network, the wider road system, the rail system, the canals and rivers all acting as arteries to facilitate people connecting, whether for trade, for shared interests, for friendship or for love. If you float higher you may also see the trails of aeroplanes, creating a less permanent or tangible network of connections, spanning greater distances, with semi permanent hubs. If you subscribe to the right app for your phone, or visit the appropriate website you can see the planes moving through this network, with surprisingly fixed patterns and pathways; following each other with a regularity and spacial deference not obvious to the person standing on the ground. Another system network connecting people.

Think about the cables and pipes underground, carrying gas, water, electricity, data, TV broadcasts etc. Tunnels for trains, moving us around, underground, under seas.

Now refocus your eyes and imagine the invisible network that connects us through the internet, through social media. Invisible waves of data, passing between masts and satellites, connecting people in this virtual world, globally.

Think about footpaths long overgrown, about Roman roads long lost to the eternal march of nature. Archeology long since buried. Relics, remains. There are many older networks which connect us but which lie like a faded script under the dominant visible thoroughfares of today. Another system, another network.

This may seem all man made. But nature works this way too. If you could map the path of each ant from a nest, or see the trails followed by foxes at night, or monitor the community of bees in the hive, or track the migratory routes of birds circumnavigating the globe, here too you would find networks of connection.

We are also connected through time. Connected to our ancestors. Invisible gene pathways that pass down traits, such as the colour of your eyes, the size and shape of your ears. Pathways that also pass down family and community stories, customs, behaviours, cultures.

Within our own bodies we are connected, tissues, veins, arteries, neural pathways connecting one part to another. Beyond that, chemical signals and communications, passing messages, connecting. The sounds of our organs, heart beating, blood rushing, enzymes deconstructing, all speaking to each other in an orchestral symphony.

We are, as human beings, connected.

And just like in the organisation, that complex social system, those connections shape us, enable us, influence us and limit us.

Take a moment to reflect on your connections.

The next time you are in front of another human being, pause for a moment to honour their connections, for those connections are a large part of their humanity.