Re-Imagining Learning: Facilitating Contextualized Worldviews
From diminishing returns to existential threats — it’s becoming hard to ignore the difficulties arising from the range of collective delusions that, on a global scale, have narrowed humanity’s scope of vision and fundamentally altered what we ascribe value to.
It seems that our dominant way of being has fallen out of tune with the living world. That we’ve forgotten our own embodiment, our embeddedness in some larger reality, and that, because of this, the entire orchestra is now starting to lose their sense of melody and rhythm.
Still, while it’s almost impossible to not notice the severity of the situation, rediscovering our role as responsible, life-restoring and health-promoting participants in a rich, living world is no trivial task.
One reason for the difficulty of this is that the kind of change needed concerns the deepest, most entrenched parts of our shared cultural fabric; the almost imperceptible understandings that powerfully frame our perception of the world and guide our navigation in it. Arguably, many of those understandings — such as overly reductionist and linear approaches to an otherwise rich, complex world — don’t serve us, let alone life in general. This probably also means that we can’t expect truly meaningful paths forward and solutions to emerge from them.
Stakes couldn’t be higher, and faced with an assumedly unique opportunity to willfully avoid extinction, many voices are starting to express their belief in the necessity of working on those cultural dimensions as an integral part of what ambitious, sustainability-oriented change must look like. “Humanity as a whole should move beyond the ‘story of separation’ and into a ‘story of interbeing’”, we hear. A wonderful vision, difficult as it might be to realize.
I’ll attempt to sketch a loose framework that may form part of that input.
Alright, so we might, for example, easily agree that it’s about time to update our guiding story and facilitate more life-loving worldviews. However, there’s quite a leap from that insight to the question of how this process is ultimately manifested as lived experience in, say, a given culture or a given individual. If at all discussed, my impression is that the implicit assumption often seems to be that we’ll achieve the transformation needed through communication and educational programs promoting systems thinking and ecological awareness.
Efforts that — whether facilitated in the private, public, or voluntary sectors, and whether online or offline — are generally organized in fairly classical ways with a structural logic borrowing from the kind of largely one-way communication in a teacher-student setup that most of us have been familiar with ever since our early school days. Additionally, most of the knowledge content presented is relatively decontextualized and “general” and as such applicable across particular social and ecological circumstances.
While this could be considered a somewhat reductionist, linear take on knowledge transmission and cultural development — and while that perhaps borders on the paradoxical when considering the holistic, ecologically-oriented goal here — I’m personally pretty convinced that it’s indeed part of the recipe for a viable path forward. Still, and this is my quite simple and far from original argument, I don’t think it’s sufficient, and there’s probably a lot to gain from simultaneously considering the process in a richer, more, well, “systemic” way.
In short, I assume that part of what would make any understanding truly sustainable and regenerative is its direct contribution to the health and thriving of the unique systemic properties of the locality in question (see, e.g., the writings of Daniel Wahl).
If this is true, part of the conversation on how to weave ecologically-oriented cultural fabric would have to explore ways in which we may nurture stories (plural) of interbeing; narratives and entire worldviews that not least emerge from and guide the sustained, balanced interaction between humans and environment in specific, unique contexts at the local and regional scale.
This implies, for example, that the role of teacher turns even more into the role of a facilitator helping to bring forth the latent creative potential for sustainable thinking and being that is particularly compatible with the processes describing a particular community embedded in its particular ecology.
My feeling is that doing so is not fully achieved by democratizing the structural setup of a learning situation, having the process become less one-way and more community-led as hinted at above. Another important, but related dimension of the attempt to help nurture systemic, ecological worldviews at the local level, I believe, is to realize that the most useful “stories” of the kinds we’re looking at here are of a qualitatively rich variety. In short, rather than being abstract intellectual, somewhat detached entities, they’re probably better conceptualized as embodied, dynamical representations that arise from the messiness of local interaction. A kind of knowledge contextualized by or even manifested primarily in the bodily, emotional, social, or physical domains. Lived stories, if you will. It’s again an example of how the structure of the methodology I’ve been looking at in this text may benefit from directly reflecting the systemic nature of the kind of knowledge creation it attempts to support.
Generally speaking, it’s about supporting a deeply contextualized process. Abstract principles on, say, systems dynamics are not irrelevant — far from it — but the manifestation of such principles becomes something richer, meatier, more messy, (and more beautiful) when considered in relation to the systemic reality and sustainability of place. This is important when asking how to methodologically manage the journey from the general to the specific.
Central to this facilitative, supporting approach, itself an example of applied systems thinking, is humility. And with humility comes the act of seeking and listening to the wisdom, already partly present in the local community. With light guidance and co-creation, humility guides us to serve and acknowledge/honor/support/spread this wisdom. It’s about letting go of ambition, and the sense of having total control, and instead designing a process that enables the creation of the conditions that have the potential to enable each individual’s unique gifts to shine, through creative means, leading to the possibility of the emergence of new possibilities, new ways of being.
At the core of the Taoist philosophical tradition is the concept of Wu Wei. Inaction. Doing, without doing. Effortless Action. Nature is the embodiment of Wu Wei. Everything is happening, always. My view is that genuine learning happens the same way. With each person in the community acting based on their innate gifts, immersed in functional projects and sharing with/learning from the uniqueness of the other members of the community.
In the deepest sense of Wu Wei there would be no need for facilitators, our communities/daily actions would simply be organized in a manner where creativity, connection, diversity, feedback etc. were the default. Until then, I suppose facilitators can aim for, Facilitating, without facilitating.
Effortless and choiceless awareness is our real nature. If we can attain that state and abide in it, that is all right. But one cannot reach it without effort, the effort of deliberate meditation. — Ramana Maharshi
Lead Author: Espen Malling
With an educational background in cultural and cognitive science and a previous role as partner in the communications research nonprofit Andre Tanker, Espen is now immersed in an attempt to make sense of and meaningfully act on the complex, interconnected challenges facing Earth and its inhabitants. He collaborates with a broad, international field of activists and scholars and is particularly interested in supporting the local emergence of regenerative worldviews and practices. Read more on www.espenmalling.com.
Espen and his team are offering a series of “regenerative sensemaking” events that Espen will be co-hosting in Copenhagen (though temporarily organized digitally due to the COVID-19 situation).
The aim is to facilitate a physical space for a group of creative, sustainability-oriented representatives from the local community, making it possible to openly explore ideas related to regenerative design or systemic sustainability as they apply to our local and regional circumstances.
Our sessions will initially be structured around Daniel Wahl’s book Designing Regenerative Cultures, which we’ll collectively go through chapter by chapter. Its main ideas will be outlined, and its question-based format will act as a basis for our collective, dialogue-driven, and practical exploration of systemically sustainable worldviews and practices.
The long-term vision with the “regenerative sensemaking” concept would be that the events gradually give rise to a collaborative community of peers; a sort of learning-acting organism spawning other, perhaps broader and more concrete initiatives promoting regenerative development in the local and regional context, similar learning processes in other parts of Denmark, and so on.
If you’re curious, and if you feel like it would make sense for you to join, feel free to do so. The intro session can be accessed through this link on Thursday, November 12th at 10 am CET. If you don’t feel like joining, but are still curious about the concept, feel free to reach out.
Anchor Author: Daniel Rudolph (final 2 paragraphs/quote and revision)
Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry and has just started to learn to play the piano. Daniel is a very curious and playful person and is always open for creative collaborations.