New Story Summit co-focaliser and Findhorn Fellow, Richard Olivier, decodes the potential messages in the ‘We don’t know’ intervention that took place at Findhorn’s New Story Summit: Inspiring Pathways for our Planetary Future, a week-long inquiry into a new story for humanity held from 27 September to 3 October 2014. Richard recently gathered with fellow core organising team member, Gigi Coyle, and 21 summiteers in London for a day of Council and debriefing. Reporting back, Richard shared, “Hearing others’ experiences was a powerful way of integrating our magical week. Among all the positive comments there was, for some, still a sense of frustration with the ‘We don’t know’ intervention.” Here Richard reflects on it with more distance and curiosity…
For those who were not at the New Story Summit and have not seen the web streamed video sessions:
On the Thursday morning (day 2 of our Emergent – open space inspired – days) the post-it board of offered workshops had been taken down and replaced with a large message made out of the post-its which read: ‘We Don’t Know’. A lively discussion ensued but no one claimed responsibility and no one asked those who were responsible to reveal themselves. After a period of chaotic milling and conversation, the Emergent spaces were (mostly) restored. After the Summit the intervention was the focus of a number of blogs and questions – after which the group of four revealed itself – and included one of our invited thought leaders, Charles Eisenstein, who wrote a long blog on his own webpage. Some of the Core Organising team also engaged in feedback loops with our ‘We don’t know’ provocateurs. This is my further reflection.
What if … ‘We don’t know’ was a mystery gift from the New Story Goddess?
In my understanding of a ‘rite of passage’ that there are no accidents and no mistakes, only signs to be explored and symbols from which we can unfold learning. Many in the core team were holding the New Story Summit as a ‘work in progress’ rite of passage towards the new story and so, as part of my own ongoing learning, I am attempting to look behind the surface and accept everything that happened as somehow what we needed and/or deserved. In other words that what happened was ‘right’ for us – however messy or confusing it was at the time.
It is interesting that one long thread of follow up writings has been the ‘We don’t know’ intervention. If those responsible had stood up at the time to explain themselves and their motives, it probably would not have had such an ‘after life’. (I have also recently heard from two Summiteers so thrown by the intervention that they did not re-instate their previously planned offering – so there was some ‘collateral damage’ as well as a mysterious provocation with lasting interest for many).
Having read various explanations from those responsible and others I can now also see it as strangely mirroring the New Story Summit itself. Both were birthed with strong impulses and an intention to serve, both were humanly flawed in execution, both did not achieve their initial intended outcomes, both have led to interesting interactions and both have challenged ‘normal’ methods of integration and incorporation.
So if we were to look at it as ‘a perfect mistake’ that has some essential new story messages coded in it for all of us (far beyond the personal motives of those involved) what might they be?
A) Moving beyond the Expert:
A challenge to move beyond our expertise: on an individual level I (and I imagine many of you) take pride in being an ‘expert’ in one or several areas. In the fields of leadership development and experiential learning design I have put my 10,000 hours in. So in almost every situation where those skills are called for, I can ‘deliver’ – in other words; “I know” – and I can use that knowing to move forward with relative ease. Yet at the Summit, despite having had more time to prepare a design than ever before (18 months) and despite access to more talented contributors than ever before (a resource group of 40 to 50 fellows, storytellers, core and extended team advisors) that ‘Knowing’ was not enough. What was ‘known’ was not enough to equitably hold all who showed up in a learning journey. The usual rules did not apply – and even the usual ways of adapting to feedback were not enough – at least for some. And so, ‘we don’t know’ ended up as a greater truth than ‘we know’.
The provocative question from this perspective is this; if future ‘questing the New Story’ gatherings need to start without known expertise, what do they start with? What happens if we do not bring our ‘expert’ into the room or inquiry with us? How can we start with ‘we don’t know’ (without that simply being an invitation for others present to bring their known expertise in)? This quest reminds me of the last lines of a favourite Goethe poem; ‘The Man Watching’:
- “Winning does not tempt that one
For this is how s/he grows,
By being defeated, decisively
By constantly greater beings”
B) Acknowledging what is true:
It is true that some people have been questing the new story for 50 years or more, that many before us saw the limits to growth, the flaws in the capitalist growth model and the self-destructive patterns the majority were/are addicted to. It is also true that many have been dreaming into and applying solutions for decades – and many of these projects were represented at the Summit. AND, it is also true that ‘we don’t know’ if we will enable a great turning in time. Whatever or whoever is left in the distant future may yet judge us as those who were busy ‘rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic’. Do we know how to get to a more sustaining and meaningful ‘world in waiting’ future? Yes. Do we know whether we will get there? No. The truth is ‘we don’t know’.
For some this is an invitation to paralysis, to ‘fin de siecle’ thinking, to partying like hell as the ship goes down – to others it is about entering the heart of darkness, to live into the and through the despair that ‘this is the end, my friend’ and do it anyway, to tap into the infinite resource we imagine in the human spirit and to do whatever it takes, even if it is not enough.
C) Evolution vs Revolution:
Do we need to evolve quicker or do we need to stage a revolution sooner?
“Yes – AND – we don’t know”.
There are many in the New Story Movement who believe the old order has to dissolve into chaos before a more equitable, sustaining order can emerge – who hold that the world has to descend into its own version of post-Glasnost’ Russia, before the real seeds of the New Story can take root. The revolutionaries ‘know’ that those in power will not give up without a bitter and prolonged struggle and welcome any destabilising intervention, no matter what chaos it leads to, as long as it deeply disturbs those in power. Are they right? We don’t know.
And there are many others in the New Story Movement who hold fiercely to the notion of ‘pressured evolution’ – that when a critical mass see and feel that they have no option but to engage with radical change (in themselves, their lifestyles and their world views) that it will happen. That if the ground is prepared enough, and the collective field ‘morphed’ enough that the necessary ‘quickening’ can accelerate in ways and means that defy precedent. These folks ‘know’ that the move from competition to collaboration has already survived being the joke and the threat and is on the verge of becoming the obvious. Are they right? We don’t know.
D) An honest slogan for New Story politics – and secret world governments wherever they may be!
The normal and perhaps old storied way to have influence over other individuals and groups is ‘to know’. Most (quasi) democratically elected governments sell themselves to the public by ‘knowing’. “Trust us; we know how to fix the economy/ the debt/ the tax system / poverty / unemployment” etc. And at the present time we are seeing all around us these same governments floundering in a turbulent sea of unfinished initiatives, where every attempt to fix something (with what they ‘know’) fails, or creates equal or worse problems elsewhere in the system.
Maybe what is needed now is a rising up, not of those who think they ‘know’ but rather those wise enough to know they don’t know – but who are committed to finding the right people to help them with the unknowns. Now that might be closer to a government of the people, for the people and BY the people. What kind of government would get the trust of all those who currently give their discretionary time to charities and worthy causes? The human will to help and make a difference is there – alongside the deep distrust of elected politicians who lie every election when they tell us a) they know and b) they know more than their opponents. At first glance “We don’t know” doesn’t look or sound a very sexy slogan – not a patch on “Yes we can!” – and yet, it may be more radically honest than anything else that could be said about where we are as a global community right now. Anyone up for starting a “We don’t know” secret world government graffiti / poster campaign?
“What do we know?” – “We don’t know!” – “When don’t we know it?” – “Now!”
So this is another round of harvesting New Story Summit ripples. It is fascinating to hear what others are thinking, feeling and doing and great to hear of some follow up events already planned.
I am helping with the New Story book project and will be convening a New Story deep dive; ‘Questing 21st Century Leadership’ – a 6 day inquiry with Andrew White, Lesley Quilty and others, May 3-8 2015. We will be inviting leaders and those at the creative edge of leadership development to come and dream/play with us. If you feel called please do let us know on [email protected] and we will send you the details soon…
With love and respect,