We are experiencing a time of profound and rapid change in so many areas, including environmental, technological, and political, as well as in health care. During these times of rapid change, the present can feel unstable and the future precarious. A larger perspective helps provide context, as well as hope.
With this in mind, I wanted to share some “food for thought” that I found inspiring this week from On Being, which is one of my favorite sources for inspirational perspective. The On Being e-letter (“The Pause”) shared some thought-provoking quotes from a recent show in which peacemaker John Paul Lederach suggests a brief exercise recommended by his mentor Elise Boulding to help us experience our personal role in change. Quoting Elise Boulding, Lederach encourages us to remember that “You are held and touched, and you will touch the lives, of people that cover a 200-year present.” Or as On Being columnist Parker Palmer puts it: “We – young and old together – hold the future in our hands. If our common life is to have any chance of becoming more just and more loving, it will take an intergenerational effort.”
More inspirational perspective was provided by another On Being blog from the Civil Conversations Project. In this blog, Clare Mulvany (@onewildlife) muses on the outcome of the recent referendum vote in Ireland. She emphasizes the importance of real listening “to the ‘no’ side, to the ’yes’ side, to the undecided,” as well as to her own fear. She said, “Rather than try to impose any view or opinion, what felt more important was to give people space to reflect, tell their story, and be heard in a safe and open way.” Mulvany added: “Sometimes it’s easier just to make assumptions about others rather than listen; for then we don’t have to step outside our comfort zone … When we challenge our assumptions of others, we have to challenge our assumptions of ourselves … Assumptions are like blinkers, blinding what we want to be seen, or emerge, or be created.”
Mulvany talks about her appreciation of margins, not as separation points, but rather as places where new ideas or people are bringing things into form that provide “valuable insights for our collective future.” She encourages us to think differently about margins (edges … perimeters … boundaries … borders … thresholds …). Rather than marking the boundary between “one state of being [and] another, an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ an inside and an outside … “, Mulvany asks us to take a more biological perspective by remembering that: “The cell wall is not a fixed state, but a frontier, or a passage, between one state of being and another … No cell wall is fixed. Whiz deeper, and we get to the sub-atomic level … where we realize that we are all just bundles of bouncing energy and space, with plenty of room to maneuver. Nothing, not even something that appears solid, is in a fixed or permanent state – not even ourselves.” Mulvany reminds us that “Ideas are not fixed. We are not solid. Minds can change. Hearts can too.”
And speaking of changing perspectives and a growing appreciation for inter-connectivity, I listened recently to an inspiring PBS program about the collaborative relationships between trees and fungi. Referred to playfully as the “wood wide web” it turns out that while we think of each tree in the forest as separate, all are actually connected by fungi in a collaborative arrangement where each helps nourish the other. Without this collaboration neither could survive, much like the collaboration between humans and their gut microbiome and between plants and the soil microbiome.
So, amidst all we hear recently about borders, border security, and “America First” … it’s helpful to reflect on the consistency of change, the fluidity of biological systems, and that we are all part of an interconnected web of existence – each with a role in creating the future.