Group Reflections on the Work and Teachings of Nora Bateson: a Collective Narrative
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
Produced by Tatiana Vekovishcheva
On Wednesday, June 23, 2021 a group of participants from Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Kenya, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States gathered for the eleventh virtual peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Nora Bateson.
ABOUT NORA BATESON (full bio)
Nora is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and educator, as well as President of the International Bateson Institute. Her work asks the question “How we can improve our perception of the complexity we live within, so we may improve our interaction with the world?”. In the context of this work, she has developed the Warm Data Lab and People Need People processes. Among her many activities, Nora advised on the design of the Evolutionary Future Challenge 2018.
PROCESS & CONTRIBUTORS
Nora was among 11 guest teachers confirmed based on the preferences and financial contributions of 40 registered participants of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program. Participants had one week to study Nora's materials on their own before gathering for a peer learning session. The peer learning session provided an opportunity to share individual reflections, identify emerging patterns, and craft a collective message to Nora to help her prepare for a live session with the group. Here is the recording of the live session based on this narrative:
Participants’ reflections were recorded and used to produce a collective narrative according to the Collective Narrative Methodology. Anastasia Laukkanen, Ann Badillo, Christiana Gardikioti, Flora Moon, Frank Noz, Gabrielle Cook Jonker, Johan L Botha, Joshua Baker, Julius Khamati Kuya, Ken Homer, Kennan Salinero, Klaus Mager, Maria Talero, Michael Sillion, Natalia Harzu, Naveen Vasudevan, Rafael Calcada, Ray Guyot, Robert Fishkin, Robert Lindstrom, Solomon Felous, Tarek Soliman, Tatiana Vekovishcheva, and Zen Benefiel participated in the session and contributed to this narrative.
Finding More Ways to Learn about Warm Data Lab & PNP We talked a lot about ‘warm data’ that seems to be a concept from Nora's work that resonates with a lot of people. We discussed how it is a possibility of holding space for everything that could be said in a situation. We also talked about how important it is to be present with the other person and how it helps us work with ‘warm data’.
Many of us who only had a chance to learn from Nora’s videos and blog posts asked for some more help, more education or information, ways to learn more about Nora's facilitation techniques like the Warm Data Lab and the People Need People process and how to work with these techniques.
There was also some curiosity around how we can make ‘soft data’, as some of us called it, more accessible in our everyday life in a more comprehensive way. How do we translate this theory to the children of today? How do we hold space for all the ‘warm data’ that needs to emerge? How do we enable ourselves as individuals and groups to see the non-local connections and interdependencies that shape systems? What does trans-contextual awareness look like? How do we evolve from a 2D to a 3D awareness and understanding of contextual dynamics? How do we collectively see anew?
Systems Change is Not about Fixing the System
Some of us came to the conclusion that Nora is more of a poet and she does not have a mechanical view of the system. A defining sentence that at least a couple of us took out of one of her texts is that systems change is not about fixing the system. It is about sensemaking as a central theme of her entire philosophy. The fixing will happen by happenchance, not direct correctives. So we do not mechanically tell people what to do but we help them understand the interdependencies of the world around them. That also aligns with Yuval Harari who argues that what separates our species from all others is that we can collaborate in very large numbers.
Using Creativity, Listening, and Giving Space to Create New Narratives
Some of us also brought up Otto Scharmer who argues that we need to turn the lens around and help the system see itself which is also saying the same thing just in different words. So—using Donella Meadows' model of systems thinking, finding leverage points in a system—what do people need to know to make decisions in their respective fields of expertise and influence that are regenerative? Donella Meadows is looking at the system—meaning us, our society, our civilization, the human community—like an inverted pyramid, starting with a narrative, a story that has to permeate throughout the course of the economy, the society, the civilization.
Some of us suggested that the glue that binds us together and enables things to happen is in stories: we are communicating with stories like stories are software. So we talked about a mythos or storytelling in a new field that unifies many disciplines and life scenarios as well as arts and the fact that arts have become the medium of communication both in science and business. It is almost a license to creativity and listening and giving space to others in order for the expression of our hearts to be facilitated and coupled with our business world. We also need to understand new things like soil and water and new stories of interconnection between the narratives of the new world. A leaf is not a leaf, it could be everything—as it is very many times pointed out in Nora’s work—and we need to keep that in mind when we do our everyday work.
Looking for a Unifying Story that Would Guide Us towards Sustainability and Regeneration
Some of us feel that there is an emerging mythos, a new world order that includes nature, emotions, and profits, but we also discussed that there is a conflict between technology and nature which made some of us wonder what would be a good way to connect technology and nature or even to negate this conflict. So for some of us the question is how do we account for many different worldviews that we need to somehow bring together under the umbrella of one unifying common story and how do we create context that is life-stage appropriate and guides our behavior towards regenerative and sustainable?
As an example, what do we need to know to guide our day to day actions dealing with soil and water in the same way that we understand energy, which has been explained to the public for several decades already and is well understood? Everyone understands that we should turn down our thermostats, we should drive energy-efficient cars, put insulation in our houses, etc. Energy has been disseminated for decades already and very successfully so, it is an innate fixture in the way we think about it, but that is only a small part of the story.
How do we extend such stories that need to be commonly held to guide our behavior, considering also that our culture is gadgetry in nature and rewards very material personal well-being over the well-being of society?
Including ‘Softer Voices’ and Engaging with ‘Villains’
So how do we create space for everyone to participate, speak up evolve, and have a common story to evolve and to emerge? How do we bring ‘softer voices’, voices that are rarely heard, and voices that we do not really have time and possibility to hear? How do we hear them? How do we... some of us said ‘empower them’ but then we had a conversation about the idea that we do not empower those voices, we try to hear them. People empower themselves which is their personal choice, but if these people are not heard at all, they cannot be empowered.
Besides talking about how we bring ‘softer voices’ to the surface and hear them, some of us also wondered if there is a place for people who are, as Nora says, rejected or vilified. Can we find the best scenario for collaboration with such groups? There were a lot of strong feelings around this topic.
Processing Strong Emotions Evoked by Nora’s Work and Recognizing the Gifts of Her Space
It was incredible to hear the different emotions that Nora and her work evoke in people from a lot of inspiration to strong emotions or even resistance that certain people experience when they listen to Nora's talks and learn about Nora's work. We also discussed how we need to get into this new way of thinking that Nora offers and how it can be difficult to get in, but very fulfilling once we get that, and the space that Nora holds and offers to us is very beneficial.
We talked about how Nora creates and holds space. In her work, in her videos, in her courses, she holds an important space for all of us where we are welcome to dig in, and that space is for something that does not have a name yet. For some of us Nora helped express many things that we lived through but we did not really understand how to put it in words. We discussed that Nora helped a lot of people do that as well as navigate and survive in chaos which for some of us was incredible to hear.
Transcending the Limitations of Language
Some of us found throughout the groups that Nora’s work is refreshing because it almost gives us a ticket to express ourselves and go to unknowns, things we did not know before. This is the magic that many of us experienced: she is trying to create a void, an empty space so that collective space that we are all holding, that ‘warm data’, that interconnectedness comes into being and creates that new thing, a new collaboration language, and many of us are very grateful for that.
In the context of ‘warm data’, we also talked about complexity and how it is the ‘old new way’ of working with things that more and more people start to talk about. It is a very difficult subject matter if we are making sense of it in a linear way, so we reflected on the idea that words are also linear and that they are linked strongly to meaning. This made some of us wonder how we can make sense of complexity in ways other than with words. How do we make sense of systems and their complexity sans the imposition of spoken and written language? How can we overcome the linear nature of words that some of us experienced? As people, we identify with the story, so how do we move beyond this identity?
Playing with Nora and Asking More Questions
A significant part of our collective message to Nora comes in the form of questions. Some of us shared questions because they somehow came from people’s personal experiences with Nora and her work. Also, some of us particularly know that the meta patterns come from great questions and in the Warm Data Training and the People Need People Training questions are what we start with.
So who do we need to become to secure or shape our future? What color or colors is Nora’s context or contexts? And why? How does the color come about? What do we need to learn? What is the ecology of spices? What is the fish sauce? How does the fish sauce bring all the ingredients and flavors together? How do we apply the sauce to different contexts and cultures?
It seems that Nora stimulated creativity and we are playing with her a bit. She loves to play so there she has it.