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  • Fyodor Ovchinnikov

TLST '22 Opening Session: A Collective Narrative

Updated: Feb 20

Produced by Fyodor Ovchinnikov


On Wednesday, February 16, 2022, a group of 50+ participants from Morocco, Kenya, Uganda, Indonesia, Chile, Brazil, Russia, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK, the USA, and Canada gathered for the Opening Session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their intentions and guiding questions and to explore what they can do to navigate the program and reach the highest potential for their collective learning.


Participants’ reflections were recorded and processed according to the Collective Narrative Methodology to create a balanced summary of key ideas that showed up in group discussions using participants' own words and giving every participant an opportunity to ensure that their ideas are included. This narrative can now be used by participants to help design individual learning journeys as well as self-organize and initiate optional participant-led activities grounded in these collective reflections.


Aline Iglesias, Anton Titov, Bert-Ola Bergstrand, Bruce Honig, Cass Charrette, Christiana Gardikioti, Claudia Tramon, Cleofash Alinaitwe, Dounia Saeme, Drew Hornbein, Emmanuelle Vital, Evgeniya Aksenova, Frank Noz, Heather Nelson, John Kamau Ng'ang'a, Juan Sebastian Cardenas Salas, Julius Khamati Kuya, Jyo Maan, Laura Grassi, Les Moore, Levy Odera, Linda Grönlund, Liz Goold, Lynn Chittick, Maria Talero, Melissa Troutman, Michael Sillion, Micheline Levy, Natalia Harzu, Othman Benkiran, Palakiyém Konga, Perpetua Muthoni Ng'ang'a', Peter Stonefield, Prashant Amara, Rafael Calcada, Rahma Dualeh, Randy S'ad, Rashid Gilanpour, Ray Guyot, Robert Lindstrom, Sam Lutz, Sean Kvingedal, Simon Jones, Sofya Popova, Solomon Felous, Sophia Bazile, Swagata Sen, Tatiana Vekovishcheva, Timothy Macharia, Wacera Maina, and Zachary Omondi participated in the session and contributed to this collective narrative.


COLLECTIVE NARRATIVE


Developing New Stories while Staying Mindful, Curious, & Open


We discussed both how we can show up as individual participants and what we can do collectively with our time together. On the individual level, we talked about not only being ourselves but also becoming ourselves through self-realization, being better crew members for Spaceship Earth, singing new songs—not only those informed by past trauma—through developing new narratives, better and greater stories, as well as new languages as some things fall through the cracks of languages that are too specific to some areas of thought. Also, becoming goes along with unlearning, maintaining healthy questioning, listening, being mindful of the space we take, and reclaiming the right to learn by making mistakes.


We talked about leaving our baggage or agendas outside the door and coming to learn, to listen, to reflect, come curious and open to learning new things, including things we don't know we don't know. The topic of inquiry itself, of asking questions felt very important. We cannot evolve if we think we already know everything and probably nobody is here because they think they know everything: it is not about having the answers, but really about coming with questions and being in the spirit of asking them, specifically questions around conscious emergence and what it means for us to be self-reflective as a group.


Connecting the Dots and Seeing Transcontextually


In this group, there are a lot of requests for “connecting the dots”: tech people, thinkers, practitioners—all of us are interconnected through stocks of different experiences, areas of work, and so on. We talked a lot about the need to address complexity, difficulties, and dissonances using such words as “alignment”, “mapping”, and “frameworks”, but at least for some of us what tied it all together was coming back to all the multiple perspectives, all the different lenses—historical, cultural, personal—that we use. We summed up using what we heard from Nora Bateson in the TLST ‘21: the need to see transcontextually.


What we tend to do is to work in small areas that we can get a hold of, that we can understand. This makes us see patterns in a small way, but we really need to connect all of those areas to see bigger patterns in a larger context. So some of us brought up the emphasis on connections between the silos (Fractals) and the idea of holistically focusing on connections internally and externally.


Embracing Grace & Serendipity through the Courage to Sit with Uncertainty & Discomfort


Also, we talked about not only seeing and recognizing patterns but also about the unseen patterns that we have not recognized yet. We discussed that there are forces at work, things that are actually happening behind the scenes, that are just not entirely visible yet. With very different perspectives coming in, there was the notion that we could experience different lenses coming from different parts of the world. We discussed the beauty of that but also the challenge of understanding each other and our inquiry was around how we could make use of the opportunity while acknowledging this challenge, and then something very serendipitous happened.


There was one person who was only able to speak on the phone (which means there was no video or name on the screen), but someone else in the group noticed that they had the same area code and thus realized that they were both in the Detroit area. So when they finally got to talk, this serendipity was a release from the notion that we need to have all the answers.


We talked about sitting with the discomfort of not knowing while also staying optimistic, keeping that forward focus on potential, and trying to be OK with vulnerability—ultimately we talked about the courage to show up and share. There is a certain kind of serendipity and grace that happens just by having the courage to show up and just sit in what sometimes feels uncomfortable.


Working together on Somatic & Cultural Embodiment


We also discussed the intention to harvest and practice things that we learned and discovered together here. Some of us noted that while the World Café serves as a “filtering process”, there is the question of how we could go into deeper work.


Some of us felt that the group’s emphasis on internal systems was important as well and the question of how to even do that. There were also conversations about more embodiment because our bodies have suffered a lot of trauma, so we need more involvement and we need to bring the body to this experience. We talked about embodiment as a kind of embodied inquiry and about what that looks like for a group that is so diverse. Related or tangential to that and the need for self-reflection as a group is something that some of us consider important enough to pull out and name explicitly: the need for us to inquire and explore the culture we are embodying in these spaces.


Working on Specific Projects & Cases


On the collective level, we talked about working together on one particular project to dedicate time to co-creating something concrete and specific while also developing a structure to continue working together into the future after all this is over.


Some of us suggested that working on cases would be one of the best ways to do something practical, an instrument that can help us ground the whole educational process in practice. So we discussed the idea of a case lab where someone can share an exact request concerning their work, their project, their problem, and the group of learners, all of us, could share our thoughts and our feelings to help solve the case based on what we have learned here from different perspectives of both thinkers and practitioners. As some of us pointed out, our thematic circles could bring a global network to particular projects or places through actions that can be implemented in the near future.


At the same time, some of the people involved in these short-term activities might continue doing it, in the long run, forming glocal communities of goodwill and action and spreading their wisdom of unlimited networking potential around the world. There was the notion that communities of practice could emerge organically and that there is a desire and an opportunity for us to connect because of the richness of the group that is here.


Spreading the Word & Knowing that We Are Not Alone


Another vivid thought was that everyone wants to spread the word about what we are doing here and to level up the process of spreading the word to make it more effective. Some of us suggested that our current system is structured to not allow certain conversations to happen, so we need to engage in those conversations and hold on to the feeling that we are not alone: we are everywhere bringing about change and we are together.

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