Since my last post, things in the US have only gotten worse. Militias in Michigan, COVID in the Whitehouse, wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the South, and dark money in the courts. In spite of all these patterns of destruction, I am beginning to see a different and more constructive path for myself and my community. I have acknowledged the turbulent patterns I cannot change. Now I can search for more useful patterns that are mine to influence. This journey from painful realization to dawning opportunity has not been easy, and it is far from complete. At this turn in the road, though, I want to share some of my emerging insights about our shared, emergent future.

The HSD Vision, which we developed in 2019, seems custom-made for these times:

People everywhere thrive because we
see patterns clearly,
seek to understand, and
act with courage to
transform turbulence and uncertainty
into possibility for all.

Even as I give up hope for democratic institutions in the USA, I am challenged to see, understand, and influence patterns today to create a tomorrow in which we—all of us—may thrive. Through Adaptive Action, WHAT? always leads to SO WHAT? So, the dark and hopeless WHAT? of dissolution of US institutions leads to a SO WHAT? of something different.

The SO WHAT? stage of Adaptive Action is a time of inquiry and exploration. Given the world as we know it, what is possible? We have many HSD models and methods that help us see patterns in complexity. I’ve drawn on all of them in the past weeks, as I’ve searched for useful patterns in the turbulent present. The one that has held most light and generated most heat are the HSD Simple Rules.

I will not take time here to explain the theory and practice of Simple Rules, you can find more on our website, if you are interested. Instead, I want to share my reflections with you and invite you to share the transformation of thought, emotion, and action I’ve experienced in this journey.

The HSD Community has six Simple Rules. They are designed to guide each of us and all of us to co-create patterns of learning and growth for ourselves, our communities, and our clients. Each rule shines some light on a pathway toward a productive future in an authoritarian state.

Stand in inquiry. This rule invites us to find and ask generative questions. Some of you challenged my last post on this account, asking where the curiosity lay in my dire observations about the future of democracy in our nation. My comments emerged from four years of curiosity and hope for the rule of law and the promise of justice. As I strive to see current patterns clearly, I must acknowledge the dark as well as the light. The patterns I shared in my last post were the result of that inquiry. Such a stark description of what is, opened a door for me to consider SO WHAT? might be. 

It is important to note that this rule does not deny the importance of judgment. It does not open the door to mindless relativism, but it asks us to connect with curiosity. If we are to transform patterns, we must see them clearly as we interrogate them with generative questions. This rule has led me to a variety of questions that are still in process. I invite you to reflect on them, as well, and to add your own:

  • So what patterns of civic life are open to my influence, even in these times?
  • So what destructive patterns of the past are being disrupted in this moment? What might replace them?
  • So what are my own assumptions about the history and hopes for the future of this nation and its collective ethos?

Find the energy in difference. Many who work in civic engagement and organization development rely on finding “common ground.” While HSD applauds that effort, we also realize that it is not always possible, and even when possible, it isn’t always wise. When common ground is inauthentic, imposed, or unsustainable, it can set conditions for even greater conflict in future. Instead, we believe that the potential energy for change is locked in the differences that exist in human systems. When we focus on useful differences and approach them with care, we can harvest that energy and convert it into meaningful transformation. This rule has guided me into a range of questions:

  • So what differences make a difference among those who hold an opposing view of the future? What differences can I ignore because they are not important in this moment?
  • So what real difference will it make to my life and work, as the nation slides further into authoritarianism?
  • So what should I focus on, in the multiplicity of patterns that I believe threaten a future of justice and equity?

Zoom in and zoom out. We know that complex adaptive systems function at many different scales at the same time. Examples from social systems abound, but a biological one is easy to see. Cells form tissue, tissues form organs, organs form systems, systems support (or endanger) health of an organism. Patterns are different at each level, but they inform and influence each other. In healthy complex systems, we also see patterns that transcend levels to give coherence across the whole. When we zoom in and zoom out, we engage with the part, the whole, and the greater whole. We look for patterns at each scale and consider how those patterns interact across scales. This rule has led me to a variety of SO WHAT? questions:

  • So what can global patterns of culture and commitment tell us about what is possible?
  • So what is the pattern of national aspiration if it isn’t justice and equity for all?
  • So what institutions are continuing to exhibit the patterns that I wish for the whole?

Search for what’s true and useful.  This is the rule that pulled me back from the precipice, when I realized how far the US has moved from the rule of law. Yes, I believe the patterns of impending authoritarianism and fascism are true. I should stay aware of them and counter them when I can, but what is useful for me and my friends? It is useful to repeat the shock and awe of the news cycle? Is it useful to seethe and spit? Those reactions may release tension and build bonds among the like-minded, but surely something else is more useful.

  • So what can I do to make a difference in the here and now?
  • So what is most important to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for me and my community?
  • So what resources can I access to make a real difference in the future?

Connect with stories and impacts. I continue to be convinced that the cultural narrative of power and self-interest has shaped the patterns we see playing out today. One of our most potent weapons will be a story of our own. My voice may be weak in the torrent of talk radio and conspiracy theory, but I can speak. I have stories of courage and creativity in the face of ugly violence and hatred. I see the impact of a cohesive community in the face of those who foment civil war. I engage with the questions:

  • So what is the narrative I want to share?
  • So what information pathways are most available and influential?
  • So what impact can I have on the lives and livelihoods of my family, friends, and neighbors?

Celebrate life! The fear and pain I feel are only shadows of the experiences of others. Every breath brings a new possibility for loving and learning. So what can I celebrate in this moment?

These questions will not restore what I thought we had as a nation. They won’t stop climate change or turn the tide of an election. They do not constitute action, but they will inform choices and actions in the future. They are the spirit of “nothing is intractable.” They give me guidance as I continue Adaptive Action in these turbulent and uncertain times. Ultimately, such questions can help me thrive in a failed, authoritarian state. I hope they do, and I hope you find them useful, too.
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