Crisis, Chaos and an Unexpected Gratitude

For the first time in the 4 years that we have been working on the ground with citizens in Greece, I heard Greeks saying that they are grateful for the collapse of their systems. No, not in a lighthearted way, not an the easy “This is all good.” Rather, they are saying it through the pain and despair of feeling the life they knew fall away and something opening on the other side of that despair.

In the Art of Participatory Leadership we offered this April (2015) in Athens, we heard participants speak of the anger and shame of encountering bureaucrats who do not take pride in being a civil servant – but who rely on old responses that have nothing to do with the collective reality or with supporting those who are wanting to change things. We heard of the potency of loss – the loss of identity, material life, money, hope –  and the necessity of re-inventing oneself. We heard of the gratitude for seeing new perspectives and world views that offer connection with each other and with a future that has a different blueprint than consumerism.

We heard this: If there had been no crisis, we would not have met this way, could not have known this kind of quality of being together was possible.”

Since 2011, through the SIZ-Hellas, we have been witnessing and living the incredible stories of people on the ground in Greece, in their communities, across this country and beyond this country. People who are birthing new systems, ones that return us to the meaning of democracy, where citizens self-organize around what is needed and what we dream is possible in service to the Commons.

These stories, this courage, these actions of ordinary citizens who are creating the future now, are the threads of a new narrative that is emerging from places where the current systems are collapsing or deteriorating.

We speak a lot about the Chaordic in this work of Participatory Leadership: the chaordic that is born from creating the minimal optimal structure that allows just enough chaos to meet just enough order to find its route towards emergence. But the reality in places of collapse and crisis is that chaos is dominant.. So sitting with and in our internal and external chaos is an essential human capacity that needs attention.

The thickening threads of the narrative that make the new stories possible are around HOW we create the conditions to meet in our collective chaos, to BE in our personal chaos, and let the new patterns within that chaos unfold to show us a way, rather than trying to avoid the angst and fear of this state of being.

What I have been learning by working and living in Greece, and in Israel and Palestine, and being in the many places in our translocal network where the precariousness of life, the unpredictability of responses, and the shaking of the old and new which is not comfortable but filled with human emotion, historical tendons, unspoken inter-generational traumas, and the dance of paradoxes that are hard to reconcile – what I have learned is that

  • Coming together to be in conversation about what matters most to us is a seriously political act, one that can often be a great risk to one’s personal safety or create the risk of being excommunicated from one’s “tribe”;
  • Listening in to what we don’t yet know or see is an act of faith and also a skill, and this quality of listening is the most important skill to cultivate in oneself and collectively;
  • Witnessing each other in the honesty of our expression – whatever that expression may be – is healing beyond all measure; and that
  • Navigating chaos together by doing these simple, yet very difficult, things IS itself the work.

I say it is the work because once we have done this, once we have been in the hardest stuff together and learned from it and allowed it to touch us, there is a clarity and depth that is a new landscape. A new landscape of relationship and trust and shared wisdom. This becomes the ground, the new soil, for what we can plant.

To meet chaos, to be transformed by what we did not know or see before, to let these discoveries become part of us, and to let go of the old identities is a form of initiation. We are learning how to be in the chaos of our dying systems and create chaordic spaces for the emergence of the new, and importantly, we are learning how to be in this together. This is one of the many ways that courage is bred, and when we find our courage, live from our depths, trust our relationships, feel our gratitude for the hard things that have happened, then our actions … well, they are really something.

~Vanessa Reid, May 2015

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AoPL Athens 2-15 Exploring the Chaordic. Graphic recording by Nikos Rovaris of Process Makers @ the Art of Participatory Leadership, Athens (April 2015).

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