Crisis, Chaos and an Unexpected Gratitude

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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Building the New Networks and Leadership ~ introducing the SIZ

Building the New Networks and Leadership ~ introducing the SIZ

“Hi! My name is Odysseas. I’m a young Greek citizen. I am 27 years old.

Me and my friends – I say friends because I can cooperate from my heart with them (from the person that I am I mean) – we made and created the Systemic Innovation Zone. Systemic because we want to have real systemic change, not to create something that in 20 years will collapse; Innovation because we need social innovation technology in order to step forward and make a new beginning; and Zone I would say in a mental way, rather than a specific area.

Here in Greece we train people in Participatory Leadership and also help them create projects in social innovation. Why not transfer our experience and learning to the rest of Europe and to the world? In Greece, actually, the system hopefully will collapse. I say hopefully because I need something new – everyone I think needs something new in Greece and in Europe, and we have to take action by all the people coming together to create the new system that we want to live from, to take decisions about our lives.

The people in Systemic Innovation Zone, I think, have the experience to help people to learn how to use participation. Actually, Greece is a country where the West and the East come together, which means the collective and the individual comes together. We need to bring back the old patterns that Greeks had, which is to help each other. Greece’s economy has collapsed many times but has survived many wars as well, and what helped the Greeks to survive was to help each other – and this is something that needs participation.

 

With SIZ we have the Art of Hosting in Participatory Leadership. I think it is very important. We don’t need experts and technocrats any more. We need leaders that we don’t actually know, and their work will create the space for people to come together and share ideas; we need to collect intentions, in other words.

So, in that way, I think our training in the different roles will be a new beginning here. And also for me, as I will participate. I really want to learn to train people in participatory leadership for two reasons: Mainly because in Greece we need to share this fire, to make the fire spread, and we need people to get used to participation in a real way. And secondly in order to create a sustainable way of living, not only for me and our project, but so that we can train people in other countries and share with them our experiences from Greece and the rest of Europe.

In that way this 3-day course will be very important. We want to help other Greeks to come and participate in the Art of Hosting. For the majority of them it is very difficult, so anyone that can support is inspiring, let’s say, and we will understand that we are not doing our work alone; and even if you are not here, your soul is here anyway.

We are happy to share our experiences in Greece. In this place, really, many things happen. The television doesn’t show that: social innovation with complementary influences; citizens taking care of their city. And we want to bring these new ideas to the surface.”

*thank you to Megan Williams for transcribing, and Dylan Reid for editing*

Akademia Platonos – Plato’s Academy is Pioneering Once Again

Akademia Platonos – Plato’s Academy is Pioneering Once Again

A self-organised movement of citizens is currently evolving around this special place: the actual archaeological park of Plato’s Academy, the Philosophy School founded and led by Plato.

Citizens have set up a collaborative cafe called Akademia Platonos just opposite of the archeological site, which has become a lively community of change makers and young people involved in various urban projects related to transition, skill-sharing and creating a new way of life.

The first time the SIZ was invited to work in the Collaborative Cafe was in March 2012 when we hosted a gathering which brought together those who want to explore the question

“How can we co-create new ways of organising, relating to each other, working and collaborating, connecting and networking?”

Forty people joined us for a participatory dialogue process using a World Cafe approach which invites us into a series of conversations to see what is present in and emerges from the richness and diversity of voices in the room. Together we discovered the many new initiatives gaining more and more ground in Athens, projects ranging from urban vegetable gardens, to co-work spaces and alternative economy initiatives and networks.

Recently the citizens have self-organised around an issue that emerged about the identity of the neighbourhood, which was sparked out of the announce of a plan to turn the nearby property into a mall. Local citizens and people from all over Athens organised a two-day festival to raise awareness for the matter, connect people and ideas, see a citizens-owned vision for the area and empower the grassroots action, projects and initiatives that are being prototyped in this specific area.

SIZ-Hellas was invited to host and offer a participatory process in the context of the unfolding initiative around the “Plato’s Academy neighbourhood in transition” on the first day of the Festival. In partnership with the Collaborative Café, we offered an outdoor participatory session in the park. We sat on the grass under the shade of olive trees inspired by the same ancient marble that Plato and his students used to see and touch 2,500 years ago.

Working with the question: “What do we see and/or want to see happening in our neighbourhood?” we created a participatory mindmap which was then followed by Open Space Technology which gives those who.  We self-organized into conversation groups all over the park creating a buzz of creative energy resulting in very concrete and tangible ideas and actions.

The momentum of the people’s guardianship and ownership of the Akademia Platonos area is remarkable. The plethora of initiatives already happening there range from collaborative economy projects to free Greek lessons for immigrants and web-radio. We are happy to be closely connected to the social innovation and systemic change springing from this extraordinary place ~ Philo-Sophia…

Text by Maria Bakari, photo by Vanessa Reid