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On the Sharing of Meaning

On the Sharing of Meaning

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Published by Michelle Smith
A note about rhizomes, Deleuze and Guattari, Antony Gormley, Tim Ingold and Otto Scharmer - and Triarchy, of course.
A note about rhizomes, Deleuze and Guattari, Antony Gormley, Tim Ingold and Otto Scharmer - and Triarchy, of course.

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Published by: Michelle Smith on Jun 02, 2011
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06/02/2011

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On the sharing of meaning
For some, the web is the definingmetaphor or image of our times. Forothers it may be that first picture of ourearth taken from a spaceship – an imagethat is everywhere recognisable andrecognised in the First World and yetwhich would have been without meaning50 years ago. (Interestingly, it’s also onethat seems to distance us alarmingly, asobservers, from our own planet. Itreminds me of the Cartesian I/Eye/Mindlooking down loftily on the detached andrather meaningless It/Body. It remindsme of the female form held by the malegaze. A sort of softgaiaporn.)At Triarchy, the defining image is veryoften the rhizome. (Here, on the left, isAntony Gormley’s
Rhizome III
.) Why?Let’s start with Deleuze and Guattari: “A rhizome has no beginning or end; itis always in the middle, between things, interbeing,
intermezzo
. The tree isfiliation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance.”
1
 There. We’re moving away from the tree, from the vertical order, fromhierarchy. (Our very first book
2
was an assault on the hegemony of hierarchyand an insistent demand that we look more widely and consider more‘heterarchical’ alternatives.) And we’re moving towards complexity andinterconnectedness. “Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of pointsand positions, the rhizome is made only of lines.”
3
 So it has enormousflexibility. It also has more of the quality of a pattern about it than the qualityof a structure. It’s a bit fractal in its possibilities.Patterns seem like good models for the sort of flexible, interrelated,adaptable, responsive organisation or institution that the world needs now toreplace the organisations and institutions that have failed it politically,environmentally, economically and socially.
 A pattern comes about when things which have some degrees of freedomare related to each other such that for a while their behaviour is co-ordinated:drops of moisture in a cloud, living organisms in an eco-system, couples in adance, children in a family, citizens in a nation, and so on. Life is lived amongst many such patterns which relate one life to others and to their surroundings.
4
1
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, 
,2004, Continuum
2
Gerard Fairtlough,
, 2007, Triarchy Press
3
Deleuze and Guattari, op. cit.
4
Bill Sharpe,
Economies of life: patterns of health and wealth,
2010, Triarchy Press
 
Here we touch on families and other sociosystems – living patterns of peoplethat make up and shape our world. And it seems to us that huge demands aremade of these sociosystems, whilst little in the way of real resources are fedback into them. Perhaps we’re in danger of depleting our sociosystems inmuch the same way as we are depleting our fields and soil and seas andfailing to replenish them?What does that depletion of families and other sociosystems mean inpractice? Well, to continue the environmental metaphor, it’s as if we expect tocarry on ‘using’ them and expect them to carry on working without our doinganything. Take the family. The family is the embodiment of the notion of ancestors. The young learn from the old and the old from the young. Theyoung keep challenging and the old keep reminding. It’s an exquisite balance.Don Michael talks about learning from the old:
Even given time and candid acknowledgements, it will be long before most humans experience the generative circumstances – the disasters,accomplishments and consequences – and learn from them that which might moderate behaviour into the compassionate ways needed to live humanely,according to a systems ethic… in an increasingly complex world. [So that] wemight interpret our experiences in such ways as to engender values and a psychology that sustains a society of explorers-learners.” 
5
Of course, he isn’t talking about families. He’s saying it takes a long time forany individual to acquire the experience that will enable her to be wise. And aremedy for that, surely, is to draw on the experience and wisdom of otherswho have gone before or gone elsewhere. It’s how we propagate knowledgeand wisdom. And we need to do it in all our communities: in families andschools and villages and streets and cities and organisations and socialnetworks and countries…And yet, though we develop more and more remarkable communicationtechnologies, they often serve to prevent us communicating. The teenagermay be able to remain in almost constant contact with his friend in anothercity via the computer and mobile phone, yet the always tenuouscommunication that he used to have with his grandmother will be made muchharder by his absorption in a computer screen and hers in a television screen.And so the wisdom of generations is spilt and runs away between the flagstones we hardly walk on any more.Writing of Virginia Woolf, Sarah Bakewell says that she
"…had a beautifulvision of generations interlinked in this way: of how 'minds are threaded together – how any live mind is of the very same stuff as Plato's & Euripides…it is this common mind that binds the whole world together and all the world is mind 
'."
6
5
Don Michael , 
, 2010, Triarchy Press
6
Sarah Bakewell, 
,2010, Chatto & Windus
 
We might contest the ideathat all the world is
mind 
,but it’s hard to argue aboutthe connectedness. Let’stake another example. In“Of string bags and birds’nests”, anthropologist TimIngold compares theobservations of puzzledscientists as they record thebehaviour of weaverbirdsmaking their nests and thebehaviour of the Telefolpeople when weaving stringbags. The birds, it appearsto the scientists, have to usesomething that they canonly describe as‘judgement’. As to thehuman bag weavers, Ingold concludes that their weaving skills are neitherinnate nor acquired. They are “grown”, incorporated into the human organismthrough practice and training in an environment. In short the nature vsnurture, genes vs culture debate falls away. Weaving becomes an ecologicalskill that emerges through practice and repetition in a specific environment.In this case, all the world is not so much mind as action. We are what weweave.So where is this leading? What might we do to facilitate communicationbetween generations, between and within organisations, across culturaldivides? How might we extend the knowledge management principles thatbusiness has pursued for two decades into ‘wisdom management’?Chap has a suggestion: “Art is the currency of experience, putting our uniqueindividual experiences into motion amongst us as shared meaning.”
7
Thestarting point on the path to sharing wisdom is to share meaning. Sharingmeaning leads to shared understanding and thence to empathy. And empathyis the corner stone of love. Coming more from empathy and love than frompower, we learn how not to eat our young and kill our fellows. We learn how tonurture and nourish and how to put away our weapons and oursociopathologies and psychopathologies.Otto Scharmer, a student and now colleague of Peter Senge, proposes thepractice of Theory U
8
in learning to share wisdom and share meaning. TheoryU’s first two steps are as follows:
1. CO-INITIATING: Build Common Intent -
stop and listen to others and towhat life calls you to do.
2. CO-SENSING: Observe, Observe, Observe -
go to the places of mostpotential and listen with your mind and heart wide open.Finally, Don Michael proposes the age-old practice of story-telling to facilitatethe sharing of meaning:
7
Bill Sharpe, op. cit.
8
C. Otto Scharmer, 
,2007

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