Evolutionary Activism is about helping individuals, groups and societies become more creative, operating for the good of the whole, and emotionally resilient.

Evolutionary Activism is important, because if we are to pull out of our ecological nosedive, humanity as a species must mature and become more caring, loving and collaborative. The continuation of dog-eat-dog competition as a primary mode of operating will destroy us. This article is about how those of us who care might act on this perception.

A useful framework for thinking about operating for the good of the whole is futurist Riane Eisler’s contrast between partnership-respect relating and domination-control relating.

Partnership-respectrelating uses power to promote individual and community well-being, and the well-being of the natural world.

Domination-controlrelating uses power over others for personal and group aggrandizement, often with an element of cruelty.

The fate of the world depends upon partnership-respect relating setting the tone in international relationships – and in all relationships, including personal relationships, how we raise kids, government policy and the internal environments of businesses. This is because partnership-respect relating is a style of behaving that depends both on personal skill and cultural norms. It needs to become part of the DNA of how everything is done.

Thus, there are two paths to the future:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good news is that we have the means to enable people to become more emotionally clear, with enhanced creative and collaborative thinking skills. And hopefully, as people mature, they become more socially responsible. Indeed, perhaps this is the touchstone of maturity.

Approaches we will consider are:

  • Introducing people to skills to sort out their own unresolved emotional issues.
  • Cultivating creative thinking skills.
  • Enhancing partnership-respect relating skills.
  • Cultivating systems thinking skills.

This list can be extended, but this is a good start that we can act on.

Learning new skills is a development process. It takes time. The first step, always, is to get started. So here I [Andrew Gaines] introduce ways we can help people we know get started. They open doors that people can pursue in much more depth if they are so motivated.

NOTE: This article is fairly long. We start by introducing ways individuals can act as an ‘Evolutionary Activists’. We go on to discuss ways businesses, schools, public policy and international relations can embody ‘partnership-respect’ ways of operating.

Empowering people with basic skills

We take a ‘barefoot doctor’ approach. The term comes from the innovative way Chinese health authorities provided medical services to impoverished rural areas. They trained farmers to treat common illnesses with simple remedies. The level of sophistication was not high, but their work was very useful. They did not require extensive medical education.

We in the West can apply a barefoot doctor approach to enhancing the mental and emotional well-being of people around us. Here I introduce two levels: inner work developing creative thinking skills.

Inner work

There is a massive amount of child abuse, domestic violence, anxiety and depression. Many people are poorly equipped mentally or emotionally to deal with the great environmental and social challenges of our time.

‘Inner work’ is about identifying and resolving glitches in our mental and emotional functioning. In addition to professional support, there is a great deal that people can do on their own to resolve their emotional issues.

Evolutionary activists help people get started on the journey. They introduce people to skills of self-reflection, and teach self-help skills for resolving emotional issues.

We need masses of evolutionary activists. Where could they come from?

There are millions of people who have done some kind of ‘inner work’. Through meditation, practising mindfulness, counselling or psychotherapy they have become familiar with ‘going inside’. They know how to examine their own thoughts and feelings, and perhaps make changes. This experience qualifies them to help other people ‘go inside’. They have been there themselves: it is not unknown territory. Therefore, they can introduce people to basic skills.

The Witness

The place to start is by introducing people to the Witness, or Observer Self.

The Witness is the part of our psyche that can observe exactly what we do without judgement. It is right next door to the Critic, which sees the same thing, and sometimes gives us holy hell for it.

If we can observe our own reactions, we have the possibility of making changes for the better. This is why developing our capacity for introspection is so important.

If, for example, we often flare up in anger, perhaps we can discover the triggers and resolve them. Over time, this not only improves our relationships, it increases our capacity to be loving.

If we lack the capacity to observe and question our reactions, and instead simply take them for granted, they continue to run us.

Therefore it is valuable for Evolutionary Activists to introduce people to the concept of the Witness, and to teach techniques people can use for themselves to sort out their own unresolved emotional triggers.

In doing this, Evolutionary Activists are not acting as therapists. They are acting as trainers, enabling people to develop skills they can use to enhance their own well-being.

An exercise to introduce the concept of the Witness is here.

Do-it-yourself techniques for sorting out our emotional stuff are in:

·         The Witness: Gateway to self-development

Cultivating creative thinking skills

To a degree ordinary education – and authoritarian upbringing – either suppresses or fails to develop children’s capacity for creative thinking. Some people go past such limitations; many don’t. But cultural evolution in our Creative Conversationstime of our ecological emergency requires that many people become open to new ideas and ways of doing things. This is because the continuation of business-as-usual will destroy us.

How might we help people develop creative thinking skills? One approach is to use games and exercises that cultivate the skills. Useful games are in:

The games come from improvisational acting, from an adaptation of a marvellous problem-solving technique called Synectics®, and from observations of the way the minds of some great innovators work. There are based on a very simple principle: by playing the games you develop the skills.

Neurologically, what seems to be going on is that by playing the games we develop new patterns of coordination in the motor system of the brain. Because they are in the motor system, they serve as ‘templates of action’ that can be spontaneously applied in other situations.

Creating a thinking environment

Educator Nancy Klein and her colleagues discovered that children think best when they are being heard with exquisite attention. This applies to adults as well. Giving people relaxed, open unwavering attention seems to open up a channel for them to think at their best.

This is relevant to cultural evolution, because it gives people a direct experience of partnership-respect relating. This is especially important for young people who may never have encountered an adult who could relate to them in a clear and caring way. And of course, the thinking itself is valuable.

Creating a thinking environment is relevant to organisations. When a clear channel is opened up for being heard, and people know they will not be interrupted or immediately dismissed, the organisation makes better decisions because the quality of thinking improves.

Klein’s book is

  • Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind

Although Nancy Klein’s organisation offers trainings, Time to Think is written with such exquisite clarity that to some degree the ideas can be applied without training.

Workshops-on-the-fly

We are used to formal education and workshops. But there are opportunities in ordinary life – perhaps while having coffee, or over dinner – where one of these exercises could be introduced. You would tell the person about a game or exercise, and ask if they would be open to trying it. If yes – then you’re off and running. Often a new skill can be introduced within ten minutes.

Workshops and formal education require organising. There is an inherent expense in putting them on. But our games and exercises can be done impromptu. Hence the idea of ‘workshops-on-the-fly’.

By acting as an Evolutionary Activist in this way you are raising the level of thinking and emotional clarity in the people around you.

Our vision is of millions of people choosing to act as Evolutionary Activists. Cohorts of people who could do this include psychotherapy clients (they have done inner work, and can act as trainers), people who do improvisational acting (are groups in many cities, and they can act as creativity trainers), and Feldenkrais practitioners (they can offer workshops teaching systems thinking through the body). Collectively, we have massive resources for accelerating the evolution of consciousness that have not been utilised.

šššSystems thinking

In general, our educational system, including universities, conditions people to think in silos. Although there is a movement towards interdisciplinary thinking, traditionally educational institutions are organised according to separate disciplines. Therefore, although systems thinking is quite a natural thing to do, relatively few people are equipped to actually do it. We have been conditioned to see things in isolation, and besides, the languages we use – English and other Indo-European languages – imply a world of static nouns, not a world of interconnected processes.

Given this background, learning to do systems thinking is neurologically challenging. It requires us to use our brains in new ways. We are, literally, forming new synaptic connections.

Nevertheless, it is possible. The module on the Big Picture Drivers of Environmental Damage in Kitchen Table Conversationsenables people to connect the dots and indeed see the big picture drivers that make global warming and other environmental issues worse.

 

 

Teaching systems thinking through the body

It is also possible to teach systems thinking through the body. One approach is for people to do:

Image result for Awareness through movementIn pace, Awareness Through Movement lessons are a bit like yoga. You lie on the floor and are guided through movement explorations that enable you to discover how parts of your body are interconnected in movement. This improves your coordination, so you move with more grace and ease, and perhaps pain reduces or disappears.

Through these explorations you discover that everything in the body is interconnected. What happens with your hips effects your arm reaching, for example. You are learning systems thinking through the body.

Coming back to our idea of forming ‘templates of action’ in the motor system of the brain, by doing a series of Awareness Through Movement lessons you not only increase your capacity for self-observation (i.e., the Witness), you are developing a mode of perception where you tend to see things as interconnected.

In principle this makes you less prone to simplistic single factor explanations of complex phenomena. This is connected to our goal of transitioning to a life affirming culture, because it reduces the appeal of demagogues.

Importantly, it enhances people’s capacity to embrace the large-scale systemic changes necessary to pull us out of our ecological nosedive.

How might Feldenkrais practitioners use their specialised skills to contribute to cultural evolution?

My idea is that they might offer pro bono classes in their communities that combine a short series of Awareness Through Movement lessons with the Kitchen Table Conversations module on the Big Picture Drivers Of Environmental Destruction. This way people increase their capacity for systems thinking through a combination of body movement and cognitively connecting the dots. An additional exercise can be given where the select any issue of interest to them, and map out the major factors that affect it.

Such classes could be explicitly framed as a ‘contribution to cultural evolution to a life-affirming society’.

In any case, wherever you live you might enquire to see if perhaps there is a Feldenkrais practitioner near you. If so, I suggest that you do a series of Awareness Through Movement group lessons. Very likely you will find them pleasurable and interesting, and the way you coordinate your body will improve. You will have the experience of what it means to ‘improve function’. And you will have developed the basis for seeing the world in a more interconnected way.

šEnhancing partnership-respect relating skills in organisations

Cultural evolution involves changes in organisations. This is the next level of influence.

Partnership-respect relating is both an attitude – caring for the well-being of others – and a set of skills. These skills are especially important in organisations where people interact with each other regularly. They reduce conflict and yield better ideas.

Three important skills are:

  • The capacity to recognise when we are emotionally triggered, combined with skills to identify and resolve the triggers after we calm down.
  • The capacity to really get what others are saying without interrupting or immediately imposing our judgements.
  • The capacity to collaboratively develop the seeds of ideas into something useful.

Let’s go through them.

□ Dealing with emotional triggers

Activating our Witness enables us to notice ‘occasions of upset’ that appear in the ordinary flow of events at work. Noticing them is the first step to resolving them.

The next step is to resolve them. It is possible to defuse the triggers. The Witness: Gateway to Self-Development, mentioned above, introduces a number of do-it-yourself techniques.

One of the more powerful techniques is EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques, the ‘tapping’ technique). It is best to have training to get started. A free online training is here, and there is a global network of people who offer live trainings.

□ Really getting what people are saying

There are courses that enhance this skill. An exquisite approach, as mentioned before, is Nancy Klein’s Time to Think.

□ Collaboratively developing ideas

Here are two disciplines that help develop collaborative communication skills.

Improvisational acting

Improvisational acting scenes work when you accept what your partner offers and build on it. If you contradict what your partner says (which is called ‘blocking’) or try to impose your idea of how the scene should go, the scene falls apart. Through improvisational acting you develop the skills of ‘going with’ what your partner offers.

Improvisational acting also offers managers a safe space within which to explore relaxing their impulse to control, and allowing team self-organisation to emerge.

Synectics

The Practice of CreativitySynectics® is a structured group process for solving really tough problems. The facilitator guides the group through imaginative mental leaps that take the mind away problem as initially conceived. This allows the ‘creative unconscious’ to operate, and leads to fresh approaches to the problem.

The group then works collaboratively to develop one of the ideas into a practical solution. Through Synectics you develop the skill of building on each other’s ideas.

The classic manual of Synectics is George Prince’s:

  • The Practice of Creativity

Organisational change

Organisations are usually hierarchical. This is natural. But the hierarchy can operate either in a partnership-respect mode or a domination-control mode. Here are examples of partnership-respect relating in organisations.

Businesses

Ricardo Semler’s classic book Maverick describes how he changed his Brazilian pump manufacturingMaverick company from authoritarian command-and-control to a system that gave a great deal of autonomy and responsibility to workers. His company thrived in a very complex economic environment.

Isaac Getz’ article on Liberating Leadership describes a number of companies that do not operate on authoritarian command-and-control. Instead they simply expect their people to carry out their jobs responsibly, and give them the latitude to do so.

The extreme of command-and-control, of course, is bullying and exploitation. Insidiously, authoritarian command-and-control can induce behaviours that are damaging to society and the environment.

No new news here – it’s all about money. The connection with transitioning to a life affirming culture is evident. Embodying partnership-respect relating in the culture of an organisation also means that the organisation as a whole behaves ethically. There are things that individuals and organisations would refrain from doing simply because they are wrong.

In addition, the stress of toxic cultures has adverse effects on employee’s brains and emotions. Too much stress interferes with people’s neurological capacity to think well, and aggravates anger, domestic violence, child abuse, depression and alcoholism – all with huge social as well as personal consequences.

In addition, high levels of stress tend to make people more prone to follow demagogues. Conversely, as people resolve their emotional issues they become happier inside, and better able to think in terms of the good of the whole. In other words, cultivating emotional resilience through doing inner work – provided enough people do it – creates the psychological/emotional conditions for democracy to work effectively. This is why we have integrated this section on Evolutionary Activism into the Great Transition Initiative platform.

Schools

Judi Hirsch taught disadvantage kids in Oakland. She said that she liked teaching these disadvantage kids because the school system had given up on them. That meant that she could teach any way she wanted. Kids are a naturally curious. So her approach was to note what her kids were puzzled about, and help them find the answers. Exploring questions such as ‘Why is wool curly?’ can take you into biology, the physics of heat transfer, and evolution. Judi was proud that all of her ‘disadvantaged’ kids got into college.

SummerhillA. S. Neill’s Summerhill describes the noncoercive school he set up in England in the 1920s. The philosophy of Summerhill, following the pioneering work of Homer Lane a generation before, was that adults have no right to direct the way children develop. Children should be free to develop in their own way.

Classes are held, but kids only attend them if they choose to. When they do go to class – either from interest or because they realise they will be leaving school and they need to know stuff – they learn rapidly. And of course they are learning even if they don’t attend classes; again, kids are naturally curious. In any case, Summerhill students test above the national average in England, and characteristically have high levels of inner well-being.

There is now a democratic education movement based on the recognition that coercion is not best way to raise kids. And many cultural creatives embody this intuitively.

Changing your business’ or school’s culture

In a society that is highly coercive, schools such as Summerhill show another possibility – one that leads to enhanced personal and social well-being.

This leads to another level of answer to the question, ‘What can I do?’ when faced with the enormity of our global challenges. If you are in a position of influence, you may be able to contribute to a positive shift in your business or school culture. Doing so contributes to the evolution of a life affirming culture.

STEM education

The current big push in education is Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The emphasis is misplaced. We should be putting massive resources into cultivating the capacity for inner well-being, and creating the social determinants of health. Collectively, we must become the kind of people that can create and enjoy a life affirming culture. Otherwise, through dog-eat-dog competition, we will destroy both the environment and ourselves.ššš

The social determinants of health

There are multiple factors that lead to the symptoms of ill-health. Fear, child abuse, domestic violence, pollution, economic stress and poor nutrition all contribute, as does racism and other forms of active discrimination.

Putting these all under the rubric of ‘social determinants of health’ shifts our thinking from the symptoms to the larger social systems that induce symptoms of ill-health through stress hormones and alterations in brain functioning.

Some places are much worse than others. The majority of prisoners in the US originate from a relatively few postal areas. These areas are characterised by low employment, many single mothers, poor education, and violence.

Therefore, public policy should aim at creating the conditions of well-being everywhere. This is partnership-respect thinking.

šššGlobal military competition

Safe homes, safe schools, safe communities… and in time a global community of nations collaborating for our mutual well-being. An appropriate response to the refugee crisis would be to reduce the amount we spend in the military, and invest heavily in helping countries create internal conditions of well-being.

The major powers continue to invest heavily in nuclear weapons (which are now unstoppable because of hyper high-speed missile systems) and other military hardware. In western democracies, politicians are voted in who support these investments, and who do not make equivalent investments in creating the conditions of national and international well-being.

This may change, but currently we sleepwalk in a collective trance towards Armageddon.

šššThe three tiers of Great Transition Initiative actions

Our goal is to transition to a life affirming culture. To achieve this, we must communicate to positively affect people’s thinking.

Our top tier is to use the meme transitioning to a life affirming culture like a marketing slogan. It encompasses our goal. So the idea is to use it wherever possible, so that people see/hear it ‘everywhere’.

Our next tier is helping people understand what’s involved. Our best tool is Kitchen Table Conversations.

Of course, we want massive amounts of practical on-the-ground changes and larger systemic changes to occur – but that is not the focus of the Great Transition Initiative. However, to the extent that we can inspire mainstream commitment to pulling out of our ecological nosedive, these goodhearted practical initiatives will gain much more traction.

Our intention is to develop a framework of understanding that will hugely accelerate the uptake of practical changes. To change the system, change the thinking!

Our third tier is focused on personal development and healthy organisational change so that we become more creative, collaborative, and emotionally healthy. Our tag-line is: We must become the kind of people that can create and enjoy a life affirming culture!

These three tiers are summed up in this diagram:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The task of our time is to transition to a life-affirming culture at emergency speed. Communication to help people think better is the key to success. To the extent that we succeed future generations will thank us – profoundly.

www.greattransition.net