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Cultural Butterfly


I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore, Toto.

So if we’re not in “Kansas”, where are we?

Have you noticed that the world acts and feels subtly, but significantly, different? This isn’t the same world we’ve been in. So if we’re not in “Kansas” anymore, where are we?

As I see it, we’re in at least several “places” at once. Here are three possibilities:

#1: One "place" is “braving the wilderness", as Brene’ Brown describes it in Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. She says that true belonging is “belonging to ourselves”, which means

“being called to stand alone—to brave the wilderness of uncertainty, vulnerability, and

criticism. We seem to have forgotten that even when we’re utterly alone, we’re

connected by something greater than group membership, politics, ideology—that we’re

connected by love and the human spirit.”

Further, she says:

. . . people “want to be part of something—to experience real connection with others—

but not at the cost of their authenticity, freedom, or power. . . “us versus them” cultures

that create feelings of spiritual disconnection. . . a diminishing sense of shared

humanity. . . concern that the only thing that binds us together now is shared fear and

disdain, not common humanity, shared trust, respect, or love.”

She goes on to say that “a large part of the struggle for people seeking true belonging is spiritual,” and concludes that “our world is in a collective spiritual crisis” [emphasis mine] by her definition:

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to

each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and

to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Right now we are neither

recognizing nor celebrating our inextricable connection.”

#2: A second "place" is the breaking down and breaking open of the cultural “compete, conquer, control, and dominate” paradigm we’ve lived by for 6,000 years.

Donella Meadows speaks powerfully to this in Dancing With Systems. She says,

“. . . the mindset of the industrial world assumes that there is a key to prediction and

control” [emphasis is mine] . . . people assume that systems analysis is that key. . . this is

a terrible mistake because we are exaggerating our ability to change the world.”

[Emphasis mine].

She continues:

“But self-organizing, nonlinear, feedback systems are inherently unpredictable. They

are not controllable. [Emphasis mine]. They are understandable only in the most general

way. The goal of foreseeing the future exactly and preparing for it perfectly is

unrealizable. The idea of making a complex system do just what you want it to do can

be achieved only temporarily, at best. We can never fully understand our world, not in

the way our reductionistic science has led us to expect. Our science itself, from

quantum theory to the mathematics of chaos, leads us into irreducible uncertainty. For

any objective other than the most trivial, we can’t optimize; we don’t even know what

to optimize. We can’t keep track of everything. We can’t find a proper, sustainable

relationship to nature, each other, or the institutions we create, if we try to do it from

the role of omniscient conqueror.” [Emphasis mine].

For those who stake their identity on the role of omniscient conqueror, the

uncertainty exposed by systems thinking is hard to take. If you can’t understand,

predict, and control, what is there to do?” [Emphasis mine].

“As soon as we stop being blinded by the illusion of control, there is plenty to do, of a

different sort of “doing.” [Emphasis mine]. The future can’t be predicted, but it can be

envisioned and brought lovingly into being. Systems can’t be controlled, but they can

be designed and redesigned. We can’t surge forward with certainty into a world of no

surprises, but we can expect surprises and learn from them and even profit from them.

We can’t impose our will upon a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and

discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth

something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.” [Emphasis


“We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them!” [Emphasis


Did you notice her ideas of giving up our identity as omniscient conqueror, stopping being blinded by the illusion of control, and bringing the future “lovingly into being”? Radical, and challenging, right? And, I believe, totally necessary.

#3: A third "place" we are being faced with is realigning our relationship with ourselves, the earth and all other beings, with genuine humility as servant leaders for the good of the whole.

Robin Wall Kimmerer in her TED Talk Reclaiming the Honorable Harvest powerfully illuminates this perspective. She describes the indigenous way of being in right relationship with the earth and other beings, which means honoring each one (plant, animal, person, the earth itself) as a sovereign being, with its own intelligence, wisdom, gifts, and responsibilities.

Some excerpts from her talk:

The natural world is a source of gifts—not commodities, but gifts given to us by the

earth, plants, and animals themselves. What is our response to these gifts?

The people in Robin’s culture abide by the Honorable Harvest, a philosophy and

practice that governs consumption in a world made of gifts. It is a set of unwritten

guidelines for taking from the Earth:

Never take the first one. Don’t grab the first one you see or take everything in sight.

Ask permission. Since the plant is a sovereign being, talk to it respectfully, give it

thanks, and ask if it would share some of its gifts.

Listen for the answer. Genuinely listen. If the answer is “No”, we go home. They do

not belong to us. Taking without permission is called stealing.

Take only what you need. If you are granted permission, take only what you need.

Use everything you take. Then use everything you take. It’s disrespectful to waste a

life that has been given to you.

Minimize harm. Take in such as way that it does the least harm and also benefits the

growth of the plant.

Be grateful. Gratitude is a radical act. Thankfulness makes you feel rich beyond

measure when wealth is counted as having enough to share.

Share what you’ve taken. Share with humans and more than humans alike.

Reciprocate the gift. Reciprocate with a gift of your own--for example, a gift of honor

or of care. And love them so much you will not let them be lost.

Take only that which is given to you. As a society we take indiscriminately whatever

we want from the Earth. This is an ethical and practical challenge.

The Honorable Harvest is a pathway to sustainability, but that is a slippery word. The

elders of an Algonquin community asked what sustainability was. When they were

given the standard definition “to consume the resources of the earth in such a way that

we do not impair the ability of the earth to provide the same resources to future

generations,” one of the elders said “it sounds like humans just want to keep on taking

from the earth. In the way of our people, the first thing we think of is ‘what can we


Imagine social, political, economic decision-making based on the Honorable Harvest.

The land is not broken. It’s our relationship to the land that’s broken, and we can heal

that. It starts by asking ourselves, “What will I give in return for the gifts of earth?”

Aldo Leopold, an early 20th century conservationist and environmentalist wrote, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

I see this time as the liminal space between what has been and what is yet to come. This naturally carries feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability with it. This can be very uncomfortable, yes?

It means relinquishing our attachments to being “right”, being “certain”, and being “entitled”, and our belief that power means “power over” and control/domination. It’s a strong opportunity (requirement?) to develop genuine humility. Again, challenging, right?

It also carries the life-giving possibility of our real flourishing in harmony, balance, and integrity on this planet. As I see it, that’s the purpose and meaning of this liminal time and unraveling process.

The first part of the movie The Wizard of Oz” was in black and white, before the tornado lifted Dorothy and Toto off to the land of Oz. When they returned home to Kansas, the movie (and their lives) were in full color. What if we’re on a similar journey to “full-color” lives and world? That’s what I see, that’s what I know, that’s what I intend, and that’s where I’m headed. Care to join me?

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