This week completes a trilogy commentary on the enormous complexity of our times and the bigger dream we are being called to imagine. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Great Breaking Open that is now happening on every level of society all over the world. Last week’s article was about the danger of “dumbing down” our complex reality. While this article stands on its own, reading these last two posts will set an even fuller context for what you read here.
John Sawhill, past president of New York University and of The Nature Conservancy said:
In the end, our society will be defined
not only by what we create but
by what we refuse to destroy.
One way of interpreting the last part of Sawhill’s statement is that we will protect that which we consider most important to us. We will not destroy that which we cherish deeply.
However, there can also be another meaning in his statement: Our society is defined not only by what we choose to create and what we choose to protect, but also by what structures, systems, practices, and beliefs we choose to destroy or allow to die. Sometimes we make those choices consciously, and at other times, unconsciously.
John Sawhill’s words feel particularly relevant to me as we navigate the Great Breaking Open and stretch the boundaries of our imaginations to discover the bigger dream that is waiting for us. Without question, dreaming a new and bigger dream will lead to the creation of new structures, forms, systems, and ways of engaging with one another. At the same time, the bigger dream will also ask us to let some of our societal systems, structures, traditions, beliefs, and practices die. If we refuse, we hold society back.
The idea of letting familiar structures and systems die can be a scary. Perhaps the scariest moment comes when we realize that we’re going to have to let go of what we have known – of what is familiar – before we have something new to hold on to. In the midst of transitions, we don’t know what we can depend on. We don’t know what to trust. We don’t know where to find solid ground. In fact, in these scary moments, all we actually have to rely on is the authentic power and strength within each of us that we find when we are willing to be fully open and fully real at the same time.
These kinds of bold steps can only happen within a society when enough individuals have found the courage and strength to let old structures die within their own lives and beliefs. As more individuals blaze the trail forward, at a certain point, critical mass is reached and society moves forward. Something new starts to be created and old societal patterns begin breaking down.
As society moves forward, even more individuals are able to find the courage to take these steps in their own lives. And the cycle continues. Individual choices and beliefs influence societal shifts and, in turn, societal shifts influence individual choices and beliefs. Step by step, the collective evolves.
Evolutionary shifts within a society take time. Dreaming, evolving, and shifting all unfold through process. Leading and supporting that process of societal change and transformation in an effective, impactful, and grace-filled way is an art. It’s a balancing act between pushing the edges of what a society is comfortable with, yet not pushing people so far beyond what they know that fear takes over. Fear can keep us from making forward movement, and can even pull us backwards.
Transformational Presence is all about finding the perfect balance. It’s an intricate dance. Transformational Presence is not about making things happen; it’s about sensing the transformation that the societal system is ready for at the moment and creating the best possible environment for that transformation to unfold.
There is a saying, “Two steps forward; one step back.” Each time we make a significant shift, some people will celebrate and others will be afraid. When the majority of people are celebrating, society is able to take another step forward. When the majority of people are afraid, society falls back a step. It’s all a part of the dance. Yet the full spectrum of feelings, emotions, and opinions of both the majority and minority must be acknowledged, respected, and responded to in some way. These are lessons we are learning now through the Great Breaking Open.
Commitment to the bigger process is critical. Political leader and social activist William Barber, founder of the “Moral Mondays” civil rights protests, asks, “Are you committed to the movement or to the moment?”
Many “moments” have led up to the era of the Great Breaking Open. The breaking open that we are now experiencing is spawning a conscious leadership and service movement. Commitment to this movement will mean sticking with it through many “two steps forward and one step back” moments. It will take long-term focus, diligence, determination, trust, faith, and courage to speak and act, sometimes in the face of risk and uncertainty.
The Great Breaking Open is a movement that is unfolding right in front of us and within us. It invites us to create new structures and systems, new paradigms and perspectives. It invites us to protect those parts of our heritage and traditions that will support our ongoing evolution towards a world that works for all. And it invites us to destroy or let die those systems and structures, paradigms and perspectives that hold us back or support a world that only works for some. It invites us to dream a bigger dream – a dream that will continue evolving and asking us to stretch the boundaries of our imaginations over and over again.
How are you stretching the boundaries of your imagination? What courageous step of creation are you taking these days?
Perhaps it’s a project you are passionate about, a dream that won’t let go of you, a new conscious relationship, or a new way of engaging with others. What message is your courageous step sending out into the collective consciousness? How might your action empower someone else or have an influence on society as a whole?
And at the same time, what are you taking apart or letting die because it has run its course – a relationship, a project, a dream, or a practice? What message is that sending out into society? How might your letting go empower someone else to make a similar choice that they have been afraid to take?
I invite you to consider these questions over the coming days. Let them live and breathe inside of you. Let them “work” on you. And see what unfolds.
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