Monday, July 15, 2013


Reframing to Include and Create More Possibility

Paradoxical ‘ANDINGS’

Does this situation, problem, dilemma or opportunity require holding two opposing ideas in mind? Is there a way to include both in some sort of ‘and’? 

This AND that?

Planet AND profit.
Sciences AND the Arts in education.
Budgetary savings AND social services.
Compassion AND self-interest.
Individual rights AND Community Wellbeing

Step back until you can include both in the same frame. Discover connections. Are they really opposed? What are we ALL trying to understand and accomplish? What do we all want more of?

Years ago, my friend and colleague Marge Schiller introduced me to the concept of ANDINGS.  At the time, she said, “Electricity goes in both directions—positive and negative—that’s why it works. When faced with two irreconcilable views, choose both, and the energy will flow.” That energy will push us to discover connections in our seemingly polarized positions and from there, to solutions, if we are willing to step back and embrace more, if we allow connections among ideas, stories, beliefs and people.

ANDINGS require acknowledging the co-holding and co-owning of issues and social dilemmas.

It seems to be the modus operandi in our culture right now that we find ourselves in such tightly polarized positions that we can hardly find ways to have conversations together.  Even debates ring false since they seem to not be real forums for the exchange of different views and subsequent learning and resolution—they are just opportunities to put forward a position with almost no listening on either side.  No embracing.  No stepping back to include.

It becomes easy to despair, thinking that no answers are possible. We spiral into separation and a loss of community, a poor outcome and one with enormous consequences, even consequences of survival.

Our mental maps play an important role in how we perceive the world around us. To create change, we have to encourage moments of insight in which we can question and eventually shift our attitudes and habits of thinking—to expand the way we see in order to get more of what we want, to avert tragedies, to continue building a world that’s habitable and resilient for future generations.  

That’s not a usual outcome of debate.  It’s not enough to be told about new ideas by our local or national leaders and then to vote on them in a ‘which one wins’ way of thinking; we have to experience insight ourselves about the stakes and the size of the systems we are seeking to impact with our decisions. How might we all win?

One Way to Create ANDINGS

Inquire and explore together first [before debate].
In community work, I have seen phenomenal outcomes emerge from asking people why they are passionate about something, how they came to believe what they do, and what their experiences have been. Every shared dilemma is also personal--ask for their stories.

I was fortunate enough to work for several years with a large Catholic community of women religious.  They were considering their future identity in the face of diminishing numbers and painful differences in what they thought their role and ministry should be, as well as what the right level of governing authority, if any, the church should have over the community.

The issues were divisive, but over time, we were able to open up and continue dialogue that allowed the congregation to surface and build on their long-term connections to one another and their commitment to a spiritual life, even though they had very different ways of living that spiritual life.  Being able to see and appreciate their connections allowed them to embrace and listen to their differences, not only what the differences were but also why different individuals and groups believed as they did. They enlarged their circle of inquiry and possibility long enough to begin co-creating a shared future.

They answered these questions [in more specific form] with one another first:

  • ·       Why is this important to you? 
  • ·      What brought you here? What drives you to be involved with these issues?
  • · Why do you think [your position] is the answer? What have your experiences been?  What’s your story?
  • · What future are you seeking for the community? Where will your ideas lead us? What will we look like if we go in that direction?
  • · What will be better if your vision is implemented? 

The shared exploration helped them channel their passions and best ideas into understanding and a shared path forward.

Another Way: Step Back and Make the Frame Bigger

Sometimes, we can encourage insights and connection by consciously stepping back as a group, through expansive directed dialogue and/or with physical circle expansion.

A friend of mine asked me what central question he might use to create better dialogue among a group of property owners who shared a common lake, yet disagreed about how that lake should be used, in terms of future development, recreation, safety, and privacy.  After thinking about it together for a while, I suggested that he asked the group to look at what they loved best about living on the lake, and then to ask themselves in-group, “what’s best for the lake?”

I was concerned that I hadn’t gotten the questions just right, but he later reported to me that it had worked—the debate turned into a constructive exploration and sufficient alignment on what would ensure a healthy lake and healthy ownership into the future.  There were [and are] many complexities in the situation, but the logjam dissolved, and their shared caring for the lake informed their work together. They were able to expand their image of the future by stepping back, including, and exploring together, moving from ‘what do I want/what are my rights’ to ‘what’s best for the lake and for owners.’

We can consciously expand the circle around an issue to seek greater wholeness. Join hands and step back, expanding the circle as we explore what has to be included and what we can all agree that we want more of, together. What has to be encompassed in our circle of connection? 

Sometimes, we have to step way, way back. Together.  Still in the circle. The name of my consultancy, Shared Sun Studio, goes back to the realization, years ago, that sometimes when I begin working with a group, the only thing they seem to be able to agree on, encompass, and include among themselves is that they share the sun!

What about when we are dealing with social dilemmas that put self-interest up against common good [I vs. We], in issues such a gun control or some of our corporate structures?  Or with seemingly intractable issues like poverty, human rights in certain cultures, or climate change?  We tend to focus in on a narrow perspective rather than stepping back and looking at the connections.  What are ways that we can step back in order to ‘lean in’, together?  There are many ways to find bridges to one another. 

I believe all of us have had multiple experiences of ANDINGS.  Reflect on this for a minute:

  • ·     Think about a time when you were in the presence of ANDINGS, whether in your family, your work, or your community, a time when divergent thinking converged or expanded horizons into new ways of thinking and finding solutions. What was the situation? What made the shift occur? What powerful outcomes did ANDINGS create?

  • ·         What are some of the paradoxical ANDINGS that you long to co-create?

If you want, add some of your ideas in the Comments section.

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