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  The Promise and Paradox of Community

Margaret (“Meg”) Wheatley writes, teaches and speaks about radically new practices and ideas for organizing in chaotic times. As founder of the Berkana Institute, she works to create organizations of all types where people are known as the blessing, not the problem.

People enjoying beach sunsetIn this session, Meg talks about some of the experiences that shaped her earliest beliefs about being human. And she challenges us to re-think some of the concepts and approaches we typically bring to our understanding of community. We sometimes lose clarity because we set ourselves goals that we then fear we cannot achieve, rather than simply doing the work. And we may not fully appreciate our innate orientation to the collective.

Learning Objectives:

  • To continue our exploration of community
  • To move beyond hope and fear into what calls us
  • To learn about Berkana’s new “bold experiment”
  • To explore the science behind community
  • To ponder the gifts we bring to our communities
On this page you'll find:

Meet the Thought Leaders

Margaret WheatleyMargaret Wheatley is the co-founder and President emeritus of The Berkana Institute, and the celebrated author of many books, including Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World and Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. For over three decades, Margaret has been an organizational consultant and researcher, and has worked with a broad variety of organizations on all continents. Her inspiring keynotes and work provide new insights into the nature of how people interact, and she inspires us to build better organizations and societies. Learn more about Margaret on her website here.Paul Born

Paul Born is the President and Co-founder of Tamarack and has worked with many organizations and communities to develop innovative and sustainable ideas that motivate people to collaborative action and change. Read more here.

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Meg's Thoughts on Community

For Meg, community is the way that life organizes itself.  As she writes in The Promise and Paradox of Community, everywhere in nature communities of diverse individuals live together in ways that support both the individual and the entire system. These systems teach that the instinct of community is not peculiar to humans, but is found everywhere in life, from microbes to the most complex species.

Community is the basic form, the most fundamental level of organizing on the planet. It is the “bedrock” of everything else.

Listen as Meg talks about community:

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The Clarity Beyond Hope and Fear

In an article in the March issue of Shambala Sun, Meg suggests that hope and fear are partners and that the moment we base our work on hope for certain outcomes or a definition we have of success, we are also inviting fear: the fear that we will not be able to achieve what we have hoped for.

Meg has been using the teachings of the Christian mystic Thomas Merton as well as some of the ancient Buddhist teachings to discern this place beyond hope and fear.

She challenges us to listen for what speaks to us. What do we care about so much that we’re just going to “step forward and take care of it?”

Hear Meg talk more about finding this kind of clarity:

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Berkana Prepares for the Future

The Berkana Institute was founded in 1992. Its first mission was to introduce people to a different way of organizing based on a new paradigm of living systems.

It now works in partnership with a rich diversity of people around the world to strengthen communities by working with the wisdom and wealth already present in their people, traditions and environment and by sharing the clarity that ”whatever the problem, community is the answer.”

Meg talks about the Berkana of the future:

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What Science Tells Us

In “The Promise and Paradox of Community” Meg writes that life’s first imperative is that it must be free to create itself. One biological definition of life is that something is alive if it has the capacity to create itself… and every individual and every species is a different solution for how to live here. This freedom gives rise to the boundless diversity of the planet.

The second great imperative propels individuals out from themselves to search for community. Life is “systems-seeking”; indeed, you cannot see elementary particles unless they are in a collider – unless they hit one another.

Meg talks more about the science that underlies community:

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Moving From Me to We

We have been through a long period of individualism in the West. We have forgotten about community. And yet now, with all the challenges we are facing, there are inspiring stories of community emerging: workers sacrificing pay so that everyone can keep their job; the growth of community foodbanks, people getting together to fill backpacks with healthy snacks for kids, and so on.

In fact, collective altruism is not the exception. It’s the way life works. In the West we are taught that we start out individuals and the collective emerges sometimes, but that is the bias of Western thinking. Meg begins with the assumption that the collective is the basic unit and a variation known as the individual springs out of that.

Meg talks more about the Western mindset around community:

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Reflection Questions

  1. What are the early experiences that have formed your understanding of community?
  2. Think of some challenging issue in your life and explore the fear that arises when you yearn for things to be different.
  3. What do you know about council practice? Are there aspects that could be useful as you engage with others in your work?
  4. What is your first thought when asked the question, “What speaks most deeply to you?”
  5. What are the gifts you bring to your community?
  6. At the end of the seminar, Meg suggested you pay attention to the things she said that “stuck.” Maybe something made you angry or disturbed you in some way. What have you learned about your own assumptions and beliefs?

To reflect on these and other important questions, refer to the Resources and Links below.

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Links & Resources

Margaret Wheatley - Margaret's website is home to her poetry, prose, books and tapes. It is a great place to learn more about this inspirational person and her work. Learn more about Margaret here.

The Berkana Institute - The Berkana Institute connects and supports pioneering, life-affirming leaders around the world, who strengthen their communities by working with the wisdom and wealth already present in its people, traditions and environment. Visit their website here.

The Women’s Leadership Revival Tour - This Tour invites women in communities all over North America to gather together in deep reflection and discovery of where women can most meaningfully offer their leadership. To learn more about the possibilities of women's leadership, click here.

Leadership and the New Science - In this book, Margaret searches for a simpler way to lead organizations and discover order in a chaotic world. Read her prologue here.

Using Emergence to take Social Innovation to Scale - In this article, Margaret maps the life-cycle of emergence in order to understand the dynamics of networks. Learn more about emergence here.

The Place Beyond Hope and Fear – Read Meg’s article from the March edition of Shambala Sun here.

Turning to One Another – In this book Meg suggests that the simple practice of hosting conversations can restore hope to the future. Read more here.

Blogging, webinars and other materials – This online community space that connects people, nonprofits and businesses working toward a just and sustainable world. Visit the website here.

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The Promise and Paradox of Community

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