‘Many hands make light work’
“…in every aspect of nature, from the internal workings of organisms to whole ecosystems, we find the connections between things are as important as the things themselves. Thus the purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of other elements.” (Essence of Permaculture: David Holmgren, et. al.)
This is permaculture design at its core—creating the entire system so that each component is so happy it performs and produces to the greatest capacity. This goes for plants, animals, and people. As many of us know first-hand, the people tend to bring in the greatest challenges to system design, because they come saddled with all sorts of expectations, pre-conceived notions, and often plenty of ‘life experience’ which has them convinced they know how everything should look, and behave, and think. People come with invisible structures of their very own.
Recently it came to me that one of the reasons I found myself exhausted all the time was due to one simple change: “Build the bridge, not BE the bridge”. Several years ago, when I was learning about sailing, and how boats behave on the water, I made the mistake of using my arm as a dock line—I do not recommend this, by the way, in fact I strongly advise against it. I had two others on board with me, and they had already disembarked and were on the dock, without having taken any line with them, so when I realized the boat was drifting away, I panicked and grabbed the dock, ending up suspended by fingers and toes, until came the nasty crunching sound from my shoulder. I did not land in the water, and it did take six months to heal that arm—lucky for me, I suppose, it was the left arm. Moral of the story, which any good sailor knows—keep your limbs away from moving parts, and never, ever, leave anything fleshy between a vessel and a dock. Do NOT be the bridge. Those connections between things, or people, are certainly of the utmost importance, and it is completely unnecessary for anyone to insert his or her own body parts or even less tangible stuff into that space to create the bridge—our job is to create the design so that the bridge exists, and that is all.
When we design people systems, it may seem that the danger to our physical bodies is not nearly so much at stake; however the behavior I have witnessed within social media forums might indicate otherwise. For some unknown reason, when people begin to share their opinions it also seems inherent that certain other ‘cheeky’ body parts are also displayed. This outcome can be attributed to several factors, most of which have been named above. People take things personally, and we all ‘hear’ something different, because we all come from different experiences. This is one reason that “apply self-regulation and accept feedback” is so important in social permaculture systems—we must all be willing to take a step back and understand that the others in the ‘room’ have just as much right and need to be heard as we do. It is when we make value judgments on others that the finger-pointing starts and suddenly everyone is ‘wrong’.
Why, then, should we attempt to integrate at all, you may ask? Not only is everything easier with numbers, but there is that other aspect which is revealed in any group—Napolean Hill called this a “Mastermind”, and had a design for what these groups should look like. I believe in this process, and have participated in a number of different groups of this nature, with varying degrees of yield. The variables I have observed come in for the following reasons:
- Lack of commitment from some or all members. A very basic, bottom-line (or ‘lowest common denominator’ as I like to say), is that all participants must be equally invested in the same desired outcome, also known as the ‘vision’. Time and time again I have seen groups fail on this one basic point, which is also termed “a lack of alignment”. Napolean called it “…harmonious cooperation of two or more people who ally themselves for the purpose of accomplishing any given task.”
- Lack of leadership. I have yet to be a part of any group effort where sOMeone did not step up to take charge, at least in the short term. This does not mean that the organization needs to be hierarchical—indeed, quite the opposite is true—leadership can be voluntary and shifted within the group, in fact it is optimal that each member agree to be the facilitator once in a while. Learning some leadership skills never hurt anyone, nor does allowing others to take the helm from time to time. Both positions require self-regulation, leadership more so, otherwise it becomes authoritarian.
- Poor design. If the goals of the group are poorly defined, this means the outcome or yield is indeterminate, and the entire process will be scrambled, as the participants each vie for their piece of the pie. Remember to design from pattern to details, which means take the long view, first—where the bus is going needs to be determined before selecting the road to get there.
- Unwillingness (aka ‘fear’) to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. We have all fallen flat on our faces at least once in our lives—if you haven’t–you need to live a little more. Those who do more will also make more mistakes. It’s ok—the only injury is to your ego, and most can do with a bruise or two. The only caveat to this is when true threat of bodily harm is present—if this is a factor, the design must contain fail-safes to prevent harm.
So, does this all mean that we must integrate with everyone, all the time? Well, let’s go back to the bus analogy—if you were to board a bus on its way to Tennessee, but you wanted to go to New Orleans, are your desires in alignment with the others on the bus? The same goes for any other group activity—everybody must at the very least be facing in the same direction, before they get on board.
Read the Series:
- Observe and Interact
- Catch and Store Energy
- Obtain a Yield
- Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
- Use and value renewable resources and services
- Produce no waste
- Design from patterns to details
- Integrate rather than segregate
- Use small and slow solutions
- Use and value diversity
- Use edges and value the marginal
- Creatively use and respond to change
© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here
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