uncovering common will

Monday, May 24th, 2010 | Uncategorized

I just returned from a two week trip to Brazil for the occasion of launching the Brazilian edition of Theory U. I was able to stay on a bit to learn about the current changes in this amazing country of 190 million people. It’s the world’s fifth largest—in terms of population and size. Brazil has been much better and faster in coming out of the global economic crisis of the past two years. Why did Brazil manage so much better? Instead of giving the billions to bankers, they gave it to the poor, to the most marginalized. They linked economic development with reducing inequality. They invested it in education for all. They invested in better infrastructures for entrepreneurs and small business (example: boosting micro-credit for micro entrepreneurs). And they regulated the banking sector.

I was impressed to see how much was accomplished in just about a decade: reducing the social divide, eradicating hunger, responding to HIV/AIDS in a manner that is a role model for countries all over the place, and so on.

So why is it that in Brazil, after Lula got into power, the grassroots movement that got him there kept creating changes throughout society, while here in the US, after Obama got into power, the movement that got him there seems to have disappeared?

I don’t think I really know the answer to this question. But I have seen three relevant pieces of data: (1) I saw great companies like Natura that do business by routinely working and collaborating across all social, economic, and ecological divides; (2) I saw greatly innovative sustainable cities like Curitiba in which government, business, and the community have been collaborating across fairly open boundaries for about four decades; and (3) I saw the Economic and Social Development Council (CDES) that regularly convenes about a hundred leaders from civil society, business, academia, and government to dialogue and co-create an agenda of the future. What do these three examples (Natura, Curitiba, CDES) have in common? Their common element is that they are based on uncovering common will (which then in turn creates the required political will): a shared understanding of the current situation, of who we are, and where we want to go. That’s exactly what’s missing here in the US. Here we have an ever-widening vicious cultural and political divide that rips the country apart…

Where do YOU find yourself and your country in terms of the deeper common ground? Does that common ground exist–can y o u feel it? What helping infrastructures support the cultivation of the deeper common ground? What’s working (or not) in your country? Where do YOU FEEL the future in your country right now?


13 Comments to uncovering common will

andrew james
May 25, 2010

Otto – please take a look at what happened to the poliical divide in my country in the last month. I refer to the General Election. Or ask a research student to do so and report back to you.
The UK is now a ‘developing country’ – much like some African countries, riddled with debt and corrupt politicians.
What is great, as far as i can see at this distance, is that Brazilia is developing out of its own current cultural roots, and not those transplanted by western ‘intellectuals’ and rock chicks et al.

May 25, 2010

Thanks for your observations Otto, I was recently in Brazil with a group of leaders from Boston’s Social Sector, the Barr Fellows. Thanks to our partnership with Berkana we were exposed to very different approaches to the work of social change. Sometimes these approaches were so different that our fellows were literally upset with what they considered hopeless. Yet it seems to me that such is the ground that makes Brazil’s successes possible, it allows for real cutting edge experiments even at very small scales.

To answer your question, the US is my country and while deep division is evident everywhere, I am also seeing efforts like those of the Barr Fellowship that is focused on connecting people with purpose to one another and to their own deeper sense of purpose, transcending organizational constraints and creating conditions for emergence.

Jürgen Große-Puppendahl
May 26, 2010

For myself I would say that a big deal of my efforts are directed to find and live the common ground like I practiced some days ago in Axladitsa/Greece. Observing and sensing and bringing into form are the major steps to that. The feedback you receive in a given life situation as a smile or felt heart connection can be a proof if common ground was met or not. So the common ground exists and you can feel it provided you can feel. In my country, which is Germany, I often feel a huge split among social members, an individual and collective mistrust and an overemphasising of the individual knowledge and role of leadership. It is in our collective notion as though one person can save the world. Everyone is looking on the Merkels, Obamas …
Real leadership needs the common ground in order to tap the collective potential which is more than a person’s intellectual or stakeholder’s capacity and wisdom. What would the future look like in my country? We are standing at the cliff’s rim: going back isn’t recommendable, jumping either. So, what would be a solution? The solution could be like solving a koan. We have to find a new fertile ground, but how depart from the cliff?

Erik Mathijs
May 26, 2010

In Belgium, we recently had a national values assessment by the Barrett Values Centre. While Belgium has a lot of cultural entropy due to the North-South divide, what is interesting is that the top 3 national values are honesty, respect and friendship. The organisation behind the assessment (BZN – Bond Zonder Naam – Foundation with no name) will use Appreciative Inquiry and Theory U to start up generative market-place conversations in 10 communities throughout the country.

Michael Bischoff
May 26, 2010

Erik: As I read your description about the national values assessment in Belgium, I felt hopeful that similar initiatives could happen here in the U.S. There are certainly many appreciative, values-driven movements throughout the U.S., but part of what I long for are things that allow us, as a whole country, to collectively sense and embody the future that is seeking to emerge. The geographic and population size of the U.S. make this challenging. Maybe this kind of deeper collective identity might be more possible when we allow more regional diversity and autonomy within the country. I look forward to hearing what others have to say.

Erika Jacobson
June 7, 2010

I write to add to your observation about Brazil that out of Brazil also came Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Theatre of the Oppressed (PTO). Both methodologies applied in raising awareness or ‘conscientizacao’in those that are ‘struggling’ with systemic social inequality and rehearsing actions for shifting power to those that have been typically left in the sidelines.

I am at a PTO conference in Austin, Texas at the moment and find it apt that you should mention Brazil as an example. Many of us here are using PTO to raise awareness in our countries/communities (mine being Australia) and to work with organisations, communities and individuals that are oppressive/oppressed.
I realise that the terms ‘oppressed’ and ‘oppressor’are not very palatable in our societies.
You may already be aware of the work of Paolo Freire and Augusto Boal.

Marij Vullinghs
June 13, 2010

Otto: I’m confused about your comments about Brazil since I watched struggles like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDNJoeSAAb8
Brazil about “Black-and-White” (not my words)

Ralf Lippold
June 20, 2010

@Jürgen, perhaps the fertile ground is laying right in front of us. Sometimes we are blinded by our own “blind spot”. The new things and movements really start small, and perhaps we often not have the ability to see that “weak signals”.

Anyway, there several initiatives springing up in Germany, also on Theory U. There is also one in Dresden, where Theory U is playing a big role.

Aaron Peeters
July 14, 2010

I feel, from an outsiders perspective, that the culture in the US is extremely centred around the individual. This sometimes comes across as a ‘me first’ kind of culture. From my experience working with teams, this kind of attitude can make collective action difficult because people have become a sort of extremist, where they aren’t willing to budge on what they think is the best option. The far right and the far left are both the blame for this.

Perhaps the threat of another republican government was enough to galvanise the collective will of the people, but their collective will has dissipated- they feel like the battle has been one so they can go back to looking after no. 1?

These are just some observations. Don’t pay any heed to them until we get some others who can maybe collaborate or dispute them!

Aaron Peeters
July 30, 2010

Otto, I am working as a volunteer in education in North West Ghana and a story that keeps popping up has got me thinking a bit about the question you posted. Why are we able to band together despite our differences, while sometimes we are not?

The country next to where I am is called Burkina Faso. They are a landlocked country, have harsher climatic conditions and less natural resources than their wealthier, southern neighbour. However, they have been able to make advances in land conservation, irrigation projects, and infrastructure whereas Ghana is often found lacking in these areas. I believe that humans are essentially not very good at planning ahead into the future. Many people here complain that a reason why nobody acts on the problems they face is because they aren’t really problems yet- even though they will be shortly, and definitely for the next generation. I believe that Burkina has benefited from being having its challenges more so in the ‘present’ because they have been forced to change and adapt.

The question I pose now- does this mean all we need to do is to wait until there are no choices left for use to make the right one?

August 12, 2010

Aaron–great observation and question: do we have to wait until there are no choices left? i agree with you that ones human beings start to work together with a clear and shared understanding of the current situation and the common will — there is nothing that we cannot accomplish, even in very short time frames. so the big question is how to arrive that that clarity of mind and will without the world going to hell, right?

ana macedo
August 17, 2010

Hi Otto. I am brazilian and I live in Brazil. When I read your comments, first i fell happy for the efforts that the “country” (people+ the “system”) is doing to deal with some social and economics issues and change our “international reputation/ vission”, but on the other hand I think you must “experience” more Brazil to get some conclusions…..

Abigail Larrison
October 16, 2010

The real reason that the hope brought about in this country fizzled away was that Obama was not the one for the job, but rather just another groomed vehicle for the agenda of the bankers hoping to push the one world order.

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