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Monday, 25 August 2008 20:04


VII - Living the Ecozoic Era
Chapter 3 - Design


We felt like the Founding Fathers, only instead of writing a ‘Declaration of Independence', we were writing a ‘Declaration of Interdependence'

Mary Evelyn Tucker, Earth Charter co-author
Presented at the Whidbey Institute



What are our design principles and how do we bring them to life?

As I draft and rewrite this chapter, I keep returning to a single place - good design is always predicated on rock-solid design principles. I learned as a system designer, implementer, and user of mechanical computer systems with IBM that when the users of a system are in sync with its architecture and principles, synergy abounds. Also, when the mechanical system is in sync with the organic systems it supports, its users become committed to maintaining the integrity of the entire system. As is always the case in a well-designed system, the principles stand the test of time, and what I've come to understand is that solid principles are always grounded in solid ethics. The importance and relevance with regard to sustainability became apparent to me when I wrote a theory paper for my Antioch project (described in the chapter on ‘ Living Systems '). What I learned was that it is Living Systems Theory that underlies sustainability, and the ethics required to be sustainable emerge from an understanding of Living Systems.

The most fundamental principle of the design for creating the Ecozoic Era is the recognitionOO_VII-3_2009-03-01 that the universe, the Earth, and our social endeavors as well are all living systems. With that as our context, a primary design principle is being in concert with the living systems that nurture us - nature.

It is interesting to ask as we move from the shamanic wisdom of the past, through the best practices of today, and into the Ecozoic Era for which we are designing, ‘where have our human principles been consistent and evolved in an organic manner?'

I remember the first time I read ‘ Chief Seattle's' 1854 Oration (a reply to the President of the U.S. regarding a Government offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands), and in addition to being deeply moved, I asked myself, "who would I have to be to write something with so much wisdom, deep attachment to the Earth, and all of life through the generations?" That question has stayed with me as I've listened to Native Americans tell their stories, offer prayers, and share their sweat lodge ceremonies. I can only conclude that they held a very deep intuition for so many things that have been recently ‘discovered' by our culture, and many other things that we haven't yet ‘re-discovered.' For instance, they seem to intuitively understand ‘ Panarchy ' - the recurring flow of all natural systems; Living Systems Theory - the attributes and organization of life; and quantum physics - the energetic relationship of all bodies in the universe.

When we reflect on what has happened to the Native Americans, it becomes clear that we have violated the principles required for sustainability. Where they have been violated, it seems reasonable to me to say there has been an ethical breakdown. Both paths, the consistency and evolution of principles we wish to emulate as well as the violation of these principles, need to be considered as we design for becoming Ecozoic.

This workbook offers several design points, particularly in the constructs:

  • The Archetypes for Sustainability ground us in our most fundamental world views - Abundance and Scarcity; and our primary way of processing - Organic and Mechanical.
  • The Curve of Hope points us toward seeking exponential improvements and blending them in a way that maintains our ethical integrity.
  • The Archetypes of Religions helps us understand the validity of organizing our thoughts and conversations around guiding principles.
  • The Appreciative Inquiry Process shows us the importance of connecting with our most cherished virtues, creating non-hierarchical spaces, being structured while allowing for emergence, and always being in the question.
  • Panarchy informs us that every organic system follows the same repeating sequence, and that we need to learn to flow with that sequence rather than try to manage it.
  • The Hebrew Letter-Numbers helps us understand the possibility that several ancient languages come from the same energy source, are living languages, and include all components necessary to create and sustain life.
  • And the Rule of Six , which is explained but not graphically shown, facilitates our understanding of approaching the 'truth' of any situation asymptotically, and that the reconciliation we desire requires the surfacing of common virtues. It's definition is also two fold - right brain and left brain - and it becomes clearer and clearer that we must make a paradigm shift from predominantly left brain to predominantly right brain to support the shift from predominantly finite games to predominantly infinite games.

There is a final construct I'd like to share that I hope will open up some conversation regarding a paradigm of the Western world in which I believe we are stuck. Let me share a short story that will explain how it came into being. Several years ago I was asked by a friend, Jesse Reeder, if I would join her in a workshop she was facilitating on 'Relationship before Task.' She knew I had worked with the Japanese and greatly appreciated their insistence on developing relationships before tackling a job. Our Western way is usually to convene a work group, get our marching orders, and then move right into planning and implementation. When I facilitated a group for Jesse, we oriented our conversation for the first half or more of our allotted time to building relationships. I fended off those who were getting anxious about not addressing the job we'd been assigned. As so often happens, once we'd established a good sense of what was important to us, we were able to finish the assignment with minimal contention.

The conversation about what had transpired in our work groups and the degree of success we'd had was almost all framed in terms of relationship and task as duality. I was feeling a pretty strong dissonance. I suggested that a third component needed to be introduced - process, and that the 'triangle' of relationship, task, and process would be most helpful for understanding our approach to this work. My suggestion didn't fit well into Jesse's agenda and, as I remember, she suggested that process was all part of relationship.



After the workshop I played a little with my idea, and it struck me that the combination of 'task and process,' labeled 'Production,' to the exclusion of meaningful relationship is how we operate in our Western work-world; and the combination of 'task and relationship,' labeled 'Synergism,' is how we operate in most of our community-building work. It appeared to me as if our Western ways are highly oriented toward task. The question that begged an answer, and still does, is what is the combination of 'process and relationship?' Isn't that primarily where Chief Seattle was coming from? Isn't that combination paramount to an organic way of being, with task being tertiary - essential in that it is necessary for survival, but always integrated into the relationship with the Earth and the processes of community. As you can see, I labeled it 'Organic.' The first learning here is the necessity to shift from a predominantly 'Task' orientation to a combination 'Process -Relationship' orientation.




I then added another dimension to the triad - the ends of a spectrum that might be used to define each of the three vertices of the triangle - 'Process' ranges from 'Operational' to 'Long Range'; 'Relationship' ranges from 'Personal' to 'Communal'; and 'Task' ranges from 'Mechanistic' to 'Natural'. Each side of the triangle, 'Production', 'Synergism' and 'Organic' was the basis for a 2X2 matrix, and each quadrant named the interaction or organization that I thought best fit the description of blending the two ends of the spectrum. It seemed to me to be very thought provoking, and I include it because I think it will be of assistance when trying to design organizations and projects as living systems. The matrices for 'Production' and 'Synergism' are of lesser importance when focusing on 'Appreciative Sustainability' - hopefully the 'Organic' matrix opens some important thinking. Here's a brief explanation of the 'Organic' matix:

  • When we seek 'Comfort' we often combine a 'Mechanistic' 'Process' in support of a 'Personal' Relationship'.
  • Our 'Systematic' endeavors are generally characterized by 'Mechanistic' 'Process' in 'Communal' 'Relationship'.
  • We are being 'Systemic' when our 'Natural' 'Processes' combine with 'Personal' 'Relationship'.
  • We have ' Living Systems ' when our 'Natural' 'Processes' combine with 'Communal' Relationship'.

One of our challenges is to breathe life into whatever we are designing. Our request is that when you design to meet the requirements of the Ecozoic Era, that you use all the art forms at your disposal - that you sing, dance, write, draw and every form of embodiment so that you are as alive as you can be in this process.

With regard to drawing, it is interesting to note that in Betty Edwards', Drawing from the Right Hand Side of the Brain, she describes a workshop exercise that has folks drawing a picture of an old man. Later in the workshop, unknown to her students, the same picture of the old man is placed in front of them upside down which renders it unrecognizable, and they are asked to draw it. Invariably, the second drawings, when turned upside down, have a closer resemblance to the picture of the old man. The reason given was that when students see a recognizable pattern and draw it, the thinking emerges from the left hand side of the brain. But when the subject is unrecognizable (as it was when it was upside down) the right hand side of the brain takes over. I remember thinking, what if we could figure out a way to turn all our intractable problems over to the right hand side of our brains? As I proceed with sustainability work, I suspect that's what we're trying to do, and succeeding to a degree with processes like Appreciative Inquiry .

Our work is a never-ending learning process, and inherent in that learning is the suspending of disbelief and asking questions. When we accept that our universe and all of its life forms including our organizations are living systems, then we need to ask some of the following questions:

  • What brings life to whatever system is in question?
  • How does it breathe?
  • What is its metabolic function?
  • What are its strengths?
  • Is it resilient?
  • What is the ‘DNA' of its seed?
  • What nurturing does it need?
  • How does it interrelate with other systems - how is it part of the web of life?
  • Is there a life-death-life continuum to be considered?

In answering these questions, we also address a deeper understanding of our systems' attributes - dissipation and composting, emergence, structural coupling, and autopoiesis. In doing this work we are better able to discern the organizational components of our system as fixed and the structure in constant flux. As we recognize all the systems around us as being alive, we may discern the harmonious relationships that abound, and the potential for creating harmony in the often dissonant systems with which we co-exist. Hopefully, a deeper clarity of what brings life to each of us as well as our organizations is emerging.

A few years ago I was following a story in the Portland newspapers about the neighboring town of Damascus, which was going through a transformative upheaval. In Oregon we have an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) that is intended to contain urban and suburban sprawl and keep our farms and parklands intact. Damascus was a farming community adjacent to the UGB, but the legislature had redrawn the UGB, and now much of the community was made available for development. The situation was very touchy, and a group called ‘1000 Friends of Oregon' was brought in to work with the community.

One evening I drove out to a public meeting in which the results of a study that included a great deal of community participation was to be unveiled. I could feel the tension and anger emanating from many of the townspeople. The study had three basic components -a ‘Home' team that laid out a plan for development; a ‘Go' team that laid out transportation alternatives; and a ‘Green' team to look at environmental options. There were ‘maps' on the walls pictorially showing the three components. The creation of the ‘maps' was a community effort lead by a university team from British Columbia. The thing that struck me as most brilliant about the work was the sequence in which it was presented. They started with the ‘Green' Teams environmental study and seemed to be creating unanimous agreement as they showed how they were protecting their water-sheds and other natural resources as well as providing ‘green spaces' and recreation areas. It made mapping of the ‘Home' team and ‘Go' team plans much more palatable. There was still some extreme difficulty in accepting what was happening to their community, but it was spoken within the context of respect for the work that had been done.

Toward the end of the evening, a gentleman made what for me was the most profound statement. He said that he thought we needed to take the time to grieve the loss of our farms and the way of life that we were losing. From my context of trying to re-achieve sustainability, it seems reasonable that we all have grieving to do for the losses that have accumulated over the last several generations - our relationship with the Earth with its seasons and sensuous beauty, our sense of sufficiency, and our commitment to the common good for the generations who follow. I say all this because I believe that some grieving and owning of our responsibilities is integral to our design.

The objective is to have ‘Global Community'; the guiding principles that I often turn to are the ones articulated by the United Nations in their document, ‘ The Earth Charter .' For me it is an organic document intended to change very slowly to accommodate our collective conscious evolution.

It is interesting here to go back to the first section of the book, and see the Ecozoic Era as an Infinite Game, organized around our guiding principles and living our most cherished virtues. The single overarching principle being, whatever we do must be sustainable. Then define the finite games that need to be played and their corresponding rules. We design so our competitiveness is tempered with sportsmanship and compassion; our finite games are all played within the infinite container and there is a blending of the two; and we structure for inclusiveness and honoring the dignity and sovereignty of all participants.





Based on a review of your journals and the insights in this chapter --

What are the aspects of your life that would benefit by being discerned as living systems?
How might you bring them to life through song, dance, art, ritual, prayer to name a few?
How do you envision a scalability so that the new life you bring to your life are embraced by your surrounding communities?


Rev. 2009-03-01 MOM


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