Last night, DJ and I attended a very interesting event called The Next Stage: Real People Speaking Frankly About Difficult Questions. Hosted by lauded designer/writer/educator Jessica Helfand, this unique event brought together 35 folks from a variety of backgrounds—designers, scientists, anthropologists, academics, corporate people, etc.—to basically spend three hours collectively responding to questions like:
- what are the unintended consequences behind our good intent?
- how do we learn to interrogate our own held assumptions in the moment?
- what is the privilege of having a pulse? (i.e. being human)
- why are we obsessed with scale? and why do we only think about scaling up, never down?
- why do we talk about power as if we don't have any?
- how do we learn to be with difference?
The conversations that developed in this open forum were enlightening. We explored ideas like the breakdown in understanding of a common good in America and what we might do to get it back. The room suggested that to build a thriving society we need a shift to valuing souls over money. We discussed how we're conditioned to depersonalize (think big data) even though we recognize that to solve problems for real people we need close proximity to said problem and said people. We talked about how we measure success and wondered if success in our work could simply look like shaping one conscience, compassionate human heart at a time. The topics were rich and the wisdom in the room was palpable.
But alas, conversation does not equal action does it? For folks who tend to measure value by hard and fast outcomes and tangible takeaways, (i.e. most of us), I imagine an event like this one could be considered a waste of time or, at the very least, frustrating. Yet, if we're only after concise deliverables, then we're not allowing ourselves to see something far greater: let's call it a shared moment of emptying. In our short time together, we shared intensely personal and meaningful stories from our lived experience. There was a realness and a rawness pouring out from the voices in the room. In some ways, it was as if we had created a collective "confessional booth"—a space to both share something held deep within ourselves and to listen with great attentiveness to fellow humans across the aisle. To me, this felt like precisely the outcome we need more of.
It's clear that society is balancing on a precipice and something must shift if we expect to remain standing through the prevailing headwinds of division, divisiveness and narcissism. We've lost something. And we need good, moral guides to help us regain our values. I think Jessica is one of those guides. Surely you know others. I'll end by suggesting that we all have what it takes to be good stewards of souls, but we must start by taking a good close look at our own. This is the work. And this work requires patience and persistence, humility and community.
Slow and steady friends.