Leaders: How Do We Tell The Story Of The Future We Want And Invite Others Into It?
by Ginny Whitelaw – Originally published on Forbes.com
We learn from stories. We make meaning through stories. Every wisdom tradition has been passed down through stories. As leaders, we know the importance of stories in reinforcing the values of a culture, bringing a strategy to life or painting a picture of the future. But many of the stories we tell come from our dissecting intellect and are focused on problems: what’s the root cause? Who’s to blame? Our 24-hour news cycle is awash in such stories; our politics thrive on them, and so do many of our meetings and conversations. Leading into a world of hyper-charged volatility and intersecting issues from climate to collapsing biodiversity, to inequities, racism, violence and war, we find no shortage of problems to dissect or blame to assign.
Where are we telling the story of the future we want?
That question, posed by Elder Iya Tahirah Abubakr in the One Earth, One Health, One With summit last week, landed in me with force. The purpose of the summit was to gather leaders who care about the thriving of people, planet and the future to feel into what more they can do and be better resource to do it. For years we have taught leaders the power of focusing their attention on what they want, not on what they don’t want. As Richard Strozzi Heckler puts it, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” From a physics perspective, attention itself is a form of energy that affects what it focuses on. That’s why we can feel the difference between someone sincerely listening to us versus not paying attention and why, when we focus on problems, we end up giving energy to them, too. So even though some of the summit sessions highlighted climate and health problems we either face or foster, I heard Elder Iya’s words and the story of the future I wanted arose in me with a fierce determination to be told. But it wasn’t just my story; it belonged to everyone who came to this summit and countless others committed to acts of healing and regeneration.
I offer it to you as an example. Perhaps this story of the future will also resonate in you. Or perhaps it will help you clarify the future you want and the story you would tell. Or perhaps it will simply give you an idea of how to craft a story with others. Before starting this story, given the online format of the summit, I asked everyone to write and have ready to share in the chat three things: something you learned, something you will do and some support that will help you. At three points in the story, I called out their answers in a “chatterfall,” a sampling of which is italicized in what follows. Here is our story.
Once upon a time
Lived a species on a flourishing planet.
Evolutionary impulse brought them self-awareness, consciousness, and that consciousness did evolve into logic and great cleverness.
It also brought them through times where might made right, what the Elders have called a masculine imbalance, where all things feminine were devalued, oppressed, and used, including Mother Earth.
But this great yang energy ushered in great progress: metal work and munitions, markets and ways of accumulating wealth, science and technologies, steam power, electricity, industrial revolutions, an information age and even machines whose logic was faster than their own. The species came to value money and built great enterprises to maximize it.
Also came great trauma from wars, atrocities, extraction, slavery, colonization…scar tissue spreading across generations.
Forces of light and dark played out, not only between people but within each person. For the forces of light and dark are always within each person.
But there came a time when the consequences of this great imbalance threatened not only the downtrodden and disadvantaged, but the entire species. The people’s science and medicine showed the problems: the heating up, the dying off, the drying up, the cycles of water and nutrients disrupted.
The enormity and complexity of the problem frightened people and, for some time, they denied, ignored, and argued about it.
But life kept breaking through. Nature in her healing kept calling, Wake up! Indigenous voices and others connected to nature raised their voices. Wake up. Wake up!
And the women began to gather, too. Finding their power, their power to heal. Recognizing they had work to do.
Increasingly people began to gather in pockets, in circles, in conferences and summits, to talk, to learn. For example, they learned:
- We are not alone
- How to think like nature
- Collective energy can bring beautiful, collective change
- All is sacred
- Inside healing is outside healing and outside healing is inside healing
- To stay in service, rest, walk the land
- We can accept the gift and power of forgiving the unforgivable
- The value of deep listening
- The felt power of being one and what that can do
And they found that the more they could experience their connection, their one-withness with one another, with nature, the more their intuition and creativity showed ways forward.
The more they could see how healing on the inside helped them heal brokenness in the world.
They could see how to work at multiple levels. They started taking steps forward, taking actions large and small, close-in and close to the bone, such as:
- Slowing down, pausing to rest
- Connecting with Mother Earth
- Sitting with what needs to be shed so that what needs to come can come through me
- Planting my gardens and sharing what we grow as a family.
- Starting an All We Can Save circle
- Spreading the message of the documentary, The Ants and the Grasshopper.
- Listening better
- Loving everyone and telling the truth
- Supporting our youth in co-creating safe, empowering, creative spaces.
- Engaging my progeny on what we will do as a family
- Continuing to share and tell this story
They also encountered mighty resistance, as others who were frightened hung onto what they knew or tried to conserve the past that had enriched them.
But these people knew to expect this. They knew that others were only afraid. They had faced this fear in themselves and had healed it, so they knew how to help others heal.
Their movement and actions spread further as more enterprises found their own regeneration in nature-based practices, as young people fled traditional businesses and ossified organizations and joined those that were teeming with life.
People came to value connection, love and joy more than monetary symbols of connection, love and joy, and economic models adapted to what people valued.
From companies to cities, the ethos of unbounded growth was replaced with a systemic sense of best fit for survival; Darwin’s original meaning at last understood.
People could feel what enough was, and they remembered how to feed each of their needs just enough and how to care enough for all of their relations.
Even the politics of blame and shame began to change, as more people were freed up by forgiveness, and they brought a harmonizing power to life.
And when their energy would flag or the way forward would grow cloudy, these people were grounded in systems of support, for example:
- Connecting with like-minded thinkers and doers
- Listening to all the beings that share this garden, asking for guidance, forgiveness and support
- Moving forward with gratitude, curiosity and kindness
- A kind voice to say yes, keep going. Take a rest as even that is keeping going. And know you are ready enough!
- Feeling support from the land beneath my feet
- Connecting with community, loved ones, nature
- Humor and playfulness
- Help in seeing what is possible that I can’t see myself, as in what happened this week
- Staying in balance with all that is
These were an enlivened people, blessed by a calling they had jointly heard and collectively answered. Joyful because they got to live and lead on purpose. Joyful because they were dancing with life.
Not as saviors—they had no need for such arrogance—because they knew both their infinite and infinitesimal sides: Their whole self embracing the entire universe and all of life and their personal self here at this time, in this place, in service of that whole.
And they did their infinite and infinitesimal jobs of opening the portal wide enough that an upleveling in human consciousness emerged, a new quality of leader, a new dispensation, in which body and mind reunited and heart and hara could guide the intellect.
Where masculine and feminine were reconciled, self and other, two-legged and other beings, even life and death and the unborn and undying; Competition and cooperation danced together, as this people, this species earned the right to advance in the evolutionary story. Earned their right to continue to tell it.
Ginny Whitelaw is the Founder and CEO of the Institute for Zen Leadership.
Do we know how to find you?
If you received this from a friend and want your own monthly boost of insight and resources, let us know.