You’re Just Too Stupid To Know …

Well, that Heineken commercial – the Worlds Apart #OpenYourWorld video – is certainly garnering attention – positive, excited, provocative, and outrage. I have to admit, the outrage part caught me by surprise. And seeing a headline that says it is worse than the Pepsi commercial, but “you’re just too stupid to know” does not feel like an invitation that welcomes me into an exploration of why that might be.

Heineken commercial photo

I saw the Heineken video about a week ago (have not seen the Pepsi one) and it resonated for me in relation to the work we are doing with Worldview Intelligence. The biggest challenge people seem to have is about how to have conversations with people who have very different worldviews, perspectives, or opinions than they have. The kinds of conversations that usually shut down before they even begin. The kinds of situations that have torn families and friendships apart.

I see now that there are people pointing out that some of the people in the video are more at risk than others – a point which seems valid to me. Some of the scenarios were much milder and some much riskier – climate change believer and denier paired up versus a transgender woman and a man disgusted by the very idea. Some think it perpetuates the very situations and scenarios it is highlighting.

What I wondered after seeing the video was: how? How did they do it? What was the invitation that was made to the people who participated? How was the scenario of the exchange set up? How did they create “safe enough” conditions for participation? They clearly went to a fair bit of work in the preparation since they had videos of each person created prior to their meeting.

If I already don’t like the video, I’m more likely to click on the stories that tell me it is dangerous, idiotic or harmful. It will confirm my perspective – confirmation bias. If I like the video, telling me “I’m too stupid to know …” makes me feel judged and does not make me interested in reading the post – which maybe I should be reading in order to expand my worldview.

For me, watching the video made me more curious about how to create environments where people who see and experience the world very differently can meet each other in exploratory spaces – something greatly needed and desired right now by many we encounter in our work. How to do it well in increasingly challenging situations – well, that is the question and the exploration at the center of much of the work of Worldview Intelligence.

Worldview Intelligence at the Geneva Model United Nations

One of the joys of working with the Worldview Intelligence framework is discovering both the specificity and the elasticity of its use as it is applied to a wide variety of situations and circumstances. In November 2016, with Nancy Bragard and Rolf Schneideriet, we delivered the first full European Worldview Intelligence Program in Germany. Since then a lovely European Community of Practice has emerged. It was in Germany where we first met Stéphan Krajcik and where he became quite enthused with the possibilities for Worldview Intelligence.

Stephan KrajcikStéphan left the Worldview program and immediately contacted the Model UN in Geneva where he lives and in which his children participate. During the Model UN, participating students from many different countries are asked to represent another country as a member of the UN. Stéphan was pursing an idea he fleshed out during an open space exploration while in the Germany program. Having watched his children participate in the Model UN, he held a curiosity about how students from around the world prepare to take on their role, carrying in the views of a country they are assigned but do not know. He saw the Worldview Intelligence exploration as a way of preparing more personally and deeply to represent the views of that country.

Stéphan adapted the Worldview Intelligence materials to be used by the student participants and proposed to the Model UN that they add the materials to the students’ preparation. It turns out that the timeline for bringing new material to the Model UN was shorter than imagined, so there was not time to introduce a full blown Worldview Intelligence approach – that is next on the agenda. However, the framework was made available to students online and those that voluntarily chose to use it found it helpful.

Seeing students discover new ways of exploring different worldviews is an exciting application of the framework, as we also discovered when we brought students and employers together in Grand Rapids to think together about the future workplace, and we are looking forward to further evolution of this opportunity with the Model UN.

If you are interested in seeing Stéphan’s adaption, you can view it at the Model UN site.

A Mess of Contradictions. How Do We Find Ways Forward?

Do you believe you are not biased? Or, not very, anyway? Would it surprise you to know that each of us is born with a built in bias called “naïve realism”, where we believe we are not biased?

Naïve realism makes us believe our own views are reasonable, even if they are not. It makes it easy to default to judgment of other people and their views — because they are “just wrong”. It is as if accepting another person’s experience or view somehow invalidates our own or makes us wrong, and we have a hard time with that. But we live in a world where multiple truths, multiple experiences, multiple views and opinions exist. Not just some of the time. All of the time. It is all real. It is all true, to one degree or another. Generally, those degrees closer to our experiences are easier to accept, those most different are harder to accept.

The idea that views can be so easily categorized as right and wrong is antithetical to finding our way out of the increasingly fragmented, polarized and often inflamed exchanges we increasingly find ourselves in or witnessing. We see people, sometimes even ourselves, resort to the most primal of instincts of defending our own views and dismissing another’s views. We have seen these exchanges descend rapidly into de-humanizing another person or group simply because of disagreeing with their views or trying to protect our own or our own sense of identity, our territory or turf. And, of course, there is also nothing simple in this.

How is it that we come to defend our own views passionately even when so much contradictory information exists? How did we come to such a toxic state of public discourse? It is complex, there are several dynamics at play including fear and behavioural sciences offer us an opportunity to find our way to understanding – even when it presents us with “cognitive dissonance”.

Cognitive dissonance is that feeling of discomfort that occurs when we try to hold two contradictory thoughts, opinions or views at the same time. One view resonates with our beliefs and the other disagrees with it. When we are presented with evidence that works against our beliefs, to maintain a feeling of comfort, we reject the new evidence. What if we were able to hold that space and live into that discomfort for even a few minutes? And then a few minutes longer? Without feeling like you have to give up your own view or invalidate your own experience, could you possibly come to enough curiosity to try to understand why another person feels the way they do, why they hold the view they do, what it is in their experience that has shaped their worldview?

Our view of the world – our worldview – is shaped locally and socially – by where we are at any given time and by the people we come into contact with, from when we are born to now. Our views shift and change over time, often without our awareness of it happening. Our views of the world are supported and reinforced by the people we surround ourselves with. If we are part of a dominant culture it can be less easy, and sometimes almost impossible, to see and acknowledge the perspectives and experiences of other people.

At any given time in society, there are voices that go unheard and oppressed. While this may not surprise us, what does surprise us at times is who or what groups feel unheard and oppressed. We might expect to hear it from Native American or First Nations or African American or African Canadian populations but are surprised, for instance, to hear it from white people in the rust belt of the United States. The inability to hear it keeps it under the surface, bubbling along until something occurs to inflame it.

The current US president has tapped into themes that many people believe deeply in – so deeply that it is part of their sense of identity. When our identity is threatened, we respond as if our very life is threatened. That is one reason why there is so much defensiveness and combativeness in exchanges. And why we pick through information to hold onto that which supports our sense of identify despite so much contradictory information existing.

Underlying all of this is a sense of betrayal – many people who voted for the current president have felt betrayed for a long time by systems that have not worked for them. They were likely joined by those more recently feeling disaffected or like their voice is not being heard. Those who are now at the behest of a current administration they did not vote for feel betrayed by those who did. We dance around this betrayal because we do not know how to confront it in ways that lead to dialog and understanding, and because betrayal is a word laden with dark emotional significance. Most people can barely take themselves to the place of even being able to say the word and acknowledge their experience, let alone recover from it.

Our greatest opportunity to influence someone – or even ourselves – is before we make a decision. Once we make a decision, we go out of our way to confirm and reconfirm it, becoming more attached to it in the process. We are motivated to defend and reinforce our decision – “motivated reasoning” – because it is now part of how we see and understand ourselves. Changing our mind is tantamount to an identity crisis, so we keep looking for information that supports our point of view – “confirmation bias”. The more we do this, the more we change the circuitry of our brains, deepening particular neural pathways, making it easier and faster for cues to travel these pathways. The more attached we become to our decision, our view, the more likely we are to ignore contradictory information – obviously it can’t be true and also to fall into disbelief about how the other person or group could possibly think and act the way they do. Just notice what links you click on and what ones you don’t. Notice your reaction to contradictory information or views.

Our total disbelief that others could have a contradictory view, which we often believe is not based in fact or reality because it is not based in our facts or reality, further hinders our potential to be in productive conversation. Instead of trying to understand this different perspective or how someone came to hold it we are more likely to want to ridicule them and be angry at them. This is not compassionate or empathetic to those who hold a different perspective and being compassionate or empathetic does not mean we need to agree with them or change our own view.

It is complex and it requires us to find points of connection, to meet each other in our humanity — which is easy to say and less easy to create the circumstances and environment where we can find these points of connection especially when in the presence of very disparate points of view. If National discourses do not take us in this direction, then we, each and every one of us who remembers our basic humanity, need to sit with what we do not know, sit with the uncomfortableness that arises from our own dissonance to find ways forward. Maybe we need to go out and find the very thing or person we think we fear to find a way to build strength and opportunity from and through our differences. How else do we do this thing?

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Note: In a recent Worldview Intelligence program as we explored this very topic, it was pointed out that there is a time and place for different responses and responding to an injustice occurring right in front of you might be a time for action now and conversation later. The need to create exploratory spaces does not mean there is also not a need for other courses of action. It is not one or the other but many possibilities at any given time.

 

Tolerance is Insufficient

It is not enough to tolerate something or someone. We cannot tolerate each other into connection, understanding or belonging. We will not tolerate our issues, concerns and challenges into progress or tolerate our way into finding paths forward on issues that matter to us all.

Say or think the word. Feel into it. Roll it around in your mind or on your tongue. Feel the energy of it. Tolerance is not generous or expansive. It is elitist. It suggests, I’ll put up with you or with your opinion even if I think it is wrong or misguided — because — I’m tolerant?

Medical definitions of tolerance are about the capacity to endure pain or hardship; it is about endurance, fortitude, stamina. How long can I hold out? How much do I have to put up with?

Eventually the veneer of tolerance cracks. We give in or give up. Whatever causes us to be dismissive of other views or another person’s experience as if it was not valid, also causes us to go from tolerance to annoyance to frustration to anxiety to fear and even to hate. It causes us to justify our own sense of superiority, experience, knowledge – the reasons my beliefs, my values, my faith are true. I am right. You are something less than right all the way to completely wrong.

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Candle Light Vigil and Halifax Grand Parade post the Quebec City Mosque Killings – connecting to share sorrow and grief with others

So, if tolerance is insufficient to find ways forward, what do we need? The capacity to suspend judgment. To be genuinely curious about another person, their experiences and how they have come to see the world the way they have. To bring humility and generosity to truly engage in a conversation of discovery. To honour not just the other person’s perspective but also our own and any number of other ones that might exist.

From a point of connection, we can explore differences and discover the vibrancy that exists in another person’s experiences. From understanding we can empathize with each other and discover the humanity that exists in each of us. From these we can create places and spaces of belonging. This causes us to move past the fear that holds us in the place of tolerance that often becomes intolerance.

Participants from the United Tribes Technical College and the North Dakota State University meeting each other in worldview explorations in support of hosting community conversations about Standing Rock, the pipeline and racism. Jan 2017

This is essentially the work and result of Worldview Intelligence and the explorations invited – whether personal, cultural, organizational or about a social system. Everywhere we go we hear, we really need this right now. It is why we care deeply about this work, why it is our life passion. Building connection in an increasingly fragmented and polarized world. Generating understanding in a time when the impulse is to cocoon away from the world and protect ourselves from “the other”. Because tolerance is not enough. Because true compassion and understanding requires meeting someone else in their experience.

The shortest distance between two people is a story. Can you be available to hear someone else’s story and share your own?

It Is the Multiplicity of Stories That Shape Who We Are – Individually and Collectively – And It Is Time To Invite Them All Now

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories are how we make sense of our experiences. For each of us individually we have a multitude of stories. We know this and yet, it is easy to default to a single story when we think of another culture, another region, another country or even another political party – as is the current danger in many countries including the US. This leads us to more fragmentation and polarization and makes it harder to be open to the complexities that are true of any individual, culture, region or country.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In her July 2009 TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story, Nigerian author and story teller  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, offers that stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. They can be used to empower and to humanize. They have been used to break a people and they can be used to restore dignity.

A single story robs people of their dignity, it makes recognition of equal humanity difficult and it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. Some of our greatest learning comes from people the least like us.

For each of us, an impression will arrive in a nano-second at the consideration of any of these words (or others): America, Canada, France, Europe, Africa, man, woman, child, immigrant, refugee, Brexit. The lines that enter our heads are often of a single story, easily and quickly told. And this single story does not capture the whole of the story. Ngozi Adichie speaks of how she bristles when people describe Africa as a country. It is not a country. It is a continent full of countries. There is not one singular African experience, just like there is not one singular American or Canadian or European experience.

She also shares how we significantly change the story depending on what we identify as the starting point. When we start the story at “secondly”, as in, when we start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans not with the arrival of the Europeans, we have an entirely different story. When the story starts with the failures of the African States and not with the colonialization of the African States, we have an entirely different story. Starting point matters.

Focusing on negative stories flattens the experience of individuals, cultures and countries. It ignores the totality of the things that have shaped them. A single story is not untrue, but it is not complete.

Power lies with the people who tell the story about another. Showing a people as a single story creates a power imbalance that can only be brought back into balance by sharing and examining the multiplicity of stories that are also true – the “ands” rather than the either/or’s. And, different versions of the same story is not a multitude of stories.

Worldview Intelligence asks that we invite a multiplicity of stories to exist in the same space. One story does not negate another story – individually, culturally, region wise, in a country. The many stories make visible the interweave of all that is true, of all that influences how someone, or a culture, has come to see and experience the world the way they do.

It is only in opening up our willingness to see this multitude of stories that we will learn from each other, connect with each other and find ways forward that do not currently seem to exist.

In the words of a very good friend and colleague, Lemoine Lapointe, “we have forgotten how to visit with each other.” It is time to visit again with our neighbours with curiosity, compassion and an open mind, open heart and open spirit – not to negate our own worldview or even to change it, but to allow for an expansion that leads to the possibilities of the very different experiences that have shaped we are – individually and collectively – today.

Not On My Watch, Although I Am Still Deep In Shock

It’s been seven weeks since the American election and I, like so many people I know, am still in shock. I find myself going through the motions of my life, living into the moments as they appear while at the same time there is a niggling little curiosity that tugs at the corners of my mind. Is this what it was like in pre-war (pick any time period) Germany, France, Austria and so many other countries? Were there people who wondered at the inanity of it all, who feared for the future, who could see disaster lurking around the corner and felt powerless to stop it? Did they think the things my mind turns to as I wonder what the future will hold? As on a daily basis there are choices made that seem incredulous? Like all the cabinet picks who couldn’t be more opposite than the intent of the portfolios they’ve been assigned to or the focus of the President elect’s tweets as he seems intent on not actually running the country he is not qualified to run in the first place. Glibly uncaring about the impact of his actions, behaviours and words.

On the one hand it seems laughable. Until I pause and think about the possible ramifications of it all. Which then has me, in the back of my mind, wondering with each normal activity, with each dinner, with each celebration I am part of, how close to the brink of disaster, or even planet wide annihilation, are we? And do I even want to know? The whole idea is not that far-fetched. Not as far-fetched as it may have seemed six months ago.

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’, said Frodo.

‘So do I’, said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look bleak. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. We shall be hard put to it. We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance…”

This is how I feel. Like I am about to witness an age I did not imagine possible in my lifetime. And I wonder what my role in this time will be, what the role of my children will be, what the role of all brave hobbits will be, as events unfold.

well-informed-or-sane-comicI struggle to know what well-informed means these days given the propensity of fake news, my knowledge of how our worldviews influence the information we pay attention to and how social media creates bubbles of like minded, like values people. I am drawn to read articles in my desire to understand and to look for any rays of hope. Some days I just want to shut it all off – like two decades ago when I stopped watching the news with any regularity and stopped subscribing to the newspaper. Those days you could watch a news story or read an article and maybe you chatted to the people you lived with or were next to and that was mostly the end of the story.

 

With social media, our “news” and our social connection are entwined. A news story gets shared with all our social media friends, it doesn’t stop at the breakfast table. Turning off the news now also means, for many of us, disconnecting from social networks that are also life affirming for me and for many of us. And we have the opportunity to connect dots thanks to social media – an opportunity not available in the same way in previous eras. I am haunted by the thought, will we just notice what is happening or will we find ways to stand up to our own values, our own personal integrity? Will we keep finding the moments to be courageous and keep shining the light – we need this now as much or more as in any previous moment.

So much of what I read only fuels the uncertainty and anxiety I feel about the future. Looking for those stories that give me hope can almost seem like such a small drop in the bucket, to be almost futile. Almost. And yet, since I do not have influence in the political systems of power, what can I do and what can I influence? What can you do? What can you influence?

Look close to home. Hold loved ones close. Keep doing the work you are here to do. Look for opportunities to take a stand. Do not hide. Be a person who champions, supports and advocates for those who are more at risk. Learn about how other people see the world, especially those with very different worldviews than your own. Otherwise the danger of increasing fragmentation and polarization grows and it becomes increasingly difficult to find our way. Look for inspiration in all the places you can find it and surround yourself with people who encourage you. Look for and create new systems of influence.

I wish it need not have happened in my time, in this time. But, since it is happening in my time, in our time, we still have choice. Let’s exercise it as often as we can. Let’s keep our eyes open. Let’s stay woke. So in the times to come, we can say, “not on my watch. I did everything in my power to do the right thing, even when it was hard, even when I was challenged, even when I felt powerless, even when I did not know what to do.”

Chaos on the Other Side of Worldview Collisions

On November 9, 2016 we woke up to an upside down world where the impossible was realized and many people, communities and organizations were thrust into chaos. One thing that was increasingly clear throughout the very long US election process is that people became very attached to their worldviews – me and my friends included – and this set the stage for the collision of worldviews in the most visible fervent political and personal exchanges many of us have witnessed.

This showed up in deep attachment to candidates and hostility to anyone who wasn’t that candidate or supporting that candidate. People with varying worldviews were incredulous that others could actually support their candidate of choice. That was expressed in arguments and, increasingly, in attacks on people who supported a different candidate. There was a vehemence in the attacks. It happened amongst friends, calling into question friendships both new and longstanding. It fuelled more vigorous debates and sometimes divides within families. And people found themselves being attacked for their views by others they did not even know. There was more unfriending and blocking in social media than on any previous collision of worldviews (that I am aware of).

If there is anything we know now more than ever, we need spaces where we can be kind, generous, compassionate, generative and creative with each other to find ways forward when issues are challenging and worldviews collide. The work of Worldview Intelligence is advancing and we have created one such space with a new listserve – the WVI Global Forum. This is intended to be a space where we can support each other, ask questions, share resources and collectively imagine a future we all want to live into in. You can search it out and join it in Google Groups.

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While it is still in its infancy, a discussion has already begun there, sparked by a question, “Is it a new worldview we need? Or the original?”

Which sparks another question about what is an original worldview? The answer is, that it is different for everyone. And it could be that we remember a past that is more romanticized than real. Some want the future to be an idealized remembrance of a better past, some want the future to be radically different and many just don’t know and we cannot see the way forward.

Where we get trapped is in believing there is one worldview, one story, one narrative that we either all have lived or we can all agree to. In advocating for that one worldview – which of course would be the one I’m advocating not any of the various others that exist out there – divides deepen. In a Duke Chronicle article Tears and Cheers, Julian Keeley, says these divides are accompanied by growing political animosity to the degree that in some families it is unacceptable to be in relationship with someone from the other party, even in families with a growing acceptance of being in relationship with someone of a different ethnicity. She advocates for familiarity which can lead to empathy and even love.

The work of Worldview Intelligence is to look for the new narratives that will help us all make sense of our experiences individually and collectively. This is not one story but an interweaving of a multiple of narratives until we begin to see the tapestry of these different experiences come alive in the same space. We will not be able to get to that place until we invite ourselves to step back, to take a breath, stop name calling and proliferating information that may or may not be facts. It is not to let go of our worldview or our preferred candidate but to reach out to truly understand why someone who supports another candidate or has a different worldview has come to see the situation or the world the way they do.

So many people are not feeling heard. Shutting them down does not change the way they feel, it only exacerbates it. It doesn’t go away as we have witnessed in this US campaign season. Finding the courage and compassion within ourselves to embark on the quest is part of what is needed to heal the rifts, to step out of our own rhetoric long enough to invite someone else out of theirs, to reach the human being who is acting out of fear, passion, determination and desire for a better life.

We each have our own notions of what that means and how to get there. Even as I write this I feel my own worldview and attachment rise to the surface wanting to be expressed.   But I will not come to understand why someone has come to see the issue the way they do if I cannot open the space to listen. After all, it is not about a candidate and all the data we can find to support our point of view. It is about something that is fundamentally important to each of us as individuals, about our sense of identity and the drive to survive in a world that does not make sense to us anymore.

Van Jones has done a brilliant job of reaching out to people, in a video series called #TheMessyTruth which you can find on his Facebook Page, who have very different views than his to try to understand what people are thinking and to create openings along the way for humanity to show up. He does not let go of his worldview. He asks compelling questions and he does not judge the people he talks to.

This is the challenge now for each of us. To reach out to someone whose views we do not understand, not to convince them that the way we see the world is the right way or that our candidate is the right one, but to dig into motivations, fears, desires and find the human beings under the easily spouted rhetoric and “facts” that are not always facts.

I know this is easy for me to say. I am not in danger. There are others who are. Many of my US based friends could well be in danger and I want them to be safe. And some people are more reachable and some less. But we have to start somewhere to change the conversation because the circumstances are already dire and urgent and lives truly are at stake.

As Otto Scharmer said in his Huffington Post article On the Making of Trump and the Blind Spot that Created Him, “We have entered a watershed moment not only here in America, but also globally. It’s a moment that could help us wake up to a deeper level of collective awareness and renewal—or a moment when we could spiral down into chaos, violence, and fascism-like conditions. Whether it’s one or the other depends on our capacity to become aware of our collective blind spot.” He advocates the need to lean in to what wants to emerge—and build architectures of collaboration rather than architectures of separation.

As another person on the WVI Global Forum said, “It is time for a new worldview that will begin with each of us as we journey inward to uncover our stories about who we are and how we are in the world.  I am choosing to reach for the spark that is calling me to show up in the world differently.  To have compassion, to love, to listen to understand and to be peace.”

If the US election has taught us anything it should surely have taught us that the impossible is possible. So, let’s begin now.

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