Society’s Iceberg: What’s Below the Surface?

By Delphine Pastiaux-Murphy

Concerning the future of our communities, our country, and our planet, the issues on our radar today are myriad.

It’s not easy to decide where to invest our time and energy, do the research needed to have an intelligent and informed perspective, and take action.

Enter humankind, speaking about connection, deep listening, and meaningful conversations. humankind doesn’t focus on any one “compelling issue.” Of course it’s nice to think about connection and more authentic conversations. But isn’t it more urgent to tackle more tangible instances of inequality, violence, or some particular issue that has concrete consequences in many lives? Urgency and perceived “concrete-ness” tend to attract our attention. They’re compelling.

And yet, we also sense the importance of a less obvious issue: the lack of connection in our communities, country, in our personal lives. It’s becoming a compelling issue of its own, with its low voice humming in the background of almost everything we do. What if this lack of connection was the common characteristic of all the other issues that draw our attention, in the background of everything?

Theory U, developed by Otto Scharmer and his colleagues at MIT’s Presencing Institute, uses an “iceberg model” to describe the general state of things in the world.

The 10% of the iceberg that is visible represents the disturbances we see in society, and is the result of 3 different types of disconnect or divides between each of us (Self) and: nature / our fellow human beings (“other”) / our own deeper Self.

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According to Otto Scharmer in The Essentials of Theory U, the ecological divide can be summed up by a single number: 1.5. Currently our global economy, on average, consumes the resources of 1.5 planets. In the United States, the current consumption rate has surpassed 5 times the regeneration capacity of planet Earth.

The social divide can be summed up by another number: 8. Eight billionaires (a small group of people that you could fit into a minivan) own as much as half of mankind combined, 3.8 billion people.

The spiritual divide can be summed up by the number 800,000 — the number of people who commit suicide each year, a number greater than the sum of people who are killed by war, murder and natural disasters combined.

Hope resides in the fact that more and more people realize that the 3 divides are not 3 separate problems but are 3 different aspects of a root issue: our blind spot, as Scharmer calls it. “The blind spot,” he writes, “concerns the inner place - the source -  from which we operate when we act, communicate, perceive or think. We can see what we do (results). We can see how we do it (process). But we are usually not aware of the who: the inner place or source from which we operate.”

Bill O’Brien, longtime CEO of Hanover Insurance, summed up his greatest insight after years of leading transformational change: “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” The inner source that feeds our individual as well as collective actions does matter. It determines whether these actions are producing more of the same, or are bringing forth some real transformation — something that starts building bridges across the divides.

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humankind events explore the realm of our thought processes (and the behaviors they produce) and of the source of these processes in ourselves. We believe starting there shakes the structures and systems from the inside and builds bridges where we currently have divides on the emerged part of the iceberg.

  • Democracy...

  • Community-building...

  • Influencing policies for a 21st century that turns towards the future of humankind…

  • Intimacy...

  • Authentic connections formed in the moment with loved ones or with strangers we meet in a random place or at an event...

  • Connection to oneself that really resonates with what we know to be true about ourselves…

All of these are expressions of the same ability to become aware of what is already here, wanting to emerge. Listening, in ourselves and in others, to what German 20th century philosopher and theologist Martin Bubber calls “the future that needs us to emerge.”

So at humankind we focus on various ways to experiment with connecting and with listening, anchoring community-building in values and in our own exploration of what human rights are (the Dignity Initiative / Learning from Tostan) and learning to hear other people’s perspective on a topic and where it came from in their own journey (beyond the opinions-conclusions that they ended up drawing for themselves and that we may disagree with), listening chiefly for what wants to emerge from any interaction we have: our shared humanity (Living Room Conversations – Listening Labs).

The questions we ask ourselves and each other sound like: What could I do differently to change my ingrained habits of disconnect? What else could I try, explore, and…try again?

What ideas for creating connections do YOU have? What hunches would you like to explore — using a tool you know of, or created yourself, to resonate with what sings its song inside you?

humankind aspires to be a space, a container, for people to bring to life ideas, intuitions, tools, formats, or projects that create and explore meaningful connections. We provide support to people who would like to reproduce one or several of the formats and tools we have been experimenting with already, and provide a general infrastructure for people who would like to propose a different way to connect, listen, bridge divides.

In September, we want to gather potential hosts or co-hosts for events to come (from total beginners to experienced facilitators – all are welcome and all have a role to play!).

We are also creating a San Diego “hub” for u.lab 2018, the (free) 3-month online course offered by Otto Scharmer and his team at MIT to explore Theory U through an experiential learning process. A hub is a group of people who come together to go through the milestones of the u.lab process and practice the tools in-person. This course runs only once a year, and it starts this week. Although it’s possible to join throughout the course, the sooner you start the better…You can learn more about Theory U in this video or at the Presencing Institute. If you’re interested in joining the San Diego hub, please let us know asap by registering here!

For more humankind events, check out our other upcoming gatherings!