“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”Mary Oliver, Upstream
One line, captured in my journal, has my attention today. Again. “Our habitual way of showing up will get in our way.” It was wedged on the side of some notes tracking the conversation on a Zoom call with the team from the Center of Systems Awareness and a cohort pursuing our master practitioner certification. At the time, Senge was leading an exploration of the Limits to Growth archetype, and I was spinning out on how my way of showing up was possibly getting in the way of other’s potential. What is becoming more clear is regardless of my intentions to help amplify the possible, my assumptions, judgments, and opinions could be sabotaging the future I am seeking to cultivate.
This is the tricky thing about assumptions, right? You have to take a bit of time to surface them or you march along, blind to the fact that these beliefs are not necessarily true. If Kegan and Lahey’s work on immunity to change taught me anything, it is that only by surfacing assumptions can we examine them objectively instead of living through them – and, hopefully, in this examination, can we perhaps remove whatever barrier may be getting in the way of really listening, of shifting to learning that is generative in nature.
So all this pondering about how to “hang our assumptions in front of us” as physicist David Bohm would say, has me itchy for action, especially in light of my obsession with ACT (covered in the last post) and my attempt to see with new eyes. This is where Bucky’s brilliance and the Compassionate Systems Framework intersect.
“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which, will lead to new ways of thinking.”Buckminster Fuller
In my last post, I admitted to abandoning all the typical ways I’ve engaged with educators in the past. In this case, I didn’t feel a need for a new tool. Instead, I simply opted to immerse and observe – and to withhold any conclusion or labels. Ha! It’s amazing how much easier said than done this is… how my lens of learner-centered environments often blocked the view of what was happening right in front of me. What I quickly discovered is I needed something more tangible and concrete to break the habitual thoughts, to move beyond my eagerness to help with instructional ideas and resources, to move beyond coaching and questioning, to move toward surfacing the assumptions that were getting in the way of seeing a current reality.
Meet the ladder of inference.
Without dragging you up the ladder step by step, I’ll call out a few things of significance that may be beneficial in work beyond my own.
- Slow the heck down. Taking the time to fill out the tool combats lazy thinking and the lightning-quick conclusions that happen by default. I’m reflective by nature, but it wasn’t until I slowed down and traveled the prompts did I honestly appraise my own thinking and thought process.
- Attention and intention go hand and hand. Although the tool falls short of helping to examine the realities of assumptions (the Immunity to Change maps are far better for that) it does serve to open the aperture and provide space to shift attention to more dynamic, organic ideas. Without creating this visualization I couldn’t see the gap between where my attention went when I was with educators and my intention to help surface possibility.
- The more expansive the observable data, the more expansive the action. Observation takes time. The more data one can collect, the greater the terrain to choose from when it comes to adding meaning. When I could select different data, I attached different meaning — which led to a shift in a set of assumptions. In previous structures, I noticed we were limiting ourselves to data that perpetuated our existing beliefs about kids and learning. All of this to say, taking the time to gather more data opens up the thinking and the possibilities.
I can only speak for myself, but I imagine it’s true for all of us: It is difficult to grasp how entrenched our beliefs and practices may be until we choose to consciously break from a “cognitive myopia” that may be perpetuating our actions regardless of our best intentions. I’m trying to walk a more balanced inquiry between advocacy (what I hope and want) and investigation (what the data is telling me). Leaders need to work much harder at taking the time to collect data. In this way, I increase awareness of my thinking and reasoning. More importantly, tools like this make my reasoning visible to others, inviting dialogue around how they may see things differently, and why. It is in this space of dialogue where potential unfolds.