A generous way of being: holding paradoxes, ambiguities and multiple worldviews.

These days, I think nothing could be more paradoxical than the way we live in this world.  We face the greatest environmental crisis in the age of human-kind, yet doggedly push on with massive fossil fuel and resource extraction projects to spur “economic growth”.

This paradox was never more front and center than during Professor Klaus Schwab’s opening remarks at the Davos World Economic Forum last week.  The Founder of the Forum and a traditional free market advocate; Schwab turned the drive to global free markets on its head saying:

“Capitalism in its current form, has no place in the world around us. …We have a general morality gap, we are over-leveraged, we have neglected to invest in the future, we have undermined social coherence, and we are in danger of completely losing the confidence of future generations. ….We are in an era of profound change that urgently requires new ways of thinking instead of more business-as-usual.” Veteran founder and Chairman of the Davos World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab

Now more than ever, we need to learn how to intentionally hold such paradoxes and multiple worldviews so we can make sense of this new emerging world.   As Dana Pearlman suggests in her blog, facilitators and changemakers in this era of sustainability,  need to learn how to shift our own perspective as we seek to shift the perspective of others.

A Generous Way of Being: holding paradoxes, ambiguites, and multiple worldviews

By Dana Pearlman

Dana Pearlman is the instructor for "Facilitating Transformational Change toward Sustainability" commencing Feb. 16th ON-LINE.

Last year, I had the good fortune of submersing myself in a foreign land with a cohort of over 60 colleagues from 30 countries, all with a deep desire to make the world a better place. We were on a 10-month learning journey exploring what the cryptic word sustainability means and how to be an engaging and inspiring leader that brings out the best in others. My definition of leadership (and sustainability) got flipped on its head and turned upside down. Thank goodness!

I walked away with learnings which are still unfolding, revealing deep truths on a regular basis. Looking back, I realize how full of misconceptions I was when first arriving in Sweden. My stubborn streak emerging in those moments when I think I am so ‘right’ about something to only learn later I am so ‘wrong’ or, better yet, even moving beyond right and wrong, and seeing other people’s perspectives shifting me.

This continuous cycle reoccurred during my stay in this foreign land, reminding me to be humble. Holding the unknown with curiosity and joy, rather than seeking out a false sense of feeling ‘right’ about something. Or seeing contradictions and incongruities in myself and others and understanding it is all part of the human condition. Calmly being with ambiguities and paradoxes is something I move toward with intention, rather than believing I will ever fully accomplish it. This learning opened me up, like no other experience. Opened me to remember that there is a whole mystery happening all around us, all the time. I realized I have a choice to either be ‘right’ or revel in the mystery unfolding around me. I have chosen (mostly) to aim towards mystery and enjoy the ride. It is a lot more fun and forgiving.

Successful Sustainability Leaders embody nine personal capacities.

I call this blog “a generous way of being.” My international cohort has taught me about being generous, with each other. In more business type terms, it could be called holding ambiguities, paradoxes and multiple worldviews and abandoning the need to be ‘right.’ I am learning to welcome incongruities and contradictions for exploration and seeing how they offer a glimmer of what it means to shift perspectives.

As facilitators and leaders working with many perspectives, this capacity is paramount for creating deeper sustainable change.  It is appreciating the seemingly opposing perspective of those you are hosting and holding their viewpoints with grace. Allowing all the different beliefs, nuances and entities to surface from the stakeholders and remembering something greater than yourself is at work and to let it happen. This could also be called getting out of the way.  That is not to say that my inclination to be ‘right’ doesn’t’ occasionally rear it’s funny head. But it is remembering that when it does, to extend grace to myself. Being a facilitator or leader is not only about shifting other people’s perspectives, it is about the willingness to be shifted yourself. What does it mean to hold ambiguities, multiple perspectives and different world-views for a leader or facilitator? It is about being with the deep mystery of the unknown before me, and remembering, really,  I don’t know anything.

Dana Pearlman is the lead instructor for the upcoming Sustainability Learning Centre program:   Facilitating Transformational Change toward Sustainability.  This ON-LINE program brings into practice the nine personal capacities that successful sustainability leaders embody.  This is research completed by Pearlman with her colleagues Christopher Baan and Phil Long.

Pearlman is a graduate of the internationally recognized Master’s in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS) program, at the Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden (the academic partner of The Natural Step NGO).

Register now for:  Facilitating Transformational Change toward Sustainability (Part I of II).    This is an on-line program, commencing Feb. 16th and concluding March 15th.  Dana will share the first 4 of these 9 essential personal capacities and create a space for personal and collective practice.


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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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5 Responses to A generous way of being: holding paradoxes, ambiguities and multiple worldviews.

  1. Robert Rossel says:

    Very useful way of thinking about new ways to think about sustainability and suffering on this planet, our home. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this post – it’s a lovely approach and I’d love to live in a world where leaders used it.

  3. Pingback: A generous way of being: holding paradoxes, ambiguities and multiple worldviews | The Lotus

  4. I like the words that you use – but it is a philosophy based on mutual agreement, openness and understanding – of which there is a gaping chasm of mistrust in people. To move forward you have to get the trust of people, and there in lies the paradox. On one side you have the imploding resource issue, on the other people’s need to be ‘better off’. Basically to have more ‘stuff’, and in most societies that means more than your neighbor, be it friend or foe.
    The only way to get more ‘stuff’ is to rape the environment or your neighbor, either way the end result is the same.
    America (put any country’s name in there) spends its time and effort sabre rattling to protect its plundering hordes, and come to think of it, that is not much different to Genghis Khan, or the Knights of the Crusade, or any other ‘stuff hunter’ that has pillaged more than its fair share throughout history.
    Trust starts with governments that actually do what the people want them to do – as opposed to doing ‘business as usual’ only using different tactics. Bludgeon the head or cut off the feet, either way nobody is running anywhere anytime soon.
    Trust needs a society that is not corrupt from the car park attendant to top government officials who launder money through whatever means they can think of to enable them to get more ‘stuff’.
    The only way to move forward is to do away with ‘stuff’ – communism goes a long way towards that – but even that is flawed, it is not automatic, some people have to run it and there in lies the flaw.
    Good luck with the course, I doubt I’ll attend, I’m far too busy ‘stuff hunting’ right now.

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