By John Esterle
Recently, I was fortunate to attend Images and Voices of Hope's annual Summit. The people, the setting, and what transpired left me feeling, in a word, hopeful! Corny, I know, but there it is.
I'm honored IVOH has posted some closing reflections I shared at the end of the summit, which can also be read below. I hope they, and Lois Fiore's thoughtful summary, capture some of the flavor of this rich, distinctive event.
John Esterle's remarks at the end of Images & Voices of Hope Summit
September 18, 2011
I want to thank the Brahma Kumaris for hosting us here. I think place is really important in terms of the kinds of dialogues we are able to have, and Peace Village is certainly a wonderful place and space for this dialogue to happen. I want to process the time we had together at the Summit. I am really appreciating all the different paths into our dialogue from panels, to speakers, to small group conversations -- poetry, music, and story. I think all of these things are really important to providing multiple pathways into our inquiry into “how are we doing with all this and how do we move forward?”
The issue of time is a little on my mind, because I did get up early enough this morning for meditation with Sister Gayatri on “ time.” So thinking about our time here, time is always present in different ways. It manifested here in several ways. For example you showed adaptability in changing the program because of time. There‘s always a tension around time, how much we can fit into the limited time we have together. There’s tension about how much we can pack in and to what degree we can be expansive.
So I have appreciated your ability to adapt and change, while also appreciating holding firm to the “traffic control” (the music that plays for 1 minute on the hour to signal a pause for reflection). I think polarities are a theme and a paradox that has been present in the room. These times are calling us to be adaptive and responsive, while also asking us what we stand for -- what are the things around which we won’t adapt or compromise, but will hold true to. This shows up in the discipline of stopping every hour for reflection. This discipline also shows up in different ways like with Sonali when she recounted her story and said, “this is what I stand for now. I’m not going to stand down. This is what I stand for.”
I think we‘re in times that call us to do both of these things. That both were modeled here in different ways is important. It is also important that this is such an eclectic group. It brings together both journalists, who we think of as coming from a more objective evidence-based place, and also very expansive thinkers talking about consciousness.
One thing that stuck out for me is how much we talked about mind or thinking. We talked about changing patterns in thinking and behavior and in critical thinking as it applies to how we are looking at the world. We talked about the importance of stepping back and reflecting on our minds and our thoughts. This theme of “we are thinking about our thinking,” is called meta-cognition.
I think there is more awareness coming from both spiritual inquires and secular inquires into the importance of thinking about our thinking and thinking about our biases. So it’s a hopeful thing that there is more thinking about our thinking and how it relates to how we are with each other. At the same time, there’s a polarity that we talked about: that we are moving away from being a fact based society. We seem to have a public that is more uninformed in many ways all the time. To me it is the best of times and the worst of times.
So where do we go with that? We talked about cognitive dissonance. Why is it that when people are presented with evidence that runs contrary to what they’re saying, that they don’t let that evidence in? I think that’s a really important question as we think about story and how we craft our stories.
We talked about “heart” a lot and the broken heartedness of the times, asking how do we live with our hearts broken open? How do we live in the place of that vulnerability? Mark (Nepo) talked about heart as the place where we hold paradox. So words like “passion” were very prevalent throughout our time together.
Both the mind and the heart pieces lead us to the story piece. How do we tell different stories that engage both our hearts and minds? I was struck by several things around our stories. Often when we talk about telling stories, we talk about the telling part. When we are entrepreneurial, we ask how do we reach a broader audience? A key part of this is listening. How do we listen in a way that creates compelling stories?
We saw evidence of that with Phillip (Martin) and Kael (Alford), James (Lerager) and Daniel (Heimpel), when they were really going deep with their reporting and journalism on specific issue. So I think a really important inquiry for us is, “How do we become better listeners?” The foundational piece of dialogue in my mind is learning to listen. How do we exercise that muscle, and how do we call attention to that?
Within the element of story there was also a lot of talk about transparency and trust. Transparency came up in different ways, about our biases, our aims. How do we make our thinking and our reasoning about things more visible? I think we all have our biases and part of the wonder of dialogue is that it’s a great way, if it’s constructed right, for us to surface our biases and explore them in different ways.
The part that I thought about a lot in the context of cognitive dissonance, was what Mark said about the king who was cutting off peoples’ heads. In Mark’s story he described how year after year, the one guy was making his argument over and over to the King – that he shouldn’t continue to cut people’s heads off-- but he wasn’t getting anywhere. What eventually changed the king’s mind was that they had been in relationship.
I think the importance of relationship in going forward can’t be overstated. That’s my own bias; I’m very relational. I think we need to explicitly raise the value of relationships. I was noticing when people explained how they came to the summit they said, “well a friend invited me or a friend of a friend invited me.” As we think about how we broaden the hope we’ve talked about here, I think we do this in relationship. That’s very important for me. This summit is about images and voice of hope and I kept thinking, “It’s people of hope."
We are in dark times in many ways. We’ve talked in some conversations about resilience. When we think about how we are going to move through this time, our relationships are huge; they are our anchors in pretty stormy waters. But I think it’s also though relationships that we are able to move to different places with people and maybe move to a place where they’re looking at things in a different way.
In Liz Heron’s piece what stood out for me was what she’s seeing as next steps, and what she’s seeing as a trend on the horizon. She said it was the movement from online to offline engagement, which we heard about from many. We are still in the beginning stages of this; we are still figuring out the social media landscape and our own personal relationships. There are problems there, but it is good to remember that we are kind of new and in the early stages of this process.
So with that I want to read one short piece. I just started reading a book called Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, published in 2004, and it resonates a lot with the impetus behind Images & Voices of Hope. Solnit suggests that we can take a different frame and perspective on where we are at this time, one that gives us hope in the dark. I’d like to share this one passage:
“Cause and effect assumes history marches forward. But history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later. Sometimes a few passionate people change the world, sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do. Sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination and hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet the future on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet, it is the opposite of fear. For to live is to risk.”
I think for me to live is to risk, to love is to risk and I can risk those things when I am hand-in-hand literally and figuratively with other people. So, this is why I think this summit and gatherings like this are so important. If we move forward with intention around process and relationship, about how we are thinking, about how we are empathizing with others, then in the midst of what do seem like dark times, we’re going to be ok. And I think we’ll be more than okay, in the words of Kemy Joseph and of Sekou Andrews, “we’ll be awesome!”