The Theory of And
“You think you know two, because you know one, and one and one equals two. But you fail to know ‘and.’”
-- Sufi teacher as quoted by Donella Meadows in Beyond the Limits
I recently attended a board meeting for a Washington, D.C. based non profit whose mission is to support agriculture production that enhances the ecosystems on which all life depends. In other words, how do you feed 7 billion people without poisoning the environment. The board is made up of scientists, farmers, politicians from four continents and I found the conversation to be lively, stimulating, and respectful.
The constituents around the table were all earth-based, ecologically oriented, literally grounded in the soil. You’d think a group like this would easily align on the issues, correct? But no – the farmers resent the environmentalists telling them how to grow food. And the environmentalists fear the farmers will poison ecosystems. The rural economic development folks fear that Climate change activists will use their new clout in media, government and finance to high-jack the agenda in the continent of Africa. One non-board member, let’s call him Bill, -- a self-described economic development professional representing a major environmental NGO said, road – weary, “These are all competing regimes. You have to be realistic. There have to be trade-offs. It’s us versus them.”
My skin crawls when I hear, “There have to be trade-offs, it’s us versus them, be realistic.” How far has “realism” gotten us to date? How are you defining “realistic?” I’d suggest that Bill’s view is that there are limited, scarce resources, we have to compete for them, our agendas are mutually exclusive, so let’s role up our sleeves and fight. This paradigm, us versus them is old, old, old. We need to bust it open and we can do that with the simple change of one word. . . .(stay tuned tomorrow for “the word.”)
Try this on: what if we moved from a world view of us Versus them to one of us AND them. Or as my friend and colleague Juanita Brown, co-founder of World Café says, “There’s no them there, no there there, only us here.” Now I know my political friends in the trenches of DC policy debates will dismiss this as hopelessly naïve. But then again, look at how well Congress is doing with the “realism” of us versus them thinking. Those senators are the poster children for polarization, gridlock, intransigence and therefore inability to get anything done. (OK health bill passed, but look at the bloody fight that’s ensued).
Ready to explore a different way?
Let’s go with the Theory of AND.
Instead of You vs Me, You and me.
Instead of Feminine vs Masculine, Masculine and Feminine
Instead of Reflection vs Action, Reflection and Action
Instead of Economic vs Ecological, Economic and Ecological.
You get the point: collaboration and competition, inner and outer, spiritual and material. A shift from polarization and blame, to complimentarity and respect. Notice what happens to your breathing, your posture, your muscle tone when you move from a world of versus to a world of and. I don’t know about you but I breath deeper, open my heart more, defend less, love more, open to new possibilities I’d not seen when I was busy in fight or flight. Indeed we literally have more of our brain available to us when we’re not stuck in that reptilian pattern.
Think of the “and” as the connective tissue in a body. The web that links disparate parts – the heart, lungs, spleen, legs, brain – all of us really -- and creates the whole. Without these connections, there is no life. That’s the power of “and.”
Let’s go back to the board room now, where Bill argued that it’s an us versus them world and there have to be trade-offs. Zero sum, I win, you lose and vice-versa. I submit that when you begin with that world view, you go into any conversation with defensive posture and reptilian mind and guess what? You’re a prophet. You get what you predicted. You go home battle weary, yet satisfied that you were correct in your view of the “real” world. And you’re no closer to solving the issue near to your heart of helping to create sustainable livelihoods for all.
What if Bill -- what if we -- adopt the Theory of AND and live from that stance instead? We are more relaxed open. We seek to create a world where everyone in the room, everyone period for that matter has the opportunity to thrive. We want that for each other and so we have to begin with a Vision that is large enough to encompass all of us. Let’s start from the position that it is possible to build an ecology of commerce where food is grown sustainably, farmers have a sustainable livelihood, and climate is stabilized. We have to take a systems view of the issues (rather than a blaming view) where we are all accountable for results. When we seek solutions that work for the whole, we find breakthrough innovations that meet that need. Example in this case: instead of planting annual mono-crops like corn and wheat, plant perennial grasses. It turns out that this approach can provide, nutrition and livelihood while making the soil more carbon-rich. This not only contributes to Climate stabilization by taking Carbon out of the atmosphere, but also creates soil that has higher food yields. A win for farmers’ health and livelihood, a win for the earth, a win for climate. Bill, we got a better solution when we believed in AND.
So let’s try something new. There is enough abundance for you AND me to thrive on this planet. Imagine that.