Turning to One Another - Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future Paperback – 1 Feb 2002
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"I believe we can change the world if we start talking to one another again." With this simple declaration, author Margaret Wheatley proposes that we use the increasingly popular process of conversation and dialogue as the means to develop solutions for the societal changes that need to occur both locally and globally. Wheatley asserts that the changes required in all aspects of modern life will not come from governments or large organizations, national programs, new policies or laws. The changes will be led by people - everyday people self-organizing locally with colleagues and friends to create the changes they want. Turning to One Another will help you begin conversations about things that are important to you. Wheatley begins by describing several conditions that support good conversation, including simplicity, personal courage, real listening, diversity, and several others. Ten short essays will act as "Conversation Starters," leading people into conversations about their deepest beliefs, fears, and hopes.
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"Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."
I offer this book as an example of that courage. In a world that bizarrely seeks to make everything more complex, seeks to manage everything through laws and regulations, replaces even the most basic of interactions and relationships with reams of procedures, schedules and instructions, it is an act of genius to cut through it all to see a simple truth.
In this book the simple truth proposed is that the world would be a much better place is we just spent more time in better conversations with each other.
It's an idea so staggeringly simple, so obvious and so deep rooted in human understanding that it will inevitably evoke one of two responses. It will be ignored as profoundly simplistic, juvenile and irrelevant to the problems of today. Or it will be converted into a procedure, a training program, a revenue generating commodity, applied by people whose misunderstanding of the idea is so profound they see not a hint of irony in their lunacy.
The book draws on the long tradition of the power of conversation throughout human history and how in our search for the complex and suspicion of the simple we have turned this powerful and natural ability into something complex and misunderstood.
Part 1 of the book sets out the idea of conversing and draws on the traditions of our own and more ancient cultures for story telling, sharing and talking.
Part 2 contains some quotations and sketches as a space in which to pause and reflect on the ideas of section 1.
Part 3 has a series of what Margaret J Wheatley calls conversation starters. On first reading these I wasn't particularly drawn to the idea of having or needing a list of topics as the start points for conversations, but the more I've reflected, the more I see these as being a valuable element of the book.
There are ten conversation starters and for each there is an introductory quotation and a short essay which outlines the topic area and provides some `talking points.
By way of example the topics include
3. What do I believe about others?
6. Am I willing to reclaim time to think?
9. When have I experienced working for the common good?
We live in a world that contains over 400 million Harry Potter books. I have nothing against Harry Potter, but it would be nice if there were just a few more copies of this book around.
She starts the book by explaining her reasons for writing it, and by explaining her view on conversation. She lists a set of principles, which must be emphasized to create deep, meaningul dialogue:
We acknowledge each other as equals
We try to stay curious about each other
We recognize the we need each other's help to become better listeners
We slow down so we have time to think and reflect
We remember the conversation is the natural way humans think together
We expect it to be messy at times
When I think of many of the discussions going on at work, they are diametrically opposite to this. They are fast and goal-oriented, and leave people little opportuniy to learn together. I think we can benefit greatly from learning to slow down and engage in deeper conversation.
The book goes on to suggest a number of conversation topics. The idea is, that you get some people together, and discuss one or more of these topics. Each topic is accompanied by a mini-essay, that you could use to kick off the dialogue. There are ten topics in all for instance "What is my faith in the future", "What do I believe about other" or "Am I willing to reclaim time to think".
Meg Wheatley is also involved in From the four directions, an initiative that promotes circles of conversation to allow people to learn about leadership. Circles of conversation would probably be a good way to think together about the book's topics. I'm part of such a circle here in Copenhagen, and I've found it to be an excellent way of connecting with other people, and of learning more about myself and others.
Like "A simpler way", Turning to one another is an unconventional and beautiful book, that conveys its message through drawings, photos and poems as well as through standard text. I recommend it highly.
It awakes a kindels a new perception of what we humans are facing at the moment and what we ourselves with each other can do about it.
A necessary read for all who are taking leadership where ever you are in this world.
- Toke P. Møller