The Impossible Summit
by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner
It was shamelessly ‘out there’: a celebration of impossible aspirations and dreams. It was a “virtual coming together”, as one of the organizers put it, “of the Cultural Left.” The Impossible Summit: A Global Change Agent Event, an online gathering of ‘over 50 Visionaries and Activists Reinventing our World’ – including several conservatives, such as the co-author of this article, Lawry Chickering – took place from May 20th – 25th, 2020. A second, 3-day, pre-election event streamed from October 30th to November 1st and focused on Impossible Relationships: Waking up from Being Woke and Bridging Difference to Build a Better World.
The homepage for the first gathering began with this:
Calling All Dreamers and Doers!
Where do radical solutions come from? What transforms resistance into possibility?
How have impossible dreams been achieved in the past?
Who is achieving them today? Do you have an impossible dream of your own?
The activities brought together more than fifty visionaries, activists, and change agents; featuring keynotes, workshops, discussions, wellness activities, sharing & healing circles, and more. The objectives included articulating a core set of emergent ideas around love, responsibility, and contribution; increasing support both within and between change agent communities and the world at large; and creating new models of living, working, learning, and social engagement.
A Transpartisan Initiative
The program featured a wildly diverse collection of activists and dreamers. The list of participants said everything about the organizers’ intentions: a ‘Zoom Happening’ of radical change-makers, meeting online at the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic. A phenomenon forcing institutional change in every section and aspect of every country including the United States.
Surveying a list of participants impressionistically suggested a cross-section of the Freedom / Left: agnostic about, if not antagonistic to, rational individualism (agnostic about religious absolutes, antagonistic to industrial certainty in both industrial capitalism and industrial socialism), celebrating THE HEART in balance with if not over THE MIND. They are exuberantly DIVERSE and connected by their shared humanity, and joined in commitment to inner development as the central mechanism to check the overreach of grand, mechanistic social engineering projects aimed at changing other people.
The closing session tried to find threads connecting the Impossible Vision. The tone was of poetic dreams – ‘leading from the heart’ and ‘letting the mind follow’ – but with one theme constantly recurring: the illusion of our separation.
The challenge, hinted at but unfortunately unrealized in the discussion, is to describe a path that shows these concepts are true. They are true in avoiding political assaults on ‘the power structure’ as their primary expression. They are true, putting the point another way, for attempts to avoid changing other people, while promoting the power of changing oneself. Most participants at The Summit aimed at changing themselves – toward inner development – which sees the path to social change running through the connection of empowered, engaged people.
Success Story: Educate Girls Globally
In his presentation about Educate Girls Globally, which he founded, Lawry Chickering described EGG’s process, empowering girls oppressed by traditional male cultures to become powerful leaders, role models, and advocates for change. While the concept is impossible to achieve in mechanistic, industrial terms, EGG shows how, with inner development, empowered girls can become powerful change-makers in very difficult environments.
Girls’, themselves, make EGG’s extraordinary success possible by engaging with village elders and other traditional leaders who support them. Fathers who saw girls as weak, vulnerable, and needing masculine protection, discovered, in the equivalent of an instant, that their daughters could actually be powerful, individual forces. When empowered, these girls became a valuable asset to family, community, and nation.
Personal Experience and Engagement
The Summit explored the impact of social contact in promoting the trust that is essential for all forms of connection, powerfully showing how separation is illusory and can be overcome. Such contact shows how the heart can lead, allowing the mind to describe and validate connections in terms that describe mind-validation of visions needing proof.
In their path-breaking 2013 book Our Towns, James and Deborah Fallows share how they traveled in their private plane 100,000 miles around the U.S. and described two very different countries and political systems. In our terms set out above, one system is the connected life of local communities, featuring united cultures of people working together in common purpose, finding heart-described pathways to mind-organized programs. The other is the highly polarized culture of our national political system, which is consumed with conflict – rooted in political planning, budget, and enforcement battles – about almost everything.
These cultures display an extraordinary aspect of contemporary life; they represent more than different people fighting each other (a small part of the politics). Instead, they consist of many of the same people found in both the national and local political cultures. Why the difference?
The answer may be fairly simple: national politics has been reduced to dealing with the grand, mechanistic visions of politicians. As people, national politicians tend to be pushed away from personal contact and trusting relationships, with egos that call for accomplishing heroic things – for better or worse. Local political cultures, on the other hand, feature intense personal contact and trust, which bring people together from every walk of life and diverse cultures in common purpose, showing how people can live happily together without friction.
A second difference is that local people receive information about national politics almost entirely from national media, while information about local politics comes primarily from personal experience and engagement. While minds dominate debates on national politics, hearts are the principal actors in local venues.
The Fallowses try to imagine how the behaviors and trust governing local cultures might be imported into the toxic environment of our national politics. To use our language, the question is how transpartisan, local-cultural practices can be transferred to national politics. The answer may be suggested by this question: if girls can be empowered to play strong leadership roles in traditional parts of rural India, why can’t personally-engaged, American citizens be empowered to play strong roles in national politics? Why can we not learn from successful experiences like EGG?
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The Second Workshop (October 30 to November 1)
The pre-election theme of the second, 3-day workshop was Impossible Relationships: Waking up from Being Woke and Bridging Differences to a Better World.
“Let’s complete one another instead of compete with each other.”
What if we all could just get along despite our differences?
What if we could agree to disagree but still find enough common ground to be innovative and pioneering? Even be forgiving so that we could heal and move forward?
One panel on this theme focused on ‘Unpacking the Cult of Righteousness: Claiming Our Own Sovereignty and Recognizing Our Roles in Perpetuating Polarity, Dominance, and Hierarchy’. Another looked at ‘Bridging Political Differences: Turning an Adversary into an Ally’, examining especially constructive engagement and solution-oriented politics.
From our Transpartisan observation point we would edit these titles by underscoring and emphasizing ‘ … Our Roles in Perpetuating Polarity, Dominance, and Hierarchy’ and ‘… Recognizing an Adversary as an Ally’. Transpartisan rests on the observation that the social and political currents of our culture flow beneath our institutions. Where our institutions lack congruence with our social and political currents, they fray and begin to disintegrate. How we respond, and with what intensity, determines how well these institutions are able to reorganize toward renewal and revival.
We see the contemporary social and political currents swirling around us as a massive surge of individual empowerment, driven by new information technologies and advancing demands for individual empowerment and self-expression. This trend toward individualism is straining the consensus and cohesion reinforcing every social institution. Another panel looked at ‘Bridging Political Differences: Turning an Adversary into an Ally’ or, as we would say, recognizing an apparent adversary as an actual ally focused on valuing viewpoint diversity, constructive engagement, and solution-oriented politics.
Reality of Connection vs. Illusion of Separation
We believe that everyone interested in particular issues has something to contribute to the resolution of those issues. Such recognition was important for the final panel at the conference which explored how people can develop new and empowered relationships with issues or people that scare them. People become frightened, we believe, in different ways, and each individual experience can contribute to taming the fear.
The final session struggled with the issue of emphasizing the heart over the mind – overcoming the ‘illusion of separation’ – because it failed to successfully address the issue of promoting the personal engagement that brings people together in trust. We believe the Transpartisan process, grounded in the Transpartisan Political Matrix – order right and left; freedom right and left – provides important initial steps toward building that trust.
The crucial element the Matrix addresses is in relationships that combine collective purpose and shared ownership. One can see how these elements are strongly present in schools; in shared community / police responsibility for law enforcement; in community health centers (including drug and alcohol rehab); in public housing projects; and in similar areas applied in other, hostile countries on behalf of foreign and security policy.
In this case, we would advocate heart and mind together rather than choosing a hierarchical relationship between them. We are comfortable avoiding the ‘illusion of separation’ by highlighting the reality of connection.
We believe the vast majority of the voting eligible public – 70% of which do not formally align with either of our major political parties – know that heart and mind interact with each other and the reality of connection overrides the ‘illusion of separation’ without necessarily articulating that knowledge, just as they know the force of gravity even if they cannot explain the laws of thermodynamics.
The objectives of building trust, integrating heart and mind, and welcoming the reality of connection in place of the ‘illusion of separation’ depend on empowering citizens locally, nationally, and globally around institutions that intimately affect their lives: in shared ownership of public schools; in shared responsibility for law enforcement between individuals, communities and the police; and in community-based initiatives promoting health, housing, food, and all other essentials of happy, humane living.
In foreign and security policy; shared community drug programs; and race, gender, and ethnic integration, examples exist of empowering citizens in self-governing initiatives building freedoms and liberty in democratic institutions across partisan political orthodoxies. While the general belief that most ordinary people don’t want to participate in civil programs often persist, real experiences in many countries, including dramatic examples in the United States, suggest otherwise when programs focus on issues of intense interest (see EGG example above).
We think that, if presented in a transpartisan way, appealing across the orthodox political spectrum within the Transpartisan Matrix, a radical movement coming from the Freedom / Left quadrant of the Matrix could play a strong leadership role. Furthermore, it could help empower citizens, formal and de facto, from the Freedom / Left and act as a model of integration with people occupying positions in the other three quadrants. On many issues, integration of the four quadrants can play, and is playing, a role that would not only bring diverse people together, but would also contribute to solving many problems that central governments have shown consistently they cannot solve.
The 70% of the voting-eligible, American public struggling to be heard recognizes that intense emotional fights between partisan Republicans and Democrats does little to better the lives of individuals living in the United Sates. The transpartisan impulse animating the Freedom / Left Impossible Summit offers one path to better living through empowered citizens.
(Image from the Impossible Summit website.)