Insights from the Storm

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On October 28, 2012 my colleagues and I left New York City just ahead of the hurricane. The tension was palpable, but all went smoothly. We arrived in Boston with plenty of time to catch the chartered bus to the Theory U/Presencing workshop at the Wequasett Resort on Cape Cod for 5 days. At dinner, during introductions we learned that some participants left their homes and loved ones in areas where the hurricane was headed. Yet they were at the workshop giving their attention to what was present for all of us. With the winds increasing, we were assured that the resort was used to this kind of weather. They were prepared with ample food, water, and generators. Some of the attendees were really anxious and others were calm. I was among the calm, but concerned. As devastating as hurricanes are, you can prepare, whereas, the tornadoes I experienced in Kansas left little time to prepare and the earthquakes at home in California just happen with no warning. So we went to bed and awoke to more wind. We walked up to the meeting rooms for the opening mindfulness practice with the wind howling and a view of a very turbulent ocean. The wind got stronger, yet mid morning we were able to take a nature walk (if we chose). The wind took my breath away, but it was worth the walk.

Since most of the participants were involved in social and ecological change projects and we had just been given some data about how humans are using the resources on the planet at about 1.5 times as fast as they can be replenished, we commented on the electric feel of the energy and how it seemed to be symbolic of some coming destruction many of us in the workshop are concerned about. I have never felt such energy in a storm. It was frightening and at the same time enthralling. By mid day a tree had broken off and there were other landscaping damages, but we felt safe inside. By dinner, the resort had lost power in many buildings and some people faced the likelihood of no electricity in their rooms. We stayed for the movie we were going to discuss the next day and were told that the resort had put flashlights in all our rooms. We were given flashlights to light our way back to our rooms and told to stay on the road rather than on the paths under trees. When we left, it was calm, with just a mild breeze. With a sigh of relief, we went to our room and lucky for us, we had lights. The resort had indeed taken good care of us.

The next day the water was calm and it was almost as if the wind had never been there except for the shells washed up onto the walkway and a few damaged plants. I think we were all thankful that we escaped danger and at the same time we tracked the storm and checked in with those whose homes and loved ones had been at risk. They were relieved to report minor damage compared to what some areas had. And many of us commented on the change in the energy outside and when the sun came out, we took it as a sign that what we were there to learn would have a good result in our work in the world.

So what were the insights?
First insightPeople are amazing. It seems there are always people who have a worse situation than our own. In spite of such extreme circumstances going on for some of the participants, they were able to focus and contribute. And in some ways, the storm brought this group of about 70 people from around the world together and I understand from comments made by the facilitators that there was something different about this group in the way they surfaced issues in the social field of the group as a microcosm of what is going on in the world around us.

I also noticed that issues some of them surfaced used to be of major concern to me and no longer are. I guess I was surprised that some of the inequities in the treatment of women and of people of color were strongly felt still. It was a good reminder that the changes that I was passionate about in the 70’s still need attention even though progress seems to have been made.

Second insightLife conditions make a big difference. The people who raised some of the issues were younger than I am and thus in a different stage of life and they were from different subcultures in the U.S. and elsewhere. These differences transcend personality type differences, yet seem to be influenced by them.

Third insight: Patterns and themes of Outlook show up in all kinds of systems. I was quite struck by the differences in headlines on the 5 newspapers on the break room table on Tuesday. I read the headlines, then the name of the paper and said, “That tone or word choice makes sense!” The headline seemed to reflect different outlooks on the same event based different the life conditions (the actual impact of the storm) as well as what might be seen as a theme of the news organization itself. I’ve listed the headlines with the upper case and lower case presentation of them.

USA Today:  Anxiety grips East as megastorm hits
My sense of USA Today is that as a paper it represents a broad focus and the words here are more abstract in nature. I wonder what types are drawn to read USA today?

The Boston Globe:  Sandy lashes far and wide
I don’t know anything about this paper, but the Boston area seems to be the locus of a lot of groundbreaking, far-reaching work—at least in my world of systems thinking and organizational change. So I wonder if this isn’t suggestive of the really far-reaching consequences of the storm.

The Wall Street Journal:  Sandy Slams Coast, Charges Inland
My sense of Wall Street is just that forceful. And to the degree that the energy around Wall Street is rather extreme “In-Charge,” I’m wondering if this headline represents that forge ahead, determined energy.

It seems like The New York Times had a focus on the people and probably is very in tune with the disruption that was coming. Their headline the next day focused on the people as well.

Cape Cod Times:  A Sandy Mess
It seems to me that the headline reflects what the Cape Cod experience of the hurricane was. A big mess to clean up. Local paper, local focus.

What do you think?

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