Today is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, that time in the year when the nights are longest and the days are coldest. In the forest around where I live, the holly trees are at the height of their powers, with leaves that are dark-green and shiny, whilst the oaks and other trees lie dormant and leafless. Yet, although we can’t see it, a subtle shift happens at this time. From now on, the days start to lengthen and the power of the dark starts to wane. In the woods, the holly starts to lose its gloss and the oak and beech begin to stir, coming into the ascendant in the spring and early summer. The solstice reminds us that things are rarely what they seem, and that in the midst of despair there is always hope.
Is this perhaps a metaphor for our time? For many of us, we are living in dark times. The Earth continues to heat up, wars rage, eco-systems across the planet steadily degrade and institutions that help to form the fabric of our society, such as in education, health and social care, are under stress and approaching crisis point. Meanwhile our politicians and corporate leaders seem intent on making things worse, as they obsess over growth and power. They plan nuclear power stations, new airport runways and new places to drill for oil. Their words say they care but their actions say they don’t. A friend said to me recently that, politically, this was the year of “The Empire Strikes Back”.
Much of the stress we are experiencing in our large social and environmental systems come from man’s (and woman’s) need to control and manage things. One way this manifests itself is in the form of huge, hierarchical institutions, characterized by a few unaccountable princes at the top giving orders to thousands or millions of disempowered minions labouring away at the bottom. It is easy to lose our way as we gaze, awe-struck, at these CEOs, presidents and prime ministers, god-like figures who stand astride these in-human institutions.
Yet, just as in the forest, other more subtle forces are at work. All around the world there are individuals working to bring love into our communities and institutions. This silent army of people is quietly working away to liberate, encourage and empower individuals and organizations to bring the best of themselves to their communities and their work places. Here are just a few examples:
- In the world of care, inspired people such as Rod Kersh and Helen Sanderson are leading on “person-centred care”. Others, like Edgeryders with their Opencare project, are using the power of networks, linking up disparate groups to share and collaborate.
- In education, new child-centred approaches are being developed in places such as London’s School 21.
In the world of business, new ways of organizing are emerging, going by the name of Teal, Agile, Holacracy and so on (for some leading examples, see the article “7 movements that will help you understand the future of work” mentioned below).
- In the UK, employee ownership is becoming increasingly popular, encouraged by government tax breaks and increased unease at misuse of shareholder power.
- around the world, cooperatives continue to thrive and break new ground.
There are countless other inspiring initiatives around the world and the Human Organising Project will continue to try to identify and highlight them in the coming year.
On their own, these initiatives could not hope to take on the powerful forces that strive to maintain the unequal status quo. But, united, they can transform our world. This is what gives me hope, in these dark days of winter 2016.
I wish you a happy solstice.