Walk Out Walk On

One friend is increasingly bored and dissatisfied with her Christian Sunday church services.

Another left her job of teaching 175 high school students a year in the public school system to volunteer for three months teaching in the Palestinian West Bank. She’s now happily using her foreign language skills to work with the parents of youth in the school system.

A third is a medical student about to graduate who is worried that the grind of an upcoming residency may obstruct his vision of the kind of humanistic medicine he really wants to pursue.

A fourth had enough of 12-hour social worker days (into nights) and is now seeking a life path to integrate contemplation, beauty, and healing.

A fifth has “left” the Catholic Church, but isn’t sure of where he is now.

A sixth, a university professor, is increasingly aware of the limitations of academic writing and is looking for other ways to share and exchange knowledge and insight.

Several of us recently started a monthly meditation gathering when we utilize the teachings of Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

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The experiences of these friends remind me of Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze’s recent book, Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities  Daring to Live the Future Now. The authors define “walk outs” as “people who bravely choose to leave behind situations, jobs, relationships, and ideas that restrict and confine them, anything that inhibits them.” The authors note a second decision made by the walk outs: “They walk on to the ideas, people, and practices that enable them to explore and discover new gifts, new possibilities.”

Throughout the book, Wheatley and Frieze explore small communities of people—in Mexico, Brazil, Ohio, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India and Greece—who have devised ingenious projects that address the needs of the communities in which they are rooted. You can read more about these experiments at the book web site, for example, in India

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I offer the following notes from my reading to entice those who may want to think more along the lines of this book to start conversations and write entries in their notebooks about their own dissatisfaction  and possibilities.The authors suggest eight simple principles to foster creative walking on:

Start anywhere, follow it everywhere: “At the beginning, we don’t have to know where we’re going. We don’t have to have an organization ahead of time. We don’t have to have approval, funding, expertise or answers. We just have to get started. …. As walk outs, we can start anywhere—we can go to a community meeting that we’ve avoided in the past, we can speak up at work, we can talk to a few friends about what we care about, we can decide to learn more about an issue that troubles us rather than ignoring or denying it.”

We make our path by walking it: “If the road looks familiar, if we’ve walked it before, if we feel comfortable knowing where we’re going, then we aren’t walking on, we aren’t pioneering something new.”

We have what we need: “Our creativity produces infinite wealth. We share what we have, and there’s more than enough to go around.”

The leaders we need are already here: “A leader is anyone willing to help, anyone willing to take those first steps to remedy a situation or create a new possibility.”

We are living the worlds we want today: [Walk Outs Who Walk On] let go of complaints, arguments and dramas; they place the work at the center, invite everyone inside and find solutions to problems that others think unsolvable.

We walk at the pace of the slowest:  “Speed is not our goal. Growth is not our purpose. Winning is not evidence of our success.”

We listen, even to the whispers: “Which voices do we listen to? Are they the familiar voices of power—those with position and authority, influence and wealth, expertise and training? Or do we make the road to the future by listening to the voices of everyone: the faceless, the nameless, the invisible, the indigenous people of Chiapas, the squatters in Brazil’s cortiços and favelas, the dalits of India, the homeless in Columbus, and everywhere, the voices of women, elders, children.”

We turn to one another: “Here’s a miraculous gift: It doesn’t matter if no one is coming to help. We have what we need, right here, right now, among us all.”

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How many of us have heard many times the line attributed to Einstein about insanity—doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results?  The authors point out some assumptions that may keep us bound to such uncreative repetition. We might keep one of these in mind during the week and be on the lookout for how often we ourselves and others use it.

  1. The answers exist out there—and the experts have them.
  2. To get things done, you need people of power and influence to champion your cause (a peace group recently called on Michelle Obama to use her influence with her husband to deter him from attacking Iran).
  3. Plan ahead and stick to your plan.
  4. Nothing gets done right unless you’re in control.
  5. Don’t ask for other people’s opinions.
  6. We don’t have time to experiment and tinker around.
  7. We mustn’t fail! (And when we do, find someone to blame.)

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Next, a few short passages questions from Walk Out, Walk On to stimulate our imaginations…

The Elos people have walked out of the notion that we need to leverage power to produce results. They have walked on to the belief that creativity is in everyone, play unleashes that creativity and if we want to create a healthy and resilient community, we need to invite the members of that community to play together. When we play, everything once again becomes possible.

Leaders as hosts invite us to experiment and take risks—rather than to avoid failure. They invite us to discover new and surprising connections—rather than to stay inside our box on the org chart. They create the conditions for information to flow freely and abundantly—rather than to manage the message. And they call forth the visionary leadership of the many, rather than the few.

We can notice all the strings we attach to our efforts—our need for approval, recognition, status, appreciation—and think about whether we want to cut them.

Our work is to see what’s right in front of us and to step forward to claim it. And then to keep seeing, to keep paying attention, to stay with the hard places, the uncomfortable relationships, the unanswerable questions.

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Finally, three questions to explore …

How are the demands of consumer culture impacting me, my family, and my community?

What behaviors am I willing to walk out on?

Where might I next offer my talents, ideas, skills, as gifts?

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