An ecosystem of understanding

Author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s popular TED Talk on ‘the danger of the single story’ is a wonderful reminder to always remain open to diverse perspectives and to practice different ways of seeing and feeling.

Most of us take for granted that subjectivity is a constant feature of our complex and interconnected world. But how can we break free from the single story when it begins to emerge in our own lives?

We could start by looking deeply at the stories we tell ourselves about the world we currently live in, the stories that feed into the actions and attitudes we take to everyday life.

Adichie implores that stories are powerful, but whether they are disfiguring or transformative is largely up to us:

Stories have been used to dispossess and malign, but stories have also been used to empower and humanise.

If it’s true that some social pathologies (hatreds) run deep like the roots of a tree, how can the mired move up the trunk of ignorance, and along the branches of experience to be touched by the leaves of personal connection?


These words by Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) founder, Kon Karapanagiotidis, might start us along the path:

The world can often feel like it’s full of hatred, but there is an antidote to this. It means stepping outside of our comfort zones and seeking out communities and stories we’ve not heard, as well as having the moral imagination where you stop for a moment and place yourself in the shoes of another. Hatred burns out. It’s not sustainable as it relies on the worst in us; it drains the heart and our passion for life. We need to lead by example, take the path less travelled, and not be afraid to question, critique and demand better of our leaders, our community and ourselves. What more powerful antidote to hatred than to refuse it in our home, work or family by accepting, embracing and celebrating the differences of all who are in your community.

People who actively build bridges between unlikely communities, customers and stakeholders are also showing up as valuable actors in organisations around the world. David Brooks, for instance, has named them vital reformers acting from ‘the edge of the inside’.

But making connections with those we wouldn’t otherwise encounter in our daily lives requires us to go to places of vulnerability – places that feel close to the edge of our known experiences. By virtue of this, these places will feel unfamiliar or even uncomfortable initially, but seeking them out is a vital step in reaching our human potential.

It is our experience that the new in any system shows up first at the periphery. That’s where you see the problems and the opportunities as if through a magnifying glass. Exploring the edges of the system means going to the place of most potential.

Scharmer’s work tells us that innovation, both personal and societal, also requires us to head to the boundaries – to untangle the roots we might find ourselves in and open up to external forces, like the wind on leaves, we step into an ecosystem of understanding.

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