It is undoubtable: we are in a moment of profound change and possibility.
People across the country, and across the world, are launching purpose-driven businesses, organizations, and other endeavors to enact systemic change. These change agents want to do things in a new way, to create a world that is not only more sustainable but more just, more life-giving, and more intentional.
I’ve run into these folks throughout my time at Pinchot University and through my work with Kindling.
They are incredible people and have my utmost respect.
Last week, I was fortunate to attend the Regenerative Business Summit and met another profoundly impactful change community.
The Summit was mind expanding. I left clearer on my purpose and sharper in my thinking. We moved from understanding “regeneration” to “essence” to working on “whole, living” systems.
Despite all these juicy new concepts, what really set the Summit apart for me was something much more simple. The Summit featured a way of operating that I had yet to see in any of the change communities I’ve been a part of.
The “it’s all good work” culture
Many change communities have an affinity for sensitivity and affirmation. We pride ourselves on being more aware, more caring, more feeling. Out of this comes the use of phrases like “yes and” and “it’s all good work.”
In theory, these are great frames of mind.
You say “yes and” instead of “no but” to expand someone’s previous comment, rather than dismiss it with a “but.”
“Yes and (fill in the blank) is ALSO true.” You get a richer and more complex way of thinking.
You say “it’s all good work” to acknowledge that we need a wide variety of action. You need people working inside corporations to change them for the better AND work to challenge corporate power in our political system. You need work inside the current system and work building a new system. These different types of work are both helpful and should be applauded. No one has the silver bullet.
The dark side of “it’s all good”
But these phrases and this mindset have a dark side.
These phrases can also obscure the work we need to do. They can keep us from being honest with each other and with ourselves. They keep us in a space of comfort and out of creative tension.
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard “yes and” used to the same effect as “no but.” The speaker actually disagrees, but won’t say it plainly.
You wouldn’t believe how often I’ve heard “it’s all good work” used simply to avoid the awkwardness and “meanness” of telling someone that their work may have unintended negative consequences. You don’t actually think it’s good work, but you won’t say it.
We tell ourselves that we are using these terms out of respect and kindness. We don’t want to dismiss anyone or put them down. We want to affirm. We want to be sensitive so people don’t feel attacked.
But perhaps underneath these justifications is simply a paralyzing fear of being critical of another. Perhaps even deeper is a fear of being criticized. Have we internalized a belief that to be critical is to be unkind and insensitive?
We say we are living with care and sensitivity, but really we just can’t handle animosity. So instead, we simply pretend as if everything is true and everything is helpful.
What corporate culture gets right
We have something to learn from corporate culture.
Yes, corporate culture in America is ruthless. It asks us to value money above all else – the planet, our fellow human beings, our own well-being. There are so many things wrong with it. Corporate culture has a ton to learn from change communities that value sensitivity and affirmation.
And corporate culture has a level of rigor and accountability that is sorely lacking in non-profits and other change communities. Corporations get shit done. They look for the best answer, not just a passable answer. They accept that there are better and worse ways of making a buck.
Well, there are better and worse ways to drive change too.
What I appreciated most about the Regenerative Business Summit is that it encourages – even demands – that we take a more rigorous lens to change. It asks us to be critical with one another. It tells us that we can be highly critical and direct with ourselves and our colleagues, yet still maintain positive regard. It insists that we don’t let ourselves be satisfied with half-baked answers because our “hearts are in the right place.”
We can be critical, yet still sensitive and affirming.
At the Summit, each of us met extensively with “thinking partners” whose job is to find flaws and gaps in our thinking. When someone helps you strengthen your work through critical feedback, you thank them. You are grateful for help in discerning a strategic path forward. Believe it or not, through this process, you actually feel closer and more connected to another.
Redefining care and compassion
“Care” and “compassion” are not what we think they are.
Many of us seem to interpret “care” as simply affirming whatever beliefs or thoughts someone has.
But is it really a kindness to simply affirm what some already believes? Is it kind to tell someone what they are doing is great simply to make them feel good (momentarily)? Could it be that this is just lazy, even uncaring?
Perhaps caring is being invested enough to have a difficult conversation and point out gaps in a friend’s thinking. Perhaps caring is a willingness to engage deeply enough to make others’ work more intentional and more impactful.
This is rigor. This is what we are missing.
It is all good work. It is good work in the sense that any attempt to drive positive change should be applauded.
But it is not all equally good work. And if we truly want to enact meaningful change, we should all be striving to produce our best work. We should all be striving to help one another do the same.
Can you imagine if we created a movement that both treated others with love and sensitivity AND thrived off creative tension?