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The first thing that arises when we open up to each other is a great sigh of relief. We realize that we’re not the only one who feels bewildered. When we hear that nobody knows the answer any more, that none of the old ways work, that we don’t know what the new way is, then confusion has a higher value than certainty. Uncertainty is more appropriate to a world that is so perplexing to us. When people hear that, they relax.
Pema Chödrön: Because that’s their experience.
Margaret Wheatley: That’s their experience, so they feel confirmed. And what comes next is the possibility of courage. Instead of blaming ourselves because we’re the only one who doesn’t get it, we realize we’re all dwelling in the confusion of modern-day life. I certainly see this in myself—I am able to trust myself more because I’ve had the recognition that what’s called for is simply to notice how confusing and chaotic life is.
That allows the really big questions to surface. People everywhere are asking profoundly spiritual questions—about being together more with other human beings, about their lives having meaning beyond the criteria we’ve been given of success, money and material goods.
I feel these questions arising from the planet in many different places as we come to the end of a world view that has led us into a particularly vacuous place. It is a world view that has kept us apart, and I’m beginning to think that how we can come together as human beings is the real question we face. In the program I took with you, Pema, you said that the root of suffering is the illusion of our separateness. That we’ve forgotten that we’re all interrelated.
I do feel that’s the root of suffering in this culture. This culture has torn us apart from one another and only supported us in our individual quests for things that are not in themselves satisfying. We’re coming to the end of that now. We’re realizing how empty we are, and I think we have courage to understand how far we’ve drifted from who we are as human beings, and to realize we can learn again how to be together.
In fact, a lot of people do know how to be together, but it’s a skill that hasn’t been considered important or given any status in our society. It’s actually been dismissed as insignificant and soft and fuzzy. So courage is what we need, and the source of that courage is recognizing that the questions, doubts and desires that move in me move in everyone else as well.
Pema Chödrön: When I think about the kind of teaching you’re giving, Meg, and the Buddhist and Shambhala teachings I’ve been privileged to receive, I realize that if we look back—I’m sixty-three, so let’s say sixty-three years ago—there were only a few people who would have been able to hear these teachings. Most people would have thought them strange and been in no way attracted to them.
Now we’re seeing a vast audience of people from all backgrounds who are hungry for these kinds of teachings. The curious inspiration for this is recognition of how unpredictable our future is, which is actually encouraging courage. Something like the Y2K bug has people everywhere talking about how the future is totally unpredictable, and many of them are hearing the teaching of moving towards what scares us, of not being afraid of unpredictability. In fact, unpredictability is the norm, and as you say, it becomes a higher value than security. It’s fascinating to me that the times are such that people’s belief systems are actually changing. People are thinking bigger.
Of course there’s also the opposite reaction, an increase in fundamentalism among those who seek refuge in certainty, but I’m more struck by the hunger for the positive message—the creative capacity of resting with unpredictability. Unpredictability and interdependence are two truths that people are more and more able to hear. Hearts are more open to the fact that life is an unending surprise.
The whole globe is shook up, so what are you going to do when things are falling apart? You’re either going to become more fundamentalist and try to hold things together, or you’re going to forsake the old ambitions and goals and live life as an experiment, making it up as you go along.
My question is how organizations can lead us not toward some predictable goal, but toward a greater and greater capacity to handle unpredictability, and with it, a greater capacity to love and care about other people.
Margaret Wheatley: Many of us within large organizations are awakening to the awareness that life is uncertain and that we do make it up as we go along. But these aren’t the usual management principles (laughs). There are very powerful forces that have no interest in this kind of awakening. I believe that’s part of the gift of being alive right now. We have a wonderful opportunity to transform our relationships and our awareness of life. It’s about creating a whole new world view, and I would say, even moving beyond that to emptiness. But we have to realize that we’re not going to gain sanction from our present institutions. That’s why courage is even more required. We’re actually being quite revolutionary here.
The world is going to continue to tell people who feel this awakening that they’re crazy, so we might as well realize that what we are seeking is quite revolutionary in these times. It is part of a great swelling up on the planet of a desire for transformation. I don’t know if I want to say it’s big work, but it feels fundamental, in the good sense of returning to the foundations that truly support us.
Margaret Wheatley is the author of Leadership and the New Science and co-author of A Simpler Way. She is president of the Berkana Institute, a non-profit foundation supporting the discovery of new organizational forms, and a principal in Kellner-Rogers & Wheatley Inc., an international consulting firm.
Pema Chödrön is director of Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and one of North America's most beloved Buddhist teachers. She is the author of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
It Starts With Uncertainty, Margaret Wheatley & Pema Chödrön, Shambhala Sun, November 1999.
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