Affection: must share from Wendell Berry

CC License Some rights reserved by Frodrig on FlickrThis morning from an #agchat tweet I spotted the word “affection.” I had to click. (Thanks @USFarmerMag!) And found this from March. Take a minute and enjoy. ( I read it while listening to Rene Fleming with YoYo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile creating music with “Touch the Hand of Love.” Mama mia. Great combo. I’ll embed it below so you can do the same if you wish.)

For the 41st Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities which he delivered on Monday evening at the Kennedy Center, Mr. Berry, American intellectual and agrarian-minded elder, described how and why affection, yes, affection!, ought be considered the cornerstone of a new economy. Berry tells us that affection does not spring up fully formed; it is gotten to by way of imagination. It’s a train of thought worth quoting at length: “For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world,” says Berry, “they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy.” Affection, then, takes us beyond statistics and generalizations to the immediate and the particular. It focuses our attention on the beloved things right in front of us. This field,this child, this community.

Berry observes that we live in a time where affection is discounted. It’s true: rare is the public discussion where affection – or beauty, or hope, or joy – is brought forward as a good and weighty reason to do anything. But Berry believes that affection is deeply motivating. “Affection involves us entirely,” he writes. If he is right, love itself could be what moves us, finally, to care for the Earth.

You can read Wendell Berry’s Jefferson Lecture, or watch a video of him delivering it.

via LocalHarvest News – March 30, 2012.

I loved this line: “affection does not spring up fully formed; it is gotten to by way of imagination.”  As I prepare to facilitate an agricultural planning meeting, this is so useful for me to have in my mind.

Where are you imagining and nurturing affection in your work? Your life? Who is imagining it for you?


Tree image from Flickr, LicenseAttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Frodrig

CPsquare’s NING Stackathon – Tech Stewarding Learning Opportunity!

Are you stewarding technology for your community? Did you or are you considering a NING site? You may want to join in with CPSquare’s NING Stackathon. It will last for a year, but I suggest you get in on the ground floor now. John notes at the bottom that if you are willing to contribute a case, he will waive the (VERY MODEST) entry fee. Plus you get a six month CPSquare membership. Folks, JUMP on this!

Here are the deets, via

Launching our Ning Stackathon

By: John David Smith

playful stackHackathons are the current equivalent of a barn-raising, where people get together and work really hard for a short period of time on a fun project that somehow contributes to the common good.  We’ve used barn-raising as examples of the kind of personal, skin-in-the-game generosity that’s involved in communities of practice.

We’re inventing a new portmanteau.  A Stackathon is working party that’s slower-paced than a hackathon and more reflective.  It gathers useful examples of something with a lot of sense-making built into the process.  Therefore a stackathon is not like the current craze for content curation.  Read on for details about CPsquare’s first Stackathon.

During this stackathon we’ll gather profiles and portraits of as many living Ning-based or Ning-supported communities as possible.  We’ve started developing a list of interesting examples.  As we stack these communities one on top of another, we expect to discover new hacks that could make any of them more effective, sustainable, and fun. (And those hacks are probably relevant to simpler or more elaborate platforms than Ning, too!)

We will try to be somewhat systematic in describing how Ning is configured for each community and how it fits in the community’s digital habitat. We’ll pay attention to the ongoing role of leadership, facilitation, and technology stewardship. That means understanding what the community is about, what kinds of activities are typical, and what other tools a community uses in each community. Understanding that would give us a better idea of how and when to recommend Ning. Our stack will also suggest many possible methods that one community could borrow from another (including the use of auxiliary tools, plug-ins, themes, membership restrictions, etc., etc.).

During the stackathon (which will run for a whole year, from March 2012 to April 2013) we’ll have discussions in CPsquare’s Web Crossing site (password required: it’s for CPsquare members and people registered for the Stackathon), we’ll collect ideas in various Google Docs, we may have teleconferences, and we will collect some of our insights on CPsquare’s Media Wiki site. It all depends on what people want to do and are willing to do.

You can participate in the stackathon by joining CPsquare or by registering for the Stackathon here (costs $10). Any Stackathon registrant who contributes a full community portrait gets their registration fee refunded and they receive a CPsquare membership during the last 6-months of the Ning Stackathon.

(Thanks to Amboo Who for the photo!)

More on #BonkOpen and other MOOC-iness

Last week my post on Reconceptualizing facilitation and participation in a networked (MOOC) context garnered some interesting attention and some great comments. I wanted to offer a few more links to other blogs which are part of this distributed conversation, not only because they are interested, but I’m interested in weaving together these threads, both between the #BonkOpen MOOC (Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success) and the #Change11 MOOC. So here we go!

Here are some more general MOOC-y blog posts:


Any other ones I should be reading and linking to?

Edit: May 7 – here are some more!


Meetings that Drive Us Crazy

Appropos of almost nothing, I just have to point to this great painting by Charles Fancher, lawyer-slash-artist: Mediation: Hour 13.

I’ve been in meetings like this. How about you? What are your own personal participant destressors in these meetings?

Elephants, Radical Rethinking and AND

My visual capture of Andy's talk

Well, radical may be an overstatement, but it is worth saying that we have solutions for many things in front of us, but we have old glasses on when we need new ones.  We love to protect the proverbial “elephant in the room” because after all, it is the elephant we know. But we consistently need to consider new perspectives. An “AND” perspective, not just an “OR.” This challenges status quo, power dynamics and is sometimes just hard to wrap our head around, particularly when we feel we have some “expertise” and “skin in the game” in a situation.

Last week I heard (and visually captured) CIAT’s Andy Jarvis give a great talk about the role of livestock in both feeding the world, and in green house gases.  On one hand, livestock is a critical food and economic staple for the very poor, especially those who own  a single cow or a few chickens. At the same time, livestock is implicated in large greenhouse gas contributions. So we have competing interests.

Or do we? There is real potential that this is not simply an “OR” proposition if we look with those new lenses. For example, Andy shared some initial data about the blending of growing trees and cows (silvo-pastoral systems) which have been growing in importance in Central and South America. New lenses. Here is a snippet:

Jarvis challenged those present at April’s meeting to look at the livestock ‘hoofprint’ as an opportunity as much as a call to immediate action. “Developing countries are where it’s at! They have the biggest potential for mitigation and major system transformations. There are systems which are far more efficient than others, and developing nations have the ability to put the rest of the world to shame.” Intensive silvo-pastoral systems, for example, were highlighted as having catalyzed a mini-revolution in Colombia and Central America due to their high CO2 capture potential and low implementation costs.  According to Jarvis they are the rare climate change win-win, converting degraded pasture land into profitable, productive systems with high carbon stock, biodiversity, and resilience.

via The elephant in the room – or is it a cow? | DAPA. See also a reframe on ILRI’s blog.

Is it that simple? Certainly not. But the point is, we can’t look at greenhouse gases or food security as separate issues. They are connected. And that requires us to stretch the way we think and act. It requires a lot more “ANDs!”

This theme of AND rather than OR is popping up in my work literally every day and with every piece of work. The process challenge it offers me is to really push how I design and facilitate for, and to, AND. Yeah, that’s a messy mouthful.

This involves a) the ability to examine ideas and challenges from multiple perspectives, not just “critically from one approved perspective,” b) the ability to deal more productively with power dynamics that sit behind the influence of expertise and funding, mostly through increased transparency, and c) building our tolerance for ambiguity along the path towards action decisions. The latter is greatly enhanced by understanding when to do small “safe fail” (a la Dave Snowden) experiments, when to do larger shifts where there is a bit more certainty, and where to scale the things we really know work across different settings. I think we confuse these all the time (at least in international development, it is a challenge!)

In fact, this is not radical rethinking, folks. It is understanding how to agilely get out of our own thinking ruts, individually, organizationally and collectively. This has deep implications for our organizational structures and certainly for how we wield our power. I find it challenging (in a good way.) How about you? How are you working towards staying out of unproductive ruts?