Metamorphose

To metamorphose is to transform. This site is an exploration of change (why we avoid it, how we can achieve it, who inspires us along the way) and the conditions required for transformation. Founded and curated by Simran Sethi.

The Moral Self

I spend much of my time embracing what I once eschewed: the deep and steadfast belief that the most important reason to respond and react to the world is because it’s the right thing to do. This is coming from the daughter of scientists who was employed by MTV News and ended up getting a degree in business: I have worked the science, the trend, and the businesses case. I now return to the place where I started. I do the things I do because my gut and heart tell me they are the right thing to do.  

This engagement is part of what sociologists call our “internal identity standard.” Our identity, or identities, are sets of meaning we hold about our position in groups (Indian), in roles we maintain (teacher) or as individuals. These three bases (group, role, person) are most deeply activated through our interactions with others: my identification as an Indian requires the existence of other Indians, my role as a teacher is contingent upon having students. Our individual identities are a bit more fluid, but still require an interchange between inner and outer worlds.   

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The Climate of Change

At the end of his piece on Peter Gleick’s messy attempt to uncover untruths at the Heartland Institute (what I call Climategate II), New York Times reporter Andy Revkin says, “The only people I see out there in the climate fight who – as far as I can tell — never admit to an error are people with agendas from which they can never stray. They’re perfect.”

He’s being tongue-in-cheek. I get it. But there is something critically important in his statement that should not be overlooked: most people believe they exist well within their agendas. The restauranteur serving organic juice in plastic cups, the journalist flying to Tuvalu to document the impacts of climate change, the professor complaining about gaining weight while ending each day with a bar of chocolate (me), we live out these consistencies every day, locked into rhythms and patterns that we no longer notice. 

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Re/frame our thinking

"Central to our ability to solve a problem is how we perceive the challenge, how we frame it - that “seeing” determines our capacity for doing, and certainly our capacity for effective doing. So I asked myself, is there a way of perceiving the environmental challenge that is at once hardheaded, evidenced based, and invigorating - one that welcomes us to become engaged problem solvers? Might it be possible to transform something that can feel so frightening as to make us go numb into a challenge so compelling that billions of us will eagerly embrace it?

…We don’t have to keep telling ourselves a story that robs us of the energy we need now, more than ever. We can each make the “leaps of mind” that move us from discouragement to an empowering stance. We can each reframe our thinking and seeing in ways that give us energy to engage.

Get ready.”

Francis Moore Lappe, EcoMind 

From “I” to “We”

Image and text from the incredibly brilliant No Straight Lines blog:

"Carl Jung made the observation that ‘I’ needs ‘We’ to truly be ‘I’, by which he meant that it is through our connectedness, and the meaning that we make through each other, that we find a sustainable model for humanity. Human identity is created through co-created narrative, the bonds created through deep connections we make when we act collectively as meaningful members of a wider group. This mechanism is a vital component part for the construction of identity and healthy societies…This is our DNA, the fundamental needs of our nature; our bodies, minds and souls are designed to work collectively.

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information vs. production

it used to be many times more time/cost effective to buy one product than to solicit hundreds of opinions about that product. now, it’s more time/cost efficient to read hundreds of opinions about a product than to actually buy the product.  what does this shift from production advantageous economy to information advantageous economy mean? is it good? discuss….

"The system isn’t working for the 1%, either. If you were a CEO, you would be making the same choices they do. The institutions have their own logic. Life is pretty bleak at the top, too. And all of the baubles of the rich, they’re kind of this phony compensation for the loss of what’s really important: the loss of community, the loss of connection, the loss of intimacy, the loss of meaning.

Everyone wants to live a life of meaning…Joint consumption doesn’t create intimacy. Only joint creativity and gifts create intimacy and connection.

You have such gifts.”      

Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, featured on OccupyLove

Context is the key

Context is the key. From that, comes the understanding of everything."        Kenneth Noland

This image is one for which I have received a lot of praise. Bereft of context, it seems almost beautiful. But, to me, it is not.  

What’s missing is the dirty, broken shopping cart that I cropped out of the shot and the junkies that were smoking cigarettes in front of the bodega on the corner. When put in context, the lure of buying dreams feels almost desperate, as if the only thing that residents had left to sell was their dreams. They’d hawked the jewelry a long time ago.

Or maybe not. 

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Systems Thinking

If the structure creates the behavior, then what does our current structure support and engender? Where are we concordant - and where are we out of sync? I have been thinking a lot about the places - physical or mental - where we are not in alignment with what we truly are and believe in.

This disconnection is a source of discomfort that manifests in myriad ways: tuning out the stories of FoxConn suicides so I can still love my iPhone, believing the “all-natural” (meaningless) label on the side of the frozen burrito at the food co-op so I can eat pork that is likely no better or different than what I’d find at Taco Bell, distracting myself with bad television. The list goes on and on. It seems easier to tune out or give up.  

That is why it is an act of courage to see the Occupy folks in New York City continue to strive for alignment. 

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A New Perspective on an Old Method of Change

In “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” Chip and Dan Heath argue there are three big ways to motivate change.

First, “Find the Feeling.” This means instead of just telling someone something, you need to make them feel it. Second, “Shrink the Change.” Chip and Dan say that the best way to approach change is to break it down into manageable chunks that won’t overwhelm us. Last, “Grow Your People.” If you create a group centered around change, individuals are more likely to pick up the new behavior.

Though these might sound basic to us, it takes motivation and creativity to instill change in others.

Take a look at a section from the book addressing common barriers to change (from “Overcoming Obstacles” in Chip and Dan’s book):

Problem: I’ll change tomorrow.
Advice: 1. Shrink the change so you can start today. 2. If you can’t start today, set an action trigger for tomorrow. 3. Make yourself accountable to someone. Let your colleagues or loved ones know what you’re trying to change, so their peer pressure will help you.

Kim Scherman

Photo credit. 

We believe what we want to believe

“The family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation. There must be something in family life that generates factual error. Over-closeness, the noise and heat of being. Perhaps even something deeper like the need to survive. Murray says we are fragile creatures surrounded by a world of hostile facts. Facts threaten our happiness and security. The deeper we delve into things, the looser our structure may seem to become. The family process works towards sealing off the world. Small errors grow heads, fictions proliferate. I tell Murray that ignorance and confusion can’t possibly be the driving forces behind family solidarity. What an idea, what a subversion. He asks me why the strongest family units exist in the least developed societies. Not to know is a weapon of survival, he says. Magic and superstition become entrenched as the powerful orthodoxy of the clan. The family is strongest where objective reality is most likely to be misinterpreted. What a heartless theory, I say. But Murray insists it’s true.” 
― Don DeLillo, “White Noise

This is why I constantly question the facts I hear. I ask, “What proof?” “Can you tell me more?” “Why should I believe that?” Is this protection or is this just me pulling away from the truth?

Here’s more info and explanation about how we’re averse to accepting the facts.

We don’t need to wait for someone in a uniform to tell us to change.

From this Op-Ed in January 22, 2012’s LA Times by Naomi Oreskes:

"In my travels, I have met many, many people who have told me that they are not in denial about climate change; they simply don’t know enough to decide. It strikes me that these people aren’t unlike my fellow jurors at the start of jury selection. They are trying to keep an open mind, something that we are routinely enjoined to do in many other aspects of daily life.

But just as open-mindedness can be the wrong answer in jurisprudence, it can also be the wrong answer in science and public policy. Since the mid-1990s, there has been clear-cut evidence that the climate is changing because of human activities: burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. For the last decade or so it has been increasingly clear that these changes are accelerating, and worrisome.

Yet many Americans cling to the idea that it is reasonable to maintain an open mind. It isn’t, at least not to scientists who study the matter. They have been saying for some time that the case for the reality and gravity of climate change has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But there’s the rub. The public seems to view scientists as the equivalent of the prosecuting attorney trying to prove a case. The think tanks, institutes and fossil fuel corporations take on the mantle of the defense.

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The Anti-Divinity of Humanity

To be human is to be almost what we define as divine.  Manifesting our thoughts as actions, taking what we want from the natural world to re-create it in our image, paying homage to the incredible power of creation, intelligence, will and our power to dominate - as well as be compassionate.  Animals take what they need and no more, leaving their world undisturbed or in the “natural order of things”.  Which is more divine? To be a part of nature without regard for sustaining it, or to move fluidly through nature without disturbing it?

Why does our incredible power to create and be “conscious” also facilitate greed, selfishness, destruction, and lack of care for the very things which sustain us? What can we do to control our impulse to destroy - or even to become aware of this impulse?

(Meditation.)

Interdependence

From Wendell Berry’s Introduction to “Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible”: 

"The human situation, as understood by both biblical agrarians and contemporary ones, is about as follows…Our relation to our land will always remain, to a significant extent, mysterious. Therefore, our use of it must be determined more by reverence and humility, by local memory, and affection, than by the knowledge that we now call "objective" or "scientific." Above all, we must not damage it permanently or compromise its natural means of sustaining itself. The best farmers have always accepted this situation as a given, and they have honored the issues of propriety and scale that it urgently raises.

By recognizing our inescapable dependence and our finally insurmountable ignorance, we open the subject of agriculture (as, I think, all other subjects) to questions of every kind.” 

Light Bulb Moment

This is a placeholder for a much longer, deeper commentary…

I was sitting in a nice cushy chair at the University of British Columbia attending the International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability and it hit me like a ton of bricks. The reason sustainability has not taken off is because our three-legged stool - the common sustainability paradigm of caring for people, planet and profits - is wobbly and unstable. It has left out a critical component that would actually help activate the imagination and engage people in what they care about: cultural sustainability.

My dear colleagues Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken wrote with Amory Lovins the book Natural Capitalism - a seminal text about new business models and the need to value the incredible resources our ecosystems provide.

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