Tag Archives: patterns

The Nexus of Power: Choice

As I work with the next piece of Allan Savory’s holistic management model from his book, Holistic Management, I’m thinking about choice.

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When I learned emotional intelligence, I understood choice as central to our personal power. The choice to say yes. The choice to say no. Our power to choose mindfully and intentionally is constantly under attack.

I also learned, to my chagrin, how much time and energy I had spent trying to change or fix what I have no power to change or fix and overlooking the places in which I do have power. I could not effectively make decisions until I learned to let go, stop arguing with what is, step away from where the blows land, and stop taking poisoned bait.

As Joshua Fields Millburn says, “letting go is not something you do. It is something you stop doing.”

Reclaiming our ability and power to choose from our unconscious patterns and addictions is a difficult journey. Reclaiming our power of choice from those who have stolen it or seek to steal it is a journey into fear. Reclaiming our power of choice in spite of our fear is an exercise in heroism.

Once we have narrowed the whole we’re trying to manage to the dimensions in which we truly have power, we’re faced with learning how to make decisions and carrying them through.

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The power of choice comes with responsibility. Some people don’t want to consciously choose because they don’t want to take responsibility for the outcomes they create with their choices. Another pattern I’ve often seen is the desire to have as many options as possible at all times – a recipe for noncommitment and a tactic that invariably steals power from others.

Choosing one option means we leave others behind. Choosing, and working with the consequences of our choices, requires flexibility, resilience, and the willingness to be wrong.

We will inevitably make choices that result in unwanted, unexpected results.

However, refusing to choose is still a choice. Inaction has consequences, just as action does.

If we don’t choose, someone else or circumstances will choose for us.

Is the goal of decision-making perfection or empowerment?

Is the right choice the one that gives us the outcome we want? Is the wrong choice the one that results in an outcome we didn’t foresee or dislike?

Some choices are easy, like which shirt to wear.

Some choices tear us apart, like being forced to choose between caring for ourselves and caring for someone we love.

Most of the choices we make in a day we never even notice.

Some choices change the direction of our lives and we never forget the moment we stood at a crossroad and made a decision.

We can’t necessarily tell the important choices from the unimportant ones when we’re faced with them.

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The ability to choose is strength and power.

The ability to choose involves risk and uncertainty. No matter how well we gather information, weigh pros and cons, and try to imagine the future, choice is largely a leap in the dark. As we choose, so do those around us. Our choices impact them, and their choices impact us.

It’s absolutely impossible to predict where some choices will take us.

In Savory’s model, the holistic context directs decision-making. If we know something about where we are, and something about where we want to end up, we can build a path from here to there. Our choices are steps along the path, taking us forward. The cause and effect of choice is always uncertain and dynamic, so we can expect our path to fork, detour, double back, and otherwise confuse and confound us.

Choosing is a flow that never stops. Once we’ve decided to step into it, one choice leads to another, and another.

No one, no one can make better choices for us than we can.

Savory proposes a list of questions, called context checks, to help in decision-making:

  • Does this action address the root cause of the problem?
  • Might this action have negative social, biological, or financial consequences?
  • Does this action provide the greatest return toward the goals for each unit of time or money invested?
  • Does this action contribute the most to covering the costs inherent in the endeavor?
  • Is the energy or money used in this action coming from the most appropriate source in our holistic context?
  • If we take this action, will it lead us toward or away from the future resource base described in our holistic context?
  • How do we feel about this action? Might it lead to the quality of life we defined in our holistic context? What might its adverse effects be?

These questions ask us to think beyond our immediate desires and consider the possible impact of our actions on others, now and into the future. They ask us for our best predictions, and to think carefully about our goals through the lens of sustainability.

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The context checks are not a one and done exercise. Savory suggests they be revisited frequently, either at set intervals or in case of unexpected outcomes and events.

There will certainly be unexpected outcomes and events, as well as new information. Each choice we make teaches us something, and we (hopefully) integrate what we’ve learned into our next step.

Learning to make choices, and discerning the places in which we have no power to make choices, are two of the most essential things we can do in life. It seems to me the act of choosing is far more meaningful than whether we or others judge our decisions and their outcomes as “good” or “bad.”

Sadly, our culture seems more concerned at present with criticizing and/or eliminating the choices of others rather than developing and supporting good decision-making skills that foster personal power for everyone. Many of us spend too much time preoccupied with things we cannot change, actively disempowering ourselves and making ourselves miserable.

Making my own choices and learning from the consequences. My daily crime.

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Reshuffle

I love solitaire. I find it infinitely soothing. Of course, there’s a line between soothing and numbing, just as there is with any activity. As long as I mindfully use a game or two as a tool rather than being used by it, it’s one of my favorite wait-I-need-to-think-about-this or catch-my-breath techniques.

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The thing about solitaire, whether we play the old-fashioned way with a deck of cards, or online, is that each game is different because we shuffle the cards.

We shuffle the cards.

We make choices as we play, so we have some control, but the shuffle is random. Always the same cards, but in different positions every time.

Sometimes we win. Sometimes the cards don’t fall right, or we make mistakes, or both, and we lose.

One of the unexpected results of working with holistic decision-making is that it’s forcing me to reshuffle my cards.

Each of my relationships is a card. My job-for-a-paycheck is one, and exercise, and sleeping, and eating. My Be Still Now time is a card. All the ordinary household tasks and activities of daily living have a card. My time is a card, and my energy another. Each piece of my life can be represented by a card.

When I don’t shuffle the deck, I keep laying out the cards in the same old way, in the same old order, and experiencing the same old frustrations and challenges.

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Holistic decision-making demands a fresh look at what I’m trying to manage and why, as well as an assessment of my personal deck of cards, including priorities, resources, and sustainability. In looking at my life from an unaccustomed vantage point, through the filter of Allan Savory’s model, I see previously unconscious choices and patterns that are not in line with my current intentions.

The cards haven’t quite fallen right, or I’ve made mistakes, or both. My deck is too large and I need to discard, or too small and I need to add some cards. I’ve dealt less important cards on top of essential ones.

So I’m reshuffling my cards and exploring new layouts.

I can’t do everything. I want to. I think I should. I can’t.

Everything and everyone can’t be a priority. Some of my time and energy investments have provided little or no return. In some ways my life hasn’t been reflecting the truth of my heart.

So I’m reshuffling my cards.

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I could refuse to reshuffle. Eventually, life will force a reshuffle, maybe in painful and unexpected ways. I could wait for that. On the other hand, I can face my fears, be willing to cut my losses, tell the truth (at least to myself), and let go of what’s no longer serving me.

I choose to reshuffle.

Not enough time/space/energy for what’s really important? Exhausted and overwhelmed?

Reshuffle.

Distracted and out of balance? Unfocused?

Reshuffle

Feeling disempowered?

Reshuffle. Take out the Joker. And cut!

Reshuffling my cards. My daily crime.

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Holistic Management 1: The Whole

I have just finished reading one of the most important books I’ve ever come across, Holistic Management by Allan Savory.

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Savory is a wildlife biologist, farmer, and cofounder of the Savory Institute, an organization that teaches and supports regenerative land management. I read the book because I admire Allan Savory’s lifetime commitment to understanding the delicate complexity of our environment. He has successfully restored ecosystems and land on several continents using animals. His work, and the work of others like him, can restore and revive our planet, if we can muster the political will and willingness to give up some of our cherished and destructive ideas about how to manage land and animals.

Savory is an enormously important teacher for farmers. I became familiar with his work because of my interest in permaculture. This particular book, however, is a blueprint for managing any complex system, not just a farm.

I’m a great planner, goal-setter, and list-maker, but I’ve never seen any decision-making or management process like this, and as I read the book I marveled at how intuitively right it feels. Policies and standard operating procedures are so often inadequate, not enforceable, and ineffective, in spite of hours and hours of committee work and good intentions. This book explains why.

I picked up the book around the same time I was deciding to get more proactive with my writing. I recognize that I need a plan, but feel overwhelmed by all the moving parts and how to use my time and other resources effectively. What about work-life balance? I do, after all, have a job. What should my priorities be? How much time will I need for each aspect of writing? What about money?

As I read Holistic Management, I took copious notes. I could see that Savory’s framework for decision making was more complete than any I’d seen before, and specifically suited to complexity.

After finishing the book, I created a document using Savory’s model. Now comes the hard part. I need to apply his bare outlines to my own situation. It occurred to me that might be an interesting process to make visible, as this is a kind of decision-making most of us have never seen before, and who doesn’t have something to manage, a household, a family, a business, finances, a life?

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The first step is figuring out the whole under management. Right away, we’re in new territory, because Savory realizes that any system is not a series of separate boxes, but a dynamic, nonlinear, and complex series of overlapping wholes containing people and resources, including the land on which the system exists. No matter what we’re trying to manage, the land will be part of the whole under management. Water cycles, mineral cycles, soil, animals and plants sustain every human activity, and creating management plans without acknowledging that truth has led us to climate change, catastrophic pollution, diminishing resources, and the destruction of billions of acres of land around the world.

Holistic management of anything must take into account the effects of our choices on the environment.

The whole under management includes decision makers, physical resources, people as resources, and financial resources. I’m the decision maker for my writing plan. For physical resources, I listed our 26 acres and the buildings on it, as well as the soil, water, plants and trees. I added technology to that list as well. For people as resources I listed friends, family, my partner, a professional support team, my community, and readers.

It didn’t occur to me until later to add myself as a resource. Typical!

Financial resources include money earned, inherited, borrowed, or dollars generated from my resource base, that is dollars earned from writing or the land under my management.

Working with the concept of wholes under management provides a new frame for decision-making that depends (surprise, surprise) on the recognition that effective planning means sharing power. When we approach management from the position of power-over others, including natural resources, we have failed to create a successful, sustainable policy or plan before we’ve even begun. Any system that ignores the needs of any part of the whole is doomed to failure, maybe not in the short term, but certainly in the long term.

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This is particularly true in the context of relationships, as in a family or community. If we feel disempowered, our investment, loyalty, trust, and level of participation all diminish. We may, for a while, choose to comply with whatever it is the Grand Poobah at the top (power-over) demands, but sooner or later that system will fail and the Grand Poobah will fall. Unfortunately, this kind of pattern is hugely expensive in terms of lives, health, and resource.

Savory’s holistic management model is specific, complex, and requires time. The very first step – identifying the whole under management – can’t be speeded through. If we get that piece wrong, everything that comes after will be flawed. If we can’t define all the moving parts, we’ll never be able to figure out how to support them in working together, and we won’t notice or respond appropriately when things go sideways. And things always go sideways somewhere, at some time.

Defining the whole we are trying to manage forces us to step back and look objectively at our situation. Are we being too reductionistic in our view? Are we appropriately addressing the complexity of the entire system we want to manage? On the other hand, are we trying to manage aspects of a situation that are not ours to manage? Are we taking on, or allowing others to force us into, responsibility for parts of the whole that are not rightfully ours?

Take it from an experienced people pleaser. Trying to manage an interpersonal situation we’ve been coerced into, even if our intentions are the best in the world, is doomed to painful failure. Most people don’t want to be managed, even if they say they do. If we can’t get decision makers and human resources on the same page, our policies and plans will always dissolve. In such a case, perhaps the whole needs to be redefined and refocused on where our power rightfully lies.

I worked with Holistic Management a chapter at a time, and now I’m filling in the decision-making framework a piece at a time, feeling my way into mastery of this amazing new tool.

As I think about the whole(s) I want to manage in my life, I watch patterns and interactions in my workplace, the push-pull of politics as President Biden takes power after the disastrous last four years, and the ways I interact with my partner. All are complicated systems encompassing overlapping wholes. I’m looking at life through a new lens.

Identifying the whole in holistic management planning. My daily crime.

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