Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 5

In this final part I would like to offer some conclusions, evaluations and perspectives on the course we gave. You can read about preparation of the course and how it was carried out more explicitly in the previous parts:

Part 1 – The preparation process
Part 2 – Introduction and energy
Part 3 – Food production, material flow and the big history of values
Part 4 – Solutions, principles of sustainability and who we are in relation to nature

Firstly, the core principle and aim of our teaching can be summarized in one sentence as follows:

Introducing knowledge, overview and perspectives on our global and grand challenges and balancing this with tools, insights and embodiment on what it means to grow as human beings and to engage with these challenges we face.

The ambitions of the course have certainly been greater than what has been possible to achieve in 48 hours. The ambitions have been about bridging gaps:

  • bridging the personal/local scale and the global,
  • bridging the concrete issues and the complex perspectives,
  • bridging abilities and tools with challenges and their solutions (or way of dealing with them),
  • bridging seriousness of the future outlooks, the playfulness of the present and fascination of past achievements,
  • bridging integral and sustainability

The last point has been one of my strongest motivations. I am quite familiar with integral theory, especially with the vertical or developmental perspective that you find in the adult development field that I perform and publish own research in. But my engagement in issues of sustainability, e.g. energy perspectives such as Peak oil, has only been for the recent four years. I still feel like a beginner in this field (and I really am!) and despite all complexity scaffolds, such as MHC and AQAL, and abilities for perspective-taking the learning process has been very hard for many reasons.

One is that a broad view on sustainability has not been easily assimilated into any integral framework, at least according to my understanding (although it has been pointed out that there are not one integral theory but several, e.g. Morin and Bhaskar). Even if you have the ability to take several perspectives and is a complex (e.g. metasystematic) thinker, you still need to dig into the concrete issues with all their details. My sidekick Stina, with her several decades of experience of environmental and sustainability issues, made sure that I was aware of this. It takes decades to build up true expertise and abilities in these types of issues, even if you are a complex thinker in other domains.

One example to my difficulties to assimilate sustainability issues into to the integral framework is the following: When you learn about sustainability you sooner or later realize that we are not sustainable. It is not only one perspective or way of looking and engaging in the world that is unsustainable, it is our entire modern civilization and our societies. Evolving to the next stage in complexity or meaning-making, whatever that might be, does not necessarily solve any issue.

Engaging in issues. Photograph: Stina Deurell

The most central or core question that integral aims to answer is typically “How do we grow/develop/evolve?” and a core question in sustainability is “How can we keep on doing whatever we do sustainably?” From this very simplified (and anthropocentric) way of looking at it one can realize that if we’re not developing sustainably, we can’t develop more than temporarily. Therefore, I find it easier to see integral as something that should be assimilated into sustainability, or at least in this context.

Despite my difficulties I certainly believe that integral models and theories can offer important tools, insights and perspectives that we absolutely should make use of. And those I have tried to introduce and employ in my course. A common question in integral settings is how to introduce abstract and challenging models such as the quadrants and levels such as those given by Spiral dynamics. Here I’d like to propose some lessons and guidelines I have discovered during the process:

  • Most importantly, the main focus of the integral models and the way they were introduced, were as tools for solving or addressing problems. The models themselves were not the goal of the teaching or holy in anyway – they are means to achieving something that is more important – addressing the problems of sustainability we work with.
  • Therefore, I try to introduce them at the right time, when they can be successfully applied and even better as support and confirmation when students are “already there” or to illustrate what they may be missing.
  • The integral models are typically complex meta-models, so they need to be built up piece by piece. The more the students are involved in this process the better and the easier for them to make it their own. This was the strategy behind creating the Big history timeline.

When it comes to important and useful principles I think that Wilber’s concept of transcend-and-include is central, and in our course we gave more emphasis to the latter. We have transcended nature and now we need to re-integrate and include it as well. We need to move from the anthropocentric view of integral to the view that emphasizes that we are still nature. Although integral typically give more emphasis to the transcendence it still contains the inclusion. And this shift, we could also see it as the shift from Eros to Agape, is something that perhaps is a trend in the integral discourse nowadays.

For me personally, the demanding process that led to the course and carrying it out felt like a journey with a happy ending. On a whole I’m very pleased with how it turned out and I think that we have a concept that works as it is or can and should be further developed. But on the other hand, when it comes to sustainability, so much is going in the completely wrong direction.

Course evaluation
Here are some voices from the course evaluation we did, where we asked what they thought was good, what was missing or needed improvement and what they take with them.

“I can’t really say that I missed something during this workshop – lectors were really nice, the topic was interesting and the way of learning new information was really well-made and well-prepared.”

“Also it is a pity that so few students attended this workshop because we need more you people to know about is! THANK YOU REALLY MUCH!!!”

“…sharing ideas, inspiration, discussion, global view, connection atmosphere, space for everyone to discuss…”

“I found very interesting and inspiring the cross [the quadrants]”

“I was surprised how enjoyable this course was. I understood almost everything, I gained lot of new info and it raised lot of questions as well.”

“I don’t have any suggestions for improvement. We had enough space for discussions and own opinions which I normally miss in those courses. It was dynamic and interesting.

The most important things I take with me

Using of energy (I didn’t know we use so much oil)

What is Earth Stewardship and Anthropocentrism -> how they relate

And with other topics about which we spoke I already heard before but I got some new ideas.

=>  VERY INTERESTING, AMUSING, USEFUL”

“The things that could be improved was to have more time to dig into the issues.”

On the question if the students would recommend the course or the teacher(s) to other students all students answered “definitely yes” on a scale ranging from Not at all, rather not, partly yes and definitely yes. This was also the case for questions regarding if the teachers could transmit the essence of the subject to the students, if the teacher used the latest research and knowledge within the field, if the students were treated with respect. The only negative opinions that were expressed was that some wanted to have more time to engage in the problems that we had introduced.

The overall rating of the course from a scale ranging from 1 to 10 (1 – a waste of time; 10 – a life changing experience) two students gave the highest score 10 and the mean value was 8.75.

As a final comment I just want to say that Stina and I had a wonderful time with the students who really contributed and engaged with us, and with the environment and culture in lovely Olomouc. We certainly hope to return some day and meet again!

Exploring Olomouc. Photograph: Stina Deurell

 

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