Imaginal Buds

Change is already happening. There are millions of people and groups who are in some way involved in a new vision of community, and we can be a part of it. David Korten calls our attention to the familiar story of the caterpillar and butterfly. We all know the story. The caterpillar spends its days gorging itself on nature’s bounty. But then it attaches to a twig and forms a chrysalis around itself in order to become a butterfly. What we might not know is what’s happening inside the chrysalis to shape the butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis Photo by Armon, Licensed via Wikimedia Commons

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis
Photo by Armon, Licensed via Wikimedia Commons

Korten, drawing on the work of evolution biologists writes:

The structures of its cellular tissue begin to dissolve into an organic soup. Yet, guided by some deep inner wisdom, a number of organizer cells begin to rush around gathering others cells to form imaginal buds, initially independent multicellular structures that begin to give form to the organs of a new creature. Correctly perceiving a threat to the old order, but misdiagnosing the source, the caterpillar’s still intact immune system attributes the threat to the imaginal buds and attacks them as alien intruders.

The imaginal buds prevail by linking up with one another in a cooperative effort that brings forth a new being of great beauty, wondrous possibilities, and little identifiable resemblance to its progenitor.

Korten sees our cultural transformation in a similar vein. Individuals wake up from the prevailing social systems, and begin to align their lives with the values of partnership and earth community. At first they experience a sense of isolation, but eventually they find others who share those values, and form what Parker Palmer calls “communities of congruence.” Those small beginnings attract others—they are like the imaginal buds of the new culture.

The old culture perceives them as a threat and often attacks their work. But as they network with others who share in the new cultural values, change begins to happen. Korten says that the cultural transformation we need is already in process—we can see the evidence of its beginnings in the great social change movements of the last half of the twentieth century—for civil rights, women’s equality, peace, environmental balance, and economic justice.

I saw a cartoon the other day. Four people were sitting in a boat that had tilted precariously and was filling with water at one end. The two people at that end were bailing furiously. The two people at the other end were sitting high and dry—and one said to the other, “It’s good that our end of the boat isn’t leaking.”

We are all in the same boat—this planet earth. The only real security we can create is a common security. When we finally realize that we are one family, one interconnected whole, essentially united with each other and with the earth, we will be able to find a way forward together. I believe we are already on the path. May we find the courage to take the next steps before us.

David Korten quotes from The Great Turning, p. 74-75, & 84-85.

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