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.

Turning Toward Partnership

A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. … Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning.   Joanna Macy

 

Planting the Seeds

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Joanna Macy believes that the essential adventure of our time is the shift from our industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. She calls it the Great Turning. She says that “the ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth,” on “how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.” Based on this analysis, the mainstream arguments about how to revive the economy and the financial markets miss the point. Rather, the trouble in the markets is linked to a deeper trouble—a whole economic system based ultimately on the destruction of our environment.

In 2006, David Korten published a book, called The Great Turning, to further reflect on this transition that Macy had articulated. He describes our work in this time as a shift from the ways of Empire to the ways of Earth Community. He warns that even if we fail to change our ways, the world will change. But it will be known as the Great Unraveling, because “profligate consumption [will lead] to an accelerating wave of collapsing environmental systems, violent competition for what remain[s] of the planet’s resources, a dramatic dieback of the human population, and a fragmentation of those who remain into warring fiefdoms ruled by ruthless local lords.”

The other possibility, the Great Turning, involves unlearning the practices of empire, of systems based on hierarchy, competition, and domination, and adopting systems that support Earth Community: “a life-centered, egalitarian, sustainable way of ordering human society based on democratic principles of partnership.” If we recognize that we are all connected to each other and to the earth, we must embrace this sustainable, partnership path.