Reconciling Stagnation and Generativity
Consciousness is a term related to awareness. Awareness of what? Awareness of ourselves and others. Those things we can observe and those that we cannot. Those we can measure and those we intuit.
Individually, our consciousness is a product of our capacities and capabilities in relation to our life conditions, those elements that impact how we comprehend ourselves, others, and the contexts that shape our understanding. Collectively, we help to shape each individual consciousness and bring that consciousness into a set of understandings, values, aspirations, and intentions that we call culture.
As with many words in English, the term culture means different things to different people. For example, it is often used to refer to a set of shared worldviews and values held by a group of people in a family, a village, an organization, or a nation.
Alternatively, I like to think of culture as the constellation of values, beliefs, worldviews, aspirations, and intentions in a human system, whether that system is tribal, regional or national. If we take this approach, we can be aware of not only what is shared, but also what is not. This, in turn, provides us with a richer fabric to understand what we observe in human systems.
An approach such as this—whether we are trying to manage or lead a change in agricultural practices, the degradation of water systems by the poisons used in mining, shift to the use of renewable resources for energy production, political and business processes and institutions, or any of a myriad of other changes that potentiate generativity in our world—supports our comprehending the complexity of what we are working with, individually and collectively. And keep in mind that generativity is essential for the evolution and sustenance of the human race, as well as all of the other non-human phenomena in the universe. It resembles the Shiva process of destruction and creation.
The path to building our individual capabilities lies through life-long learning. It is commonplace today to see this notion urged upon us. It is a pathway of letting go of what no longer supports generativity. We experience along this pathway little deaths (à la Stanley Kellerman), as old mental models and beliefs are replaced by new. We experience stagnation, not only as we age, but as we make choices that reduce our use of aspects of our being. In the face of stagnation, we learn new skills and competencies to meet the changing requirements of the contexts in which we live and work, as well as developing and using practices that support such learning. It also involves learning about ourselves as sense- and meaning-making beings.
Psychologist Erik H. Erikson once said that “reconciling lifelong generativity and stagnation involves the elder in a review of his or her own years of active responsibility for nurturing the next generations, and also in an integration of earlier-life experiences of caring and of self-concern in relation to previous generations.”
With the pace of change and challenges to our very existence, it is no longer just the elders who need to review, but each of us frequently, for this supports our learning. Used wisely, this is essential to generativity.
One caution: This post does not constitute actionable advice. Each of us must find the practices that support our learning and development. Because their effectiveness also depends on variable life conditions, there is not likely to be a best practice for all at all times.