Creating Space: A Critical Aspect of Sustainability
I was recently asked what I was currently working on to support sustainable life on the planet. Over the years, I have been doing my part by recycling, reducing my consumption, reducing carbon usage, and bringing sustainability conversations into my university and other groups in which I participate; however, when I reflected on this question, what I realized I am doing now is creating space in my life and work as a way to sustain my own energy and relationships. My purpose is to both become more creative and effective in all that I do, but to provide others with an experience of space.
Creating space in my life has been facilitated by moving from the very bustling San Francisco Bay area to a small community between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Open space is all around me. I can see hundreds of miles into the horizon from inside my house. Space also exists within the way of life in this New Mexico area. Steeped in the Native American and Hispanic cultures, this area is often referred to having a mañana culture. People take more time for themselves and others. There always seems to be time for a conversation or an act of kindness. People seem to care more about each other and hold an appreciation for the culture and the environment.
Having an appreciation for others and for the environment requires space and time to be in relationship. Whether that is sitting in awe of the beauty of our natural environment or engaging in a great conversation with a stranger or a friend. Creating space to appreciate the abundance of life and the opportunities we have to support it is necessary to sustain life on this planet. For many, life has become too busy—too focused on making a living and acquiring stuff. Many of us who participate in sustainability work understand that when we are fulfilled through our relationships with nature and with other human beings, we don’t need to be fulfilled through acquisition of stuff. A great little video on the trance of consumption and its systemic effects is Annie Leanord’s Story of Stuff.
It seems that organizations are in great need of creating space. Most organizations are attempting to do more with fewer resources and people. As a result, there is very little space for relationships in the organization and with customers. As customer service is a priority that becomes the focus without full recognition that great customer service requires great internal relationships. Yet, far too few organizations are creating space where relationships can be built in a way that leads to respect, collaboration, and learning. The motto I hear in today’s organizations is "just get it done," even to the point that very little planning is taking place. And while adaptive skills are critical in today’s workplaces, what are we sacrificing when we don’t think and plan together? In the tension between "thinking versus talking" or "together versus getting the work done," we need to consider how the former informs and improves the latter. How do we create processes that hold that tension and create the space to engage in new ways with new conversations that support effective action?
Dialogue is a process of thinking together in a way that is consciously generative and strategic. A short time in a group dialogue can create shared understanding that leads to effective collaboration and better end results. What might occur if time was taken daily, weekly, or even monthly to create space for dialogue? What would likely emerge is a feeling of connectedness—of being a part of something that matters and a whole new energy for the work at hand. William Issacs' 1999 book Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together provides an in-depth perspective on the nature of dialogue and its impact on relationships and collaborative work that can serve as a guide for integrating dialogue into your life and organizations. Creating the space to do so can be transformative and will enhance the well being of those involved, the organization, and the planet.