A generative mindset

This post is written for a friend who asked whether there are methods to grow a generative mindset, especially in the face of the complexity we see today. I think there are, but it depends on whether we find meaning in implementing it in even the smallest every day decisions. Here are some of the approaches I am considering covering in my book. Note: this post is filed as “In-progress” as I will not have time to edit it today but thought it possibly worth sharing now.

As I take seriously the democratic values inherent to the courses that I teach, the generative mindset approach that I take departs from the idea that as human beings, we are all very different.

It may be noted that such an approach is supported by other thought systems, such as Stoicism, like in Epictetus’ popular Golden Sayings where he reminds us that from the moment we walk outside our doors, we will be exposed to elements that are beyond our control; i.e., that do not conform to our worldview or expectations of how things should be.

Some approaches that directly address this aspect of reality include:
  1. Appreciative inquiry
  2. Dialogic engagement, which does have rules e.g.
  3. Sustainable thinking, inspired by the permaculture ethos, e.g.
  4. Co-creative, collaborative endeavors that build on strengths
  5. Symmathesy
  6. Mutual forgiveness e.g.
  7. Active work to reduce anxiety to free up receptivity to what our individual gifts are

In general, when faced with difference, one can ask for explanations for why someone presenting difference thinks it is a good thing, and then reflect on whether there is something that can be learned there. If this interlocutor is not willing to engage, but merely seeks argument, then it is better to disengage if one is not in a position of authority. This is true even in contexts that ostensibly depart from inquiry. Hans Georg Gadamer in Truth and Method notes that not all questions are open. Some are “slanted questions”, which do not reach state of openness because they retain false presuppositions. As they do not correspond to any meaningful question they do not have correct meaning.

If one is in of a position of some-but-limited authority, negotiating such contexts can be tricky. One can succeed but also fail in transforming it into a more open space. In this, we can be reminded that Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics explains that by learning about how to live well we are not guaranteeing success in our actions; rather, we are increasing the likelihood that we will achieve the desired result. By invoking this work of Aristotle’s, we are reminded that his ethics are complex and include a number of different things we are to try to remember to keep in mind at all times, like virtue, reason, a way of being in acting, etc.

As complex beings trying to increase the chances that we will be able to live well together, we can take a cue from Nora Bateson’s learning model, symmathesy, which is the practice of learning how to learn together, including taking “into account the larger consequences of our ‘actions’ […] to better understand the many facets of our interactions”.

Above all, though, is the importance of the wish to cultivate this type of thinking in the first place. It takes courage and awareness to try to apply it to even the most minute type of decision that we make on an hourly basis. Do we really care about generating and co-creating, and can we help each other to be more effective in this by bringing out each other’s strong points? It is a complex world, and it is unlikely that any single person possesses everything that is needed to cope with it in a non-toxic way. That is why it is important to try to learn how to listen to each other and encourage each other where we see goodness.

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