Updated: Feb 13
Regular readers will know about the momentous amount of change going on in my life at the moment: from dropping off youngest son, Malachy, in Pretoria, saying good bye to my cats, and one of my oldest friends, and my home……….I’m reminded of that automatic recording I heard for 17 years whilst traveling to work on the London Underground: “All Change Please! Mind the Gap!
So, in the midst of all the upheaval, turmoil and liminality, it’s been a blessed relief to fall into an annual ritual…..one that I fondly refer to in my own mind as “the Nancy Kline road show”!
Every January and February, I am gifted by the choice that Nancy makes, year on year, to return to South Africa. As part of her visit, I get to attend Collegiate events in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, where I have the joy and pleasure of awarding certificates to people who have chosen me as their teacher during the year for one or more of the qualifying progammes in the Thinking Environment.
Celebrating accomplishments is part of our practice of the Component of Appreciation: and it is a particularly special aspect of these ceremonies that I am intimately aware of the challenge and triumph of each person’s journey. Because a certification in the Thinking Environment is far more than simply having “done” some delivery of theory, and then writing up some notes and papers. Indeed, delivery and writing up of reflections, thoughts and insights is part of the process. Far more than these things, though, is the personal development aspect of the qualification pathway. For to be a person who has chosen to focus on what it takes to embody, practice and offer the conditions for independent thinking to others is a monumental commitment to be oneself as fully as possible in order to enable others to be themselves fully as well
Collegiate events, where the certificate award ceremonies happen, are also an opportunity for Thinking Environment professionals to spend a day together co-creating those conditions for independent thinking with and for each other. And it is also a chance for us to hear from Nancy Kline, the author of Time To Think, More Time To Think, Living with Time To Think: The God-daughter Letters, what her freshest thinking is, and what her own learning journey has revealed to her since we were last together a year ago.
A year ago, at the Annual Global Faculty Retreat, which also happens during Nancy’s trip to South Africa, we discussed the idea of changing the name of one of the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment. We decided to “live with” the idea for a year. Now, 12 months later, Nancy is feeling ready to recommend that we make the change. Diversity is changing its name to Difference. I am enjoying the thinking that has gone into making this change, and that will continue to go into doing a good job of teaching it going forward.
For one thing, Diversity has become one of those co-opted words, like Transformation, Respect and Empowerment. People use the word so often, that everyone starts thinking they know what each other means by the use of it, whilst never actually being sure what each other means by it.
Globally, but perhaps particularly in the South African context, say the word Diversity and people think race. Maybe they think race and gender. Maybe, if they are particularly ‘woke’ they think race, gender, sexual orientation, and whether a person is “able-bodied” or not. The paradigm from which the thinking is happening is that diversity equals anyone who is different from the norm. The norm prevails and diversity is anyone who is different from that. Difference, as a newly named Component, is an attempt to generate awareness of, and the ability to recognize the inherent difference in our identities and thought regardless of whether we look the same or different to one another. That in a room full of young Black women, or gay men, or liberal, feminist activists, there will be a world of difference in what those identities mean to us, and what we think about ourselves, and life.
In addition to re-engaging with and waking up to Difference, we have also been exploring how Difference interfaces with the Component of Information through an invitation to cultivate awareness between ourselves of the individual, collective and overlapping social contexts that are in the room whenever we gather, either in pairs or in groups, and are committed to creating a thinking environment for and with each other.
What I can say is that liberation is not for the faint of heart. I can report that labels of identity, imposed by social contexts, and rigidified self-imposed untrue limiting assumptions lived as true, are an interruption to truly thinking for myself. That when Oliver Johnston reflected that the Thinking Environment is an invitation to step into the “frightening freedom of breaking from the herd” he was on to something. And therefore, to equate the practice of creating a thinking environment for oneself and others to the cultivation of courage is accurate: it is the journey of a lifetime, it is a triumph and a profound challenge, and I am a very lucky woman to have such magnificent journey companions to share the road with.