Ontology, Being and the Thinking Environment
Since I discovered ontology, I’ve found the study of being endlessly fascinating. For as long as I can remember I’ve been aware of being aware. When I was little, I’m not sure I knew what it was. All I knew was that I knew when the words and the music didn’t match – which, let’s face it, is often the case with adults in their dealings with little people because for some odd reason adults tend to think that little people can’t think for themselves!
The mixed-messages that I grew up surrounded by were, I think, the motivating factor that drove my fascination with the being of being human. Even for 18 years prior to discovering the work of Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment™, I was immersed in ontological explorations from Carlos Castaneda’s magical adventures of Don Juan through the “brick-to-the-back-of-your-head” enlightenment programmes that were spawned by Werner Erhardt in 1970’s California.
Then, in 2004, along came (into my life) The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment – “a way of being in the world”, and I’ve been heart-and-soul deep in a love affair with them ever since.
But our relationship is not always a bed of roses! A dear friend of mine has printed T-Shirts as part of his branding proclaiming ‘ignorance was bliss’! To be aware of how and who one is being in the world is hard and sometimes heavy work. It can be tempting to want to go back to the time before one became aware that people cannot hear what you are saying when who you are being speaks more loudly.
For a good number of the 17 years since my journey with The Thinking Environment began, I used to want to teach that there were in fact nine Components of a Thinking Environment because it would have been so much easier for me to leave off The Component of Place.
Place: Producing a physical environment – the room, the listener, your body – that says, “You matter"!
Because if you are engaged in teaching ontologically, then walking the talk becomes a flat-out imperative, and I was definitely not creating a physical environment in relation to my body that said back to me that I mattered. To teach it, and not be it, made me feel a whole lot like the wheeler-dealers of those mixed messages from childhood. It turned out well in the end.
Having the courage to face that topic over and again in my thinking sessions has, several years and many untrue limiting assumptions uprooted-and-replaced later, resulted in a relationship with my body these days in which I feel nurtured, respected, honoured and loved. It is a wondrous thing.
This gives me some hope, to which I am currently clinging, for my relationship with the Component of Information: my current nemesis amongst the ten.
Information: Absorbing all the relevant facts.
I am so challenged by the idea of “all the relevant facts”. When I know that peer reviewed science will inevitably be replaced by new peer reviewed science that will prove the old peer reviewed science “wrong”, how on earth am I to know? What makes a fact a fact? And, furthermore, whose facts are they? From whose world view, upon which presumptions are they based? Oh! As you can see……don’t get me started.
However, it’s not been sitting comfortably with me. I could, and have been, justifying my decidedly shaky relationship with Information as per the previous paragraph. And, I’ve been smelling a rat.
And then, as it does, into the crack in my armour, Life has inserted a trail of breadcrumbs that has been leading me to a new awareness that I think has the potential to rescue Information and me, and lead us into a much healthier relationship with each other.
It started with the word “ignorance”.
It was used in the context of White Work, and the crippling consequences on the possibility of genuine peer-learning experiences in mixed race groups for Black participants if the White folk in the group have maintained their ignorance, and rely (possibly unwittingly, but that’s part of the issue) on their Black colleagues to educate them.
It's a marvellous albeit uncomfortable encounter when the etymology of a word that you’ve used for years suddenly dawns on you, and a new understanding arises. If I am allowing myself to be ignorant it is because I am choosing, not only to avoid absorbing but indeed to ignore the relevant facts. Quite literally turning a blind eye. And I now think that the consequences of that are bordering on sociopathic. I know that’s a dramatic thing to say, but it is what I’m thinking these days.
Suddenly my justifications about just how tricky it is to know whether a fact is a fact before I’ll choose to absorb it seems flimsy. And what I’m realising is that I have allowed myself the luxury of laziness, instead of the discipline and practice of interrogation. And this is precisely what must be so exhausting for people for whom avoidance of certain facts is just not possible because they are their lived experience and they have no bubble to retreat into. And what claim can I lay to creating a thinking environment of Equality if some people have no choice but to absorb certain facts whilst others can choose to remain ignorant because of a system of inequity that is maintained by that very ignorance.
Uncomfortable? Yes, very. But that is exactly the subversiveness I admire that is produced by the Ten Components as a way of being in the world. Far from being bliss, ignorance is a vexation, and I think my nascent and overdue relationship with Information is going to reap rich rewards!