March 12, 2012
By Matt Palmer
My post last week “Healing Through Education” created a lot of traffic, particularly from Waldorf connections around the world. Today seems like a good opportunity then to expand on how that post relates to the my documentary project on global energy “Unintended Consequences“. I’m feeling my way through these ideas, so hopefully you can be patient. Always feel free to engage with what I write by commenting.
One of the central themes of “Unintended Consequences” looks at the importance of using systems thinking and how that approach can aid in solving energy issues now and in the future. Harnessing any form of energy for human consumption creates impacts to social, political, economic, and environmental structures. System thinking encourages the understanding of how individual fuel sources like wind function, for example, in a life cycle analysis, then how wind fits into the larger energy complex. From there, we look at how energy fits into the even larger system that includes water use and food production. Assessing positive and negative impacts using this holistic approach, allows greater understanding of our global system, and not only looking at things in isolation.
On the surface this may seem daunting. Yet, Entanglement Theory in quantum physics demonstrates the interconnectedness of things. Examining and assessing the interconnectedness of all things when dealing with complex issues like energy production, food production and water use, expands our vision, opening possibilities and solutions.
Creativity and critical thinking become essential tools in the process. Rather than the typical linear approach to issues, where one element that may have negative impacts on the system becomes a target to be tossed away, we weigh all positive and negatives attributes, including what happens when you take them away.
Our traditional educational system trained most of us to be linear thinkers. So many people say to me, “I’m not creative.” Creative thinking can be a detriment within a system based on standardized testing. Other than one or two classes in high school, it was not until I got to university that I was fully encouraged to discover my capacity for creative thinking.
The education system plays an important role in my project. Expanding the next generations capacity for critical and creative thinking by exploring how we think about and understand the role that energy, food and water issues in our lives will hopefully lead them and us on unexpected journeys, and to exciting discoveries.
How we educate our next generation depends on how we see our own continued education and our own propensity for creative thinking. Believing we are not creative will influence what we teach our youth. For many, issues of energy, the economy, social impacts or environmental issues can seem so daunting that we can often latch on to what seem like the most popular or emotionally resonant arguments and solutions. If the issue seems too overwhelming, it becomes easy to close down, and let others deal with it.
At the top of this post. I linked to an article that was forwarded to me on “How to Be Creative” from the Wall Street Journal. The article presents a fascinating examination of new research into the creative process. There are some valuable insights that relate to my approach to this project, and how I might engage others to be interested in global energy and systems thinking. There are also linkages to what I wrote about my experience with Waldorf education.
There are a couple of the points that resonate strongly for me in the WSJ article. Being an outsider or beginner from a particular issue or problem seems to have great value in solving problems. According to the research, the ability to let go of preconceptions and fear of failure is the key to creativity. Being unafraid to ask naïve questions creates an advantage. Outsider thinking solves problems.
The Waldorf educational model does not grade children in a traditional way. When I was in junior high one of my teachers use to sit the class according to grade. Students with lower grades sat up front, higher grades in the back, and seating was changed monthly. As you might imagine this did wonders for self-esteem as there was a lot of shame attached to the seating approach. Now, too often, we try to protect our children’s self-esteem and not let them deal with heartbreak or other emotional challenges. Allowing kids to fail, and learn from that failure builds life skills. In Waldorf, kids are not in competition with each other, and failure to be able to do a specific skill or challenge becomes a starting point to challenge the student to find a solution, and continue trying.
An educational system that encourages independent thinking, that allows kids to fail, but then support them to find their own way in their own time, is a model to be valued. Waldorf education is a journey to create whole individuals who are fearless in questioning the way things are, and not a linear destination focused on grades and getting into university. Those things are important, but life offers so much more. How we currently gauge success may not be serving our needs. How many people do you know, or perhaps yourself, are unfulfilled or unhappy in your current job? How did so many people end up unsatisfied or constantly searching for more?
Feelings of dissatisfaction and being unfulfilled has created a society of people who seek out to quiet or numb those emotions through consumption. Over consumption taxes our ability to support a global society.
How does all of this fit into a project on global energy? Many people have said to me that the title “Unintended Consequences” seems dark. Yet, unintended consequences exist within a reality of positive and negative. Unintended Consequences is about serendipity, and finding solutions in unexpected ways or places.
Solving the world’s energy challenges requires being open to possibilities. Right now, we are dependent on fossil fuels for most of our energy needs. This use of fossil fuels has created environmental, social, political and economic benefits and problems. As we move to transition to new energy systems, old problems get exchanged for new ones. How we address issues not only of energy supply, but demand for energy will decide how successful we are. If the approach is black and white, this is good, that is bad, we may find ourselves in the same boat, just on a different river and different paddles.
One of the tasks facing society in dealing with energy issues is letting go of entrenched beliefs. If we have been conditioned to hold fast to our preset, indoctrinated truths, letting go can be scary. Embracing fear in the pursuit of the unknown may bring failure many times over before someone makes inconceivable linkages that results in game changing ideas or technologies. Like Yo Yo Ma playing what was thought to be an impossible note.
Remaining polarized or intractable about energy issues denies us the ability to honestly engage others in ways that could lead to crazy and incredible solutions.
Looking at global energy involves big picture thinking. Education, leadership, polarization, consumption and many other things becomes valuable launching points for investigation.