I'm a space physicist, systems engineer, data scientist, and podcast host, so a lot of what I do requires navigating to liminal spaces and exploring interconnections between individuals, disciplines, and ideas. These questions follow me everywhere:
Our flourishing, as people and as a society, depends on this sensemaking. and I think “healthy relationality” is at the core of the whole enterprise.
Once you see the idea of healthy relationality, you can't unsee it.
Danielle Allen writes about it with respect to the future of our democracy: equip a population with an information ecosystem and a deliberative ecosystem that brings out the best in all of us. The Consilience Project places this type of system at the center of a new epistemology that can change our response to the existential threats that confront the world. Scientists and citizens worldwide are talking about relationality under one name or another as COVID changed the very way we gather and connect.
These items are an exploration — through the act of public writing— of my own inner dialogue about the concept and curriculum of a more healthy relationality for our society.
NK Jemisin is the first author to win three Hugo Awards in a row, one for each in the Inheritance Trilogy. I'm not here to recommend those books, which speak well enough on their own, but more the thing that makes her work and her voice so remarkable: her approach to “worldbuilding.” Worldbuilding is about creating and bringing to life an imaginary setting, either as a fictional work, hobby, or as a counterfactual for the way the world seems to us now — a way out of the hopelessness of believing things are fixed the way they are. In this podcast, Jemisin shows us how she does it. It is a master class not only in building a new world but in reimagining our own.
Worldbuilding is a core competency for a more deliberative and civic ecosystem and a healthier relationality. For some reason, I cannot shake thinking about Ursula K Le Guin, that irreplaceable sage of real human communication, when reading and listening to Jemisin.
If I had more time, I'd spend it in the enlivening web of thoughts and ideas about a meaningful life that is the Maria Popova's experiment in sharing her own inner dialogue through the act of writing, Marginalia. The word inimitable is thrown around a bit these days, but Maria and these posts earn the adjective to the letter. Marginalia have been lifelines for me for the past five years. The way she weaves together literature, science, art, philosophy across time, space, and minds is a model of thinking relationally. While we are grappling with what an ongoing pandemic means for each of us, what better entry point into that web than "Creativity in the Time of COVID: Zadie Smith on Writing, Love, and What Echoes Through the Hallway of Time Suddenly Emptied of Habit"?
A commons is any unregulated resource open to all, most traditionally associated with the atmosphere, oceans, and unclaimed territory such as Antarctica. However, in our information age, we need to think of commons more capaciously, including not only physical spaces, but also the knowledge spaces of society such as the internet and data archives.
Most information infrastructures fall short of the ideal of ‘open access,’ being restrictive either in the tools or know-how required to utilize them. The outcome is a fragmentation of the information available, an impoverished lens on the system being studied, and imbalances of knowledge. Asymmetries in information/knowledge access create asymmetries and imbalances that reach across a community.
A knowledge commons is a core ‘technology’ (defined to include both hardware/software and cultural technologies) of the solution for a more inclusive, open, and equitable population. In this participatory ecosystem, the whole community maintains and evolves the shared space. I believe that the path towards creating this commons lies in an embrace of radical collaboration, new scales of interaction, and the corresponding changes (in thinking, in community structure, and in support) that must accompany this movement [McGranaghan et al., 2022].
To the extent that information is central to societal flourishing, governing the knowledge commons is the challenge that we must solve. Few have provided more luminous thinking about governing commons spaces than Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrom. How we adapt her pioneering ideas around physical commons to the information sphere is an open question. In this conversation, I love the work the Mozilla community is doing. We need not be subject to the tragedy of the commons in our knowledge spaces.
Jane Hirshfield writes that the power of a poem is to entrance and to break entrancement to which Elizabeth Alexander might add that poetry has always existed in a communal context. Both suggest that perhaps healthier relationality depends on more of the world welcoming and cultivating a poetic sensibility. Wendell Barry has some advice that I revisit weekly: "How to be a Poet"
I've been a parent for over a year now, something that seems impossible to me. Reflecting on that time, I'm suddenly aware of how a child changes the pace of your life. The Buddhists have this wonderful walking meditation where you take the hand of a child and go for a walk. You are supposed to receive the innocent and curious witnessing of the child and they are to receive your concentration and stability.
You can walk with, or sit on the floor reading or talk to, your child and both come away wiser. We spent more of the past year than I can ever be thankful enough for sitting with each other, reading. Our daughter has been a gift of slowing down, pausing, finding the space to rethink things; a teacher in being responsive rather than reactive. There is something about this wisdom-by-slowing down that is instructive for our society right now. So I wanted to leave you with one of our favorites: The Fate of Fausto. What better way to finish this post than a whimsical, and altogether poignant, children's book by the beloved Oliver Jeffers?
I'll leave you with an invitation to continue this conversation with me. We finished Season Four of the Origins Podcast with this idea of healthy relationality and it will be a current through Season Five. Those episodes will be coming out in the next few weeks. Subscribe if you'd like to get them wherever you get your podcasts. You can also join a network of people and communities thinking about healthier and more meaningful connection: The Flourishing Commons.
— Ryan McGranaghan