As a relative newcomer to the world of integral, this was my first ITC. It was with both excitement and reticence that I ventured into the dense integral sea in Burlingame. Sessions led by seasoned thought leaders, as well as some lesser known at this time, provided ample opportunity to further explore theories and practices from various parts of the world, through various lenses, and as part of an apparently diverse participant base.
The practical in me – whose grip I continue trying to loosen – focused on two particular sessions that created a “value added” component to the work on my dissertation. By this I mean that I went to sessions with a curiosity about the topics and presenters, yet I came out of the sessions redirected to other literature. The literature, then, has influenced my dissertation. Hence, the value added toward my own work (the practical) is a byproduct of sessions I attended.
Here, I provide several statements and/or thoughts expressed during the weekend that stood out for me. During the session, The promises and pitfalls of an evolutionary framework, facilitated by Mark Forman, we heard from Susanne Cook Greuter, “Humans have stories about what is happening. What stories do we tell? What do we do with the stories?” People’s stories provide glimpses of different world views and determine what we do and how we do. As a component within a larger evolutionary process, suggested Cook Greuter, these seemingly individual parts, or stories, are all part of one larger process.
Practical me thought, “In my own work, how do the individual stories of my participants contribute toward the larger work I am investigating?” In my attempts to link commonalities and differences among my participants’ responses and reactions, I was led back to Peter Merry’s text, Evolutionary Leadership (2009), as a way to organize. (To my pleasure, Peter Merry was among the panelists with Cook Greuter!) Without claiming to fully grasp Merry’s work in spiral dynamics, the visualization of the spiral to analyze and make sense of the relationships and connections between people and structures align with Cook Greuter’s discussion on individual stories toward a collective evolutionary experience.
Similarly, in Aftab Omer’s session on Inclusion, he asked how integral theory can be more inclusive. In a fascinating, open format, Omer introduced us to the idea of the subtle; he spoke of narcissism to the degree that individuals might not participate in addressing others’ needs. In this setting, the open forum invited attendees to contribute as our hearts dictated. In an inclusion model, what needs to be included and how do we include that which needs to be included? With a distinction-based inquiry into inclusion v. inclusivism, and a need to be included v. a need to belong, again I found the practical me asking how this pertained to my work.
In the same way that Forman’s panel redirected me back to Merry’s text, so did the Inclusion session direct me to Omer’s earlier article, Leadership and the creative transformation of culture (2005). In that article, Omer addressed various types of leaders – the rule makers, the enforcers, and the transgressors. Who is included when cultural leaders resist status quo? Omer suggests that leaders resisting will often engage those on the fringe, and he refers to the importance of “building bridges” between the center of a cause and the periphery.
In my dissertation, which utilizes an asset based community development (ABCD) model within a participatory action research framework, I have found commonalities to this methodology as I have recently ventured into the world of integral, transdisciplinarity, and spiral. A constant ebb and flow, my process is reflective and reflexive, and it intentionally employs a participative, plurally inclusive team of both insiders and outsiders – teachers and non teachers. I have engaged members of a profession through interviews. There are multiple levels of collaboration and communication taking place, influencing my writing, our actions, and critical thoughts about public education; and, the reflexive nature has us repeatedly reviewing, repeatedly influencing future steps. As a teacher within the system, as well as the author of the dissertation, I often feel like a fringe leader. I ask questions about how to get things done that could fall outside of the traditional service delivery of the school system.
My dissertation is a work in progress. I am investigating community collaborations as opportunities to otherwise eliminated school programs (specifically, instrumental music at the elementary school level). Using the ABCD and PAR frameworks, it is decidedly local in nature. I have discovered that, although I did not enter this work from an integral perspective, it is inherently integral by design and in its development. I find this extremely fascinating, and I now find myself continuing to investigate integral and transdisciplinarity as inherent to all my work – as a social researcher, as a public school teacher, and as a person. As I mentioned at the beginning of this, I have a tendency to look for practical applications in my experiences. My relative newness has undoubtedly botched some of the language and intricacies of integral; but, I am OK with that. I find support and reassurance in the words of those working in the field: addressing a “sense of mutual need” (Omer), accepting “spirit through process” (Cook Greuter), and engaging others to “contribute toward something greater” (Merry).
Merry, P. (2009). Evolutionary leadership. Pacific Grove, CA: Integral Publishers.
Omer, A. (2005). Leadership and the creative transformation of culture. Shift: At the frontiers of consciousness. March-May 2005, No. 6, pp. 30-33.
About the Author
Basil Mundy Viar is an educator, special administrator, and emerging integral practitioner based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In his day to day life, he is a music teacher in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, where he has guided high school and middle school bands and orchestras, as well as elementary school general music students. He has served as a principal and vice principal of special programs with MDUSD, as well. In 2012, he joined the editing intern cohort for the Integral Leadership Review.
Basil Mundy Viar is a PhD candidate in the Transformative Inquiry Department at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where he is engaging a participatory action research dissertation toward improved elementary school instrumental music education.