What’s your immediate response when you hear the words “Future Center”?
I first heard them a few months ago from Bob Stilger who had been working in Japan as a witness and host and facilitator for the cultural transformation underway in the aftermath of the disasters in 3/11. See his blogs about his journey.
Several possible images flickered through my mind about what a Future Center would be and how it might function and why it is emerging now. Nothing I could fantasize came close to the very exciting and fascinating reality that’s unfolding as I write. A Future Center is not the Bridge of the Starship Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon or the Battlestar Galactica. It is not a place in the future with unfamiliar or weird costumes, gadgets and behaviors. It is not science fiction.
A Future Center is here now, wherever people choose to stand and work together in Circle to co-create their future. The Future is where what we are experiencing now as the rapidly changing conditions of our lives meets all of the skill, knowledge and wisdom gathered over our lifetimes, directed by our intention and where we put our attention. A Future Center is conscious evolution in action, choosing our destiny in relationship with the planet we inhabit.
Many people are experiencing new conditions for their lives—financial loss, homelessness, the after effects of tornadoes, fires and floods. Yet in few places have the destructive forces of both Man and Nature been so concentrated as in the 3/11 triple catastrophe of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan. Perhaps that is why Future Centers are emerging in Japan. As a wise Japanese Elder said: “Perhaps this happened to us because we could respond.”
And responding they are. When systems collapse so dramatically, new ingenuity is called forth. How can the ingenuity that sees new possibilities, new kinds of relationships, new points of view be gathered and disseminated? This is the purpose of a Future Center.
It starts as a place of listening to what is happening around you. If people who are alert and watchful come together like scouts for a wagon train and share what they have seen in their forays forward, a vision begins to emerge of the larger surroundings, the larger pattern. What are people needing, what’s feeding them, where are the healers, what songs are coming forth, where are love and community blooming? What factors contribute to that happening? What new possibilities become visible as we listen to each other?
A Future Center isn’t a thing as much as it is a process of witnessing, a collecting of multiple perceptions, a gathering of ideas that are working and then choosing to do something together that serves the community. What’s key in the Future Center isn’t the physical walls or where it’s located. It is the set of principles of how to be with each other in a creative life-affirming way that forms the structure which holds a Future Center together.
Many of us have not been taught the skills to function well in the kind of community interchange that goes to deeper levels of trust and acceptance, truth and vulnerability, wherein lie the possibility of creating something new and beautiful. Future Centers are training centers for the kinds of skills that enable us to heal our communities no matter what disaster befalls us. Japan is pioneering a way to listen, to respect, to have compassion for and to act together in a way that supports wholeness, that brings out the best of the collective creative human soul/mind/spirit. Simply put, a Future Center is a really good way to help a group of people discover what they want to do collectively and collaboratively.
As Bob Stilger says: “It’s not any complicated technology. It doesn’t require huge dollars to be able to do. It’s noticing what’s actually going on and then working with emergence within the system. People come together asking “What can we do around this particular issue? What can we do with our community to make it better? What we can do with this particular opportunity?” Part of what the Future Center movement does is build awareness of a very flexible yet very powerful reflection-action methodology for people to listen to each other and figure out together what they want to do.
“It is not difficult, but does require hosts of the dialogue and a core team that is designing the whole dialogue process. It’s important to articulate the principles and the processes and the methodologies that make it possible for work that we naturally know how to do as human beings to become more powerful, more effective and have greater impact.”
In the Future Centers that Bob is helping to establish in Japan, there are a few basic principles:
First: Name the phenomenon that’s already beginning to happen and invite more of it.
Second: Start with the basic understandings for community building that have evolved out of Berkana Institute and other groups working with community based organizations in different parts of the world.
a) Every system is filled with leaders
b) The knowledge and the wisdom we need are already present.
c) We have enough resources to begin.
d) We just need to have a sense of direction and then begin taking steps.
Third: Choose and work with a core set of dialogue methodologies: Circle, World Café, Open Space Technology, Pro-Action Café, Non-violent Communication, and others as ways to host a deeper interaction among people.
Fourth: Be aware of the seven steps which naturally lead to collaborative action:
a) Build relationships
b) Identify Needs
c) Gather Data
d) Generate Ideas
e) Converge around what we want to do
f) Prototype solutions out of that convergence
g) Communicate results.