Recap of DoTS #6: Deep Learning and Reciprocity

Oct 30, 2019

Melanie Goodchild was Otto Scharmer’s esteemed guest speaker on the topic of “Indigenous Wisdom and the Civilizational Shift from Ego to Eco” for the sixth episode of Dialogues on Transforming Society and Self (DoTS).

Almost 600 people from 56 countries, depicted in the word cloud below, registered to attend our sixth DoTS session on Monday 28 October. The session was hosted by Otto Scharmer, who shared the space with special guest speaker Melanie Goodchild, generative scribe Kelvy Bird and special guest Peter Senge at MIT in Boston, on the land of the Massachusett (Massa-adchu-es-et) tribe. You'll find the full video recording of the session below.


Reciprocal Relationships of Respect

Melanie Goodchild, founder of the Indigenous “social innovation think and do tank” Turtle Island Institute, opened the session by following the Indigenous protocol of the Anishinaabe tribe for introducing herself, calling forth the spirit helpers, and acknowledging the land and the ancestors. She then exchanged tobacco ties with Otto Scharmer and Kelvy Bird to acknowledge “a reciprocal relationship of respect”, explaining that it is the Anishinaabe way to offer sacred tobacco when you ask something from someone, in this case knowledge.

“We always want to engage in a respectful and ethical way with each other, and that’s why we offer each other tobacco.” 


Teachings From the Land

Melanie shared about her journey of integrating Indigenous knowledge with her academic training as she founded the Turtle Island Institute, which "in English we call a think and do tank, but the elders call it a teaching lodge". Before the institute could be created, Melanie first had to go through a process "of decolonizing my own practice" to move away from a "business as usual" approach.

"I had to go back and think about: What would the ancestors have done? How would they have started something like an institute for social innovation? I knew that it meant going back on the land."

She asked the elders whether she should be bringing these two ways of knowing together, and how she could do so respectfully. In going back to the land, she "realized that that's where all of our teachings come from." She was given guidance on how to bring the "two ways of knowing" together, which she shared in the session.


Multiple Sources of Learning 

When Melanie encountered Otto's matrix of 4.0 evolution, the phrases "activate deep learning cycle" and "strengthening sources of well-being" really resonated with her. The latter reminding her of the medicine wheel, teaching wellness "not as an absence of disease, but the presence of balance." The former connected to:

"Annishinaabe learning principles, [according to which] knowledge resides on the land and it's revealed to you through personal experiences on the land. The elders tell us that we apprentice and spend tremendous amounts of time on the land to learn, and that there are multiple sources of learning... You're building your Minigowiziiwin, your knowledge bundle, in so many different ways and you are doing it through deep learning."



Acknowledging & Healing the Past

Otto referred to the "backdrop of the unbelievable history of genocide by western civilization against Indigenous people" and the practice of separating Indigenous children from their parents, sending them to "residential schools" designed for assimilation into a western culture and the forceful removal of children from their own community, language and culture.

Melanie thanked Otto for this acknowledgement and pointed out how many policies and structures of oppression continue to cause systematic harm to Indigenous people to this day. Consequently, she shared:

"As an Indigenous person, you have to go through quite a healing process to be able to do work where you talk about oppression and marginalization. We talk about innovating for survival and radical inclusion, as opposed to innovating for progress."

Melanie touches on how innovation is not necessarily meant to be completely new: "It's often about looking back at what we had before we were effected by different things that undermined it. And not a superficial looking back, but actually engaging in these processes, like going into ceremony together to co-create new knowledges that are weaved together in an ethical way."


Cultural Fluency

Otto and Melanie also included the audience in their dialogue, responding to some of the questions that came up from participants. One of the questions was:

"What are the most meaningful behavior shifts we can make from an indigenous wisdom perspective to deal with climate change, including grief over the Anthropocene?"

Melanie explained that she works with something called Indigenous Design Principles, invoking the Design Thinking framework and focusing on "decolonizing practices as a good way to change behaviors towards supporting the continuation of life on this planet". She describes "bringing people into spaces where they have the opportunity to learn about the principles of natural law, to be in relationship with a turtle, for instance" and emphasizes:

"Helping people understand that the different knowledge traditions that have been accepted as universal, and quite frankly, we have been socialized to understand as universal, actually don't make sense to a lot of us."

Melanie refers to the importance of what she calls "cultural fluency", which includes understanding your own knowledge system well and then honing the ability to weave together different knowledge systems in an ethical and respectful way.


Image Resonance & Breakout Dialogue

Just as Peter Senge joined the space, Otto moved the session into an Image Resonance practice, inviting everyone to go through the following four steps:

  1. Individual Seeing: connect to Kelvy's scribing image in stillness
  2. Collective Seeing: unmute and share sentences starting with "I see...", "I sense...", or "I feel..."
  3. Moment of Stillness: contemplate what you've heard and sensed
  4. Breakout rooms: move into breakout spaces to reflect on how the session has resonated with you


Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge - Kelvy Bird's scribing image for the session


Closing Share and Q&A Round

After the breakout session, Melanie welcomed Peter to the space and offered him a tobacco bundle to invite him into an exchange of knowledge. Then participants were invited to share some of what came up in their breakout dialogues and questions they were left with. A final question that came up was:

"I am a child of immigrants and I don't know anybody to teach me how to connect with my land. So, should I borrow from other cultures do develop a new way?"

In response, Melanie touched on the dangers of cultural appropriation, which happens when people connect with traditional teachings superficially and fail to understand the context from which they originate and/or do not adhere to the appropriate protocols, which would ensure an ethical and respectful way of applying those teachings. Therefore, she emphasizes how important it is to take time and engage in learning in-person and in-context, to honor the spirit of the culture you want to learn from and weave in practices from.

"Cross-cultural dialogues are important; maybe a whole series around cultural fluency would be an interesting possibility."


Video Recording of the Session



Our next session will take place in November. Keep an eye on our DoTS page for announcement of further details and sign up for the Newsletter to receive announcements directly in your inbox.