An invitation into appreciative inquiry
If you've been attuned to the multitude of interconnected crises we face, you may have experienced burnout or overwhelm. This seems to be a common challenge among change-seekers who often find themselves swimming against the current.
News cycles are disproportionately filled with negative reporting, discussions on what's wrong and why—though important—tend to take up more time and space than invitations to notice what's already alive that we wish to cultivate more.
Today, I want to send out a call for us to practice “appreciative inquiry”, defined as such:
“Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.
Appreciative Inquiry involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to heighten positive potential.”
Shilpa Jain of YES! and I discussed this in Green Dreamer's recent episode, where she first acknowledges the common saying, “Hurt people hurt people,” adding, “and they create systems that hurt people.”
Through the appreciative inquiry lens, she flips the equation around to share, “Healing people are healing people and creating systems that heal people. And freeing people are freeing people and creating systems that free people.”
We're so often sucked into the endless cycle of deconstructing the problems that it's easy to forget the equally important work of searching for and nurturing what is resilient, life-affirming, joyous, supportive, healing, and liberating.
This is evident in the trending “minimalism” movement, which focuses on lessening what is undesired—such as material accumulation, clutter, excessiveness, quantity over quality. I, instead, have called for a reframing towards “maximalism”, because minimizing the “less desired” does not necessarily lead to fulfilling what gives us vitality, satisfaction, meaning, and wholeness.
Maximalism decenters values of materialism, individualism, and superficiality—and reorients us towards all that is restorative and regenerative.
It does include maximizing the use of every “thing” we steward, maximizing the depth of our relationship with every being that matters to us, maximizing all that can enhance our wellbeing and lives. So it could result in a similar outcome, materially speaking, of possessing less physical goods overall, as all items we steward and our relationships with them are cherished that much more—they are each viewed as special and sacred, given as much love, quality time, attention, and care as we can give.
But this reframing, I believe, can accomplish so much more as it shifts us into a mindset of noticing and feeding all that makes us feel alive and aligned.
In a similar vein, I also have the same critique of the “degrowth” movement, which acknowledges a need to disrupt our dominant system predicated on endless extraction—and yet still centers the concept of “growth” on materialistic, transactional values that at the core, the movement is striving to move away from.
As posthumanist philosopher Bayo Akomolafe shares, “We have a crisis in form… that calls for a shapeshift.” Although he was not speaking to minimalism nor degrowth specifically, his invitation is deeply resonant here.
For me, it has meant reorienting towards the growth of all that supports my wellbeing and our collective resilience and thriving. The abandonment of the dominant, misleading measures of “growth” for “progress”, challenging its very foundations rather than just making substitutions inside of the same equation, is what has allowed me to awaken to and more clearly articulate these realizations:
As a materially- and matter-finite Earth, where death infinitely feeds into birth—of cells at the microscopic level to the bodies of entire landscapes at larger levels—the possibility of a net material growth is a lie.
All that is physically possible appears just to be constant rearrangements and transformations.
The illusory story of endless “economic growth” has been used to justify the taking away from marginalized communities and the Global South for those who have become disassociated from our interdependence.
With a more holistic lens of “growth”, in essence, our extended body of Earth can only either grow in complexity, intimacy, diversity, resilience, and spiritual enrichment—or otherwise trend towards simplicity, disconnection, homogenization, vulnerability, and spiritual deprivation.
It seems that as we've been directed to “grow” what can only be “transformed”, we've really been moving ourselves towards the latter trend of unraveling Earth's creative potentials.
With these feelings, I'm not interested in a “degrowth” which pretends like “growth” using the same myopic measures in the other direction is even possible. Expanding my sense of “self” and personhood to Earthhood, I'm keen on situating “growth” within the broader context of its real possibilities.
For now, I shall close this off with these beautiful words from John P. Clark:
“The current era is the era of the reversal of the creative activity, the poesis, of the Earth. But what should we call the next era, if there is one, in which we put an end to this period of Death on Earth?
We should perhaps call it the Poeticene, since it would be the era in which the creative powers of both the Earth and the creatures of the Earth would be allowed to reassert themselves.
It would be an era in which all would be allowed to be artists or poets—in the sense of radically creative beings. In such a poetic democracy, poets would become the acknowledged legislators of the world. And the Earth would be acknowledged again as the Great Poet, the Artist of all artists.”