A Sonar Paradigm

I am part of a small group who are exploring ways of making a difference for the wellbeing of others, and for society in general, each in our own domains. We meet once a month in a little Moroccan restaurant in the city. Increasingly over the last nine months, we have also been meeting each other in twos or threes to support each other in each other’s projects.

I think it would be fair to say that in the past, each of us have hit brick walls with institutional bureaucracy – inflexible ways of working and self-interested values. So each of us are just going ahead anyway with opportunities that present themselves for good.

As we have met for wonderful conversations over fabulous food, and in the self-giving spirit of our delightful host, Ali, I think we are becoming a little action-research incubator discovering principles for doing things differently in a world that, on the one hand, does not understand the simplicity or vulnerability of these new ways of working (but ways as old as time), but on the other, are crying out for a breath of fresh air.

In many ways, what we are experiencing is beyond words. We are drawn together by an engagement with and for goodness.

One member of the group, concerned with social isolation in her suburb, has been setting up a volunteer group to engage with lonely people. She has four trained and police-checked volunteers ready to go and a memorandum of understanding for collaboration with a large aged care institution in her area. But one month in, she has received no requests from them.

Last night at our gathering she told how the advice she is getting from well-meaning people is to set up an incorporated body so that she can get charity status and so on. But she sees that this will take her into the very organisational setup she wants to avoid.

All of us have faced this dilemma of having to fit in to these pre-existing structures; we are choosing to put them aside as secondary, to try new ways of getting things done.

One of the group described her process. You get intuitions about ‘maybe I should…talk to so-and-so, put an idea of Facebook… , you follow the energy that these hunches create and then act on them – putting things ‘out there’. Then you see what the response is, and again, go with the energy of the respondent to see what happens next.

One of the group passed on to me a message she received this morning, (at the top of this post) knowing the dilemma I expressed last night about jumping back into the multifaith arena, spurred by outcomes of the New Zealand massacre. After all, inter-religious harmony had been my prime concern during my twenty years as chaplain at Flinders. But I suspect this would throw me back into the all consuming domain I had retired from.

In keeping with the discoveries we have been making together, I decided to make my contributions by following my inner promptings, putting things ‘out there’ as I am prompted.

It occurred to me that this fluid, open way of engagement for good might be compared to a ship’s sonar. Contrary to the quote at the head of this post, it is not a matter of waiting but of being active – continually sendiing the ‘ping’ out from the ship; seeing what bounces back and making sense of the picture that emerges; then, in the light of that external reality, respond creatively, all the time ‘pinging’ to update the external picture.

This is an altogether different approach from having a ‘good idea’ and making it happen.

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