I’m just finishing up a fascinating six-week on-line course on Theory U. I found this 10-minute excerpt from Otto Scharmer’s interview with Dayna Cunningham particularly moving. She shares about her experience as a civil rights lawyer and how she came to understand the importance of developing an individual and collective capacity for empathy in social change work.
So how exactly do we develop a capacity for empathy? From what I’ve gathered during the Theory U course, deep listening seems to be the core daily practice. The diagram below depicts a path from surface listening to deep listening. Every day during the last few weeks of the course, I’ve received a ‘listening assessment’ via email asking me to assess the percent of my time I felt engaged in each level of listening. The simple act of considering this each day has shifted my listening to a deeper level.
Deep listening seems like the sister practice to inscaping. The more we listen to each other with wonder and without judgment, the more we’ll feel comfortable to openly share our experiences of our work and work relationships with each other.
These two simple practices, which involve cultivating our individual and collective interior condition, feel like they are at the heart of the evolution of social change work. I love the way Otto Sharmer and his colleagues describe this shift:
This future is not just about firefighting and tinkering with the surface of structural change. It’s not just about replacing one mindset that no longer serves us with another. It’s a future that requires us to tap into a deeper level of our humanity, of who we really are and who we want to be as a society. It is a future that we can sense, feel, and actualize by shifting the inner place from which we operate.
The more we attend to the ‘social field’ of our organizations, the more collective intelligence we bring to our work.
Conversation with Dayna Cunningham video and quote- Course materials for MITx 15.S23x U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self.
Levels of Listening diagram and cover photo- ‘MITx U.Lab: Source Book’, Presencing Institute, Otto Sharmer.