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Speaking out: Leading and the future

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A semi load of cattle arrived at my mom and dad’s place near Bowdon. My mom and dad were living in the farmhouse, and it thrilled my dad to see cattle coming back to the place after a long absence. I wanted to see how the driver unloaded those cattle, especially from the upper deck that utilized a ramp to connect those cattle to the ground.

I imagined the driver climbing up to the catwalk and using a cattle prod to get them moving out of the top deck. I asked him how he planned to get them out. He said, “I use the coffee and cookies method.” I hadn’t heard of that method, and he asked, “Your folks have coffee and cookies in the house, don’t they?” I guessed they did, and he said he planned to go in the house and visit with my folks and have some coffee and cookies. He expected that the cattle would unload themselves. I could watch, but just stay out of sight of the cows, maybe behind the corner of the barn.

I watched as he recommended and the first cow, a white-faced one, poked her head out and then went back in. Several times this occurred until finally this big rangy animal carefully picked her first steps on that scary ramp and eventually stepped off the ramp and started eating grass. The next few cows were likewise careful, but the last one, with tail up, ran down the ramp anxious to join her colleagues now eating grass.

To the first cow, the ramp and the future were indeed very scary. Fear of the future has Americans cowering, trying desperately to avoid a changing world.

C. Otto Scharmer has written a book titled “Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges.” (Introduction page 5) Scharmer writes: “As the debate on the crisis and call of our time begin to unfold, proponents of three distinct positions can be heard."

1. Retro movement activist: “Let’s return to the order of the past.” Some retro movements have a fundamentalist bent, but not all of them do. Often this position comes with the revival of an old form of religion and faith-based spirituality.

2. Defenders of the status quo: “Just keep going. Focus on doing more of the same by muddling through. Same old, same old.” This position is grounded in the mainstream of contemporary scientific materialism.

3. Advocates of individual and collective transformational change: “Isn’t there a way to break the patterns of the past and tune into our highest future possibility — and begin to operate from that place?”

Osama bin Laden was a retro movement activist for sure. From the 9/11 Commission’s report on page 55: “Twenty-three when he arrived in Afghanistan in 1980, bin Laden was the 17th of 57 children of a Saudi construction magnate. Six feet five and thin, bin Laden appeared to be ungainly but was in fact quite athletic -- bin Laden was conspicuous among the volunteers not because he showed evidence of religious learning but because he had access to some of his family’s huge fortune.” That fortune helped drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

America responded to bin Laden’s attack with a combination of retro movement and defense of the status quo. Americans, and North Dakotans, haven’t asked questions about the future we want for our country and the world. Twenty years later, it is time: “Can we break the patterns of the past and tune into our highest future possibility?” Let us try a few steps on the ramp.

Bill Patrie has been recognized for his work as a cooperative developer by the National Farmers Union, the Association of Cooperative Educators and the National Cooperative Business Association.

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