Letter and Coffee

A weekly, experimental newsletter

I have been blogging on this page since July 2011 when I wrote an article on using principles from evolution in development. Since then, I have published 117 blog posts and in 2020 I had almost 10,000 views from 6,300 visitors. It has been fun, but I have also always struggled to put meaningful content onto the blog. My intention has never been to publish a blog post every day – I actually stopped following people who do that as I can’t handle it. I have always seen my blog as a place to ponder ideas and think out loud. Yet there has always been a threshold to get writing as I still somehow felt that a blog post needed to have something substantial and mature to say – even though I’m also aware that whatever I write is never finished. In order to overcome this threshold, I decided to pause blogging – for the time being at least – and try a new format. From the week of 19 April, I will start a weekly newsletter.

In the newsletter, I want to shares stories, reflections, questions, experiences, observations and half-baked ideas on being and acting in more meaningful ways in complex social systems, inspired by my work and personal life.

The format will still evolve, but it should not take more than three or four minutes to read each edition of the newsletter, yet it will hopefully contain food for thought. I will try to share what I’m pondering about and maybe you will have some thoughts that might help to get both of us to the next level.

Here’s a teaser with what I would have written this week.

This week, I have been pondering the idea of personal responsibility, inspired by Andy Brogan’s piece on accountability but also by an unpublished piece by Gregory Bateson I recently read. Brogan writes that we need to replace accountability with what he calls ‘responsible practice’.

Bateson makes the point that since we started inventing things – he calls the things ‘machines’ and ‘tools’ but essentially refers to technology in a wider sense – we have been compelled to fix the problems that are caused by these things. Getting rid of nuclear waste as a consequence of using nuclear energy; fixing depleted soils with more and more potent fertiliser as a consequence of industrial agriculture; fixing climate change with clever technologies as a consequence of using cheap fossil energy. What got us into this endless pursuit of fixing problems caused by technologies by inventing cleverer technologies was not some sort of mistake, but a systematic, repeated and regular error.

In a way Bateson’s piece gives me a sort of strange relief. There is no need to rush out and fix the problems we are facing by inventing some sort of new thing or new technology. No need to feel responsible to fix problems in that way. Indeed, we should stop doing that.

What about our personal responsibility though, our responsibility to engage in ‘responsible practice’, in behaviour towards others? I agree with Brogan that we should not see this as a way to be accountable towards some sort of sponsor. Rather, for me, personal responsibility has to do with integrity and rigour. Integrity with regards to engaging in meaningful relationships. Rigour with regards to seeing these relationships as parts of wider patterns of mutual learning.

You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

Featured image by Freddy Castro on Unsplash

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