Our
food system is wrought with complexity as it intersects with every other system
from culture to politics to the environment to our economy. There are many
ideas of exactly how the food system should look. Each of these visions are
usually crafted by one specific group that does not take into account the full

system of different viewpoints and opinions. Why? Fear. Fear of the system
becoming worse if we loosen our grip for even a second. Fear of the unknown of
what could take shape. It is each groups fear of “losing” to the other that
makes embracing diversity seem impossible. But there are ways around this fear.

People
all across time have come together to inquire into differences, through which
commonalities are found, and ultimately become united. If we allow these
differences to issue forth we can find out that the system doesn’t have to be
negative and exhausting with opponents at every corner, but a source of
creativity and learning. You might be surprised what you have in common with
someone labeled the enemy or opponent. Better yet, the differences themselves
are what make a system complete, interesting and regenerative. Differences
spark new ideas, patterns and can even aid in shifting paradigms.

Differing
viewpoints also create tension and conflict. Develop a personal capacity that
embraces conflicting approaches. Conflict is not inherently bad as we tend to
believe. Achieving resolution through synthesizing the ideas into one will only
prevent future change and can be less productive than creating a space where
the opposing ideas work in tandem. Group think only creates an environment
where a complex, changing system cannot exist. We need to be open to numerous
ways of sustaining our system that appreciates that there might need to be
Agroecology methods, small farms, large farms, industrialized farms and many
others.  

A
system requires diversity. What we may forget from time to time is that this also
applies to ideas, answers, viewpoints and opinions. How can we thrive with
diversity? The answer lies in how we choose to engage with others. Through all
my work in coalition building, facilitating strategy meetings and workshops, I
have found that the following capabilities are critical to hold multiple
opposing views within a space while retaining the ability to function
productively.

1.
Co-creation. This is a heightened state
of collaboration. It’s the ability to involve all participants directly, and in
some cases, repeatedly, from beginning to end to achieve a shared purpose and
vision. You must hold the creative tension while providing an open space for
dialogue. In the spirit of co-creation we build something new together,
something that holds all of our visions in a unified manner. This will be one
of our greatest challenges.

2.
Deep Listening. This requires listening
for the energy and emotion as well as the words. I need to not only listen for
understanding, but also new ways of understanding. I need to be at all times
interpreting and evaluating what I hear.

3.
Communication. Being able to
communicate effectively means that we are speaking to people’s feelings and
opinions. Additionally, we need to be able to leverage different communication
strategies based on the needs of the situation.

4.
Empathy. This capability asks us to see
the world through someone else’s eyes, to try and put oneself in their position.
Empathy creates space within ourselves to hear opposing views. We are able to
table our beliefs so that we can really take in someone else’s beliefs.

5.
Powerful questioning. This is the skill
of asking questions that will engage people, focus the attention and make a
difference. The questions need to lead the group to a shared purpose and end
with something co-created.

6.
Reflecting in action. The ability to
improvise, to be adaptable and agile in the moment; to prompt reflection among
others and within a group, and to make detached observations. It also includes
being able to recognize the gaps between people’s espoused theory and
theory-in-use in order to help them understand and act upon those differences.

7.
Systems Thinking. This capability
allows one to understand how factors influence one another within a whole; to
see, acknowledge, and work with the interconnectedness within a system; and
awareness that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This
level of thinking helps us to see all the differing people that need to be
included in the conversation. Systemic change will not happen if we are only
ever meeting with others in sustainable agriculture, industrial agriculture or
anti-hunger to name a few. These groups have to also meet together. A systems view
perceives that we are in the same system so that no change can be sustained
without the other.  Changing the food
system, or any system for that matter, is not about removing conflict or
merging all the opposing views into one mutual view. Change is about knowing
that we need conflict and opposing views for a healthy, and interesting,
system. We need people thinking in different ways about how to solve our challenges
and we need these to be cross-pollinated.

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