Group Reflections on the Work and Teachings of Dr. Daniel Christian Wahl: a Collective Narrative
Updated: May 18
Produced by Fyodor Ovchinnikov
On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, a group of participants from Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Greece, India, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, Sweden, Uganda, and the United States gathered for the second virtual peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Dr. Daniel Christian Wahl.
ABOUT DR. DANIEL CHRISTIAN WAHL (full bio)
Daniel is a renowned thought leader, consultant, and the author of the internationally acclaimed book "Designing Regenerative Cultures". His Blog on Medium is followed by over 22,000 people and his social media advocacy has a combined global audience of over 450,000 people.
PROCESS & CONTRIBUTORS
Dr. Wahl was among 11 guest teachers confirmed based on the preferences and financial contributions of 40 registered participants of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program. Participants had one week to study Dr. Wahl's materials on their own before gathering for a peer learning session. The peer learning session provided an opportunity to share individual reflections, identify emerging patterns, and craft a collective message to Dr. Wahl to help him prepare for a live session with the group. Here is the recording of the live session based on this narrative:
Participants’ reflections were recorded and used to produce a collective narrative according to the Collective Narrative Methodology. Artur Paranhos Tacla, Christiana Gardikioti, Cleofash Alinaitwe, Devapragassen Armoogum, Flora Moon, Gabrielle Cook Jonker, Ignatius Ahumuza, Joshua Baker, Juan Sebastian Cardenas Salas, Julius Khamati Kuya, Ken Homer, Kennan Salinero, Klaus Mager, Manuel Manga, Maria Talero, Michel Sillion, Naveen Vasudevan, Rafael Calcada, Robert Fishkin, Tatiana Vekovishcheva, and Zen Benefiel participated in the session and contributed to this narrative.
Moving from an Old Belief System to a New One
We talked about having collectively reached a point of Presencing; awareness of the degradation in our ecosystems, the unsustainable nature of our economies starting with the way we grow food and treat the soil. Some of us suggested that collectively we are in the process of crystallizing. Where do we go from here? How do we envision a future that is regenerative, inclusive, sustainable, and just?
That should advance us towards prototyping ideas, projects designed to be invented as they move along. The sheer scale of engagement required seems overwhelming, against the inertia of a status quo that is frozen in place, unable to move. The old patterns do not allow for seeing beyond a certain point and they make people stop there without realizing that there is more in the unknown that is available.
So how do we reconfigure the minds to move from an old belief system that is obviously not functional to something new that incorporates the expanded version of how we are all one and what that means? What are the practical applications of that? How do we implement that into addressing the community reconfiguration, for instance? How would Dr. Wahl make it more practical and applicable in individual lives as well as community building? And can we have a change without human influence and without human interaction?
Looking for Leadership and Overcoming the “Us vs.Them” Dichotomy
Where is the leadership that is making a big difference and that will make the needed changes happen? Where is the leadership across different sectors? Talking about how a regenerative social organization operates, we mentioned the Donut Economics community, the Capital Institute and other eco-social institutions that are making a difference, and we also discussed the concept of innovation brokers as the kind of leadership that we are looking for to take things through.
We talked about whether the regenerative movement is gaining momentum and whether we need a roadmap for taking common action. We also discussed whether we can bring the conversation into the corporate world and deal with the panic of big corporations, the panic of them collapsing since they are not into this glocalization framework.
For example, for oil or gas executives, the move to a regenerative economy looks like an extinction-level threat. How can we present the idea of regenerative economies to Chevron or Exxon, or even to McDonald's that has thirty four thousand restaurants with the same menu all over the world so it is not at all equipped to make a change to sourcing their foods locally and supporting local economies. Such a shift is going to be an enormously challenging threat to their business model.
Some of us who worked in the extractive industries found the need to socialize and introduce ideas in non-threatening ways. How do we present regenerative models in a way that brings corporations in as partners and make them realize that they can actually be leaders here, that they do not have to see this as the end of the world for them, but rather a new beginning? Some of us are really interested in finding practical ways to include these actors because they are often the "them" in "us” vs “them", but really, there is only “us”. We would love to hear Dr. Wahl’s thoughts on how we can talk with "us" about things that create “us” vs “them”.
Articulating Theory of Change and Understanding Social Systems
We discussed the crisis of perception, the separation of nature and culture that Dr. Wahl is talking about, and the big question for some of us was how do we apply this theory to practice. Some of us shared a notion that Dr. Wahl is very prolific in his writing and most of his articles are high-level conceptual thinking on the topics of regeneration. We were wondering if Dr. Wahl could articulate his theory of social change, and what in his opinion are the critical points of intervention to effectively catalyze systems change.
When we think of regenerative space as a natural system, what is missing for some of us is what a societal regeneration process looks like. When we look at the work of nature, how does this apply to social systems? Is there a correlation between social systems and natural systems?
Some of us looked at that through the lens of examining what is being inadvertently excluded from Dr. Wahl’s thinking, perhaps because of the intensity of the lens of biology. In the context of some of the currently most entrenched political struggles in the U.S. context, like racialized capitalism and political polarization around vaccines, guns, climate change, etc., the materials that we reviewed made some of us wonder whether Dr. Wahl’s theory of change leaves out the dimension of political struggle.
Some of us were looking for the interpersonal, social dimension in Dr. Wahl’s thinking. How do we embody race? How do we embody power? How do we embody politics to support positive change? Does over-reliance on biological frameworks lead us to exclude the importance of—beyond the crisis of perception—the crisis in human interpersonal relations and how they are conducted under "business as usual"?
With this, some of us were left longing for a better understanding of social systems in regenerative cultures and wondering if we can zoom in on what it means to be human, what a regenerative culture shift looks like in human beings, and what a healthy, harmonious social system means to us. These questions also beg the question of what system we are working on. So the social dimensions of regeneration are an important aspect that we are curious about.
Surpassing Ego and Caring for Each Other
It was also pointed out that we have a problem with language where we keep using “liberal”, “progressive”, “right”, “left”, “us” and “them” which keeps the pattern in place. It just keeps the pendulum swinging back and forth. Looking at areas where we keep pumping up into long standing traditions and ancient hatreds that keep inflaming things, we wondered what we could draw on from the natural world and all of Dr. Wahl’s deep expertise in looking at systems that can ameliorate that and provide a different lens through which we can have these conversations in a more productive way. Is there something that we can draw on from Dr. Wahl’s models that can really help us step outside of that dynamic into a better dance where toes are not being stepped on and where there is a different kind of music playing?
If we do not care for one another at a deep level, it feels like it will not work, so where is there room for that in the conversation? How do we gain acceptance? If there is “the other side”, if there is this big monolith—the corporate world or even a different aspect of looking at systems change—and they do not have respect for us as we come in, how do we deal with that? So there is a really big question around the heart, the in-between, and even bringing in aspects of being human like intergenerational trauma and childhood.
We also talked about three kinds of intelligence: human intelligence, technology intelligence (how do we use technology in ways that heal rather than wound) and nature intelligence. What does it look like when we can breed all three of those together into a coherent strand that actually does serve all of life?
Reflecting on Boundaries and Specialization
Reflecting on what systems we are working on, we realize that each of us does not have a passion for all of the areas. Some have a passion for biology, some for the organizational aspect, some for the business aspect. Can there be or is there room to have "and' rather than "or" so that we are not always being asked to pick what systems interventions we are participating in?
We also shared appreciation for Dr. Wahl’s work and some of us pointed out that Dr. Wahl mentions it quite often in his talks on YouTube that he feels overwhelmed by so many different entities wanting his opinion, time, attention, and energy so we were wondering whether he has gained the ability to set stronger boundaries, say no, and find a setting where he could mentor future leaders.
If he were to consider where he could make the biggest impact on the world, some of us wondered whether it could be centered around working with technology companies to develop tech that is geared around saving the planet as their main purpose. At the same time, others mentioned that people who represent place-based systemic change projects already feel at home with Dr. Wahl's work: they feel at ease with his writing and can easily contextualize it in their work.