"What is the greatest challenge facing humanity today?" The question hung like a storm cloud over the heads of more than 200 spiritual teachers crammed into a hall clearly designed to accommodate a much smaller crowd. After a brief silence the first tentative replies issued forth: “Over-population… loss of habitat… pollution… war… famine… AIDS… nuclear waste...” They seemed to gain in severity as more people weighed in with their perspectives. “Global warming... human trafficking… political corruption… increasing gap between rich and poor…” We were all familiar with this laundry list of global ailments. But few of us were prepared for what came next.
"Those are all very serious and complex challenges." said the speaker, "But, they are all secondary. The greatest challenge we face is for people who see the world very differently to sit in the same room together and not resort to violence in trying to get their way. Or for people to abandon the conversation when it does not confirm their view of the world. Because if we can't find a way to do that, we will never be very successful at tackling all the issues you just raised."
His words set off a lightning bolt in my brain! Up until then I had been stumbling along, seeking something to ignite my mind and give me direction. In the space of a few moments, this man's reframing of world challenges sparked a life-defining question in my mind: How do we bring diverse people together to explore the enormous challenges before us in ways that lead to understanding and effective action instead of stalemates, empty gestures and increased strife? Attempting to answer this question, has opened a path – crooked and twisting, filled with false starts, dead ends and unexpected company – that I have followed for the two decades since I was a volunteer at that conference.
I'm Ken Homer. One of my favorite things in life is designing, convening and hosting gatherings where people learn with and from each other. My background includes ten years as a member of the design team that developed the World Café dialogue process. I am also trained as an integral and ontological coach. My business partner and I run a successful consulting business that emphasizes social learning and collective intelligence to improve organizational capability. I have had a long, fruitful and warm friendship with IONS for many years, having consulted here, and presented at and supported several of their conferences, as well as being befriended by many of those who work here.