Monday, August 2nd, 2021
How do we move in and through the inevitable changing waters that visit organizational life? Read on to learn about the Torus and the Possibilitarian, a model and an image for organizational thriving during times of flux.
MODEL: THE TORUS
I support the internal work of organizations and communities in service to increasing their effectiveness and social impact. One day, I searched for an image that captures the complexity of the groups I work with, and I woke up thinking about water snakes.
Have you ever played with one of these things? They’re super silly and weirdly satisfying, with their outsides slipping through your hands and becoming their insides.
After a little research, I realized that what I was in search for is a torus. A torus draws into itself, inverting, so that its outer edge becomes its inner edge. Imagine a donut or bagel whose surface keeps on inverting. It is continuously inside-outing (and outside-inning). A looping back, flipping, churning.
The self in a toroidal universe can be both separate and connected with everything else.
— Arthur Young, Scientist and Philosopher
The torus is an excellent metaphor for social change organizations and communities. When you are working within a torus, you can embrace the not knowing of where you are going, trusting that it will get you somewhere right. When we collectively engage in inner work, we change our external environment.
Working within a torus is…
Transformational and Stabilizing,
Internal and External,
Self-Reflexive and Fractal,
Methodical and Chaotic, and
Bounded and Ambiguous
This is so different from the larger social/political/economic/cultural context we currently find ourselves in. I think of that as unbounded ambiguity, and it’s very hard to manage one’s self, one’s social network, and one’s work when trying to make sense of all the racist, violent, ugly nonsense that is occurring all around us.
What’s the key?
Find the piece you can bite, chew, and swallow.
Find the zone of play where you can allow for some bounded ambiguity, growth, and development.
Find the torus.
IMAGE: THE POSSIBILITARIAN: A VIVID EXAMPLE OF A LIVING, BREATHING TORUS
I often re-juice at Bread and Puppet Theater, a theater activist group that has been staging shows with social justice themes since its founding by Peter Schumann in 1963. Back when I was an undergrad studying theater directing, I interned with Bread and Puppet, dancing on stilts, stage managing shows, sewing burlap costumes, and peeling and chopping an unfathomable number of garlic cloves for the aioli that went with the hardy rye bread baked by Peter and given out at the end of every show.
Since then, I have traveled back to Bread and Puppet’s farm in Glover, Vermont many different summers, a personal pilgrimage to pay homage to and reconnect with my formative model of how to mix beauty and generosity and social justice. Like any organization or community, they’re not perfect, but they were my crucible when I was 19. One day when I recently visited, I learned from Peter that puppeteers now spend more time consciously processing together how they want to work. Peter laughed and said he doesn’t truck with that stuff too much but could see the great value in it and that his company is happier.
Bread and Puppet’s work has become even more compelling in the last few years. One of their posters declares: “This is… the beginning of the Possibilitarian Take-Over of Society. We herewith dispose of the incompetent ruling class by underthrowing it from the toes up.” That year’s performance ended with inviting everyone to walk through a cardboard door, a puppeteer instructing: “When you pass through this door on your way to a piece of bread and aioli, you acquire citizenship in the brand new Possibilitarian state.”
As I watched people line up, walk through the door, and receive a bit of bread and aioli, I realized this was a living torus in action. A portal. One point for a group of people to go through together and then another point to emerge out from, changed. A portal for becoming Possibilitarians together.
How can your organization use the torus model to effect transformational change and Possibilitarianism? Try playing with it and let me know what you think.
Interested in a model for individual thriving? The torus model for organizational thriving during times of flux is a sibling to the pyramid model for individual thriving during times of flux that you can read about here.
I wish for your organization the gifts of bounded ambiguity and organizational thriving. May the torus be with you!