Reflecting on enworldment

In the business world, the default attitude toward thought is that thought is a means to an end. We think in order to figure out how best to change the world.

This is true to a degree, but not nearly true enough.

First, the process of thinking is not that clean.

Often that process of uncovering and clarifying the ways the world could be changed, the reasons why it should be changed in one way rather than another, and working through the ways it can be changed changes our own selves in ways inconceivable prior to the actual doing of world-changing work.

In transforming the world we transform ourselves. Susan’s teacher, Rabbi Jeff Roth taught her a tiny blessing, “May your wanting be wiser.” The reflective practice of design is one effective way to realize this beautiful blessing.

But that’s not the end of it. The transformation continues rippling out into the world. The transformed world transforms those who participate in it. Our transformations of the world are only start out materially, “out there”. Much of it is spiritual, “in here”, changing people’s spontaneous perceptions and intuitions of reality.

What Churchill said of architecture — “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” — is true of all significant technological advances. Think about how the world as a whole seemed to those before and after the printing press, steam power, air travel, radio, television, computers, the internet, mobile phones, social media. And now, artificial intelligence.

Working to change our intuited sense of reality for the better through transforming the world, our relationship to the world, and ourselves — all together as a whole — as a single personal, interpersonal, material, linguistic, informational, practical, institutional, aesthetic hybrid system — is what I mean when I talk about enworldment.

It would be a terrible mistake, a “fatal conceit”, in fact, to think we can approach enworldment as a linear industrial process of conceiving, planning, and executing. This is a radically iterative process, where iteration is the rule, not an embarrassing exception. And it would be totalitarian to see it as something one elite group does on behalf of a nation or the world.

Enworldment is an approach to living our own lives together, making changes to what is around us. It is a style of taking responsibility, of responding, and of noticing the effects of our responses, on the world, on ourselves and on each other.

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