The New Literacy Becoming Adept With New Ways of Thinking


In this issue:
1. Reader Feedback
2. Miscellaneous Newsbits
3. September Editorial: “The New Literacy”
4. Preview: Next Month’s Editorial
5. Quote of the Month – Charles DuBois
6. Hot Link of the Month

How Am I Doing?

Dear Subscribers: I hear from such a small percentage of you each month that I would like to check in for lots of feedback as we’re approaching the 100th issue of the newsletter (November). Like most authors of newsletters, I wonder how many of you actually read each issue. If you do, what value do the editorials hold for you? Do you feel inspired, motivated or otherwise moved to think, say or do anything different in the future? What other comments might you have? Would you like to write a testimonial I can use to promote the newsletter? I’d love to hear from all of you. Many thanks, John


Forbes Publishes Piece on Business and Soul

The Brazil edition of Forbes magazine published a feature spread of “The Soul of a Business” which was posted to their website in mid-August (click here); while I was in Sao Paulo speaking at the annual Ethos Institute conference on business and social responsibility in June, I was interviewed by Mirna Grzich for the article which has been published in Portuguese.

For most people being “literate” means being able to read, write and do some basic math. Mass education, at least primary schooling, which levels the playing field for an informed citizenry is one of the primary planks in the platform for a workable democracy. This was brilliantly foreseen by the founders of the U.S. and championed by Thomas Jefferson who called for the “enlightenment of the people.”

Widespread literacy allows for more informed citizens in a democracy where government is “by the people and for the people.” Being literate by this definition does not include having dexterity in rethinking or reframing ideas, however. Literacy allows one to function better than someone with no education but doesn’t enable or empower the person to shift into a larger frame, to question the system (rather than just the content within that system), to challenge it, or even invent a new one. This “new literacy” of questioning and reframing broad concepts requires abilities which are not presently taught in public schools.

Before the 18th Century, only an elite few in the world had access to education. So the many deferred to the few – “those who knew” or had access to “those who knew.” People who possessed knowledge were considered smarter and wiser because, after all, they knew so much and the majority, in comparison, knew so little. Huge assumptions were made about decisions being made by these learned people, these supposedly wise and informed people. This patriarchal mass deference allowed the Divine Right of Kings “mental model” to perpetuate.

Then came the Enlightenment Age. A few rabble-rousers like Thomas Paine and the invention of the printing press, the high technology of that era, allowed much greater public access to information. People started thinking for themselves! America’s founders invented a new way of thinking when they drafted the U.S. constitution, an excellent example of reframing or creating a new mental model. While democracy had been tried centuries earlier, the founders reinvented it based on their situation, their place in history and what was being called forth. Feeling divinely inspired, they reframed the idea of governance, turning their noses to the conventional mental models of the day, such as that Divine Right nonsense.

The world is sorely in need of people who know how to invent new mental models; people like Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Washington. A new generation of literacy is needed now, over 230 years later. This new literacy isn’t about reading, writing and arithmetic or understanding content. This new literacy is about being experienced at reframing, creating new mental models and shifting the place from where thinking comes. It is more about the context of thinking than the content.

Today we have a different kind of “those who know.” These are the people who have stumbled and experimented, wobbled and fallen, challenged assumptions, and finally had a peak experience or what some might call a personal enlightenment. This “aha” experience has allowed these individuals to know their thinking can be dramatically reconstituted. They know a new consciousness can be achieved although it doesn’t seem to follow any linear or rational process. It is like suddenly discovering a third dimension after operating in two dimensions much of your life. Instead of thinking more and more from the same place, they recognize they can choose to think from a new place, with new assumptions, a different frame or worldview. They become mental model builders. This is a uniquely human trait!

William James, the father of American pragmatism, reminded us that we human beings are the “only creatures of earth” who can “change the outer aspects of their lives” by “changing the inner attitudes of their minds.” Yet few of us have experienced this reframing. Few of us know what it is like to change the “inner attitudes” of our minds. Few of us have achieved this dimension of literacy, this new consciousness.

In his 2006 book, All Rise, Robert Fuller addresses the issue of model-building. He asserts we need “to cultivate our innate human talent for building models” and “do for enlightenment what universal primary education did for literacy.” His conclusion is that as more and more people realize they can think differently, “the capacity for and the experience of enlightenment will spread throughout the world much as reading and writing did” in past centuries.

People who were at the vanguard of liberation movements of the past century know what it is like to reframe or build new mental models. People achieved this new literacy and dropped traditional ways of thinking about slavery, woman’s suffrage, civil rights, drunk driving, environmental sustainability and many other things. They became able to think from a different place. Some people have done this reframing more than once in their lives so they know it is both possible and liberating to achieve greater literacy around their consciousness.

It is one thing to be able to listen to a political candidate and understand what he or she is saying; it is another to recognize authenticity, spin and true understanding. It is one thing to understand the text of a new law but another to question its deeper meaning. It is one thing to be able to read a newspaper and another to recognize how it may be biased or what news is missing. One can be technically literate but stuck in one mindset about life, justice, work and fairness for an entire lifetime. One can be really efficient at their work, even proud of how good they are, but unaware of the negative systemic consequences their efficiencies may produce half way around the world.

This new consciousness literacy allows people to envision different realities, to think outside the limits of how most people think. It allows people to rise above habit and see whole new vistas with fresh eyes, vistas to which they were blind due to old habits and unexamined assumptions. Sometimes these experiences are quite powerful, like an ecstasy of awakening! Those who have experienced these “enlightenisms” have found a new wisdom, wisdom once only available to mystics and philosophers. This is the new thinking that Einstein called for over half a century ago, the reframed thinking that will allow us to solve the problems we created with our old thinking.

Having these “orgasms of consciousness” we are better able to laugh at ourselves after realizing we had been thinking from an outmoded place before our insight or revelation came along. After a few of these orgasms, we tend to get less attached to our opinions or our points-of-view. We now know they might be tomorrow’s trash as a wiser perspective may reveal itself in the coming 24 hours. Spanish philosopher George Santayana writes:

We must welcome the future
Remembering that soon it will be the past;
We must respect the past
Remembering that once it was all that was humanly possible.

This new consciousness literacy – being accomplished with reframing and mental model building – allows people to be less identified with their beliefs, assumptions and thoughts thus taking them far less seriously. After all, they may be today’s wisdom but not necessarily tomorrow’s. Can you see how this new familiarity with reframing and creating new models can free us from so much rigid-mindedness, the need to resort to such extremes, to adhere so strongly to strict beliefs as if our lives depended upon this adherence? Can you see how this new literacy can serve as an antidote to the pandemic of fundamentalism we are experiencing throughout the world in all areas of human endeavor? People with this new literacy are less prone to think rigidly, to subscribe to stagnant absolutist points-of-view about religion, business, medicine, education, government, law or any other subject.

So how does one become literate in this new way? Self-examination, the constant seeking of self-actualization, perpetual inquiry into one’s personal beliefs and mental models, willingness to gore our own sacred cows…these are all ways of NOT taking oneself or one’s beliefs too seriously, ways of remaining in the question of “who am I?” instead of thinking we know the answer “once and for all.”

When a person is going through this reframing for the first time they may think some part of them is going to die. Their old assumptions and beliefs often have a death grip on their minds and they may refuse to shift the first few times. But if their intention and willingness is sufficient, and they remain open-minded, they pass through the resistance and “voila!” – they have their insight, peak experience, “aha” or personal epiphany. Once they have been through this experience, it becomes easier the next time. They realize they really survived changing their thinking; as threatening as it may have seemed beforehand, changing their minds actually wasn’t all that bad. Like diving off the high board, once they survived the first time it was less of an ordeal to be open to the next and the next and so it goes. The individual who is literate in this new way becomes accomplished at re-examining his or her assumptions just like the high-diver who gets better and less afraid with practice.

It is the nature of enlightenment to expand, to grow, to change more than just once. People with this new literacy know this. Perhaps they’ve even made the mistake of thinking they had arrived after having an enlightenment experience. They thought they had made it! Then life hands them a situation that reminds them they don’t know nearly as much as they thought they did. These humbling sometimes embarrassing experiences are part of the stumbles and reversals that accompany self-actualization – a journey of discovery and process without any final destination.

Ask anyone who’s been through a few reframing experiences, these epiphanies, and they may laugh at the strange and crooked path they’ve left behind them. They usually see the humor in their seemingly random travels. Few find enlightenment sitting under a tree or atop a mountain. Most find it hidden behind some unplanned event or situation. And once they’ve found it, it’s time to learn and grow again. Onward they proceed to the next enlightenism, and the next, and so it goes. The difference between these “orgasms of the Spirit” and physical orgasms is the former are cumulative. They build upon one another so one’s consciousness is raised to successively higher levels.

Conventional literacy allows us to take in and manage information and become skilled in a given context or mental model. Consciousness literacy allows us to visit other models, sample other contexts, see other realities and exercise our reframing muscles. As our model building skills are sharpened and our minds become more open to possibilities beyond our present set of assumptions and attachments we become more adept, experience by experience. We become lifelong learners eager to discover, grow and engage whatever wisdom the Universe is offering us each day.

Renowned futurist Alvin Toffler writes, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Fuller is encouraged. He writes, “In the twenty-first century, as more and more people realize their model-building potential, the capacity for, and experience of, enlight­enment will spread throughout the world, much as reading and writ­ing did in the twentieth.”

We need more of this kind of literacy in our world today. We have far too much “opinionism” with people taking sides in a two-dimensional world. All this is doing is polarizing us more, separating us and adding to the rudeness and incivility with which we are treating one another. Remaining in the same frame and fighting with one another isn’t too dissimilar from two fist-fighters locked in a cage. It gets vicious, mean-spirited and nasty. What is needed in the world so badly these days is more respect, dignity and civility, not cage-fights, figurative or literal.

Let’s get more bold in encouraging people to step out of this two dimensional cage, this right-wrong, good-bad restrictive mental model and explore new worldviews, adding dimension to this adventure we call life. And, until there are more people experienced in this new literacy, perhaps we could pay a bit more attention to our own intuitions and to others who have achieved some ability for reframing and exploring additional dimensions to mental models. These are the new leaders, the new pioneers. Like Lewis and Clark, who President Jefferson commissioned in the early 19th Century to explore the new northwestern territories of the expanding United States, those who possess this new literacy can help us find our way to new realities, new possibilities, dramatically expanding the geography of consciousness available to us all.

4. NEXT MONTH’S EDITORIAL: “Hoodwinking Ourselves”
“The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” – Charles DuBois


economie is the organization hosting the two-day conference in Switzerland on socially responsible business known as “eco6;” this

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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