There are times that attempting to predict the future is a hard, hard life.

The weaver sits at her loom, feet on the treadles, passing the shuttle from hand to hand. The fabric rolls towards her. The weft, the fabric yet to be, stretches away.

The backstory

Those of you that know me slightly, whether only through my stories, or in real life, know that amongst other hats, I'm in the profession loosely referred to as planning. (Short stories implying another, older profession notwithstanding.) One of the things that I do within that planning rubicon is try to predict or influence the future.

Now, this is not the look into your crystal ball and tell me I'm going to marry someone tall, dark and handsome type future prediction, but the potential future of environmental decisions. It goes something like this - if you preserve the historic character of such-and-such a place, you may lose some of the economic viability. Conversely, if you go for maximum economic use, you may lessen something else - historic character, water quality, the local sense of community. Often the trade off is between tangible, countable, quantitative, and intangible, unmeasurable, qualitative. You want to preserve "historic character". You want to preserve a "sense of place". You want to preserve "wildlife values". You want to preserve an endangered species. You are trading the ability to build a highway or a building or a mall in that particular place for whatever was there before - a wetland, a chunk of desert, an old house, a grove of oaks.

The current thought

The weaver pauses, right hand on the beater. The beater holds a reed, which the threads of the warp pass through. After each throw of the shuttle holding the weft, the beater is pulled back to pack the thread against the fabric.

And in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about last week's election, the mindset it reflects, and as a planner and a future thinker, the future I see unfolding.

The future

The weaver sits with her hands in her lap. Looking at the fabric, she wonders about this fabric - it is not the pattern she planned. Can she change it now, and weave something different?

When I plan, I work from the goal backwards. If I want to get to goal X, what are all the steps between here and X? I include variations, little sideways threads of if/then pathways. I try to imagine most of the contingencies, and possible problems. There are lots of terrific buzzwords - critical path, float, Venn diagram. Simplify.

If I had to draw it, I could say one metaphor for it would be fabric on a loom. Behind the shuttle is the cloth that's already been woven. Ahead are just threads, the warp- but the threads we add or subtract at this moment affect the future fabric. I'm paused at the loom, looking at the fabric we've woven, and what we all, collectively, are hoping to weave next. I can pick out individual threads - this thread might lead to these, then those, then those. They overlap, and some end and new ones are added it.

And I ask myself, what are we weaving? I look for compassion and understanding within myself, and I confess I don't understand what fully half of my countrymen, and countrywomen, are feeling and thinking.

And I ask, with humility, that everyone who is weaving this future together pause at the loom. The community that is E2, please pause, each of us pause. This place contains a microcosm of your family, your corner cafe, your favorite pub, your city, your country and the world.

Pause at the loom, and look at what we are weaving.

Last week, the chatterbox just made me hurt. It felt to me like a pub where everyone has forgotten their manners, and insults flew fast and furiously. Since the only thing we had to hit each other with was words, that’s what we used. But if it had been a pub, who would have thrown a beer in someone’s face? Who would have grabbed a bottle? Who would have grabbed a chair leg, a baseball bat, a knife? Would it have ended in bloodshed?

And, yet, we are FIGHTING FOR PEACE. My best understanding of why the vote here went the way it did is that people are scared ...scared of terrorism, scared of a suitcase nuke, scared of the teacher or the neighbor who might be homosexual, scared of someone whose values, whose skin, whose god, whose beliefs, appear so different from their own.

Yet my suspicion is that it is not, after all, so different.

And I also want to draw attention to us, where we sit.

Just within E2, we forget to pause, we forget to think, we forget to stop and look at our own intent. See if the fabric which we are, in fact, weaving, is really the fabric we want. If we keep weaving this way, have we considered the damage we might cause?

And I look within myself and want to find compassion and understanding.

I do not want to fight.

I want to stop, and think, and look at my own intent, that I want peace. How can I weave a future of peace? This is the main thing I was voting on - I want a future where Tess can live in peace, and so can the sons and daughters of Iran, Afganistan, Rwanda, Israel, Palestine, the Balkans, Argentina. In the words of a mother of a six year old "I don’t care who hit whom first, we all have to stop hitting."

The weaver still pauses, realizing that she needs to weave in a different way, with a different thread.

So I want to say, there is a place for you at my table if you choose to sit and talk with me. I will no longer yell at someone who has a different point of view from my own, because most of all, I long, I long, I long to understand. Please sit down, and eat, and tell me why you voted the way you did, and why you feel the way you do, and help me understand. With understanding, I think the fear will decrease, and compassion will increase, and isn’t that what we were all shouting about in the first place? We are wanting to be heard, to be listened to, to be taken seriously. Again, I can’t help but see it as a mother, listening to another mother, yelling at her kids…Quit yelling! Do as I say, not as I do. Tell me you are in favor of peace, and then call someone a nasty name, and my faith in that plan for peace is, indeed, eroded.

I want to sit in front of this loom, and look at all the possible threads. War, or peace. Clarity or misunderstanding. Compassion or cruelty. Courtesy, or cuss words. I want each of us to look at the influence we do, indeed, have over the future, and use it very carefully... and I want all of us to think long and hard before we beat these next few choices into the fabric of our, collective, future.

The weaver sits, her hands on her lap, waiting until she understands more of the pattern she wants, before she adds another thread, before she beats it in, before the fabric unfolds further.

There is a place at the table, if you choose to sit, and talk with me.

Dona nobis pacem

There is a place for you at the table, if you choose to join us.
from Starhawk. The Fifth Sacred Thing. Bantam Books, 1993.

The thread in the yelling game

    It’s a most inspiring and useful concept, grundoon's beautiful loom metaphor of the past and the future, with its annoying little thread The Present in between.

    In order for the old pattern to change, you have to introduce a completely new thread, preferably right away. This realization can also be used to clarify some aspects of the ”yelling-at-each-other”-problem touched upon in grundoon’s writeup. But I’d like to expand the context, to include the world.

    I’m not sure that the advice ”Let’s stop yelling and start talking” goes very far, generally speaking. If I step into a bar where a Bible-Belt Republican and a New England Democrat are yelling at each other, then my exhortations, calling for ”mutual understanding”, would be rather out of place. Because the very reason why they are yelling is their perfect understanding of each other’s positions. Differences in deep convictions don’t disappear by talking. Here grundoon’s marvelous loom metaphor comes in. What is needed is a new thread, a thread that suddenly makes both of the old patterns look irrelevant, by creating a totally unexpected new design.

A businesslike thread

    One example of such a new thread is a clever banking device called Letter of Credit. This example happens to emanate from the business world, but it illuminates the general principle.

    You have goods to sell, I want to buy. Unfortunately, you regard me as a dishonest rascal and refuse to send me your goods, unless I pay in advance. This I’ll never do, because I know you as an old conniving cheat. We may yell at each other over the phone for a while, but the result is the same -- no deal, and both of us lose potential profit.

    But here the Letter of Credit (also known by the French term rembours) comes in as a new thread in the weave. It is a document issued by a bank, where a number of conditions are legally stipulated. Here I can require that the arrival, the quantity and the quality of your goods must be certified by an independent inspector, before any money is paid to you. You in your turn can require that proof of existence of my money is sent to you by the bank, before you dispatch your goods. So I pay the money to the bank (not to you, you scoundrel!), and the bank notifies you of this fact. You then send the goods and the bank is notified by the inspector that everything is OK. Then the bank sends you the money and I get the goods. Reality counts.

    It doesn’t matter how much and for how long we are going to distrust each other. Thanks to the new thread we can continue making profitable deals for years to come, in spite of periodically yelling at each other over the phone.

Temporary solutions

    Sometimes it is easy to find the New Thread that could solve an impasse due to incompatible convictions. If a Moslem and a Jew yell at each other at the bar, and I declare that I’m an atheist and that they are both superstitious Neanderthalers, then they will in all probability stop yelling at each other. They will be busy yelling at me. In the process they may find that although the incompatibility of their convictions is unchanged, it would benefit both of them if they sat together and devised some common plan to counter the Evils of Atheism. If you don’t happen to find a common enemy, then you can always invent one, like Hitler invented the ”menace of the Jews”. I’m sure that most of us can produce more recent examples as well.

Zero-sum games

    The ”foes-united-by-a-common-enemy”-method is often effective, but not very constructive in the long run. On the other hand, finding useful New Threads is quite difficult. Still, to my mind this is the only way of solving deep-seated conflicts, save murder and war. And we don’t want any of those, or do we?

    ”Stop yelling and start talking” works fine in the limited situations where the antagonists are not fully aware of all the details of their respective views. Domestic conflicts can sometimes fall into this category, giving marriage counsellors their bread. But it rarely works when there are factual conflicts of interest involved, particularly not in a zero-sum game.

Business opportunities galore

    Solving such reality-based conflicts is rarely a matter of psychological understanding and kindness. It rather boils down to the tough mental work of analysis and inventiveness, of finding the New Thread. Then people usually stop yelling at each other. OK, they’ll probably start again, soon enough. But then it concerns a different impasse. So supplying New Threads for the old weave is a never-ending business -- just a tip to those of you who are looking for tempting new business opportunities.

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