We now move to the question, where are these pressures coming from?

“The media.”

“The loss of middle class jobs.”

“We bought the wrong house in 2006, We’ve been underwater since ’08 and can’t get out. We’re just slogging along, trying to pay off this, then that, not getting anywhere, really.”

The table leader or convener may ask the question in another way, in front of the wall- sheet drawing: “If you follow each line of pressure out to its end, what is there?” Often, someone will call out “big business,” or “the corporations, the one per cent.” Almost everyone, at this point, will nod. Anger begins to surface.

At the end of the lines of pressure are institutions, multinational corporations in many cases these days.

The workshop leaders ask a series of follow-on questions:

“Look at the power in your family, and compare it to the power of the multinational firms that are behind the pressures. When you do that, what is your feeling? Quickly, back come “helpless” or “powerless” in reply. This is honest common sense.

“List the core values of your families; and then list and compare the core values of multinational corporations. Here again, come quick responses, adding up to: “love and life against greed and power.” Often at this point, someone will make the observation that we want the stuff and the jobs that the corporations furnish, which provokes a good back-and-forth about benefits, losses, values, and complicity.

“As these pressures enter your family’s life, do you experience them as healthy or hurtful, life-supporting or life-draining and broken?” This deepens the values discussion; but not in the abstract, because participants now know the stories of their tablemates. So the emerging tension is usually respectful and concrete.

“Do the multi-national corporations behind your pressures form a system? Do corporate leaders meet together in trade associations, at a select group of clubs, restaurants and resorts? Do they know each other? How many of them have graduated from a common set of elite schools and colleges? Do they send their own children to those same feeder schools? Do they have common interests? Do they organize to defend those interests?” Again, common sense responses: of course it’s a system behind the pressures.

“Is your family a system? Are you as a human being several billion tiny systems, and as a person are you a unique system? Is your mediating institution a system? Is our economy, our political apparatus, our culture each a system? Is the ecology of your backyard or block, of the Columbia Gorge or the planet a set of systems and a whole?” Yes: systems pervade reality.

“On a scale of one to ten, do you experience these systems as healthy or broken:

Food, water and air?

Health insurance and pharmaceuticals?





Banking, credit and real estate?

Economy as job creator with secure incomes?


Threatened or endangered species?

Police, prosecutors, courts and prisons?



What’s the average of them all the subsystems combined as one large system?

This discussion keeps us concrete, focused on our experience, which is far more with our body and emotions than with our mental capacities. Each person’s overall “grade” of the system is related to how deeply she or he feels Solveig Nilsen-Goodin’s question about our economic, ecological, social, political and cultural reality: “What is going on?”

© Dick Harmon 2013. All rights reserved.


To learn more about our Ecology of Grace: Organizing in the Biocommons Course click here. To sign up to receive these Lenten reflections and subsequent blog posts directly to your email account click here or on the link in the upper left sidebar of any page at test.ecofaithrecovery.org. Please feel free to share this post with others and use the comment field below the post your thoughts on this topic. Thanks!

NOTES FOR BREATHERS #4: Sources and System of the Pressures (by Dick Harmon, a lead teacher in our “Ecology of Grace and Justice – Organizing in the Biocommons Course”)

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