March For Our Why’s

The kids are going to be alright.

The March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C. along with some 800 sister rallies took place this weekend. It hasn’t been long since the February 14 Parkland, Florida School shooting, yet we’ve already seen a community develop with a (mostly) codified message of “Never Again.” We even have emergent leadership from the likes of high school senior Emma Gonzalez.

On “The Daily” (NYT podcast, this morning 3/26/18) they covered some kids from Chicago getting involved with some of the kids from Parkland, Florida. There’s already been several pieces written on this topic, but considering the murder rate in Chicago’s South Side is 2x the city’s average and 10x the national average, you might expect that there’s some “what about us?” tension. While there certainly are questions (as there should be), “The Daily” makes clear that the Parkland tragedy has created a megaphone which Chicago kids are eager to join them behind.

Whether or not we see gun laws change is yet to be seen, but we have seen a true movement spring up – which will always get my attention. I do believe there’s another equally important through line here too: organizational metacognition. Don’t get hung up on the big words, it basically means how a group of people think about thinking, and more importantly, learn collectively. Like #MeToo, the dynamism of this campaign has been impressive. As new people join the movement, the nuance increases.

For an individual, anytime you think about a problem, take some new information, and play around with possible solutions – that’s metacognition. “I think, therefore I am,” is also a classic example (shout out Descartes).  For a group, the same logic applies, just with a lot of additional complexity, because “we think, therefore we are,” is a touch crazy sounding.

Consider: were the Parkland kids thinking about Chicago prior to the shooting? Were the Chicago kids thinking about Parkland? Probably not. But they are now. AND, they’re considering how to take the common ground, and draw on logic from each other’s problems to propose solutions. That’s the best of group learning – where there is progress that draws on both population expansion and opinion deepening (they keep asking “why” – nuance matters).

I may be inventing a word here, but now also consider: organizational anti-metacognition. Frequently, especially once we draw politics into the equation, the group can find it easier to shut down and stop thinking about thinking. The group clings to “facts” or “beliefs” and locks up. Pure tribalism takes over. The organization ceases to make progress, which sometimes can still draw expansion (more people join the ranks), but only entrenches their viewpoints (they stop asking “why” – there’s no room for nuance).

I don’t know if the kids (or the adults!) are going to get the laws changed, and I don’t know if the “ideal” will get in the way of some good-sense “ideas.” I don’t know if the nuance will be crowded out. We’ll just have to see. Either way, seeing the rallying cry, seeing the ethic and socio-economic lines being trampled in the interest of making the world think about what to do with this situation, it makes me know that not just the kids, but all of us, are going to be alright. We just have to keep asking “why?”

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