I continue to be in awe of the Theory U process and the experiences and reflections brought about by ULab. This is not a lighthearted romp. It’s captured me and many others. Writing is part of the journey so here goes.
Smartly, the course designers set us up with a full week (Week 0) of orientation. Our work centered around setting goals and intentions for the course, connecting with other participants to form a case clinic coaching circle, and creating a shared experience through watching the documentary Fire in the Blood.
A little background…
The beginning of the U process about is breaking out of habitual patterns and seeing a system from others’ perspectives. A “sensing journey” is one tool to facilitate this shift in awareness. You can think of a sensing journey as a field trip designed to open the heart. For ULab, Fire in the Blood was our sensing journey. Film maker Dylan Mohan Gray generously allowed ULab participants free access to the film. Fire in the Blood chronicles the systemic dysfunctions that prevented millions in Africa with AIDS from accessing life saving medications long after the cost of the medications dropped.
Rather than taking notes and gathering facts as I tend to do, in the spirit of ULab, I watched and listened with as open a heart as I could. The two hours I spent watching Fire in the Blood was a journey through the emotional landscape: anger, disbelief, sorrow, hope, aching, compassion, relief.
It reminded me of seeing Roméo Dallaire speak about Shake Hands with the Devil, his account of being the force commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda during the Rwandan genocide. My friend Andrea and I read Dallaire’s book and attended a talk he gave years ago. I was grateful for the ULab discussion boards after watching Fire in the Blood and know Andrea would have cried along with me this time, too.
One of the moments that brought me to tears was when medical staff told how they were forced to decide who would live and die because there was not enough medication for everyone in need. If doctors determined I was the most appropriate person to receive the medication it would mean my family members would die.
Let me say that differently.
For you to live, people you love will die.
It’s unthinkable. Our hearts cannot bear that thought for long. It hurts too much.
Medical staff explain the situation to one man and ask if he will accept the medication. He replies, “I accept with my whole heart.” His face and voice will linger long in my memory. I wonder what happened to him, to his family.
Here’s something beautiful so you can relax after all that. But don’t push that feeling away entirely- it’s instructive.
How do tragedies like this happen? How do these stories go unnoticed and untold? Lots of reasons. It happens because our world is large and complex. It happens because it’s hard to ask questions, to connect, and to find the silence to discover what we know to be right. It happens because it feels like too big a job to create a world that does a better job at producing results more of us want and need. It happens because knowing hurts. We’re “busy”. It’s easy not to know. I didn’t. Not about this story. I might might not have known about Dallaire’s story had I not been living in Canada when the book was released.
The encouraging lesson from Fire in the Blood is that real people were able to make a difference. Some of them are recognizable: U.S. President Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu. More of them are everyday brave people like you and me.
That’s what the Theory U process and the ULab experience is about. It’s about uncovering these divides between how systems operate and what we want to bring about in the world. Sitting with that disconnect and discomfort is part of the deal. Importantly, we don’t stay there. The rest of the process is what we DO with what we learn.
The filmmakers let thousands of ULab participants see Fire in the Blood for free because sharing the story was more important than recovering the costs it took to make. I wholeheartedly (and brokenheartedly) recommend watching Fire in the Blood. You can see the trailer here and can read more about how this story seemed to choose Dylan Mohan Gray here. You can rent the film for the cost of one cup of coffee shop java ($1.75) and buy the film to stream and download anytime for about the cost of a latte and cookie ($8.25).
Watch with an open heart and have your hankie handy. If you have friend to cry with, even better.
We all have experiences that shift our understanding of the world and this was one of mine. What have you learned or experienced that allowed you to see the world in a different way?