–by adrienne maree brown (March 1, 2019)
A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.
How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. The patterns of the universe repeat at scale. There is a structural echo that suggests two things: one, that there are shapes and patterns fundamental to our universe, and two, that what we practice at a small scale can reverberate to the largest scale. […]
These patterns emerge at the local, regional, state, and global level—basically wherever two or more social change agents are gathered. There’s so much awareness around it, and some beautiful work happening to shift organizational cultures. And this may be the most important element to understand—that what we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.
Grace Lee Boggs articulated it in what might be the most-used quote of my life: “Transform yourself to transform the world.” This doesn’t mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the Planet. […]
In 2012 I took a sabbatical, and I realized that I wasn’t upholding my end of the sacred bargain: My life is a miracle that cannot be recreated. I can never get these hours, weeks, years back. In a fractal conception, I am a cell-sized unit of the human organism, and I have to use my life to leverage a shift in the system by how I am, as much as with the things I do. This means actually being in my life, and it means bringing my values into my daily decision making. Each day should be lived on purpose.
This has meant increasing my intentionality about being with others. Adapting to the changes of life, yes, but with a clear and transparent intention to keep deepening with my loved ones and transforming together. It has meant getting in touch with my body and feelings in real time, and learning to express them. I am learning to engage in generative conflict, to say no, to feel my limits, taking time to feel my heartache when it comes—from living in the part of the Planet we call the U.S., from interpersonal trauma or grief, from movement losses. It has meant learning to work collaboratively, which goes against my inner “specialness.” […]
I am beginning to revel in the increased capacity that comes from working with and trusting others. I sleep, I center, I travel, I share. I have offered more room in my life to love, family, creating. Each day I feel more authentic, and more capable. I don’t experience failure much these days; I experience growth.
I have increased my practices of collaboration and storytelling as ways to share analysis, engaging and facilitating deep small transformations that pick up and echo each other towards a tipping point, organizing based in love and care rather than burnout and competition.
At a collective level, this is the invitation to practice the world we wish to see in the current landscape. Yes, resist the onslaught of oppression, but measure our success not just by what we stop, but by how many of us feel, and can say:
“I am living a life I don’t regret
A life that will resonate with my ancestors,
and with as many generations forward as I can imagine.
I am attending to the crises of my time with my best self,
I am of communities that are doing our collective best
to honor our ancestors and all humans to come.”
It’s lifework, with benefits. I regularly check in with my vision for our collective future and make adjustments on how I am living, what I am practicing, to be aligned with that future, to make it more possible.
As Albert Camus said: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
–adrienne maree brown, excerpt from “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.” [Photograph by Ramnath Chandrasekhar]
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Thank you for beautiful, thoughtful and inspiring article.
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