LOs and the future LO23726

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 01/06/00

Dear Organlearners,

Lots of love and best wishes for all of you for the future -- a new year,
a new century and a new millenium.

I am back from the deserts of Namibia with rather unusual experiences. One
of them was rain! On all my previous trips it never rained. So I did not
pack a raincoat or a tent as usual. I usually sleep in the open with the
stars as the ceiling and the soft breeze as the air conditioner. But this
year it rained every night! Clouds began to form after three hours of
darkness. Where I live (Pretoria) and most other places in South Africa
the clouds come from somewhere, swept by the wind. But in the desert they
are formed right underneath the stars! Then they spew out there moisture
in feigntest of drizzle, slowly wettening my skin like sweat during the
hot hours of the day. Each time laying there in the open, I wondered how
much I can take before I have to move to the cabin of my truck. And each
time the drizzle steadily increased into a heavy downpour so that I had to
rush for shelter.

At dawn the sky had cleared up again. It is then, after the rain, when the
desert produces its most wonderful sounds. Insects, lizards, frogs, birds,
rats, foxes, baboons and even a leopard or two try to reproduce in sound
their joy for the live giving rain -- songs of life. With a little bit of
imagination one can even hear the succulent plants singing while sucking
up water to last them for many months or even a couple of years if needed.

It often made me think of learning. Learning is to the spirit like rain is
to life in the desert. And like the desert cannot keep quiet after the
rain, the spirit cannot keep quiet after learning. It has to sing out the
joy of learning to all other learners. I listened carefully -- not one
single living entity told another, even of the same species, to shut up
because its chatting is inappropiate, unfitting, bad or false. Yet some
humans consider it as their solemn duty to denounce the learning in others
and all the joyful dialogue which comes with it.

My spirit is deeply troubled about living specimens which have disappeared
since my last visit. The worst is a succulent grape (Vittaceae) species
called Cyphostemma uter. They were plentiful in Damaraland, especially
along the road around the Grootberg ("big mountain") from the Haub Pass,
past Palmwag and up to the Grootberg Pass. When I was there eighteen years
ago with my two sons, I still remember how I urged them to spot the
biggest and smallest specimens -- the prize for the winner each category
being an ice cold soft drink at Outjo's cafe. We then saw hundreds of C
uters. My youngest son Johannes got the prize for spotting (from a moving
vehicle!) the smallest plant -- three inches high at some distance of four
hundred yards.

But now almost all of them have died out. Between the Huab Pass and
Palmwag I could count only nine specimens after a carefull search, using
powerful binoculars. Between Palmwag and the Grootberg Pass I could spot
only one plant where there previously stood a couple of hundred of them.
Even my favourate plant (I called it the "Octopus" because of its shape)
had left only its papery skeleton as a tombstone to show me that I can
still remember where it was growing for the past probably 1500 years. (I
have based my estimate on my experience of growing them from seed under
favourable conditions.)

Yes, not even the enigmatic Kaokoland elephants (adapted to desert
conditions) come to this area anymore. They do not leave footprints
because Damaraland is a rock and not a sand desert. On my previous visits
their massive cylinders of dung were one of the signs telling about their
visits. Another sign was what such an elephant did to a Cyphostemma uter
when trying to eat it for its life giving moisture. Yes, a big C uter had
enough fluid even for a thirsty elephant. But that fluid was no good
because of the oxalic acid and other chemicals in it to protect the plant
from be eaten by thirsty animals. Its sap burns worse than chilli peppers
on number 10 of the hotness scale. So, when the sap starts to burn the
elephant's mouth, it retaliates by pulling with its trunk the plant out
and then trying to hit it into pulp against the rocks. What remains is a
shocking witness to the fury of an elephant.

The reason why C uter as well as several species of various other plant
families die out, is the dramatic changes in the climate. But unlike most
other species, the longlevity of C uter points out that such changes had
not occured since 5000 years ago. It takes at least 5000 years to set up a
well distributed population of specimens of which some can become a
thousand years or older.

Think of the world 5000 years ago. What can we tell about this world?
What do we know of the ancient civilisations in Mesopotamia and Egypt? How
much do we care for information on such cultures gone forever? We brag
about our present cultures which emerged despite the immergences of the
old ones and our ignorance of them. But will we be proud in a hundred
years from now on our present cultures which do so much harm to the planet
earth? How many people will even be able to live a hundred of years from
now? Although the ancient civilisations have immerged, nature was
addaptive enough to sustain the emergence of our present cultures. But
nature now shows clearly that many of its species cannnot adapt any more
to the stress which humankind places on it. Will the species Homo sapiens
be able to adapt itself where so many other species clearly show that they
cannot cope themselves anymore because of the creativity of Homo sapiens?

I became deeply disturbed in the desert by realising that the kind of
Learning Organisations which received attention so far on this list, are
those of which its individual members consist of humans and no other
living species. The particular ecosystem in which each of us lives, is the
most encompassing Learning Organisation which involves other living
species besides humans. But what about lesser LOs involving fewer species?
Do we have an open eye for them?

Let me describe an example of what I mean. It involves three species --
the Damara people (an enigmatic black tribe of Hamitic rather than the
usual Banthu features), ordinary dogs of no pedigree and the domesticated
African goat, also of no pedigree.

My friend and I was sitting near the summit of the Huab Pass. My truck had
a flat tyre and the spare tyre was also flat by then. I have repaired
them, but before I could inflate the first one suffiently the air pump
gave its last notice. So we had to wait upon a traveler like us to lend us
a pump. I was well prepared for a wait up to seven days if necessary.

After two hours of waiting, I heard a herd of goats approaching the
summit. Since such a herd is usually guarded by a Damara, my hopes grew
because he would be able to direct me to the nearest owner of an air pump.
When the herd came over the summit, to my surpise it was not guarded by a
Damara, but by a dog. This dog immediately took in position between us the
the herd, forcing them to leave the road onto the steep slopes downwards.
I could hear the dog growling while ushering the goats down the
uncomfortable slopes. He followed them, ushering them further away from
us as fast as possible. Only some two kilomoters beyond us was he
satisfied that the distance was great enough to let them browse safely.

That dog handled the herd of obstinate goats far better than what any
trained border collie would do with a herd of dumb sheep. But who trained
this dog to such a perfect level of expertise? Several days later, after
much unsuccessful questioning in the Damaraland region (in the north of
Namibia) my friend Lourens Cornelison in the Namgorab region (in the
south) gave me the answer. Just like me he became intrigued many years ago
with this phenomenon. But the Damara people did not easily part with their
secret. Eventually, after a big favour, someone told him how they do it.

There is no training involved -- only the intimacy of life. When a bitch
gets puppies, after a week the Damara takes after the strongest puppy and
puts it into a pen together with a lactating goat. From that day the puppy
will drink only the goat's milk. As soon as it is able to walk, it has to
go with the goats. The young dog does not get any food in the morning, but
only water together with the goats. The rest of the day the dog has to
care for itself and the goats. It has to hunt its own food like insects,
rats, snakes and birds. Only in the afternoon, after having arrived safely
back with the goats, will it be fed specifically by the Damara owner as a
reward for its dilligence.

One would think that such a dog would eventually behave like a goat
because of living so closely with the goats. But this dog becomes more of
a caring dog than any of its counterparts living in the cities. I began to
realise just why the first humans domesticated the wild dog (Canis
familiaris) in the first place. I observed these very qualities that day
in the Huab Pass .

(By the way, we were helped to the great relief of my friend with an air
pump another few hours later by a convoy of fishermen on their way to
Torra Bay on the Skeleton Coast. The Skeleton Coast got its name because
of the many sailors and passengers of shripwrecks perishing in this
stretch of coastal plain of only sand and nothing else.)

I am convinced more than ever that a Learning Organisation cannot emerge
without a clear purpose of what that organisation has to accomplish in
future. We try to explicate that purpose by lofty terms such as mission
and vision. But despite all these articulations, if all the members are
not commited to succeed in this singular purpose, the LO will not emerge.
Not only is this commitment to success essential in the purpose, but also
the element of caring in all respects. In other words, even if an
organisation manage to be sucessful in its purpose through the dilligent
learning of every member, the organisation cannot emerge into a LO when
its purpose is focused on anything else than caring. I mean that it may be
a perfect organisation of learners doing exactly what they planned to do,
but it is a failure as a Learning Organisation.

We have left a year, a century and a millenium behind in which caring for
other living beings seldom figured. In fact, what was more distinguishing
about these periods than an opportunistic caring for the self? The
spirituality of humankind suffered greater droughts during these period.
As a result humankind struggled in vain for freedom by not distinguishing
beween success and caring. What value is there in being free to succeed in
anything we plan, but otherwise failing in caring?

We are now at the beginning of a new year, a new century and a new
millenium. We have may planned for many things. We may be confident about
what the future will hold for us. We may even succeed through sheer
perseverance in our plans. But without caring for one another and living
in harmony with the rest of nature, all of it will be nothing compared to
soaking rain in the desert. The rain which our spirituality needs is the
caring for one another -- that activity which distinguishes a Learning
Organisation from any other kind of organisation. So, when we plan
anything for the future, even a Learning Orgnisation, let this caring in
all respects be the focus point of our minds.

Remember, in the desert the clouds are not swept by the wind from another
place. They form in the dark sky right above, shedding their life saving
rain and then dissolves again to prepare for the clear dawn of a new day.
If you want your organisation to become a LO, it has to become so by
itself rather waiting for a LO state of mind to be blown from somewhere
else over it.

With caring and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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