Study Circle - 21st Century Enlightenment

We are continuing our study circle on “A New Age of Enlightenment or Darkness” and the next one will take place on Aiugust 7th.  This is a continuation of what started as a House Meeting earlier in the year and because of interest has now turned into a study circle.


Kathryn Best will facilitate this Study Circle and is a writer, speaker, educator and consultant in design and the creative industries, and the author of 2 books on Design Management. Her new book on design and systemic change is due out in 2013.

We will continue to explore what does it mean to be an enlightened citizen in the present age, and are we indeed entering a new age of enlightenment or one of darkness.

There is a need for a new enlightened model for how we can create/recreate our future, but will it come from the top or the bottom of our current power structures, or is a combination of both necessary for success?

The first house meeting agreed on the importance of shared meaning, on the need for more conversation (and less TV), more curiosity and imagination (and less fear and rigid thinking), more pleasure generated from accomplishing things and less reliance on our addictions and distractions - technology or otherwise. Enlightenment is a choice we all make as individuals, as communities and as a global society.

This study circle will take the discussion forward,  question the status quo and inspire debate around theoretical and practical alternatives. How can we integrate both existing and better ways of living? What new frameworks can we create for a healthier concept of society and politics? And how can we use these to bring our systems back into balance - and align them with the right to prosperity and peace for all?

Kathryn also hopes to discuss the further development of this study circle and how the theme might be developed.

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  • Kathryn B.

    Thanks for all the comments, there's lots of food for thought here about the actual discussion format.
    Here is the link that was broken - regarding the 12 year old Egyptian. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uTpncr8knk

    August 16, 2013

  • Kathryn B.

    A few links from last nights discussions

    Millennials
    http://mashable.com/category/millennials/

    Beauty, Truth, Goodness (Plato)
    http://www.integralworld.net/mcintosh4.html

    Egyptian boy's view on the future of Egypt
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tZzp72Is3Yw

    People's Public Trust
    http://peoplespublictrust.com/

    Inequality in America
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JTj9AcwkaKM

    Latest Avaaz campaign
    http://www.avaaz.org/en/syria_ceasefire_now_sam1/?bYBtqbb&v=27805

    1 · August 8, 2013

    • Ed

      Interesting links. The Egyptian one dead. looking at "Inequality in America". I was a simple Managing Director, capable of running an average company (or division of a larger company) averagely well. And through this I have met some titans. The first was Sir Bob Reid. I met him when he was running Royal/Dutch Shell in 1988. I needed a few million to buy a company to grow my division. I needed his sign-off. My business was a pimple on the backside of a world class company and yet... he asked astonishingly perceptive questions specific to my business, and revealed to me an intellect I recognised as exceeding my own in multiples. Was he worth his money? You bet, and there are a few of his sort of calibre around whose skills justify their cost for the difference they make. And some who get the funds who aren't worth it - mentioning no Goodwin names! The point is.... there are a few people who really are outstanding. And worth their money.

      August 9, 2013

  • Nick S.

    For me, the "dark" side of the enlightenment is an over-reliance on reason - it was- after all, a very new way of looking at the world in the latter part of the 17th century, and a very seductive one at that. It is an excellent way forward, but it can lead us down some very dark roads, and cause us to discount our emotional side and all that goes with it: empathy, kindness, compassion, connection. I like the metaphor of a human being as an elephant with a mahout on top: the elephant - our emotions, our instincts - can be guided by the mahout - our rational side -, and often the mahout will seem to be in control. But the elephant is way stronger, and when it rises up, the mahout is powerless. My own feeling, Ed, is that the point of the meeting is precisely to explore what enlightenment might mean now. Are you not describing the aim of the meeting, rather than its starting point?

    1 · August 9, 2013

    • Ed

      Interesting comment... Or comments actually, linking with your prior point. I think there is a general consensus that "enlightenment"­ is a Good Thing even if we seem somewhat confused (in my case) or split (seemingly in others) over what enlightenment might actually be. Personally... I am all for the application of reason to all we do, not least of which because we might use reason (or logic) to determine that the "softer" elements you describe (empathy, kindness, compassion, connection) have a value that is worth pursuing.

      August 9, 2013

  • Eamon W.

    Thank you for inviting me Kathryn. I guess my politics was of a different hue than the majority of the attendees. Nevertheless. a number of people contributed thoughtful, reasoned ideas and opinions (surely the definition of being enlightened?). I think it would have been a more enlightening experience for me had there been better balance in the political views. I was disappointed to hear a psychologist defend bullying as a 'lifestyle choice'. This is a tactic used by a small proportion of the more extreme left (I refer both to defending the unreasonable and employing bullying tactics while doing so. Congratulations to you on your moderating skills.

    1 · August 9, 2013

  • Ed

    Part 4! (We get there in the end!)

    *Outstanding in this respect is China. I first went there in 1983, the second year I think that it opened to Westerners. And the adoption of capitalist principles there has brought staggering benefits for all, unevenly undoubtedly and overseen by a communist regime that we would probably see as having severe limitations in areas such as human rights - and maybe profoundly unenlightened! And there is pollution and other problems too. But ask anyone if they want to go back to Mao's China, and the answer is a resounding NO!

    August 9, 2013

  • Ed

    Part 3!

    What everybody has in the UK is a range of choices and opportunities that we sometimes take for granted - starting with the right to vote and/or protest by other means, free speech etc. And almost everybody has options about how they live, and whether or not to improve their lot. The sole limitations to this for some (sadly) being health issues, and old age. I have a number of the former myself that makes your assumption of "state of comfort" something I look at wryly, whilst wondering how that judgment call was made. And I am acquiring old age faster than I might wish!

    August 9, 2013

  • Ed

    Part 2. Having seen some of these countries multiple times over four decades of adult travel, I have observed that there is a common route to improvement too, and that is the adoption of capitalist principles.* Ultimately this drives up GDP, and that enables all to benefit - unequally perhaps and not immediately, but all nonetheless, eventually. So we DO NOT have poverty in the UK. What we do have is a range of social and other problems, but we should not confuse the two. In my opinion!

    August 9, 2013

  • Ed

    Comment in two parts to overcome size limitation!

    Part 1. Dear B., No cheap digs intended in any direction, more quiet contemplation. And yes there is plenty (too much!) poverty, famine and suffering about, but not in any real sense, for the first two at least, in the UK. The Government defines poverty as a lower percentage of income groups, which means that poverty as defined will never disappear, simply become more affluent! If we look at the standards of living of our poorest citizens and compare their lot with the REAL poverty I have seen in parts of Africa (Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mozambique), Brazil, Peru (notably in the Amazon Basin), Colombia, India, China, Nepal etc. then a different perspective arises. Having visited c.60 countries, rich and poor, I have concluded that life at the margin for the poorest has a series of remarkably similar characteristics wherever found.

    August 9, 2013

  • Ed

    Wandered a bit - needed more focus. Kathryn did avoid a fight though - quite interesting for a moment, though not in the right way! Concluding a point with "end of" is not "enlightened" so much as aggressive. Better to make a point as "there is evidence to suggest that" or "My belief is". Start point should probably be a better understanding or definition of what, in the modern day context for this group, "Enlightenment" means. To me, it is gaining of knowledge with a view to improving society, how this can be "dark" as per the preamble to the meeting is not clear to me, for the moment. And I am very open to anyone else's thoughts about this! Enjoyed the post-event chat too - perhaps more than the event itself.... Still, it all comes as a package!

    August 9, 2013

  • Nick S.

    On the whole I liked that the meetup was unstructured. The downside was that it wasn't always clear what we were talking about, but the upside was that I heard some unexpected opinions.

    When we have another (I would like another), can we structure it a teensy bit? Perhaps around some reading that could be circulated in advance, and perhaps a short presentation on/about the reading at the outset?

    Rather than linking the discussion to the eighteenth century enlightenment, could we perhaps tie it to what being enlightened means now? What characteristics would an enlightened person have? How will I know when I'm enlightened? I'm not sure what reading might fit this, but we could poke around ...

    Thank you Kathryn for your work.

    1 · August 8, 2013

  • Mika

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for your comments. I also liked your suggestions for future meetings. On the subject of 'what is an enlightened society?', I think it is one which uses the knowledge/tools/technology at its disposal to create maximum common good and happiness or which devises new ones if the existing ones are not adequate.

    1 · August 8, 2013

  • Kathryn B.

    Many thanks for coming along last night, and for the ideas on how to take the study circle forward in terms of focus, process and taking conversations to a deeper level. Keep the ideas coming in! For next time, expect to go with a current topic (from the news, sent out in advance) to frame discussions on taking an enlightened approach, and i'll use a 'process' to keep the discussion loosely on track. This selected topic can potentially be looked at through the filter of education, politics etc. or more holistically/systemically. In the meantime here are some links referenced last night. Please feel free to add more, for example, the ref to Karen Armstrong, Beatrix Cantrell, Sri Lanka...

    1 · August 8, 2013

  • dave p.

    Thanks Kathryn a again a very enjoyable evening once again a wide ranging conversation, with snippets and threads of wisdom and revelation. My preference would be for more focussed discussion, to go into depth in a chosen area. This however requires more commitment and discipline than a simple sharing of opinions. IMHO the group would need a general agreement to stick to the topic to listen deeply, to bring insight or new knowledge or to not 'already' know the answers and be committed to be receptive and responsive.These agreements as suggested potentially could yield a significantly more rewarding discussion.

    1 · August 8, 2013

  • Mika

    Hi Kathryn,

    Thanks for an interesting discussion. I've had a couple of thoughts about future meetings. I wonder if they could be structured around particular aspects of an enlightened society, such as education, political system, religion, relationships, etc. In other words, what kind of education, political system and the rest do we need to manifest a truly enlightened society? Members could choose which theme to discuss (maybe by voting online). If we adopt this format, the meetings would be more structured but there would still be lots of discussion and debate as it's likely people will have different views on the subjects chosen for discussion. Just a thought. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

    3 · August 8, 2013

  • Catherine

    Kathryn et al - feeling a bit sheepish for leaving early. The discussion seemed a bit "adrift" to me but if I had read Kathryn's explanation of "study group" vs. a more structured discussion, I might have been more inclined to "go with the flow". May come back and try again now that I understand the process.

    1 · August 8, 2013

  • Phil S.

    You've summed up the complex discussion so succinctly Thelma!

    The essence of this group is so difficult to define and perhaps therein lies the juice. I struggle with the nebulousness of it a little and have a strong tendency to seek solutions so from a purely personal point of view I find it quite therapeutic to be in a space where multiple conflicting views are allowed to bubble and simmer.

    It's a group with multifaceted ideas and I really like the idea of focussing on one facet for the evening but wonder if we will be able to first agree on one and then whether we'll be able to stick to it. Definitely worth attempting though.

    Also be good to have some semantic agreement to start the next evening methinks. When is the next evening by the way?

    1 · August 8, 2013

  • Thelma

    I was running late and it is always difficult without initial summary to follow or comment. However there were some interesting points. Looking at the few words I jutted down such as 'truth, good and beauty' re Enlightenment, the question for me is who defines and oppositional to what? Power and its levers is one aspect that in future would be worth deeper examination in tandem with the development of culture. On the whole we seem to be idealists wanting and looking to create a Utopian world, with some, advocating 'mass movements' (nostalgia perhaps) with the usual attack on Politicians. From other contributions it is heartening to perhaps realise that we are going through mass enlightenment, but not as we know it Jim! The wanting of a UNIFIED peaceful world - tickles my very limited understanding of the universal laws. Long live hegemony!

    1 · August 8, 2013

  • terence f.

    an exciting gathering with a wide range of views and often veering off topic. We were left with any agreed concept of Enlightenment today.

    1 · August 7, 2013

  • Peter B L.

    First meeting. Coming on Catherine's recommendation

    August 7, 2013

  • Keirs K.

    Hi. If I don't make it apologies as another task today may mean I cannot get to you in time available! Maybe slowing down is one of the aspects of an enlightened life. Time to BE - we are after all human beings - less doings??

    August 7, 2013

    • John Jacob L.

      As you probably know Keirs, Socrates said that " -- the unconsidered life is not worth living". A little harsh thinks I; but we should all try to make time for some deeper thinking. We tend to be over-talking each other in most of our daily lives. Babel?

      August 7, 2013

    • Kathryn B.

      Hello Kiers hope you can make it, it would be great to have you there.

      August 7, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    sorry, can no longer make this

    August 6, 2013

  • Keirs K.

    Hoping to get to this meeting. I am now retired from engineering/technology academic world - Open University, where I tried to open out the standard engineering curriculum to encompass creativity/design/innovation/etc. When not being passionate about this network I rave about bodies like NESTA and RSA (Fellow of latter for my sins!). For those who have ears to hear there are so many strands for change that keep appearing. In essence the present systems are broke - wherever you look whether it be politics, economic, environment etc etc.
    Kathryn managed to view the video that was taken at some European conference you attended. Good stuff!

    1 · August 6, 2013

  • Thelma

    Did I miss some meetings? Good to be going.

    July 30, 2013

    • Kathryn B.

      Looking forward to seeing you again Thelma!

      August 5, 2013

    • Thelma

      I look/ed forwards... I know it will be interesting and it will be good to see you and the others.

      August 6, 2013

  • Anja B.

    Sounds interesting, but have promised to be elsewhere...

    August 5, 2013

  • Mike R.

    Sorry, I will be out of town after all

    August 5, 2013

  • Prathap

    can't make it this time :(

    1 · August 5, 2013

  • George W.

    Sorry I can't attend this time, but the subject and approach sounds really interesting. I'm sure there will be time for me to catch up with the New Enlightenment.

    1 · August 5, 2013

  • John Jacob L.

    Maybe it's me but it still sounds wishy-washy. In order to "discuss" one needs a question/ proposition. What is it? Perhaps it is "Do we need a 21st C. Enlightenment? Perhaps it is "What would be the characteristics/ objectives of such an Enlightenment? Perhaps it is both of these. Am I getting close? Without some framework, I suggest that this is likely to become a forum for an assortment of views on an assortment of issues.

    1 · July 12, 2013

    • Kathryn B.

      Hello John, if you'd like to come along, feel free to propose, do we need a C21st Enlightenment at all? Or I'll take this as a starting point. And yes it will be a forum for an assortment of views on an assortment of issues. That is the point, and the paradox. Enlightenment is personal, and I suppose in a way this is a collective forum for some of that process.

      August 5, 2013

  • Christina M.

    So sorry, but am now away on this date.

    1 · July 16, 2013

    • Kathryn B.

      next time, thanks for your message.

      1 · August 5, 2013

  • Kathryn B.

    Hello Andrew, John, I suppose to clarify, this isnt a meeting, its a 'study circle' (using GN2's terminology), so its about discussion rather than conclusive answers, process rather than outcome. There are notes available from previous meetings on the online archive of GN21. You will find it either stimulating (if you want to go away and take ideas forward yourself) or frustrating (if you are looking for this to provide a firm answer about enlightenment, which is inevitably very personal to each individual).
    As an aside, the RSA is leading a very big initiative on C21st enlightenment if by chance you are looking for something more formal and structured. Although I am a Fellow, this study circle is not directly connected in any way - its more exploratory. Hope this helps.

    1 · July 12, 2013

  • John Jacob L.

    Andrew's question is a good one. Your 'enlightenment' may well be very different from mine. Enlightenment may well have different facets which need to be considered individually; religious, political, economic, social etc. Once broken down in this way we may well find the same old issues that still divide us; faith/ humanism, capitalism/socialism, achieving equality of opportunity? etc. Which simply brings us back to where we started (?). What is different about the approach of this group?

    1 · July 12, 2013

  • Andrew K.

    But I really need to know more about this meeting. Is there a report on what has been concluded so far? What do you mean by Enlightenment?

    1 · July 12, 2013

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