I’m not going to start this book off listing all the problems that prove the world is falling apart. You can make your own list. But let’s just agree that there’s a list. And there’s plenty on it. If we got together with our notepads, we could get ourselves good and depressed pretty darn quick. And it would feel like the magnitude of the combined problems are overwhelming. For any one person or even a well designed group of smart, rich, and powerful people, they are overwhelming. I propose that any traditional approach to solving problems will just result in more and increasingly complicated problems. History proves it. If we focus our energy on problems, they get bigger.
This book is about how regular, individual people, without an external force like a boss, mayor, pastor, or president directing them, can collectively (re)generate a healthy group, community, culture, ecosystem, and planet. I am absolutely positive it can be done simply and without endlessly analyzing all the problems and figuring out how to solve them one by one. And I’m not proposing a new idea. There is no new technology needed. No complicated budgets or spending required. No local, state, or federal policies need to be in place before we can start. No restructuring of organizations or institutions. These things may come as a result but they will never be the cause.
All living systems, from the smallest quantum elements all the way up to the biggest multi-universal systems, are self-organizing. Without anyone telling them what to do, they follow a short list of simple rules about how they interact. And it works. We see the results all around us. We can study all these systems and figure out how humans are supposed to interact. When we do, the human system, which is one of the living systems, also works.
Ironically, it’s when humans interfere in other systems that they don’t work. We kill off the wolves in Yellowstone and the whole ecosystem goes wonky. We eat processed food or become sedentary and our bodies (a living system) get diseased and break down. We cut down forests and then dump trash in the ground, the ocean, or the sky and our environment starts to come undone. We are the only known species or element of any living system that ever willfully decides not to follow the simple rules of all living systems. When we do, it just wrecks everything. Including ourselves.
All those incredibly complex interconnected systems organize themselves when the basic elements of the system interact with each other according to their assigned roles. They do what they do because of what they are. They self-coordinate using interactions that generate life instead of death. Generative energy instead of destructive. And no one is in charge. At least not in the way we usually think about it.
We can do this too. Our system, the human one, can follow these same naturally occurring rules. If we do, our system will reorient itself to a healthy condition. And all the systems we’ve interfered with will heal. It’ll take time and work and it’ll be hard to adjust our paradigm. But it will work. I guarantee it. If we be what we are and do it humbly and cooperatively with each other, we can fix this.
If this is the first time you’ve ever seriously considered this, then it starts with me. And then you. Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered something that I think matters most. I’m trying to do it. And now I’m telling you so that we can do it together. Just by interacting with me though these words and pages, we are increasing the healthy interconnectedness of our system. This book is written to the person who is deciding to reorient themselves within the human system to be who they really are, recognize their value, and interact with the other people in their system in a way that works.
KNOTS is how one person can regulate their role in the complex, complicated human system even if its current state is chaos. It gives us our personal framework for interacting with the people and the environment around us in a way that makes the positive difference that is uniquely ours to make. It does this without burdening us with responsibility that is not ours and freeing us to invest ourselves in the ways that we are most suited. And then it spreads.
All the parts of all the other systems follow a very short list of simple rules.
1. They act like themelves - they do what they do because of what they are.
2. They expect the other parts to act like themselves. They interact with the other parts of their system according to what those parts are. They don’t expect them to act like something else.
3. They stay with the group instead of trying to go it alone.
That’s it. Three rules. They are true everywhere we look. Inside of us atoms work together to make a molecule and molecules work together to form cells that work to make tissue, organs, systems of organs, and our bodies. This same sort of interactivity is making soil, bugs, plants, animals, rivers, oceans, mountains, planets, solar systems, and the universe.
Us humans have a unique capacity to not follow the rules and a capacity to get creative with and within the rules. That has both complicated things and unleashed wonderfully creative interactions. But it makes the rules a bit different for us. We are conscious of who we are and aren’t and who we think others are or aren’t and whether we are with the group or not. This can be confusing and for me and most people I know has introduced a complication that I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out. It’s confusing because even though I’m conscious, or maybe more accurately because I’m conscious, I’m still unsure of who exactly I am. I’m unclear about who others are as well. Even the ones I know pretty well.
Later, I want to talk about why this is the case, but for now, let’s just say we need a slightly expanded set of guidelines to help alleviate this complication. That’s what KNOTS does. It’s got the three natural rules integrated into a five part framework that deals with our more impactful experience of consciousness and helps us reorient with each other as an interdependent system rather than a bunch of separate entities.
This framework has a pretty big assumption built into it. I want to talk about it as a sort of disclaimer. Because we are all a part of the human system and because the human system is connected to all the other systems in some way or another, we are required to interact. It’s happening whether we like it or want to or not. We do not have the choice of separating ourselves. Even if we go off the grid, build a cabin out of trees we cut down with a hand saw, hunt and gather for food, and make our clothes out of animal skins, and don’t talk to or see another human for our whole lives. We are still connected and interacting either to our benefit or detriment and for the benefit or detriment of the other humans in the system. It’s just inescapable. You were conceived by humans, you were cared for and influenced by humans, even if very badly and you are both contributing to and taking from the human system and all the other systems that it is connected to.
If we were to use bird murmurations as a model it would look something like this. I’m not a ornithologist so just go along with me here. Birds follow those rules and in their case, this means, I act like a bird because I am one, I (unconsciously) expect all these other flying things to act like birds because they are ones also, and I stay with the bird group. Together, we fly where we can eat, and avoid being eaten. Their particular interpretation is played out by paying attention to a small number of birds who are close by and making sure they don’t bump into each other, they fly in the same direction, and they don’t get separated from the larger group.
Imagine a starling gaining human level consciousness. If it was acting like a (2021 version) human instead of a bird, there would probably be lots of arguing and flipping of birds as we navigated to find other birds we like being by better. Many collisions and much loosing of feathers would occur. Many would just decide they didn’t want to be with the group. They would leave to find other groups. Some, if not most, would be eaten by hawks or starve before they found other groups. Then, they might decide to join a group of chickens. Chickens are dumb enough not to notice and the starling could just give up on flying all together, peck at the ground for food, and live in the coop like a chicken. It would miss out on what’s cool about being a starling and the chickens wouldn’t get much out of the deal either.
That sort of impotent interaction is not too far off for many of us. We are starlings in the chicken coop hanging out and wondering if this is really how it’s supposed to be. KNOTS assumes that every one of us is glorious when we are in the right context. And humans are much more varied than birds so let’s not take the metaphor too far. There are lots of different human groups we might fit into, be very valuable, receive what we need and have a gratifying purpose together. Even if we are different, we are all human.
KNOTS helps us figure out and refine who we are, how we fit, what we need, and why it all matters. You can do this starting immediately with just yourself and then keep interacting with other humans to increase its accuracy. KNOTS does not wear out. It can be used over and over with ever increasingly clarity. And it continues to impact beyond yourself with every exchange. The more people who follow this framework, which has the natural rules embedded in it, the more our human system will start to look and act like a healthy living system.
Here are the five elements of KNOTS. They are in an order but this is an organic, dynamic list that is dependent on relationships. All five elements can be happening simultaneously. I’ll offer a more extended explanation in further chapters.
Know yourself as the character of your story. What do you have to offer, and what do you need?
Notice the other characters in your story. Know their stories. What do they have to offer, and what do they need?
Offer what you have and don’t offer what you don’t have. Stay in character
Take what you need and don’t take what you don’t need. Stay in character
Share the stories of these interactions.
I write about belonging, storytelling, community building, prevention, trauma, resilience, neuroscience, and epigenetics.