12.1 - A Socratic Inquiry

What I love about this weeks assignment is the gift of exploring a new name for a practice that so heavily influences my life as a designer, artist, and educator - the process of socratic inquiry. 

I do this so often with my life that I barely take notice of it anymore, the very act of asking the question as a collective being so second-nature that it feels like breathing. I embodied the Devil's advocate growing up, consistently nettling my professors, challenging the incumbent systems. To this day, this is the only way that I learn and grow as a creative professional - playful debates with my peers regarding the nature of existence, and the limiting beliefs that tie us to our why. 

Currently, my practice revolves around investigations regarding collective beliefs and the nature of consciousness, the contemporary condition regarding our relationship with technology, and contextualized identity. I look at the use of technology to understand history, and seek to explore what the role of religion, ritual, and heritage have to play in modern day society.

Occasionally when I'm applying for funding for these investigations, the socratic method informs the work that I create, and the dialogues I explore, with my fellow creators. I'm blessed to be surrounded by design-thinking and artistic folks that create spaces where these things can be discussed. Currently, the big question I'm asking is "What does enlightenment look like?"

I gathered a group of my peers and fellow creative beings together for one such debate to talk about an application for a grant I was pursuing, and started with a primer on collective versus individual. The discussion then went on an exploration on swarm behaviors, emergent and parametric design, computational design, and big data. We debated on the fruitfulness of battling bots and social media contexts within the political sphere, and lamented at a lack of understanding of our behavior as a systemic map. We talked about narcissism and how it inherently required the mirror and the self to understand itself, but inherently lacked an ability to showcase the awe inspiring behaviors that may be inherent in humanity as a whole. And, finally, the discussion landed on the collective, on consciousness, on collaboration, and empathy as a necessary tool for understanding oneself as a part of a collective. There were moments of questioning - namely, why we could never understand ourselves so distinctly because we were part of the problem. There were debates on feasibility - big data, because it is intrinsically human, cannot surpass human behaviors and limitations. Then there was a bigger discussion regarding limitations - are we even aware of what those things could be? Is it life-giving to pass them? and what are we to learn? 

The socratic inquiry session collapsed into some humor and jokes at the expense of each other, but as a facilitator I noticed a couple things. One, that we held each other accountable to a higher pursuit of knowledge and flexility - the debate always got heated when we started to talk about the human condition but never did it get to a point where we were yelling at each other. The group, as a whole was listening intently, and never really with an intent to respond. I found the energy in the room feeling a lot like it would were it a team sport - a fun bit of push and play, and an accountability, a camaraderie. Conflict was encouraged, opinions were shared and morphed. The openness in the dialogue was prerequisite to respect for all parties. And we all went away feeling refreshed and inspired. 

Again, this is one snapshot of a practice I instill in my daily life. My own artistic practice does not thrive if I do not have regular encounters with my friends like this on a regular basis. We spend hours debating and asking questions - and in some cases its more exciting to leave with more questions than when we started, if not for the simple fact that it instills more of an openness to the world than when we left it. In my creative leadership journey, I find that I need to be more aware of when I use it and foster it when I can in arenas where it may not be the first instinct for people to share what is on their mind. Indeed, when there is no real space and safety to do so, the debate does not grow into a dialogue that tackles such things as transcending narcissism, the nature of empathy, and how one could create art that moves millions. 

I'm grateful to know these fellow creatives, and hope to harness this resource as I continue to move through my leadership journey.