• Michael Cann

Building Matrix and Becoming Adult

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

When we set out to become effective counter-polarisers, there's a common list of things people try to do.

Build understanding. Build compassion. Build knowledge. Build better economies. Build the skills of rationality and reason. Build better incentive structures... The list is long.

All of these ideas have merit. But I want to start our conversation in a different place - a place that might seem strange. I want to suggest we build matrix.

Although the word may be unfamiliar, chances are you already know what it's like to 'build matrix'.

When you look back on your earlier life, you might have caught yourself thinking 'I wish I knew then what I know now'.

You know what it is like to have lived and learned. You know what it is like to have become more competent and more capable than you used to be. You know what it is like to develop perspective and wisdom over time.

This is what I call 'matrix building'.

At first, it may seem like a nebulous idea.

But imagine the world 5 years from now. Imagine yourself looking back on yourself today, and thinking 'gosh I wish I had this perspective back then, I would have been so much better able to build the things that were important'.

Sometimes, when we look back on the past, we regret our past decisions. We took the wrong job, stayed in the wrong relationship, lived in the wrong area, behaved badly in conversation, got involved in the wrong crowd... We have lots of ways of making decisions we later call 'mistakes'.

But it would be fairer and more accurate to say that, in retrospect, we see real possibilities for action that didn't seem real previously because we didn't have the necessary matrix.

The growth of matrix is the ability to see new possibilities and act on them. It is the growth of matrix that gives the benefit of hindsight. Without a growth in perceived possibility, hindsight is merely a memory.

If we want to find new possibilities for our collective future now, and not only in hindsight, we need to build this strange trait I call 'matrix' deliberately, and fast.

Matrix is not a skill. It is not a way to do anything in particular. It is the continuously available field of a person's perceived possibilities.

For example, being someone who can play the piano is not the same thing as playing the piano.

You could take a professional concert pianist and put them in a meditation retreat without a piano for the rest of their life and they would still, in a meaningful sense, be a concert pianist.

Their way of listening to music, their way of using their hands, their imagination, their daydreams, their sense of discipline, their attention to detail and, yes, their ability to read music and play the piano - it would be hard to find any part of their sense of possibility that had not been shaped profoundly and permanently by their years of dedication to learning their instrument.

Matrix is a question of who you have become, not what you do.

Matrix is the evolving capability, wisdom and maturity of the player.

If you wanted to become an elite musician, you would quickly outgrow teachers who were merely technicians. You would want to find teachers who had pursued possibilities as intensely as you had, and for longer. They are the people who can show you your path to growth because they have built a deep matrix.

Our present historical circumstances call for an elite force of cultural innovators.

With the exponentially accelerating increase in technological capability, human decisions have greater and greater impact. Without a proportional increase to wisdom, coherence and care, the consequences of our increased power can only be disastrous.

And yet now, at the very time when we most need coherence, all signs are that communities and institutions are falling apart.

Where do we find the teachers we need at this crucial time?

If you wanted to play a piano concerto, you would be able to identify your teachers pretty easily. You would find centuries of un-broken expertise preserved in institutions around the world.

But where are our cultural institutions with centuries of expertise in how to train adults to have adult conversations with people who are different?

Where do we learn how to discern the possibilities that lie outside the narrow terms of polarised debates?

How do we deal with the fact that the world faces unprecedented challenges, the likes of which have never been solved by humans before?

Our interpersonal matrix is normally left to develop haphazardly, and slowly. We often live to regret the lessons we didn't learn years after they would have helped us most.

We need something radically different, radically grounded, and radically effective to meet the challenges of our times.

Each of us needs to develop a new field of real possibilities - a new matrix - from which to engage in our communities.

Political Centering is a rapid learning environment for building this new matrix. Join me in this adventure.

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©2020 by Michael Cann.