Book Review: Who Do We Choose to Be?

Who Do We Choose to Be: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity by Margaret J. Wheatley offers a perspective on how to engage sanely with the destructive dynamics of our time. We do that by facing reality, willingly seeing where we are, and how we got here.

Wheatley seeks to understand the forces that have created this present world that harms most and benefits few. Facing reality can help us discern how to use our influence in service of this time. Both rebirth and death are possible outcomes. We must, however, prepare for disintegration and collapse before we can leap to new ways of being.

Wheatley thinks that people will withdraw further into self-protection, and continue to strike out at those different from themselves. Corrupt leaders will intensify their false promises, and people will subjugate themselves to their control. Solutions are available, but they require conditions that are not available: political courage, global collaboration, and compassion instead of greed.

Wheatley uses two lenses in the book: 1) the pattern of collapse in civilizations, and 2) the science of living systems. Together they provide explanations for where we are, how we got here, and the choices we need to make. We are subject to the dynamics of living systems whether we acknowledge them or not. Living systems use self-organizing based on identity, relationships in networks, and shared meaning to create coherent non-policed actions.

Wheatley’s intention is to bring an understanding so that we can do our work—wherever we are, whatever it is—in partnership with life. The most valuable part of the book are the stories about how to use living systems dynamics in life-affirming ways. The organizations are extremely diverse (from nuns to military), but they are unified in how they work with people. Essential leadership qualities are presence, discernment, and compassion.

It’s a book with a tough message! Instead of rushing to that comfortable place of action, we need to tune in to what’s going on and allow our grief and outrage to be present. It will support the emergence of clarity for where we can offer our best services, whenever opportunities present themselves.

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