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Stack the Russian Nesting Dolls

“like the picture on the Quaker Oats box
that shows a figure hold up a box
upon which is a picture of a figure
holding up a box
and the figure smaller and smaller
and further away each time
a picture of shrinking reality itself….” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti)
Matryoshka dolls, or Russian nesting dolls as they are commonly called, consist of a seemingly endless series of wooden figures which can be pulled apart to reveal another figure with some resemblance or common motif inside. If we think of our Self as a Russian nesting doll, a discrete and complete unit, that is part of a larger system, we begin to frame our own life in the context of the lives of others. We can be in alignment with those forces and communities around us and fit in, take the path of least resistance, or we may endorse the diversity of our singularity and help produce the conflict that changes the dominant order – Viva la différence! In either case, our actions are aided or thwarted by anyone who has the agency to affect our life leaving us with the feeling that the winds of luck are at our back or blowing trouble our way. We cannot change the direction or force of the wind, and we may choose to stay our course no matter how problematic or alter how we navigate the situation.
Our personal growth is both aided and exasperated by three interrelated levels of wholeness that are perpetually interacting within us, around us and beyond us:

  1. Universal wholeness: It, Thou, how the world, universe and, if we believe, God moves towards completeness
  2. Communal wholeness: We, us as a group, how organizations, communities and cultures move towards completeness
  3. Individual wholeness: I, you as an individual, how the individual moves towards completeness

Each of these levels represents a plane in which growth occurs. Within each level there are a number of competing forces that drive growth each pushing and pulling towards a desired state. These evolutionary and revolutionary forces work against and in concert with each other to create new and hybrid forms from anthropology to zoology. We function as both whole and part of a larger system that operates within the context of our communities and world at large. We are both the movers and the moved.
The level of Universal wholeness is observed in the dynamics created by large and complex forces we give names to such as Nature, Technology and Society. These forces are characterized as the “IT” level of growth. As part of their growth process, these macro forces place demands on our communities conform with or fight against. We see them as animate because their dynamic nature gives them qualities we recognize as human-like. The growth dynamics of this level are so amplified that the outcomes they induce, such as the relative wealth or poverty of nations, are easily observed but difficult to pinpoint their origin. The multivariate uncertainty that is the hallmark of this level attracts wide speculation from economics to chaos theory to theology that forces us to reconsider our most basic assumptions of how and why the world works or doesn’t.
The next level of the Russian nesting dolls is that of Communal wholeness is where we begin to see the recognizable trappings of culture and society: Businesses, schools, municipalities, churches, sports organizations, etc. This is the interactive “WE” level of growth. We both value and identify with these constellations of formal and informal entities not only because they reflect our beliefs, desires and values, but also provide us some understanding and shelter from the macro forces of the “IT” level. More importantly, it is through these communities that we are given our direct opportunities to harness and benefit from their growth. As a family prospers as a unit so do the individual members. It’s at this level that we establish patterns, ideologies and philosophies, for what is valuable, good and true.
The final level of the Russian nesting dolls is that of the Individual wholeness where we grow towards completeness. This is the level of “I” of growth. This level can be seen in our individual values and abilities and is manifest in our skills and behaviors. Our experience and personal history, cultural identity and personal values, emotional and cognitive intelligence, as well as physical and mental health define this level for us.  At this level, we confront what holds meaning and value for us and construct from it a world view that gives our life perspective. We experience our lives subjectively on this level. That is, we see our world in the very personal context of that which moves or inhibits our growth.
The three levels influence one another.  For example, markets are manifestations Universal wholeness. They drive companies to adjust their practices, forms of Communal wholeness which in turn require us to act differently, Individual wholeness. Each level has some form of influence that extends beyond its own boundaries and into one or both of the other levels. These levels are not always or easily aligned, and alignment itself may be over rated. The world abounds in diversity pulling and pushing its way with ever greater acuity. The real challenge is to know where we stand – our kinetic place in the emerging order.
The relative power and agency that we ascribe to one level over another not only influences but largely anticipates our view of how the world operates. Are we the product of nature or nurture? Is our world shaped by the emergence of the Nietzschean superman who commands and bends it through transformative acts of will and imagination or are we merely players on Shakespeare’s fleeting stage? Our answers reveal our truth about what we believe to be the causes of growth and the effects they produce. They posit if we are to be seen as subjects where Man is the measure of all things or objects where he is cast adrift in the odyssey of life by deity or destiny. In the Russian Nesting doll world view, these levels are symbiotic, interdependent, for there are always other dolls above us, around us and below us and their constant shift changes the flow and trajectory of our lives. The trick is to be mindful of the center where the levels of wholeness converge and grow together – the dolls within us. The greatest of delusion of growth is to believe that we alone reveal and conceal all the dolls.

  • We grow within and between the three systematic levels

Jeff DeGraff
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