Fractals — The Small Mirrors the Large; The Small Shapes Large

This partial view of the Mandelbrot set, possibly the world’s most famous fractal, shows step four of a zoom sequence: The central endpoint of the “seahorse tail” is also a Misiurewicz point. WOLFGANG BEYER/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

I greatly appreciate the book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown. The book opens up analogies to us through biomicry, inviting us to learn from nature-inspired innovation and organize our human living, loving, and changing through these patterns of nature.

Today, I’d like to share a quote about fractals. We often live in patterns: The small mirrors the large. Likewise, the small can shape and change the large. If we want to change big things, we can start small and let our largest values show up in our small, day-to-day interactions, especially through our relationships. If we want liberation, love, wholeness, and interdependence to be lived on the large scale, we must practice it as lived right where we are in the relationships we have and in our day to day living.

adrienne maree brown says,

“A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.

“How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. The patterns of the universe repeat at scale. There is a structural echo that suggests two things: one, that there are shapes and patterns fundamental to our universe, and two, that what we practice at a small scale can reverberate to the largest scale…

“This awareness led me to look at organizations more critically. So many of our organizations working for social change are structured in ways that reflect the status quo. We have singular charismatic leaders, top down structures, money-driven programs, destructive methods of engaging conflict, unsustainable work cultures, and little to no impact on the issues at hand. This makes sense; it’s in the water we’re swimming in. But it creates patterns. Some of the patterns I’ve seen that start small and then become movement wide are:

— Burn out. Overwork, underpay, unrealistic expectations.
— Organizational and movement splitting.
— Personal drama disrupting movements.
— Mission drift, specifically in the direction of money.
— Stagnation — an inability to make decisions.

“These patterns emerge at the local, regional, state, national, and global level — basically wherever two or more social change agents are gathered. There’s so much awareness around it, and some beautiful work happening to shift organizational cultures. And this may be the most important element to understand — that what we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.

“Grace [Lee Boggs] articulated it in what might be the most-used quote of my life: “Transform yourself to transform the world.” This doesn’t mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place where we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet.”

-adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, pages 51-53

* If you’d like to read the book, you can find it here:

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