Word of the Month: Chaordic

Ben Wolfe

My favourite word this month — even the last few months — is “chaordic.”

It’s a word for a magical midpoint between chaos and order. It’s the point of greatest aliveness and possibility in a system, an organization, a community or a project.

When you’re creating something new, it’s a continuous, intuitive balancing of the minimum amount of necessary structure with the maximum possible amount of freedom and creativity.

The chaordic is a balancing of minimum necessary structure with maximum freedom and creativity.

In a work team, the chaordic is where learning and innovation are constant. The need, the purpose, the guiding principles are clear. The right people have been drawn into the task. The details — roles, schedules, priorities, even the language used to describe what is being created — are in a constant state of evolution.

The chaordic is a description of how the Peterborough Dialogues came into being, and how we are rolling each part of a large vision out.

You know the chaordic when you are close to it. When you can feel the point of greatest energy, passion and authenticity in what you are doing, you are in the pull of the chaordic. When your mind refuses to do something ‘the way you have always done it,’ because it is longer good enough to serve your life and the goals you have set, you are hearing the call of the chaordic.

If a task is truly mechanical, it can be planned and managed. It is enough to leave it in the hands of experts, who know how to do it.

But complex, living systems will never work that way — systems like cities, like families, like the call of growth and learning within the human psyche.

These systems don’t have a “solution.” They require the constant rebalancing of the chaordic.

Surfing the tension between chaos and order, between a plan or goal and its lived expression, reminds me of surfing a wave in whitewater. The downstream flow of a river meets the powerful upstream resistance of water pouring back on itself to fill in every gap and hole.

The places where the two forces meet are where a playboater thrives.

Playboater surfing a wave

The call of the chaordic: surfing a wave on the Ottawa River. (Robbie/Flickr)

On the journey down a river, a paddler can discover points of perfect freedom in the wildest seeming water, where they can rest effortlessly, hold their paddle in the air in celebration, and feel what one whitewater instructor calls, invitingly, “one of the most freeing feelings that most people will never get to experience.”

The Peterborough Dialogues is a call to the question: “How Can We Create a Local, Living Oasis in a Global Storm of Shifting Sands?”

We launched it at the end of March with a co-funded, co-creative dialogue series that has drawn in some of the most adventurous surfers of community possibility in the area.

We are at work and at play together — making art, making community, making connections and making plans.

This week, we launched PeterboroughDialogues.media, a new media voice for a new story of community thriving and resilience. You will see some of our long-term themes in the stories already on the site.

There is much more to come. If you hear the call of the chaordic, you may find us soon. We are looking for you, and there will be many ways to get involved.

The Peterborough Dialogues is an adventure in rediscovering that we, and our community, are alive with gifts and possibilities. Our purpose is reawakening the energies of this place — our home — so we can live together in a resilient and thriving community, instead of one that is being swept downstream.

Leave a Reply