February 27, 2024

Frederic Laloux – Trauma-Informed Organizations

Thomas is joined by celebrated business thinker, social entrepreneur, Founder of “The Week”, and author of Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux. They discuss how hierarchy relies on certain people having power over others, and how this concept is antithetical to our true human nature, despite being deeply ingrained in society.

They explore Frederic’s work to help organizations shift to a “self-managing” model, and what it takes to get people on board. Frederic has learned that by bringing people together to surface their deepest assumptions about their way of operating, and examining what that implies about humanity, they can organically come to accept a non-hierarchical structure.

He and Thomas discuss how our economic and educational systems reify a worldview of scarcity and distrust, and how we would all benefit from a more communal society. They also dive deep into Frederic’s work on climate change, and how his organization “The Week” is creating spaces to process the harsh reality of environmental disaster so that we can discover new avenues to combat it without feeling alienated and alone.

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“If you look at all living systems, all complex living systems in nature, they’re all self-managing systems. A forest doesn’t have a hierarchy.”

- Frederic Laloux

Guest Information

Frederic Laloux

Frederic Laloux is a celebrated business thinker and social entrepreneur. His seminal book Reinventing Organizations has sold more than 1,000,000 copies in 20+ languages. It is widely considered to have opened up a new field of inquiry and practice into a more purposeful, soulful, and productive management paradigm.

His thinking has inspired countless leaders from start-ups to large corporations, from nonprofits to faith movements, and from government agencies to founders of some of the largest climate movements.

His current focus is on The Week, a powerful new approach to inspire mass mobilization to confront the climate and environmental breakdown.

Born and raised in Belgium, he currently lives in a beautiful ecovillage in Ithaca, NY, USA, where he is blessed to share his life with his wife, Hélène, and their two children. In a past life, he was a former Associate Partner with McKinsey & Company, received an MBA from INSEAD, and a degree in coaching from Newfield Network.

Learn more at theweek.ooo.

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • The need for language to discuss the multiple, stacking layers of trauma present in many organizations
  • Accepting discomfort in order to genuinely assess the climate crisis
  • The power of creating safe spaces where pain can be witnessed


Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Welcome to everybody. My name is Thomas Hübl, and I’m the convener of the Collective Trauma Summit, and I have the great pleasure to welcome you, Frederic. Welcome, warm welcome here.

Frederic Laloux: Yeah, I’m so excited about this conversation.

Thomas: So this summit is about creating a global healing movement, so it’s a collective trauma summit, but we are looking how do we develop more integration, healing, restoration power in order to deal with some of the major issues, one of which I know you’re very passionate about, which is climate change. We’ll come to that in a moment. But before, I would love to explore a little bit with you, when trauma hurts relationships and often is being created out of hurt relationships already, and I know you spend a lot of time exploring the business world, economy world organizations. You wrote the book, Reinventing Organizations, which I like very much.

And so when you look at how do you see trauma or hurt relationships or another symptom is scarcity, I think trauma creates always not enough of something. How does this affect organizations and how does it affect the bigger economy world? And then maybe from there, we will go to explore a bit your climate change work.

Frederic: There’s so much in that question because my sense is that I’m not a trauma specialist, but my sense is that we have these multiple stacking layers of trauma and for most of which, we almost don’t have a language yet in organizations. If you go inside an organization and you say, “Let me talk about trauma today,” people will stare at you and have no idea what you’re going to talk about because at best, the language is an individualized language. I might carry some individual trauma but the more collective of systemic trauma.

And so the way I think about it is that you have organizational trauma that is event related, like some merger that happened that caused some trauma or some bankruptcy or some scandal that happened or whatever, history of sexual harassment, something that traumatizes one organization. And that’s maybe the easiest to understand and to name because people can pretty much understand, yes, we’re all traumatized by this merger that we had. And so I think that’s a level that most people will understand.

For me in my work, what was interesting to me was a deeper level of trauma that is baked into the systems that we tend not even to question; our management systems, the systems that we’re being taught in business school, this is how you should run an organization. But when you think about them, they basically have deep embedded trauma, and we can go into more details if you’re interested, but the trauma of hierarchy, the trauma of power over, nobody questions that. Of course we need hierarchy, but I actually believe that comes with a deep level of trauma, the trauma of, I call it, of having to wear a professional mask, of not stepping into our wholeness, the trauma of pursuing meaningless purpose. So there’s these things that are baked in that most people don’t even question because this is simply how things are, and so at the level of management systems, if you want to call them that.

And then I think there’s an even deeper level of trauma that you alluded to, which is our whole economic system and our monetary systems that are built on scarcity and that bring even deeper level of trauma. We can go into any of those. What is fascinating to me is that I feel that as individual trauma becomes something that is named and recognized that we get a chance now to talk about these deeper level of collective and organizational and systemic traumas.

Thomas: I would be interested to hear a bit more about power over because we come out of thousands of years of power over and suddenly, there are more options. I often also say we are bruised from such a long time of power over, but we need to integrate those bruises. So I would be interested in that. And then maybe as a second step, looking at the economy world as such a bit deeper, but let’s start with the management first.

Frederic: Yeah. One of the things that I’ve been fascinated by is the emergence of self-managing not only teams but self-managing organizations and sometimes really large organizations that operate in a self-managing fashion. One of my favorite examples is Dutch Nursing Organization. There are now 15,000 people and they don’t have a single manager, so they just don’t operate with that kind of structure, and they’re incredibly efficient, and they’re incredibly a human place to work, and they grow just because pretty much everybody wants to work there and everybody wants to have them as clients.

The process was interesting for me. It took me quite a bit of time researching them to wrap my own head around that this is actually possible. I’ve had grown up like everybody being educated in the sense that we need power hierarchies. From the youngest age, we have adults that have power over children and the whole school system. I think we’re all scarred by the school system where somebody else defines our curriculum. Somebody else defines what our days will be made in 45-minute chunks and where we have to go from which class. We’re just conditioned for years and years and years of accepting that power over us. And if you look at the school system, there’s this whole escalation of punishments all the way up to exclusion from the social circle, exclusion from school and ultimately prison if you don’t submit to this thing. So we’re all conditioned in this.

And it took me quite a while to get over my own disbelief of this is not possible. You can’t run a 15,000-people organization with no managers. Come on. That’s not possible. I had the time to research this and really understand that not only is it possible but it’s in many ways superior. I don’t need to go too deeply into this, but if you look at all living systems, all complex living systems in nature, they’re all self-managing systems. A forest doesn’t have a hierarchy. Your brain, Thomas, 85 billion cells and it doesn’t have an executive committee in there that tries to control what the 85 billion cells do. That wouldn’t work. We know this is possible, but it’s a radical shift. And as you say, it’s thousands of years of history.

And if you want to break it down maybe to the most basic, it’s basically the pyramid or the circle. We’re I think in this really exciting time where after thousands of years of the pyramid, we’re learning to reintegrate the circle but at scales that are much bigger than what used to exist in hunter-gatherer societies.

And I’ve come to believe that the relationship, the power over relationship that is inherent in the pyramid, I am your boss so I have power over you. I get to decide if you’re hired, fired, if you get an interesting project, if you make a promotion, if you make more money. That relationship is fundamentally unhealthy. It comes with fundamental side effects, fundamental flaws, and it’s interesting to me to see how much wisdom there seems to have been with hunter and gatherer societies to make sure that this didn’t emerge, that there wouldn’t even be status differences. And when you look at organizations, I believe that this power over is so actually unnatural, so antithetical to our human condition, contrary to what people say, “It’s always existed.” I actually think it’s so antithetical to our human nature that we have to create all sorts of power markers and rituals and corner offices and private jets and all sorts of things and different clothes and suits and stuff to make that acceptable, to make it feel like, of course, this person is more important than me. So let me no longer question that because they have a corner office because they dress differently.

So it’s interesting to me when you take that lens and you walk inside organization, how much energy we put into justifying hierarchy and power differentials because otherwise, if everybody just dressed the same and had the same office and had the same, people would just look at you and go like, “Why are you telling me to do this?” You wouldn’t accept that if we didn’t have all of these power markers.

Thomas: And just about that, what does an organization need to go through that is used to a hierarchy, what are the easy parts and what are the difficult parts to change to a self-organized?

Frederic: It’s interesting because there’s, for me, two very different answers to that. One is in some ways, it’s very simple. Let’s say that you have a team and there is a manager who has power over the others and decision-making power. And in many ways, it’s very easy. You just have a meeting, and some organizations do that, take three, four hours and you just say like, “Hey, here’s the manager. What are all the tasks of a manager that he has decision power over the other people?” I don’t know. The manager is the outside phase of the team to elsewhere. The manager looks at the financials. The manager hires people. The manager coaches people. The manager looks for social cohesion, deals with conflict and so forth. You can make that list. You could get to 10, 15, 20 things.

And then you simply say, “Okay, if we really look around the room, who wants to do what? Who is good at what? If we’re honest, whenever there’s conflict, we don’t go to the manager anyway. We go to you, Thomas, because you’re … So why don’t you do that?” I’m pretty good with numbers. Let me do it. And then you distribute these things and then you have some simple rules about who can make what decision? How do we deal with conflict? And that thing is done. And it’s pretty common sense. If you bring it that way, most people go like, “Yeah, makes sense. Thomas is anyway better at this. I’m better at this. So let’s just do it that way.” So there’s this very low drama, very much common sense way of going about things when you go in practice.

But as soon as you talk about things from a theoretical perspective and you say, “We’ll go towards self-management,” you’ll get this reaction in all organizations like, “What? This is not possible.” Because then you go to the mental representations that people have and then people will go like, “Wow, this is not possible.”

And so if you go to that level, my understanding is that you actually need to go quite deep and get people to surface the deepest assumptions that they hold about how humans function, how we relate, what the nature of work is. In the book, I talk about some organizations that transitioned from being traditional organizations to self-managing organizations. And they always had some processes where they got everybody in a room and said, “If we look at how we operate today, what does it say about our view of human nature?” And typically, pretty ugly things come out. It says people can’t be trusted. You have to lock the storeroom because otherwise, people will steal. People are basically thieves if you don’t watch them. People don’t want to work. They want to do the least amount of work, so you have to have somebody looking over their shoulder because otherwise … So people are lazy. And then you have all sorts of typically class markers. If you’re not an engineer, you can’t really understand these things. Suddenly, all of these ugly assumptions come out.

And then when you put them on a wall, I know of an organization in France, who often does this, they have a room of 150, 200, 400 people in a room talking about these things. And the way they do it is first you have a one-on-one because that feels safe to say, then you sit around a table and then you have a microphone and then some people dare to say it, and then you write this on a big wall. And so you have suddenly this collective moment where people just look at the ugliness of the assumptions behind the current management system. And then you pause and say, “Is that how we want to go forward?” And no one in their right mind goes like, “No, this is not the assumptions we want to build on.”

And so what would be a different set of assumptions? And then you can write a different set of assumptions. Now, if we take that seriously, what would be the management practices? And then you get to shift, but my understanding is you have to go to that deepest level of actually surfacing the assumptions behind this pyramid because otherwise, people just go like, “That’s how it’s been done.” You’ve been so conditioned from the youngest age, from your relationship with your parents with school that everything else just seems like some dream, some pie in the sky.

Thomas: No, that’s very powerful. And it also shows how much of these assumptions are basically based on some power over trauma or power abuse for such a long time. So I think it’s right what you said, you need to go very deep to unearth these assumptions.

Frederic: I have the same thing about the school system. The whole school system makes no sense to me at all. The school system perpetuates that top-down trauma. But when you talk with most parents about it, when I try to talk with most parents about it, they become very defensive. And I talk about this alternative to schools and how amazingly they work, but even if you show the evidence, people go like, “No, that can’t be possible.” And at first, I thought it was only because parents are rightly scared in the scarcity economy of like, “If I take that risk for my child, will my child be left behind? Will my child not go to university? Will my child not make it in life?” I thought that was it.

But then when I really dig deeper, it wasn’t that. It was what I call the Stockholm Syndrome of if you are telling me that that is possible, that a nonviolent child-centric education is possible, then you’re basically saying that I suffered for 12 years from something that wasn’t necessary, and I’m not willing to even contemplate that. I’m not willing. There must have been a meaning to my suffering, otherwise it’s too absurd. And so for the school system, I think it’s the same thing. If we want one day to shift our school systems, we have to go to deepest level of assumptions. And I think we have to work on our inherited trauma. We have to cry out everything that we’ve suffered in the school system because otherwise, we will keep defending something because we can’t just accept that we’ve been suffering and going through something this absurd that had no meaning or no sense.

Thomas: No, that’s very powerful what you’re saying and very true, how strongly we perpetuated. And so when you look at now the economy system at large, because I think this links us also slowly to climate change, another passion of yours, how do you look at the symptoms of trauma scarcity, this relatedness to nature? There’s a huge field here where we see symptoms. Maybe you can speak from your own experience how you see them.

Frederic: So I won’t go too much into the details because some people are better to talk about how the money system itself builds in scarcity. Our debt bearing money system is based on the fact that whatever money we have isn’t enough because it comes with debt and so we will have to pay more in the future. The system itself builds scarcity into the system. And so I’m by now convinced, even though I’m not an economist, that we will need to shift to a whole different monetary system, which is a huge endeavor and a huge task.

But even beyond that, the way we’ve individualized safety by tearing away the fabric of belonging, of communality and of help is everywhere around us. The fact that I had to move from my native Belgium to the other side of the ocean to live in an eco village where we have more commonality, where people actually know each other as neighbors. If somebody is sick, they won’t cook for two months. If there’s a baby born, the parents won’t cook for two months because people take care of them. That has become exceedingly rare, so rare that I had to move thousands of miles to do that. And even in this place where we have a lot of that looking after each other, at the deepest level of financial security, we are still living individualized lives.

Even in one of the most advanced places in the world, everybody is saving for their own retirement. Everybody is saving if something bad happens. Everybody is insecure about like, “Oh, do I have enough money if something bad happens and I can’t work?” When you think about it, it makes no sense. If we were to put this in community, if I were to know, hey, if something bad happens to me, Thomas is going to take care of me and Allison is going to take, and Allie. And then when you have a problem, we’re going to take care of you. It used to exist in more communal forms of life.

Imagine the pressure that is off, but we don’t have these systems. And so I find myself in that thing of living with that view of scarcity of do I have enough? I feel like I have enough, but then I have enough in case bad things happen. But is it unfair that I give this to my children? If I were to die tomorrow, they would get some money that I have in … but then they have disadvantage over … All of that makes no sense. But I’m like everyone else, I’m still navigating in these systems. Maybe I want to share a story. I’m sure she would be okay that I share it.

There’s somebody I admire a lot, Miki Kashtan. I don’t know if you know her. She’s Nonviolent Communication, amazing, amazing person. You would very much enjoy getting to know her, Miki Kashtan. And she’s one of the person I find most impressive because she is able to be really uncomfortable to live in integrity with the world that she wants to see. And so Miki has made this decision, which I understand I don’t have the courage to do for myself, which is to say, “I will have no savings because I don’t believe in a world of individual savings. I believe in a world of communal taking care of each other.” And so she says, “If I’m becoming too old and I don’t have the means to sustain myself, and if there’s no community that rallies around me because they feel that I’m worth living, then I will take my life and it will be the end of my life.”

Thomas: Wow.

Frederic: That’s a statement of the world that we want to live in. And so yeah, that’s the deepest level of scarcity that’s built into our economic and cultural system of we all are individuals fending for ourselves and ultimately, we’re all alone in providing our own security. What a sad world to live in.

Thomas: Yeah. And as you said, the communal aspect that the hyper individualization of our world is a big symptom, I believe, of collective trauma, that we are so fragmented and separate and what it needs to create that communal sense again. I think that’s a powerful question. So when we link what we said so far to climate change, maybe let’s speak a little bit, not why because it’s obvious why we need to be passionate about doing something right now, but because you were very passionate about reinventing organizations for some time and then your focus switched to a certain degree. Tell me a little bit about that switch, how it came about in your life, and then maybe we talk a bit about the root causes of climate change and what we can do as a collective.

Frederic: Yeah. The shift for me happened four years ago. We had friends visiting us in our eco village, and they were same age as ours and have three children the same age as ours. They had had the courage to really look at what’s happening with the climate bit more broadly so the environmental breakdown that is happening. We were just so impressed by their willingness to look and to be uncomfortable and then out of that uncomfort to come out of it, roll up their sleeves and decide that’s what they wanted to dedicate the next chapter of their lives to.

It made my wife and me realize that part of us was still not in denial but in protection mode. Even though we had moved from Belgium to this eco village and we did all of the good things that you can do, composting and buying secondhand and having a very insulated house and all of those things, that we were still in protection mode that every time we would read an article about climate change, about biodiversity loss, etc., I would read the first few lines and then go like, “Ugh, not sure I want to deal with this.”

And so after these friends had left, we looked at each other and said, “You know what?” There was a little bit of pride involved. If they have the courage, we can do it, too. And let’s go there and let’s take almost a spiritual journey and see whatever shows up. What will show up? Sadness, anger, shock. Just be really curious. And it sent us into a grief journey. We described it as a U-shaped journey and lots of sadness, lots of shock. But then we also came out of it on the other side with just absolute clarity that this was something meaningful that we wanted to work on, and so we closed the chapters in our previous lives. My wife had just written a beautiful book about grief and perinatal loss.

And so that’s how we went then to create this project that we just launched called The Week, which is basically helping people go through that same process because we became fascinated about how come that we face this climate abyss and that we don’t have a mass mobilization for it? How come that it’s just maybe 1% of the population that is in arms about it and everybody else is in protection mode like we were? If you look a little bit into social science, it’s not very difficult to understand the dominant playbook that we use, which is give people the facts and then they will wake up and act, isn’t working. It hasn’t worked against AIDS, against smoking, against teen pregnancy, against obesity, and it’s not working against the climate and yet, that’s the model that we keep using. We hope that one more report from the United Nations or from scientists will finally wake people up, and we know that it’s actually counterproductive. Most people go into like, “Oh, I don’t want to hear about it.”

So we have to create deeper spaces where it feels safe to engage with us and where people can go through their own U-shaped journey. And so we created this program, it’s called The Week. It’s not the topic here, but if people are interested, they can check it out, theweek.ooo. And it’s basically you get together with a group of friends, a family of colleagues, and you get together three times during a week and every time you watch this one-hour film that we’ve carefully scripted to help you go through that view, and then you have group conversations to process it. People are just deeply, deeply touched because it’s finally a space where they can go and talk about this.

And to your question about trauma, one of the things that was most surprising for us when we started working with The Week is the reaction people have at the end of the first night. So the first night, you go down, we share everything that you’ve been trying to avoid. It’s pretty brutal. Often, there’s tears, but we create this container where it’s safe with your friends, your family or your colleagues to go there and process it. And almost systematically at the end of this first episode when we were listening in to learn how people were receiving this, they told us, “This was brutal. Thank you so much.” And at first, I was like, “Nobody ever just told me this is brutal. Thank you so much. These two things don’t go together.”

And what I understood was that collectively, we’re almost all in this protection mode of not wanting to deal with the reality of what’s coming, and that there was this deep sense of relief of people of like, “You know what? Thank you. I finally looked into it and I’m done protecting myself from it. I’m now part of this reality.”

I have a 12-year-old, and I see it with him just a, I don’t know if trauma is the right word, but this trauma of witnessing the destruction that is happening. And I think more deeply than that, what I see through him is witnessing the unique destructiveness of human beings, being part of a species that is bringing about that destructiveness. There’s a part that I sense with him that I’ve sensed in myself of like, “You know what? Stop the train. I want to get out. I’m not sure I want to be part of this.” And so being part of the uniquely destructive species is something very difficult to deal with. And for most of us, we have no spaces where we can go with this. And so The Week is trying to create that space that is in many ways very trauma informed of like, hey, we need a collective space to look at it. We need to have the courage to acknowledge things and then to surface them. Simply look at them. And then that’s where we can start to process them and then reconnect with our own choice and our own power.

Thomas: Yeah, I think you said it already. I’m fascinated because you’re doing actually something that in the trauma work or collective trauma work, we just say, “Okay, we need spaces where we can look at that which is difficult or that which was difficult in a healthy relational environment and that the relationships are able to hold the difficult parts and that actually is what makes the difference.” And you described exactly that. That’s beautiful. It’s very beautiful. And I think this architecture is something, exactly what you built is I believe what we need all over in order to deal with these difficult things to face, but then we face it also when we have relational support.

Frederic: Exactly, exactly. Yeah. Some people have told us like, “Couldn’t we create The Week for racism here in the US where I live where we could go through the same similar journey?” And I think we could adapt that architecture, as you say, to quite some things. And what I found remarkable, it’s really early days, we just launched, but we had something now like 20,000 people register so it’s starting to take off.

And what’s fascinating is you don’t have a trained facilitator in the room. That was our crazy bet, is that we can provide something this profound by having the films that bring out all of the things and then simply giving people some instructions about how to hold a circle. So after the films, you stretch for a minute, you go pee, you get some water, and then there’s a little video that sets up the group conversation, sets up some very simple ground rules of speaking in turns, no interrupting, having somebody to be a guardian that if somebody does interrupt, to gently stop them. So there’s a very simple architecture. And then we simply give them one question that everyone speaks to, and it seems to work powerfully. And for me, that was really this big bet, is that we can do something that is really quite powerful without necessarily the need of a trained facilitator (a) because it doesn’t scale very well. But also (b) because a lot of people, groups of friends or family wouldn’t necessarily welcome a stranger into their home to facilitate that for them.

Thomas: And you do it mainly with families and friends, people that know each other already.

Frederic: Yeah. So the idea is that it’s people who know each other, but it’s also colleagues, it’s also people in church groups. Especially in the workplace, it seems to take off quite quickly and it’s deep conversations inside the places that bring a lot of that destructiveness out. We don’t pull any punches. The way we’ve written it, we’ve been careful not to be polarizing so that people wouldn’t have an excuse to not engage with it. So we don’t talk about whatever, capitalism, bad, but we just show the systems in their absurdity and their ugliness. And so people that even inside organizations go like, “Yeah, but all of that ugliness, that’s basically what we are doing.” So it brings about these deeper conversations.

Thomas: Yeah, it’s beautiful because you actually don’t polarize the content because you also create the witnessing space. You make a space where we become the witnesses of what’s actually our process that we are in right now. That’s really beautiful. Also, the simplicity I think really makes it work well as you described. Yeah.

Frederic: And the other thing is that we go at it from a peer perspective. We are just trying to figure it out just like everybody else, so we don’t come with an expert perspective. So as you say, in witnessing, we see this, what do you see? And in episode three, so when you come up to episode three, people tend to leave with full of energy, full of … because we don’t know what you can do about this. There’s tons of things you could do. We show them tons of examples of people who’ve decided, who’ve gone through their own grief journey, but come out of it on the other side, never wanting to go back because they found clarity about what’s important because they’re working on stuff that’s meaningful. They’ve met interesting people.

And so we basically show them like, “Look, you could be like them and there’s so many things you could do. And we don’t know what you could do.” So there’s no shoulds but only like, what are you good at? What would be meaningful in your life? What do you feel called to do? And our sense is when you bring that, then people don’t feel like you talk down to them because who would I be anyway to tell them what to do? But just like, hey, I’m figuring it out and, for me, my contribution is this because that’s what I like. For you, it might be that.

So that peer based aspect of this is a collective adventure. I very much believe this. The next 10, 20, 30 years are going to be this huge collective adventure as systems start to break down and we have a chance to build up other systems. And so if there’s such a collective adventure, who wants to stay on the sideline? It’s way more fun to be part of this adventure and then it’s for each of us to figure out what our place is in there.

Thomas: Yeah. You’re also giving a powerful example of speaking to the citizen responsibility of a mature human being, how we engage and you create the space and environment for engagement. I think that’s beautiful. I think creating spaces for our chemical spaces or transformational spaces and creating ecosystems, and then as you said, everybody needs to find out by themselves what they need to do. They are creative by themselves. Yeah.

Frederic: By the way, I just looked at the numbers recently. We invite people to fill out a survey at the end so that we learn how the experience was for them. And more than 50% of the groups decide to meet again at least one more time, if not more, spontaneously. It’s not part of our suggestion of our architecture. Our thing is you meet three times during the week, but more than 50% of the groups feel spontaneous like, “We come out of it like let’s meet again because we need each other to figure out what we want to do.” They sense if we don’t meet again, there’s a risk that life, normal life just takes over, but I want to be part of this and so let’s hold each other accountable. Let’s keep meeting in that space.

And the number of messages we’ve received where people say … Last week, we received one example of this, a message where people said, “We’ve been friends for 25 years. We thought that we were going deep, but this has brought our friendship to a whole new level because here you have the space where you cry together, where you laugh together, where you talk about the deepest questions about what’s mine to do? I imagine that my children will face real suffering. What should we do?” So it’s just almost an honor to be able to create these spaces.

Thomas: The genius thing is that people know each other. I think that makes it much easier for the relationships to be strong enough to hold the intensity of what people experience. I think that’s a really good move to do it with people that already have a relational base and not just strangers that just come together in a group. That’s very powerful.

Frederic: It’s also the reason we designed it like this, and this was really … By the way, this is a project that I’ve done with my wife, Helene, so it’s really a project the two of us have done together in this particular piece of like, no, we need to do this in existing social groups, and not something that people can watch individually was really her contribution. And the idea there is if we let ourselves be really deeply changed, if there’s an inner shift in, for instance, in this case, in our orientation towards climate change and the environmental breakdown, if I really understand the urgency of this and go, then the only reaction to this is basically I want to roll up my sleeves. I will do my thing. If I take it that seriously but my friends and family haven’t been part of this, they will look at me and say like, “Fred, this is a new Fred. We don’t like that new Fred. Where does this Fred come from? Can we have the old Fred back?” And they will do their best to try to bring the old Fred back. It’s going to be very difficult.

If I suddenly say like, “You know what? I’m quitting my job because this job no longer makes sense. I want to put my energy elsewhere.” Chances are, my family and friends will look at you like, “What? Are you crazy? You have a perfect job.” They will suddenly feel like, “Maybe if he’s doing it, then I should” … So they will resist that.

But if our family, friends or colleagues go through the same thing together, then we’re changing together and it makes everything so much easier. One of the reasons we need to do this in groups rather as individuals because otherwise, I come out of it and I feel like, but no one else understands and I try to talk about it and they don’t get it. Our need for belonging is so big. The chances are the most secure thing I will do is like, “Let me just go back to the old self, even though my cognitive dissonance is now even bigger, but I just need to keep belonging to the group I belong to.”

Thomas: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s beautiful because you actually created an ecosystem that creates an ecosystem and not just a singular transformation. It’s very beautiful. It creates ecosystems that then support each other, supportive of each other. And so that’s really beautiful.

Frederic: And just to talk of that. They really create … The number of people who’ve told us like, “I’ve seen it in my workplace and then like, oh, I immediately created a group because my wife needed to see this because otherwise, my wife doesn’t understand or my husband doesn’t understand,” or the opposite like, “I’ve done it at home and now I bring it into the workplace or I bring it into my church group because otherwise, suddenly people don’t understand this important thing that I’m starting to live into.”

Thomas: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I’m really fascinated. I think it’s a really fantastic idea what you’re doing. And anyway, I’m very much interested in what’s the healing architecture, what’s the architecture we need to build in order to create a systemic change? And that’s a beautiful example of a very functional architecture that has many beautiful aspects to it that really work well. So that’s-

Frederic: And as you know, in many ways, we didn’t invent anything. These processes have been around. These rituals and these spaces have been around forever. Even if you look into in the environmental space, Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects basically has people go through something similar.

I think the particularity of what we’ve been doing is that we’ve brought it to a context with people who aren’t yet used to these places. If you look at The Work That Reconnects, Joanna Macy, which is a beautiful work, but is already talking about listening to the cries of the earth and stuff that you take your average bank employee and they’re like … So our goal was really to go beyond the small percentage of people who are either already convinced around climate or who are already familiar with these deep spaces. And so bring it in a way that is not threatening to people who’ve never actually experienced any of these deeper spaces.

Thomas: No, yeah, it’s fascinating. It’s beautiful. So I’m happy you’re doing that. That’s amazing. Just one more question I would love to expand a bit. So looking at the wider systemic aspect of climate change, how do you think … That’s definitely one contribution to it. When you see the systemic change we need, how do you look at it at the moment globally?

Frederic: Yeah. One of the lenses that I use to look at things as this integral perspective, Ken Wilber’s work. I very much believe that there’s not one single approach but it’s this whole constellation of approaches. And so you can look at climate change as a purely technical issue. It’s just CO2 and we just need to solve CO2. And there’s some truth to that. One part of the problem is CO2 and we indeed need to very quickly decarbonize, but of course my perspective, that’s way too reductionistic. And so you can then look at all the way up to this is fundamentally a spiritual crisis or maybe even bigger, just not any spiritual crisis but a rite of passage for humanity as a whole, maybe growing out of one stage of humanity, adolescence to some other more mature stage.

And all of these I think are valid and we need people working at all of these. Now, I personally find that the emphasis is too much on the technical aspect of things. In Ken Wilber’s Spiral Dynamics, you would look at this orange technical aspect where we could just calculate CO2 even though it’s important. And so I’m more interested in these broader definitions. Charles Eisenstein has written beautifully about how this is way too reductionistic and how at the more deeper level, I think this is a crisis of disconnection of all of the fundamental disconnections of our human nature, fundamental disconnections of us versus nature not seeing ourselves embedded as part of nature and so no longer hearing the cries of nature. Obviously, if you were to see a tree as a real living being, you wouldn’t deal with forests in the way we deal with them.

Thomas: Yeah.

Frederic: I’m fascinated by just for instance, in Indigenous language, as you probably know this, Thomas, how they have different pronouns. In French, for instance, we have le, la, the feminine, masculine. Why we have those? It doesn’t make particular sense. Why would the chair or the table one be feminine, the other masculine? It’s not very obvious to me, but there’s places where you have pronouns for living things. And so we have the same pronoun as trees, as meadows, as a river. It’s like suddenly, it’s not an it. A tree, an it, you can cut it because it’s an it. But if the tree were a he or she, it would suddenly change our relationship. So I think at some deepest level, that’s where our crisis is coming from. And so I feel that we need answers at all of these levels, growing from the purely technical to fundamental change in worldview.

Thomas: Yeah, I very much agree. I find it interesting that when we go through the forest and then we ask, where is nature, many people would say, “Oh, it’s around me,” versus, “I’m also nature. I’m like the rabbit in the forest.” And so I think that kind of dualism between humans and nature, like the perceived dualism is I think an important and interesting quality to examine.

Frederic: And coming with that and the flip side, I see a lot in the environmental movement is then to perpetuate that dualism in another form, which is the problems is us as humans.

Thomas: Exactly.

Frederic: But if only humans didn’t exist, then nature, then the world would be good, and it’s perpetuating that dualism of seeing us outside of it. My 12-year-old son just fell in love with this Native American woman, Lyla June Johnston, if people want to look her up, Lyla June Johnston, because she has this thing of can we see ourselves as a keystone species that can heal and that the world actually needs as part of its broader unfolding? Just like you have other keystone species that are the wolves and the whales in their ecosystems are a fundamental part, and if you were to take the wolves out or the whale out, the systems would collapse and wouldn’t be the same. Can we see ourselves as playing that part and being part of it, the healing of the planet?

I just noticed how for my 12-year-old son, there was such a relief with this thing that he had already integrated that we are the bad species, that in many ways, the world would be better off without us and without him.

Thomas: Exactly. I think you spoke to something very fundamental and very powerful how we internalize this, and then that even makes us turn away more from the climate change issue than turn towards it. I think that’s a big barrier that you mentioned now. So maybe I see our time, maybe if there is something like a bit of a summary of what you think is important for this time for our listeners, anything that you think of or anything that you didn’t share that you would love to share with us?

Frederic: For me right now, I don’t know why this is so present, but for me, the notion of adventure is really at the heart of what I’m thinking about living through. There’s so much dread if you look at what’s happening, but through that, there is so much healing that is possible. And again, I’m convinced that the next 10, 20, 30 years will be this massive adventure, whether it’s bad, whether it’s collapse or whether it’s reinvention, and so what an amazing time to be alive. Sometimes I wish I could have five lives in parallel because there’s all of these ideas, all of these things, all of these visions I have of things we could work on.

If I just take trauma, the fact that we’ve now named these things, I don’t know if it’s the same in Europe, in the US here, they talk a lot about ACEs, adverse childhood experiences. And so there are 10 markers, they’re imperfect, but you can quickly count how many of these tens trauma inducing events that I have in my childhood, and I just go like, wow, we could have this collective vision of within two generations, could we go … We have net-zero for emissions, for climate. Could we imagine a goal of within two generations we have net-zero trauma?

Thomas: That’s right.

Frederic: What a vision would that be? It’s the first time we have the capacity I think to name it that way, at least for a few thousand years, not only to name it that way, but to be understood, have the tools now to do something about it. I think that’s amazing. I live in the US. The question of race is everywhere. People talk about reparations, but what if we looked at reparations from a race perspective and we said one way that white folks could undo a lot of the damage is to provide all of the resources so that black and Indigenous people could within two generations heal the generational trauma that is transmitted. That’s our form of reparation.

I think there are just so many exciting things to do. And the same with climate. We regenerate huge swaths of land. Nature rebounds so quickly if we let it do it. There’s visions for regenerating half of the earth’s surface. It’s amazing. So we just need to go from that stuckness of like, “Oh, but everything is so terrible,” and to basically the other side of that you where we go like, “Wow, there’s so many things we could do, and what is my contribution?”

Thomas: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s lovely to listen to you. You transmit your own excitement and creativity. And I totally share this with you. I also have so many ideas, and many of the ones that you said right now, this is fantastic, and maybe there’s also stuff we can collaborate on and work closely together. Yeah, it’s lovely. And so thank you, Frederic. It was so lovely, especially the last part, you transmitted such a joy. And that’s what I also feel when I listen to you. I feel like your inspiration that is constantly speaking and your love for movement and for your creativity, so that’s really inspiring. So thank you very much.

Frederic: Thank you, Thomas.