If you’re having trouble reading the headlines these days, I understand how you feel. It’s tough to take in all the news about the consequences of climate change, gun violence, the campaign against reproductive rights, or the systematic dismantling of our democratic system without feeling a little hopeless.
The result for many of us is to disengage. We disconnect from the world around us, refusing to take in information that makes us uncomfortable or challenges our worldview. Social scientists have a term for it: absencing.
It’s an entirely understandable response, whether it’s to events on a global scale (for example, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) or on a personal level (signs that a relationship might be coming to an end). But absencing ourselves doesn’t help us move forward with our lives.
Otto Scharmer — a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloane School of Management — describes absencing as having a closed mind (not being open to new ideas), a closed heart (lacking any empathy for others), and a closed will (refusing to change). He connects this type of thinking to all of the major problems facing the world.
Yet against all odds, Scharmer seems optimistic about the future. And that’s because, as he explains in bestselling book Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, the opposite of absencing is presencing. And he’s pretty sure that it’s the path forward.
What’s presencing? Scharmer explains that it’s the ability to “sense and actualize the highest future possibility in the now.” Put more simply, it’s imaging the future and figuring out how to get there.
“Human beings are the only species on earth that can reimagine and reshape their own future,” Scharmer recently wrote in an eye-opening two-part series in Medium. “We can reimagine and change the rules, goals, and paradigms that dictate our civilizational forms and collaborative patterns. The cultivation and evolution of that capacity is essential for the future of this planet — and for the future of humanity.”
Scharmer is mostly interested in how communities can change, but I have found myself wondering how his theories might apply to us as individuals. I’m a divorce lawyer who works with people in a high state of existential angst. As recent research has proven, divorce is one of the most profound changes a person can experience.
In reading Part II of Scharmer’s recent blog post, I came across his use of the terms “architecture of separation” and the “architecture of connection.” It suddenly became clear to me that Scharmer’s macro ideas about the ways individuals relate to each other having a profound impact on communities, which can then solve the larger societal and global problems we face, can also be applied to individual people who are looking to change their own lives, through a healthier Collaborative Divorce process.
This may sound counterintuitive — as I’ve mentioned before, so much about divorce seems like a contradiction — but using an “architecture of separation” for a divorce is fraught with pain and suffering. According to Scharmer, the “architecture of separation” is when we separate from ourselves, from others, and from the world. It’s easy to see how this happens in a traditional, shame and blame, adversarial divorce process. People often perceive their only option is to shrink away from this painful period, withdraw, and isolate. This attitude can be destructive to the individual, their partner, their family, and their community.
On the other hand, the “architecture of connection” is a view that would strengthen these relationships. It is about understanding how you are feeling and being empathetic about the feelings of others. It involves deep listening to understand, not to counter attack or defend. It involves reframing old, destructive thoughts and behaviors that have held us back in the past and adopting new ones can help us to reimagine and reshape the future.
This is what Collaborative Divorce is all about. It’s about refusing to opt into a system that is designed to break things. Instead of a damaging process that involves battles over the distribution of assets or custody of children, Collaborative Divorce encourages you and your spouse to come together, to separate amicably and respectfully. It is the new paradigm for divorce.
How does it work? First of all, you and your spouse set the agenda and you retain a lot of control over the pace of your divorce process. There is a team of professionals to support you when you need them most. There is your Collaboratively trained lawyer, a mental health coach and a financial neutral. It is an out-of-court settlement process. There is structure, support and an expectation that you and your spouse will emerge healthy and wholehearted, not bitter and resentful. You will address all of the issues in your divorce, without going to court.
According to Scharmer, the key to the architecture of connection is being able to envision the future and figure out how to get there. He calls it “a pull from the future, not a push from the past.”
That’s one thing I see in almost all of my clients who have chosen Collaborative Divorce. They are willing to consider becoming the architects of connection for what their lives will look like after their marriage is over. They want to be involved in understanding their options, they want to be good co-parents and even friends with their spouse and they need to see a path to get there. Collaborative Divorce may not be the easy path, and right now it is not always clear how to find it. In the end, it will take you into the future of your choice. Since our thoughts and actions today create the future of our tomorrows, isn’t it time to choose our divorce processes wisely? It is certainly one concrete step we can take when the rest of the world feels so volatile, uncertain and complex.