The Aspen Center for Human Development is a center for advanced study that convenes scholars and experts in a diverse array of disciplines across the spectrum of human development. The Center provides opportunities for original thinkers across disciplines to come together to tackle the issues that confront us, and develop ideas that can change our world. Through the Center, the ACHD faculty hone their thinking, develop their research, and create courses and programs in leadership and other areas of human development. We make human development relevant.
As methods of learning, both theory and research are essential, and yet, as educational reformer John Dewey posited, there is a third method of learning that is based in neither research nor theory. This is the method of inquiry.1 And it is indispensable for creating new ways of seeing, coping with, and impacting the issues that confront us. When in a transformative inquiry, everything is open to being questioned—even the things we take for granted. The method of inquiry is emphasized in our collaborative efforts at the Aspen Center for Human Development, and is foundational in the programs we create.
In any inquiry, we have the opportunity to transform the way we see. It is how we see—how we view the situations and the people with whom we interact—that determines how we act. Because of the determinative nature of the way we see, in our programs, we work to have each participant uncover the components that make up what Master Coach Julio Olalla calls “the observer you are.”
“All ‘mastery’ is about mastery of ‘self’ and the focusing of one’s creative power and energy toward whatever vision or
commitments we have in the world.”
In the normal course of events, everything that is expected is in the background and transparent2 until something unexpected happens; something that does not further the trajectory of a commitment—in other words, something breaks down. When we encounter a breakdown, that transparency is pierced. Until we encounter a breakdown, our usual thinking is effective for the conditions at hand. Yet Dewey understood that certain kinds of thinking only happen when something breaks down. At those times, we have the opportunity to use this different kind of thinking.
Through the method of shared inquiry we have the opportunity to shift the conversations that create the observers we are and the way we see. We are then able to engage with breakdowns—and the world—in a way that is different from our usual kind of thinking. It is through inquiry that we become open to creating new conversations and new ways of seeing. In other words, inquiry begins a process through which we fundamentally transform reality.
“There are moments when action and awareness merge and we lose the sense of duality that separates us from life. In these moments, not only are ‘self’ and ‘other’ not separate, there is no ‘self.’”