The act of recognising something—a person, a practice, a system—on its own terms; the particular character and wholeness of the other is acknowledged; judgment and opinion about him/her/it are set in a relevant context, rather than in the context of universal general principle or immoveable mindset.

To acknowledge the wholeness of a system—a woodland, a person, a planet, nature—means being aware that you are in the presence of something which has business and an agenda of its own, and which cannot be tamed by your understanding. To see nature as a whole, as its own self, you need to approach it with the manners of the stranger—as noted by the great ecologist, Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862),

To conceive of it with a total apprehension I must for the thousandth time approach it as something totally strange.E101

When the animal ecologist, Stephan Harding, observed the little muntjac deer in Rushbeds Wood—little pools of life, chewing their cud, pausing for a moment of meditative tranquillity, and seeming to radiate light in the shadows—there was encounter. When the system you have been studying looks back at you, it is not understanding that hangs in the air, but a “hallo”. There is a conversation. You are not alone.E102

Encounter is about the fundamental experience of not being alone. It is free of the curse of understanding, which opens up the path to control. If, for instance, Harding had programmed the muntjac he was observing (perhaps with genetic engineering, implanted chips and wireless technology), he would understand it better, but there would be no encounter, just an extension of his clever self, a lonely scientific experimenter in a wood. To control is to be alone: there is nothing there which calls for engagement and a response. There is no need, if alone, for logic.

The starting point for encounter, then, is the hallo reaction, the acknowledgement that there is something there which is quick—which has the gift of life, self, soul and the ability to surprise. It is also the starting point for thought, the signal for logic to stir into life. By filling its environment with things it can control, the industrial market economy has lost its grip on logic at roughly the same speed and time as it has emptied its environment of things it can say hallo to.

Observing a little system chewing its cud among the shadows on a summer afternoon is good. Encountering a little muntjac is better. It can start you thinking.


Related entries:

Deference, Expertise, Holism, Courtesy, Reflection, Spirit, Truth.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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