Joining Soul and Role: Planning as Soul-Work?

Joining Soul and Role: Planning as Soul-Work?

 Ian Wight PhD FCIP : April 2018


‘Soul’ is the theme of the upcoming national conference of the Canadian Institute of Planners, in Winnipeg in July 2018. I find this quite an exciting prospect. I’ve been inspired to think more about ‘planning as soul-work’, and am very curious as to how this theme will ‘go down’ with Canadian planners. I’m sure it has quite a few scratching their heads; soul-work may feel like a long ways from mind-work, the more common operating context for planners. It’s possibly my age (or should that be dotage?) – but this extension of our realm of practice is landing well with myself. It is challenging – but in a good way, for my growth and development. How might we better join ‘soul and role’ – one of the conference sub-themes?

Having ‘re-tired’ – in 2014 – I now find myself ‘re-firing’, noticing more clearly what ‘fires me up’ – that I might want to attend to, more intentionally, before I shuffle off this mortal coil. One theme that has been exercising me of late – warming me to the Winnipeg conference theme – is ‘joining soul and role’, largely inspired by the work of Parker J. Palmer. He references ‘the primacy of soul’; his sense of soul is as ‘the being in human being’ Palmer has helped me reflect on the importance of related ‘pairings’ – self and service, soul and role, spirit and purpose – that may together inform a practical, secular appreciation of the spiritual dimension in anyone who ‘professes’ these days, and who cares to give this dimension more than a second thought.

These ‘pairings’ potentially merit more consideration as part of the ‘prof-essence’ that I sense to be at work deep within us – the ‘inner-goings-on’ (in-goes) that literally inspire our ‘out-comings’ (out-comes), our work in the world; the ‘essence’ that we might be able to distil from several decades of active ‘professing’ (I’m thinking especially of more ‘seasoned’ planners, such as the Fellows, or others ‘of a certain age’). Likely, this particular ‘prof-essence’ will initially feel very personal, but we might come to see it ultimately as quite universal; it completes us, as – in Parker Palmer’s terms – our being-ness, rounding out our otherwise preoccupation with more prosaic concerns (such as the linking/joining of our thinking and doing, or our knowledge and action, or our theory and practice).

Mapping such awareness might be a tall order, a too large ‘ask’, for many modern folks – especially in the heat of a full-on career. My own experience is that it comes a little more easily in one’s ‘re-tirement-cum-re-firement’. I wonder if there are other ‘fellow-travellers’ out there, who might have some useful wisdom to offer those colleagues who might be some years away from retiring – still actively professing, in practice. Might they be helped to a better joining of soul and role, sooner than later, through some encouragement to more consciously conjoin the spiritual and the professional? The Winnipeg conference on ‘Soul’ could be a great place to begin ‘showing up’, and to initiate such a dialogue. Our future as a meaningful profession could depend on it.

One way to start the ball rolling could be to move into story-telling mode. We all have stories we like to tell, about something – possibly even about oneself on occasion. What story might we tell about our professional self, its growth and development; how we have evolved, and are evolving? For planners especially, there is also the angle that our professional role can be read as ‘telling stories to the future’ (as Doug Aberley related so well in his contribution to the Millennium issue of Plan Canada). And this is when we might expect to hear our soul speaking to us, for us, in a way that might well quiet our ego in some respects – letting our larger Self out of the closet a little, highlighting our ‘prof-essence’.

I’ll take a crack at offering some scraps from my own soul-story-book in a future post. Meantime I’d welcome any comments/contributions, on the joining of soul and role Ian.Wight@UManitoba.CA

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Ian Wight

A Canadian Scot. Ex-professor, now senior scholar. In re-firement. Passionate about (planning as) placemaking, as well-being (by design). Advocate of transformative professional learning, as professional-self design. Attentive to the making/s of professionals via praxis, ethos and poiesis.

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