Updated: Jul 15, 2018
In the present-day eleventh-hour context, learning design increasingly serves to dismantle, shift, and transform unhealthy systems in the social, political, economic, and ecological realms. Consequently, our learning is increasingly situated in problem-arenas characterised by deep complexity and connectivity, meaning that our approach and our commitment to learning must also reflect this phenomenon. And yet, value is often placed on fast-and-furious learning in the age of information where people are transferring knowledge through time, space, and 45 minute webinars; not to mention the squeeze on time, resources, and attention spans. But when it comes to learning about wicked problems (that need equally wicked solutions), perhaps there has never been a more important time to slow down… and listen. The Afaris tribe in Ethiopia demonstrates this slow-burner ethos with their practice of Dagu. But what is Dagu and how might it inspire us to learn how to learn again (and take our time doing it)?
What is so Radical and Wild about the Afaris and their Dagu?
The Afari tribe of Ethiopia is the epitome of resilience, weathering the elements for thousands of years where plenty other tribes have neither survived or thrived as it has. The secret to their success? The practice of Dagu, loosely translated as ‘information’ but that is loaded with so much more meaning than simply data. Dagu involves sitting, talking, and listening - and to not do so adequately or to the highest standard is a punishable offence. Like this, Dagu is of utmost importance. Better still, Dagu is sacred as the Afari expression goes: ‘Dagu is life’. The Afaris share their observations, insights, and interpretations of anything and everything related to their physical, political, and social terrains - nothing is too big or too small to be shared and reflected on. Dagu is so much more than just community gossip, it is purposed for making sense of events and issues, patterns and trends, emergence and evolution. By being able to deeply understand their ecosystem through networked listening and sharing, the Afaris have ensured their ability to adapt and respond to the changing times and changing landscapes - a tribal tradition that is timeless in its passing down from generation to generation.
How can Dagu inform/influence learning?
Dagu teaches us to slow down and take pause. Leading by example, its learning system takes time and attentive care - and like this, it has been able to stand the test of time itself. The practice of Dagu is cultivated through tightly-bound relationships and with a patience rarely seen in western, capitalist contexts. In both the age of information and globalisation, we have never been more interconnected and yet we frantically forget to stop, sit, and share in a way that depends less on likes and more on listening. If we are to thread together a social fabric that harnesses our capacity for community, then Dagu is the tribal tapestry from which we can take inspiration. While we may have a lot of catching up to do, it is actually the moment to slow down, take stock, and pay attention. We must carefully steward our sharing of information in a way that very intentionally prepares us for the complexities ahead and very purposefully leaves the noise-filled chaos behind. Like the Afaris, we must fiercely protect our learning processes with the collectivism of a humanity weathering rising sea levels, widening inequality, and a fracturing along the lines of identity. Can we begin to listen, share, and learn as if our lives depends on it? The irony is that in what feels like the eleventh hour, it would seem that our lives really do depend on it.