Energy dynamics and personal resilience in relation to public communication

james.alexander.arnfinsenAs the editor of this website I can confidently claim that I’m in the business of public communication; over the last 3 years I’ve interviewed more than 120 people from 15 different countries and the website is accessed around 100 times a day. In the big scheme of things I suppose this makes it a rather small enterprise compared to many other podcast shows, but still, I believe it’s fair to say that thousands of people have been impacted in some way or another, a thought which is inspiring, humbling  – and a bit scary.

The podcast show is first and foremost an ongoing reflection of my own learning journey and I try to tap into themes that are relevant to my own life, either personally or professionally, and I trust that this exploration can be of benefit to others as well. My experience is that every time I publish a new episode it highlights something in myself, in the sense that this “something” becomes more conscious and more alive. For instance, after publishing the latest episode with Andrew Solomon, which is about depression, and where I also mention that this is something I have had to deal with myself, I’ve noticed a shift in the way I engage this issue with others. It seems to have created a certain clearing space and willingness to voice the issue in different contexts, as if publishing the episode gave me a mandate to do so. Also, the overall process of researching the issue, together with the literal contact with a significant and high profiled person like Andrew Solomon, seems to have given me an energetic boost of sorts. This boost-phenomena has probably always been there, but it has taken me time to acknowledge it’s psychological and social impact.

I must admit that the energetic transmission that takes place between me and my interviewee can sometimes be challenging to integrate, and I’m not always able to gauge if I’m ready for the boost or not. Moreover, when I communicate something out into the world there will always be something or someone communicating back, which again can lead to an amplification of the initial transmission. The overall feedback from the social system, be it directly or indirectly, has sometimes uncovered blind spots in my own personality structure, which again has created a whole barrage of unpleasant and surprising situations and subsequent emotional reactions (in addition to rewarding insights).

Because of this I’ve become very interested in what I understand as personal resilience in relation to communication. For instance, how much attention can I hold without feeling weighted down? To what degree does the podcast project suck energy out of my own system, replenish it or enhance it? Do I have enough psychological and emotional ballast to be the “space holder” for any given topic of inquiry? How conscious am I about my own limitations and shadows? You see, I want to feel good about this project, or at least good enough, so that the project can sustain itself for many more years, possibly for the rest of my life.

Recently I wrote a blog post that was actually an assignment in relation to a three year leadership program I’m taking part in, and although I didn’t mention this podcast project in that posting the reflections there highlight some interesting dynamics that are more than relevant in regards to my role as podcast host. The whole article is inserted below, but I would like to add something first.

The main argument of the article is that there is a huge difference in communicating something to one person, to a group of 5 or to a group of 35. In relation to this podcast show my concern is that what if one of my episodes “goes viral”, and is listened to by 10 000 people, or maybe 100 000, how will I respond to that? Am I ready to receive that kind of attention and possible feedback? A further discussion follows after the inserted article, which was first published at with the following title: Scrambled eggs and the art of transformative communication.


I´m taking part in a three year leadership program called Sustainable Co-Creation – practicing Presencing. The program is led by Michael Stubberup and Steen Hildebrandt from Denmark, together with Arawana Hayashi and Otto Scharmer who collaborate through Presencing Institute. The program aims to integrate their respective approaches to leadership and change work, and in the process, prototype and investigate what Otto Scharmer has called “an advanced social sciences methodology that integrates science (third-person view) social transformation (second-person view) and the evolution of self (first-person view) into a coherent framework of consciousness-based action research.”

My sense is that it’s not so common for 35 people to commit to a program like this for three years, especially since the program is situated outside formal educational structures. Also, the program is not pre-planned from start to finish, rather, it seems to unfold as we move along. Nevertheless, the program is rooted in the faculty’s extensive experience, relevant theory and different transformational practices, which together form an ample container for transformation of self, culture and systems.

In this short article I want to focus on the latter, namely social systems, and my own current (and ever evolving) understanding of how to move skillfully with and within social systems. Learning how to relate to social groups, and how to communicate and facilitate change processes, has been an important part of my life for the last 5 years. However, I must admit that I often find it challenging to relate constructively to the different social groups and systems that I’m embedded in. Hence, learning how to see myself in relation to and as a part of social systems has been truly inspiring for me, and at the same time, just as challenging! In different ways the program has already illuminated some major “blind spots” and I´m sure this is just the beginning.

There are numerous entry points in terms of discussing the nature of social systems and in this article I´ll only focus on the communication aspect. When speaking of social systems I’m referring to a group of people that are linked together in such a way that they form a coherent whole. My sense is that this coherent whole has both intangible and tangible manifestations. To be concrete, a social system could be the school that I work at including it’s physical infrastructure and formal organizational structures, together with the informal rules of conduct, established patterns of meaning-making and the feeling of being part of something that has a boundary of sorts.

The most important learning point for me has been to realize how my own contributions in a collective discourse can both serve to open the space for transformation or close it down. When I speak, or make some kind of offering to a social system, how do I know that what I say or do will bring forth more truth, goodness and beauty? When I voice a concern or challenge a point of view, is this speech act something that benefits the whole or is it mostly self-referential, in the sense that what is said first and foremost relates to my own egoic processes? If we believe in a mental model that proclaims that as human beings our source of attention and operation in the world can either be anchored in ego or eco-awareness, as Scharmer puts it, then how much does it matter that we utilize the latter? Lastly, is it really always “bad” to act from the ego?

I don’t know and I don’t claim to have a definite answer. However, I do believe that asking these questions and having them linger in the back of one’s mind when engaging one’s day to day activities can be of great benefit. A word of caution though! The heightened sense of self-awareness that follows in the wake of introspection and self-discovery can sometimes flip around and create a stifling sense of social anxiety. Becoming overly sensitive can perhaps lead to a self-obsessive and self-controlling faculty of the mind? I once read a description of western students entering into the domain of eastern meditation, and how they applied themselves as if they were trying to balance a raw egg on top of their heads! This form of awareness is not neutral and accommodating, but instead controlling and critical, and probably not so beneficial for either one’s self or the social group one is part of. So being self-aware and searching for freedom and playfulness, both internally and when in contact with others, seems to be an important aspect of communication. My tentative conclusion is that sometimes we should just jump into the cauldron and trust that whatever happens will benefit the whole, at least in the long run. I think it’s foolish to believe that one can become a totally conscious instrument for a higher purpose. Sometimes we just fuck things up, but maybe there is room for a bit of foolishness as well, in this kingdom of ours?

In any case I have devised a method, or rather, I’m inspired by the 3-year program’s implicit, and more and more explicit, communicative architecture. Wow, what the hell does this mean? Well, my understanding is that in the program, and during our 4 and 6-day seminars and gatherings, there is an impetus to bring conscious attention towards how we relate to ourselves, the different groups we have been assigned to, or which we have created amongst ourselves, and lastly, towards the whole group that comes together during plenary sessions. In these moments we are a village of sorts, a coherent (and sometimes not so coherent) social group. A specific reflection for me has been to identify when speaking one’s  mind is most suited in a one on one conversation, a small group reflection or a possible collective discussion that involves the whole community. Also, it has become clear to me how the energetic quality and feedback process is very different depending on which setting one engages. In relation to our program sharing something with one person has a power level of 1, in a group it could be 5, and of course, when addressing the whole group the factor is 35! This means that there are 35 lenses relating to and evaluating what you say, and hence, 35 possible entry points for feedback, interpretation and correction. If there is a blind spot the collective field will most likely reflect this back to the person. This can at times be very painful.

Following this I’ve created a rule of thumb to help me navigate the social terrain of any group or constellation I’m part of. These guidelines have helped me to act more appropriately, such as doing or saying the right thing to the right person at the right time in the right context, and not transferring my own needs and wishes onto any given social tapestry. These “rules” are presented below and I hope they can be of benefit to others. The rules are specifically intended for when one feels the need to make an important intervention:

If I feel the need to bring up something vulnerable, edgy or provocative, into the larger collective field of a social group, I first reflect on the situation by myself. I then discuss it with several people one-on-one, and if possible, with individuals from both inside and outside the group (if this doesn’t compromise the integrity of the group). When appropriate I’ll try to bring the case into any minor group, or groups, that make up the whole. So instead of trying to do something with the whole structure I try to bring some fresh energy into the constituent parts.

When taking the step from reflection to action I’ll try to find my lowest level of influence, the place where I have real power and control, and I seek to prototype the implementation there. For instance, maybe I think that all my colleagues should become proficient in conflict resolution skills, well, then I first engage the issue with the two colleagues that form my nearest team. I try to apply what I want for all of us onto myself and the people I work closest with. Interestingly enough I often come to the conclusion that working on this level is more than enough for me!

After prototyping in my own context I might consider bringing up the case in a plenary session, but then only as a point of reflection. I listen to the immediate feedback, but also to the reverberations that stretch out over time. My experience is that sometimes things are picked up much later, and in general, timing seems to be an important issue.

I always ask myself the following; is my intention rooted in what the whole group needs, or is it rooted in what I need? Am I using the collective tapestry to battle out my own issues or am I truly serving the whole, and hence, taking real leadership? I try to never conclude, because my sense is that just asking the question is more important. Also, what might be a personal need at one moment could suddenly become a collective need the next. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to set up clear demarcation lines between what is truly personal and what is truly collective. At some level we’re all connected, right? Nevertheless, being aware of one’s boundaries can never hurt! Trust me, I speak from painful experience on this one!

Sometimes I scrap these rules and just jump in, regardless of what might happen to either myself or the people around me. I know this sounds selfish, but my point is that we can’t walk around and pretend that we’re actually able to do the right thing all the time! Besides, lot’s of good things are spawned from mistakes, and in any case, cooked eggs taste better than raw ones..


So, back to the point of personal resilience. I really want to become an effective change agent that can serve a higher purpose, and I do believe that this podcast project is a truly wholesome initiative, a potential catalyzer for personal, relational and societal transformation. At the same time I have this constant sense of always being ahead of myself, as if the themes explored in the podcast show points to my (and our) higher future self; an innate potential that I (we) can grow into on our journey through life. This stretch between my future self and where I am today can sometimes become challenging to hold, especially when I cock things up in my day to day (and very ordinary life) and subsequently measure myself against some of the wonderful and extraordinary people I’ve interviewed. This inner conflict calls for even more attention towards how I actually “host my self” along the way.

When I first wrote this meta-reflection based on the first article I was not sure if I wanted to post it, mainly because it’s mostly about me and my own internal processes. Why should I even bother other people with my personal stuff? And to be true towards the inserted article above, how do I know that this reflection is relevant to others and not something I should rather keep on a much lower energetic level? Well, as always, I never really know, but I have discussed these themes with many people in different contexts and my sense is that our collective intelligence, when it comes to communication, is somewhat limited.

It’s almost a year ago since I became aware of the possible energetic dynamics that seem to be embedded in communication and I’ve come to realize how often individuals, seemingly unaware of the potential consequences, offer something into a collective discourse, or into a public domain, with little or no awareness in regards to how their contribution will impact themselves or potential recipients. A typical situation (that tears my heart) is seeing young people taking part in TV-shows or radio shows where they uncritically share vulnerable stories about themselves. In general I think it’s positive that there seems to be a growing willingness to address our collective shadows and vulnerabilities, but it also raises important questions in regards to how individuals relate to themselves in the face of huge amounts of potential feedback. To be honest, I’m glad this website is still somewhat under the radar, because it gives me time to thoroughly integrate the points I’m addressing in this article at manageable levels of intensity.

A short while ago Lene Marlin, who is a famous Norwegian musician and songwriter, wrote an article about her own story with depression and attempts to suicide. The article caught the public’s eye and she was invited onto national television and interviewed live during prime time. A large proportion of the norwegian population gave at least some amount of attention to this one person and her offering, so let’s estimate that 2 million people were in a position to form an evaluation, interpretation or response! My impression is that she had prepared herself well and later on she responded that she didn’t regret for a second going public with her story. Nevertheless, now that her story has died down, I’m curious to learn what possible longterm aftereffects she has experienced? How is it to hold the space for this kind of public dialogue on behalf of a whole nation? How does one relate to the myriad of responses and reactions that people undoubtedly will have?

This specific theme of personal resilience is something I want to investigate further (through a couple of podcasts of course) but I also want to become more responsible in regards to my own participation in public dialogue. A couple of months ago I sat down and created another list of “rules” that I always check of before I publish a new episode, and my sense is that these guidelines could be of benefit to others as well. Here goes:

I make sure that I’m psychologically prepared and willing to respond to feedback from all the angles mentioned below, and I always reflect on how my act of communication could possibly impact these different groups: my family, my friends, my 10 and 11 year old pupils at work, my colleagues, my boss, members of the professional and private networks I’m part of, and a potential journalist from a large media company. These unique potential recipients and sources of feedback cover a pretty large base, so if I’m willing to stand for what I do in face of all of them, I’m good to go! This does not imply that I conclude that it won’t create uncomfortable situations, only that I’m willing to take responsibility for whatever comes up in relation to my act of communication.

I never make a podcast about an issue that I haven’t thoroughly addressed in other contexts. This usually implies that I have personally reflected on the issue at hand, read relevant literature and discussed the matter with many people one-on-one, and where possible, explored the matter in smaller or larger groups. I never go straight from my own personal reflection, which we could say has an energetic factor of 0,5, and straight into a public dialogue that potentially could be accessed by thousands of people. Such a transition would create a very asymmetrical communicative relationship.

As a method of personal reflection I always ask myself the following; how would the 40 year old James look back at the 30 year old James? What would he say? What about the 80 year old James or my hypothetical children? I also imagine sitting together with a handful of concrete people I look up to, for instance a spiritual teacher I have met, a therapist that I have been to and some other notable people that I see as being archetypes for personal integrity. What would they say?

And here is a funny one! I reflect on the issue at hand, and when possible, talk about it in both languages I know, namely English and Norwegian. When I speak or think in English there are certain things I’m able to convey that would be challenging to formulate in the Norwegian language (and the other way around). It is as if the languages themselves have certain inbuilt blind spots or biases, while also having some inherent enablers and catalyzers. For instance, I’ve noticed that when writing or talking English it’s much easier for me to communicate about spiritual matters, which incidentally can make my communication a bit lofty and overly ambitious. In this regard the Norwegian language has a healthy grounding quality to it. At the same time the Norwegian language seems to be somewhat bogged down with a sense of seriousness and conservatism, so too much of this can of course become stifling.

When all this is said there is a final point I want to make. At some level we have to make ourselves vulnerable if we really want to change. If we only play it safe we will never be in a position to receive the feedback we need to grow and expand our intelligence. Besides, there will always be a blind spot in our own structures of meaning-making, and because of this we need the mirrors set up by other peoples opinions. At a deeper level I would claim that there has to be a process of death and rebirth for true transformation to take place, and sometimes we do need a slap in the face before seeing our own limitations. Nevertheless, if there is only death, in the sense that the feedback one receives is of such a magnitude that it creates a full blown collapse, either physically or psychologically, well, then I would claim that this is not very sustainable. The rebirth part has to be there as well.

So, to wrap things up. I hope this little contribution on the art of public communication can open the space for some kind of dialogue around these issues, and I would of course be glad to respond to any comments below (either in English or Norwegian). Also, I would love to come in contact with people who have concrete experiences with large-scale public dialogue, especially on matters that are highly significant and vulnerable.

James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) er lærer og arbeider i Osloskolen. Han har bred erfaring innenfor dialogbasert prosessledelse, nærværstrening og konflikthåndtering. Ta kontakt med James på følgende adresse: james.arnfinsen @
James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) is a teacher, his subjects being geography, religious studies and sports science. He is currently working as a teacher in Oslo, Norway. In his spare time he practices Aikido, a Japanese martial art.
  • James Arnfinsen

    AftenpostenTV lagde en stund tilbake minidokumentaren “Sweatshop – dødsbillig mote”. Den ble svært populær i sosiale media, men nå har den også fått internasjonal oppmerksomheten i forlengelse av at TV og filmkjendis Ashton Kutcher anbefalte minidokumentaren på sin Facebookside. Jeg er nysgjerrig på hvordan det blir for de unge deltakerne å forholde seg til den økte oppmerksomheten og jeg synes det er spennende å se hvordan sosiale media kan bidra til å forsterke budskap.

    Saken omtales i en artikkel i Aftenposten (23.01.2014.) og her er en interessant refleksjon fra Bente Kalsnes, forsker ved Universitetet i Oslo og ekspert på sosiale medier.

    – Mediefenomener kan spre seg ukontrollert, og det er vanskelig å forutse hva skjer. Alt avhenger av hva slags personer som gir det oppmerksomhet, og om andre medier og nettsteder plukker det opp, sier Kalsnes.

    Jeg tror vi kollektivt sett undervurderer rollen oppmerksomhet spiller i sammenheng med samfunsendring (eller mangel på sådan). For meg er det forsåvidt like interessant hva som ikke får oppmerksomhet! Hva er det vi i dag mer eller mindre overser? Hva er de blinde flekkene i de kollektive diskursene som verserer i media og i pressen?

    To åpenbare eksempler (for meg) er manglen på kritikk og aktiv motpolitikk til det svært så dominerende vekstbaserte økonomiske paradigmet (for mer om dette temaet se f.eks. podcastepisodene jeg gjorde med Peter Victor og Brian Czech.

    Et annet tema er Peak Oil og den akutte situasjonen hva gjelder menneskehetens tilgang til effektive energikilder. Den dagen vi kollektivt sett våkner opp, og ser hvor prekær situasjonen faktisk er, tror jeg vi vil undre oss over hvor opplagt problemet var, og vi vil spørre oss selv følgende: hvorfor var det ikke et tema? hvorfor sa ingen fra?

    Vel, saken er den at det alltid er noen som vet og som sier fra. Det finnes sikkert tusenvis av livsviktige saker og interessefelst der det også finnes tusenvis av individer og fagfelt som jobber med temaet. Men mengden av oppmerksomhet de forvalter er fremdeles forsvinnende liten i forhold til alt det andre som opptar oss i det kollektive oppmerksomhetsfeltet (terror, ny teknologi, skandaler, kjendiser etc.).

    I forlengelse av dette kan man også spørre seg hvordan utvikling faktisk slår rot. Hvordan foregår egentlig prosessen fra ubevissthet (om et tema), til gryende oppmerksomhet til kollektiv og klar bevissthet? Hvordan tar man skrittet videre i retning av handling og nye samfunnsstrukturer?

    Jeg tror dette er et meget viktig spørsmål (jeg har naturligvis ingen svar).

  • James Arnfinsen

    Lene Marlin fikk hederspris for sin åpenhet rundt psykisk helse (06.03.2015). Helt fortjent!

    Det var i september i fjor at Lene Marlin skrev om sitt selvmordsforsøk i en kronikk i Aftenposten . Historien fikk enorm oppmerksomhet i både media og sosiale medier, og tilbakemeldingene til Marlin var mange.

    – Dagen har vært helt fantastisk. Jeg er så glad for at jeg skrev denne kronikken. Det er ingen tvil om at dette engasjerer mange. Jeg er ekstremt glad for at jeg kan inspirere andre til å prate om disse tingene, sa hun til NRK.

  • James Arnfinsen

    Hva skjer når unge mennesker blottlegger seg selv og sine psykiske lidelser i media?

    – Når vi har en trend som sier «vis frem alt, dette kan vi snakke om», så kan det lure de med lite apparat og støtte i ryggen til å åpne seg, sier psykolog Hedvig Montgomery.