The whole of the law

They call it the law of personal mobility, or the law of two feet: that you are responsible for your own learning and engagement. This law, stated in various ways (another example: “when your mind wanders, let your body follow”), is the cornerstone of a participant’s experience during an open space technology meeting. Everyone’s job is to act according to this law, and the facilitator’s job is to create a venue (or to open a space) where it’s effortless to do so.

The Thelemites’d say: howdy & welcome to the Æeon of Horus, where do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. (And these guys were cribbing Augustine’s love, and do what you will.)

I’d like you to meet Bruce, my father-in-law:


Now, he’s been known to say that whatever you do is right, and what he says is true. Once he figures out what you’re going to do, he makes it alright. Even as Bruce leads by action (in a more relaxed style than the phrase suggests), sometimes he has to say something, so that’s what he says.

The point

You aren’t what you say, but what you do. Still, you have to say something. That’s our curse. These aphorisms pile up like logs in tide and time, and bang their big ideas against the bulkhead at night:

  • Nobody but you can take responsibility for your engagement with your environment. Authorities and charlatans such as employers, politicians, or religious figures will attempt to collect rent — financial or otherwise — by claiming this duty, but their claim isn’t a responsibility.
  • Nobody else can tell if you are learning anything today. People only learn when they are ready to learn. People only do anything when they are ready, except die. If you aren’t learning today, you should be. Fix this problem. Turns out it’s pretty easy for people to tell if you learned anything yesterday.
  • If you aren’t engaged in what you’re doing, everybody can tell (but they probably don’t care). Recall the last time you waited out a meeting you were invited to, but didn’t have any purpose at or contribution to. You were wasting your time, and you knew it. From the organization’s perspective it might have been waste, or slack, or just the way we do it here. Great, but remember whose candle is being burned.

Living in open space

During an open space meeting, you discover an environment where it’s easy and delightful to make effective use of your time. You’ll do what’s necessary to do in order to learn, and to teach, and to find and solve the problems that have brought everybody together.

Maybe you need to start a conversation, or introduce two people who aren’t friends yet. Maybe you need to leave early. The space has been carefully laid out and opened up to make these actions easier than the alternatives. If you’re bored, it’s OK to walk away. If you’re hungry, it’s OK to eat. If there’s a break in the rain, nobody’ll mind if you go outside. The organizers work to make the meeting effective by making the participants effective. By making you effective.

The next day or so, the meeting is over, and you’re back into your life and all of the things from it. However, that fruit cannot be uneaten. The next time your mind wanders, you’ll want to get up and follow. When you’re not learning, you’ll notice. If you’re not engaged, you’ll want to actually disengage rather than sit there and look good. This is probably when you’ll realize that, inside an open space, the law of personal mobility can be followed without any real consequences. And you’re way outside the open space, in the cold dark wolf-ridden world, where actions do have consequences.

This is honestly really tough. Because you are still responsible for your own learning and engagement, in a way that is completely evident and easy to understand — but now every weird action you take has its cost. You are, to put it gently, ruined for life. For example: if you have a job, you can use this law to improve your performance. It’s likely that you’ll do so by leaving that job. You’ll understand that the only person who might possibly assume this huge responsibility — for your own learning and engagement — is you. Therefore, when you’re getting bored or feeling somebody else’s slack or pressure, you’ll ask:

  • is this what I really need to be doing with my hour/day/life?
  • how bad would it be to walk away (versus the cost of staying here, and wasting my hour/day/life)?

and much of the time, you’ll decide to stay put, because you just can’t or just won’t accept the alternative and its risk, cost, or damage.

But it’ll be your decision, not inertia or fate. The ongoing cadence of asking these questions (and, maybe, the content of any answers you come up with) will convene an open space for you to live in. A world where whatever you do is right.