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Harmonizing values in an age of discordance through tapestry thinking: species, society, and synergisms

Nalini Nadkarni

Discordance is an inevitable characteristic of our complex biological, intellectual, and social worlds. Many approaches can resolve these disharmonies. For example, discordance can result in domination or elimination (as in the displacement of an invasive over a native grass species). Alternatively, discordance may reconciled by blending the conflicting elements, but at the cost of irretrievably losing individual elements (as in mixing red and white to create pink paint.

I offer "tapestry thinking" as a third approach. This has allowed me to synergistically integrate forest ecological research and conservation efforts into a variety of other, potentially discordant, arenas. It has led me to both explore intellectual pathways of wildly different academic fields, and to promote conservation to a broad array of non-academic audiences, including faith-based communities, legislators, and the incarcerated.

Tapestry thinking engages with a question by inviting representatives of different disciplines, ways of knowing, or value systems to interweave their threads of understanding of that question with others, while still retaining the identity of their domain. Each participant both speaks from his/her own sources of authorities and listens to others. The group then extracts threads of emerging themes. Models and tools may be "borrowed" among what seem to be discordant groups, resulting in novel insights. Three examples illustrate how tapestry thinking can resolve discordance.

  1. A "transdisciplinary colloquium" used tapestry thinking to explore theory on disturbance and recovery. We convened researchers from 10 academic disciplines to exchange tools and approaches to understand how relict structures might enhance recovery following disturbance.
  1. "Canopy Confluences" convened expert practitioners in the sciences, arts, and humanities in remote forests to observe, interpret, and communicate the multiple values of a place held in common. Multiple communications (data, art, music, poetry) resulted from these seeming discordant ways of knowing, which promoted forest conservation to a far wider range of audiences than any single discipline would have available.
  1. "Faith and Science" activities concerned the reconciliation of these two traditionally discordant entities. I created sermons that enumerated the multiple values of trees, drawing not upon scientific papers, but rather religious sources of authority (Bible, Talmud, Koran), and presented them in places of worship. Others have similarly found concordance on the need to conserve biodiversity, whether generated by evolution or the hand of God.

Tapestry thinking may be a useful approach for those interested in resolving discordance about the different ways we classify, interpret, and conserve species.

Last Updated: 5/5/22