Ch 5: THE POWER OF DIALOG – part 2

2005-02-03

Richard Moore

draft version 3.10

Chapter 5

THE POWER OF DIALOG

[ continuing from Part 1 ]

Let us next consider a harmonization session in a community
setting, where the concerns raised involve the participants
directly in their daily lives. The community involved is the
Rogue Valley area of Oregon, and the facilitation technique
involved is called Dynamic Facilitation -- one of the most
effective forms of facilitation for achieving harmonization in
a diverse group of people. Held in November 2003, the event
was billed as The Rogue Valley Wisdom Council. Wisdom Council
is a concept developed by Jim Rough, the inventor of Dynamic
Facilitation. In this session, as in the Michigan conference,
the participants emerged with a sense of democratic
solidarity, a sense of We the People.

The Wisdom Council is Jim's proposal for how the We the People
experience might be translated into the political domain. The
basic idea behind a Wisdom Council is to bring together a
group of randomly selected citizens, as a kind of
representative microcosm of a larger constituency -- a
community, a region, or even a whole nation. Ideally, a Wisdom
Council would be officially chartered in some way, so that the
outcome of its harmonization process would have a claim to
democratic legitimacy. The ideas and proposals generated in a
Council session are to be shared with the larger population,
leading perhaps to a wider dialog, and hopefully influencing
public policy. If the general concerns of the larger
constituency find expression within the microcosm, and if in
the microcosm those concerns have been harmonized, then it is
likely that the consensus reached in the Wisdom Council will
enjoy wide appeal in the constituency generally.

In order to achieve a reasonably random selection of
participants, hundreds of names were picked randomly from the
voter rolls for the Rogue Valley area. These people were
contacted by phone, and eventually a small group agreed to
participate in the event. Jim Rough personally facilitated the
two-day session, and the group chose to look into the
problem of funding for education.

That problem itself served as a kind of catalyst; it gave the
group a chance to work together in a space of harmonization,
and develop their sense of identity as a group. As in the
Michigan conference, this "finding of identity" seemed to lead
naturally to a sense of democratic empowerment, expressed
again by the phrase "We the People." The event was recorded on
video, and one can readily see the transformation in the
participants. At the beginning they seem rather shy and don't
look like they had much to say. But by the end, they are
overflowing with enthusiasm about the possibility -- even
the necessity -- of some more direct kind of participation
in the democratic process.

A public meeting was held immediately following the session,
and this was also recorded on video. The meeting started off
with a report by the participants on their experience, and
their highly articulate, heartfelt expressions were in stark
contrast to their original shyness. The meeting then broke up
into several roundtable discussions. There was no attempt to
facilitate these discussions, and remarkably the enthusiasm of
the Council participants turned out to be highly contagious.
The people at the meeting were able to somehow pick up the We
the People spirit without actually going through the
harmonization experience themselves. Everyone came away from
the public meeting with a great deal of enthusiasm for greater
public involvement in policymaking -- and for the kind of
dialog that harmonizing processes enable.

Let's now look at two examples of harmonization sessions from
Jim Rough's website. These examples illustrate the kind of
creative problem solving which can occur as part of a group
process:

        #2: PERCEPTION-BUILDING:
        This mode of creative thinking often follows Trust-building.
        The focus is no longer on the energy or feelings of
        participants but on the data or details of the situation. In
        this "head" mode of creativity, we are like puzzle-solvers,
        seeking to understand what is going on so we can see what is
        needed.
        
        The master auto mechanic, for example, uses this mode of
        thinking when creatively working on a difficult problem. Each
        bit of new information or each new measurement sparks thoughts
        and new awareness's.
        
        Example: A group of employees in a sawmill met to work on the
        problem of "cleanup at the log barkers." Bark debris from logs
        caused numerous problems and they had made it known to
        management that there was a pressing need for more cleanup
        people but management had refused. They felt there was nothing
        more they could do.
        
        Creative Choice: Meeting in a creative format with a dynamic
        facilitator the group examined the list of cleanup issues and
        specified one as most critical. It was "cleanup around the
        bucking saw." When that area wasn't cleaned properly, sawdust
        and bark worked into the equipment in such a way that a
        particular mechanism to lift logs didn't slide back down. This
        meant that big logs had to be jockeyed back and forth until
        they could be positioned to ride past the stuck lift. Besides
        wasting time, jockeying the log damaged the equipment.
        
        After identifying this problem as most severe, members of the
        group climbed below the lift area to examine how sawdust and
        bark hung up the equipment. Although they had been there many
        times before, this time they looked at the equipment with the
        knowledge that this was a difficult problem and with curiosity
        as to how it happens. They were able to determine that the
        bark accumulated on a ledge and quickly determined that the
        ledge served no structural purpose. With a welding torch and
        about 20 minutes they eliminated the ledge and the most
        pressing problem they faced, one that had seemed impossible.
        
        Observation: This problem had plagued the men for years and
        yet the solution was quite simple once they looked into it
        with a creative attitude. Key was the attitude of curiosity.
        In this case this attitudes was triggered in the men by
        listing data and observations about the situation. Once
        questions arose that they realized they couldn't answer, they
        took some time away from their normal work to find out more.
        -- http://www.tobe.net/papers/CC-BT'sinThinking.html

The focus here is on the creative-choice aspect of problem
solving, but keep in mind that before this group was able to
apply itself to effective problem solving, it had to reach the
stage where it felt empowered to address the problem. The
people had to move past "Management won't give us the
resources we need," and go on to "What can we do ourselves
with what's available to us?" They needed to develop the
confidence, the courage -- and even the motivation -- -- 
to take action on their own initiative. In Society's
Breakthrough, where Jim tells a fuller version of this story,
we find that it took work over a considerable period of time
to reach this level. As we also saw in the one-time Michigan
conference, work in a space of harmonization is an unfolding
process, gaining depth over time.

        #4 INNOVATION-BUILDING: 
        Innovation-building is what most people think of when they
        hear the term "creative thinking." It's a process like
        brainstorming, forced analogies, or guided imagery, where
        people make new connections. This is "head creativity"
        because, to engage in it, one must dissociate from his or her
        feelings. It only works on issues that are like puzzles,
        divorced from feelings.
        
        Example: The manager of a reforestation project proposed a
        problem he'd been struggling with. After planting seedlings
        each year the plastic tubes in which the tiny trees had been
        contained were brought back from the woods. Hundreds of
        thousands of these tubes needed to be sorted into racks to
        feed a machine that deposited soil, fertilizer and seed for
        next year. Getting the tubes into the racks was done manually.
        Design engineers had estimated that hundreds of thousands of
        dollars would be required to mechanize this. He asked a group
        of people "can you think of a way to do this more cheaply."
        
        Creative Choice: The group started by considering how the
        tubes might sort themselves. They discussed how elements from
        nature sort themselves. They thought about how bees fill
        hexagon racks in their hives with eggs, how birds migrate to
        specific locations, and how salmon return to their spawning
        ground after years at sea. Thinking about salmon in more
        detail they imagined themselves as salmon returning through
        river currents by smell and instinct. Forcing this image
        together with the tube problem, the group thought of ways to
        use water to sort the tubes. If the tubes floated straight up
        and down when put into water, they could be guided by currents
        to squeeze together at the end of a tub. A rack situated under
        the tubes, when lifted, could then catch one tube per hole.
        This idea would cost only a few dollars and could be set up
        for testing in a few hours. It was an exciting line of thought
        with a savings potential that was incredible to the engineers.
        
        Observation: Innovation-thinking promotes non-linear
        thinking approaches in order to provoke new lines of thought.
        For this kind of thinking there is value in irrelevant
        material like the habits of salmon and in non-expert
        participants. But normal meetings squelch this kind of
        thinking, where only relevant ideas are tolerated, and only
        people who are familiar with the issue are invited to attend.

It is possible to effectively pursue these kinds of creative
problem-solving sessions without achieving a sense of
community, and without trying to attain a space of
harmonization. A facilitator can work with a project team to
overcome difficult obstacles, achieve effective results, and
it can all be done at the level of a technical team meeting, a
pure "head activity." And in a business setting, where the
problems are of a technical nature, that is perhaps how things
should be.

But fortunately, this same level of creative activity is also
available to the kind of groups we considered in our earlier
examples. In such cases the group must first overcome its
divisiveness, and learn to accept the validity of other
participants as fellow humans -- so that it can function
coherently as a group. As in Jim's sawmill story, a group
doesn't reach its full potential in a few initial sessions. In
Ashland, a few sessions were able to enter the space of
harmonization, and to awaken a sense of We the People. That's
just the beginning. If that process is to be developed
further, if "We the People of Ashland" are to become a player
in Ashland's public affairs, there need to be ongoing sessions
of some appropriate kind. The role of the facilitator remains
the same, providing a focal point to reflect group attention,
and asking the obvious questions that need to be asked. The
only difference is that the focus of the group moves on from
understanding and trust, to more practical matters.

"We the People" is more than an awakened consciousness;
enabled by harmonization, it can be a competent consciousness,
able to deal with problems sensibly -- exhibiting what Tom
Atlee refers to as co-intelligence. And always keep in mind,
we are talking about groups of ordinary people, often with
conflicting views. A facilitator can help them hear one
another, but in the end it is ordinary people on their own who
achieve mutual understanding and competence. This a very
hopeful sign, as regards the feasibility of genuine
participatory democracy.

                    Democracy is an infinitely including spirit. We have an  
                    instinct for democracy because we have an instinct for
wholeness... Democracy is the self-creating process of life...
                    projecting   itself into the visible world... so that its
                    essential oneness will   declare itself.
                    -- Mary Parker Follett, The New State (1918)


*The role of a facilitator

There are many kinds of facilitators, appropriate to many
kinds of gatherings and meetings. A schoolteacher can be seen
as a facilitator, directing the attention of the class to
ideas and information in a sequence that can enable their
understanding and learning. A marriage counselor is a
facilitator, helping direct the attention of the couple to
their root problems, or perhaps toward healing exercises,
depending on their needs. In general, the role of a
facilitator is to focus the attention of the group in a way
that is effective for the job at hand.

When we accept a facilitator, we are implicitly agreeing to
pay attention when she has something to say; we were agreeing
to accept her comments as valid and relevant, just as we would
the comments of a teacher in a class. When she then asks
someone a question, she is implicitly passing the baton of
relevance and validity to that person, and we naturally shift
our attention to that person's response, and are likely to
"really hear." If there is any doubt that the person was
"heard," the facilitator will typically repeat what was said
in her own words, and ask if she "got it right."

When we accept someone as a facilitator, we are granting to
them the power to control, to a large extent, the focus of our
attention and that of the group. With that power, and with any
kind of skill with people, it would be very easy for a
facilitator to manipulate the dialog of the group in the
direction of whatever agenda that facilitator might have in
mind. I'm sure we've all had the experience of getting angry
with a news panel moderator on TV, when he gives lots of
attention to idiots on the panel, and ignores or interrupts
those sensible panelists we would like to hear from. We can
see that such a moderator is abusing the power he has over
public attention. Similarly, when a city government holds
"public hearings," many of us have had the experience of
seeing the discussion railroaded toward whatever decision the
city staff had already reached behind closed doors.

In the case of a harmonization session, it is important that
the facilitator be trusted by the participants, and that she
bring no agenda to the proceedings. Her role is to help the
group learn how to function coherently, in the various ways
that have been described throughout this chapter. The group
itself is responsible for any agenda that might be adopted,
and it is the participants, not the facilitator, that engage
in problem solving and come up with creative solutions. Among
the skills needed by a facilitator -- apart from knowledge of
her particular style of facilitation -- is sensitivity to the
energy of a group, and particularly of energy blockages. She
doesn't really direct the attention of the group, rather she
notices where the attention naturally wants to go -- or where
it needs to go to satisfy the group's deep needs -- and helps
it along by inviting it to shift in those productive
directions.

Another important skill is a basic understanding of approaches
to problem solving -- brainstorming techniques, idea mapping,
and the like. This helps the facilitator notice standard
blockages that occur in the problem-solving process, and makes
it easier for her to ask appropriate questions, or to
summarize contributions in appropriate diagrams, so as to help
release those blockages.

A considerable amount of dedicated time is required for a
group to reach its full potential, as a harmonizing,
problem-solving "community." Two days can be very useful, but
three or four days would be closer to optimal. The extra days
are very valuable, for as with most processes, once it gets
warmed up and in high gear, that's when the most valuable
outcomes are generated.

At the same time, it is possible to get value out of a
smaller-scale process. It is even possible to approach the
space of harmonization without a facilitator. The simplest
such process I know about is the "talking circle" process.
Some object, a stick or teddy bear or whatever, is designated
as the "talking stick," or "token." The agreement is that
whenever someone has the token, they are the speaker --
everyone else is silent and pays attention to them. The
speaker then has the space to say whatever's on their mind, at
their own pace, without needing to rush so as to avoid being
interrupted, as so often happens in normal conversation. When
the person has said their piece, and perhaps taken a breath or
two, the token is passed around the circle to the next person.
People find it easier to listen and really "hear" when they
know that eventually the token will get around to them, and
they'll have their own special uninterrupted space in which to
express themselves and be heard.

In this process, the token itself is functioning as
facilitator, by quietly generating order and helping people
focus their attention on what has heart and meaning, and what
is emerging among them.  In new groups using this method, this
power of the token is generated largely by how it is framed at
the beginning by the convener. Indigenous peoples using this
kind of process have typically considered the token to be
sacred.  Others frame the token as empowering us to speak the
truth from our hearts. Focus itself is what enables a group to
function coherently. The path the focus follows might seem a
bit random -- just as the path of our own internal thoughts is
a bit random, as we ponder a problem in our heads. Whatever
the path might be, the important thing is that the whole group
be on that same path -- reading from the same page at the same
time. That is what focus is about, and that's why it is
central to the role of facilitator, or talking stick, as the
case may be.


* The dynamics of harmonization

There are many different styles of facilitation that can
enable a group to enter a state of harmonization. The primary
role of the facilitator in all of these styles is to help
focus attention, and to use that focus to help bring out the
latent energy of the group. As we have seen in the preceding
examples, one of the first tasks of a facilitator, in moving
toward a space of harmonization, is to focus the attention of
the group on the people themselves, rather than on issues.
When people can hear one another, and accept each other's
concerns as being everyone's concerns, then the door is
opened, the space of harmonization is entered. All the energy
that was tied up in roles and "positions" is then released,
like a weight lifted from the group's shoulder.

In the Michigan gathering, we saw a style of facilitation that
gave each person a turn to express themselves in a way that
revealed their humanity, and in this way a space of
harmonization was reached in a very orderly fashion. In
Dynamic Facilitation (DF), rather than giving people turns,
the facilitator "follows the energy" -- whichever person seems
most in need of expressing themselves becomes the focus of
attention. Eventually everyone is "revealed" to the group, but
the process is less orderly. At least it appears to be less
orderly, even chaotic. In fact, "following the energy" is a
kind of ordering principle in its own right, and DF seems to
be particularly effective at releasing the "deep energy" of a
group, and enabling the group to find remarkable
breakthrough-solutions to very difficult problems.

Entering the space of harmonization is only the beginning.
It's as if everyone had been milling around the room, and now
they have finally sat down at the table to begin the meeting
in earnest. For only when people have accepted one another as
respected fellow humans is it possible for a certain kind of
dialog to begin. When the concerns of each are accepted as the
concerns of all, then the creative energy of the entire group
can focus on the same shared question: "How can we find
solutions which take all of our concerns into account?" When
the whole group's energy is synchronized in this way, then a
new level of creative energy becomes available, just as the
synchronized waves of a laser have a level of energy not
available to normal light waves.

Let me express this notion from another perspective. We have a
group that is operating in the space of harmonization. They
are together seeking a solution to a problem; let's say the
problem is, "How can we make our neighborhood school more
effective at teaching our kids?" In solving any problem, there
are always certain steps you go through, such as breaking the
problem down into smaller parts, looking at the problem from
different angles, brainstorming possible solutions, etc. etc.
As the process of problem solving unfolds, however you choose
to structure it, what moves it forward at each step are ideas
and inspirations -- the creativity of the problem solver. When
you have a whole group of people all focusing on the same
aspect of a problem, then you have many lifetimes of
experience and insights all bearing on the process -- the
"pool" from which ideas and inspirations can emerge is a rich
one. And that's not all.

We've all heard the expression, "Two heads are better than
one," and most of us have probably had experiences where a
problem became much easier to handle when we had a colleague
to bounce ideas around with, each idea sparking a related
insight from the other. In our everyday styles of dialog, we
cannot usually extend these dynamics to a larger group of
people. If several people are hovering over the same problem,
the appropriate expression usually becomes, "Too many cooks
spoil the broth." But in a space of harmonization, with a
facilitator who serves as a focus of group attention, the "Two
heads are better than one" principle can be effectively
extended to many heads, and the boost in creativity that
occurs is non-linear.

The key element in the dynamics here is "bouncing ideas
around." There is one fellow I worked with over a period of
many years, each of us migrating to the same companies, always
wanting to be on the leading edge of technology. We often
found ourselves solving problems together, and bouncing ideas
around was always the process that gave us our creative
solutions. The process was very chaotic, often jumping around
in problem space as seemingly random insights popped out.
Frequently the best ideas would emerge when one of us
misunderstood the other! In trying to make sense of the
misunderstood statement, an unexpected idea would emerge. Two
heads were more than twice as good as one head; the whole was
greater than the sum of the parts.

Ideas stimulate more ideas, and inspirations stimulate more
inspirations. It's like sparks flying around the room. When
there are 10 people involved, for example, and an idea is
expressed, there are 9 different minds that might "spark" off
of that idea, rather than just one as when I was working with
my colleague. To put it in systems terms: there is a
multiplicative creative synergy that arises when a number of
minds are focused in a coherent way on a shared problem. The
examples from Jim's website gave us a brief glimpse into how
this synergy operates in real-life situations.


* Collective wisdom

This "creative synergy" operates on many levels. In the
introductory exercises at the Michigan conference, where
people were listening to each other share some of their
decisive experiences, sparks were also flying around the room
-- as people recognized themselves in the stories of the
speaker. It was "bouncing recognition around" rather than
"bouncing ideas around," but it was the same kind of synergy
at work, with people learning from one another.

This same kind of synergy also operates at the level of
wisdom. When a group of people are listening respectfully to
one another's views, in a conversation about some shared
problem, something more than creativity and intelligence can
be enabled: it is possible for wisdom itself to manifest.

One aspect of this arises out of the nature of the dialog
process itself. When people are listening respectfully to one
another in a conversation, we can say that the group is being
"self reflective." The group is behaving like a person who has
taken time out to reflect on their experiences. It is in such
moments of self-reflection that each of us is likely to
experience those insights and inspirations that add up to
whatever wisdom we are able to gather in life -- and in such
moments we are best able to manifest that accumulated wisdom.
Similarly, for a group of people, an atmosphere of
self-reflection is highly conducive to achieving wise
insights, and to learning from whatever wisdom has been
accumulated by the people in the group. In the space of
harmonization, the thought process of the group is similar to
the thought process of a contemplative mind.

Another aspect arises out of the "multiplicative synergy" I
mentioned above, only here we are referring to the synergy of
shared wisdoms, rather then the synergy of shared
problem-solving talents. As we saw in the Michigan conference,
as the process continued over time, people dug deeper down
into their core beliefs and feelings, like the layers of an
onion peeling sway. It is down in the cores of our minds that
we exhibit wisdom, and are open to expanding its scope. And, I
hope you will agree, the language of their "We the People"
declaration did indeed contain gems of wisdom.

When I described my experience in the meeting between the
researchers and engineers, I said that my role in the meeting
felt simple and natural, and indeed it did. I'm not always a
great listener, but in that meeting listening seemed the
wisest thing for me to do, lest I show my ignorance of the
technology. And because I was a bit the gooseberry, the only
one not involved in the dispute, I naturally became a focus of
attention: "Who is this stranger in our midst?" With that
focus, and with an intention to really listen, it was indeed
natural, almost inevitable, that I was able to contribute to
the group's ability to "hear" what people had to say. I needed
only to ask the most obvious questions, the questions any
naïve, curious person would ask, who was concerned about
helping the people resolve their differences.

It turns out that the kinds of processes we have been talking
about are part of our primordial heritage as a species. In
many indigenous societies, at varying stages of "progress,"
and with various social structures, we often find traditional
processes in which people listen respectfully, someone plays a
facilitator role, and there is a conscious intention to tap
into the wisdom of the group. In the indigenous Hawaiian
culture, for example, there is a process called h'o pono pono.
Here an elder simply listens to each person in turn, allowing
others to "overhear." This continues until "the right answer"
(to the issue in question) becomes obvious to everyone.

In the Sioux Nation, a confederation of Plains Indian tribes,
wisdom was considered a primary virtue, and the culture
encouraged people to develop their wisdom through
self-reliance, and by facing tests of various kinds in the
different stages of life. A chief was chosen largely for his
wisdom; his was not a position of power nor was it inherited.
The stories and legends of the tribe were intended to pass on
the wisdom of the tribe. When the Sioux gathered in council,
whether in their local tribe or in a powwow of tribal
delegations, they listened respectfully, and they sought to
awaken their best wisdom in dealing with their affairs.

Harmonization is as old as humanity. It is a way of being that
is in our blood and in our bones -- and it is tied in with
wisdom, and with self-governance. This primordial tradition
was continued in our first civilizations, based on partnership
cultures. Since 4400 BC the barbarians -- the dominators, the
takers -- have been trying to condition our wisdom and
empowerment out of us, to subjugate us to their hierarchical
regimes. Divide-and-rule tactics are as old as recorded
history, pitting classes and peoples against one another,
beginning with gender domination -- thereby subverting our
potential for harmonization. Under capitalism, divide-and-rule
has been turned into a science, with each of us compelled to
compete in the scramble for the crumbs left over after the
corporations and elites have dined.

But all these centuries of conditioning and suppression have
not destroyed our souls, our inner natures. Our free spirits
have never been conquered. We can see this in the face of
every child, and we have seen it recently in the Ukraine when
a people arose en masse to assert their right to choose their
leader in a fair election. We saw it in the long struggle of
working people to build unions, and to win the right to
collective bargaining. In Chapter 3 we examined several
examples, where our inborn spirit of freedom and
self-determination expressed itself in social movements, and
we were able to find our identity and empowerment as We the
People.

And, last but not least, we have seen that almost any group of
people, with a bit of help from a facilitator, are capable of
rediscovering that which centuries of civilization have tried
to erase. We do not need a grand struggle in order to awaken
our collective free spirit. The damage civilization has done
to us, as regards subjugating our minds, has a known therapy,
a therapy that can be accessed by ordinary people gathered
together, as they deal with the problems that concern them,
listening respectfully to one another.

The red pill that Neo took revealed a hell of a lot in a very
short time: once his eyes were opened to reality, the whole
Matrix disappeared all at once. Harmonization, by which I
refer to this primordial practice, is a similar red pill that
can enable us to escape from the Matrix of divisiveness and
disempowerment. In the relatively short sessions we have
examined, we have seen the spirit of We the People emerge,
along with an enthusiasm for the potential of harmonization to
contribute to the transformation of our cultures.

Our potential for wisdom, our ability to harmonize our
concerns, and our will to govern ourselves, have not been bred
out of us. We are not cattle or sheep, even though our roles
in civilization have often served similar functions, and with
as little choice in the matter. As Robert Heinlein put it, and
I paraphrase, we are descended from willful apes, not
regimented ants, and we should be proud of that. Hierarchical
civilization has failed in its evil designs: we have never
been fully domesticated to slave status.

"We the People" is a sleeping giant, lying in a slumber
induced by the myths and conditioning that have been refined
by millennia of elite rulers and religious patriarchs. For all
their efforts, and their long success, their conditioning
turns out to be only skin deep. The trance, despite its
longevity, is a light one. Under the right conditions, the
giant has been known to awaken, and his power has been mighty.
Seemingly unassailable empires have crumbled in the blink of
an eye.

Hierarchical civilization is now in the final stages of its
evolution. It is hemorrhaging on its own dynamics of growth
and exploitation. The Pentagon is embarked on an apocalyptic
final campaign, seeking to enslave the whole world under a
centralized global fascist regime, in control of all strategic
resources -- while American citizens are to be subject to
arbitrary arrest and unlimited incarceration. If ever it was
time for the giant to awaken all over the world at once, that
time is now.
-- 

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    http://www.williambowles.info/monthly_index/
    http://www.zmag.org
    http://www.co-intelligence.org
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