GLOBAL TRANSFORMATION: Harmonization in the microcosm


Richard Moore

Bcc: misc. mentioned parties


(C) 2004 Richard K. Moore




* A very promising gathering in Michigan

In June of this year, twenty four diverse "opinion leaders"
were invited to a conference in Michigan which had the
following stated purpose:

      The purpose of this gathering is to [initiate] a new kind of
      public conversation that moves us beyond polarization so we
      [can] effectively address the issues we care most about. . . .

The participants were from all across the political spectrum,
including a former FBI agent, the National Field Director of
the Christian Coalition, a founding member of the National
Congress of Black Women , a board member of the National Rifle
Association, the president of a left-leaning legal-issues
organization, former Weather Underground supporters, and
former speakers at white racist gatherings.

Is this gathering  a joke? From such a radically diverse
conference one might expect fist fights and shouting matches
to emerge, rather than any kind of agreement or consensus. Tom
Atlee, one of the participants, expressed his misgivings prior
to the gathering this way:

      Using Google, I researched the people who were coming to the
      conversation.  I read articles by the conservatives and
      listened to their radio talk shows -- and I got triggered by
      what they said.  I reacted with anger, frustration and
      rejection of who they were.  I thought silent counter arguments
      and felt the rise of adrenaline.  Friends warned me to be
      careful -- or couldn't even imagine going to talk with such

But somehow, at the conference in Michigan, the outcome
transcended these negative expectations. It turned out to be a
very productive meeting. Another of the participants, Mark
Satin, wrote an article about the experience, and he sums up
the results this way:

      Before leaving, we all signed our names to a document titled
      "We the People." Many of us signed with flourishes, as if we
      were signing something akin to the Declaration of
      Independence. Here are the key passages:
      "We respect our differences and recognize America needs every
      one of our viewpoints, ideas, and passions -- even those we
      don't agree with -- to keep our democracy vital and alive;
      "We recognize that meeting here and across our land for
      dialogues across differences builds trust, understanding,
      respect, and empowerment -- the conditions necessary for
      freedom and democracy to live in us and around us;
      "And, therefore, each still grounded in our own considered
      views (conscience and convictions), we commit ourselves and
      our communities of interest to foster dialogue across the many
      divides in America, in large and small groups, to build trust,
      insight, and inspired action toward the more perfect union we
      all desire".

How were these people able to cut through their differences
and arrive at a statement they could all sign their names to?
Why did these people take the trouble to get together with
their political 'enemies' in the first place?  Why do they now
feel it is important for them to keep working together? Was
this a one-off event or is it something that could be repeated
elsewhere? Could this be a microcosm of how factionalism might
be overcome in our society generally--could it be part of the
response to our Harmonization Imperative? Could this be a way
to give real meaning to the phrase, 'We the People'?

* Meeting dynamics: collaborative & adversarial

Consider for a moment the many kinds of meetings that occur in
our society. In business, meetings are held regularly to make
plans and coordinate people's activities. If parents feel that
their children need a crossing guard on the way to school,
then they organize a neighborhood meeting. When a country
decides to go to war, that decision is made in some meeting
among high-level officials. In government one wonders if they
do anything but go to meetings, whether they be official
government sessions, or meetings with staff, colleagues,
lobbyists, backers, or constituents. If people want to start a
political movement, they begin by organizing meetings. The
American Revolution was born in New England pubs, where the
rebellious minded held meetings and plotted against the King,
inspired by the local brew.

Although many of us have negative feelings about meetings, and
about their effectiveness, the fact is that meetings are the
place where people generally make joint plans and reach group
decisions.  Some of these meetings are collaborative, and some
are adversarial. We are all familiar with both kinds.

A typical example of a collaborative meeting would be the
neighborhood gathering mentioned above, where the parents
would like to see a crossing guard assigned to a dangerous
local intersection. The people have a common goal, and they
work together cooperatively to achieve it. People offer
suggestions for actions which can be taken, the suggestions
are discussed, and people volunteer to help with the actions
that are agreed to. If the meeting is successful, everyone
comes away better off--the concept of winners and losers is
irrelevant to a collaborative meeting.

A typical example of an adversarial meeting would be a city
council session where a controversial development project is
being discussed. The developers and business community are
showing slides of beautiful landscaped buildings and talking
of new jobs, while neighborhood protestors are complaining
about increased traffic and the loss of a children's
playground. The typical outcome of such a meeting is that one
side wins and the other loses. Either the development project
goes ahead, and the neighborhood suffers, or else the project
is rejected and the investors may suffer considerable losses.

It is very unusual for anything creative to happen at an
adversarial meeting. People, or factions, come in with agendas
to promote--agendas that were created somewhere else. If the
meeting is unable to resolve an issue, it is typically
deferred--and people are expected to go off somewhere else and
create revised proposals. The 'somewhere else'--where the
creative activity of planning occurs--is generally a meeting
of the collaborative variety. In our city council example, the
developers and promoters have been meeting collaboratively for
months preparing their project plans and their city-council
presentation. Similarly, the neighborhood protestors have held
collaborative meetings to assess their feelings and to decide
how best to express their concerns to the city council. The
adversarial meeting--the official 'decision making'
meeting--is not a discussion session, but is rather a battle
of strength between the two opposing sides: Which side can
muster the most support among the city council members? Which
side can spout the most convincing rhetoric, painting its own
proposals in the colors of the common good?

Parliamentary sessions in liberal 'democracies' are based on
the adversarial meeting model. A chairman governs the
proceedings, proposals can be introduced, time is allowed for
debate, and a majority vote decides each question.  The
'debate' is typically rhetorical, for public consumption, and
seldom affects the outcome of the vote. This is not a system
designed to solve problems nor to encourage useful
discussion--it is a system designed to efficiently measure the
relative power of opposing factions, and to promptly assign
the rewards to the strongest. Just as the floor of the stock
market is designed to efficiently manage the investment
transactions of the wealthy elite, so is the floor of the
parliament designed to efficiently referee power transactions
among elite factions.

A collaborative meeting operates according to collaborative
dynamics, and an adversarial meeting operates according to
adversarial dynamics. Collaborative dynamics are about people
seeking common ground, identifying common problems, and
working creatively together to find mutually beneficial
solutions. Within collaborative dynamics people have an
incentive to listen to one another's perspectives, and in the
problem-solving process the group typically converges toward a
consensus perspective on the problems at hand.

Adversarial dynamics are about people debating from their
fixed perspectives in an attempt to prevail over the other
side. There is little incentive to listen to the other side,
apart from looking for weaknesses that can be exploited. Each
side may attempt to shift the perspective of the other side,
but neither side has any intention of shifting its own
perspective. Whereas people learn useful things about their
shared problems within collaborative dynamics, the only thing
learned within adversarial dynamics is how to better combat
the other side. Collaborative dynamics tend to resolve group
factionalism when it arises, while adversarial dynamics tend
to reinforce and encourage group factionalism.

* A gap in our cultural repertoire

These two meeting models are very common in our society, and
indeed they are more or less the extent of our cultural
repertoire. We know how to get together with our allies and
make plans to promote our shared interests, and we know how to
fight for our side in an adversarial gathering, according to
whatever rules are in play. What we don't know much about, and
don't have many cultural models for, is how to resolve
differences within a group of people. We don't know how to
engage in productive dialog within a group of people who
express conflicting interests.

In an adversarial meeting the differences are accepted as a
given, as a fixed quantity, and the business of the meeting is
to enable the different factions to battle it out until a
winner can be chosen. There is no attempt to resolve the
differences: people go away with their perspectives unchanged,
and the same factions retire to prepare for their next

When people come into a collaborative meeting, they come in
with the knowledge that they are bound by common interests to
the other participants. Indeed, the people come together in
order to collaborate in advancing those common interests. In
order to 'get on with it' and 'make progress', participants
tend to avoid bringing up internal differences in such
meetings. At such a meeting a 'good leader' will be skillful
at defusing differences, articulating compromises, and keeping
the meeting 'on track'. Minority factions within the group are
encouraged to stifle their 'divisive' concerns, and join the
majority in a 'consensus' that will advance the identified
common interests of the group. And in the competition between
different factions, success tends to go to those which are
best able to submerge their internal differences, focus on
their primary interests, and adopt decisive action plans.

Under neither dynamics is there an attempt to engage in
constructive dialog regarding the differences in the group.
Under adversarial dynamics there is dialog over
differences--but it is the dialog of power, expressed in the
language of influence and votes. Under collaborative dynamics,
discussion of differences is avoided, so that the group can
focus on their identified common interests and get on with
their primary business. In the one case difference are
expressed competitively and are reinforced, and in the other
case differences are suppressed. In neither case are
differences resolved.

This gap in our cultural repertoire creates a problem for
popular initiatives, particularly in a society which is
already split by factionalism. Indeed, the gap can lead to
difficulties whenever people attempt to work together. Here's
an example I observed on a recent visit to the San Francisco
Bay Area. The population there is relatively progressive, and
there is widespread support for an increased focus on public
transport. But instead of people getting together and coming
up with a common proposal, people soon divided themselves into
two camps. One camp wanted to expand the conventional rail
network, while another wanted to expand the rapid-transit
system. Most of the available activist energy was then devoted
to a struggle between these two camps.

As I read over the positions of the two camps, as an outside
observer, it seemed obvious to me that the best of the ideas
could be usefully combined into a cost-effective hybrid
proposal. The real solution, it seemed, would be to make
strategic interconnecting links, and coordinate upgrades,
among available transport systems--rather than promoting one
kind of transport to the exclusion of another. Of course my
own arm-chair proposal probably didn't take everything into
account, but the main point remains: the two camps were
fighting over their differences rather than trying to resolve
them--and missed any opportunity to find synergy in some
creative middle ground. The collaborative meeting model could
not serve the two camps, because neither side was willing to
stifle its ideas--so the activists adopted the only other
available cultural model: adversarial engagement. As a
consequence of this split in popular activism, the transport
planning decisions will most likely be made by speculative
developers and their politician cronies, and whatever they
decide they will be able to claim their decision has 'public

Most of us consider public meetings to be a waste of time,
particularly when they attempt to deal with issues that are
complex or controversial. This is because we have prior
experience with the dynamics that are likely to occur. First
there will be an attempt to reach a rapid consensus, most
likely proposed by those calling the meeting. Then someone in
the back stands up and disagrees, voicing some objection. That
sparks other suggestions and objections. The meeting threatens
to 'get out of control'--to revert to adversarial dynamics.
The organizers attempt to bring the dynamics back into
collaboration. If they succeed, then some of the participants
go away feeling their interests have been betrayed; if they
fail, then everyone goes away with the feeling that yet
another meeting has been a waste of time.

Because of these circumstances, anyone with a motivation to
pursue political activism soon learns to flock with birds of
the same feather. Environmentalists flock under a green
banner, animal rights activists follow their drummer, other
groups rally around their opposition to corporate power, or
their stance in favor of or against abortion rights, etc. In
order to get anything done, collaborative dynamics are
required, and gathering together in interest groups seems to
be the natural thing to do. Those gathering together already
agree on what's important, and they are thus able--depending
on their organizational ability--to get get on with a program,
rather than 'wasting time' debating the priority of different
issues. In this way the energy of popular initiatives gets
sucked into the game of adversarial factionalism--a game whose
rules are set down by elites for their own advantage. Just as
in Las Vegas or Wall Street, this is a game where the house
always wins in the end.

If we want to overcome factionalism at the macro level, at the
level of society, we must first learn how to overcome
differences at the micro level, down in the grassroots where
people meet face to face. We need to extend our cultural
repertoire to include gatherings of a third kind, where people
neither compete to win or lose, nor submerge their differences
in order to reach a shallow consensus. We need a third
dynamics, a dynamics of harmonization, a dynamics that
encourages us us to express our concerns fully, and which
enables us to work creatively with that information to find
ways forward that benefit everyone involved. If our cultural
repertoire can be extended in this way, at the micro level,
then we may find that there are new ways of working together
on a larger scale as well--ways that avoid the quicksand of
adversarial politics.

* The dynamics of harmonization

Although harmonization dynamics is not part of our mainstream
culture, it is a well-developed part of certain sub-cultures.
In particular, if we look at the management-consultant and
meeting-facilitation communities, we find that harmonization
(under various names) is a rapidly expanding domain of
knowledge and practice. In the pursuit of greater efficiency
and competitiveness, corporations want their internal teams to
work more effectively together--and this has spawned a whole
industry of consultants and facilitators. As a consequence the
state-of-the-art of facilitation has progressed along many
lines, and some of those lines have produced very promising
results as regards harmonization. Indeed, there are several
proven facilitation methodologies that focus on overcoming
group differences at a deep level, thereby unlocking creative
synergy that was previously blocked by divisiveness or
misunderstanding. Not all of these methodologies were
developed in the industrial context, but corporate support has
overall provided a boost to this field of practice--and
success in the domain of corporate teamwork provides hard
evidence for the effectiveness and value of these techniques.

These facilitation techniques have proven to be successful in
socially-oriented contexts as well, as evidenced by the
outcome of the Michigan gathering. An extensive listing of
initiatives and methodologies relevant to harmonization
dynamics (closely related to what Tom Atlee calls
"co-intelligence") can be found on Tom's website: These techniques are proven
and reliable. They enable groups to transcend their
differences, discover their underlying common ground, and come
up with creative, breakthrough solutions to difficult problems
and seemingly intractable conflicts. Furthermore, people who
participate in one of these session generally report that they
find the experience to be personally transforming.

This kind of facilitation is not about a leader guiding the
group through an agenda or a problem-solving system. The main
job of the facilitator, in achieving harmonization, is to
enable the participants to learn how to listen to one another.
That turns out to be the key to harmonization--really
listening. Listening without thinking about a counter-argument
at the same time. Listening without judging and dismissing.
And beyond that, listening with the respect that every person
deserves and that we ourselves would hope to receive when we

Our culture doesn't give us much experience with this kind of
patient and respectful listening. Typically in social
conversations we are thinking about what we're going to say
next instead of really listening. In adversarial meetings we
listen in order to retort, and in collaborative meetings we
are only interested in hearing things that move the agenda
forward. It never seems like a good use of our time to pause
and really listen to what everyone has to say, even those we
might consider to be divisive or uninformed. But such
listening is possible, we can all do it if we have a bit of
support, and when it occurs amazing things happen.

The Michigan gathering was a particularly dramatic example,
involving people who are deeply committed to radically
opposing factions. At the end they created and signed a "We
the People" declaration, and we will return to examine the
substance of that declaration. Perhaps more significant than
the specific document is the fact that this group could reach
any agreement at all, and perhaps still more significant is
the fact that the group expressed a sense of solidarity. The
title itself, "We the People", indicates an amazing and
surprising outcome from this particular group.

My own introduction to harmonization dynamics came in a
roundabout way. I had organized a gathering in Berkeley of
about a dozen progressive activists and thinkers. My
intention was to to explore with the group certain ideas that
I had been developing. I had learned about consensus decision
making and was convinced that the key to an effective movement
could be found in consensus. If we could agree on a vision for
a new kind of society, and if we could agree that radical
change was necessary, then we could reach a consensus that
might become the basis of a radical popular movement. Since we
all shared progressive views, I figured we should be able to
avoid divisiveness, and consensus would be achievable. I
prepared a discussion agenda and my intention was to lead a
discussion based on the agenda, the last item of which was to
document whatever consensus we had reached.

For a while the meeting seemed to be going 'on track'. We got
through a good portion of the agenda and wrote down many
points of agreement on several flip charts. And then someone
spoke up and complained about the agenda. He had other things
in mind he wanted to talk about. I considered this to be a
divisive interruption of our process, and a threat to the
'progress' we were making in our 'limited time'. I tried to
get the discussion back 'on track', but he persisted in his
objections. At that point, feeling frustrated and
'threatened', I totally lost awareness and told the fellow he
should go off and organize his own meeting(!) I'm sure you can
imagine how my rude outburst affected the tone of the
gathering. Any momentum we had achieved suddenly evaporated.
There was a seemingly endless moment of embarrassing silence.
I wished I were somewhere else, as I was expecting some
measure of deserved ridicule from the group.

But something else happened instead, something that
transformed the gathering and created a space that I hadn't
visited before--the space of real dialog. A woman spoke up and
asked if I'd mind if she tried a bit of facilitation. Relieved
to see the focus of attention shift away from myself, I
readily agreed to her offer, not knowing what 'facilitation'
was or how it could help. What she did was very simple. She
asked the other fellow what he was expecting from the meeting
and then she asked me the same thing. His answer was basically a
repetition of what he had said before, but somehow I could now
hear it as a sensible concern rather than as a disruption.
When it came my turn to answer I felt like I was making a
public 'confession'. I was opening myself up to a kind of
vulnerability I wasn't accustomed to--the vulnerability of
being really 'present' and 'exposed'. As other participants
shared their thoughts about the session, that's when I
realized that our exchange was now taking place in a different
space than before. It was a space occupied by people, rather
than by ideas, 'discussion', flip charts, and 'progress'.

I had always thought of dialog as being primarily a logical
interaction among ideas, as in the pages of a scientific
journal. In this new space I realized that dialog has a more
profound dimension. Dialog is the means by which people
express who they are. It is the means by which they become
'present' in the group. By 'listening to people', rather than
'hearing ideas', we allow a shared space of openness and trust
to emerge. As people express their concerns, in an atmosphere
of respectful listening, the space expands and everyone's
presence expands. The group becomes a 'We' rather than just a
cluster of individuals. Not a manufactured, compromise We,
where diversity is submerged, but an empowered, alive We,
where diversity is embraced-- all of it adding to the
collective experience and insight of the group. In this space,
diversity brings synergy rather than conflict.

Being in this space was a powerful experience. It wasn't a
new-age, "We are one with the cosmos" experience--it was
practical and down to earth. It was more like the experience
of being part of an effective team: "We are all present and
now we can do some good work." It became clear to me that until
this kind of presence comes into being, dialog can only exist
in the black & white space of abstract ideas. With presence,
and with listening, I felt that We could tackle any problem
and We would do so with technicolor synergy--with a spirit of
intelligent, creative, collective inquiry.

Unfortunately, in the Berkeley gathering, we didn't have
enough time left to do much with the experience--other than
for us first-timers to get a taste for what might be possible.
Let's return to the Michigan gathering, which was better
organized and able to go further. Mark describes the first
evening's activities this way:

      On Friday night, we broke into three groups (of eight
      participants and one facilitator each) to discuss such
      questions as, What did you understand about being an American
      when you were 12 years old? How have you experienced political
      differences and how did that affect you personally?
      It was impossible to participate in that exercise without
      coming to see (and feel and know) that every participant,
      whatever their politics, was a complex and caring human being.

This description is extremely brief, but we can see the same
basic elements I experienced in Berkeley. People were invited
to become present by expressing who they are, and what kind of
experience they've been through. And as a consequence of this
open sharing, in a space of facilitated listening, the focus
was on the people, and their mutual respect, rather than on
any specific issues. As the weekend progressed, the group
moved on to examine questions like, "What is missing in
conventional political discourse?".  Conflict was expressed as
well as agreement, but the group was able to do something
creative with the conflict as well:

      Someone tried to classify participants' approaches as "left"
      or "right." Someone on the right took umbrage with that,
      feeling that the qualities cited as "right" were insulting
      stereotypes; and that pressed many people's buttons; and round
      and round and round we went, and the afternoon shadows grew
      But the end result of that conversation is we all realized --
      I mean, we all really "got" -- how misleading and even
      infantilizing the old political spectrum had become.
In another exercise, the participants were asked to tell about
each of the key decisions they'd made in their political
      Everyone stared, some of us open-mouthed, as various
      "left"-wingers and "right-" wingers, former Weather
      Underground supporters and former speakers at white racist
      gatherings, shared the incidents that shaped their lives.
      And revealed without even trying that every caring person is a
      brother or sister under the skin.
      And that our values are at some deep level fundamentally the
With these kinds of breakthroughs, we can understand how the
group was able and willing to sign their "We the People"
declaration. They also decided to co-sponsor a larger,
follow-up conference--and they agreed to pursue a few other
collective projects as well. We'll return in the next chapter
to explore the political potential of this thread of
initiatives. For now, I'd like to focus on the dynamics of the

Earlier, I drew a distinction between collaborative and
adversarial dynamics, and suggested that our culture is
lacking--and needing--a dynamics of harmonization. In that
discussion I was talking about ideas and issues, and the
problem of how to resolve differences. In this current
section, we've seen that it is possible to enter a space where
the dynamics of harmonization operate--but the door to that
space seems to be about people rather than about ideas and
issues. And in going through that door, its seems that we may
experience some kind of personal transformation. Mark reported
a transformation in terms of his activism:

      ...for the first time in many years, I feel enthusiastic
      enough about an incipient political movement to want to put my
      shoulder to the wheel.
In the Berkeley gathering, my transformation was about the
realization that the people part of dialog is more fundamental
than the issue part of dialog. Tom Atlee says, regarding the
Michigan gathering:
      In the end I experienced a deep, gut-level transformation.  I
      had a profound personal shift away from Left/Right framings
      that was comparable to my earlier shifts away from sexism and
It seems that there is no single flavor of transformation that
occurs in this space of harmonization. Rather, we each tend to
undergo whatever transformation is needed to remove those
internal blocks that prevent us from being present with a
particular group at a particular time.
The dynamics of harmonization are quite different than
adversarial and collaborative dynamics. Harmonization begins
by expanding the space to include everyone's diverse concerns
and interests. Adversarial and collaborative dynamics both
begin by limiting the space to narrowly defined issues and
interests. Participating in the space of harmonization
involves being open and present as a complex human being.
Participating in an adversarial or collaborative space
involves only being an advocate or opponent of some issue or
proposal. The experience of harmonization often leads to
personal growth and transformation, while adversarial and
collaborative experiences tend to reinforce pre-existing
positions and attitudes. Harmonization breaks down barriers
between people and enables them listen to one another and to
find common ground at a deep level. Adversarial and
collaborative dynamics reinforce factionalism and regard
deeper issues as being irrelevant or divisive.

Collaborative meetings provide a space in which factions can
rally together and plan their strategies. Adversarial meetings
provide a space in which factions can compete for dominance.
Harmonization-based meetings provide a space which may enable
us to do away with factional divisiveness altogether. 

In the microcosm of a facilitated gathering, we know it is
possible for the empowered spirit of We the People to be
kindled. We know that in that space of harmonization it is
possible for this empowered microcosm to work together
effectively and creatively as a group. At the level of the
microcosm, assuming the availability of appropriate
facilitation, we can see a way to overcome factionalism and
bring We the People into being.

This leads us to several useful questions: How can the
practice and understanding of harmonization dynamics be
brought into the mainstream culture? How can the availability
of facilitators be expanded, or alternatively, how can the
need for facilitators be reduced--so that the dynamics of
harmonization can be practiced more widely? How can progress
in the microcosm be translated into progress in the macrocosm?
That is to say, how can We the People come into coherent being
at the level of a community, a region, a nation, or the whole
globe? How can We the People become a 'player' in society and
in global affairs? And if We achieve that, how can We dialog
with, or engage with, the established regime so as to respond
effectively to Our Transformational Imperative? How can We the
People create a new society, and can we (you and me today)
anticipate what that society might be like?

These are the questions we will investigate in the next



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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
      suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
      Reichstag fire."  
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

    Faith in ourselves - not gods, ideologies, leaders, or programs.
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