Another World Is Not Only Possible, It’s Already Here

Following on the heels of last week’s inspiring Appreciative Inquiry conference, I came across an example of AI in action, and it relates to a personal story.

During some of the remaining last days of the pre 9-11 era, on May 25th 2000 to be precise, I participated in a special dialogue hosted by the US National Security Commission on Building for Peace (see what I wrote about my experience, Dialogue: Organizing for Conflict Prevention). The unique idea I brought into the room was inspired by Barbara Marx Hubbard’s Synergy Centre concept – to create a new Peace Room function in the White House (and in all the government houses of nation states around the world) devoted to scanning, mapping, connecting and looking for what is working of local and global developments, innovations, discoveries and processes that contribute to a co-creative society (e.g., peace, security, sustainability and a humane, regenerative world). My fellow participants considered this to be a promising and bold social innovation that a visionary new American president might adopt (the dialogue results were to form part of the report of the USNSC to the President and Congress after the election). The post-9-11 reality took the United States in a different direction.

I discovered today that a group of people through have taken up a similar idea, and are doing just that – inviting people to look for what is working in the world. Their appreciative and simple premise is this: “that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it’s here. We only need to put the pieces together.” They have already compiled a 600-page book of emerging innovations and solutions for building a bright green future, from disaster relief to sustainable business. What could be possible if people everywhere went looking for, and acted upon, what is right with the world?

Social Architects of the World We Want

“How can we design the social architecture of our organizations and communities so that our most cherished values are embedded in the underlying design (i.e., the relationships, practices, programs, processes, products, services, policies, communications and technology)?” – Diana Whitney, Creating Dynamic Destinies, Appreciative Inquiry Conference in Vancouver February 15-16, 2007.

This is the invitation of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) – the study of what gives life to human systems when they are at their best, and a process for translating ‘our best’ into the design of positive futures. The foundations of AI are:

  • Wholeness – giving all stakeholders whose future is affected an equal voice.
  • Story – engaging people in a narrative-rich exchange of personal experience to foster learning and deepen respect across boundaries of differences.
  • Relationships – providing opportunities for people to make meaning together – and from a positive core, to discover how to co-create a desired future.

I feel privileged to have shared two intense days of learning and connection through a conference design that modelled how a social architecture can inevitably lead us to ‘live our most cherished values’ – intimate conversation even in large groups, supportive community, goal-setting grounded in our deepest values, and committed action based on voluntary, self-authored effort.

Conversation Week

Celebrating the Power of Conversation to Change the World.

“Have you ever wondered what would happen if the people of the world talked to each other about the most important questions of our times – and the world listened?”

OrangeBand, Conversation Café and dropping knowledge (with help from Skype) are hosting a global Conversation Week at the end of March, celebrating the power of conversation to change the world and the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Conversation Cafes. ‘Serendipitously’, following on my last post, this larger social event is coinciding with the date of our next local Saturday Soup Salon, so in an informal way, we’ll be part of this initiative.

The provocative proposition of Conversation Week: “What if dialogue and deliberation had an Earth Day equivalent, a time to raise awareness and knowledge of the people, organizations, and models we have to promote meaningful conversation?” And what if, instead of one day, we had a whole week – a Conversation Week, March 25-31, 2007, on which to consider some important questions such as the following listed on the website:

  1. What is the most important question in the world now?
  2. What can we do now to make life better here?
  3. What matters most?
  4. What steps can we easily take now to solve our problems? What more challenging steps we could take that might solve even bigger problems?
  5. How much is enough? For you? For others?
  6. What one thing could I do this day that would do the most to help address the world’s problems?
  7. What question, if answered, do you believe could make the most difference to you, those you love, and the world at large?
  8. What would a just world be like? What are we doing – or not doing – to have an such a world?
  9. What do you do when self-interest and the common good seem in conflict?
  10. What do we owe the future?
  11. What is freedom for?
  12. What is the good life?
  13. What can make life better now and in the future?
  14. What is the highest leverage action we can take to respond to the challenges of these times?
  15. What is the economy for?
  16. To whom or what does my life belong?
  17. What is our responsibility to each other whether friend or foe?”
  18. And many more…. see the website or add your own.

Turning to One Another (Saturday Soup Salons)

Since turning 50 last February, I have consciously entered an introspective cycle, listening within to sense – “where does my life energy most feel drawn to flow next?”, and “how can I follow what is calling me forward into the second half of life with ease and grace – in fact, without burnout, through high leverage actions?” Then, a few months ago I attended a public evening with Margaret Wheatley in Vancouver, and was reminded of the importance of simple conversation. “I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation where we each have a chance to speak, where we each feel heard, and where we each listen well to our experiences, hopes and fears. This is how great changes begin.” – Meg Wheatley, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future.

Meg’s presentation helped me realize that authentic conversation is a powerful leverage point for social change. And this sparked in me the idea of hosting Saturday Soup Salons, to engage (for now) in conversation with thoughtful and reflective women around what is drawing us in our lives. Last Saturday, January 20th, eight of us gathered and shared deeply around one of Meg’s questions, “What is your faith in the future?” Without divulging the content of our rich exchanges, I’d like to share some of the quotes and books that helped to seed our conversations.

  • At the start, I read an excerpt from Conscious Evolution: Awakening the Power of Our Social Potential by Barbara Marx Hubbard: “Social innovations are springing up everywhere. Thousands of acts of caring, sharing, healing and new solutions are emerging….However, will the convergence of positive innovations happen before the convergence of destructive tendencies? Will the planetary system repattern to a higher orcder, or will it fall apart into chaos, into environmental collapse that has also been predicted? This is the question. There is no guarantee that a dissipative structure will repattern to a higher order. It is merely a tendency, just as it is the tendency of each baby to survive, although many do not. It is precisely at this point that we need a new social innovation to facilitate the increased interaction among positive innovations – a new ground of the whole to facilitate this convergence – conscious evolution.”
  • And I shared a quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés, from “Letter To A Young Activist During Troubled Times” “Do not lose heart, we were made for these times…”
  • Several inspiring books and resources were mentioned (including two written by members of our Salon). These are listed in the sidebar under ‘Books’.
  • I closed the Salon with a reading of this poem, by Christopher Fry – A Sleep of Prisoners:
    The human heart can go to the lengths of God
    Dark and cold we may be, but this
    Is no winter now. The frozen misery
    Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
    The thunder is the thunder of the floes
    The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
    Thank God our time is now when wrong
    Comes up to face us everywhere,
    Never to leave us ’til we take
    The longest stride of soul men ever took.
    Affairs are now soul size.
    The enterprise is exploration into God.
    Where are you making for? It takes
    So many thousand years to wake,
    But will you wake for pity’s sake?

Engaging Citizens Around Questions That Matter

Out of despair and extreme tragedy, new patterns of engagement are providing citizens with meaningful opportunities to be involved in the most important public decisions that impact their lives (see New Orleans and World Trade Center events below). What if this level of citizen engagement became the norm? What could we accomplish say, on the issue of climate change, by creating a collective agenda to bring together not just politicians, but also the various experts, side by side with citizens in all the regions of the planet, to learn together and coalesce the global will to act?

  • Displaced New Orleans residents gather to discuss how they’d like their city to recover, in an Internet-linked gathering that allowed for a conversation among some 2000+ of the city’s current and former residents who are now in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and New Orleans. The participants focused on neighborhood stability; education; affordable homes and rent; roads; transit; utilities; health services; and other vital public services following a methodology designed by AmericaSpeaks.” NPR
  • Listening to the City – In 2002, AmericaSpeaks was honored with the responsibility of providing thousands of New Yorkers with a meaningful voice in the process of rebuilding the World Trade Center site. “I would be tempted to call it a turning point in the story not only of the World Trade Center, but of American planning in general. … Thousands and thousands of people talking seriously about urban design is something I never thought I would see.”New Yorker Magazine architecture critic, Paul Goldberger.

Something Is Emerging

I have always implicitly understood that the deeper purpose behind the work we do in organizational and community development is to consciously evolve our human institutions and ourselves towards our aspirations for a more positive and sustainable future. As Tom Atlee writes so eloquently below, through this work we become part of the evolutionary imperative that transformed star dust into ferns, eagles, children, and music. For good or ill, we are co-creators of the planet’s future. It is high time we took our role of planetary co-creator seriously.

“Coherence is emerging among us, in many forms which, in turn, can interact towards greater coherence. That emerging coherence is potentially all-powerful — and we are its life. Its potential will only be fully realized through our co-creation of it, building it through expanding understanding, not force, welcoming diversity and dissonance as guides to our next challenges en route to ever-greater coherence. When we join our power to this evolutionary imperative, and invite others into it, we become evolution, we become the whirlpool, we become the new civilization. We are that emerging world, waking up right now.” Tom Atlee, Co-Intelligence Institute,, Nov. 26, 2006

Democracy and Citizen Engagement

“Elections do not equal democracy.” Carlos Santiso, IDEA, June 2000 “Participation does not refer simply to voting… [but] requires that individuals have a voice in the decisions that affect them.” Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist, World Bank

The institutionalizing of a democratic electoral process in Iraq (Bush, USA) represents only the ‘form’ of democracy. It does not equate to the creation of a democratic culture and country. The ‘substance’ of democracy is the free and open engagement of citizens in conversation, exchange and meangingful participation in the various aspects, levels and decision-making processes of governance in their country.

To the quotes above, I would add: “Referendums do not equal democracy.”

After the 1995 Referendum in Quebec Canada, I was moved to organize People-to-People Search for Canada (an Open Space event), as an opportunity for ordinary citizens to participate in discussions on the future of Canada. I did not see the Quebec referendum process as a wholly democratic process because it excluded a vitally important stakeholder group from the decision-making process – the citizens of Canada outside Quebec. Beyond individual actions (writing letters, flying to Montreal), Canadian citizens were unable to participate in this crucial decision process which had the potential to dramatically affect their future forever.

Dialogue & Contribution to Human Consciousness (Spiral Dynamics)

(Inspired by Democratic Dialogue Handbook – see further below for extract)

Dialogue contributes to enhancing the level of individual and collective consciousness in groups, by expanding the level of understanding and awareness of issues and perspectives from “me” to “we”. Dialogue helps move people from a self-centered, ‘me’ focus to a more aware and inclusive ‘we’ focus. At the beginning, participants engage in ‘nice talk’ – polite but guarded conversation where the core issues are only surfaced without speaking to the deeply held beliefs, histories, and values underneath. In ‘tough talk”, participants risk divulging the differences and tensions and disagreements that separate them from other views. In ‘reflective talk’, participants extend a willingness to consider and truly ‘hear’ the views of others, and in the final ‘generative talk’, participants see themselves as intrinsically bound within a larger whole and generate new options and solutions that are reflective of the shift from ‘me’ to ‘we’. This movement in focus and relationships can be characterized as an enhancement in the individual and collective level of consciousness of the group.

Provocative Proposition Dialogue is a powerful process to enhance the level of human consciousness. The creation of more positive human futures depends on transcending competing and conflicting views to a larger and more compelling whole that all can align with. Don Beck in Spiral Dynamics calls this a ‘supra-ordinate’ goal – one that is desirable by all, but that none of the players can achieve on their own; it requires the active support and participation of the whole. Spiral Dynamics also suggests that the evolution of human consciousness from one development level to another is brought about by such supra-ordinate goals and shifts. Thus, dialogue can be seen as a powerful tool to contribute to a shift to higher human consciousness. (Caveat: Don Beck warns that dialogue – a primarily ‘green’ (communitarian; social-network) v-meme process, is totally ineffective to deal with ‘red’ (power; exploitive) v-meme situations and individuals. The only response that ‘red’ respects is a ‘red/blue’ response – consequences backed up with power.)

Dialogue as a Tool for Peaceful Conflict Transformation, The edition of Dialogue as a Tool for Peaceful Conflict Transformation, Magna Terra editores in October 2004.

  • Nice talk – as the group first meets, conversation is limited to polite and guarded exchanges, and agreements on rules and norms of behaviour to ensure a sense of safety and order. Issues are raised superficially without delving into the underlying structures of belief, history, values and differences (cultural, religious, gender, age, etc.)
  • Tough talk – participants take more risks to disclose their views, and to disagree; tensions, challenges; conflict issues become more visible
  • Reflective talk – willingness to consider the issue from another’s perspective; to hear, see, own the perspective of others – represents the first shift from ‘me’ to ‘we’.
  • Generative talk – participants recognize their interconnectedness to the larger whole, and generate solutions, options and possibilities reflective of that understanding; what is good for ‘us’ and not just for ‘me’.

First Musings

On Procrastination

task without passion
attention wanders
emails beckon
anything to distract

is this really worth doing?
why bother?
who cares?
a million excuses not to do

try new technology goodies
and blogging too

here goes….