First printing, August 2002
200 numbered and signed copies
Available from: http://QuayLargo.com/Transformation/
The needed change will come from people with changed minds, not from
people with new programs.
—Daniel Quinn, The Story of B
Seeker: How can I find the path?
Teacher: Learn to walk, and the path will find you.
For some time now I have been on a quest. This is a quest that many others
are on as well, millions of them. We are all seeking answers to the same questions:
What can we do to save the world from disaster? How can people learn to live
in harmony with one another and with nature? How can we free ourselves from
oppressive governments and institutions?
Those of us on the quest have tried many things. We have studied, written,
debated, and protested. We have formed movements and political parties, published
books, and we have occasionally achieved victories. But in the end, if we are
honest with ourselves, we must admit that the tide of history continues toward
global disaster, and rushes always faster.
Like many other seekers, from time to time, I felt that I had found "the
solution". In some sense I don’t think those solutions were wrong,
and many of the other solutions I’ve seen would probably work as well—if
only enough people would agree on one of them!
Agreement, it seems, is the Holy Grail of change. If only that mysterious Grail
could be found we would have the power to do what now seems impossible. But
how do we move toward agreement? What is the path? Debate doesn’t seem
to work—it seems to lead only to more debate. Public education doesn’t
seem to work—there are too many teachers with too many conflicting messages.
The obvious paths to agreement seem to lead nowhere useful. And yet agreement,
in some sense, must happen before anything else can.
Sometimes, when a long search proves fruitless, you must stop and do nothing.
You must empty your mind, stop trying, and wait for some kind of inspiration.
If you do this, then sometimes an answer appears that is surprisingly simple,
one which has been right under your nose all the while. Suddenly you can see
what you have been seeking.
I have something to share with you that is an answer and at the same time is
no answer. It is everything and it is nothing. It is so simple that it would
mean nothing if I simply told you what I have found. We must retrace the quest
together, visiting the places where things of value can be found.
Let us move on to the first part of our quest. We are looking for the Holy
Grail of agreement. Let us look in a place where reaching agreement appears
to be the main theme and activity. Let us examine a group process known as Dynamic
Dynamic Facilitation & collaborative consensus
I continue to be impressed by the quality of people’s insight, creativity,
and caring that can emerge whenever a space is held where there is sufficient
listening to all voices... and how helpful it can be to have a "designated
listener", so that the rest of us can be as passionate about our convictions
as we would like to be, and still be heard... as well as "overhear"
each other being listened to, and begin to find common ground... and, of course,
we need lots of people who are able to be "designated listeners",
so we can all take turns.... it seems so simple a message.
—Rosa Zubizarreta, session facilitator
Rosa Zubizarreta practices and teaches something called Dynamic Facilitation,
or DF. DF is a particular approach to facilitation, one that encourages people
to come as they are, with all of their thoughts and feelings and pet solutions.
The process is not particularly demanding on the participants, but it is particularly
demanding on the facilitator, who needs to be able to listen deeply, take all
sides, and trust the group and the process.
Success in DF is measured both by the outcomes that emerge, and by the quality
of the conversation itself. Are participants addressing real issues, rather
than superficial ones? Are people being fully heard? Are people being creative?
A typical group may need three or four sessions, of two to three hours each,
in order to experience a significant breakthrough. Breakthroughs often involve
the solution to some shared problem—a solution that all participants are
completely excited about, and energized to put into action—since they
see it as their solution. Typically the participants are from diverse backgrounds,
with differing beliefs and conflicting perceived interests—and with strong
ideas about how the problem should or should not be solved.
The facilitator acts as a neutral designated listener. Rosa describes the role
"The role of the facilitator, especially in the beginning stages, is
to step in between any emerging ‘debates’ and redirect the energy
toward the facilitator. We do not encourage ‘debates’, but do
encourage everyone to speak their mind fully and exhaustively to the facilitator.
By the way, this is very similar to many indigenous conflict-resolution practices.
"The facilitator encourages everyone to speak their mind fully, including
their misgivings and concerns about the solutions proposed by other participants.
As dedicated listener, the facilitator makes sure each speaker feels heard,
often by restating what was said to make sure that he or she has understood,
as well as by recording each participant’s contributions and posting
it in on the wall for all to see."
People generally appreciate the opportunity to speak their mind at length,
while actually being listened to. However, as all of the diverse perspectives
that are present in the group are drawn out and begin to cover the walls, often
a feeling of "We’re not getting anywhere." emerges. An empty,
quiet space comes into existence. Everything has been said, everything has been
heard, and no one sees any sense in beating his or her own drum yet again.
From this empty space a new kind of energy spontaneously emerges. People are
looking not just at their own perspectives. They themselves have been fully
heard, which has allowed them to begin to "overhear" one another as
each person in turn has directed their comments to the facilitator. Now, as
participants take in all of the various perspectives posted on the walls, they
begin to realize that some new creative approaches need to be taken that will
somehow begin to address all (or at least many) of these various perspectives.
First one person gets creative, and offers what they feel might be a synthesis.
Then another person builds on that, or proposes a different synthesis. This
all happens quite naturally, without any facilitator urging. Entrenched positions
fade, as people naturally realize the need for new and creative alternatives,
and a process of collective problem solving begins.
What begins to happen after a while, spontaneously, is that people begin to
see connections and they begin to articulate them. "What if we used part
of his idea and combined it with part of hers?" This kind of energy uncovers
hidden synergy among ideas, but it does something else of more lasting value.
It builds and nourishes a sense of effective community collaboration.
We find that the individuals, despite all their disagreement and divisiveness,
have transformed into a temporary collaborative community. They have set aside
their preoccupation with their disagreement, and have learned to work together
to find solutions that everyone is willing to live with. They’ve learned
to trust one another and to listen to one another. They’ve learned to
see one another as full human beings, beyond stereotypes.
In the end, as if by magic, a solution begins to emerge which is far more than
merely acceptable to everyone. It is a solution that participants prefer to
their own original solutions—it is a solution that everyone is excited
about. This excitement is the trademark of this kind of process.
There are many processes that use the name consensus but which are nothing
like what we have been talking about here. The WTO, for example, reaches its
decisions on a consensus basis—to the extent that any delegate can block
a measure by formally dissenting. But no creative problem solving occurs at
the WTO. The introduced measures are drafted in advance by major-nation cliques,
and the debate is about whether to accept them as is, or whether to delay progress
until the next meeting. This process may lead to begrudging assent, but it does
not produce solutions that meet the concerns of all the participants. Furthermore,
no sense of community is created. Instead of designated listener, the meetings
are chaired by a gavel-wielding discussion manipulator.
At the local level, many attempts have been made to include citizen participation
in policy formation, and many of these try to include some form of consensus.
But typically the focus is directly on the problem solving, and there is little
understanding of the need to reach genuine community before truly effective
problem solving can begin. Politeness, or professionalism if you will, tends
to keep people in their original positions, and compromise is more likely to
be the outcome than synergy. Besides, these citizen-government sessions tend
to be spread over time, with isolated meetings fitting into busy schedules.
Such a session environment cannot produce the kind of intense shared experience
that is essential to the functioning of a DF session.
I will be using the phrase collaborative consensus to refer to any process
which functions along the general lines of DF, and which leads to the same kind
of collaborative problem solving and community experience. Let us next seek
to understand how such processes might contribute to our quest for the Holy
Grail of agreement.
Agreement—but what kind?
Consensus does not mean agreement. It means we create a forum where all
voices can be heard and we can think creatively rather than dualistically
about how to reconcile our different needs and visions.
—Starhawk, Lessons from Seattle and Washington D.C.
In one sense a collaborative consensus session is all about agreement. It is
about agreement on a solution to the problem at hand. That kind of agreement
is achieved in these sessions and is the purpose of the sessions. But in a deeper
sense the sessions are not at all about agreement.
Recall that participants may be deeply divided by their conflicting beliefs
and perceived interests. The session must overcome these differences in order
for trust and community to develop, and for problem solving to be possible.
But those differences are not overcome by agreement. That attempt always fails,
leading to a frustrating but necessary giving up. The differences are instead
overcome by experiencing that it is possible to go forward despite those differences.
The solution to disagreement is not agreement, but something else. That something
else is in a different space than agree vs. disagree. It is in the space of
working together. People can build a barn together even if they don’t
believe in the same things. It’s really not that surprising when you think
In terms of our quest, what we are really seeking is a way to agree on solutions
to the world’s problems. It seems that a direct search for agreement itself
is not the right path—it turns out to be unattainable. Consensus teaches
us that the result we seek might be better achieved by searching instead for
a way to create community.
Consensus sessions create a temporary community space, and in that space agreement
on solutions becomes attainable. If we can find a way to create community spaces
that last over time, and which involve larger numbers of people, then we might
begin making progress toward the kind agreement we truly need—agreement
on how to deal with our problems.
Our quest has now become a search for ways to build community. As the next
step on this quest let us refresh our understanding of what motivates our quest.
What is it about the world that is leading us to disaster? Why do so many of
us seek ways to bring about fundamental changes?
Our modern societies are organized around two basic principles: hierarchy and
Private and public institutions are organized as hierarchies and the major
institutional decisions are the realm of central headquarters. It is difficult
even to imagine anything very different. A corporation or a government needs
to solve its problems with the big picture in mind, and all the big pictures
can be dealt with if they are collected together at headquarters. There seems
almost to be a law of nature about centralized hierarchy since everything seems
to work that way.
Competition in our societies is all pervasive. The whole society is set up
as an adversarial machine. We seek knowledge by competing with other students.
We advance in our careers by outdoing our co-workers. Success in business is
defined in terms of competitiveness. We seek truth and justice by setting up
a competition between two professional adversaries (lawyers) whose job is to
out-perform the other in swaying a jury. We choose those leaders who compete
best at telling us what we want to hear. Our nation’s laws are decided
in a competitive forum where one wins by being good at the game of trading favors
and fooling the public.
A good metaphor for our adversarial society is an old rhyme. "The big
fish eat the little fish, and chew on’em and bite’em. The little
fish eat the littler fish, and so ad infinitum." Us humans are the infinitum.
We are the bottom of the food chain. We are small mammals who scurry around
the Jurassic underbrush, while the ground trembles under the weight of mighty
giants. We are lucky if we avoid getting stepped on or gobbled up by one giant
institution or the other. Our own competitive energy, if we can muster any,
is used up trying to get our share of the scraps that filter down to the underbrush.
I find it strange that so many people refer to these societies as democracies,
or as bastions of freedom.
The masters make the rules, for the wise men and the fools.
There is only one place in our societies where competition is not King, and
that place is at the top of the hierarchies. Those with real power and money
have learned that it makes more sense to run things for mutual benefit than
to vie for marginal advantage among equal adversaries. Oil companies do better
by parceling out marketing territories (or merging) than they would by competing
on price. The richest nations no longer struggle against one another, but have
learned to collaborate in the exploitation of the weaker countries.
Although competition rules the game for the smaller fish, the biggest corporations
find more leverage in gaming the rules. Change the regulations, pump in some
government subsidies or contracts, arrange for a troublesome third-world leader
to be ousted by a coup, and so on. And if you look at the boards of the biggest
corporations, you keep running across the same names over and over again. And
many of those you will recognize as past or present players in high government
If you look the top, where the hierarchies meet, you find an elite community—a
community where common interests are recognized and mutual benefit is achieved
through collaboration. Globalization brings this community out into the open.
No longer do they need to hide in the shadows, pulling the strings of their
lobbying networks and beholden politicians. Now they have a place (the WTO)
where only they are invited and where they can write the rules however they
While the elites act as a community, the rest of are divided by competition
and by our beliefs. Not only do elites have the power, but they also have the
collective self-awareness to maintain that power as circumstances change. We
not only lack power, but we—the people—do not have community and
thus self-aware action on our part has no meaning. We cannot do anything because
we do not exist as a self-aware entity that can act and respond.
In an ironic sense, we can take encouragement from the fact that the elites
have succeeded in achieving community. They have proven that it is possible.
The number of people involved is considerable (and variable), they are spread
around the globe, they have diverse interests and beliefs, and they certainly
never all get together in one place. And yet they demonstrate effective community
coherence nonetheless. It can happen.
Community at the top has been achieved. Is community from below achievable?
It may not be achievable. In that case we are likely to be oppressed by hierarchies
for the rest of history. This quest is about seeking escape from that future.
Let us persist.
A moment ago we redefined our quest as a search for ways to create community.
From what we’ve seen about modern societies, we need to expand our objective.
Creating communities here and there is a start, but to change society we need
something more. We need a community from below of some considerable scope. Our
community needs to become as inclusive and widespread as it can possibly be.
When we the people really means something, then we can begin agreeing on how
to deal with the problems we face. Our quest is now focused on achieving society
as community, an achievement that would give real meaning to we the people.
One of the problems that we the people would need to deal with eventually is
the current hierarchical regime itself. As long as that elite-controlled regime
holds on to power, our society as community could not do much to solve our other
Let us review how people have tried to displace powerful regimes in the past.
Movements and revolutions
A movement is an example of a community from below. It is made up of people
who have somehow gotten beyond their differences, and have chosen a way to work
together to solve an important problem that affects all of them. The solution
they have chosen is to actively promote some agenda of changes for society,
some program for society.
If the program is one that finds favor in elite circles, then the movement
does not have a very difficult task. Politicians will rush forward in support
of the agenda, hoping to gain the votes of the movement members. Those politicians
will be likely to succeed in implementing significant portions of the program,
since they would enjoy support in elite circles. This kind of movement is of
little interest to our quest. It obviously does little to disturb the hierarchical
regime. We are interested only in movements that are opposed by the regime.
In the face of elite opposition, a movement typically recruits as many members
as possible, so as to increase its political leverage. If its program calls
for major changes which compromise elite interests, then the movement must become
a mass movement in order to have any hope of success. This is the kind of movement
that is of interest to us on the quest.
The elite community would seek to discourage such a movement in order to avoid
political interference with its interests. The regime might try to ignore the
movement and hope it goes away. Or the regime might implement some changes of
its own which appear to be similar to the movement’s program, and which
might take some of the wind out of its sails. If such tactics succeed, then
the movement is of little consequence.
But suppose the movement persists despite elite counter-moves, and suppose
it becomes increasingly effective in gaining support for its program. In that
case the regime must make a choice. It can either seek to suppress the movement,
or it can accept the movement as a player in the game of competitive policy
The American civil rights movement shows an example of being accepted as a
player. Local Southern elites had tried suppression, but they were unable to
stop the movement that way. When the suppression became too politically embarrassing
to national elites, those higher-up elites stepped in and took over—using
armed troops in some cases. The national elites decided that acceptance as a
player was the overall best way to deal with the civil rights movement and the
political headaches it was causing for the regime. An historic civil rights
bill was passed, and the role of racial minorities in the adversarial American
social hierarchy was to some degree shifted toward greater equality.
Such a movement is generally considered to be a success. At a program level
it is. But such a movement does nothing to alter the hierarchical nature of
society, nor does it challenge the hegemony of the elite community. Neither
does it lead to the creation of a lasting community from below. What had been
an empowered movement community transforms into yet another special interest
group lobbying for advantage in the hierarchical power games.
If a movement is successfully suppressed, or if it is eventually accepted as
a player in politics, then it is of no interest to our quest. In both of these
cases the hierarchical, adversarial system continues essentially unchanged,
and the elite community remains in control.
The only movements that might be of interest are those whose programs cannot
be accepted by the regime— programs which include radical elements, which
could only undermine the structure of elite control. If such a movement persists
despite suppression, and if it gains sufficient following, then it will sooner
or later find itself in direct confrontation with the elite community itself.
The issue will no be longer the program, but rather who gets to decide.
If the movement persists effectively beyond this point, then it becomes a revolutionary
movement. Among movements, only a revolutionary movement has any possibility
of bringing about the kind of social transformation our quest is seeking.
And there have been revolutionary movements that have achieved victory. Whole
populations have succeeded in achieving community as a movement. Such movements
have by one means or another displaced powerful ruling elites. We the people
came into existence and carried out a successful revolutionary project. Such
an event gave birth to the USA, to the French Republic, to the Soviet Union,
and there are many other examples.
But in all these cases we somehow ended up again with a hierarchical power
structure, with an elite in charge—and for some reason we the people faded
away. Why is this?
The problem with a revolutionary movement is the source of the binding energy
of we the people as a community. The community comes together because everyone
agrees that the radical program needs to be implemented. Later the agreement
is expanded—the regime must be replaced. Out of that agreement, the community
works together successfully to replace the regime and begin the implementation
of their program.
The community has now completed its agreed task. Those who are so motivated
can see to the further implementation of the program. The rest of we the people
can go back home and get on with life. The achievement of victory leads automatically
to the fading away of we the people.
Those who are motivated to complete the implementation are precisely the kind
of people who seek power. The fading of we the people creates a power vacuum,
and these power seekers soon create new hierarchical institutions and become
a new ruling elite. That seems to be how it has always turned out, and there
is no reason to see why it would happen differently in the future. A revolutionary
movement cannot be the means of achieving the kind of social transformation
we are seeking.
We learn from these revolutions that whole populations are capable of becoming
a community even in the face of elite opposition. And we learn that such a community
can displace those elites from power. Those are very useful facts, and we can
take courage from them. But we also learn that programs and taking power cannot
be the unifying force for the community we would like to see. Those kinds of
communities do not persist after victory, and therefore leave us right back
where we started.
This puts us in a dilemma. Obviously you can’t get rid of elite rule
unless you try to get rid of elite rule. And obviously, the way to try is to
get everyone together and try as a community—as a movement that can displace
the regime. Right? But we know this path cannot work. We cannot succeed without
trying, and if we try we won’t succeed!
There is an escape from this dilemma. But before we try to unravel it there
are other things we need to take a look at. We have been talking about Community
vs. Hierarchy. Let us spend a few moments reviewing the history of that struggle.
Community vs. Hierarchy—an age-old struggle
Back before agriculture, community-tribal consensus was all there was. Hunter-gathering
groups were relatively small, and everyone had to work together to survive.
With perhaps rare exceptions all societies were egalitarian, consensus-governed,
and autonomous from all other societies. That’s how it was for hundreds
of thousands of years, as long as Homo sapiens existed and had language to talk
about problems and choices.
Tribes typically had warriors, even though tribes didn’t have any reason
to conquer one another. Just as antelopes defend their territories with antler
rattling, so tribes maintained their territories (fixed or nomadic) by spear
rattling and occasional raids. These raids were harmless to the tribes as a
whole, though perhaps fatal to a few of the more heroic-minded warriors on either
When agriculture came along, all this changed. The more aggressive tribes with
the more ferocious warriors now had a new mission for those warriors: Capture
the neighboring tribe and make them till the soil for us from now on. Agriculture
made systematic exploitation of other people economically feasible.
Perhaps only a few tribes chose the exploitation path at first, but a few was
enough to begin a seemingly irreversible process. Every region with agriculture
went the route of chiefs, kings, and emperors. And until relatively recent times
there was always an absolute ruler at the top and a slave-class at the bottom.
A bit earlier we were looking at consensus as a tool that might help us build
community. And community is the treasure that might help us overcome elite rule.
It seems we are contemplating the revival of an age-old struggle—that
between hierarchy on the one hand, and community consensus on the other.
Up until about 10,000 years ago consensus and community reigned supreme, unchallenged.
Hierarchy then struck all at once like a lion on a defenseless lamb.
Ever since then the struggle has continued, and always hierarchy has won the
lion’s share of battles. Rome called the struggle taming the barbarians.
The British Empire called it civilizing the natives. The USA has called it spreading
democracy, and the most recent hierarchy calls it bringing the benefits of the
free market. Whole populations were annihilated in North America and Australia
as part of this ongoing struggle, and today many peoples of the third world
find themselves under similar threat.
Although the lion has grown ever stronger and more predatory through the centuries,
we can nonetheless take some encouragement from these observations.
We know that humanity, community, and consensus are well suited to one another—the
combination dominated 99% of humanity’s existence. During that time humanity
lived for the most part in harmony with nature—and without devastating
warfare. It is encouraging to know that in seeking community we are aspiring
not to a strange and unfamiliar land, but instead are thinking about how we
might return home to our roots—in a spiritual sense, not in the hunter-gatherer
Let us return now to our dilemma. How can we overcome elite rule if trying
to do so cannot succeed?
Zen—achieving without trying
In Zen the goal is to perceive directly the full scope of reality, an experience
which is called enlightenment. Those who have taken the journey report that
their experience cannot be communicated in words. And indeed the practice of
Zen involves neither talking about reality, speculating about reality, nor even
reporting on "reality experienced". The practice is to sit and do
It turns out that this practice—doing nothing persistently and regularly
in a certain way—automatically generates certain kinds of mental activity
and results. One might say the practice is about how to walk correctly. Those
who learn to walk correctly are somehow always drawn toward the path they seek.
This teaches something about effort and results, and how they relate to one
another. In our competitive modern societies we have a single paradigm about
how to achieve goals. When we want to achieve a goal, we do so by focusing our
thinking and our planning around that goal. It is obvious to us that you move
toward something by trying to move toward it.
Zen teaches us that some goals can only be approached in a more indirect way.
Zen teaches us that sometimes it is necessary to focus elsewhere than your goal
in order to move toward it. It also suggests that elsewhere does not mean anywhere.
There may be a very specific right focus for a particular goal, and that right
focus may be quite unrelated to the goal.
This observation offers us encouragement in the face of our dilemma. We saw
that trying to overcome elite rule (movement or revolution) could not succeed
at that goal. Evidently this goal can only be achieved in some other way. Zen
shows us that other ways can sometimes be found.
We are looking for a practice that moves toward universal community, but which
is energized by something other than struggling against the regime. We need
to learn a way to walk that leads us to community and that will lead us on beyond
that—helping us to use that community to build the kind of world we want
and deserve. A world that connects us somehow back to the primordial consensus
world we enjoyed before the lamb succumbed to the lion.
Let us now return to our examination of collaborative consensus sessions, and
consider what kind of outcomes they might be capable of producing.
Collaborative consensus and personal transformation
At first I thought of dynamic facilitation as a little tool. Then it became
a little window or door. And the next thing I knew I saw it was a whole new
—Elliot Shuford, activist facilitator
We learned earlier that effective problem solving occurs in a session only after
a collaborative community space has been established. In reaching the community
space, every person in the room needs to get beyond their differences with everyone
else. Not only that, but they go through the experience of accepting all the
others as valid real people, whose ideas and concerns are worth listening to.
And beyond that they go through the experience of collaborating effectively
with those people and, finding solutions to problems—which at first seemed
like win-lose adversarial quagmires.
Such an experience can only challenge many of the assumptions and paradigms
of anyone raised in our adversarial societies. Consider, for example, the extent
to which we blame other groups in society for the ills that afflict us. In the
USA, conservatives are convinced that liberals control big government and the
media, and that they use those to impose liberal values on everyone else. "Liberals
are the cause of the problems and they are the enemy."
Liberals on the other hand see everything being controlled by conservatives
and right-wingers. Neoliberal economics, hawks running foreign policy, all aided
by a corporate-controlled media. "How right wing can you get? Conservatives
and their voting choices are the problem and they are the enemy."
There are two points worth noting here. The first is that neither liberals
nor conservatives would agree with the characterizations being made about them
by the other side—and for good reason. The second is that both are really
expressing the same concern—dissatisfaction with the loss of liberty and
empowerment imposed on them by centralized, unresponsive institutions. Each
side blames the other for the predicament, and each has over-simplified beliefs
about the other which reinforce the blaming attitude.
Now let’s suppose that a session is held which includes liberals and
conservatives among its participants. If the session is successful, then all
the participants will get past their difference and learn to respect one another’s
concerns. That’s how they get through to that community space where collaborative
problem solving happens.
This experience—learning to respect the concerns of the enemy—can
only undermine many of the assumptions and prejudices the various participants
came in with. "Is that other really an enemy? If not, then who do I blame
for society’s problems?"
Indeed one of the central paradigms of our society is called into question—that
all things must be adversarial. We assume that when conflict is resolved, someone
must win and someone else must lose. In the session, one learns that everyone
can come out ahead. We assume that one side’s agenda or the other must
be selected. In the session one learns that a more creative agenda that satisfies
both sides may be attainable. The experience of the session expands the participants’
understanding of how problems can be solved, and how people can work together.
There are two kinds of mind changing that occur in one of these sessions. In
the process of reaching agreement on a solution, people change their beliefs
about what kind of solution is possible. And out of the collaborative, community
experience they change their understanding of problem solving and working with
The first kind of mind changing is productive at the program level. The second
kind of mind changing is transformational for the participant. With a new understanding,
the functioning of the participant’s mind changes. He or she is learning
to approach problems and other people from a new perspective, with new paradigms.
We may be in a position now to make sense of Quinn’s cryptic message,
"The needed change will come from people with changed minds, not from people
with new programs." By "changed minds", perhaps Quinn means minds
that are changed in how they function, rather than minds with changed beliefs.
That would be consistent with his dismissal of "programs", which happen
at the level of changed beliefs.
Indeed, with "changed minds", Quinn may be thinking about precisely
the kind of transformation that occurs in our sessions. When he says, "needed
change" he is talking about ridding society of what he calls "the
taker myth". That myth is equivalent, more or less, to the paradigms of
hierarchy and competition that dominate our modern societies. Changed minds—minds
that approach people and problems from a collaborative perspective—may
indeed have the potential to make inroads against "the taker myth".
In any case, the mind changing that occurs in these sessions increases people’s
ability to participate in a collaborative community space, and it awakens them
to the potential benefits of such a space. Let us continue with our investigation
of collaborative consensus and see if there may be some way to create community
spaces for these changed minds to participate in.
Collaborative consensus and community empowerment
Let us now apply collaborative consensus to physical communities, the kind
that have a geographical location and are made up of neighborhoods. Let us consider
sessions where all the participants come from the same community, and where
the problem being solved is of importance to the whole community. Let us see
what additional outcomes might be expected from such a session. Consider this
Some community has a problem which is vexing the community and which is raising
the temperature among the interest groups in the community. Someone sets up
a collaborative consensus session with a dozen or so people from all different
parts of the community. Their session is successful, resulting in a proposed
solution that finds wide acceptance in the community. The community implements
the solution (perhaps with or perhaps without the cooperation of City Hall)
and people are generally happy with the result.
At level 1, the program level, the session agrees on a solution—and in
these kinds of sessions, that solution is likely to be one that makes a good
deal of sense. This is an important outcome. It improves the community, and
it helps spread an appreciation for the value of our session process.
At level 2, the personal level, each participant goes through a transformation,
of one degree or another, leaving them more capable of participating in community
spaces in the future.
At level 3, the community level, something very important begins to happen.
Let’s re-frame our scenario as a community experience:
The community has a seemingly intractable problem. A few of the people get
together and solve the problem. The solution takes into account the whole range
of community interests. The solution is implemented and it functions reasonably
After such an episode, the people in the community deserve to feel proud of
themselves. Here was a problem that civic officials and the institutional world
were not able to deal with. The community itself dealt with it instead, with
very little bother and overhead.
Now suppose a community were to go through this experience two or three times,
with different problems. What is likely to emerge is a sense of community empowerment—a
sense of community existing and community as actor. We the people begins to
awake, at least at the local level.
Such a process would be very likely to snowball. As a sense of community develops,
there would be increased enthusiasm for tackling additional problems, and more
difficult problems. And the more successful the program outcomes of the sessions,
the more demand would be created for further sessions.
Before community exists, the non-program, transformational outcomes are all-important.
Once community emerges, then what that community does is what matters. By choosing
which problems to solve, and by finding consensus solutions, the community is
able to develop a community sense of priorities, and a community vision of how
the community might be improved. The program outcomes are now all-important.
As this community sense and vision grows solid, we are seeing the emergence
of a fully awake we the people, at the local level. The community is now aware
of itself, it knows how to deal collectively with problems, and it is developing
a sense of direction, an agenda. We, as a local community, are ready to become
a player in society. Let us next consider what this player might do, and what
kind of obstacles might be encountered.
Empowered community and the transformation of society
Any attempt to deal with local problems on a regular basis would soon run into
obstacles that are beyond the control of the community. Perhaps a major factory
is closing down, a river is polluted, or local government is frustrating the
effectiveness of the emerging community. We could expect neighboring communities
to begin talking to one another and thinking about how they might collaborate
in addressing problems that affect all of them.
And for this kind of regional "talking" and "thinking"
a collaborative consensus session is the ideal vehicle. A few participants,
or delegates, can be chosen from each of the communities involved. Conflicts
and disagreements would arise, out of differences in interests and perspectives
among the communities. In the course of a successful session these would be
overcome, and creative opportunities for collaboration would be identified that
all the communities could support with enthusiasm.
We can think of a region as being a community of communities. It seems only
natural that we would apply our consensus tool to this larger community, in
the same way it was applied to the smaller communities. And again we can expect
the emergence of community identity, now on a wider scale. And after that would
emerge a sense of priorities and direction, again on a wider scale.
It seems that small community breeds larger community, at least in the presence
of consensus as a catalyst. A transformed rhyme suggests itself: "Little
community breeds big community, and the people does enlighten. Big community
breeds bigger community, and so ad infinitum." By employing the same consensus
process, to larger and larger scale communities, we can see how society as community
might become attainable. We the people—on the scale of a whole society—is
not beyond the realm of possibility by means of this practice.
Let’s suppose that a society-wide community does begin to emerge. It
would not take us long to realize that our greatest shared problem is the elite
regime itself. There is little we could do as a society to solve our biggest
problems, as long as the regime continues to run things for its own narrow benefit.
Inevitably, the emerging we the people would begin thinking about how this obstacle
might be overcome.
Perhaps the regime could be displaced simply through the ballot box. If the
whole society were to vote for an agreed slate of candidates, then government
would be overnight transformed. The same institutions would be there, but there
would now be a voice of the people for them to listen to, and elected officials
who took listening seriously. The role of government would be to administer
those programs that we the people have agreed on. On paper, that’s precisely
what our constitutions promise, but it has never been achieved because we the
people have not been around to participate.
Perhaps the engagement with the elite regime would be more difficult. We do
know however, from the experience of revolutions, that when whole populations
achieve community, established regimes can be displaced.
When a revolutionary movement achieves victory, a fatal power vacuum always
flaws the outcome. In our case however, no such vacuum emerges. We the people
have not completed our mission—we have simply removed a major obstacle
from our path.
Imagine the breakthroughs that would occur when a self-aware society is able
to apply its problem-solving capacity to fundamental issues like sustainability,
transport systems, health care, economics, and world peace. We cannot even imagine
the vistas that would open. The scale of the cultural renaissance would be awesome.
We have reached the end of our quest. We have arrived at the fabled end of
the rainbow. If events were to unfold as we have imagined, society would be
totally transformed and humanity would be on the road to achieving its full
potential—a potential beyond our imagining.
We cannot be certain that these things will happen. We do not know that the
widespread use of consensus sessions can produce results along these lines.
What the quest has shown us is that there may be a path out of our predicament,
and the quest tells us what walk we need to learn if we hope to follow that
path. We have little to lose by trying this walk, and possibly a world to gain.
Let’s now take a final look at the walk—the Zen-like practice.
Global transformation as a Zen practice
In Zen there is the practice and there is the goal. The practice is dead simple
and the goal cannot even be described. If you try to reach the goal directly,
you do not make progress. If you simply do the practice, persistently, you are
very likely to reach the goal. Your proper focus of attention is the practice.
The attainment of the goal happens automatically. You have no control over what
the goal turns out to be. It will be whatever it is.
According to what we’ve learned on our quest, the practice appropriate
for social transformation is the carrying out of collaborative consensus sessions
dealing with divisive problems in communities. The goal is somewhere in the
direction of an empowered global society, but it cannot be described. Zen’s
goal cannot be described because it is ineffable—it cannot be expressed
in words. The nature of transformed society cannot be described because the
outcome is in the future. It remains to be experienced, and it will certainly
bring surprises with it.
In the end this quest has only one thing to suggest. Somehow arrange for these
sessions to happen regularly and persistently. That is the practice. That is
The people who do the arranging and who participate do not need to have any
particular vision of the future. They do not need to know about this quest story.
Indeed, I need not have gone on this quest nor told its story. Those who carry
out the practice may call it by another name and may have their own visions
and theories about what’s going on. None of that matters. The only important
thing is doing the practice—doing the sessions. It doesn’t matter
what problems are being solved, and it doesn’t matter what the facilitators
believe. If the practice happens, persistently, we may be able to go where we
are capable of going. Hopefully, the feeling along the way will be one of going
home, of returning to our roots.
I’ll see you there, some sunny day.
May the practice begin.
About the author
Don Juan taught Castenada that a warrior leaves his personal history behind.
In that same spirit, Nasrudin prefers not to elaborate on his own personal history.
He tells us this much... most of his life was spent working for the hierarchies,
exchanging his time and talents for the currency of the realm. He left all that
late in life, and began his quest. His efforts to find a path to transformation
were focused always on "agreement" and on "programs". No
matter how hard he tried, no matter how clever his programs, agreement remained
always elusive—like the end of a rainbow. But by persisting in those efforts,
he was led through the different lessons that make up the quest story.
One day, as he was pursuing his usual objectives, all those separate lessons
suddenly came together. A new understanding emerged that was greater than the
sum of its parts. Nasrudin found himself with a changed mind, and that changed
mind knows that Nasrudin must shift his own personal path. Where that will lead
he has yet to discover. Sharing this quest story has been the first step.
The cover design is by Theis Eljas.
Rosa Zubizarreta contributed extensively to the material on Dynamic Facilitation.
Diana Morley improved the text considerably as copy-editor.
Janet McFarland inspired the book by asking just the right questions, at just
the right time.
Daniel Quinn helped the author to see humanity in a new light.
Jim Fadiman taught the author to persevere in the quest.