Sitting In The Fire

Large group transformation using conflict and diversity
Author: Arnold Mindell

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A note from the reviewer: These ‘notes’ do not stand on their own.  The entire book is incredibly dense with poignant references, examples, and details that very intricately tie one point and chapter to the next.  On their own, the notes seem disjointed or unsupported.  In the actual book, all points are very well supported and referenced.  Thus, these notes are nowhere close to a substitute for the book, which I most highly recommend.  — A. Guberman

I. World History From Inside Out

1. Fire: The Price of Liberty
2. Groups: The Impossible Teachers
3. Rank: A Double Signal
4. Power and prejudice in Relationship
5. Revenge & Cultural Transformation
6. Embracing the Terrorist
7. The Facilitator’s Abuse Issues
8. Public Abuse & Finding Your Voice
9. How Good Societies Make War
10.Who is Racist

II. World History From Inside Out

11. Singing About Troubled Waters
12. Who’s Got the Money?
13. The Metaskils of Elders
14. Violence & Equanimity
15. The Technique & Tao of War
16. The Awareness Revolution

I. World History From Inside Out

1. Fire: The Price of Liberty

Fresh perspectives of the Worldwork paradigm:

  • Chaos: conflict and moments of chaos are valued within group process because these can quickly create a sense of community and a lasting organization
  • Learning: Worldwork expects conflict to be our most exciting teacher
  • Open heart: use fire’s heat to create community.
  • Self-knowledge: we are part of every conflict around us.
  • The unknown: sustainable community has always been based on respect for the unknown.

Jefferson: “The price of liberty is vigilance”
Vigilance means awareness of the manifold ideas and feelings in yourself and in the world around you.

Many of us would like the world to change, but we don’t want to endure the trouble of helping make it happen.

On the whole, our visions indicate that we distrust human beings and wish they were different.  businesses and individuals alike resolve, “Our interests first an others second, and then only if they support our goals.”

Structural work is only a bandage unless feelings have been healed.

Hidden messages are strong factors in the breakdown of group dynamics. … In fact, hidden messages can be generated around any kind of diversity.  diversity issues affect every organization, whether its purpose is to sell laundry detergent or to alleviate world hunger.
Often the organization’s declared vision, structure and model are almost irrelevant compared to its ability to incorporate differences of opinion and diverse styles of communication.

Democracy requires awareness.  Without awareness of hidden signals, no one notices how many individuals and subgroups are marginalized and disenfranchised.  Laws are meant to protect the rights of individuals and groups, but they are almost useless for dealing with subtle forms of prejudice and the way powerful people oppress others.

One of the most common reasons why group negotiations break down is that so many people are afraid of anger.

The various levels of problems and issues are interwoven, so that solving any one of them without simultaneously addressing the others rarely works for long.

[Story of  a confrontation between a black and a white man.  The white man refused to engage the black man so long as he was angry.]
The white man’s aloof behavior, his turning away, was based on his assumption that people needed to be calm to debate.  A discussion arouse about how this apparently trivial assumption was a mainstream expectation born of exclusivity and privilege, since calmness is possible only when the issues at hand are not troubling.

Rank is the sum of a person’s privileges. … recognizing differences and privileges can often led to a resolution.

Facilitators need to be open to anger and despair, but must also listen to those who are afraid of anger and who feel they cannot protect themselves against it.

Instead of being politically correct or saying the right thing at the right time, I recommend that we politically aware and socially sensitive to the people and issues at hand.

2. Groups: The Impossible Teachers

Fear of conflict is one of the reasons governments have shown little tolerance for dissidence, anger and revolt.  People are forced to resort to riots, civil disobedience and revolution to be heard and to create social change..

People who live in two worlds at once, who are members of a disavowed group within a majority culture, have been forced either to become victims or to survive by becoming multicultural leaders.

The mainstream in every country tends to skirt the anger of the oppressed classes. … Western thought is biased towards peace and harmony.  That’s why many non-mainstream groups consider the very idea of “conflict resolution” a mainstream fabrication.

The facilitator’s task is not to do away with the use of rank and power, but to notice them and make their dynamics explicit for the whole group to see.

Most chronic self-criticism stems from the internalization of mainstream views.

As you liberate yourself from domination by mainstream values, your new behavior may bring you into conflict with your family and other groups you have felt part of.

Personal and international conflicts repeat themselves when underlying issues have not been addressed.

In democratic countries, important changes have resulted from civil disobedience.

Laws cannot eradicate oppression, racism or sexism.  In fact, they drive the prejudice underground, where it continues to be active.

Glossary of Worldwork terms:
  • Consensus
  • Edge
  • Field
  • Hot spot
  • Metaskill
  • Process
  • Primary Process
  • Rank
  • Secondary Process

“The only justification for our concepts and system of concepts is that they serve to represent the complex of our experiences; beyond this they have no legitimacy” – Albert Einstein, The Meaning of Relativity.

If all the oppressed were to move forward and the oppressors were to step down, chances are the world would not change in a sustainable way. … Only when all members of a community grow in awareness of power in themselves and others can true change occur.

Anyone interested n conflict-training eventually undergoes a spiritual crisis precipitated by witnessing the constant violation of basic human rights.

All your childhood wounds reappear when you deal with large group conflict.

… only when I allowed myself to be angry could I move into and through my own hurts and frustrations, past and present, to realize that no one is really guilty and everyone needs to awaken together.

Community is not only your worst problem but also your most sacred teacher.

3. Rank: A Double Signal

Rank is like a drug: the more you have, the less aware you are of how it effects others negatively. … Rank blinds us to the value of other people.

People who belong to groups that once outranked others want to be treated as individuals once their power is lost.

If you enlighten those with rank (or those who have rank in they eyes of others), you are apt to meet with a complete lack of comprehension.  The feebler their awareness, the more violence it provokes in the group that feels powerless.

[Beware aggressively trying to open the eyes of those with rank to the fury of the group.]  Those with rank experience themselves as being oppressed, first, by the participants who are criticizing them, then by the facilitator.  … when conflict erupts, those with more power are also vulnerable.

Rank-conscious people know that much of their power was inherited and is not shared.

Some of your messages and signals are intended; others are unconscious.  … [the unintended ones are referred to as “double signals”]

Double signals are often the keys to unlocking the intricacies and depths of relationships.

Most misunderstandings originate in double signals, which are often as hard to unravel as dreams.

Intuitions also send double signals.  … Double signals, as long as they are not made conscious, make mischief and upset relationships.

The United States characterizes itself as a democracy and sends out the primary signals of equality and goodness.  Its secondary signals tell a different story: other countries experience the U.S. as dictatorial and dominating.  They cannot understand why the U.S. has supported the decimation of native and African Americans and why it supports repressive regimes around the world.  Yet most white Americans are not aware of their country’s repressive and dominating policies.  When they travel abroad, they are surprised to be met with hostility.  They are amazed to discover that people in other countries think of them as pushy, insensitive and arrogant.

Democracy, or sharing power, requires awareness of rank, not only in politics, but in face-to-face interactions.  Rank implies power differences.  Everyone has both more and less rank than someone else.  … The trouble is, most of us are aware only of the rank or power we do not have.  We forget to notice the rank and power we do have.

The concept of equality is so prized as a primary signal in democratic countries that mainstream liberals imagine they live in a classless society.

4. Power and Prejudice in Relationship

A prime cause of conflict is the imbalance of power.  … No matter what the conflict is about, facilitators must be aware of every type of rank that makes the disputants feel different from one another.

Some factors in rank:
  • Skin color
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Expertise
  • Profession
  • health
  • psychology
  • Spirituality.
From the viewpoint of the worldworker, what matters is how rank is used.

If you use rank consciously, it’s medicine.  Otherwise, it’s poison.  You can’t get rid of rank, so you might as well put it to good use.

If a minority group succeeds economically, its members may convey to individuals of other minorities that it’s their fault they haven’t done the same thing.

A conscious individual, organization, city or nation … does not deny or ignore its rank.  Instead, it stands for its power and uses it judiciously.

Mainstream people are, almost by definition, oblivious to their rank.

The world we live in is polarized on every level.  It is composed of those with power and those who are powerless: the victims and the persecutors.  We all, in a way, belong to both groups.

In the West, we are supposed to be conformist rather than wild, logical rather than feeling, strong rather than vulnerable …  Most inner critics support the person’s culture.  [inner critics often absorb mainstream prejudices.]

People often try to submerge their ethnicity or other aspects of their background to avoid social abuse.  These become ghosts in personal relationships, third parties that can’t be seen.

Political correctness — the idea that people should not be racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic or the like — misses the point that prejudice would not have to be forbidden if it did not exist.  Political correctness forces prejudices into hiding.  People who belong to a political minority or marginalized group feel paranoid, because political correctness has driven domination underground, making it harder to work with.  Sometimes the people who state their prejudices openly are our best allies.

Whether or not you embrace your ethnicity and cultural background, other people identify you with them.

In addition to the harassment and religious, political and societal oppression homosexual couples suffer, in many communities it is expedient for them to hide their sexuality.  Simply having most of the world believe there is something wrong, sick, perverted, abnormal, maladjusted, evil or infantile about you is a pressure difficult to combat.  Sometimes you almost believe it yourself.

Discover your privileges  [ page 71… there are lots more questions ]

  1. What ethnic group do you belong to?
  2. What legal privileges or advantages do you feel deprived of because of your identity?
  3. What privileges are connected wit h your identity?
  4. Celebrate your privileges in your mind or with friends.
  5. Remember your psychological privileges.
  6. How about spiritual privileges?
  7. How are you using your most powerful privileges?
  8. What tensions and issues come up in your local group?
  9. Imagine using your rank and privilege to change your relationship, your community, our world.

5. Revenge and Cultural Transformation

… terrorists aren’t tough guys, impervious to everything that’s said to them. … they are not “somewhere out there”; they exists in every group, as people who have been hurt by the mainstream and are fighting for everyone’s freedom.

“Terrorists” — a media word for people who identify themselves as freedom fighters.

The unconscious use of rank causes revenge.

Terrorism is not just a political activity, but a frequent and unseen group interaction based upon the sense of being treated unjustly.

Our legal system is overburdened with cases in which revenge was the motive, because the system deals with anger and terrorism as if it occurred out of the clear blue sky, independently of mainstream behavior.

In the Bible, it is God who recommends an eye for an eye in Leviticus 24:20.  There are many beautiful quotes from God in the Bible, but the divine penchant for vengeance is there too.

Abused people have only two choices: either they go numb or they become abusers themselves.

In every country, children defending themselves against an abusive parent run the risk of greater harm.  Ironically, the first signal of desire for revenge may be passivity: shock, shame, numbness, withdrawal or anxiety.  It is important to notice these early signs, because they inevitably activate the cycle of the talionic impulse: revenge for revenge

Symmetrical reactions such as threats and counter-threats are serious moments in group process, because a chain reaction of more threats and finally hurtful interactions may follow.

What elders or worldworkers say is not as important as their intent to promote understanding.

Though we are aware of vengefulness in our personal lives, we scarcely notice that our international policies can also be based on a desire for revenge.

Love and hope draw us together.  … But the fear of being publicly hurt by angry, vengeful comments or terrorized by subtle oppression restrains our participation in meetings and depresses progressive movements.  … we can expect riots in our cities and murders in the suburbs as long as minority issues are ignored.

I had been fooling myself into thinking that everyone should outgrow hatred, vengefulness and jealousy.  … Today I know that the fury behind revenge is just the beginning of an important process.  It is one of the many forces that can launch cultural transformation.

6. Embracing the Terrorist

Repressed vengeance leads to terrorism, and the terrorist makes everyone anxious.  This role is filled by most of us at one time or another because just about everyone wants revenge for past abuses.  The terrorist fights for freedom and justice against another role, the role of social power and collective domination.  thus, the terrorist is a potential ghost role in any group , anywhere, at any time.

Terrorism is not an isolated, international incident involving a stolen airplane.  Terrorism is as common as people getting together,  whenever someone says in a group, “Either you do this or I am walking out,” the entire group is held at gunpoint, so to speak.  The problem of terrorism cannot be solved at the international level alone.  It must be dealt with at the grass roots level, in the family, the school, the church, local organizations and local government.

Terrorism is a social process that ranges from small scale to international; it is engaged in by disempowered individuals or groups taking revenge for past and current use of rank, intentionally or unconsciously, and hoping to establish equality.

By diagnosing terrorist behavior as inappropriate, deviant, sociopathic or psychopathic, psychology and psychiatry lull the mainstream into deeper complacency.  They imply that there’s nothing wrong with the political or social status quo; the problems are internal to the troublemakers.

Terrorism polarizes groups.  the terrorist’s intention is to highlight divisions a group may not recognize.  …  Terrorists want to make the mainstream assume responsibility for social change.  … Even if we are only standing by watching, passivity implies acceptance of the status quo.

If terrorists spoke directly, those who have rank would punish them.  Social power in the experience of terrorists, limits freedom, represses communication and makes it dangerous to speak openly.

Once people experience the power of revenge to create dissent and change the world, terrorism can be addictive. … Righteous power feels good.  It’s “sweet” and provides a rush of satisfaction.  Sometimes you can’t get enough.

Signs of terrorism in group process:  [ page 96 gives more details ]
  • Needing power.
  • Despair
  • Recklessness
  • Allegiance
  • Addiction
  • Injunction against retaliation
  • Condemnation of the group
  • Self-destruction
  • Unconsciousness of strength.

In spite of this formidable list of terrorism’s characteristics, terrorists are just people.

As you facilitate, you have an opportunity to model coping with violent tension.

Freedom fighters are irritated by those with social power who wait sluggishly, expecting the attackers to create the social change.  (cf. bell hooks)

Terrorists feel that a marginalized person suffers from social problems the mainstream cannot comprehend.

To understand fury, remember history: [ see page 101 ]

When ethnic minorities the world over conflict with one another, it’s safer than conflicting directly with the mainstream, which resembles hurling the only reaming spear toward the sky.

7. The Facilitator’s Abuse Issues

Understanding your own psychology better will make you a more effective facilitator by helping you (1) be sensitive to others, (2) remain centered and not go into shock when you are attacked, and (3) maintain equanimity and provide the group with a sense of safety when the group looks to you for protection in stormy times.

Repressed pain from the past often leads to repressing pain in the present.  That results in people’s overcompensating by getting tough, overworking or despairing.

Almost everyone who lives or works in a place of conflict is abused by the overall situation.  People go numb or become chronically angry, since these are their only defenses against the pain.

If you notice fear and numbness, stay aware.  Allow yourself to feel your feelings.  Ask yourself “How much of this is coming from others, and how much is me?”

When you are shocked by gunfire or someone’s aggressive behavior, your eyes open wide.  Your jaw drops at first, and later tightens up.  You may tremble, develop spasms in your stomach and chest, and hold your breath.  You try to turn away and forget it.  Later, you try to repress what you experienced.  At another stage, you cannot stop remembering, obsessing with thoughts and fantasies, suffering from nightmares about situations you can’t resolve.

Forgetting creates insensitivity to one’s own pain and blocks a person from taking the necessary steps to avoid further danger.

Abuse: the unfair use of physical, psychological, or social power against others who are unable to defend themselves, because they do not have equal physical, psychological or social power.

When you cannot protect yourself form overt, covert or institutional abuse, you unwittingly internalize your attackers, adopt their style and accept their criticism.

[It has been shown that there are] similarities between the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and the effects of long term shaming.   and belittling.  [ see page 109 for a partial list of symptoms ].

We also resist speaking about past difficulties if we think that our listeners have not worked on similar problems or if we feel solutions are impossible.  As a facilitator, your skill and compassion arise not only from study, but from having worked on yourself.

An abuse interview [ see page 110 for more details on questions to lead a victim through to aid in resolution of pain. ]

  1. Ask your partner if they feel safe enough to talk about a past abuse issue.
  2. When was the first time you remember being belittled?
  3. Can you remember or imagine what you were like before you were abused?
  4. Choose one abuse scene to recall
  5. tell the story in detail.  Storytelling is a central healing ritual among indigenous peoples, and it should be a healthy part of or lives from childhood.  … Good listeners also convey that they are on the storyteller’s side.
  6. Take time for feeling.  Gently bring attention to moments in the story when there was hesitation, shyness, or embarrassment.
  7. Find the missing truth and myths.
  8. Who were the witnesses who neglected your pain and hurt?  Asking about witnesses will relieve your partner of the feeling that they should have done better.  It will help them realize others had responsibility for what happens.  passive witnesses are conspirators.  Ask who could have been an active witness when you were being hurt?
  9. How was your power used against you?
  10. What would you do today if you were witness to a similar abuse?
  11. Connect the abuse story to current body symptoms.
  12. What are the social aspects of the story

8. Public Abuse & Finding Your Voice

Public abuse is supported by, even created by, governmental policy.

At the one end of the spectrum are slavery, torture and public execution.  At the other are economic and social infringements of human rights, which are “accepted” and not recognized as abuse.

People might be theoretically equal in the eyes of the law, but they certainly are not in the eyes of the majority with its mainstream power.

Public policy should remind everyone that violence originates in abuse.  Everyone who witnesses abuse and says nothing is to blame for it.

Understanding the connection between race and economics is not simple.

Because we are witnesses of public abuse, each and every one of us is guilty of provoking the “criminal” acts of “others.”  It takes an almost heroic effort for an individual witness to stand up and protest.

If the majority finds itself benefiting from the abuse of others, the abuse becomes chronic and systematic.  Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia are not random; they are covert public policy.

Public life cannot be democratic if people’s pain and dread of abuse prevent them from exercising their freedom of speech, freedom of dissent and freedom to love one another.

Some symptoms of public abuse: [ page 121 ]

  • Withdrawal, silence and fear
    It’s crucial in meetings to take the time to ask silent people for their opinions and their help.
  • Incongruent consensus
    Unless everyone speaks out freely, a consensus is meaningless.
  • Excessive adaptation.
    Abuse, whether public or private, physical or psychological, forces you to doubt your own realities and feel you are wrong, bad, and worthless.
  • Fear of ghosts
    (powers that are felt, but cannot be seen, such as the KGB)
  • Infighting and subgroup tension
    Less powerful groups cannot challenge the mainstream for fear of reprisals.  They must repress their conflict with the mainstream  and focus on their own internal conflicts that mimic it.

We must realize that disenfranchised groups are working on problems the mainstream neglects within itself.  We must understand these groups behave as they do in reaction to our unconsciousness.  The anger they feel toward the mainstream for oppression, they redirect toward themselves.

Exercise to “burn your wood” [ page 125 ]

  1. Remember a time when you lost your clarity speaking in public or felt your views were not important.
  2. What was the first or worst time you were abused in public?
    Give a name to your experience
  3. discuss and/or reenact that public abuse
    How was your experience part of world history?
  4. Using your imagination, what information can you add to the story?
  5. Who were the active public abusers?
    Why could they not notice your hurt and stop themselves?
  6. In what ways have you brought the abuse inside yourself and made it private?
  7. When were you last attacked or shamed in public?
  8. Now try burning your wood.
    The crucial part of this work is to give permission for your pain, sadness, rage, fury and vengefulness to exist.
  9. Mourn the unfairness of what happened.
  10. How have you internalized public abuse that you have experienced?
    In what ways do you behave toward yourself as your abusers(s) did?  Can you defend yourself against your own self-criticism?
  11. What ideals did your abusers support?
    Do these ideals operate in your life now?
  12. Imagine yourself as the abuser.
    Many of us said we would never do to children what our parents did to us.  Then, lo and behold, one day we catch ourselves doing just that.
  13. Transform the abuser’s power.
    Is there anything good about the power of the abuser?  Can you imagine using that power in a productive way?
  14. Find your spirit and you voice.
    People who have been hurt buy private and public abuse often have dreams that contain powerful wisdom or guidance.

9. How Good Societies Make War

Democratic societies that believe they have a policy of non-aggression are guilty of public abuse.  It happens in:
  • Family gatherings
  • Schools
  • businesses
  • civil service organizations
  • Newspapers
  • Media
  • Banks
  • Religious groups
  • Medical systems
  • Psychology
No area of life is safe from it.

What is considered abuse or personal harm is a matter of culture.  Whether a culture believes human rights are given by God or thinks they are conferred by law or by people, there’s one thing we know: human rights are necessary because people are vulnerable.

the list of ways people can be publicly abused is an indication of the breadth of our vulnerability.

Religions often fail as the protectors of human rights because too few of us know what to do with the abusers besides saying “no” or punishing them.

Without awareness of how power is used and how unconscious rank oppresses people, the legal concept of equality has little meaning.

Denying home-ownership is an invisible act of aggression that enforces segregation and supports rank fro the wealthy.  This is a hidden form of public abuse, an example of how peaceful societies carry on quite wars against those who cannot defend themselves.

“mudslinging … ensures that we select our country’s chief executive on the basis of who has the speech writer with the greatest ability to tear down other people’s characters.

Public abuse goes hand in hand with an adversarial legal system whose goal is to determine who’s right and who’s wrong instead of how to improve relationships.

Our culture is hungry for heroes and heroines who risk their lives for the sake of vengeance.

We must break the cycle of vengeance and mudslinging by insisting that all sides not only be heard, but be present when the other side speaks.

[ page 135 — excellent story of silent majority vs. vocal majority who want war! ]

People are silent for a reason.  Behind silence is fear of the abuse of power.  Always consider the possible consequences.  Provide enough protection.  If necessary, ask people to answer questions in private, on paper or by some other anonymous means.

Be sure to ask the group — including those who have been silent — for permission to focus on a particular topic, especially if it concerns human rights.  Otherwise, some people will feel that you are using your facilitator’s rank to force the group to face things it is not ready for.

Those with rank are rarely ready to be enlightened about their powers.

Almost every conflict is a mixture of social, physical, psychological, and spiritual issues.

[ page 137 – story of wheelchair bound woman vs. hotel manager ]

Wealthy individuals contribute to unemployment by discouraging unionization, fixing minimum wages and exporting manufacturing to poor countries where labor is exploited.  At home, this produces marginalization, aggression, hopelessness and violence.

As a facilitator, don’t lend weight to adversarial democracy by assuring a win for one, or even both, sides.  Focus on the relationship between the opponents.

[ p 140 – the absurdity of DSM IV’s “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” ]

Today mainstream psychological practitioners support the values of the dominant culture by pathologizing rebellion, anger, fury, infantilism and venting (which is deemed “inappropriate” public behavior).  “Consciousness” has become synonymous with reduced affect.

Violence is not a characteristic only of those who seek revenge.  Violence is a basic characteristic of cultures in which the mainstream holds up those in power as models of good, healthy behavior which everyone else must emulate.  That is how good societies provoke war.

10. Who is Racist

People of color often point out that people who declare themselves racist are easier to deal with than liberals who claim they are not.

[ p 148 — story of how author stepped ‘out’ of facilitator role to play an activist with a participant ]

Whites will grudgingly work to correct sexism because it can be found at home.  White men cannot avoid white women.  Given a lot of coaxing, mainstream folks will even tackle homophobia, because members of their own families might be lesbian or gay.  But when it comes to racism — the color of the skin — things change.  A white couple may give birth to a girl who turns out to be a lesbian, but she probably won’t turn out to be Black.

Polarization is caused by prejudice, not fact. … Whether we like it or not, we are stereotyped by projections onto our race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.

“The only way you can say you are not racist is if you are struggling against racism in every aspect of life!” — Kuame Ture

As a facilitator, you propagate racism if you support only one style of communication and behavior.  … You can be a neutral conflict-resolution negotiator only if you know the implicit, hierarchical assumptions in your own communication style.  Encourage people to speak in the style that feels best to them, and if others cannot understand, find a translator.

Until you as a mainstream person address conflicts of rank and race, you must answer the question, “Who is racist?” with “I am.”

II. World History From Inside Out

11. Singing About Troubled Waters

[amid a rising over race tensions] … people yell when no one is listening.  The invisible, unrepresented part of the group, the ghost role, was the missing listener.  I called out that I was listening to each speaker.  I listened, and others in the audience began to chant: we are listening” as well.  …  What had been missing in that conflict had been the genuine expression of suffering and pain.  The roles of the various races had been represented, but not the role of suffering.  It was a ghost.

… being cool was an option for someone living in a safe place.  They argued that it was racist to want those who were being hurt to change their method of asking for change.

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have not been able to help many Black clients … A recovery program that focuses on the individual created dissonance for people whose identity rests in belonging to an extended family and community.

The majority of addicts have no world to go back to once they get clean or sober.

Just as a person newly free of drugs needs a community that is clean, a community in recovery from racism needs a world that sees social inequities clearly.  right now, it doesn’t exist.

many of us hate to open the door when trouble knocks; we are afraid and only let in peace.  … When trouble knocks, the possibility for a new kind of community is at the door.  The new community is not based only on understanding one another, but on the common decision to enter into the unknown, into the trouble — into that fire that is the price of liberty.

12. Who’s Got the Money?

Since economic class is a core issue behind social rank, a basic theme of organizations and communities everywhere is: “who has the money?”

Groups repeat history…  Any given group will go through some of the following:

  • A time when spiritual experience, new ideas or outer danger brings people together.
  • A dictatorial phase, when someone takes over and tells the rest of us what to do.
  • A struggle for consensus on what to do next.
  • an experiment with democracy — an attempt to secure rights and give everyone equal power.
  • A period of imperialistic take-over when the group tacitly agrees that it is time to expand regardless of what is pushed back.
  • A period of retaliation from other groups.
  • Resulting battles over territory, against people and the environment.  The environment rebels.
  • [not occurred yet] A time of greater awareness and deep democracy to deal with age, race, religion, gender, health or sexual-orientation conflicts and the problems of the environment.

When you project the outcome of a group process, don’t forget the force of revenge.

Democratic societies without awareness finally create the same inner experience as dictatorships.  Individuals from marginalized communities must obey, or their lives are worthless.

No vision or government can succeed unless we are aware of fear, rank, oppression, power and abuse by outer and internalized officials.

[Thought experiment for evaluating groups on page 177]

History teaches that facilitating issues around a group’s vision is the most crucial think you can do.

Why do we believe in great visions and overlook the power visionaries have to coerce us?  perhaps all visions, regardless of their value, inspire us and also blind us to what’s involved in carrying them out.

When our basic economic needs are met, when we have the comfort of our own apartment and a TV, we tend to ignore social problems.  We forget privilege and rank as soon as we have them.  When we enjoy enough food to satisfy hunger and enough material things to keep us from being bored, we are less likely to trouble the government about imperialist policies.

Many psychological and spiritual groups avoid politics.  … They create “community process” that forbids anger, saves the forests or the spotted owls, while remaining uninformed about the effects of toxic wastes in the inner city or the experience of AIDS.


13. The Metaskils of Elders

cf.: Managers vs. Leaders from Visionary Leadership

Leaders Elders
Follow Robert’s Rules of Order Obey the spirit
Seek a majority Stand for everyone
See trouble and tries to stop it See the troublemaker as a possible teacher
Strive to be honest Try to show the truth in everything
Democratic leaders supports democracy So do elders, but they also listen to dictators and ghosts
Try to be better at their jobs Try to get others to become elders
Try to be wise Have no minds of their own; they follow the events of nature.
Need time to reflect Take only a moment to notice what’s happening
The leader knows The elder learns
Try to act Let things be
Need a strategy Study the moment
Follow a plan Honor the direction of a mysterious and unknown river.
Focus on the issues Also focus on feelings
Try to change people Assume we are all exactly what we are meant to be.
Think the future depends on which political party heads the government Think the future depends on enabling what is unknown to appear.

An elder watches double signals, follows nature and lets it be.  Nature has its own ways of solving things.

When it rains, we don’t get angry at storms.  That would be futile; storms will always be with us.

Can you become tolerant of what others might call “bad” processes like fury, jealousy, competition, sexism and racism?  Let them surface.  Wait and watch.  What begins as a terrible conflict then becomes ice turning to water, as a Tibetan Buddhist might say.

Consensus has at least three phases: it can be a state, a goal or a kind of awareness.

14. Violence & Equanimity

[Questions for dealing with your fear or anger: page 198]

Remember that, historically, very few people have managed to uproot from  themselves the tyrant, the monarch, the oppressor, the abuser or the one seeking revenge.  It’s time we learn to expect negativity and to move with it.

… negativity and aggression are as central to human nature as love.

Western mediators using Eurocentric styles in business and government typical ignore, depreciate or punish emotional people.

The disadvantages of linearity are that strong emotions may be repressed by linear styles, and the feelings and style of marginalized groups may be ignored.  … negotiators would succeed better if they remembered to represent feelings as well as ideas.

Emotional exchange can be preventative medicine against future violence.
One disadvantage of non-linear escalation is that rational discussion of the issues must wait until after things calm down.  … People who are unaccustomed to angry confrontations often become fearful and refuse to participate.  Non-linear interactions require more psychological ability and experience from facilitators than do linear processes.

[ Questions for exploring your own conflict: page 206]

There are at least two edges in a communication system. … the double edge is the key, in blocked crisis, to letting the water flow again.  …
If two subgroups are in conflict and one goes over the edge [vent, cross emotional boundary] and the other does not, then the facilitator will be accused by the second group of favoring the first group.  The second group is insulted and plots revenge.

Backlash is not inevitable, but is do to the facilitator missing a double edge.  [ see page 209 !]
Warning: if the people who feel oppressed speak, and the accused do not respond, there will be backlash later on.
To get over the double edge, you must help the mainstream to be “politically incorrect.”  They must admit they want the status quo to endure and that they are upset at having their tranquility disturbed.

15. The Technique & Tao of War

Worldwork sees war as a state of consciousness with at least 5 characteristics:

  1. The opponents feel despair.
    They have finished with repressing their instincts in order to avoid hostilities.
  2. The opponents are enemies.
  3. Each opponent seeks more power
  4. there is nothing more to learn
  5. Violence is at hand

[ See page 215 for a “Nonviolent war exercise”]

Each time you go into awesome, war-like interactions, it seems like the first time.  … You are sad you had to get into all that, yet it was better to get in than stay out.

When you facilitate war and people lose their tempers, look closely for expressions that indicate fear of being hurt.  Notice signs of withdrawal.  That too stems from fear.

Call an ultimatum by its name; it raises everyone’s awareness.  Ultimatums are desperate attempts to break through stalemates.

the trials that monopolized U.S. media in the early 1990’s [Menendez, Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill, Lorena and John Bobbitt] illustrate a country’s using a couple of individual to work out national issues about racism and sexism.

If violence is admitted and addressed, it is less destructive than if it is repressed.

16. The Awareness Revolution

If things don’t change enough with reform, revolution follows.  This is the lesson of history.

Democracies are not citizen power; they are majority or mainstream power.  … democracies go to war just as often as other systems.

[Our constitution has] inalienable, universal and absolute rights — for some, but not for everybody.
Recent revolutions in Algeria, China, Russia, Mexico, Vietnam, Cuba, Bolivia, Angola, Mozambique and elsewhere have shown that inalienable rights are far from being universally agreed upon.

[Ten concrete steps to change the world, page 229]

  1. Ask: who wants liberty?  … Do you want the same for some people and not others?
  2. Notice and accept where we are.  … What do people say?  How does this differ from what they do?
  3. Watch for hidden rank and double signals.  … those with rank keep it hidden … because they are blind to it.
  4. Remember they dynamics of revenge.  Rank causes revenge.  Don’t be naive; expect terrorists.
  5. find your voice and spirit
  6. Know history and its issues
  7. Develop skills.  You must know how to recognize an edge, and don’t forget double edges.
  8. Develop metaskills.
  9. Parent the chaos, don’t kill the fire.
  10. Begin.

What’s true of Soto Zen is also true of deep democracy: enlightenment arises from awareness of how you travel the path, not through the attainment of a permanent goal.

[Elements that contribute to a revolution, p. 232]

  • Mass frustration.
  • Help for the revolution from the top or support from dissident elite.  Some of those in power who have not been recognized stand behind the masses.
  • Great vision and high goals.
  • Failure of the governing powers.  .. Threat of destruction from outside or within lays the groundwork for revolution.
  • Support from the outside.

If you are in the role of leader, expect to be attacked.  Remember, other people are upset not only by what you do, but because you have a role valued by society.  … Invite your attackers to join you.  Then, win or lose, you are a leader graduating into eldership.

Legal action in adversarial systems exacerbates problems by ignoring the relationship between the criminal and the community.

All of us should have learned about group process in kindergarten.  Our lives would be more fun today.

Wholeness will mean openness to what is happening at the moment, not some once-and-for-al integration of your inner parts.


Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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