Conversation

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Discussion

Tom Atlee:

Conversation is arguably the primary form of human social interaction. (Some might argue that war and commerce are more influential, to which I would respond, Where would war and commerce be without conversation?) Obviously, because we are different and seriously challenged to cooperate in order to survive and thrive, conversation remains key to solving our problems and conflicts nonviolently and wisely as well as to transforming ourselves and our societies together in life-serving ways. Because of its remarkable power to creatively engage the life-energy of all participants, we find conversation plays a central role in most efforts to move beyond violence and manipulation.

Violence and manipulation help us dominate others with our own desires, visions, and perspectives, rather than engaging them in finding out what is best for all involved. In contrast, integral politics assumes that every perspective and passion has gifts for the whole, and so views the use of violence and manipulation as wasting those gifts and wasting, as well, the potentially coherent self-organizing life-energy of the whole that comes from creatively engaging those perspectives and passions.

From a systems perspective, conversational interactivity is the medium through which different parts of a system can find the coherence—coordination, protocols, and shared understandings, narratives, intentions, etc.—that they need to function efficiently as a whole. From an individual perspective, high quality conversation is a primary alternative to violence as we seek to pursue our self-interest in a world of other self-interested entities with limited perspectives.

Conversation derives from roots meaning “to turn together,” as in a dance. From a big-picture perspective, we are dancing with everything around us. The universe is in conversation with itself. At the most literal, physical level, few objects, systems, or conditions in our lives have come into being without being shaped one way or another by conversation. Conversation is how we can and do create desirable futures together.

Conversation is therefore central to any dynamic conception of integral politics. More model-driven conceptions of integral politics make a great contribution with political maps of how different political ideologies or developmental stages fit into larger political and developmental realities. When such maps inform the designers, conveners, facilitators, and participants of conversations, they move into a realm of dynamic interactions through which that diversity can actually be employed to create larger benign realities in our lives and help us all heal, learn, and evolve together.

High quality conversation is now a major field of theory and practice—and even faith. Going by such names as dialogue, deliberation, choice-creating, cafés, facilitation, gatherings, conferencing, forums, public participation, citizen engagement, hosting, mediation, coaching, community involvement, etc., conversational know-how has become very sophisticated in recent decades. Professionals in this field know a tremendous amount about “whole-system engagement,” “collective intelligence,” “participatory leadership,” “holistic politics,” and other topics of great interest to practitioners of integral politics.

Conversational methodologies abound, from Future Search to Open Space, from Dialogue Mapping to Sacred Circles, from Appreciative Inquiry to Listening Projects, from Dynamic Facilitation to World Café, from Citizens Juries to Study Circles, from The Integral Process for Complex Issues to Holistic Management. Inventories of such methodologies get compiled in both book form (Atlee, 2003; Holman, Cady, & Devane, 2007) and online databases like the Urban Research Program Toolbox (Griffith University, n.d.) and the Engagement Streams Framework (National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, n.d.; in particular, note its “three page accompanying handout” for a list of processes).

Perhaps most importantly, work is underway in a number of quarters to identify conversational success criteria and wisdom about the underlying dynamics of conversations that matter. These inquiries free practitioners from the segregated silos of methodology into more flexible, creative design and hosting of powerful conversations.

I believe that knowledge and competency in this arena of the practice and institutionalization of powerful, empowered conversations is one of the primary foundations of integral politics. I see it as key to helping fragmented parts of the body politic become truly whole and sustain their evolving wholeness, especially when faced with changing circumstances or consciously moving in transformational directions. (http://integral-review.org/documents/Atlee,%20Integral%20Politics%20as%20Process%20Vol.%206%20No.%201.pdf )