One of the key skills in deliberative dialogue is figuring out what we are, together. This is often called “co-sensing” or “feeling into the collective field.” There are many ways to talk about but the practice is on the one hand tricky and subtle, and on the other, blazingly obvious.
In general, in North America and especially among groups of people that are actively engaged in questions about co-sening the collective field, a speech pattern I have notcied goes something like this:
- I feel that we need to…
- My thoughts are that we should…
- I just throw this out there for consideration…
- I’m not sure but I think we…
In other words, oin our efforts to discern the collective, we very often start with a non-definitive statement about our personal relation to what might be held collectively. Very often these kinds of statements serve to keep us stuck in individual perspectives. What we end up talking about is our own perspectives on things. Instead of sensing into the whole, we are negotiating with the parts. There is no emergent sense of what we have between us.
Last week, I was working with some ha’wilh (chiefs) from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth nations of the west coast of Vancouver Island. (We were in this building). Although this was a somewhat standard government consultation meeting, these ha-wiilh are quite practiced in traditional arts of deliberation. Much of the conversation during the day conformed to the above pattern, but at one point, for about a half an hour, there was a deep deliberative tone that came over the meeting. We were talking about a government policy that is aimed at protecting wild salmon, an absolutely essential animal to Nuu-Chah-Nulth communities.
When talk about the policy, the pace of the conversation slowed down and the ha’wilh entered this pattern:
- We need to support this policy. I support it.
- We have to find a way to involve the province in this. Here’s who I know on this.
- Logging in our watersheds affects these fish and our communities are affected as well. What can we do about that?
The essence of this pattern is that one waits for something to be so obvious that a dclarative statement about “we,” “us” or “our” begs to be stated. And once it is stated, it is supported with a statement about how “I” relate to that whole.
This produces a number of profound shifts in a field, and very quickly. First, it slows everything down. It is not possible to rush to conclusions about what is in the collective field. Second, it builds conidence and accountability into the speech acts. It is very, very difficult to say “we need to support this” if you are uncertain of whether we do or not. This shift takes us from random individual thoughts and speculations into a space where we need to think carefully, sense outside of our own inner voice and speak clearly what is in the middle.
This is a very abstract notion, but anyone who has driven a car or ridden a bike in traffic knows what I am talking about. When we are driving our cars together, we are actually creating traffic. Traffic is the emergent phenomenon, the thing that we can only do together. In order to create traffic that serves us, we need to be constantly sensing the field of the road. This involves figuring out what other drivers are doing, noticing the flow and engaging safely but confidently. You need to both claim space and leave space to drive safely. Anyone who offers something into the field that is too focused on the individual disturbs the field significantly. They drive like road hogs, dangerous, not fully connected to the field around them.
So the teaching of the ha’wilh is very straightforward for any form of deliberation and co-sening: quickly go to the “we.”
Photo by Wam Mosely