Going Deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
The essence of willingness as I see it is aligning the life energy of the entity that is about to be willing, with an activity or situation that it is considering or which is being presented to them. People are often willing to do things because they believe in them, or because they have a relationship with a person or group who is involved. Because it’s involved with relationship, willingness has a dance-like quality. Willingness and unwillingness and consent (which is another pattern) dance with partnership and command, with power-over kinds of dynamics.
I began to be interested in exploring this because Consent and Willingness, and Well-Utilized Life Energy and Exuberance – these are all patterns in the pattern language. I noticed they all have to do with life energy. Consent has a “go along with”, “good enough for now” kind of quality to it. “I’ll put my life energy into this because it’s okay.” Willingness connotes a desire and a readiness – a kind of “let’s go!” energy. Well-Utilized Life Energy covers all motivations and is more generic. Exuberance of course has go to do with passion: “I want this! I love this!”
So that sort of places this pattern in the context of how life energy is manifested here in the pattern language. As I began exploring ways to increase willingness, I asked: “Where does willingness come from? What stimulates it?” These questions can be both for ourselves or for others. If you want to get people to be willing to do something, what you do? This can be done in a straightforward way, and it can also be done in a manipulative way.
So, what’s going on with the dynamics of willingness?
I came up with three evocative factors:
1 – You matter
2 – This matters (whatever the thing is that you are being invited to consider or get involved in)
3 – Your contribution matters.
“You matter” is brought to life by listening to people, by having them feel heard. That factor is discussed in the “Feeling Heard” pattern. It opens people up, dissolves resistance, creates relationship between listener and the person being heard. Related to that is respect, peerness, partnership, a sense that we are not dealing with power-over, we are not going to mess with you, dominate you, you are one of us, we are WITH you, not against you… There’s an inclusive welcoming shoulder-to-shoulder energy here which means “We are in this together!” This helps you be willing.
Caring and support is another piece of the “you matter” dynamic. “If something happens with you, we are here for you” – or, turning it around the other way,
“They will be there for me. I sense I am part of a larger whole where I can make a difference.”
Then we can ask: “Make a difference with what? What is this THING I am willing myself to be part of?” It can involve purpose, values, needs, a narrative or story we are all part of. These are all things associated with life energy as described in the Well-Utilized Life Energy pattern.
And all these can be mine, as in: what’s my life purpose, what needs do I have, what story am I living out in myself or in the larger world? Then there is the story of anyone who is bringing to me something to participate in, something to do or think about. “Am I willing?” Very often marketers tell promoters they should sell a story, not a product or a service. Marketers are selling you a story, something that people can step into and participate in meaningfully and play a role in.
Story is so fundamental to who people are as human beings. We can engage people if we can sell a story where THEY matter within the story because IT matters. Whatever they’re doing in the story, it will matter because the story matters. And inviting them to share that story with the others involved. So it can be like promoting: “What do YOU want to do? Well, you can DO that here.” Or “Here’s our project. Do you want to be part of it? What do you want to do?” All that is part of the “this matters” life energy factor.
“Your contribution matters” could involve questions like: “Do you have any thoughts about how we should go about doing this? How do you feel about doing this? Do you have any feedback? Are there things you would really like to do in this context? Do you have any aptitudes or skills or passions you’d like to contribute to this? If you tell us what those are, then we can pick something that would be a good fit for you.” “If you want to join the Army and want to do computers, then, okay, join the Army and and we’ll let you do computers.”
At any time, as we’re maintaining willingness, if somebody has concerns or objections, that suggests something’s not being considered here. And so we’re going to take that seriously. This is part of the attitude that “Your contribution matters, so if you think we should paint it red instead of purple, okay, let’s hear about that. We are taking it seriously.” Or “If you’re going to need some kind of training skills, capacity building of some kind – individually or collectively – to be part of this, then we will provide that to you. Your contribution matters so much that we will invest in you, not just listen to you, but invest in you to participate.”
So these three things – “you matter” (the listening, respect, caring); “this matters” (this is a big fancy project with a powerful story which you can be part of;) and “your contribution matters” (you have got a role to play here and we’re going to engage with you around that role) – all of these constitute Consulting and Abiding by Willingness. All of them contribute to willingness coming up. We are in fact evoking and maintaining willingness by doing these things.
I mentioned at the beginning that you can do this manipulatively. I can present people with a narrative to join that aligns their values and needs in ways that make them more willing to do what I want to do. This is a great tool for an advertiser. Or as a populist dictator, I can emphasize patriotism with a narrative: “You can be part of it, you are part of it, and anybody who isn’t is bad.” Lots of people buy into the patriotism narrative and they want to do it, THEY want to go and die for their country. This is manipulation. You can say it’s good or bad depending on how it’s used and what you believe about what is going on. But, in any case, there are ways to tap into what’s really important to people and to shape it.
You can also listen to them in ways that dissolve their personal boundaries and increase their emotional dependence on you, which is present in a lot of cult activity. You are going to be very friendly in order to make them part of you so that they are one with the group. It’s not a co-created consensus, it’s a seductive consensus. You have been seduced into becoming involved.
And here’s another manipulative aspect: You may FEEL like you are having an important impact, but it’s not necessarily true. Look at voting, for example: How much impact does your vote actually have, particularly when you are presented with options that you don’t get a chance to co-create? You are presented with options someone else created, that you’re supposed to just pick between. How much impact does that really have and to what extent can those options be manipulated to benefit somebody in some way? You feel you have an important impact even though you’re not. A lot of ideological battles have that quality.
Of course this dark side is not the dynamic that’s intended in the Consulting and Abiding by Willingness pattern. Nevertheless, we can view the conscious use of willingness as a neutral thing that can be used for good or ill. And we can look at the pattern as calling our attention to that dynamic and to use it in a principled way. That is definitely part of what’s going on with building a wise democracy.