Concerns and needs – Concerns are such a powerful form of leverage for understanding that one of the other patterns is All Concerns Addressed. People have lots of life energy infused in their needs and their values, the things that they want, the motivations that they have. Where that energy gets blocked, concerns, objections, or violence show up. Underneath the objections and the violence there are concerns and needs. To unpack people’s concerns is an efficient way to tap into those underlying motivational dynamics. The more you learn about that the more you understand why such-and-such is going on with people. Addressing concerns gives you access to the internal psychological context for what’s happening.
Asset Mapping is a way of going into a community or situation and looking who has the capacity to do what in terms of individuals, teams and organizations. It’s not looking for problems so much as to understand what are the resources. Once you start asking the right questions you discover the old woman who is confined to a wheelchair is fabulous with babies. This woman who has supposedly no capacities actually has valuable capacities that could be productively matched with somebody else’s needs. But understanding a community using asset mapping goes beyond simply fulfilling this or that person’s needs. It reveals more of the whole of what’s possible here as part of the context when you’re trying to help out a community.
Multicultural training is about trying to understand the kinds of dynamics that I was talking about in terms of closeness or distance. There are assumptions underlying different cultures. In India if you are picking at the shared food with your left hand, nobody else is going to touch that food. The right hand is what you eat your food with. There are hygienic reasons for that. If you don’t know that and are an ignorant Americans stepping into that cultural context, you could commit tremendous faux pas. If you are involved with another culture, you will be learning something about that culture – and it is a good idea to do as much of that ahead of time as possible.
Family Systems Therapy is an interesting application of systems consciousness. Different people may have their own personalities but in the context of the family they manifest particular roles because of who everybody else is and what the family history is. Understanding the narratives that are playing out within the family, you will learn more about who’s doing what because of what. Family Systems Therapy is an example of becoming very conscious of the systemic context and not just of the personalities involved and who is doing what right and wrong.
Ecology of course is all about context. What life forms and natural entities including water and rocks are involved and how do they all fit together into one coherent environment? Every entity in the system is part of the context for every other entity and the whole system is a context for all the life within it.
Eco-sociology is an ecological form of sociology where we are looking at the natural world and how human social dynamics are reflections or extensions of existing dynamics in nature. It takes a lot of the insights that context-rich ecology offers and applies them to sociology.
History is all about context. Consider the Middle East. No one can tell us that these people are just working out their problems in the present time. No, history is possibly the most dynamic thing that’s going on there. You need to accept that and work with that as part of whatever you do there because that’s what’s unfolding. You will experience the next wave of a very deep history that has lots of abuse and struggle and oppression and whatnot in it on all sides.
Paradigm studies – A paradigm is a worldview. It’s the way we think, the way we think individually and how that’s part of the way we think collectively. Learning the worldviews of different groups and societies is part of understanding the context you are working with.
Anthropology is looking at culture through the ways people behave together in communities and groups, which is a primary context for all human behavior generally.
Demographic analysis – If you are going to work in a community, how many old and young people are in that community, how many black and white people are there, and how many Republicans and Democrats are there? You’ll be better prepared the more you understand about who is involved – in the demographic sense – in the different situations and in the groups or communities you’re working with. There are certain implications for different arrays of that kind of diversity.
Going back to listening, interviews with stakeholders or adversaries in a conflict are an important part of this pattern, too. If you are going to consult with a corporation to resolve a conflict, interview the individuals in and around the conflict before you step in to handle the collective scene. How do they frame what is going on? How do they see it? What’s the gestalt, the whole picture here that you’re stepping into and trying to resolve? The answers can provide you with guidance about what to do next.
Those are all examples of the power of context.