Pattern #71

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Realizing Essential Aspirations

When adversaries or communities identify underlying motivators that make sense to everyone involved, they become able to transcend surface differences to co-create shared paths forward. So help people realize essential, deeply felt principles, interests, needs, values, goals, or narratives that generate trust and joint action for mutually satisfying, broadly beneficial outcomes.

  • What principles are actually most important to us all that we can agree on?
  • What do we actually need and want that nearly everyone probably needs and wants?
  • How do we reframe this so that it makes sense to all of us? Can we do that for parts of what we’re looking for here?

Going Deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

This is pattern is directly about evoking and engaging the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole. This is one of the patterns that most essentially represents and embodies that whole dynamic that we call “the prime directive”.

I’ve noticed for some time that when we use Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in a conflict situation, we clarify each party’s expressed desire, proposal or demand and then look for what emotions are underlying or pushing it. Then we look for what unmet needs gave birth to those proposals and the emotional energy around them. Then we explore with the parties other ways to satisfy those needs. Significantly, the needs NVC works with are universal needs like love, community, food, whatever – all the things that everyone needs. Some form of such unmet needs is driving whatever proposal or demand they are presenting and we’ll be able to find or create some other way to meet them.

So NVC is a practice of empathizing and sensing into what people are feeling and needing and clarifying that and then exploring what could be done that would satisfy that need in ways that work for others involved in the situation.

A couple of decades ago I read a book called GETTING TO YES, which is about a practice called Principled Negotiation. It has a very similar feel to it.

Negotiation is usually: “You are on that side of the table and I am on this side of the table. We are both trying to get as much as we can out of the deal we come up with and give up as little as we can.”  So traditional negotiation involves a lot of secrecy and gaming, and often compromise.

But the folks who wrote GETTING TO YES said that in Principled Negotiation we are both sitting on the same side of the table. We are clarifying the legitimate interests that both of us have. So what are your legitimate interest here? What are my legitimate interests in this situation?  (The writers specify characteristics that make an interest “legitimate”.)  And then we together are going to figure out how to create an agreement that satisfies all of those legitimate interests.

Principled Negotiation has a similar feeling to NVC.  Although it’s dealing with “interests” instead of “needs”, there is an understanding and intention that we are together figuring out something that is deeper than the incompatible demands we started with. Out of that deeper common ground we can come up with something new and better that works for both of us.

One of the main leaders in NVC, Miki Kashtan, created a decision-making process she calls “Convergent Facilitation“ in which people involved in a situation start out by clarifying a set of principles. They ask: “If we came up with a solution that would be acceptable for everybody, what principles would be involved?“ There is a whole process aimed at clarifying what those principles would be. Kashtan says that those principles are “the noncontroversial essence” of the situation that we are looking at and what the solution might be. So that’s another approach to “realizing essential aspirations”.

So in the image we have for this pattern, we see the roots of two trees shaking hands. It suggests a sense of “underlyingness“ – of a deeper place where we can meet that is connected to what actually needs to happen and what we can work on together. It’s not about compromise. It’s about seeing what will work for everybody that actually satisfies the needs that everyone wants to have met.

There is a whole category of community visioning processes where we pull together many different players in the community or many different stakeholders in a conflict situation, and get them to inquire together: What do we really want?  What is our common ground in terms of what and where we can come together? What story can we tell ourselves about how we are living together that will help us work together and make our lives better?

There’s a process called Story Bridge which involves people sharing individual stories and co-creating shared dramas, talking about stories or things that happened to them that represent something that is really important to them and weaving that more and more into a large vision that the whole community can share and then playing out that drama in front of the whole community and then having discussions about it that turn into action to improve the community.

There is also a practice called Theory U which involves a group deeply letting go of more and more of their assumptions and reactions and feeling into what really is needed in the situation, what is calling on us to happen and then trying out ways to do that together. It’s about testing: Let’s try this, let’s try that,… But again you’re acting together after having gone to a deep place.

So all of the patterns we have listed as related to this are patterns about deeply felt principles, interests, needs, values, goals, narratives,… the deeper common ground is what this is talking about. All these things are motivational factors, things that have a direction, a vector to them, that we can all step into and work together on. The specifics of what we do is less important than the fact that it serves ALL our life energies. It is all of us going in a direction that we all value.

Video Introduction (8 min)

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