The word “pattern” – in the sense used here – was innovated by Christopher Alexander in his book A Pattern Language.  A pattern can be understood as a feature or design principle that shows up repeatedly in various forms in the design of something that is wholesome and whole, something that has aliveness and beauty and spirit (what Alexander called “the quality that has no name”) and that brings out those qualities in people who engage with it. A pattern is something to keep in mind if you wish to design such a vital, healthy activity, system, or reality.

For the purposes of this project, a pattern is a feature or design principle that we believe would show up repeatedly in a democracy characterized by collective wisdom, as manifested in collective decisions and behaviors that generate long term broad benefits and healthy living systems, both human and natural.

While no democracy today fully fits that definition, many democratic practices exist which manifest patterns that, in thoughtful combinations, can add up to far wiser democratic systems.  These interdependent design elements together provide a conceptual framework, a guidance system, and a shared basis for conversation that leads us to call it “a pattern LANGUAGE”.

We also have a working definition of “democracy” for this project:   A democracy is any system of collective decision-making and action grounded in the power of those impacted by such decisions and actions, or in the power of the whole population generally.  This definition is an extension of the root of the word “democracy” itself, which is “rule by the common people”, a.k.a., self-governance.

To this traditional definition, we have added the concept of “wisdom” to explore the actual outcomes of such decisions and actions, and how “we the people” can generate decisions and actions that are deeply and broadly beneficial over extended periods of time.

Just as words in sentences gain meaning by their relationships to the words around them, patterns gain meaning through other patterns they are connected with. And the whole web of interconnected patterns generates a larger field of meaning that enriches our our understanding and use of individual patterns as we talk with each other about what we are seeing and doing in the world. This is what makes it a “language”.

So every pattern in this set is linked to other patterns, some strongly, others more loosely.  We make the strong links explicit, especially seven of the most relevant links that we put on each pattern’s card.

It is important to notice that rather than listing methods or techniques AS patterns, we are exploring behaviors and qualities that repeat across methods and approaches. We ask:  What is it that would happen over and over again in a democracy that was demonstrably wise?  Noting an answer to that question, we then create a pattern to give some guidance for how to do that behavior or evoke that quality.  AND we append to that pattern some methods and approaches that can be used to apply it.

We try to use straightforward language, although given that this is such a new field, some jargon can actually help us articulate important aspects of what we’re doing and seeking that existing language does not adequately convey.

Essentially, we are aiming at the core wisdom of what makes democracy wise (when it is). And we want that wisdom to sing.

See also Wikipedia’s article about Pattern Languages.

Our working definition of “democracy” is any system of collective decision-making and action grounded in the power and preferences of those impacted by those decisions and actions or in the power and preferences of the whole population generally. This definition is an extension of the root of the word itself, which is “the power of – or rule by – the common people.” A simple technical definition would thus be “collective self-governance”.  It is worth noting here that elected representative government – technically a “republic” – is only one form of democracy, alongside direct, deliberative, participatory, anticipatory, and other approaches.

To the idea of democracy we have added the concept of “wisdom” to explore the nature of what democratic decisions and actions produce and how such decisions and actions are generated when their results are deeply and broadly beneficial. Our working definition of wisdom is “taking into account what needs to be taken into account for long-term broad benefit”.

Wisdom is deep insight serving our ability to generate long-term broad benefits. It usually derives from cumulative experience, well-considered knowledge, compassionate understanding and/or transcendent realization.

Wisdom can be individual and/or collective, human and/or natural.  It expands the exercise of intelligence to embrace greater realities, increasing our ability to take into account what needs to be taken into account for long-term broad benefits.

Among the most potent sources of collective wisdom are

  • the cumulative experience of nature and humanity,
  • ongoing feedback from people and reality,
  • expanded spiritual and systemic awareness,
  • liberating our full human capacities and caring, and
  • generative interactions among diverse people and perspectives.

Wise democracy nurtures and utilizes all these sources, with a particular focus on the last.

For other definitions, see Glossary

Image-Credits: Shell-Hixnhix / Chalkboard-Lemon Tree Images – Shutterstock