Pattern #25

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Deliberation Card

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Deliberation Symbol

Credits: Peshkovatose – Shutterstock

Pattern Heart

Wisdom explores, discerns, weighs, creates and envisions; it avoids jumping to conclusions and getting trapped by assumptions. Anything which helps us raise and carefully consider a healthy range of factors, perspectives and options before and as we act, qualifies as deliberation. So utilize and institutionalize diverse forms of such potent consideration.

Some related patterns:   27 Enough Time   29 Expanding Situational Curiosity   36 Full Spectrum Information   37 Fullness of Choice
39 Generative Interactions   41 Groundedness   84 Tackling Cognitive Limitations

  • What forms of engagement can best help us (or a group or community) envision and consider the trade-offs involved in various options to address this situation (or situations generally)?
  • How can we adequately include the diverse dimensions of what we’re considering to come up with a good level of collective wisdom?
  • How can we avoid getting trapped in hidden assumptions and cognitive biases – including our own?

Deliberation – going deeper …

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

If we are going to be wise we need to deepen into issues, we need to look underneath and beyond the obvious and into the non-obvious. The definition of deliberation I am using here is any process through which people are thinking carefully. They’re not being sloppy about their assumptions and perspectives. They are being mindful and heartful in the sense of bringing in their full awareness and caring impulses. They care about what happens. Such consideration is not taken lightly and done sloppily. There is a kind of intellectual and cognitive and heart based craftsmanship going on here. It’s like somebody who is a great artist or craftsman at something. They care about what is going to happen, and they put the attention, resources and time into it required to come up with really good results. So wisdom is about doing that with life’s issues and with how we deal with life’s issues.

Here are my thoughts about some of the words I use in the short description of this pattern: “Explored” in the pattern heart communicates an open-ended quality. We are exploring. We are not going to stop short. We are going to adventure in this and that and the other, and see what in fact is going on here.

“Discerning” implies looking clearly, not having sloppy perception, noting what’s important – and noting what is irrelevant that is being pushed into the issue and any manipulation taking place.

“Weighing” involves exploring how this idea or option is better or worse than that other one… how this approach makes more or less sense than that other one. Some people don’t like the term, since it has a weightiness, a heaviness to it.  I don’t think that deliberation necessarily requires heaviness, but it does require a lot of different comparing kinds of energy in your mind and heart. But it can also be creative:  Although we can have have deliberation that chooses between two or three options, we can also have deliberation that creates abundant options in search of what would be really good. I think the wisest forms of deliberation involve engagement with many options and creating new options. One process is “choice-creation” – creating options beyond those given to us.

And “visions” connotes a larger sense of where we want to go. What is the role of this thing that we are trying to deal with in the longer term context of benefits and challenges? If we are looking long-term, it is important that we don’t jump to conclusions. Some people may identify where they think the end of the road is – and want to get there quickly – so they are going to jump over all those other factors in an effort to get to the end rapidly.  That’s all fine and good, but it is no way to achieve wisdom. Wisdom is going to go along the path carefully and see what’s needed. Sometimes the jumping happens in one’s intuition, but if you’re deliberating together, your intuition is being checked by other people’s intuition. So the jumping is much more difficult to do together as a group. At least it is more difficult to the extent you haven’t done the work that’s needed.  If you have done the deliberative work, then you often reach the point where, as indigenous people have said, “We talk until there is nothing left but the obvious truth.” Suddenly the obvious truth shows up and you all go, “Hey! – We’ve arrived! We didn’t jump to the conclusion. We walked all the way, and we turned the corner and there it was. We may not have seen it earlier but we know that this is where we were going all along, this is where the conversation was meant to lead us.”

And then there’s “not getting trapped by assumptions.” There are particular methods like Bohmian Dialogue to help us surface our assumptions and look at them. If we are working together and we have disagreements and concerns about what we are saying to each other, we can delve into what’s underneath all that, and that can help us not be trapped by our own and each other’s assumptions.

Inviting and including diverse people in the conversation – especially people who are very different from those who happens to be here now – can also help us not get trapped by our own assumptions. Our assumptions can blind us. Because they are assumptions – because we assume them – we look right through them: they’re transparent – to us, but not necessarily to people who don’t share those same assumptions!

Individuals have assumptions. Groups can have assumptions. Real wisdom requires recognizing that we have internal lenses that are causing us to see things in particular ways and to miss other things (which are often called blind spots). Since we want wisdom, we want to not miss anything that’s important if we can help it. So any work we can do to get beyond our fixed assumptions can be very productive.

The word “deliberation”, in my view, covers anything that helps us raise up, bring to our attention, carefully deal with, consider, and reflect on a healthy range of factors – which is ideally everything that is really relevant plus a few more things that may not seem relevant at first but actually are, or which stimulate our insight or creativity. A few decades ago I actually developed a whole theory of “relevance-plus”, meaning including everything that is relevant plus a few other things, because you can never know (in an interconnected world) what’s totally irrelevant. Having things which are not obviously relevant added into the mix often creates surprising breakthrough insights, often from some stranger’s perspective, as you will see in the rent-a-cop guard story in this pattern’s examples section.

When I say “consider a healthy range of factors,” I mean that before we act and then as we act – both as we talk and as we take action – we include this healthy range of diversity.  This of course makes our work harder.  It counters our desire to move quickly and dive into something. But diving into things prematurely is a good way to describe what’s destroying us as a civilization. Wise democracy recognizes that dynamic, and values caring, thoughtful work. “Caring cognitive process” might a good way to describe deliberation. There are so many different forms of that and dimensions to it. In a wise democracy we attend to that, and institutionalize it and say, “Here is the institution of Citizens Deliberative Council (or whatever) and we are going to do this kind of deliberation on a regular basis – or under certain circumstances – to ensure that we are not overlooking things unnecessarily. And if we are overlooking things, they will be brought into the deliberation early in the deliberation, as they are discovered, rather than being pushed aside.”

So having a culture of deliberation is what a wise democracy is largely about.

Video Introduction (10 min)

Examples and Resources

The underlying rationale for deliberation is the desire to take into account what needs to be taken into account to generate wise action and/or policy.  Most deliberation uses linear reason and fact to weigh (an often limited number of preset) options, with careful consideration of their trade-offs. Leading-edge forms of deliberation tend to welcome a wider range of intelligences and to creatively use the diverse passions and stories of those involved.  Practices like the Wisdom Council – which uses Dynamic Facilitation to evoke a choice-creating conversation – offer resources for those wishing more vibrantly creative ways of taking into account a full range of factors such that clarity about what to do next emerges naturally rather than through laborious analysis.  I am putting this kind of approach in the category “creative deliberation.

Bohmian Dialogue can help deliberation because it is specifically about bringing to the group’s attention the presence of assumptions in what is being said. It is about clarifying them and suspending them for group awareness and consideration, whether or not they are explicitly addressed by the group.  Awareness of assumptions can help people avoid blind spots.  And this is best done in a diverse group because assumptions tend to be invisible to those who hold them, while being vividly obvious for those who don’t share them.

Re “welcoming the stranger”, there is a great true story of people who are trying to discuss their shoe business and what it should do next. They’re holding this meeting in breakout groups in a big warehouse and a rent-a-cop guard wanders over to one of the breakout groups and suggests that they create a new kind of military-style boot for people like him, boots that are more comfortable than the usual boot but still have that militaristic image that supports their work. The people in the group did that and ended up generating millions of dollars in sales. The guard wasn’t even part of the meeting, but welcoming him in to share his insight and ideas created new options that weren’t there before.