Pattern #87

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Universal Participation Card

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Universal Participation

Universal Participation Symbol

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Pattern Heart

Everyone and everything participates in co-creating whatever happens, knowingly or not, willingly or not. Guilt, blame, and single linear causation tend to be problematic illusions arising from limited awareness. So expand awareness of multiple causes and field effects. Promote conscious full spectrum participation in all wisdom-generating designs and activities.

Some related patterns:   4 Big Empathy   29 Expanding Situational Curiosity   46 Inclusive Stakeholder Governance   82 Systems Thinking
84 Tackling Cognitive Limitations   92 Whole System in the Conversation   95 Working the Field

  • Is there anyone you can think of who has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on here?
  • What event or phenomenon can you propose that has only one cause? Can anyone name another factor involved in causing that? How many causes can we come up with?
  • What are the benefits, limitations, and problems with framing people’s involvement in terms of blame and guilt versus virtue and innocence?
  • How can we approach the ideal of everyone who is involved in co-creating a situation being part of an effort to understand it more deeply and to co-create it differently together?
  • What happens when we take the causal understanding we have acquired through a well-controlled scientific experiment and apply it out in the world where lots more is going on than what was allowed in our controlled experiment?

Universal Participation – going deeper …

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

Thinking in terms of “universal participation” requires a major shift in perspective. If you have a linear view of the world – a Newtonian worldview of objects and entities exerting energies and colliding with each other in linear kinds of ways – that supports the idea that if you identified one cause – THE cause – and fixed it up, you wouldn’t have the problem you have. And in human relationships if you can find THE person who is responsible and remove them from the situation, or change them in some way, you will resolve the problem.

Systems thinking is different. It assumes that there are always multiple causes that we could identify, multiple influences and factors at work in the situation. In order to really address this, to really solve this thing (whatever it is), we need to become more sophisticated in understanding the different elements that are at work in the situation. To the extent we don’t understand all the different elements at play, and we handle one of them thinking it’s The Cause, the other causal factors are going to keep acting and the situation will show up again or resurface as seemingly new but related situations showing up in other times and places.

We can’t understand everything and never will. But we assume there are many influences at work when we try to understand and address a situation, and that we need to try to deepen into more than one or two linear causes.

Sometimes influences show up as fields.  Many different interactions and agents and factors in a situation can together generate a causative field. This can make it seem like the situation doesn’t come from one place, but is sort of coming from everything.

For example, the power relationships in a society can often generate a field of certain kinds of power that shape what happens next:  It’s not so much that individual corporations and wealthy people are impacting politics. It’s the fact that we have a system set up so that all sorts of wealthy people and corporations CAN impact politics. They create a field of influence – and we find the liberal powers, the unions and numerable people trying to counter the conservative people. Their interactions as collectives, as classes, create this field.

The stories that we tell ourselves – a kind of narrative field that we are all operating in – can shift in dramatic ways.  For example, the feminist narrative about how things are going and how things work has begun to shift what’s considered real and important, generating a counter-weight to the previously (and still quite) dominant patriarchal narrative about what’s real and what’s important, or how things work. There’s been a shifting of the larger field of stories that shape how we think and behave because of the power of that analysis and its promotion. That’s an example of a field effect. It’s almost like a magnetic or gravitational field generated by and influencing all the entities in it.

So we are all co-creating the events, and all sorts of different entities and systems and factors are involved in co-creating what’s happening. We don’t have to be aware of all that to make it true: It’s there anyway. You don’t have to know that your car is participating in generating climate change in order for your car to participate in generating climate change. It is just there.  You may not want that to happen but you can’t help it. If you drive your car, you are almost surely participating. There are certain kinds of cars that participate much less in that, and yes, you try and get the car that will participate less, once you are aware – and that’s good.  That’s another form of participation.

The fact is, that it’s all a co-creation, and if we all co-created different forms of energy and different levels of energy demand and different levels of material demand, we could co-create a more sustainable society. So both the negative realities and the positive realities are being co-created.

Guilt and blame come from the idea that we know – or can find out – “who is responsible.” The universal participation perspective thinks in terms of a different kind of responsibility:  It’s not that this person or thing is at fault so much as we are creating this, so how can we create it differently?  The responsibility involves acknowledging our role in the co-creative process and then changing our role in that process, and changing the process so all the people involved in the co-creation are co-creating things differently.

So change agents in a wise democracy would be taking into account the multiple causes and field effects when they ask “where is this issue coming from?” They then would seek to consciously engage new forms of full-spectrum participation. Even today we are trying to engage all the players or people who represent those players, those perspectives, those roles, trying to engage them in a co-creative act that is more towards the kind of life-serving solutions and systems and societies that we want. So instead of everybody continuing in their silo’d consciousness and dimensions of life co-creating disasters, let’s bring people together to increase their consciousness of the co-creative process that is going on, and help them find ways to co-create something better.

The underlying assumption is that co-creation is going on all the time. There are many implications for that, and if we can do that well we will generate wisdom. The idea of people co-creating something better together is a very powerful aspect of taking into account what needs to be taken into account for long-term broad benefits. We seek to take into account both the full spectrum of perspectives and the full spectrum of co-creative participation – and we seek to engage the full spectrum of participants in generating something that has long-term broad benefits.

So the assumption of universal co-creation and participation both informs and empowers our wisdom generating designs and activities.

Video Introduction (13 min)

Examples and Resources

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.  – Jane Goodall

Systems Analysis: What are all the factors and causal influences in the larger system? This analytic frame is a way of looking at the impacts of different elements and their relationships to each other and the larger situation.

Polarity management:  Polarity management sees polarities as intrinsically co-creative. Both polarized forces have an intrinsic and necessary grain of the truth. So when one of them goes too far and becomes too influential, it evokes forces within the system to counter it and bring it back into balance or to pull energies over to the other side of the polarity. Polarity management assumes that polarities are co-creative factors and that we can create a system that has more consciousness in it, so that the polarities don’t just keep slamming us back and forth between the polarized extremes. We want more conscious co-creation and balancing, respect and recognition.

Restorative justice:
In any crime, there are roles played by the perpetrator, the victim and the community at large (and usually the system in which all of them are embedded). Restorative justice is trying to find a way to use the relational system between perpetrator, victim and community – to use that system that resulted in the damage – to find a way to generate a more healthy result so that kind of damage doesn’t happen again. Again, it’s co-creating something different and requires all of those players to participate in that new co-creative act.

A lot of nonviolence theory and practice is highly co-creative. Gandhi pointed out that victims of British imperialism were helping the British imperialists oppress them. In effect he was saying, “We are all co-creating this! The ways that we are behaving together are co-creating it! We Indians acquiescing and the British beating people, killing people or putting them in jail – all these parts of the colonial system are co-creating a negative outcome. So let’s get together and be more conscious and intentional.  Let’s be respectful and co-create something that’s better!”

Stakeholder approaches like Future Search:
Future Search stakeholders first co-create a timeline of how they have been interacting. This process helps them see more clearly how their unconsciously co-creative dance has unfolded into the situation they face now. Then they come together to explore the challenges and dynamics of their current situation and context, and how they want to co-create their shared future. Finally, they break up into subgroups to take action to actually co-create it.  That’s an explicit application of universal participation. Organizers make great efforts to get a good selection of stakeholders involved to do this.