TOWARDS A NEW COVENANT:
EMBRACING A DIALOGUE AND DECISION CULTURE TO ADDRESS THE CHALLENGES OF THE AGORAS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
Heiner Benking and Farah Lenser, Open Forum, Berlin, Germany, & Sherryl Stalinski, Aurora Now Foundation, Tucson, AZ
Twenty-first century agoras, unlike their historical counterparts, are not comprised of villages populated by individuals who know each other and share the same past, environment, and culture. Contemporary agoras are diverse and global. Their dialogue is often conducted across geographical and cultural boundaries. Additionally, they often address challenges and issues that are far more complex than those of the early agoras. This paper seeks to identify such challenges and summarize a variety of appropriate dialogue methodologies.
KEYWORDS: dialogue, conversation, conscious cultural evolution, dialogue culture, social systems design
CHAPTERS : REQUISITE VARIETY IN DIALOGUE * CULTURAL EVOLUTION * AWARENESS AND CONSCIOUSNESS * Choosing Appropriate Dialogue Methodologie * Internal, External, and In-Between Dialogue * Bohm-like Dialogue – Open and Free Dialogue * Cultivating Dialogue And Co-Creation With "Magic Round Tables" (Open-Forums) * MODEL MAKING & SHARED MODELS * AN INFLUENTIAL CENTER OF GLOBAL DIALOGUE * CONCLUSION * REFERENCES *
The conference announcement for the 47th Meeting of the International Society for the System Sciences describes the concept of 21st century agoras in relation to their historical predecessors in ancient Greece: "The agoras were public spaces where people congregated and deliberated on their issues. If we want to democratize the emerging global village, we must provide agora-like places where people can engage in meaningful dialogue." However, agoras in a fragmented world (Beck, 1992) must create their own shared reality and shared approaches. These agoras must construct their shared realities. They must find flexible and adaptive ways to negotiate checks and balances, overcome vicious cycles, and map the dilemmas of complex agendas. Examples of such situation rooms are the inter-sectorial negotiations of sustainable development described by Judge (1970, 86, 94, 97).
Agoras of this type are problem, potential, solution "spaces", which are described in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1994-95), as being so complex and multi-dimensional that no single person can grasp all their aspects. To enable dialogue in these spaces, we propose a covenant of shared frameworks for sharing and negotiating our views, levels, proportions and consequences (Judge 1986, 98; Benking 1997c, 1998). This covenant, which we proposed before the Earth Summit in 1992 (Brown 1994, Benking 1994) is a collection of methods for sharing realities. They are potential maps and models that we can use to develop consensual paths of action. (Benking 1994, 1995a, 1996a, 2003).
David Bohm (1994) wrote that the form of free dialogue could be one of the most effective possibilities to investigate the crises which society is confronting today. Even more, he felt that this form of exchanging ideas and information could be of fundamental importance to change cultures in such a way that creativity will be set free. Our new agoras are in the process of (re)inventing forms of free and open dialogue that allow everybody to bring up their suggestions or opinions about any topic in such a way that the old dualisms of speaker / listener take much needed "communicative turns." For more see below and (De Zeeuw 1997; Benking 1999a, 2000).
The new agoras must overcome what we experience today in conferences and symposia where one monologue follows another and the discussion is short and poor. This usual form of meetings and conferences is not the way we can expect to solve our problems, neither on group or global levels. Instead of waiting for the break or evening to finally talk to each other, we need to build dialogue into our symposia (Greek for convivial discussions).
System Theory points out obvious reasons why people should value and seek out diverse perspectives, especially when they are engaging in dialogue. We, as systems researchers and practitioners, understand the value of diversity. We study the principles that enable a complex, open system to be stable and sustainable over time. In this pursuit, we can conceptualize a complex global human system, made of increasingly specialized and diverse individuals, communities, and countries, that evolves in ever-increasing integration and relationship, and contains influential centers that continually catalyze its increased organization. This is, in fact, the essence of social evolution.
And yet, we find ourselves constantly trying to reconcile what we have learned through empirical systems research with what we have learned through personal experience, and trying to reconcile the experiential and the empirical with new, relativist or postmodern perspectives. We spend enormous effort trying to validate and honor our own diverse ways of knowing (Earley 1997; Harman, 1998; Stalinski, 2001) while trying to respect the diverse perspectives of others. This struggle hinders our ability or consensual action. It comes from trying to choose between perspectives: an ingrained insistence that we must choose one perspective or another. Instead, we could accept that there is more than one perspective, and that several may be "right." We could hold diverse and multiple perspectives simultaneously and seek their integration. In so doing, we will open ourselves to the natural processes of integration and evolution.
According to Jay Earley (1997) who articulates the same fundamental processes of integration expressed by von Bertalanffy: "differentiation (complexity), autonomy and wholeness are the three basic tendencies of evolution." We propose that, for human systems, this process happens concurrently at the level of individual consciousness and at societal/cultural levels. This process of increased wholeness and individuation (unity) happens through the relevant, effective and right relationship of increasingly diverse (differentiated and autonomous) components (Bertalanffy, 1968). The evolutionary process is not reliant merely on differentiation, but on the appropriate relationship of differentiated systems components; whether biological, organismic or human perspectives. (Benking,1997b), (Kline 1996)
Human evolution is the process of evolving individual consciousness and the concurrent evolution of our social systems and cultures (Banathy, 2000; Earley, 1997; Harman, 1998). Rose (1998), Gebser (1986). We (Benking & Stalinski, 2001a) argue that this process is experiential and concrete, not just conceptual. It is central to our being, and to the emergence of evolved consciousness (and the integration of human culture). Earley likewise calls for the integration of "participatory" and "reflexive" consciousness—again underscoring the integration of the experiential, rational and spiritual towards increased individual and cultural wholeness.
The evolution of consciousness is not so much a process of changing personal perspectives, meanings and worldviews; it is more a process of integration (Gebser, 1986, Rose, 1998; Benking & Stalinski, 2001a) and finding internal congruency among what we know empirically, experientially with our understanding of meaning (Stalinski, 2001). Our cultures are influenced by this internal congruence. Cultural evolution, then, is a process of living and experiencing both internal and external differentiation, integration and congruency. Often our contemporary cultures express contradictory and conflicting values internally, and even as we ignore these internal conflicts, humanity seems to be striving for a more global wholeness and unity.
Within our human communities and organizations—whether local, societal or global—shared meanings and values centralize our ‘wholeness’ as complex systems of diverse individuals and sub-systems. Human cultures are value-guided systems (Laszlo, E. 1996; Banathy, 1996, 2000). We learn through personal experience and cultural influence to value that which benefits our ability to not just survive, but thrive as individuals and social systems. The cultures within our small local geographic communities or larger societal systems evolve around ‘highly influential centers’ (Bertalanffy, 1968) of adopted and agreed upon values and norms. And yet, we rarely reflect upon these central meanings, values, and norms at a conscious level.
Astronauts have often spoken about "instant consciousness," something impressing and lasting they experienced the moment they saw the earth as a whole and themselves apart from it. They report that this changed their attitudes and awareness. They suddenly appreciated the value, fragility, and beauty of the planet and their duty to safeguard the whole earth and not just their personal "vicinity."
When we really become conscious of an external object, state, or fact, we widen our horizons, our perspectives, and ultimately our spheres of responsibility. This idea of consciousness expands the dictionary definition that "consciousness is the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself." As we have seen above, when we widen our awareness to take in something from "outside," we take in something that has relevance, proportion and consequence for our survival. As our awareness widens, our external and internal consciousness heightens because we are integrating our internal and external aspects. We begin to survive as a greater whole, transcending our personal survival, in and across scales, cultures, and times. At this point, we face an extraordinary challenge: How can we connect this instant consciousness or deep ecology feeling to others in a way that is lasting, immanent, and permanent in an organismic (not just perspective) mode?
Self-reflective consciousness is a uniquely human capacity. If consciousness is a state of being aware "especially of something within ourselves," that awareness is integrally tied to how we experience the relationship between "awareness within" and relations outside ourselves. Since the dawn of human consciousness, behavior has been guided by what we value, what we determine to be ‘good’ or ‘better’ for ourselves individually and collectively. Yet conscious choice, self-reflection, and even rational thinking are usually secondary to habitual behavior informed by our personal and cultural experience (see Bourdieu, 1982).
It is not only explicit knowledge that shapes us, but the implicit understandings of meaning and context that we each accumulate from personal experience and cultural interaction (Samples, 1981). If we were to consciously reflect and analyze every choice we make, the result would be a sort of paralysis—it simply is not practical. Moreover, much of the knowledge we gain experientially, like "knowing" we are in love, is almost impossible to reflect and analyze in a conscious language. Yet this inchoate experiential knowledge seems to make up the most permanent and solid bricks in our subconscious foundation for choice. If we experience rejection, for example, then the "truth" of our unworthiness persists in our subconscious, and that belief will influence our decisions and behavior until we consciously reason a new conclusion or until we experience acceptance and feelings of worth (Stalinski, 2001).
It is no wonder, then, that Gebser calls so strongly for the ‘concrete’—the experiential and tangible—in the quest for integral consciousness. The age of reason has diminished the value for tacit knowledge and experiential learning and has relegated value to only that which can be proven rationally and empirically. If politically correct varieties of "reason" would accept the advances in physics, systems theory and evolutionary theory, this would not be so bad. Unfortunately, few of us bother to learn about these new understandings. Instead, we are guided by subconscious understandings of the world and our place in it that we have inherited from our recent past. Regardless of how embedded we are in a consciousness dominated by the rational, much of our living is based on these unexamined subconscious meanings.
If we are to escape this bondage to unexamined values, we need more than words and pictures. We need to experience new worlds and realities with all our senses and attach ourselves empirically, rationally and emotionally to them. We need to share schemas and models, metaphors and stories in addition to pictures and words. For that purpose, we need to overcome the fragmentation caused by our different media and sign systems (Benking 2003). Central to this effort, we need to review the rituals and ways we use to share and communicate.
We might learn from many Indigenous peoples who prefer participatory design structures to hierarchical ones. One such group is AIO (Americans for Indian Opportunity) under the leadership of LaDonna Harris (2003). Their ILIS Dialogue (Indigenous Leadership Interactive System) combines AIO's core values: "relationships, responsibility, reciprocity, and redistribution" with six established principles of dialogue and computer-mediated methods of voting, decision-making, and consensus-building (built upon the work of Chistakis; 1996, 2001).
Gebser, in his The Ever-Present Origin (1986), speaks of the concretion of time as one of the preconditions of the integral, stating "only the concrete can be integrated." We believe he is suggesting ‘concreteness’ as being more than just having an intuitive "gut feeling," and more than just being open for new experiences or escaping old molds and fixations. Instead, we believe he calls us to experience all levels of human evolution and consciousness in ways that are sharable and collectively observable.
In his synoptic table column 17, Gebser is searching for a "Motto for the Integral." He plays with the German "Wahrgeben – Wahrnehmen" distinction. "Wahrgeben" means to him to impart truth, whereas "wahrnehmen" suggests merely imparting what we can see with our eyes and measure. Wahrgeben connotes for us an embodiment of truth to reality, perhaps a small facet of an ultimately unknowable absolute Truth, which we agree is beyond our ability to define in its entirety (an agreement which can be found in nearly all of the world's spiritual traditions). This embodied reality then, is at once relative and real, posing no real paradox or contradiction, and allows participants in dialogue to experience unfamiliar facets or perspectives that can lead to creative insight.
Stalinski (2001) explores the current obstacles to imparting such an experiential embodiment of truth (wahrgeben) within the current traditional/modern perspective, which relies solely on the empirical (wahrnehmen). Benking (2003) suggests that we should use, in addition to absolute and relative space, a synthetic model space with scaffolding that can be filled and emptied with real or synthetic artifacts. This space would allow us to make extra dimensions and levels (beyond the meso-scale) embodied and thereby tangible. It is a modeling space adapted to the context of social systems decision-making.
This approach goes beyond relativist and postmodern approaches, which remain ultimately abstract and vague. In model space, we make room for multiple and competing perspectives in a way that enables us to see, feel, touch, and even measure when appropriate, various ways of understanding. Surrounded by these perspectives, we draw upon our ability to apply and embody ideas, meanings, and facts on order to evaluate the conceptual situations that come up. Integration and transcendence ultimately arise in ways that allow people with diverse perspectives to share jointly created meaning in ways that honor and acknowledge the values brought by each of them.
For example, we work with youth on an educational curriculum to establish and compare different perspectives (called "eyes"): worm, fish, bird, generation, culture eyes. Our experiences lead us to believe that holding many incompatible perspectives makes sense and is most natural to "non-intellectuals." This multi-modal way of thinking in an architecture of situated and structured perspectives (Benking, Rose 1998) might help all of us to overcome our culturally induced impulse that demands that we either agree with someone or else fight him/her to prove that we are "right." For the work of Helmuth Plessner (1928) on overcoming dualism by assuming an ex-centric position see (Benking, Stalinski 2001a).
In short, the synergy that emerges from consciousness and dialogues that embrace many perspectives is "universal,"not tied to any one perspective, it is a perspective that somehow observes a conversation from a distance. (Of course, people and groups need to appreciate many perspectives before they rise to a higher-level perspective. This is shown by Gebser’s demonstration that the inclusive level must precede the evolutionary one.)
It has been said that wisdom is knowledge applied. We humans seem to learn best by experience. As we conceptualize new possibilities and apply them, new ideas become ‘real’ and give meaning to information that would otherwise be lost. Anyone who has teenagers knows the exasperation involved in trying to tell them about the possible consequences of their behavior. They, like the rest of us, seem to learn best in "the school of experience." The experiences we have over our lifetime either reinforce or contradict previously held values. Considering the impact of experience on our subconscious and conscious values, and its ability to transform those values and subsequent behaviors and choices, it is surprising how little value we place on experiential learning.
New information is automatically tested against our personal experience for congruency in order to evaluate it usefulness, if not at the conscious level then at the unconscious. If we make a conscious effort to reflect on this congruence, we can question whether our experience has resulted in learning that improves our sense of meaning, purpose, and values. In experience-based conversation and dialogue, we have a healthy environment to explore, evaluate, and possibly re-create our fundamental perceptions and perspectives (Stalinski 2001).
Dialogue in a universal mode is dialogue of shared Wahrgeben that resonates in a group and is owned by it. It is a meaningful experience of co-creation that includes rational discourse, but not at the expense of interactive myth, magic, metaphor, stories, play, and artistic expression.
In order to create new agoras, we think it is necessary to build up a kind of "communitas" in the sense of Martin Buber (1984) and also to build a "polis" which includes the "not-common," that is, the differences which make a difference. For Buber, the first and indispensable vital step, communitas, is the outcome and consequence of a dialogue process that expresses the relation between the I and the You. The upshots of I – You interactions is dialogue, mutual respect, and shared meaning, which according to David Bohm is the "glue" or "cement" that holds people and societies together.
Dialogue gives us a way to communicate, share, listen, ponder, reflect and jointly elaborate issues. It can get us out of the conventional rut in which prepared statements are read with typically no reference to what was said before, and no time for discussion as everybody is overusing his time slot, as we have all too often not learned to be brief and concise.
Dialogue takes place in both informal and formal gatherings. The informal gatherings usually make use of open formats that allow change agents to emerge. The formal gatherings often use structured formats to tackle complex issues with diverse stakeholders, and attempt to create consensual action plans. Both open and structured formats have their place in order to match the needs, assumptions, requirements, expectations as well as the location, space and time available. All dialogic facilitation methods are a kind of "one family" (Owen, 2000) – as long as they allow the free flow o meaning and hinder the dominance of self-selected presenters.
There are a number of fine participative planning and design methodologies that are practiced by hundreds of experienced and successful facilitators. Some of these methodologies include dialogue (structured and unstructured). Some of them are solidly based on years of scientific research, academic review, and practical application. They may well be in order for groups with complex problems and groups that have made first steps with informal methodologies. These methodologies are not the focus of this paper.
Instead, we focus on more informal, less structured dialogues, especially the Bohm-like ones, Open Space TechnologiesTM, and Magic Round Tables. These methods are relatively easy to use and they produce genuine transformative dialogue.
In the process of evolving to a more unified systems complex of diverse cultural, socio-economic, religious, psychological individuals and social systems (building agoras), we can use dialogue to discover the relevant and integrated interrelations, which will make us more autonomous individually, and more unified globally. This dialogue may be internal as we seek congruency between what we know empirically and experientially within our individual and collective lives. This conscious reflection on personal values and meanings will impact our behavior and how we perceive others who may seem different, and cause us discomfort. Our willingness to engage in external dialogue – the co-creation of meaning with others—becomes an exploration of discovery in which we find out how we fit together, as individuals, communities, cultures and nations (Bohm & Peat, 1987; Lopez-Garay, 2001; Christakis, 2001).
Additionally, there are "in-between" dialogues, which are designed to give space for surprise, for the unexpected and tacit to surface. For example, in gatherings like Open Space TechnologiesTM or Magic Round Tables, people take on the responsibility themselves and as a group to co-create and form something, which cannot be planned, which can only emerge if the situation is right and "control" is abandoned.
Open and free dialogue is en vogue. The method of Open Space TechnologiesTM is enjoying popularity similar to the "future labs" of Robert Jungk several years ago. It seems to be in use everywhere.
The originator of "Open Space", Harrison Owen, in his work with groups discovered that, if one has an open space and some "ingredients," and then adds some roles for moving in-between internal and external dialogues, then "surprises" are possible. A sample open space might be a marketplace with the "law of the two feet" (in which people can "vote with their feet" by moving between places and groups) with a bulletin board, and then allow or encourage some participants to adopt the roles of as "butterflies" (a person sitting for example at leisure, at the bar or playing guitar) or of "bumble-bees" (a person cross-fertilizing by "jumping" from one group to another). This setup enables movement and dialogue between the other forms of dialogue, and can add surprises. In surprise and exchange, we experience a self-organization in social systems that is similar to the evolution that biologists see in nature. Owen has featured this process in great detail in an interview (Lenser 1998).
With the dynamic of embodied voting tokens at magic round tables, we experience something very similar. The results strengthen our belief that open dialogue methods can change people’s frames of mind and modes of communication. In these Magic Round Tables (see Open Forum 1995-2003), people tell stories, stay silent, do several kinds of art, and sometimes reset their agenda and priorities, just as the audience is ready for it. Dynamic voting at the round table and the surprises in Open Space TechnologiesTM encompass the dialogue spectrum and help us to cherish, explore and learn from our differences.
In Bohm’s concept of free and open dialogue, people come together in a circle (often 40 or more people) without agenda or moderator. Several methods approximate this ideal.
One ancient and venerable method is the Native American tradition of the "talking stick." Native Americans used to come together in a circle sharing their ideas and thoughts and feelings – often with the help of a talking stick. The one who has the talking stick can talk as long as she/he wants and the others listen carefully without commenting. After finishing, she/he will put the talking stick in the open space in the middle of the circle and someone else will take it – at once or after a creative silence.
This method has been re-established by the Native Americans themselves (Council process), and is used today in some therapeutic groups and in some new age circles, but it holds further promise as is shown with dialogues not only in public – but also, for example, in prisons – a very demanding application area (see Manitonquat; Medicine Story, 1997).
Another important Bohm-like approach towards shared meaning and peace employs architectures or structures of meaning to design meetings and gatherings; such as is the case with the Asilomar and Fuschl conversations. This kind of dialogue, which seeks to create, redesign or refine human systems, requires competence in the area of creation, co-creation and design. The design conversation engages participants in both generative and strategic dialogue in order to gain design competence, conceptualize, and create complex human systems. (Banathy, 1996; Laszlo, Laszlo, et al, 1996; Stalinski 2001).
Conventional pow-wows, talking stick methods, Fuschl conversations– and many other ways requiring time without constraints – are exceptionally successful, if the group has enough time for the process and each individual honors the group. The problem in our times and our culture is how to cultivate listening and share ideas when everybody considers time as the only thing they do not have and speakers fight for "air-time" in order to "sell" their message" in the tight time-budget of a meeting or conference.
One way is to go on retreat to create time. This is the method employed in the Asilomar and Fuschl conversations. In Magic Roundtables, we propose another way. We create a kind of "time" that is valuable only for others. In roundtables, dialogue participants are given tokens for a given amount of time, they are encouraged to give their "time" away to other participants in order to give voice to others.
Another problem with Bohm-like dialogues is: "how to stop the talkers"? David Bohm (1994) underlined this issue in the last footnote of his book On Dialogue, saying that it would be helpful to develop some "rules" to handle talkers who monopolize a group. To overcome this problem many dialogue methods parcel out the time that participants can use. For more see: The Mary Parker Follett Foundation (2003-2004).
The purpose of dialogue is to create shared meaning. Since we currently experience life within the constraints of linear time, we need to nurture the diversity needed for shared meaning by enabling diverse participation in equitable ways. Time-sharing roundtable exercises enable participants to reflect the other’s perspective and at the same time to practice "communion" through empowering, giving voice, and sharing empathy in a process of establishing shared meaning. (Judge, 1994; Benking, 1998; Bohm [online]).
The Magic Round Table method (Open Forum 1995-2003; Lenser, Benking 2002) presented here is one approach to tackle the nightmare of self-presentation and isolation of individuals in groups. We think this approach is in perfect tune with the work of David Bohm (1994, 1998), Anthony Judge on "Time-sharing Systems in Meetings" (Judge 1994), and the DaZiBao participative conference messaging approach (Nadia McLaren 1992), which was first exercised at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
So what we do and propose is to modify the generally accepted timesharing methods where every speaker has his/her speaking-time. Instead of just dividing and distributing the time available (maybe only one hour equal 60 tokens) to pre-selected speakers, we give tokens – physical time-beats like stones, nuts, straws, etc. – to potential speakers and surprise-guests. To introduce the game we nominate a "moderator" as time-keeper and independent guard to secure that the rules are understood and applied.
Participants preferably sit in a circle and are kindly asked by the facilitator not necessarily to introduce themselves, but primarily to propose a topic or theme to the group they would like to elaborate. This offer can be anything – a passionate project, a dominant feeling, the wish to do something else (offering a little performance, to go for a demonstration which is happening around the corner, asking for some silence or meditation or anything else – all these are examples we experienced the last 10 years). After the "offer of themes and proponents" the participants are asked to give their token time-credits as a present and encouragement to the persons who offer something that they want to hear and havd jointly explored.
The difference from other methods is the dynamic, embodied allocation of attention and interest, which encourages co-creation and the exchange of ideas where the group jointly elaborates and models in the given time. Time symbolized as a token given to other people encourages and gives them a sign of interest and sympathy, which invites them to share meaning, follow joint lines of interest, and learn about common threads, concerns, assumptions and approaches.
The magic round tables have been introduced during recent years in a very broad range of settings, with a great variety of participants in political, scientific, peace and mediation environments. The topics and outcomes of the dialogues, and how they evolve is always a surprise. It is almost always unclear who would get speaking time and what would attract the most interest.
We find that the method works with all kinds of participants, politicians, scientists, artists and youth, having all manners of cultural, social and political background. Nobody has refused to obey to the rules, not the sheik of a traditional Sufi group, nor the right-wing youngster who started with an "offer" to beat up somebody in the group, nor the follower of a radical left-wing political group who first refused to sit at the table with somebody who belongs to an opponent group. This last one refused to sit at the table with his supposed opponent/enemy and disturbed the group with aggressive remarks, but was stunned with astonishment, when this person got up to give him "time to speak." In such cases, the method works as a tool for mediation, as people realize and change their assumptions and prejudices. In our view, it is important to attract people from all strands of life, people from the exact and fine arts, from policy and industry.
What we experience in life, the tactile, sights, smells, sounds, tastes and emotional feelings, give us our sense and understanding of our human experience. While we may sometimes use our capacity to reason to try to understand these experiences, it is often difficult to argue rationally against what we have learned experientially. In dialogue, we can create valuable experiential learning through our senses and emotions by expressing concrete experiences and listening to the stories of others. In such dialogue, the use of models, maps, and metaphor are strong tools for sharing, in writing and also outside the parameters of our symbolic languages. (Benking 1996, 1997c; 2001b, Rose, 2000; Stalinski, 2001).
Systems evolve around ‘instigating causalities,’ which influence and catalyze the organization of a system (Bertalanffy, 1968). In our cultural systems, these influential centers are the values that define the cultural system. Cultural leadership catalyzes the norms and behaviors that reflect these values. By understanding the role of leadership as "centralizing" and influential for the application of a culture’s values, leadership can be seen not as a "dominant" role, but a "predominant" role, which empowers integration and interrelationship among all system members to create a more unified and individuated ‘whole’ culture (Stalinski, 2001). At a global level, the Institute for Global Ethics lists five values identified around the world: respect, honesty, compassion, fairness and responsibility (Glenn & Gordon, 2001). These fundamental, life-affirming values, by being integrated within cultural dialogues at all levels of the global human systems complex, can provide a meaningful and valuable ‘centralizing influence’ as we strive for an increased unity that is expressed in myriad cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions.
There are numerous other groups around the world who promote dialogue approaches. To enumerate and describe them would require another paper. Moves are afoot to coordinate the efforts of these groups, but with little tangible success so far.
Dialogue is a central component of any real agora. We have explored the nature of 21st century agoras, their need for a variety of viewpoints, the nature of cultural evolution, and the role of consciousness. We have discussed the construction of agoras from the viewpoints of choosing appropriate methodologies, varieties of dialogue, Open Space TechnologiesTM, Bohmian dialogue, and Magic Round Tables with some mention of models and organizations that promote dialogic methods.
To construct a meaningful number of agoras using dialogue methods, we need to do a great deal of work. Starting now.
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In his recent book (Owen 2000), he deals with the power of spirit and the need for informal, as well as formal gatherings. The informal gatherings allow change agents to emerge. The formal ones, like we see in Christakis's CogniScope TM or other decision – mediation approaches, allow voting and comparison of alternative courses of action. Both open and structured formats have their place in order to match the needs, assumptions, requirements, expectations as well as location, space and time available.