Tuesday, February 07, 2006

How does harmonization work?

In our societies today, conflicts are resolved by means of power: the most powerful faction gets its way. It's a win-lose system. People join parties or special-interest groups in order to have some hope of exerting influence in society. Harmonization is about resolving conflicts through respectful dialog. It is about taking into account everyone's concerns, and coming up with plans and solutions that deal fairly with all those concerns. Harmonization is not about choosing among alternatives, rather it is a creative, problem-solving process.

The most surprising thing about harmonization is that it is possible.
Harmonization is an ancient tradition. When problems came up in aboriginal societies, the people of a tribe would typically meet in council and talk together until they all agreed on how the problem would be dealt with. Usually a respected elder of the tribe would act as facilitator in such a council, making sure that everyone got to express their point of view. Native American tribes operated this way, and we can still find examples today, in those few remote societies that continue to preserve their traditional ways. From our modern perspective, we can describe these societies as direct democracies, using harmonization as their process of governance.

When agriculture and civilization came along, this democratic from of governance was supplanted by hierarchical rule under an all-powerful chief or king. Harmonization was no longer part of the culture, and today most of us would probably doubt that such a process is even possible: How could a liberal and a conservative, for example, hope to agree on a common solution to a controversial societal problem? Aren't their differences too deep for that to happen?

Fortunately, however, harmonization is a practice that is still possible for us, despite our apparent conflicts and differences. The problem is that our culture does not encourage the practice, nor does it afford us opportunities to exercise it. When the conditions are right, people are not only capable of harmonizing their concerns, but they find the experience liberating and empowering. In Chapter 5 of Escaping the Matrix, I describe several recent examples in which amazing results have been achieved in harmonization sessions.

The basic conditions that make harmonization possible are:
(1) a group of people who share common problems
(2) a competent facilitator
(3) a face-to-face session with adequate time allocated

If these conditions are satisfied, then almost any group of people - despite strong differences in values and beliefs - can harmonize their concerns and find solutions that they can all support. The process can vary, but frequently it follows a predictable pattern...

At the beginning of such a session, we typically see the same kind of frustrating debate that characterizes the discussions we are all familiar with: various people propose solutions to the shared problems, the solutions appear to be irreconcilable, people choose sides in the debate, and no one seems willing to shift their position. During this phase, the role of the faciliator is to make sure that each speaker is really heard by the others, and to shift energy away from debate among the participants. The facilitator writes down each person's contribution on a flip chart - so that all can see and remember - and treats each contribution as a positive statement, rather than as a disagreement with some previous contribution.

In this way everyone feels heard, and that shifts the energy of the group in subtle but important ways. When people feel heard themselves, they become open to hearing what others have to say. And when people feel that their position has been heard by the group, they aren't compelled to keep repeating it, as usually happens in discussions. Gradually the discussion shifts to the genuine concerns that underly "postitions," and participants begin to see each other as fellow human beings, with valid concerns - rather than as opponents, with contrary positions.

When the participants can see each other as genuine human beings, with valid concerns, then they naturally begin looking for solutions that take everyone's concerns into account. The energy of the group shifts, almost magically, from debate to collaborative problem solving. As people look over the comments on the flip charts, they begin to see new possibilities - ways to combine different ideas that formerly seemed opposed to one another. The process becomes creative, energizing, and empowering. By the time the session is over, the group is typically able to find breakthrough solutions that everyone likes better than their own initial proposals!

Results like this can be achieved in a corporate setting, leading to more effective work teams - and they can also be achieved in a community setting, overcoming divisiveness and leading to solutions which are likely to find widespread community support. Such results are indeed remarkable, but they are not really that difficult to achieve. As long as the people genuinely want to see the problems solved, they have the benefit of a skilled facilitator, and adequate time is devoted, then these kinds of results can be achieved with a high degree of reliability.

The number of particpants in such a session can vary considerably, depending on the skill of the faciliator, and twelve is probably close to an ideal number, in terms of giving everyone a chance to participate fully, and in terms of bringing in a wide diversity of viewpoints. Surprisingly, a harmonization session actually works better if there is a lot of initial divisiveness in the group! Once the participants begin collaborating in their thinking, the greater diversity of views brings in a broader canvas of possibilities, and the eventual breakthroughs are that much more dramatic and effective.

The amount of time required can also vary, but it is typically measured in days rather than hours. If there are substantial problems to be faced, and a considerable degree of divisiveness present, then four all-day sessions would be close to an ideal time allocation. This may seem like a large investment of time, but it is worth it if good solutions are found that all particpants are happy with. In terms of cost-effectiveness, one long but successful session is much better than shorter meetings which either fail to reach agreement, or which settle for compromise solutions that fail to take into account everyone's concerns.

Our jury system, where a unanimous verdict is required, can be seen as a remnant of our ancient heritage of harmonization. The number of jurors, twelve, makes sense for a jury for the same reasons I mentioned above. The film, Twelve Angry Men, dramatizes very well the kind of dynamics I have been describing, and the results that can be achieved when people finally listen to one another and begin cooperating in their thinking. Unfortunately, not every jury has a foreman with such good facilitating skills as those displayed by the foreman in the film.


Blogger zumbrunn said...

As I mentioned before, I certainly see harmonization as a crucial factor in a direct democracy. The two concepts are directly linked. The more harmonization, the more democracy.

However, I fear the system you are describing could in the real world manifest itself as an incubator for technocracy. Breeding an elite of people that are willing to involve themselves in the process. Specially if you start to stack this process through various levels of "hierarchy", like you have described in a comment to a previous post, this "danger" becomes more and more significant.

I believe your system suppresses some factors that contradict with the concept of harmonization but are also important factors in a direct democracy.

Should "emotional disagreement" be ignored? The harmonization process requires involvement and reasoning that not everybody will be willing or able to contribute. The wisdom of instinct is an integral factor in a direct democracy. People must have the right to vote on an issue even if they can not articulate their concern and their vote is based more on a gut feeling than on facts. This is a feature, not a bug.

What about the interests of those not interested? Harmonization can't be mandatory. Or even if you think it can be, I don't think it should be. Even in your ideal scenario where the outcome of the harmonization process at higher levels would in theory still reflect every individuals consent, I believe that a safety mechanism that allows the people to force an issue to a vote should be a requirement. Those that didn't participate in the process for whatever reason get a chance to veto its outcome.

Harmonization is about reaching a consensus for "change" but "change" is only half of the story. There is also an already existing consensus for "no change", the result of a previous harmonization process, the status quo. The decision between "change" and "no change" should happen outside of the harmonization process. This is where the direct vote of the people controls the process.

When individuals involve themselves in different interest groups and the system forces these interest groups through harmonization in order to reach a consensus then that outcome will likely be accepted by the people in a vote. There is no need to eliminate the direct vote from the process. It does not contradict with harmonization but it makes the process safer and allows it to be designed more efficient.

While harmonization in my opinion shouldn't replace referendum and initiative, it does make the concept of political parties obsolete. A direct democracy does not have a "governing party" and would never have an "opposition". In a direct democracy interest groups form around specific topics and work together to achieve concordance. The composition of the executive and the government then reflects that concordance.

I like your description of harmonization and I do know that it works. But I see it as a puzzle piece in a larger concept. Harmonization as the "best practice" for building consensus and achieving "governance in concordance" between all the different interest groups. At any level where policies are discussed and rules are drafted, the harmonization process should be applied to develop consensus. But the direct vote by the people should keep that process under control.

July 02, 2005  
Blogger rkm said...

Hi Chris,

Once again, I thank you for your participation. You are very good at working with scenarios, and anticipating potential bugs in systems - as we might expect from someone who is in the systems business.

In your latest comments, your concerns have mostly to do with how harmonization might be applied to the problem of governance. As regards the process itself, within a face-to-face session, we seem to be in substantial agreement. Indeed, you say: I like your description of harmonization and I do know that it works. Point of curiousity: How do you know it works? If you've had personal experience with facilitated processes, I'd be very interested to hear about it.

As regards the process you also say: Should "emotional disagreement" be ignored? The harmonization process requires involvement and reasoning that not everybody will be willing or able to contribute. In fact, harmonization is just as much about emotions and feelings as it is about logic. If someone says, "I'm not comfortable with the way this discussion is going," for example, that is just as valid as any logical argument. Until that person becomes comfortable, harmonization has not been achieved.

The remainder of your comments, as I said above, are about how harmonization fits into the larger question of governance. That will be the subject of my next posting, which will probably be called How can a society operate on a decentralized basis? Your comments here will be very helpful to me as I write that posting, and I look forward to seeing your comments on that new posting. For now, I'll offer a few responses to some of your comments. . .

I am curious as to why you seem to believe that voting offers some kind of democratic protection that is not provided by harmonization itself. If there is some kind of widespread dissatisfaction about social policies, why do you assume that those concerns would not be brought up in harmonization sessions, and dealt with there?

My own view is that voting a a very counter-democratic process. It gives no role to the individual other than voting Yes or No. The actual political process becomes one of special-interest groups competing for public attention. It breeds propaganda, factionalism, and divisiveness. It leads to political parties, party bosses, and power brokers. If you introduce voting on a society-wide basis, then populous cities dictate policy to the less populous contryside. The evils of voting are precisely why I am proposing a process based on harmonization.

You grant that harmonization makes politial parties obsolete, but for some reason you assume there would still be special-interest groups, executives, and governments. I believe those too would become obsolete. More about that in the new posting.

thanks again,

July 03, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me, harmonization is not only the best way I know for us to get a better understanding of the reality we all must learn to cope with to stay alive; harmonization is absolutely essential (not just for creative problem-solving) for communal living, because everything we do affects everyone else.
Even though (by definition) reality is the same for all of us, hubris tends to make us feel that our own ideas about reality are the correct ones & all those who differ are false. If we could only get rid of our hubris, we might be able to realize that there is always a huge gap between our own understandings of reality & reality itself. We might begin to realize that reality itself is ‘out there’ & our fallible understanding of it is ‘in here’.
People (with all their senses working well) are, of necessity, constantly confirming their perceptions with more than one sense (or from further experience, their own for someone else’s), probably without even realizing that that is what they are doing. Those are our only options for getting somewhat reliable understandings. So humble harmonization is an essential regular practice for any of us who take our responsibility for the well-being of all life seriously.

But we also need to remember that harmonization can’t happen without using words & thereby creating another source of possible misunderstandings. In order to work toward harmonization of my understandings of reality, I have to find words that I hope will communicate reasonably accurately. Then all the other hopeful harmonizers need to make an effort to compare their understanding of my understandings with their own understandings of reality so we can start trying to harmonize them. It takes a lot of humble patience!
If we are willing to let a facilitator lead us beyond our hubris, we won’t have to work so hard to get rid of it ourselves. But I’m confident that our willingness to admit that we are all fallible human beings (earthmates) is our only prerequisite to becoming good harmonizers .

July 05, 2005  
Blogger littlecicero said...

Interesting theory (process). How would the process work when sides that are diametrically opposed to each other are involved? What if an evil person (a Hitler) sees himself as , or tries to set himself up as the competent facilitator? It's known that tribes fight each other for dominance and control for what they percieve is important, like land, food, ect. The American Indians were famous for fighting among each other which enabled the Europeans to use them against themselves. I don't think society can just wait until one side is prepared to participate in the process. Thanks for making me think, interesting theory.

February 17, 2006  
Blogger rkm said...

Hi Jeramiah,

Thanks for your comments; you speak for many I am sure.

As regards an evil facilitator: why would any sensible person participate? If some evil leader gathers follwers, which happens all the time, that has nothing to do with harmonization processes.

As regards 'diametrically opposed', the experience of these sessions is that people break through that and find their common ground. That's why harmonization is so powerful.

It is not 'sides' that particpate in sessions, but people. They find out that their membership in a 'side' is secondary to their humanity.

thanks again,

February 18, 2006  
Blogger rkm said...

to chris, re: 'technocracy':

You said back in July, "However, I fear the system you are describing could in the real world manifest itself as an incubator for technocracy. Breeding an elite of people that are willing to involve themselves in the process."

That doesn't seem to be what happens in cases where people really are able to pariticpate in the governance process. In places like Cuba, and Porto Allegra, where participatory opportunities exist, people generally do tend to participate.

With your use of the word 'technocracy', I suspect you may be overemphasizing the technical aspects of governance. The core of governance is about choosing direction and priorities, not about micro management. For such purposes it is common sense that is needed, more than expertise. Expertise plays a role more in the carrying out of projects which have been authorized by the democratic process.

March 02, 2006  
Blogger Rex said...

I've been re-reading these threads. I'm greatly impressed by the possible 'wisdom' they contain. I trust that anyone who has managed to stay alive to some sort of maturity must have a good store of wisdom. [Wisdom=what works to make life better for all!] But we must not forget that what worked in the past will necessarily work again in all future situations. It is a good place for us to start, but we must always wait & see how it turns out before we can tell if it is wisdom in the current situation! In First Corintians, Paul is reported as advising us to put all things to the test & hold fast to that which is good! But, I would add, let's make sure it really does make life better for all. So let's always proceed with caution & great humility!

March 15, 2006  
Blogger zumbrunn said...

Regarding technocracy, ...when you delegate decision making to a group of people that are willing to spend time to involve themselves in "the system", there is always a big risk that it's breeding technocracy.

Richard writes, "In places like Cuba, and Porto Allegra, where participatory opportunities exist, people generally do tend to participate."

Even if it were true that in these places "people generally participate", you can never achieve a system in which "everybody" participates. By definition, the people that *do* participate are "the new elite", since they are the ones making the decisions.

Because of this, I still see harmonization "only" as a - very important - administrative process, that does not take the responsibility for the final decision making away from the individual. In addition to a harmonization process which develops a suggested consensus, we need a direct democratic control system that can veto the suggested consensus if need be.

April 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I believe "harmonization" should start in the family, how we raise and educate our children especially in those early formative years and then be reinforced and coached further in elementary and high school. I also think that the setting in which the people gather is very important. I'd prefer the gatherings to take place out of doors in a beautiful natural setting because there is something soothing about being outdoors (unless you're being bitten by black flies and the such, of course!), but a setting close to nature could help us connect with the matrix of life and thus encourage connecting with the nature within each other.

The use of the word "harmony" reminds me of Serge Kahili King's Huna philosophy (www.huna.org). I remember thinking "harmony" is definitely a better word than "balance" which tends to suggest two side of a scale rather than many factors as in an orchestra. Nature is always seeking equalibrium. Is that not like harmony? Of course, there is a balancing of opposites, but all in the context of the whole, which then means all the opposites work in harmony..... or something like that. Sorry, I'm talking off the top of my head now and just rambling. Anyway, I like the word "harmonize" better than "dialogue" even when it refers to a very specific form of dialogue as developed by David Bohm. Also Bohm's dialogue is not about debate but sharing. And then of course, there are some really interesting facilitation methods, like various Action and cooperative inquiries. I personally like Appreciative inquiry and think it would be a great way to harmonize.

All for now... thanks...

August 02, 2006  
Blogger rkm said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for joining in. I like your comments on 'harmonization', and the reference to an orchestra. The instruments don't just balance one another, they complement one another, they synergize, they each have a unique and important role to play.

You mention some facilitation methods...are you a facilitator yourself? What kind of experiences have you had with groups?

Harmonization in the formative years: that will be a welcome sign of the new age. But we can't count on that as the means of transforming our societies. We need to start harmonizing now among ourselves, as adults, in our own communities. We are quite capable of doing so; we have not been fatally tainted by our conditioning in this dominator-based society. The belief that 'something is wrong with us' is a disempowering myth, promulgated by our schools, religiions, and society generally.


August 04, 2006  

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