Balance Point & One World, One People
Robert White recently had the great privilege of co-authoring two meaningful presentations with a research colleague in Berlin, Germany which are being presented this month and next at international conferences in the US and in Vienna, Austria. The topics may seem unrelated at first glance: The first on the evolution of human consciousness and the second on global unity which preserves individual human and cultural diversity. This research was written and presented wearing my 'hat' as a fellow of the International Systems Institute and Executive Director of the Aurora Now Foundation, a research and education organization which focuses on complex societal and cultural diversity issues. But the work and research continues to support the principles and methodologies of Balance Point in a significant and relevant way.
As most of you know, we stress adherence to Awareness, Responsibility & Communication. As a matter of fact, the programs and seminars of Balance Point seek to "transform people's lives by empowering them with:
increased Awareness of current reality and future possibilities
personal Responsibility for their lives
enhanced Communication skills and effectiveness"
Our Awareness of Current Reality
My German research colleague shared with me as we were writing the first presentation that there are not two separate words for "awareness" and "consciousness" in the German language. As we explored the English uses of the word, it is discovered that "consciousness" implies a more internal awareness. "Awareness" seems to imply an external view. And yet the awareness of our internal 'realities' are so often formed by our experiences within our external environments. In one of my previous research efforts with the International Systems Institute defined what we called the ME/WE reflection. The model sought to show how the individual is not only influenced by their social environments, but how the individual can, and does, also influence the cultural perspectives of the social systems in which one participates and interacts.
Self-reflective consciousness is a uniquely human quality. And yet humans make choices almost entirely from habitual behavior at a subconscious level. But what we also have learned from science is that the more evolved an intelligent system is (and humans are arguably among the most intelligent complex systems) the more it is able to reflect upon, evaluate, and change its behavior choices to include new understanding. Humans don't simply choose based on the meaning and values we have learned from our individual and cultural experience, we uniquely have the capability to evaluate those values and adjust them. We have a highly evolved capacity to learn how to learn. It's too bad we rarely take advantage of that capacity.
The Evolution of Consciousness
Jean Gebser, a noted Swiss cultural philosopher suggested fifty years ago that humanity is undergoing an evolutionary transition in consciousness. Gebser is not alone in this theory and is joined by contemporary philosophers such as Ken Wilber, Barbara Marx Hubbard and others. Wilber, Gebser & Jay Earley all outline the story of the evolution of human consciousness in a way which directly reflects the stages of individual consciousness outlined by child development psychologist Jean Piaget -- understanding already widely accepted. Piaget says that a child moves through stages of awareness--from archaic to magic and mythic to more rational understanding. Wilber and Gebser suggest these same stages of awareness apply to our collective human consciousness--the worldviews and perspectives of our cultural systems. Further, they both suggest that we are in a "transition stage" where we are moving beyond the rational/modern worldviews which have dominated our western cultures since the age of enlightenment. Gebser calls this new consciousness an "integral consciousness" in that it will not "throw away" what we have learned previously, but will integrate all stages, including what he refers to as "the ever-present origin."
Increasing awareness (consciousness) is an ongoing process of finding and creating congruency between what we know rationally, what we learn experientially, and the meaning (usually spiritual meaning) we give to those.
The consensus among contemporary theorists suggests that while our reliance on reason and empirical research is valuable, it is the experiential--what we learn through our experiences in the world, especially in relationship with others, as well as our spiritual or intuitive sense of meaning, which guides and drives our individual and cultural values, and thus our choices and behaviors. When we are willing to reflect on how our personal value systems have evolved, we can consciously choose different behaviors when we discover what we've been choosing from simply doesn't work for us, or if our behavior choices reflect contradictions among our various "ways of knowing."
When we increase "awareness of current realities and future possibilities"--as individuals, organizations, communities and even as a global humanity, we are taking the first step toward creating individual and collective futures which can be more meaningful, peaceful and fulfilled.
Unity in Diversity
In our second presentation on Unity in Diversity, my co-author and I outline basic scientific principles which determine whether a system can remain viable and sustainable over time. One of these principles is that every "component" of a system (including individual human "components" of social systems) plays a meaningful and integral role in the sustainability and health of the "whole." When we take personal responsibility for fulfilling our own individual potential, the automatic result is the increased health of the systems of which we are a part. Realizing this potential takes on many dimensions, and is a direct reflection of our individual consciousness and awareness; it includes our intellect, our emotional and psychological health, our spiritual understanding as well as the skills and gifts we learn and hone.
Robert White, EP's Chief Learning Officer expresses to core Balance Point staff that the fundamental purpose of EP's mission is the creation of "One World, One People." It is through individuals willing to reflect on their own awareness, their own responsibility to participate fully and effectively within their own 'systems' that our larger societal cultures will evolve and transform. We don't have to "think globally" to make a global impact by "acting locally." Local 'action' has a broad, even global impact whether that is our intention or not. As we also have learned from the new sciences of chaos and complexity, that impact is rarely predictable. By at least reflecting on our fundamental values and choices with as wide of an awareness as we can muster, the more we can shape and guide our 'global influence' through our 'local choices' in such a way which benefits ourselves and the natural and societal systems we rely on to live and grow.
Our ability--even our desire--to broaden our horizons and understand the world and our place in it from a wider perspective, is often challenged by the persistent prevalent understandings we have accepted from our modern, western worldview which continues to be dominated by the mechanistic, cause-and-effect thinking of the industrial era. We have learned to value 'choosing between' perspectives; that one view is "right" while another is "wrong." Likewise, some 'postmodern' perspectives tell us that all views are right and we should be tolerant of those who think or act differently than ourselves.
Diversity is a fundamental systems principle. Open systems, which evolve over time and remain healthy and stable, are comprised of diverse parts in increasingly complex and relevant relationship to one another. This creates an emergent "whole" that cannot be defined by the mere sum of its parts. Synergy--the idea that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" is not some esoteric nicety; this is a fundamental scientific principle which simply expresses that it is a sum of parts, plus their interrelationship with each other that creates something 'new' and "whole." The more diverse the "parts," and the more meaningful their interrelations, the more whole and unified a system becomes.
Mere tolerance of diverse individual and cultural perspectives will never result in the creation of One World, One People. It is how we put ourselves together in meaningful and effective relationship to one another that makes the difference--in our families, in our organizations, in our communities and in our world. These relationships are formed and strengthened by how we communicate with each other.
In both presentations, Robert's co-author and he introduce various methods of dialogue as communication which can include and integrate various perspectives and understandings. The definition of dialogue comes from the Greek dia and logos, and together these mean "shedding light on the meaning of the word" or "through the meaning of the word." Dialogue is a process of co-creating meaning, of exploring and discovering common frames of reference, and common ways of understanding. It does not seek to make things "the same" however; and as expressed so eloquently by author M. Scott Peck, "even if 'one world' meant a melting pot where everything came out a bland mush instead of a salad of varied textures and flavors, I'm not sure the outcome would be palatable."
"Such is Being"
Gebser, in his work on integral consciousness firmly argues that "only the concrete can be integrated." In other words, simply understanding conceptual ideas at an abstract level is not integrated consciousness. Originally published in German, the word he uses is "Wahrgeben" which means to impart truth. He contrasts this with "wahrnehmen" which implies merely imparting what we can see with our eyes and measure. Wahrgeben--imparting truth--is something we do; it is a way of being and acting with integrity and authenticity. Awareness, our individual consciousness is far more than a way of understanding according to Gebser, it is "walking our talk," being with ourselves and each other in real, meaningful and tangible ways that reflect and embody our awareness and all of our values. It is a high ideal towards which to strive. As my own research advisor, noted social systems scholar Bela H. Banathy notes in his own work, "nothing less than the ideal is worth the effort."
The ideal of creating One World, One People through individual awareness, responsibility and communication seems an especially worthy effort in these times of global unrest and uncertainty. A few short months ago, this ideal might have been perceived as some sort of lofty ambition. Today more than ever, we realize that each of us can--and must--participate in our world in the most meaningful and effective way we can. It begins with each of us consciously choosing to reflect on our own individual awareness, consciously choosing to be responsible about the way we live, work and play in our communities ... and consciously choosing to communicate in such a way which honors and respects--indeed celebrates--the diverse perspectives of our global family.
Benking, H. & Stalinski, S (2001) "Dialogue Toward Unity in Diversity" Proceedings: Unity in Diversity, Ludwig von Bertalanffy Conference, University of Vienna, November 1-4, 2001, Vienna, Austria
Benking H. & Stalinski, S. (2001) "Concreteness in Integral Worlds" Proceedings: Worldly Expressions of the Integral, Jean Gebser Society Conference, Ohio University, October 18-20, Athens, Ohio
Read more about EP's commitment to One World, One People