Friday, February 02, 2007

Collaborate - Culture - Conspire - Question

We are rapidly transitioning from the age of competition to the age of collaboration. This paradigm shift is necessary for the continued survival of humans on Earth. The anomalous dominant culture of competition has been enormously stressful to the relationships of humans with ourselves, each other, and the rest of life on our planet. The end of inexpensive energy from oil will trigger calamities. Humans will only survive by learning to collaborate, that is, to work together.

The ramifications of this shift in thinking will appear at many levels, from the intra-personal, through interpersonal, to cultural and global behavior patterns, virtually every type of human behavior, conscious and subconscious, will change as people realize that symbiosis is selected for. That is to say, evolution favors those who benefit others around them. To apply this biological concept to the world of business, "success comes to those who help others to succeed."

At the microscopic level, every tissue of our bodies is a colony of microbes. The vast majority of these "germs" are beneficial to each other and to our body as a whole. The web of life is more complex than the hierarchy once theorized. Because our study of microbiology began in the competitive paradigm, we've focused on identifying pathogenic microbes and eradicating them. Some have imagined that we could establish a sterile field inside the human body, but such a state would be fatal if we could establish it. We depend upon microbes to maintain the functions of our bodies. The trick is to maintain a healthy culture of symbiotic microbes in every tissue. When such healthy culture is maintained, there is no room for pathogens. Studies have shown that simple steps like eating yogurt and miso after ingesting antibiotics can benefit health. We need to learn a great deal more about probiotics, the art of maintaining symbiosis at the cellular level. If I had millions, I'd invest in the microbial study of healthy people, and the development of means to share symbiotic cultures through skin cremes, inhalers, injections, and suppositories.

There is communication between cells, whether they grew from the embryo or passed into the system as a virus, a bacteria, or a fungus from another culture. They pass chemicals and electrical impulses on a shared circadian rhythm, dancing to the pull of the moon. In a healthy body there is a conspiracy, in the oldest sense of the word. Conspire is Latin for breathe together. Every human can culture a healthy, natural conspiracy within. Our conscious job is to project these natural patterns onto our society. We must conspire to subvert the dominant culture. If we would inspire before we expire, we must conspire.

Marshall Rosenberg has done amazing work applying an understanding of collaboration to interpersonal communications. Realizing that people derive the deepest joy from meeting the needs of others, he has broken communication into four components - observations, emotions, needs, and requests. By teaching us to hear these components in others' communication efforts and to clarify them in our own, Marshall has conspired with many people toward happier lives. Applicable from the bedroom to the boardroom, everywhere people talk to each other, Nonviolent Communication holds proven potential for reforming criminals, restoring sanity, and improving culture.

More people are learning to ask astute questions and to listen empathically to the answers. The question is the highest form of communication, for it reaches into another and pulls out ideas, feelings, and opinions. A good question implies a willingness to empathize and a desire to understand. When we discuss, we grow thoughtful questions in an internal Petri dish. A well cultured question is an invitation to a conspiracy. Collaborate to culture conspiratorial questions.

When has brute force ever solved a problem without creating a greater one? In Washington State a conspiratorial project has been teaching nonviolent communication to convicted felons. Another group works with the culture of convicts to share from the inside out. These prison reform advocates have recently been reaching out to victim advocates questioning if there might be collaborative solutions. The conspiracy is based upon the successes of restorative justice in Ireland and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.

Is the North finally following Africa's lead? Since my visit in 1991, I've said that the problems of Africa fit like puzzle pieces with the problems of America. We suffer from excess, while they have not enough. Their communities are strong, while ours have stretched and snapped. It is past time for African missionaries to come to lead us back to sensible lifestyles. In African cultures the conspiracy between nature within and nature without is alive and well. They question our culture and the dance continues to engage us all.

Teachers of organizational development and business management will recognize the applications of collaborative thinking within business cultures. Voluntary efforts toward shared goals are far preferable to attempts at control. Mediation practices have saved the courts time and money by guiding people toward mutually satisfactory solutions. Nonviolent conflict resolution has always been more productive than competition and violence. Today we are better than ever at asking astute questions and teaching these skills.

Particularly exciting are the applications of collaboration in the political arena. A growing number of governments have evolved into multiparty democracies by replacing winner-takes-all elections with proportional representation and ranked preference voting. In the old competitive system we had two parties each spending most of their energy trying to make the other look bad, convincing many of us to question all politicians as worthless. In a multiparty culture where no one party holds a majority, each has an incentive to respect all others as potential collaborators. Please read the Proposed Constitution for North America for conspiratorial principles. I suspect the changes will foment from the grassroots by questioning local governments first.

Are we on the verge of a broad recognition that war is obsolete? The invasion of Iraq by the USA was the first war to be globally protested before it even began. There is every indication that people are questioning the need for soldiers. Through Counter Recruitment, Veterans for Peace conspire with potential recruits to grow a peaceful culture. Global governmental collaboration to solve the problems of resource management in equitable and sustainable ways is a prerequisite of continued human life on Earth.

Unfortunately, it is always darkest just before the dawn. The competitive culture threatens to devastate more before we replace it with a sensible system. Secretive conspiracy spirals away from health. The threat of nuclear war is still very real, especially when theologically justified by those who seek Armageddon. Global warming and desertification are limiting the carrying capacity of the planet while population growth pushes against it. There's never enough money for education or health care, but plenty for aggressive war. As a culture of corporate greed runs our economy into the sewer, the competitive parties question who should marry. What's a concerned citizen to do?

Those who see the promise of a collaborative future must live as if such a system were already in place. We must question our lifestyle to eliminate any support of the old competitive culture. Do you give them your time or your money, as a consumer, an employee, or a taxpayer? How did the first people live in your region? How did your ancestors live? Do you eat locally grown organic food or live in a sustainably built home? Could you make a few high quality goods to barter and get around by walking and bicycling? How do you communicate your good intentions with others? A collaborative conspiracy questions culture, while conspiratorial questions culture collaboration.

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