Autognomics Books Holacracy Life Organizing Quakers Sociocracy Values Workplaces

My 10 Year Summary: What I Have Learned


1. Introduction
2. Background
3. My Journey
 3.1. The initial years (2012–2015)
 3.2. The middle years (2016–2018)
 3.3. The final years (2019–2022)
4. Conclusions
5. Afterword
6. Acknowledgments
7. Recommended Books

1. Introduction

I started blogging ten years ago today (Sept 26, 2012). At the same time, I started searching for life-giving ways of working. This is a summary of my journey and what I have learned. It is a personal story of what felt right to me at the time and what I am seeing now. I raised three questions. The answer to the third question about deeper order is a topic for a book in itself.

I may perhaps pass a few ideas along to you that you can relate to in your own life. I mostly really want to communicate how deadly our world has become for so many. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Bookshelves with ten years of reading.

During this time, I wrote 1000 blog posts and gathered 40000 quotes and notes. The links in this post provide entry points to further reading. There is a list of recommended books at the end. I have included links to my book reviews when available.

2. Background

I have 39 years of experience, mostly in industrial R&D. I was trained as a physicist. I learned everything that was to learn and I even taught it. I was good at it. I received ABB Corporate Research’s Mission of The Year award in 2010 for my contribution to ABB’s Software Development Improvement Program.

I have explored a lot of ideas over my lifetime. I am still learning. I am even unlearning. My inquiry into life-giving work became more personal than I had anticipated.

3. My Journey

I saw a little girl this morning,
on her way to school.
It could have been me!
And here I am
on my way to work.
Fifty years later!
Does it have to be this way?

3.1. The initial years (2012–2015)

Little did I know at the start of my journey that I would suffer from depression half a year later. It took a couple of months until I could feel the sun in my face and the wind in my hair again. I think I have helped a lot of people in my workplace, but in that workplace I discovered that I was being killed. I was dying and I didn’t know why. I had to find out what I could do differently.

I found sociocracy two months after the start of my journey. I spent two years studying sociocracy in depth and wrote an ebook on sociocracy (in Swedish) together with John Schinnerer. I learned that the early development of Holacracy was influenced by sociocracy. My review of Brian Robertson’s new book on Holacracy got attention on twitter.

The group-centered decision-making in sociocracy is derived from Quaker practices. Michael Sheeran’s Beyond Majority Rule is to some the definitive guide on the Quakers’ decision-making method. I wanted to learn more and visited the Quakers in Stockholm, Sweden.

Kväkargården, Stockholm, Sweden.

I learned that the Quakers (Friends) don’t just seek consent (as in sociocracy), but seek unity (or concord). It’s a subtle but important difference. I noticed how the Friends deliberately slowed down when there were objections. The Swedish Friends call it “framkallningstid” (development time).

I met a British Friend at the Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting 2017 who had experiences of making decisions in meetings with a thousand participants. He said it worked because they were seeking the sense of the Meeting. The method can also be used successfully in a secular context. It would revolutionize our political system.

Michelle Holliday sent me her new book on thrivability. I love her tree metaphor. We need to recognize life itself in our organizations. We need to move from control to letting life thrive. It is all too easy for us to lose sight of the very quality of livingness. There is a place for control, but that doesn’t mean that it is the best way to deal with work and people.

Sociocracy and Holacracy are based on cybernetic principles. The way of seeing is the engineer’s. Both use control to run the organization. Sociocracy acknowledges that people are not system components, while Holacracy uses the metaphor of people as sensors acting on behalf of the organization. It is a misconception to view people as autonomous rule-following entities. Metaphors both reflect and influence our thinking.

There is a distinction between being autonomic…, and allonomic

—Norm Hirst, Life-itself as organism characteristics – The Autognomics Institute

Norm Hirst makes a very important distinction between machines, which are allonomic, and living organisms, which are autonomic. Organisms come into being and grow into maturity as a whole entity unlike machines that are assembled piece by piece by some other.

Organisms are self-creating, not just self-organizing. Their purpose is not only to fulfill external tasks, but to develop their own life. To be alive is to be able to act. No organism is a machine, let alone an input-output machine (cybernetics).

Comparing an organism to a machine is profoundly misleading…

—Andreas Weber, Biology of Wonder

Andreas Weber emphasizes that it is profoundly misleading to compare an organism to a machine. Machines do not create themselves. They have no own interests. They do not resist being switched off. All organisms experience being alive. They decide, choose, and act according to values. Feeling is the inner experience of meaning. Organisms have to be free out of necessity.

Organism ways will always push to maintain the freedom to be autonomous…

—Skye Hirst, Value Intelligence In All Creative Organisms – The Autognomics Institute

Skye Hirst points out that it is a fundamental principle and an inalienable right for us to be free to act according to our own beinghood. Some people in power try to take it away by imposing overly tight controls. People are living beings, not things to be managed.

It is essential that we have the opportunity to take right and effective actions that are guided by our intrinsic intentions and meanings. This is a prerequisite for a healthy environment where we can learn, adapt, and thrive.

These insights gave me an understanding of my depression. I realized that I couldn’t find effective actions to fully be myself in the workplace. And yet, I was very good at adapting, obeying, and fulfilling expectations.

3.2. The middle years (2016–2018)

My journey took a new turn in 2016 when I started searching between and beyond our traditional ways of organizing work. Many different approaches have been developed over the years. They are often accompanied by a whole industry offering tools, training, consulting, and certification.

David Bohm & F. David Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity, pp. 274–5.

My inquiry was inspired by David Bohm and F. David Peat’s notion of the order between and beyond. I raised three questions in the inquiry:

  1. What existing orders of organizing do we have today?
  2. How are they entwined within each other in ways that are basically incompatible?
  3. What clues to a deeper order can we find in the answers to these questions?

I was never able to answer these questions completely, but they gave a direction to my inquiry:

  1. I made an attempt to answer the first question. The challenge was that the different approaches couldn’t be thought of as being well-defined. Misinformation also became problematic. I discovered quotes that were not accurate, and claims that were not true.
  2. I never answered the second question. As I write this, my working hypothesis is that there is an overcommitment to mechanical order. Many approaches require that people behave as cogs and wheels (or, in the language of cybernetics, as sensors).
  3. Likewise, I never answered the third question. This is a topic for a book in itself. My hypothesis is that in order to sense deeper order we need to pay acute attention to the ways in which we see, think, feel, and act — individually and together. We need to enter into a new way of seeing. We need to examine the edges of our awareness.

Paavo Pylkkänen was a collaborator with David Bohm and is in a great position to comment on David Bohm’s work.

Bohm often used the metaphors of machine and living organisms to illustrate the difference between a mechanical order and a non-mechanical…order…

—Paavo Pylkkänen, Mind, Matter and The Implicate Order, p. 51.

Mechanical order emphasizes external relationships while deeper order draws attention to internal relationships and participation. Bohm thought that it was important to understand the factors which supports communication and coherent action. Changing reality means changing oneself. We always act based on a certain understanding.

You can learn how to let a deeper bodily felt sense come in relation to any specific situation.

—Eugene Gendlin, Focusing, p. vii.

Felt sense is a felt meaning, a bodily understanding. When we become quietly attentive and sensitive we can let our actions be guided by the needs of the situation. Experiencing is always there in the present moment. It is a deeper order in that it is pre-conceptual. Only actual living can grasp living experiencing adequately.

…feeling our needs and having them satisfied is a direct sign of how well we realise (or fail to realise) our aliveness.

—Andreas Weber, Enlivenment, p. 17.

Feeling is directly related to our sense of aliveness. Rational thinking has no way of understanding lived experience. Our ability to think in logical and abstract terms of mechanical order separates us from the world. It is, in fact, our reliance on rational calculation which makes today’s loss of life possible. We need a more qualitative and organic way of understanding. We need to become carefully observant of life itself.

3.3 The final years (2019–2022)

My journey took yet another turn in 2019 when I started painting. I loved it! I discovered that painting moved me into a state of flow, which felt very relaxing, enjoyable, and freeing.

It felt so good, in fact, that I spent hours painting when I came home from work. While painting, I was totally absorbed in the moment. I was totally involved with all my being in something which felt intrinsically satisfying. I felt creatively alive.

—Jan Höglund, Grevens stig, Ängsö, Sweden.

I continued reading and writing, but not as much as previously.

4. Conclusions

At the beginning of my journey, I discovered that I was being killed. I was dying and I didn’t know why. I knew I had to find out what I could do differently. Ten years later, I have learned how to move towards my own aliveness, towards who I am, towards who I was born to be.

We are not only killing ourselves with our organizations, we are killing our planet and all of nature with our western civilization. Our organizations reflect our values and priorities, our ways of thinking. All aspects of life need to be marked by new priorities, new ways of seeing, new perceptions of what is good.

What we find in other organisms is aliveness: ours, and theirs, and that which is the source of all.

—Andreas Weber, Biopoetics, p. 117.

We can discern what enhances aliveness for the simple reason that we are alive. By experiencing aliveness we are able to evaluate the life-giving potential of any situation. Life is contagious with aliveness. Aliveness is intrinsic to life itself.

Life-giving work is about being in the world with a deep sense of caring. It is about listening, seeing, and acting in harmony with Life. It is through gentle action, living from a deeper place, using our whole intelligence, that we can act in harmony with Life’s deeper order.

Kelvy Bird provides a practical example of how to make the unseen, yet felt, inner life of a social field visible in her work as a scribe and visual facilitator. It’s about staying open, listening deeply, and acting in the right time.

Staying open is a key skill…

—Kelvy Bird, Generative Scribing, p. 53.

We need to step deeply into our lives, staying open to the flow of meaning. It is a key skill and a real challenge. It is far too easy to inadvertently close our minds to what is actually going on. I closed my mind during my depression because I was afraid of feeling deeply. I didn’t think it was safe to feel and to express those feelings honestly.

Listen deeply… Trust that a deeper meaning will arrive…

—Kelvy Bird, Generative Scribing, p. 127.

Instead of imposing order we can inquire into what is seeking new order. We can listen deeply for what wants to unfold in the present moment. We can act in the right time as it unfolds. It is all fluid motion!

We can let our next step of thought come from…experiential feedback, rather than only from the concept.

—Eugene Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, p. xvii.

We can let our thoughts and actions come from our experiencing, rather than from ideas alone. It can lead us to modify our thinking, rather than being confined in it. We can act from a felt sense. This is one of my most important discoveries.

Felt meaning is present whenever actions, observations, and situations occur that have meaning to a person. An individual who is maximally open to his or her experience weighs and balances all the meanings in his or her experience. Change occurs through experiencing.

In summary, I know now that I can choose to stay open and allow myself to feel fully alive. Without natural beauty and a deep connection to the living world, we end up lifeless and depressed. Beauty is felt aliveness. It is also healing.

…help each person reach the deepest place in their own hearts and…help them bring this material out into the open.

—Christoper Alexander, The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth, p. 117.

Going forward, I want to create conditions that will activate and intensify life itself, with my he-art. Ultimately, it is a question of love — for the planet, for other beings, and for myself. To allow myself to be fully alive is to love myself and the world. Love is the inside of aliveness. Honoring our aliveness is also the best way to ensure our long-term survival as a species.

5. Afterword

My journey became more personal than I had anticipated at the start. My focus was initially on finding systemic answers to my question about life-giving work (for example, sociocracy), but I ended up with intrinsic answers (seeing, being, feeling). I had searched for explicate order, but ended up with a focus on implicate order. I had searched for systemic value (rules), but ended up with giving priority to intrinsic value (love). This is also one of my most important discoveries.

Embrace change…
…be present.
Work is…creating.
Create a nurturing…environment.
Love the workers…before the work.
Make time for community…

—Tess Jette, Six pillars of a life giving workplace – The Autognomics Institute

Life-giving work can only happen when all people are free to use their brains and hearts. It can be done in many ways, but it always has to be done wholeheartedly. Stay open, listen deeply, act at the right time, and trust your felt sense! It can be this way!

6. Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the Friends in Sweden for generously sharing their knowledge in group-centered decision-making. It’s one thing to read about it, it’s quite another to experience it! Thank you!

I would also like to give my heartfelt thanks to Skye Hirst, who coached me in the writing of this post. We have had an ongoing dialogue since 2017. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey — both as a coach and as a friend!

Finally, thank you, dear reader, if you have read this far! You can reach me or follow me here.

7. Recommended Books

This is a long list. Authors who have influenced me most are Christopher Alexander, David Bohm, Henri Bortoft, Eugene Gendlin, and Robert Hartman. I have found myself going back to their books again and again. All have something to say about deeper order.

Christopher Alexander’s books hold a special place in my library.

Abram, D., The Spell of the Sensuous
Abram, D., Becoming Animal.
Addleson, M., Beyond Management
Agerbeck, B., The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide
Alexander, C., The Timeless Way of Building
Alexander, C., The Nature of Order: Book 1 – The Phenomenon of Life
Alexander, C., The Nature of Order: Book 2 – The Process of Creating Life
Alexander, C., The Nature of Order: Book 3 – A Vision of a Living World
Alexander, C., The Nature of Order: Book 4 – The Luminous Ground

Alexander, C., et al., A Pattern Language
Alexander, C., et al., The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth
Amabile, T., & Kramer, S., The Progress Principle
Arrien, A., The Four-Fold Way
Arrien, A., The Second Half of Life
Artur, B.W., The Nature of Technology
Atran, S., Talking to the Enemy
Bache, C.M., The Living Classroom
Bache, C.M., Dark Night, Early Dawn
Bache, C.M., LSD and the Mind of the Universe
Baghai, M., & Quigley, J., As One
Baldwin, C., & Linnea, A., The Circle Way
Ballé, M., & Ballé, F., Lead With Respect
Banishoeib, F., The Poetry of Leadership
Bateson, N., Small Arcs of Larger Circles
Beck, K., Extreme Programming Explained
Bennis, W., Organizing Genius
Benson, H., The Relaxation Response
Bergstrand, J., Reinventing Your Enterprise
Bird, K., Generative Scribing
Brikinshaw, J., Reinventing Management
Blake, A., The Supreme Art of Dialogue
Blake, A., A Gymnasium of Beliefs in Higher Intelligence.
Blake, A., The Intelligent Enneagram.
Block, P., Community
Block, P., Flawless Consulting
Block, P., The Answer to How is Yes
Block, P., The Empowered Manager
Block, P., Stewardship
Bogsnes, B., Implementing Beyond Budgeting
Bohm, D., On Creativity
Bohm, D., On Dialogue
Bohm, D., Unfolding Meaning
Bohm, D., Wholeness and the Implicate Order
Bohm, D., Quantum Theory
Bohm, D., The Special Theory of Relativity
Bohm, D., & Biederman C., Bohm-Biederman Correspondence
Bohm, D., & Hiley B., The Undivided Universe
Bohm, D., & Peat F.D., Science, Order, and Creativity
Bornstein, D., How to Change the World
Bortoft, H., The Wholeness of Nature (My tweets from the book compiled by Simon Robinson)
Bortoft, H., Taking Appearance Seriously (Excellent book review by Simon Robinson)
Brafman, O., & Beckstrom A., The Starfish and the Spider
Brogan, K., A Mind of Your Own
Brooks, F.P., The Mythical Man-Month
Brown, J., The Art and Spirit of Leadership
Brown, J., & Isaacs, D., The World Café
Briggs, J., & Peat, F.D., Turbulent Mirror
Briskin, A., The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace
Briskin, A., Erickson, S., Ott, J. & Callanan, T., The Power of Collective Wisdom
Buk, J., & Villines, S., We the People
Buckley, P., & Peat, F.D., A Question of Physics
Buhner, S.H., Ensouling Language .
Buhner, S.H., The Lost Language of Plants
Buhner, S.H., The Secret Teachings of Plants
Bungay, S., The Art of Action
Burbank, L., & Hall, W., The Harvests of the Years
Bush. R.A.B., & Folger, J.P., The Promise of Mediation
Bushe, G.R., & Marshak, R.J., et al., Dialogic Organization Development
Cameron, J., The Artist’s Way
Campbell, J., The Power of Myth
Capra, F. & Luisi, P.L., The Systems View of Life
Carson, R., Silent Spring
Chaitin, G., The Limits of Mathematics
Chaitin, G., The Unknowable
Chang Ha-Joon, Bad Samaritans
Chase, S., Roads to Agreement
Cleveland, H., Nobody in Charge
Cloke, K., & Goldsmith, J., The End of Management
Conley, C., Peak
Cori, J.L., The Emotionally Absent Mother
Cox, G., et al., A Quaker Approach to Research
Csikszentmihalyi, M., Creativity
Csikszentmihalyi, M., Flow
Chomsky, N., On Anarchism.
Chödrön, P., When Things Fall Apart
de Geus, A., The Living Company
de Maré, P., et al., Koinonia
Deci, E.L., Why We Do What We Do
Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M., Intrinsic Motivation and Self-determination in Human Behavior
Dehnugara, K., Flawed but Willing
Dekker, S., The Safety Anarchist.
DeMarco, T., Slack
DeMarco, T., & Lister, T., Peopleware
Deming, W.E., et al., The Essential Deming
Denning, S., The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management
Dimitrov, V., A New Kind of Social Science
Earls, M., Herd
Edmondson, A.C. Teaming
Edwards, B., Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Elgin, D., The Living Universe
Ellison, S.S., Taking the War Out of Our Words
Emery, F., & Thorsrud, E., Democracy at work
Fairtlough, G., The Three Ways of Getting Things Done
Ferguson, M., The Aquarian Conspiracy
Frankl, E.F., Man’s Search For Meaning
Frankl, E.F., Yest to Life.
Freire, P., Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Fukuoka, M., Sowing Seeds in the Desert
Fukuoka, M., The One-Straw Revolution
Gallwey, W.T., The Inner Game of Tennis
Gebser, J., The Ever-Present Origin
Gendlin, E.T., Focusing
Gendlin, E.T., Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning
Gendlin, E.T., A Process Model
Goodwin, B., How the Leopard Changed Its Spots
Goodwin, B., Nature’s Due
Graeber, D., Bullshit Jobs
Grant, A., Originals
Griffin, D., The Emergence of Leadership
Grof, S., Healing Our Deepest Wounds
Grof, S., When the Impossible Happens
Grof, S., The Cosmic Game
Gruen, A., The Betrayal of the Self
Gruen, A., The Insanity of Normality
Guendelsberger, E., On the Clock.
Hamilton, D.M., Everything is Workable
Harding, S., Animate Earth
Hari, J., Lost Connections
Harland, P., The Power of Six
Hartman, R.S., Freedom to Live
Hartman, R.S., The Structure of Value
Hartman, R.S., Five Lectures on Formal Axiology.
Hartman, R.S., The Revolution Against War.
Heider, J., The Tao of Leadership
Hensel, M., Menges, A., Weinstock, M., et al., Emergence
Hernes, T., A Process Theory of Organization
Hiley, B., Peat, F.D., et al., Quantum Implications: Essays in Honor of David Bohm
Ho, M-W., The Rainbow And The Worm
Ho, M-W., Living Rainbow H2O
Ho, M-W., Meaning of Life and the Universe .
Holliday, M., The Age of Thrivability
Hollis, J., Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life
Holman, P., Engaging Emergence
Hock, D., Birth of The Chaordic Age
Hock, D., One From Many
Hock, D., Autobiography of a Restless Mind, Volume 1 & 2
Hoffman, D., The Voice Dialogue Anthology
Holdrege, C., Thinking Like a Plant
Holt, J., How Children Learn.
Holt, J., Learning All the Time.
Husband, J., et al., Wirearchy
Hutchins, G., Future Fit
Hutchins, G., The Illusion of Separation
Hutchins, G., The Nature of Business
Inamori, K., A Compass to Fulfillment
Isaacs, W., Dialogue
Jaworski, J., Source
Jaworski, J., Synchronicity
Jung, C.G., Answer to Job
Jung, C.G., & Pauli, W., Atom and Archetype
Johnson, R.A., Living Your Unlived Life
Johnson, R.A., Owning Your Own Shadow
Johnson, S., Emergence
Johnstone, K., Impro
Jonas, H., The Phenomenon of Life
Jones, M., Artful Leadership .
Jones. M., The Soulf of Place.
Joy, L., How Does Societal Transformation Happen?
Joy, W.B., Joy’s Way
Järvensivu, T., Managing (in) Networks
Kahane, A., Collaborating with the Enemy
Kahane, A., Power and Love
Kahane, A., Solving Tough Problems
Kauffman, S., At Home in the Universe
Kauffman, S., Reinventing the Sacred
Kay, J., Obliquity
Keeney, B., The Bushman Way of Tracking God
Kegan, R., & Lahey, L., How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work
Keleman, S., Emotional Anatomy
Keller, E.F., A Feeling for the Organism
Kendzior, S., Hiding in Plain Sight.
Kidd, E., First Steps to Seeing
Kingsley, P., A Story Waiting to Pierce You
Kinglsey, P., In the Places of Wisdom
Kingsley, P., Catafalque, Volume 1 & 2
Kirkpatrick, D., Beyond Empowerment
Koestenbaum, P., & Block, P., Freedom and Accountability at Work
Koestenbaum, P., Leadership.
Kohn, A., Punished by Rewards
Kohn, A., The Myth of the Spoiled Child
Koestler, A., The Ghost in the Machine
Koestler, A., The Sleepwalkers
Kotler, S., & Wheal, J., Stealing Fire
Kramer, N., The Unfoldment
Kuenkel, P., Mind and Heart
Kuenkel, P., The Art of Leading Collectively
Lamott, A., Bird by Bird
Laszlo, C., & Brown, J.S., et al., Flourishing Enterprise
Laszlo, E., How Can We Build a Better World?.
Lawlor, R., Voices of the First Day
Lee, B., Artist of Life
Lee, B., Striking Thoughts
Lehrs, E., Man or Matter
Leonard, G., Mastery
Leonard, G., & Murphy, M., The Life We are Given
Leonard, G., The Silent Pulse.
Leonard, G., The Way of Aikido.
Levine, S.K., Poiesis
Lieberman, M.D., Social
Lievegoed, Phases
Lipton, B.H., The Biology of Belief
Lowen, A., Joy.
MacKenzie, G., Orbiting the Giant Hairball
Macy, J., & Brown, M.Y., Coming Back to Life
Madsen, B., & Willert, S., Survival in the Organization
Malone, T.W., The Future of Work
Mandelbrot, B.B., The Fractal Geometry of Nature
Mannix, K., With the End in Mind
Margulis, L., & Sagan, D., What is Life?
Marshall, P., A History of Anarchism.
Marquet, L.D., Turn the Ship Around!
Maslow, A.H., The Farther Reaches of Human Nature
Maslow, A.H., Maslow on Management
Maturana, H.R., & Varela, F.J., The Tree of Knowledge
May, R., The Discovery of Being
Mayer, E.L., Extraodrinary Knowing.
McCallum, I., Ecological Intelligence
McChrystal, S., et al., Team of Teams
McGilchrist, I., The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning.
McGilchrist, I., The Master and His Emissary .
McGilchrist, I., The Matter with Things.
McGregor, D., The HumanSide of Enterprise
McInnes, W., Culture Schock
Mead, G., Coming Home to Story
Merrell, F., Becoming Culture
Merrell, F., Change through Signs of Body, Mind, and Language
Meyer, E., The Culture Map
Meyer, R., & Meijers, R., Leadership Agility
Midgley, M., The Myths We Live By
Miller, T., & Hall, G., Letting Go
Milton, J.P., Sky Above, Earth Below
Mintzberg, H., The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning
Mithen, S., The Prehistory of the Mind
Morris, T., If Aristotle ran General Motors
Murphy, M., The Future of the Body
Nachmanovitch, S., The Art of Is.
Nachmanovitch, S., Free Play.
Neal, C., & Neal, P., The Art of Convening
Nelson, S., Living in Flow.
Neumeier, M., The Designful Company
Nicholson, D.J., & Dupré, J., et al., Everything Flows.
Nielsen, J.S., The Myth of Leadership
Norman, D.A., The Design of Everyday Things
Norman, D.A., Emotional Design
O’Donohue, J., Anam Ċara
O’Donohue, J., To Bless the Space Between Us
O’Donohue, J., Eternal Echoes
O’Donohue, J., Divine Beauty
Ostrom, E., Governing the Commons
Ostrom, E., Understanding Institutional Diversity
Owen, H., The Spirit of Leadership
Owen, H., Wave Rider
Owen, H., The Power of Spirit
Owen, H., Open Space Technology
Paul, M., Inner Bonding
Palmer, P.J., A Hidden Wholeness
Palmer, P.J., Let Your Life Speak
Palmer, P.J., The Active Life
Palmer, P.J., The Courage to Teach Guide
Papert, S., Mindstorms
Parker, P., The Art of Gathering
Parlett, M., Future Sense
Pascale, R.T., Millemann, M., & Gioja., L., Surfing the Edge of Chaos
Peat, F.D., Blackfoot Physics .
Peat, F.D., From Certainty to Uncertainty
Peat, F.D., Gentle Action
Peat, F.D., Infinite Potential
Peat, F.D., Pathways of Chance.
Peat, F.D., Synchronicity
Peat, F. D., The Philosopher’s Stone
Peirce, P., The Intuitive Way
Peltier, B., The Psychology of Executive Coaching
Penrose, R., Fasion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe.
Penrose, R., Shadows of the Mind
Penrose, R., The Road to Reality
Peppers, C., & Briskin, A., Bringing Your Soul to Work
Perls, F., Gestalt Therapy
Perls, F., Gestalt Therapy Verbatim
Pink, D.H., A Whole New Mind
Pink, D.H., Drive
Pink, D.H., To Sell is Human
Plotkin, B., Nature and the Human Soul
Plotkin, B., Wild Mind
Plotkin, B., Soulcraft
Polanyi, M., The Tacit Dimension
Pollan, M., How to Change Your Mind
Polyani, M., Personal Knowledge
Poynter, J., The Human Experiment
Prigogine, I., The End of Certainty
Prigogine, I., & Stengers, I., Order Out of Chaos .
Pylkkänen, P., et al., The Search for Meaning
Pylkkänen, P., Mind, Matter and the Implicate Order
Quillien, J., Clever Digs.
Radin, D., Supernormal
Radin, D., The Conscious Universe
Ramquist, L., & Eriksson, M., Integral Management
Ramquist, L., & Eriksson, M., Manöverbarhet
Rawson, W., The Werkplaats [Workshop] Adventure
Reiss, S., Who am I?
Remen, R.N., Kithcen Table Wisdom.
Remen, R.N., My Grandfather’s Blessings.
Reynolds, M., The Garden Awakening
Richards, M.C., Centering.
Richards, M.C., The Crossing Point.
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Robinson, K., Out of Our Minds
Robinson, K., The Element
Robinson, K., Finding Your Element
Robinson, S., & Moraes Robinson, M., Holonomics
Robinson, S., & Moraes Robinson, M., Customer Experiences with Soul.
Rodgers, C., Informal Coalitions
Roeper, A., The “I” of the Beholder
Rogers, C., A Way of Being
Rogers, C., Client-Centered Therapy
Rogers, C., On Becoming a Person
Rogers, C., On Personal Power
Rogers, C., & Stevens, B., Person to Person
Rogers, C., Kirschenbaum, H., & Henderson, V.L., The Carl Rogers Reader
Rosen, R., Life Itself
Rosenberg, M.B., Nonviolent Communication
Rosenberg, M.B:, Speak Peace in a World of Conflict
Rosenzweig, P., The Halo Effect
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Wheatley, M.J., & Kellner-Rogers, M., A Simpler Way
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Whyte, D., The Three Marriages
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Williams, M., & Penman, D., Mindfulness
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Wolff, R., Original Wisdom .
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Update 2022-10-21:
1. Quotes changed to quotes and notes.

Update 2022-10-09:
1. Link added to further reading. 3.2. Correction of grammar.

Decisions Facilitation Quakers Thoughts

Two experiments in collective decision-making


I’m interested in how to tap into the collective intelligence of a group, for example, in decision-making.

Two weeks in a row I’ve facilitated two different workshops which had the specific aim to make decisions in two separate but related areas. In both cases the needed decisions were long overdue. In one case, with several years.

So, what did we do? How did it go? And what did I do as the facilitator?

It turns out that I did very little. It went well. And we did the following…


1. Opening

The first thing I did was to remind the participants why they had been invited. I said that my expectation, or at least hope, was that we were going to be able to think together in order to reach a decision. And then I made a round and asked the participants about their own expectations. I also made it clear that it was pefectly ok to pass. Some did. One or two participants had clarifying questions, which led us to the next step.

2. Background

I had asked one of the participants to prepare and provide a background. This led to a conversation between the participants. From time to time, I stepped in and tried to summarize what had been said so far.

3. Proposals

I had asked the participant who provided the background to also prepare some proposals for the decision. This led to a continued conversation. Again, I stepped in from time to time to summarize what I had heard. I also started to act as a time keeper, especially in the second workshop, reminding the participants how much time we had used, and how much time was left.

4. Decision

In both workshops, the participants used the proposals as input to the creation of their own proposal, which, actually, became the decision.

5. Closing

The last thing I did was to ask the participants for their feedback on the workshop. What was good? And what they thought could be improved? Again, I made it clear that it was ok to pass. Some passed. Several participants agreed with what the previous person had said.


So, what are my observations and conclusions?

My main observation is that the participants took care of themselves, both as individuals and as a group. I helped the group by mirroring back what I heard, and by reminding people about the time left.

The first workshop went well. There was such a flow that we could end the meeting ahead of time. The second workshop was different. The decision was more complicated. There were more aspects to consider. One of the participants was also so out of sync with the rest of the group that I started to doubt that we would be able to reach a decision — but, to my surprise, we did. It just happened, all by itself.

Finally, I just want to mention that I’ve got the idea of summarizing what I’ve heard back to the group from the Quakers. See related posts.

Related posts:
Quaker decision-making in a secular context
Book Review: A Quaker Approach to Research
Book Review: Beyond Majority Rule
How Quakers make unanomous decisions

Related posts (in Swedish):
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Fördjupningskurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Anteckningar från ett kväkerskt beslutsmöte

Quakers Training

Fördjupningskurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod

En fråga som intresserar mig är hur man i beslutsfattandet kan ta vara på en grupps kollektiva kunskap och intelligens. I februari 2014 gick jag därför en kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod på Kväkargården i Stockholm. Här är mina intryck från den kursen. Och här är mina anteckningar från ett kväkerskt beslutsmöte i januari 2017.

Detta inlägg innehåller mina intryck från en fördjupningskurs i Vännernas beslutsmetod lördagen den 9 september 2017.

Kväkargården, Stockholm.

Kursens innehåll
Inför kursen blev vi ombedda att läsa Lloyd Lee Wilsons bok Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. Denna bok ger en förståelse för kväkarnas syn på beslutsmetoden. Här är min recension av boken (på engelska).

Kursledaren, Wilhem Dahllöf, hade förberett en agenda, men valde att lägga denna åt sidan när han hörde förväntningarna på kursen. Dagen blev istället ett samtal (på kväkerskt vis) med fokus på erfarenheten av att vara ombud.

Några frågor som berördes under dagen var:

  • Hur vågar vi lita på att mötets mening kan urskiljas?
  • Kan man vara ett bra ombud om man är konflikträdd?
  • Hur undviker man att ‘ytan’ blir dominerande?

Några slutsatser och råd som kom fram under samtalet var:

  • Det finns en god ordning (Gospel Order). Vi kan alla ställa in oss på denna goda ordning. Det handlar om att stå i rätt förhållande till skapelsen och Skaparen.
  • Beslutsmötet påverkas av andaktsmötets förmåga till andligt djup.
  • För att nå fram till mötets mening, känn av mötet tidigt och ofta.
  • Inbjud till ‘framkallningstid’.
  • Låt det som sägs sjunka ner i tystnad.
  • Lyssna på utrymmet mellan orden.
  • Känn efter hur det känns i kroppen.
  • Låt beslutet växa fram gradvis.
  • Skynda aldrig på ett beslut.
  • Skydda mötet.
  • Se till att den som talar mycket inte dominerar.
  • Se till att den som talar motvilligt kommer fram.
  • Sätt gränser mjukt, t.ex. genom att påminna deltagarna om metoden.
  • Lita på gruppen, och som grupp, hjälp ombudet.
  • Rikta uppmärksamheten mot ombudet.
  • Undvik småprat.

Jag är intresserad av kväkarnas beslutsmetod och vill förstå den på djupet. Det var därför intressant att vara med och lyssna. Förutom kursledaren hade några av deltagarna egen ombudserfarenhet. Att vara ombud är som att spela ett instrument. Det bästa sättet att lära sig är att öva.

Fokus för kursen låg av naturliga skäl på kväkarnas egen användning av beslutsmetoden. Det innebar också att vi under kursen kom in på kväkarnas teologi, där Lloyd Lee Wilsons representerar ett konservativt synsätt.

Personligen är jag övertygad om att beslutsmetoden även kan användas i profana sammanhang. Den del av kväkarerfarenheten som handlar om att ha dialog med varandra är relevant i många sammanhang, t.ex. forskning. Boken A Quaker Approach to the Conduct of Research handlar om detta. Här är min recension av boken (på engelska).

Sammanfattningsvis var det en givande dag.

Decisions Quakers

Experiences from the Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting 2017

The purpose of this post is to share some of my experiences from the Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting (June 29—July 2), which was held at Nordiska Folkhögskolan, Kungälv, Sweden.

I’m very interested in the Quakers method of making collective decisions and have written about it here and here (in Swedish).

Here is my review (in English) of Michael J. Sheeran’s book Beyond Majority Rule: voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends. Sheeran spent two years (1973—75) conducting interviews, reading, and observing the actual decision-making of the Friends. He is convinced that the Quakers have something of first importance to share in their method.2 I am so too!

Here is also my review (in English) of A Quaker Approach to the Conduct of Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment, which has grown out of a decade of experiments employing Quaker processes of communal discernment in research.1 The book itself is an example of collaborative work.

Nordiska Folkhögskolan, Kungälv, Sweden.

The Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting started and ended with meetings for (silent) worship and decision-making. The clerks3 from the Nordic countries welcomed all participants at the start, and functionaries for the Yearly Meeting were elected. The epistle4 was reviewed and approved at the end of the Yearly Meeting. Each Nordic country had, in addition, their own decision-making meetings. I participated in the meeting of the Swedish Friends.

The theme for the Yearly Meeting was “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The theme was explored in a talk by a Finnish Friend (in no less than four languages). Her conclusion was that Cain and Abel, in the biblical Book of Genesis, represent two sides of each human being, and each society, in patterns of active and passive violence. Several workshops were held on the theme.

Participating in the Yearly Meeting was an experience on many levels. My focus here is on the decision-making. The primary reason why I wanted to participate was to observe the actual decision-making, but sitting in silence together with others during long time influences you more than you might think.

Initially, I viewed myself as an observer, but I realized after a while that it was an impossible role. A Swedish Friend expressed it as “a Friend of Friends is a Friend.” And a Friend from Great Britain told me that you are a participant in the decision-making meeting simply by being present. Interestingly, he had experiences of making decisions in meetings with a thousand participants.

Two clerks guided the decision-making meeting of the Swedish Friends. The clerks passed a candle between themselves to show the meeting who was the active clerk. The clerk kept the meeting in silence by looking down, and invited people to speak by looking up. Participants who talked stood up. The point is that only one person can stand up at a time. The minute of each item was prepared before moving on to the next item.

One of the agenda items had to do with the approval of new members. I was sent out together with other non-members during that item. I was later told that the meeting had become particularly interesting at that time and that the clerk had handled it really well. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to see it myself.

It was decided at the final meeting that the next Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting will be held in 2020. As already mentioned, the meeting epistle was also reviewed and approved. I got the impression that the presiding clerks were relieved that it went so smoothly. The meeting ended thirty minutes ahead of time.

The key takeaway for me is that the Quakers show that it’s possible to make collective decisions. A prerequisite, though, is the following: “We act as a community, whose members love and trust each other. […] As a […] community, […] we have a continuing responsibility to nurture the soil in which unity may be found.”4

The theme which was explored is, in my view, related to the sharing of decision-making power (or lack thereof). The desire to have power over people, to force our view on them, leads to violence. The places to begin applying the skills and generosity to avoid violence and to resolve conflicts are in our personal relationships, our workplaces, and wherever decisions are made.

1 Gray Cox et al., A Quaker Approach to the Conduct of Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment (Quaker Institute for the Future, 2014), p. ix.
2 Michael J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule: voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends, p. ix.
3 The clerk (ombud in Swedish) guides the meeting. The clerk has to discern the ‘the sense of the meeting’ of each item and prepare a minute. The final decision about whether the minute represents the sense of the meeting is the responsibility of the meeting itself, not of the clerk. See Clerks – Quakers in Britain (accessed 2017-07-03).
4 The epistle (epistel in Swedish) is a letter sent by the Yearly Meeting to all other Yearly Meetings. See Epistle (Quaker) – Wikipedia (accessed 2017-07-03).
5 Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker faith & practice (5th Edition, 2013), Chapter 3.02.

Organizing Quakers

Good order as an organizing principle

This is a post in my organizing “between and beyond” series. Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to explore Lloyd Lee Wilson’s notion of Quaker good order.1

Lloyd Lee Wilson writes in his Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order that gospel, right, or good order is an organizing principle by which Quakers come to a clearer understanding of their relationship to all divine manifestations, and the responsibility of this relationship. Here is my book review.

Good order
Good order is the order that exists in every part of the universe. It is the right relationship of every part to every other part. Good order includes the ability to meet specific needs of a specific situation and time. Interestingly, good order is also an organizing principle by which we come to a clearer understanding of our relationship with others and the whole of nature. It is our responsibility to live in a manner that is in line with good order.

Good order is effective in the present moment. It is also possible to discern good order in every situation. Good order is discerned by centering down, listening, and feeling out. The process is intuitive rather than intellectual. Intellectual explanations cannot capture the essence of good order, or the means by which it is perceived. Descriptions can only point toward the experience.

Practices followed ritualistically cannot ensure good order. What is required is an underlying desire to be in good order. The individual must find out what is good order on her own. Aliveness and coherence are gained by keeping close to good order in each circumstance. What is required is a personal centering down into the Life which guides us.

We cannot see anything with clarity until we have faced ourselves with sensitivity and honesty. Our ability to discern good order is closely related to how we feel out our own self-worth. Our deepest values and aspirations reside below both reason and emotions. Outward actions both reflect and shape our inward condition. Inward changes make new outward behavior possible.

I think that discernment of good order is generally available to all human beings regardless of their religious beliefs. Any group can, for example, search for unity provided there is trust. I believe, furthermore, that good order is related to deeper generative order for organizing. A particularly interesting example of communal discernment of good order is the Quakers’ approach to decision-making.

1 Lloyd Lee Wilson, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order (FGC QuakerPress, 2007, first published 1993).

Update 2022-10-03: Related post added.

Related post:
We can only see deeper order with the heart

Books Quakers Reviews

Book Review: Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order

Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order by Lloyd Lee Wilson address facets of (Conservative) Quaker faith and practice. Here is a summary of the book together with some conclusions. I’ve chosen to focus on the Quaker vision of good order, waiting worship, faith community, meeting for business, and leadings and discernment.

Gospel, Right, or Good Order
Gospel order, right order, or good order is the order that exists in every part of the universe. It is the right relationship of every part to every other part. One might say that good order is an organizing principle by which Quakers come to a clearer understanding of this relationship and the responsibilities of that relationship.1 It is the responsibility of Quakers to live in a manner that is in line with good order, even if it means to be in conflict with prevailing norms, values, and laws.2 This has kept Quakers at the edge of human understanding of right relationships.3

Good Order in the Now
Quakers believe that good order is effective in the present moment,4 that it’s always breaking into our lives now.5 Quakers also believe that every person is capable of living in good order. This means that it is necessary for each person to be seeking, trying to discern good order in every situation. The choice whether or not to do so is up to the individual.6

Quakers have discovered and developed a number of practices which are useful in this process of discovering what action is in keeping with good order in a given circumstance. However, it should be remembered that the practices by which Quakers discern good order is a very small portion of good order itself.7 The practices that Quakers follow will not ensure good order if they are followed ritualistically, without an underlying desire to be in good order. Meanings have to be transmitted along with vocabulary.8

Waiting Worship
Early Quakers understood how important the use of language is. The words we use to express our understandings also shape our understandings. The inadequacy of language led Quakers into waiting worship.9 The fundamental means by which a Quaker meeting, or an individual, discerns good order is by centering down, listening, and “feeling out” what is good order. The process is spiritual, or intuitive, rather than intellectual.10

Good Order in the Situation
Quakers go about answering the question “What is good order in this situation?” by listening to the Inward Guide. Intellectual, or rational, explanations cannot capture the essence of good order, or the means by which it is perceived. The individual must find out what is good order on her own.11 Good order includes the ability to meet specific needs of a specific situation and time.12 We gain strength, clarity, and harmony to the extent we keep close to good order in each circumstance.13 This is why Quakers try to feel out carefully for good order in each decision, and to follow faithfully given promptings and leadings.14

Quakerism is a gestalt of the community, not the individual.15 A gestalt is an integrated structure which can neither be derived from the parts of the whole, nor considered simply as the sum of the parts.16 A solitary Quaker is an oxymoron.17 A shift to the Quaker gestalt requires inner transformation. It involves a new way of seeing the world and a new understanding of how to move in it.18

Change in Values
When we begin to seek out the root causes for the problems in our world today, we are soon confronted with the need for a society-wide change in values. It involves a new understanding of how we are to live and act in relationship with each other and the rest of nature.19 In order to preserve and sustain the Life which we have been given, it is necessary to sustain and build up the gestalt which guides and nurtures us in our daily lives.20

Creativity and Relationship
The fundamental meaning of any creative act lies in dedicating ourselves before the act rather than after it.21 In this way, we dedicate ourselves in totality and avoid the temptation to hold back some part of our person. As we know ourselves more fully, we are also able to offer ourselves more fully, and thereby enter more deeply into relationship. The only hindrance in this relationship is our unwillingness to accept it fully and openly.22

Knowing Experientially
The signs of true leadings can only be known experientially, not intellectually. A written description can only point toward the experience.23 The responsibility for finding the Truth must be undertaken with the greatest love and tenderness, and a high sensitivity for leadings and guidance.24 The most convincing argument one can humanly give is the simple testimony of one’s own life.25

Promptings and Risks
We all feel promptings and urgings, but being faithful to those promptings feels risky. Those risks include the risk of embarrassment, failure, success, scorn, change, and vulnerability. Success and failure often feel equally risky.26 Personal change is risky. Self-revealing makes one vulnerable.27 The apparent risk of being successful comes when we don’t want the responsibility, or the higher expectations that other people place on us.28 We may also evoke scorn of people who feel threatened or even insulted by our words. This emphasizes the importance of staying close to one’s promptings, making sure not to add or take away from our message.29 For nearly everyone, change is scary. Our current life is known and therefore seems safer.30

Discernment is not automatic. We need to learn it individually. We can also help one another discern as a community. There are three aspects to discerning: observation, dialogue, and testing through experience. If there is harmony in the perceptions of the individual and community, one gains confidence in the validity of the leading. It is very important to help one another.31 Nurturing and encouraging each other to take on the risks of being faithful is vital. It’s necessary to cultivate being open and vulnerable with one another, and to protect that openness and vulnerability with appropriate behavior.32

Quakers decision-making is based on the belief that there is a good order, and that it can be discerned by human beings who seek it out. Quakers experience is that all persons will perceive good order in a given situation when all seek for it, and that the community can come into unity in any decision.33 The task is not to find a decision which all can approve, but a decision where all is in unity. What is required for reaching unity is a personal centering down into that Life which guides us. The process is one of spiritual discernment.34

Meeting for Business
Those Quakers who are not present at a particular meeting for business cannot afterward criticize its actions and decisions, for they were not present. Likewise, those who were present cannot afterward criticize, for they (presumably) did feel the unity. On the other hand, it is very much in order to revisit a decision, to see whether new insight or guidance may change the meeting’s perception.35

Role as Clerk
The clerk has a role to play in helping the meeting find its proper pace and rhythm, by proposing trail minutes, by pausing between speakers, and by proposing worshipful silence when that seems best. If there is a rush to make a decision, it is likely that the right issue has not yet been articulated. The purpose of the meeting is not to make a particular decision, but to discern what is best for the group and this time.36

Sense of the Meeting
As the meeting considers a particular decision one can feel the “sense of the meeting” accumulate around a particular course of action. From time to time it happens that one, or a few, Quakers are uneasy with the direction in which the meeting seems moving. When this happens, it is important to allow as much time as necessary for all present to feel right about the contemplated decision.37 Sometimes a decision must be postponed for several meetings before the community can reach true unity. The postponement is a continuing of the communal search for discernment. Faithful listening enables greater understanding, and results in better decisions.38

Standing Aside
After listening to the concerns and insights on all sides of a question, there may still be a Quaker who cannot unite with the decision. In this situation a Quaker may wish to “stand aside” allowing the other Quakers to move ahead. This is never done lightly by any Quaker, and is never accepted easily by the meeting at large.39 For the meeting, allowing an individual to “step aside” from a decision is to confess failure to reach true discernment. It is far better to be uncomfortable for a while longer in the hope and expectation that a third way will be opened.40

Tyranny of One
A particularly frustrating condition of disunity is when an individual Quaker cannot, or will not, unite with the discernment of the rest of the meeting, and refuses to “step aside” in order to allow the meeting to move forward. It is easy for such a Quaker to paralyze the meeting, and this must be avoided. In extreme situations of this sort, it is permissible for the clerk to declare the general sense of the meeting in spite of the unresolved opposition of the individual in question. When this situation begins to develop, it is important for Quakers to find ways to help the Quaker in question to feel more trusting of others in the community.41

Unnecessary Speech
When Quakers are in good order, those who speak are simply expressing what others have already felt. The aim of each individual is to help the meeting to hear and to be faithful to the Presence in the midst, rather than to persuade the meeting to adopt one’s own plan of action.42 One should not repeat what has already been said. Unnecessary speech will delay the meeting in its search for unity.43

It is important to compose and approve minutes at the moment unity is reached. Human memory is short and plays tricks. The clerk has the responsibility of composing the minutes. The gifts of clerking the meeting and writing minutes sometimes seem to make conflicting demands on a clerk’s attention. The presence of a recording clerk generally frees the presiding clerk to attend to the meeting itself. When the meeting has come to a sense of unity on a particular decision, it will return to a period of worshipful silence while the clerk formulates and writes down the minute. It is most important that this time isn’t used to discuss other items, since the clerk needs a supportive atmosphere.44

Clerking a meeting for business requires considerable discernment. The influence of the clerk is indirect but substantial. The clerk may never speak to the specific content of a decision under consideration, but has a great influence on the ability of the meeting to achieve discernment.45 The clerk has the responsibility to help the meeting discern the light, but should not to attempt to provide the light.46

The Quakers’ method of decision-making places much power in the hands of each individual. This requires a great deal of trust on the part of all involved. Each individual need to trust that the meeting as a whole is operating with integrity, and the meeting must trust that individuals who express misgivings about a particular course of action do so only from the highest of motives.47

We cannot see anything with clarity until we have faced ourselves and our own condition. Seeing other people’s conditions as they are, or events as they will be, begins with seeing one’s self as one really is with sensitivity and honesty.48 Forgiveness is not something we do, but something we accept. When we have accepted forgiveness, personal dedication is quick to come.49 Our deepest values and aspirations reside below both reason and emotions.50

Outward vs. Inward Change
Outward change and societal reformation are not possible without inward transformation. The true problems are in the hearts of human beings, not in their surroundings. Until there has been an inward change, all our attempts to change outward behavior are doomed to be revealed as false.51 Harmony, community, equality, and simplicity point to inward changes that make new outward behavior possible.52

Harmony is part of the essence of good order. However, there is something about the nature of human beings which seems inevitably to separate us from one another. We seem doomed to live in conflict, even with the people we love most, and with the earth on which we live. The problem results from people thinking that they are separate from other people, and from their environment generally.53 Peace is not simply a denunciation of the violence that is war, but is a more fundamental change which makes war irrelevant.54

All the forces which act to destroy community are present, no matter how much we struggle against them, for example, jealousy, mistrust, covetousness, and all the rest. What redeems the community is commitment to love anyway.55

To be equal does not mean that we are identical or that we should act as we were all the same. The Quaker understanding of equality is that individuals are outward different, but equal in their essence.56 No person has reason to feel superior to others.57

We are pushed and pulled by a myriad of wants, needs, demands, fears, and desires. The simple life is one in which there is always time to remember the deeper purpose behind each task, and to be thankful for each moment of the day. The life that has room to listen and to be thankful is simple, no matter how outwardly busy it may appear.58

The process of keeping open to leadings is close to the heart of the Quaker experience. How we respond to the idea of being led, and to the actual leadings, is closely related to how we feel out our own self-worth. In times when we feel worst about ourselves, we also are about as responsive as a rock.59 Quakers have adopted the view that the inner and outward are being integrally related. Outward actions and activities reflect our inward condition, and what we do outwardly shapes and changes our inward condition.60

There is a continuity of direction and purpose in the leadings that are given to a particular individual. Our perception, or failure to perceive, this continuity is an aide to the discernment process.61 All leadings are reflections of the Truth. The Truth is, furthermore, perceptible to all who truly seek it. This means that the authenticity of any leading will be perceptible to any community who seek to discern it. When a leading will have significant impact on one’s life, it is good order to ask the community for help in discernment of good action.62

Lloyd Lee Wilson’s book is about (Conservative) Quaker faith and practice in general.  I learned a lot. The author is quite concerned about protecting the Quaker gestalt. His view is that external influence regularly has proven to be damaging to Quakerism.63 This leads me to my greatest difficulty with the book. Wilson shares many profound insights, but sometimes I find his views to be too conservative. Try to protect Quakerism from external influence and it loses its vitality.

Wilson emphasizes, on one hand, that discernment of good order in the present situation lies close to the heart of Quaker experience. But he mistrusts, on the other hand, the individual’s ability to choose his/her own beliefs.64 And he distrusts the individual’s ability to discern what s/he needs to learn next.65 I find this contradictory. Wilson seems to trust the faith tradition more than the individual.

From time to time, I also find Wilson’s language awkward. Wilson uses the historic Christian vocabulary of Quakerism. He is fully aware that this may inhibit communication on the deepest levels with people who are unfamiliar with Quakerism, but he still insists on using that kind of language.66 The problem lies with non-Quakers who are inhibited and don’t accept the authentic experience of Friends.67 I find this view simplistic. Wilson seems to value traditional language more than the ability to communicate.

I believe that all human beings have the ability to discern good order. Any group can, for example, search for unity regardless of religious beliefs provided there is trust. I believe, furthermore, that the good order mentioned throughout the book is related to the deeper generative order for organizing, which I’m exploring in this series of posts. A particularly interesting example of communal discernment of good order is, again, in the Quakers’ approach to decision-making.

1 Lloyd Lee Wilson, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order (FGC QuakerPress, 2007, first published 1993), p.10. Please note that the page references are to the ebook version converted to A4 paper size.
2 Ibid., p.11.
3 Ibid., p.12.
4 Ibid., p.12.
5 Ibid., p.13.
6 Ibid..
7 Ibid..
8 Ibid., p.14.
9 Ibid..
10 Ibid..
11 Ibid..
12 Ibid., p.15.
13 Ibid..
14 Ibid..
15 Ibid., p.18.
16 Ibid., p.16.
17 Ibid., p.18.
18 Ibid., p.19.
19 Ibid., p.20.
20 Ibid., p.21.
21 Ibid., p.24.
22 Ibid., p.25.
23 Ibid., p.27.
24 Ibid., p.29.
25 Ibid., p.45.
26 Ibid., p.46.
27 Ibid., p.47.
28 Ibid., p.49.
29 Ibid., p.50.
30 Ibid., p.51.
31 Ibid., p.53.
32 Ibid., p.54.
33 Ibid., p.77.
34 Ibid., p.78.
35 Ibid..
36 Ibid., p.79.
37 Ibid..
38 Ibid..
39 Ibid..
40 Ibid., p.80.
41 Ibid..
42 Ibid..
43 Ibid., p.81.
44 Ibid..
45 Ibid..
46 Ibid., p.82.
47 Ibid., p.83.
48 Ibid., p.88.
49 Ibid., p.89.
50 Ibid., p.90.
51 Ibid., p.93.
52 Ibid., p.94.
53 Ibid..
54 Ibid., p.95.
55 Ibid., p.96.
56 Ibid., p.97.
57 Ibid., p.98.
58 Ibid., p.99.
59 Ibid., p.100.
60 Ibid., p.102.
61 Ibid., p.104.
62 Ibid., p.106.
63 Ibid., p.22.
64 Ibid..
65 Ibid..
66 Ibid., p.42.
67 Ibid..

Decisions Quakers

Quaker decision-making in a secular context

The following quote (in italics) is an example of collective decision-making in a former Soviet country after the fall of the Soviet Union:

… I [Leonard Joy] was charged to support a team created to manage a process for the redesign of the public sector. … I chose to act as would a clerk in a Quaker meeting. The team included former government officials and a member of the secret police. … they could not contain themselves from argument, … interrupting for their voice to be heard.

They acknowledged that this was not productive and accepted my clerking authority, which now required them to open their meetings with silent worship. Of course, I did not call it that. I asked them to center themselves in their role in search for the greater good. …

I also asked them to speak only when acknowledged by the clerk—which, of course, I called “the chair.” I further asked them not to present arguments against one another but to each contribute what they understood that was relevant to the decision. I emphasized that we should use the ego to serve the task and not the task to serve the ego.

I further explained the aim of coming to unity and the value of that in securing ownership of the outcome. In my role as chairman I gave periodic reports of what seemed to be agreed, what seemed to need further resolution, and what I sensed that this would take, inviting contributions on these matters.

We made small posters and stuck them on the wall—prompts to remind us of what was now required of us. … Indeed, the value of the new practice was readily seen and it became adopted with pride. The team members set out to spread this culture in the meetings they were calling in the different branches of the administration …

–Leonard Joy1

1 Gray Cox et al., A Quaker Approach to Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment, pp. 40–41.

Related post:
Book Review: A Quaker Approach to Research

Books Quakers Reviews

Book Reeview: A Quaker Approach to Research

A Quaker Approach to the Conduct of Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment by Gray Cox with Charles Blanchard, Geoff Garver, Keith Helmuth, Leonard Joy, Judy Lumb, and Sara Wolcott has grown out of a decade of experiments employing Quaker processes of communal discernment in research.1 The book itself is the product of collaborative work. Here’s my summary of the book together with a few conclusions.

Quaker practices
Quaker practices of communal discernment have been used since the mid-1600s. The tradition of practices have been refined and extended in a variety of contexts over the last 350 years.2 The Religious Society Friends is governed through communal discernment at all levels of the organization. There is no hierarchy that is authorized to provide a definite formulation of the practices.3 The early Quakers found methods that could be learned, open to all, and available at any time. This gave rise to a distinctive, holistic, and process-centered view of reality.4

Quaker faith
Quaker faith is not a set of beliefs, but a series of experiences that provide queries and leadings.5 According to the Quakers, everyone is related to the world, to each other, and to the Divine. This has to be understood in holistic and emergent ways. Rational ideas emerge from felt impulses and leadings. Collective intelligence is emergent and holistic.6

Truth and meaning / Feeling and reason
Quakers view truth as a living occurrence in the depth of bearing witness, speaking truth.7 Meaning is a communal process for the Quakers. It’s like a dance. Individuals are moving, but one dance is occuring. Quakers ask collectively what they mean. They may say different things, and yet somehow speak with one voice. Feeling and reason are viewed as interactive with one another.8

Interdependent becoming
The self is viewed as social and transitional, as becoming. At the heart of the community is a spirit that grows out of each one and into each one. This view means that thoughts and actions are guided by what is best for individuals as interdependent parts of the whole group.9 Concerns are raised, discussed, and subjected to reflection until unity is reached.10

Quaker decision-making
The process of Quaker decision-making can be described as five overlapping phases:11

1. Quieting Impulses. Entering the Silence.
2. Addressing Concerns. Listening attentively, discerning the truth, and how to live in right relationship with others.
3. Exploring Responses and Gathering shared Insights. Seeing things from different perspectives, trying to understand them in a more clear, coherent and complete way.
4. Finding Clearness. Sharing has allowed differences to find an inclusive unity.
5. Bearing Witness. Understanding leads to embodied action in the world.

Here is an example of Quaker decision-making in a secular context.

Quaker epistemology
Epistemology refers to the study of knowledge. Quakers have distinctive epistemic practices that include criteria and methods for how they know.12 Communal discernment is viewed as a human potential in general. It’s assumed that it’s possible to include communal discernment in any practices, methods, or approaches, as long as it’s done from the larger frame of Love rather than competition. A key element is deep listening, which allows tacit knowledge – and doubt – to find expression.13 The silence, the presence of attentive others, can all help to deepen the listening, and the levels of thought and feeling.14

Research as open-ended query
The Quaker process of communal discernment has successfully been adopted to research and sharing its results.13 It’s helpful to frame a research project as an open-ended query. Queries do not ask for immediate and simple answers, but invite extended reflection and questioning.14 The aim is to bring unity to the insight and focus to the analysis in ways that provide the clarity and simplicity that comes from seeing things as part of a whole.15

Observation and critical thinking
Socializing and social bonding are important in building a research community. The more participants are involved and leading activities, the more effective they are.16 Central to communal discerning is working out of the silence and practice deep listening.17 Conviction and humility need to be in constant interplay in discernment.18 Research calls for keen observation and critical thinking, but also an ability to collaboratively seek to discern the truth.19 Communal discernment can be practiced in many ways. It creates shared ownership of understandings, decisions, and actions.

Other traditions / Indigenous cultures
Egalitarian circles in which people speak out of silence are practiced in indigenous cultures around the world.20 Such traditions approach the construction of knowledge and the emergence of guidance through communal process.21 Group silence is one of the keys that underlies collaborative discernment and value-based decision-making.22 The encounter with silence is enriched when in community with others.23 Someone trained in one tradition may bring language, experience, and skills to the study of another.24

Sharing of methods
The Quaker approach to research should be understood as a proposal to enrich methods of modern science, by using open and inclusive dialogue in communal discernment.25 Interpersonal and collaborative methods can be practiced in a wide variety of settings.26 The sharing of methods between mainstream science and communal discernment traditions raises important philosophical questions.27

Common understanding
The Quaker process provides one way to increase impartiality. It is an inclusive approach that excludes no one from the research process. It allows a larger holistic understanding.28 Communal discernment aims at a “unity” that is grounded in a common understanding and vision.29 It promotes open dialogue and is useful in research that requires collaboration among multiple disciplines. Processes seeking unity offer better prospects for arriving at reasonable and coherent ways of dealing with research issues.30

Exploration of possibilities
Much of human behavior is exploratory and experimental, and is not describable or explainable without the use of purpose, function, and intentionality.31 Adapting lives and improving behavior calls for the exploration of possibilities that are often difficult to discern. Many natural and human processes are full of emergence, non-linearity, chaos and other complex features. Centering down, entering a silence, allows listening and looking more deeply, discerning what’s possible.32

Languages structure social reality
Many social scientists have found it difficult to pursue research on humans within the framework offered by the natural sciences. And many philosophers have argued that there are systematic reasons why studies of humans must be pursued in ways that are different from classical natural science. The languages humans speak structure social reality. Interpreting human activity is more like reading a text than manipulating a mathematical formula. These basic points have been developed in a variety of ways by philosophers, anthropologists, historians, and social researchers.33

Values in-form contexts
Humans have a self-understanding, which is defined by purposes and values, as well as background assumptions they make about the world and their context. Their understanding is part of what constitutes the structure and nature of their actions and the context for such actions.34 Studying people requires learning their language and learning how they describe what they are doing and why.35 The language and practices that structure such activity differ from mathematical and mechanical descriptions and explanations. Human languages must be interpreted in a holistic way. Languages are value laden, and the values in-form and provide contexts. Such language is not reducible to axiomatic expression the way mathematical language is.36

Incoherency creates conflict
Self-understandings are almost always incomplete. And any incoherency in understanding creates conflict. Communal discernment, as a form of participatory research, can be effective toward improving understanding, mitigating in-coherencies, and reducing conflict. A high level of inclusiveness and participation is needed to avoid partisan bias and to advance knowing that includes all possible perspectives.37

Discernment is value in-formed
The functions of quieting impulses, seeking unity, finding clearness, and bearing witness can facilitate research of human social behavior.38 These functions give communal discernment its unique and helpful place in social research. Research on human communities involves studying how they discern and act based on their understanding of where they are, what they are doing, and why. The discerning of potentialities is value laden and value in-formed.39

Experiences and logical definitions
Participatory research begins with empathic listening and observing and moves through to collaborative, critical participation involving compassion.40 People who enter dialogue with each other are not mere things. They are persons who can call themselves into question and critique their entire view of the world in deeper engagement with the reality of the Other.41 They are inevitably called to treat the Other as a You, with whom they can enter into agreements as a We.42 These are vital and real experiences, and yet they elude logical definition. While this can be experienced, it cannot be defined. Attempts to analyze the experience of the lived moment as a Presence, or an ongoing Present, have proved frustrating and perplexing.43

If no one asks me, I know;
if I wish to explain it … , I know not.

– Augustine44

Grounded in shared experiences
There are in fact fundamental aspects of experience that are quite real and of central importance in understanding human life, but which elude the kind of definitions sought in mathematics, logic, and natural science. Quakers approaches such experiences with acknowledging the reality of what is experienced as well as the difficulty in capturing it in words. Their approach is grounded, not in metaphysical abstractions, but in shared experiences.45

Open, dynamic, growing insights
The Quaker experience is that rational beliefs about the world, and wise choices for acting in it, are not arrived at by simply following one’s own assumptions and observations.46 Instead, dialogue with others is necessary. The role of silence is not to shut out the world but to help quiet the inner monologue so that it becomes possible to listen, and to enter in dialogue with others. These experiences are open, dynamic, growing insights into realities characterized by emergence.47

Entering into dialogue with others in the lived moment, and being Present with them as people rather than things, are central to the experience of being human. Quaker experience provides a context that opens the process of communal discernment into broad avenues of application, including decision-making and research.48

Communal discernment methods are useful in the context of discovery. This approach makes the case that seeking unity and truth is better than appealing to interests and powers. Communal discernment can help to create a more complete and accurate understanding for all participants.49 This kind of sharing can result in more authentic and trustworthy knowledge.50

The sixth great extinction of life in planetary history is underway. We are called to act, and to act now. Yet we are also called to pause, reflect, and be humbled by our lack of understanding. A key step towards the humility needed involves questioning our current beliefs.51 We have much to learn about how to practice humility and how to use collective discernment.52

I like the book! I’m very interested in how communal discernment can be used as a practice to enhance collaboration between people. I also think that communal discernment is an example of a deeper generative order for organizing.53 The book is highly relevant to the challenges we now face as a humanity!

1 Gray Cox et al., A Quaker Approach to the Conduct of Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment (Quaker Institute for the Future, 2014), p. ix.
2 Ibid., p. xi.
3 Ibid., p. 1.
4 Ibid., p. 2.
5 Ibid..
6 Ibid., p. 3.
7 Ibid..
8 Ibid., p. 4.
9 Ibid., p. 5.
10 Ibid., pp. 5–6.
11 Ibid., p. 6.
12 Ibid., p. 13.
13 Ibid., p. 14.
14 Ibid., pp. 14–15.
13 Ibid., p. 12.
14 Ibid., p. 15.
15 Ibid., p. 18.
16 Ibid., p. 19.
17 Ibid., p. 20.
18 Ibid., p. 24.
19 Ibid., p. 30.
20 Ibid., p. 31.
21 Ibid., p. 32.
22 Ibid., p. 35.
23 Ibid., p. 36.
24 Ibid., p. 37.
25 Ibid., p. 40.
26 Ibid., p. 43.
27 Ibid., p. 45.
28 Ibid., p. 48.
29 Ibid., p. 50.
30 Ibid., p. 51.
31 Ibid..
32 Ibid., p. 56.
33 Ibid., p. 58.
34 Ibid., p. 59.
35 Ibid., pp. 59–60.
36 Ibid., p. 60.
37 Ibid., p. 61.
38 Ibid..
39 Ibid., p. 64.
40 Ibid., p. 65.
41 Ibid., p. 66.
42 Ibid., pp. 66–67.
43 Ibid., p. 67.
44 St. Augustine, The Confessions, Book XI, (accessed 2017-03-01).
45 Gray Cox et al., A Quaker Approach to the Conduct of Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment (Quaker Institute for the Future, 2014), p. 68.
46 Ibid., p. 68–69.
47 Ibid., p. 69.
48 Ibid..
49 Ibid., p. 70.
50 Ibid., p. 71.
51 Ibid., p. 72.
52 Ibid., p. 73.
53 For more information on deeper generative orders for organizing, see this series of posts.

Decisions Quakers

Anteckningar från ett kväkerskt beslutsmöte

Jag är intresserad av hur man kan ta vara på en grupps kollektiva kunskap och intelligens. Kväkarnas sätt att fatta beslut är unik. Metoden har även har studerats akademiskt. Här är min recension av Beyond Majority Rule (på engelska), som bygger på Michael J. Sheerans doktorsavhandling.

I februari 2014 gick jag en kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod. Här är mina intryck från kursen. Sedan dess har jag tänkt att det skulle vara intressant att få vara med på ett beslutsmöte. I januari 2017 fick jag slutligen tillfälle att vara med på ett av kväkarnas lokala beslutsmöten i Stockholm. Det möte jag var med på hålls månadsvis.

Beslutsmötet är ett medlemsmöte, men jag fick ombudets tillåtelse att vara med som observatör. (Den person som leder beslutsmötet kallas ombud.) Ombudet inbjöd mig också att vara med på andaktsmötet som hölls innan beslutsmötet. Mellan andakts- och beslutsmötena ingick en fika med kaffe och smörgås. Jag fick intrycket att andakten och den gemensamma fikastunden ingick i ombudets förberedelse inför beslutsmötet.

Kväkargården, Stockholm.

Beslutsmötet inleddes med en runda bland deltagarna. Jag valde att presentera mig själv helt kort och berätta varför jag var där, men flera personer var personliga i sina inledande kommentarer.

I detta fall var mötesformen relativt informell eftersom det var ett litet beslutsmöte. Jag la märke till att var och en diskret vände sig till ombudet innan hen talade. Vid ett tillfälle blev den person som talade avbruten av en annan person. Ombudet ingrep då så snabbt att jag knappt hann märka vad som hände. Vid ett annat tillfälle bad ombudet om “framkallningstid”, vilket är en stund av tystnad. Återigen hann jag knappt lägga märke till vad som fick ombudet att agera, men jag förstod att ombudet ville dra ner på tempot och bjuda in till eftertanke.

Då och då försökte ombudet sammanfatta vad som hade sagts. Om någon tyckte att ombudet inte riktigt hade förstått så fortsatte samtalet. Så småningom bad ombudet om tystnad för att skriva ner beslutet. Ombudet tog påfallande god tid på sig, men det visade sig att formuleringarna verkligen återspeglade det som hade sagts på ett bra sätt.

Jag noterade också att besluten i sig hanterades varsamt. Ett av besluten berörde t.ex. en icke närvarande medlem. Mötet såg i detta fall till att beslutet inte onödigt begränsar denna medlems framtida handlingsutrymme.

Mötet avslutades med en runda. Jag valde att passa.

Efter beslutsmötet blev jag ombedd att dela med mig av mina intryck. Det som gjorde störst intryck på mig var användningen av “framkallningstid”, samt att ombudet tog god tid på sig för att omsorgsfullt formulera besluten.

Jag upplevde också att samtalet löpte fritt, men att det ändå var disciplinerat.  Vid detta möte satt deltagarna hela tiden. Vid större möten med fler deltagare ställer sig den som talar. Poängen är att endast en person kan stå åt gången.

Till sist vill jag rikta ett varmt tack till ombudet för att jag fick vara med! Det var en ny och intressant erfarenhet, som har gjort intryck.

Principen för samtycke i sociokrati bygger på kväkarnas beslutsmetod. Jag ser likheter och skillnader mellan kväkarnas sätt att fatta beslut och sociokrati. I båda fallen inleds och avslutas mötet med rundor, men i ett sociokratiskt beslutsmöte används rundor hela tiden.

I sociokrati presenteras först ett förslag, som sedan följs av fråge-, reaktions- och beslutsrundor. Personer som är ovana vid sociokratiskt beslutsfattande brukar blanda ihop dessa rundor, t.ex. genom att ge reaktioner under frågerundan, eller rentav genom att börja göra invändningar, fast formulerade som frågor, under frågerundan.

En annan skillnad som jag har sett i den praktiska tillämpningen är att kväkarna med sin “framkallningstid” medvetet drar ner på tempot när det börja “hetta till”. I sociokratiska sammanhang har jag sett hur en erfaren sociokrati-konsult tvärtom har ökat tempot när det har kommit invändningar. (Troligen har det skett omedvetet?)

Ytterligare en skillnad är att kväkarna söker efter mötets mening, medan det i sociokrati snarare handlar om att hantera invändningar. Det är en subtil, men viktig skillnad. Principen för samtycke i sociokrati skulle lika gärna kunna kallas principen för inga invändningar.

Relaterade inlägg:
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Fördjupningskurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod
En historisk tillbakablick på kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Att lyssna till livet i allt
Om att arbeta

Relaterade inlägg (på engelska):
Book Review: Beyond Majority Rule
What Wikimedia can learn from the Quakers

Decisions Quakers Reviews

Book Review: Beyond Majority Rule

Beyond Majority Rule: voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends is the publication of Michael J. Sheeran’s doctoral work in the Dept. of Politics at Princeton University. He spent two years (1973—75) conducting interviews, reading, and observing the actual decision-making of the Quakers. Sheeran is convinced that the Quakers “have something of first importance to share in their technique of reaching a viable resolution of their own problems” (p. ix).

Knowing, respecting, and trusting each other
A prerequisite is “having a group of limited size who know and respect and trust each other” (p. ix). The members of this group must “be willing to listen to each other with open minds, to learn from each other and be willing to feel into the shaping of a decision” (p. ix). Among common blockages are having “a fixed and unchangeable mind as to the outcome”, the unwillingness “to lay aside pressure tactics to force an early decision”, and not following the Quaker caution “to use as few words as possible and as many as are necessary” (p. x).

The Presence in the midst
Central to the Quaker understanding of unity-based decision making is the idea that there is “that of God in every one” (p. 3). Quakers do not begin with a theory. They begin with an event in which, ideally, “the presence of God is experienced by each person as part of a group experience” (p. 5). A meeting is “covered” or “gathered into the Life”, when the group is aware of “the Presence in the midst” (p. 6). Richard Vann wrote already in 1683 that “even one person out of harmony with the meeting could prevent it from accomplishing anything” (p. 6).

Advice rather than regulation
Friends are chary of “binding the spirit” by regulations (p. 47). Instead, they provide “advice rather than regulation” (p. 47). Meetings always “begins with silence and closes in silence” (p. 49). If the meeting is properly carried through, there may emerge an “openness not to my wishes and my designs and my surface preferences but [an] openness to the deeper levels … where the problem may be resolved in quite a different way than had ever occurred to me” (p. 50).

Decision-making principles
There are “a number of factors which seem characteristic of Quaker decision making” (p. 51):

  1. unanimous decisions—no voting;
  2. silent periods—at start of meeting and when conflict arises;
  3. moratorium—when agreement cannot be reached;
  4. participation by all with ideas on the subject;
  5. learning to listen—not going to meeting with mind made up;
  6. absence of leaders—the clerk steers but does not dominate;
  7. nobody outranks anybody;
  8. factual-focus—emotions kept to a minimum; and
  9. small meetings—typically limited numbers.

These factors, or principles, are explored in the book in an attempt to bring the reader beyond a “superficial comprehension” (p. 51). While doing so, Michael J. Sheeran puts the focus on “two central and subtle matters: the nature of unity in a decision and the systems of belief which seem to underlie successful use of the method” (p. 52).

Group searching together
A point of pride about Quaker decisions is that they “occasion the emergence of … a higher synthesis of individual ideas” (p. 53). The goals of Quaker decision making are “different from those of majority rule” (p. 54). The proposals made at the beginning of a discussion are “usually seen … as starting points, not as finished products unsusceptible to modification” (p. 54). In Quaker decision making, it is not only presumed “that each participant seeks the best solution”, but it is also presumed “that the group, by searching together, can reach such a … solution” (p. 55). Attitudes contrary to this searching together suffers “subtle but sharp sanctions” (p. 55). The attitudes demanded of Friends is one of “openness to one another’s ideas —the ability to put aside pet notions in favor of the next person’s insight” (p. 55).

Release from fear and reluctance to express one’s ideas
Michael J. Sheeran emphasizes that “those who dread the effects of candour in a Meeting are not giving that Meeting the opportunity which it needs to realize all the possibilities of its group life” (p. 55). “Release from fear, from shyness, from reluctance to express one’s ideas” is given high priority by the Friends (p. 55). Opinions should always be expressed “humbly and tentatively in the realization that no one person sees the whole truth and that the whole meeting can see more of Truth than can any part of it” (p. 56). “Tentativeness and an artless willingness to face the weaknesses in one’s position rather than to paper them over with distracting allusions” are equally important, and “sanctions against unacceptable rhetoric are subtle but effective” (p. 56). Friends “emphasize the importance of encouraging every participant in a meeting to feel that his or her contribution will be received with appreciation” (p. 57).

Emotions are difficult
Friends sometimes have difficulties in revealing “their own inner feelings or to seek out ways of speaking which will let people know—in a non-rhetorical manner—the depth of their feelings” (p. 57). As a result, “the emotional dimensions of topics sometimes do not get the frank attention they deserve” (p. 57). However, it’s important to remember that Friends are “not opposed to emotions, [and] not opposed to their having an important bearing on decisions” (p. 58).

Being face-to-face, acceptance and mutual respect
The need for “openness” has some direct corollaries. The method is “harmstrung whenever participants cannot be face-to-face” (p. 60). Another corollary is that the topics which a group can successfully deal with are “normally limited by the strength of the bonds of respect for one another” within the group (pp. 60—61). The emphasis is on “acceptance of one another, mutual respect, avoidance of the manipulative conduct …, and one’s dependence on searching together with the group for better conclusions than anyone alone could have attained” (p. 61).

Unity is not unanimity or consensus
One major difficulty is that “no conventional term adequately expresses the phenomenon of decisional agreement in a Quaker meeting” (p. 63). Some describe all decisions as “unanimous on the grounds that any objecting member could prevent action”, but this is misleading since it “implies that all participants are satisfied when a decision is reached—a point hardly true of many Quaker decisions” (p. 63). Other speak of “consensus, thereby underscoring that the bulk of those present agree even if one or two objectors remain”, but this is misleading too (p. 63). Michael J. Sheeran emphasizes that “Quakers are simply not satisfied to know that even the overwhelming majority are in agreement” (p. 63). Given this verbal difficulty, the term used by the Friends is “unity” rather than “unanimity” or “consensus” (p. 63). Another early Quaker term used was “concord” (p. 63), which is Sheeran’s preferred term.

At least two stages of discussion
There are at least two stages of discussion in the decision-making. The “preliminary stage follows initial presentation of both the problem and its possible solutions” (p. 64). At this point, “participants often ask questions of the person who has made the presentation, offer tentative alternatives to the proposal, and even find themselves more in the posture of brainstorming than of making serious judgments” (p. 64). Remarks contrary to the proposal “are taken to be exploratory” (p. 64). The transition from “the preliminary to the serious phase” is normally informal (p. 64). An individual will “offer a suggestion—perhaps a rejection of the basic proposal for a novel reason—and then sit back to see what response the idea draws from the group” (p. 64). Such a statement “does not involve personal commitment to the idea”, but is “a testing of the waters” (p. 64). The ability to “differentiate tentative from serious and ambiguous remarks” is important for all participants, and especially for the clerk, whose “duty it is to read the group and decide whether there is serious objection to the general direction in which discussion is moving” (p. 64).

The tide may or may not build
As Friends begin “to speak their serious conclusions, the tide will build” (p. 64). Listeners who find a speaker’s remarks match their own will follow his or her words with “I agree” or “I can unite with that” or “that speaks my mind” (p. 65). Sometimes “several currents are running in the tide, pulling the meeting in two or more directions”, and sometimes there may be “no tide or current at all” (p. 65). In either of these situations, the discussion continues until a conclusion emerges, at the “suggestion of the clerk or some other participant”, or that “there is agreement that no conclusion can be reached for now” (p. 65). If the tide is running in a particular direction, the clerk is expected “to make a judgment that the group is now ready for agreement and to propose a tentative minute … as the clerk understands it from listening to the discussion”.

Objections to a proposal
Each group member has “two quite different questions to ask” when the clerk proposes a minute (p. 65). First, does the proposed minute catch the tide of the discussion? If the answer is no, then this opinion is expected to be raised. Discussions follows such an objection, with various Friends “stating how they respond to the minute as an expression of the group’s will” (p. 65). Then, the clerk “rephrases or withdraws the minute if necessary” (p. 65). Michael J. Sheeran observes that “it is often the case that one person’s statement of misgivings leads others to reassess their judgments, giving more prominence to matters they had initially dismissed” (p. 66). If a person still can’t agree, the group is unable to proceed. However, Sheeran also observes that “the realities, fortunately, are much more subtly adapted to the complexities of human disagreement” (p. 66)

A whole spectrum of objections
There’s actually a “whole spectrum of dissent available” in Quaker decision making (pp. 66—72):

  • I disagree but do not wish to stand in the way
  • Please minute me as opposed
  • I am unable to unite with the proposal
  • Absence

Even if deliberate absence “signifies deep disagreement with a proposal, it does not necessarily block action” (p. 70). The group is expected “go ahead at once if the objector follows the typical approach of stating his or her unease but affirming a desire not to stand in the way” (p. 71). The same is true “if he or she asks to be minuted as opposed, although it seems that the group will proceed in much more chary fashion” (p. 71). If the individual simply is “unable to unite, the group will normally delay action” (p. 71). Michael J. Sheeran notes that “the group’s willingness to delay is a function of the apparent importance of the objector’s objection” (p. 71). The group’s readiness to delay “also depends on its respect for the objector” (p. 71). A third factor is time. “The more urgent the matter, the more highly regarded the objector needs to be” (p. 71). “The relative significance of each factor depends in each situation upon the entire set of relationships existing at a given moment within the group under consideration” (p. 72).

The religious dimension
The religious dimension of a meeting can run a spectrum “from the merest formality to an extraordinary quality very significant to the decision being taken” (p. 82). “Truly worshipful decisions tend to occur in situations of high risk”, but the occasions “when such dramatic religious depth is called for are not common” (p. 83). The typical meeting oscillates between “a superficial and a rather profound religious tone” depending upon the topic under discussion (p. 84). Michael J. Sheeran observes that “decisions at the religious level … tend to draw greater acceptance from those present” (p. 84). One Friend said that “decisions based on human considerations are fine, but they’re not enough for sacrifices of really important things like family and friends and life goals.” (p. 84).

Same vocabulary with different meanings
Michael J. Sheeran found that Friends language is ambiguous. “Everybody seemed to use the same vocabulary but with different meanings” (p. 85). But, when Sheeran “reflected on the atmosphere and the tone of his interviews instead of the words that were exchanged”, he found that “the experience itself [of the gathered meeting] was what counted” (p. 87).

Strengths of Quaker leadership
Quaker leadership demands “the intertwining of traditional basic leadership skills with a peculiar skill at reading the sense of the meeting” (p. 99). The most important duty of the clerk is “to judge the sense of the meeting” (p. 95). In doing this, “the clerk is likely to consider the general reputation of the leading speakers for each viewpoint, the extent of information and experience each brings to the topic, the apparent conviction beneath a remark, and other intangible factors” (p. 95). “The opportunity to manipulate is obvious” (p. 96), but Sheeran notes that “abuse of power seems curiously rare” (p. 97). “The great caution clerks feel about abuse of power came out frequently in the interviews”, with the most experienced clerks “appearing most chary of abuse” (p. 98). Of fundamental importance is that “Quaker theory sees the clerk or other leader as servant of the meeting, not its director” (p. 100). The clerk’s role, as mentioned previously, is to “articulate the unity which he or she discovers and to facilitate the formation of that unity” (p. 100). The good clerk “knows whether people are saying what they really think” (p. 100). Michael J. Sheeran refers to this phenomenon as the ability to “read” the group (p. 101). He even goes a step further and wonders whether it’s perhaps “a weakness, given our theory that leadership is still needed” (p. 103).

Weaknesses of Quaker leadership
Quaker leadership “provides great support to the goal of reaching unity on divisive questions” (p. 104), but it has weaknesses too. The most obvious problem is that “there is no guarantee that individuals with the ability to read the community accurately will also excel in the basic organizational skills required for running a meeting” (p. 104). Given the “spectrum of possible combinations of strengths and weaknesses” there are “quite different styles and emphases in various Quaker groups using the same fundamental procedures” (p. 104). Another problem is that the individual who can discern the unity “quickly exercises an influence that is subtle and pervasive” (p. 105). Thus, “the person who comes to the meeting with a solution in his back pocket might wait until the group seems ripe for the idea instead of proposing it at the outset” (p. 105). The speaker’s preparations in advance may then be confused with “an inspired reading of the present level of agreement of the assembly” (p. 105). The group has little defense against such manipulation.

In a fundamental sense, Friends decision making “presuppose that participants are in community” (p. 115). Participants need to be willing to say what they really think, listen to each other, and be willing to make decisions work out successfully. Michael J. Sheeran’s book is recommended reading for everyone who is interested in how to move beyond majority rule into group-centered decision-making.