Wednesday, September 21, 2005

cultural change

Organization: love
From: "Pope Salmon the Lesser Mungojelly"
Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2005 14:14:35 -0400
Subject: Re: [BurlingtonGreens] the meaning of "behavioral guidelines"

On Fri, 16 Sep 2005 22:16:14 -0700 (PDT), Dave

> All groups have rules, norms, mores, either explicitly
> stated or not.

I was thinking about this during our latest meeting. We didn't actually
have any particular process issues, since the whole thing was just a short
ritual closely structured around fulfilling particular state obligations,
but I was observing the conscious & unconscious uses of various processes
as we went along.

For instance, the circle had been formed and it was clear that the meeting
was going to officially start soon-- but people were still chatting & the
room was noisy. I realized that the process most likely to take hold in
that situation, because of our shared cultural background, is that someone
would speak loudly over the din and says something in a particular
"attention! order!" sort of tone, at which point everyone would cut short
their conversations and simmer down.

I was sitting there and considering that process, and imagining other
processes that could accomplish the same purpose. Imagine, for example,
that anyone who feels like it's time for the meeting to start would begin
to slap their hands alternately against their knees. If other people
agreed, they would join in, gradually producing a rumbling chorus which
would draw everyone in, until finally as all the conversations ended the
knee-slapping would trail off and the meeting would begin.

We could easily imagine an unlimited number of other processes for
accomplishing that group task. Each of them, while accomplishing that
function, would also embody countless other experiences and values. This
is the nature of the complex interconnectedness of culture. Our
obligation in creating the culture of our community, therefore, is to
properly embody our shared values in our styles of interaction-- to
manifest ways of working together that are cooperative, democratic, just,
equitable, sustainable, and which encourage individual liberty and

This is the challenge I see hiding in this work: One of the values we want
to embody is of course a sense of welcome. We want to hold meetings which
invite the participation of a broad range of this community. This seems
to require that our processes be as similar as possible, on both surface
and deep levels, to the processes which are most widely understood and
practiced in the society at large. The dilemma comes in with the fact
that-- since many of our values conflict with elements of the dominant
paradigm-- those popularly understood processes often enact unconscious
dramas that are deeply contrary to our personal and political aims.

For instance, we live in a society which is still fundamentally
patriarchal and authoritarian. This archetype is completely embedded in
the conventional process that I described of calling a meeting to order.
One particular individual-- traditionally and habitually a man (even if a
woman takes the role, she may have to adopt a masculine tone or demeanor
in order to fill it)-- takes control through use of a physically dominant
act. I don't mean to especially single out this particular process as
especially authoritarian or patriarchal; indeed my point is that there is
nothing special about it at all. Every single way of acting that we are
collectively familiar with was born out of our culture at large, and
embodies simultaneously every single value of that culture.

It is hardly an option to attempt to practice true democracy while failing
to question these unconscious roles and dramas. We are not prepared by
our upbringings to be democratic animals; we simply do not have the tools
necessary to accomplish true group cooperation and decision making, and
anyone who has observed & participated in many of the attempts at radical
organizing which are taking place in the world today couldn't help but be
aware of how insufficient our habitual attitudes are to the task. Most of
our organizations fail, and most of those that fail receive their mortal
blows due to unexamined intrinsic process issues.

We are thus stuck between on one side the values antithetical to our own
that are incurably comingled with everything we know about how to hold a
meeting (or indeed how to relate to other people at all), and the mammoth,
thankless, uninviting and perhaps even divisive undertaking which it would
be to systematically challenge and overthrow those established habits.

To that dilemma I can offer no particular solution, except that we become
conscious of its existence, and that we begin to allow an awareness of the
problems it causes to seep into us, soak us, and loosen us, to prepare us
for the personal transformations we will need to undergo in order to truly
begin to manifest a wise, awake, & compassionate society.



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