"The shadow is the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious..."
-Carl G. Jung

As infants we expressed the full breadth of our human nature, without editing or censoring. As we grew up, however, we learned that certain parts of ourselves were unacceptable to the people around us. Maybe we were shamed for crying or punished for being angry. Maybe we were ridiculed for wanting attention or acting proud of ourselves. So, we learned to repress those parts and eventually those parts became our shadow self. The shadow is ever present in all of our personalities, but usually hidden from us. Others often see it, but we do not.

Groups have shadows in the same way that individuals have them. For a group to develop in an optimal way, group members need to be able to be aware of, accept, and incorporate the shadow into their learning through realness, honesty, and openness - with oneself as well as others. If the individual members develop greater self-awareness and personal responsibility for their behavior, feelings, and thoughts, then the shadow can be successfully integrated into the group work.

It is not often easy to confront our shadows or accept the lessons they have to share. Sometimes groups or individuals resist the teachings of the shadow because it can cause anxiety or discomfort. Other times when we confront the shadow, if we do not have the right tools, we can get stuck in certain patterns of thought or behavior which can be very frustrating and discouraging. Thankfully, there are many cognitive and behavior tools to help us reach our goals as a person or group and maximize our creative potential.

The branches of our shadow tree will explore some of our encounters with group and personal shadows. By bringing these dark places to light, we hope to capture a wholistic perspective of working as a learning community and celebrate the complexity of human nature.



We invite you to explore the shadow by:


a.) Continuing with the paper below for a more in-depth referencing and detail. If you would like to download the work for offline study, you may choose the following files pdf or rtf.

b.) You may climb the shadow tree of experiences as a group by clicking on the tree icon above!

c.) Drop in to see how our cohort dealt with faculty feedback requesting a more specific demonstration of our experience of shadow as a learning community. The page references cited within that demonstration are available in the downloadable files above in item "a."






Blair Gelbond


Dedicated to Rafael Lopez-Pedraza


"The first prison I ever saw had inscribed on it, 'Cease To Do Evil: Learn To Do Well;' but as the inscription was on the outside, the prisoners could not read it. It should have been addressed to the self-righteous spectator in the street and should have read, 'All have Sinned and Fallen Short of the Glory of God.'"

G.B. Shaw






 Part I: Principles and Processes

 Part II: Application

 1) The Shadow  1) Review
 2) The Power of Groupthink  2) Self-Organizing Systems
 3) Transference and Emotions  3) Transformative Learning, Self-Organization, and Emergence
 4) Developmental Levels  4) Cultivating and Tending the Garden of Transformation
 5) The Significance of Conflict  5) The Role of the Leader in Self-Organizing Systems
 6) Behavior Patterns  6) Program Goals and Ambiguity
 7) Group Leadership and Facilitation  7) Power and the Shadow
 8) Limit-Cycle Groups  
 9) The Generative Group





We have been born in interesting times. Edgar Morin (1997) writes:

"All that which, in the past, made up the radiant face of Western civilization is now becoming its darker side. For instance, individualism, one of the great achievements of Western civilization, is now accompanied more and more by such phenomena as fragmentation, solitude, egocentricity and the disintegration of solidarity….We have realized that development, originally viewed only from an economic aspect, does not preclude human and moral under-development.

This section of the C-16 G-Doc is dedicated to the shadow areas of our group process. As our proposal notes - the mission of our team was to:

"gently reflect the other side of what is usually thought of as "competence" by documenting (propositionally and presentationally) the constraints, foibles, and frustrations of C-16. Presented in a compassionate manner and in anonymous terms to avoid any ostracizing, blaming, or harm, our intention here is to shed some light on the difficulties of our online learning community experience by reframing our understanding of "group competence" to include, identifying and even celebrating 'failure' as well as 'success.'"

As a Cohort, our commitment to integration and integrity requires that we consider C-16 in context - ensconced within the Learning Community course, within the Transformative Learning and Change concentration, within CIIS, and, of course, within the contemporary world at large.

Our reflections on the shadow are designed as an invitation to a "radical openness:" one which entails a willingness to grow and operate beyond our comfort zones. It is also a call for processes of inquiry that embody humility, selflessness, honesty, and mutuality. The conceptual elements contained in the following reflection emerge directly out of the C-16 experience and seek to connect theory and experience. Because, as noted above, our mandate is to avoid any harm, our intention here is to shed some light on the difficulties of our online learning community," names and the details of most specific situations have been omitted. And finally, there is the hope that our work can serve one more purpose: to inspire each of us to allow our ideas about transformative learning to keep on transforming and evolving. This piece, as part of the C-16 G-Doc, is offered in the spirit of wisdom and compassion.

What makes this task particularly challenging, however, is the reality that, as a dimension of awareness, whatever lies "in the shadows" can be compared to the dark side of the moon: forever facing away from us and impervious to our "straight-ahead" vision. One of the most problematic aspects involved in grasping this how this process works is the fact that the shadow areas of our consciousness are literally created by the felt-need to avoid "what is so." This is usually accomplished by way of three cognitive mechanisms - all of which are quite commonplace, but which function to distort the processes of perception and thought. Denial means - "we don't notice the fact that we don't notice." Splitting arises when there are insights we have difficulty accepting - often because they are threatening to our self-image. When this is occurs, we may unconsciously cordon off areas of our awareness, making them "taboo." But as Shakespeare wrote: "The truth will out." As soon as we have accomplished this feat, the very qualities we have been unable to accept within ourselves, appear - as if by magic - in the outside world. What we see is that it is "others" who possess these traits.

The capacity to be aware of our experience - moment to moment - becomes even more challenging in the mix of shadow and light that comprises group-life. As Goleman observes:

"Points of view or versions of reality that don't fit into the consensual view can be dismissed as eccentricity or aberration. In the politics of experience, the ease with which [we] can dismiss deviant views - in fact, bury them - suggests that the mechanisms of defense for doing so is the aggregate weight of [our] shared lacunas. We do not see what we prefer not to, and do not see that we do not see." (1985 p. 234)

When this mechanism of disaffiliating threatening material is expressed at the group level, it can become a particularly serious concern. Although an entire group of people may sense at some level, that something is amiss, they are empowered to partition these feelings into a separate "compartment" and are enabled to carry on in their chosen direction unencumbered by sorrow or guilt. In the extreme we encounter the phenomenon of scapegoating, where a group, in the grip of the collective shadow can be mesmerized, through a kind of "participation mystique," into projecting their shadow onto others, while justifying the most extreme atrocities.

However, this process of "ignoring" (or "ignore-ance,") has particular import today. As Morin has argued, the persistence of a global nuclear threat, environmental degradation the world over, overpopulation (which he refers to as the global demographic disorder), and the widening gap between and the rich and the poor around the world need to be regarded in light of the inter-retroactions between these and other problems, crises, & threats. When taken together this state of affairs can be accurately labeled "a polycrisis." Morin strongly suggests that given the levels of complexity we face:

"there is a need for a way of thinking that brings together again that which has been put asunder and compartmentalized, that respects diversity whilst recognizing individuality, and that tries to discern interdependences. In other words, we need a multidimensional way of thinking…"(Morin, 1995)

CIIS is aware of this need. The school's existence itself can be thought of as a response to the breakdown of the sense of community across the globe, and the awareness that today, our world is facing unprecedented challenges that are simultaneously ecological, economic, social, political, and organizational. As CIIS clearly understands, an intensity degree of cooperation and collaboration will be required if we are to be successful in making our world sustainable over the long term.

Clearly, the TLC concentration is based on the understanding that, in this time of "systemic breakdown" transformative changes are taking place at the deepest levels of our social structure. From this point of view the contemporary world is experiencing a convergence of complexity with crisis; humanity, in turn is being invited to turn a corner: to consciously move beyond a time dominated by old territorial imperatives, and toward an age of response-ability, characterized by an awareness that we live together on a mutually shared planet. The Cohort design is, obviously, an ideal environment in which students can be both participants and observers of all of these trends. Beyond this, the Cohort experience can provide outstanding opportunities for scholar-practitioners to learn how to catalyze, rather than simply observe transformation.

The interdisciplinary nature of this Doctoral program, which focuses on the principles of self-organizing systems and transformative learning, points to the critical importance of the contexts and taken-for-granted paradigms underlying our view of the world. As such it provides an invaluable knowledge base for an approach to problem solving and creativity, which is systemic in nature. Thus, Morin again (2001) observes:

"I hold it to be impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole just as it is impossible to know the whole without knowing the parts.. That is the crux of the matter, the direction of learning in which education ought to be heading…In other words…[we need] an organizing approach that takes account of the two-way relationship between the whole and its constituent parts, an approach that, instead of studying an object in isolation, examines it in and through its self-organizing relationship with its cultural, social, economic, political and natural environment."

Morin goes on to argue that only a complex kind of thinking can deal adequately with the "inseparability of problems…in which each depends on the other." (1999, p. 132) Montuori and Purser (1989) have further addressed the problem of "disjunctive thought," and the elaborated some of the dangers of a one-sided view. They go on to say that our tendency to relate to things in "either/or" terms,

"… as ontologically opposed and mutually exclusive categories, has created the fundamental problem whereby one of the terms is viewed as superior and desirable and the other is viewed as inferior. The result of this extreme polarization is that the 'lower' term manifests itself in peculiar ways as the 'shadow' of the higher term."

Finally, as Montuori and Conti (1993) suggest the conviction that we can once and for all, escape from and thereby eliminate fear and pain is really no more than a fantasy, a preoccupation with the idea that dominate our world. It would certainly appear that feeding these kinds of fantasies is a form of pride or hubris. And this, in turn, involves beliefs regarding one's emotional independence and their ability to be a "master of their own destiny." It is perhaps, a challenge to the notion "I Cannot," instead insisting that, we are powerful indeed. But in unconsciously seeking to achieve a form of absolute control over one's environment and absolute independence from human limitation and need, we only succeed in becoming absolutely out of control and absolutely dependent on the fluctuating fortunes of our world. In other words, this mind-set does not (and cannot) work.

Interestingly enough, the Buddha saw this tendency to be at the root of the majority of human suffering - resulting in what Allan Watts has called "a marvelous futility." In Buddhism this is referred to as "the ocean of samsara" - the vicious circle of trying to solve an impossible problem: wresting life from death, pleasure from pain, what we like from what we don't like, subject from object, self from not-self. In practice it makes no more sense than to seek to find a one-sided coin.

And, as we will see, this same "illusion of duality and separation" can present serious problems for Cohort members and leaders alike.



"We have met the enemy and he is us."


1. The Shadow:

The term "shadow" was first used by Carl G. Jung to describe the repressed or denied parts of the Self:

"The shadow is the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious....[The shadow] also displays a number of good qualities such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc." (Zweig and Abrams, p.3)

Imagine that we are each born into a "360-degree personality." As infants we expressed the full breadth of our human nature, without editing or censoring. As we grew up, however, we learned that certain slices of our 360-degree pie were unacceptable to the people around us. Maybe we were shamed for crying or punished for being angry. Maybe we were ridiculed for wanting attention or acting proud of ourselves. And, so, we instinctively responded by repressing those slices of our pie. Bly (Zweig, pp. 6-10) offers an image of: "throwing unacceptable qualities over our shoulder into a bag, which we've been dragging around behind us ever since."

Our shadows are all those parts we have split off or denied - the facets of ourselves we are afraid to show - even to ourselves. As long as they remain in this "twilight condition" we are unable accept and own them; consequently, they have no way to offer to us the gifts they secretly possess. Generally speaking the shadow has two major functions. First, it is a storehouse for traits that we do not wish to own. Secondly, the shadow acts as a film projector, allowing us to perceive our fears and imperfections outside of ourselves by "transferring" them onto people in the external world. (Bly, 1988)

It is important to note that spread across these "shadow fields" we can find two kinds of traits: those we consider dark and destructive, and others we tend to see as positive, radiant, and good. For instance, it is all too common for children to be ridiculed for their desire to write poetry, dance, or engage in other forms of creative expression. In order to avoid being shamed it is natural for a child to bury these talents. There is yet one more category that tends to be relegated to the shadow realm: capacities that are devalued by a society's dominant paradigm or worldview. So, in the context of more materialistic cultures people will frequently submerge latent potentialities associated with ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual imperatives (Haronian, 1972).

The process of individual growth and integration requires that we re-own our individual shadow. Social/organizational development proceeds similarly. Groups, large and small, have shadows - qualities that are difficult to admit because they are incompatible with those the group has chosen. For a community to achieve a state of wholeness and optimum health, qualities that have been disowned need to be integrated into the conscious life of the group.

It is tempting to equate the obscurity and "darkness" of the shadow realms with evil itself. However, Jung was quite clear that this would be an error. Human evil, as he defined it, is actually a result of a "failure to meet the shadow." Said another way, what most characterizes people who have "stepped over the line" is not a lack of conscience, but rather an absolute refusal to tolerate what their inner awareness reveals. (Peck, 1983)

Fromm (1973) categorized this phenomenon as a manifestation of "malignant narcissism" or absorption in an entitled and grandiose self-image, which exhibits intolerance to criticism. Unwilling to "own up to" the evidence of his or her human imperfection, such a person embarks on a course of "radical avoidance." Each time an opportunity for greater self-awareness comes up - the individual moves away from the pain of self-revelation, rather than toward it. In this way he or she avoids the "legitimate suffering" that would arise naturally, were they to stop sweeping things under the rug. A radical unwillingness to suffer emotional pain is invariably coupled with a tendency to scapegoat others. Caught up in a continual attempt to avoid and outrace their own shadow, such people generate suffering for others; however, the blaming and projection they utilize to do so may at times be quite subtle and difficult to recognize.

Yet, any of us can fall into a lesser trap. Instead of practicing a willing "dedication to reality," (whether comfortable or not), we willfully focus on "being right," and consequently relate to truth as if it were an enemy. As Shepherd points out, "the greatest danger lies in one-sided thinking." It is where we feel the most sure about our perceptions and conclusions, and most certain of ourselves, that we are the most vulnerable to doing evil (2000, p. 227).

"The power of the collective mind reinforces our most cherished ideas and opinions…It requires a tremendous effort of consciousness to question dogmas of orthodoxy and the behavior of authorities who have a strong sense of entitlement. Projecting our shadow onto others can justify the most extreme atrocities. In order to thwart the Devil…the Church tortured herbalists, midwives, and wise women suspected of witchcraft until they confessed their crimes and denounced their 'accomplices.' Over 100,000 people were put to death I Europe [under these circumstances], 83 percent of them were women." (277)

As Milburn (1996) has pointed out the roots of this phenomenon can be traced to childhood. Children who split off and deny massive aspects of their true self (especially those aspects their parents scorn, such as sexuality, self-centeredness, and aggressive impulses toward the parents) - will, when they become adults - unconsciously attribute this "bad self" to minority groups in the society. These groups will tend to be despised as inferior, evil, or dangerous. And, once a person has come to believe that a particular group, such as Blacks, women, gays, etc., are "bad" - they find it acceptable to take out their rage against them. While this process is often expressed through citizens' support for specific socio-political agendas, it has, during the last century, manifested in an extreme form through repeated episodes of genocide against Armenians, Cambodians, Jews, Bosnians, Tutsis, and others.

In sum, the shadow refers to the dark, unlived, and repressed side of the ego. Elements of the shadow that we do not accept tend to function behind our back, leaking out when we least expect it. And as, Shepard (p. 271) notes: "If we have not sufficiently integrated a part of our personal shadow, the collective shadow [is able to sneak] in through this door."


2. The Power of Group-Think

"There is…more than a quantum leap between an ordinary group and a community; they are entirely different phenomena. Time and again I have seen a community begin to make a certain decision or establish a certain norm when one of the members will suddenly say, 'Wait a minute, I don't think I can go along with this.' Mob psychology cannot occur in an environment in which individuals are free to speak their minds and buck a trend."
M. Scott Peck


But how do we manage to conceal these "truths" from ourselves? How do we accomplish the extraordinary feat whereby, as Martin Buber depicts, we play: "the uncanny game of hide-and-seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself." (Buber, p. 111)

Goleman (1985) has offered a simple, yet elegant model of the way in which this process unfolds. Attention, he asserts, involves the gathering of information crucial to existence. When the information registers as a threat, anxiety is a natural response; we may use our attention to deny the threat, thereby cushioning ourselves from fear. Goleman offers the following analogy:

"The frame around a picture is a visual directive focusing our gaze toward what it surrounds and away from everything else. It defines what is in the picture and what is out. The framer's art is to build margins that blend with a picture so we notice what is framed rather than the frame itself. So with attention…It defends what we notice, but with such subtlety that we rarely notice how we notice. Attention is the frame around experiences."(1985, p. 20)

Goleman's thesis is that we have learned to direct our lives aided by an ingenious capacity to deceive ourselves: rather than face threatening facts, we can sink into a sort of blissful oblivion. Our very human urge for security prompts us to create "dormative schemas" within our awareness, and in the process we twist and bend the outlines of our attention. Yet, we also have the capacity to gain glimpses of "the edges that frame our experience." In doing so we will find ourselves empowered to have more of a say over these "margins," as well as the limits to thought, feeling, and action these schema impose (Goleman, pp. 21-25).

Goleman goes on to argue that the "collective mind" is as vulnerable to self-deception as the individual mind, adding that:

"The particular zones of shadow for a given collective are the product of a simple calculus of the schemas shared by its members: the areas of experience blanked out in the most individual minds will be the darkest zones for the group as a whole…Cultures and nations offer the best example of this principle writ large." (1985, p. 226)

Goleman's description of this "interpersonal-level of defenses" draws on work by Irving Janis, who came to formulate the notion of "groupthink" from research on groups ranging from infantry platoons to executives in leadership training. In all the groups he studied, Janis found, to one degree or another, a trade-off between preserving a sense of "cozy solidarity," and the willingness to face facts and voice views that challenged key "shared schemas" of the group self.

Examples of this group dynamic abound: from Arthur Schlesinger's report of President Kennedy's "Bay of Pigs" fiasco to NASA's final account of the events leading up to the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. When this kind of dynamic is operating, group members are reluctant to do anything that would break the sense of euphoric cohesiveness, and it is quite natural to assume that there is consensus. This illusion is maintained because members,

"often become inclined, without quite realizing it, to prevent latent disagreements from surfacing…the group leader and members support one another, playing up areas of convergence in their thinking, at the expense of fully exploring divergences that might disrupt the atmosphere of congeniality."(Goleman, pp. 186-187)

In such a scenario - "to object"- is to stand apart from the group. Rather than become a pariah of sorts, potential dissenters remain silent. Self-censorship then becomes one pole of a mutually reinforcing feedback loop in relation to the prevailing group norm. The predictable consequence is a situation in which important feedback never enters the collective awareness. In this sort of climate a sense of stability may in fact be achieved; yet, at the same time, questionable shared assumptions thrive unchallenged. "The first victim of groupthink," concludes, Goleman, "is critical thought." He continues:

"whether in a therapy group or a meeting of presidential advisors, the dynamics of groupthink are the same. Typically, talk is limited to a few courses of action, while the full range of alternatives is ignored. No attention is paid to the values implicit in this range of alternatives…The group simply cramps its attention and hobbles its information-seeking to preserve a cozy unanimity. Loyalty to the group requires that members not raise embarrassing questions, attack weak arguments, or counter softheaded thinking with hard facts. Only comfortable shared schemas are allowed full expression." (Goleman, p. 183)

Here we notice parallels with a few of the core principles of transformative learning, principles that are at the heart of the Cohort experience. Mezirow (2000, p. 7) cites the work of Langer, in describing two distinct types of learning. "Mindful learning," as defined by Langer, is the conscious creation of new categories, openness to new information, and an implicit ability to be aware of more than one perspective. "Mindless learning" involves a reliance on previously ingrained actions, distinctions, and categories as a basis for meeting the challenges of life.

Clearly, the emergence of a milieu involving "group-think" would be highly detrimental in an academic context, damaging our ability to remain aware and accountable regarding our "paradigms of inquiry." As Fay explains:

"All knowledge claims are necessarily embedded within specific ways of engaging the world….Fallibilism…reconceives objectivity not as an escape from cognitive commitments, but instead in part as the critical recognition of them. [However], critical recognition…demands [also] that investigators be accountable in the sense of recognizing their…political commitments…the ways their investigations are socially positioned….Self-aware social analyses consequently must include…[not only] that this positionality be acknowledged, but that the voices of excluded others somehow find their way into scientific reports and analyses." (1996, pp. 216-218)

The choice to remain "mindful" necessarily involves vigilance at both the group and individual levels. A such it requires a willingness to notice when defenses against anxiety are beginning to insinuate themselves into awareness and inquiry. Fay is quite clear regarding what is actually involved in putting concepts, such as "objective inquiry" and "fallibilism" into practice. In discussing the essence of critical intersubjectivity he states,

"Objective inquiry is one in which inquirers…bracket their own perspectives in order to enter sympathetically into the perspectives of rivals and critically examine the perspective which comes most easily to them. …Consequently, objective inquiries must insure collisions between rival perspectives."(1996, pp. 212-213)

Be this as it may, we tend to have difficulty living up to these ideals in group-life for at least one simple reason: at some level we recognize that, without our implicit agreement to "follow the rules" regarding what we may notice and what we may say - the veneer of consensus in our everyday interactions can easily peel away. Sooner or later, moments of serious contention will arise. And, when group coziness breaks down, things can become very tense indeed. At one level or another we recognize this reality.

Interestingly enough, Janis found that it is not uncommon for groups to defend against this possibility by implicitly appointing one or more participants as a "mindguard." Such a person's unspoken responsibility is to be on alert: in essence, standing vigilant to protect the group from an "attack by information"- information it does not want to know.

Critical thinking and dissent, Goleman asserts, can be antidotes to shared illusions, ensuring that group schemas will be more in keeping with reality - or at worst honest mistakes rather than the product of groupthink. "The healthy alternative, of course, is a group that balances a sense of unity with an openness to all relevant information - even at the risk of a fracas from time to time." (1985, p. 189) Finally, it is useful to remember that "acceptable dissent," is not really dissent at all, for views that are considered "acceptable," will naturally be guided by the group's lacunae and shared schemas. Furthermore, we can expect that actually being the spokesperson for "unacceptable dissent" would be a difficult role indeed.

As already presented - when groupthink is operating each individual in the group feels him- or herself to be under an injunction to avoid making penetrating criticisms that might bring on a clash with fellow members and destroy the unity of the group. Therefore, a willingness to "rock the boat" is an essential quality of all those who would seek to counterbalance the inertial pull of collective denial. However, we need to be aware of another reciprocal reality: while such a an individual (or subgroup) may be serving the larger group by bringing into the open those perceptions or facts that have been hidden, these dissenting members can be seen as a "deserters" from the group's unspoken norms.

It follows then, that for any collective to move beyond its blind spots and survive the rigors of "truth-telling and hearing," members will need to access resources which can nourish and sustain the group when its natural resistances and inertia come to the fore. Group participants' readiness to consciously cultivate qualities such as fortitude, patience, humility, endurance, persistence, and tolerance will be of immeasurable value.

3. Transference and Emotions

"Americans are trained from infancy for mutationhood. They are taught to ignore their connectedness with others and imagine that whatever successes or failures they experience in life are a function of their own dissociated agency."
Philip Slater

There is an old saw, which says, "A camel is a horse designed by committee." While groups can often be quite productive, it is also the case that a group's process can interfere with the accomplishment of essential tasks. Why is it that so often groups seem to get "stuck?" Smith and Berg address this question:

"…Several observations strike us: [one of these is that] a great deal of energy seems to be invested in getting groups 'unstuck,' even though it is not always obvious what produced the paralysis in the first place. [Also]… parties in conflict [may] ask for assistance in 'resolving' the situation. ….Yet, our experience is that attempts to resolve conflicts produce only temporary relief. The conflict seems either to reappear at another time or to shift to another important dimension - typically, to the context in which the group is located or the individual members who make up the group." (1997, pp. 8-9 )

Up to this point we have seen some of the ways in which groups can exhibit a "resistance" to information. We have also considered the possibility of a group's disinclination to developing a capacity for self-reflection - particularly when the implications appear to be threatening. However, other outcomes can follow. The group which moves away from, rather than toward, important insights can unwittingly slip into an authoritarian way of being. When we can tacitly encourage one another's avoidance by virtue of an unwritten social code (which says we will see only what we are supposed to see), this very process often begins to take on a special urgency. A secondary agenda arises as the group seeks to divert its attention from these very actions. In this light, the following appraisal is worthy of our care and attention:

"Questions that can't - or won't be asked are a sure sign of a lacuna. [And] the creation of blind spots is a key [tool] of repressive regimes, allowing them to obliterate information, which threatens their official line. In doing so, they define one frame for events as valid, any other as subversive & still other events [as] beyond the permissible bounds for attention… Lacunas can bury "dangerous" ideas…A totalitarian state, like the totalitarian self, finds its official version of reality too fragile to withstand an unbridled flow of ideas." (Goleman, pp. 228-232)

Be this as it may, it is critical to understand, that "resistance" applies to the realm of emotions, as well as to the comprehension of information. Smith and Berg argue that emotions such as "anxiety" (or fear) are pivotal, and require a group's mindful attention. This suggests that, for a group to develop its potential, group members need to find ways of accepting and incorporating - through openly sharing - at least a modicum of the anxiety they are experiencing. Here the authors are referring to a sense of realness, honesty, and openness - with oneself as well as others.

What might be at the root of this sense of anxiety? Smith and Berg suggest that, whatever a group's agreed-upon objectives, the experience of being part of a group, in and of itself, has a way of evoking primal emotional states. They add that, in a great many cases, these are ignored at the group's own peril. The critical need - for the group as a whole, as well as for individual members, is recognizing and allowing space for these primordial feeling states. Counterintuitive as it may seem, the authors suggest that if a group truly wishes to move forward, one of the most important directions for it to go (at least initially) is "backwards." That is, members need to be able to accept and "own" that they are relating in ways that have a "childish" or regressive quality.

"Paradoxically, individuals eager to be very present in a new [group] situation need to be able to engage in this regression in order to learn what of their experience is merely an importation from previous history and what is meaningfully rooted in the here and now. Those [members who are] most invested in resisting the regression process [will also be the ones] least able to separate out the past from the present and deal with the present on its own terms." (1997, p. 126)

Smith and Berg are not suggesting, however, a wholesale de-evolution into a sort of kindergarten chaos. On the contrary - participants' willingness to "slide backwards" will eventually turn out to be a source of empowerment, enabling them to return to the here and now with new strength and clarity. They will be able to assume more, rather than less, personal responsibility for what is happening in the group.

The roots of much of Smith and Berg's work can be found in the theories of British psychiatrist, Wilfred Bion of the Centre for Applied Social Research in London's Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (usually known as the Tavistock School). Bion is credited as the founder of the "group-as-a-whole" approach to understanding collective behavior. This model (also known as "Group Relations") regards task-oriented groups as exhibiting a two-tiered communication system: one overt which deals with the ostensible work of the group, and the other covert, which expresses the group's unspoken hopes, wishes, and fears. (Banet and Hayden, 1977)

The Tavistock approach to groups resembles various aspects of group-dynamic therapy models, and draws upon theory derived primarily from psychoanalysis and Lewinian field dynamics (Rioch, 1970). However, the model is not intended as a form of psychotherapy: the groups that Bion studied were composed of more or less healthy people who were not significantly disturbed on any index of mental health criteria. These task-oriented groups functioned more or less effectively. Despite this fact, Bion noticed that a group process often manifested in such a way that members' behavior appeared akin to "temporary psychosis, or said another way, "a reduction of effective contact with reality." Unless given systematic attention, such dynamics on both individual and collective levels will simply tend to remain outside of our conscious awareness.

Based on his clinical work Bion suggested that groups have difficulty attending to their overt purpose due to powerful, unconscious sources of conflict. His research primarily focused on groups which were task-oriented, and which sought to pursue their goals in a rational and considered fashion. Bion noticed that powerful emotional drives frequently seemed to interfere with the functioning of these "work groups." Over time he concluded that these basically chaotic, disintegrative forces arose out small-groups' tendencies to adopt one of three primitive emotional states - dependency, pairing, or fight-flight. He called these states "basic assumptions." For example, he identified the "fight-flight group assumption" after observing that it is not uncommon for a group to behave as if it were "threatened," and in need of protection. Such a group will orient itself to either fighting with or running away from, this undefined threat.

It is not surprising, then, to find that a potent force driving the dynamics of group interaction is a phenomenon known as "transference." Group members frequently "transfer" emotions originating in childhood onto one another, as present-time intra-group relationships commonly become the stage on which former dynamics are re-enacted. There is a tendency to replay previous unfinished emotional episodes - both positive and negative - as if members of the group were extensions of one's family of origin. This phenomenon largely takes place without the direct awareness of the individuals involved, and often has little to do with the actual situation at hand. Accordingly, Smith and Berg specifically advise that a thorough understanding of groups requires an examination of both conscious and unconscious processes. (Smith and Berg, p. 17)

As widespread as anxiety is in group-life, it is far from the only emotion participants' experience. In fact anxiety itself can often signal a general resistance (or "reactivity") to other emotions that are arising. These can include affection and envy, longing and antipathy, admiration and jealousy, joy and aggression - to name but a few. What Smith and Berg suggest is that what often gives rise to group-level anxiety is the very attempt to gain control over these often opposite and conflicting emotions.

Returning to the reciprocal metaphors of group "stuckness" and "movement, we find this description by Smith and Berg (pp. 215-217) of the "feel" of these two divergent experiences:

"In the case of the person or group that runs in place or walks in circles there is motion but no movement. Movement refers to leaving old patterns at least for a time and exploring new psychological or emotional ground in the life of the group. The first of these is the reclaiming of emotions and reactions that have been split off and projected onto other individuals, subgroups, or groups. The second involves immersion in and exploration of the polarities that are part of the group experience."


4. Developmental Levels

"What would give light must first endure burning."
Viktor Frankl

If it is actually true that group-life is fraught with emotions - often very strong, and operating outside conscious awareness - is it possible to utilize this energy - for purposes of individual growth, interpersonal harmony, and task accomplishment? How can we work with, and channel, the powerful range of energies we experience - which range from love and affection, to contempt and distaste? Schedlinger (Schramm, 1994) argues that aggressive behavior within the group can stem from either individual issues (e.g. jealousy, fear of attack, or loss of identity), or in response to group psychological factors including poor inter-group personality matches, insufficient leadership, or unclear group goals). However, these impulses do not necessarily have to result in a loss of group cohesion, or ultimately in fragmentation and dissolution. On the contrary, if members possess both the tools and willingness to work creatively with these feelings, the emotions themselves can actually serve to promote solidarity.

It would appear that disseminating information regarding group development and common patterns of group behavior - is itself a powerful tool - one which can empower a group over time to become more self-aware and self-directing. Once again, it is Bion who is credited with first identifying these developmental principles; these were explored in depth in two of our assigned readings: Bud McClure's Putting a New Spin on Groups, (1998) and as previously quoted, Smith and Berg's Paradoxes of Group Life (1997).

McClure's specific focus is on how groups change, evolve, and mature. He characterizes group development as evolving within a context of periods of relative calm punctuated by intervals of chaotic activity, adding that the cycle of "order-chaos-order" is essential for growth and reorganization: without undergoing periods of upheaval groups cannot evolve. Drawing on chaos theory McClure argues that human groups can be seen as systems that fluctuate between states of being either "at, near, or far from equilibrium." As a system moves farther from equilibrium, its state of increasing instability itself evokes opportunities for movement to states of higher organization and complexity.

McClure (1998, pp. 18-58) who builds on both group relations and chaos theory, proposes a model of group development that divides the life span of a group into seven stages: pre-forming, unity, disunity, conflict/confrontation, disharmony, harmony, and performing. Within this model each succeeding stage represents a higher level of organization, subsuming the previous one and adding to it. Basic mastery of each stage is necessary for the group to continue growing and actualizing its potential.

In stages one and two - termed the pre-forming and unity stages, respectively, group members ordinarily experience considerable anxiety, and this tends to be suppressed and masked. Safety needs are a central concern. Members will struggle with a sense of ambiguity, and will tend to conform for the sake of unity. Peck (1987), a founder of the Center for Community Encouragement, offers a similar description of these group stages, but in all denotes four phases of development - pseudo-community, chaos, emptiness, and community. Comparing Peck's and McClure's formulation it is evident that there is a good deal of correspondence between them. In the following narrative Peck colorfully describes his own experience of the earliest group stage:

"....The first response of a group in seeking to form a community is most often to try to fake it. The members attempt to be an instant community by being extremely pleasant with one another and avoiding all disagreement. This attempt - this pretense of community - is what I term 'pseudo-community.' It never works.

"I was quite nonplussed when I first encountered pseudo-community…[among] highly sophisticated achievement oriented [people who] were all accustomed to being 'unspontaneously vulnerable.' Within minutes they were sharing deep, intimate details of their lives. And during the first break they were already hugging. Poof - instant community! But something was missing. At first I was delighted, and I thought, 'Boy this is a piece of cake'….But by the middle of the day I began to grow uneasy, and it was impossible to put my finger on the problem. I didn't have the wonderful, joyful, excited feeling I had always had in community. I was in fact, slightly bored. Yet, to all intents and purposes the group seemed to be behaving just like a real community…

"I did not sleep well that night. Near dawn…I decided I owed it to the group to disclose my sense of unease…Within five minutes of the end of the silence, these seemingly mellow, affectionate people were almost at one another's throats. Dozens of interpersonal resentments from the previous day surfaced practically simultaneously. Fast and furiously the members began clobbering each other with their different ideologies and theologies. It was glorious chaos!

"And finally we were able to begin the work of building real community…But until that point of chaos, the group, with all its sophistication, [was unable to move on]."(1987, p. 86-90)

Peck mentions that the basic dynamic of this early stage is conflict-avoidance. While genuine communities often do experience gentle and lengthy periods free from discord, this is because they have become competent in working with dissonance, when it has arisen in the past. Peck asserts that what is diagnostic of pseudo-community, is "the minimization, the lack of acknowledgement, or the ignoring of individual differences." When a group is able not only to "tolerate" individual differences, but actually encourages them to surface, it almost immediately moves on to the next phase of community development, which Peck labels "chaos."

McClure terms this next stage, "conflict/confrontation," adding that it is the least understood area of group-work. To underscore the significance of this period in terms of overall group maturation, three of seven stages in McClure's model address the issue of group conflict.


5. The Significance of Conflict

"If one does have an appreciation of the phenomenology of opposites, in which we become what we hate, then a politics of compassion, as contrasted with a politics of violent conflict, begins to become a cultural possibility."
William Irwin Thompson


The notion that human groups develop and mature in stages is reflected in the rest of nature. Flowers open over time, tree growth is cyclic, and individual human beings move through discernable phases of physical, emotional, and cognitive maturation. It is now held that groups, too, move through various stages of development, with each stage serving as a platform on which the next one is erected. In each stage of development, the group's task is to master stage-appropriate issues. For instance, groups in the pre-forming and unity stages, grapple with the issue of safety. According to McClure, a group that patiently works its way through the conflict stage is then able to move on to the Harmony and Performing stages. Hence, it is critical that the early foundations are soundly established. (McClure, pp. 168-9)

In McClure's model stage three - disunity - depicts the emergence of frustration and the indirect expression of irritation among group members. Stage four - the conflict/confrontation stage - refers to a period in which members directly challenge the leader. Disharmony, or stage five, represents inter-member conflict as the group comes to terms with its diversity.

McClure asserts that the conflict stages are a critical period in a group's development, for,

"the direct expression of conflict and its resulting resolution provides a bridge between the superficial conversations of the first stage…and the direct expression of feelings in the harmony and performing stages." (McClure, p. 44)

McClure offers the following assessment: once the group has developed a minimum level of cohesiveness, it is the group leader's role to facilitate the open and safe expression of emotions such as irritation, anger, and upset. McClure is quite clear on this point; he contends that a group's development will cease without the expression and resolution of conflict. However, it is common for both group leaders and members to avoid these tasks due to their own discomfort with them. While it searches for solutions to an impasse, the group will remain unstable, and at this juncture containment of the immense anxiety experienced by the group members is paramount. Here the group arrives at a "pivot point," where powerful desires for the familiar - for things to stay the same - vie for ascendancy with opposing motivations for continuing growth and evolution. According to McClure most groups who reach this critical point fail to contain themselves long enough for a successful resolution to emerge (McClure, 134).

However, there is an alternative, which can be seen as an "alchemical approach" to conflict. It does involve enduring the "pulls" seemingly opposing polarities until a creative solution is found - until something unexpected emerges that resolves the conflict on another level. This willingness to "abide in duality" does not mean ignoring the problem and hoping a solution will easily appear; rather, it involves completely developing all aspects of the conflict.

A number of useful perspectives on the universal issue of conflict can be found in a book called The Magic of Conflict (1988) by Thomas Crum, a highly accomplished teacher of aikido. Crum notes that conflict is actually neither positive nor negative - it is natural: it simply "is." Conflict can be thought of as an interference pattern of energies. The reality is that nature uses conflict as its primary method of creating change and development - forming beautiful mountains, beaches, canyons, etc. Crum asks us to notice that conflict appears at various times in every facet and dimension of life. Given the omnipresence of this phenomenon, one would think that we would make understanding and handling conflict a major priority in our lives. But, much more commonly, we seek ways of avoiding and denying it. Why?

Crum maintains that there are two myths, which have had a major impact on how we view conflict. The first myth is that "conflict is negative;" The second, that "conflict = contest." Yet, the truth is, that conflict simply is a part of life itself, and that it need not be regarded as a "contest." It is we humans who make a mental choice (consciously or not) to see it as a contest, a game in which there are winners and losers. We have been conditioned to believe that "winning" itself is very important. Even those of us who are not very competitive tend to consider "losing" to be a negative thing, something to be avoided. Caught up in this mythology we create stress at all levels of our lives - personal, social, political, etc. And, generally we create this sense of difficulty out of our imagined need to be "right," rather than "wrong." (Crum, 1988)

Nonetheless, in organizational life the most familiar scenario is avoidance of conflict. This perspective is presented with great clarity by Argyris (1993) in a critique entitled, "Skilled Incompetency." According to Argyris, we learn the skill of being incompetent; and this learning pervades our organizations. In practice the unspoken corporate ideal reads something like this:

" Agree with your superiors.
" Provide information, but don't create conflict.
" Don't change the course of action.

The paper's premise is that - challenging, as it is to learn to articulate one's viewpoints in such a way that they do not surprise, embarrass, or threaten others - most of us, eventually, do master this skill. In this regard Arygris poses a question: "Is the act of always getting along with others always an asset to an organization?" His answer is "no," and this is because avoiding conflict can actually be destructive to any organization or group which is task-oriented. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it is our skill in getting along with others that itself is the problem. In this scenario a person who is a skilled communicator will set out to produce a certain outcome, and succeed in doing so. For example, let's say that his intention is to clarify his views in a way that avoids generating conflict and upsetting others. In a company where cordiality tends to dominate, arguments will naturally be suppressed. Such a meeting often results in a list of things to do, but no conclusion. Later, everyone-all the people who were so skilled at avoiding potential interpersonal friction -wonder why nothing has gotten done. (Argyris, 1993)

Argyris (1993)also emphasizes that "skilled incompetence" is a hothouse for breeding mixed messages, which in fact are convenient for several levels of an organization. For instance, managers can say, "Be innovative and take risks, but be careful," and in practice this translates to: "Go, but only so far" without specifying "how far." This ambiguity covers the executive who wants to promote innovation, but not to be held accountable if "far," becomes "too far." The receivers of this message, in turn, can be grateful for ambiguous messages, which assist anyone responsible for the requested innovations to camouflage their own shortcomings. In these kinds of very commonplace situations department heads will understand the implicit subtext of these mixed messages and will avoid making discomforting requests for clarification.

As Argyris (1993) points out - it is not possible for us to relinquish our "skilled incompetence" without overcoming suspicions, and we cannot do this without discussing them. But this very openness often violates an unstated rule in most organizations: "Uncomfortable situations shall not be discussed; business will continue in its cordial but ineffective manner." Arygris also suggests that such paradoxical scenarios are widespread common in our organizations; participating in such loops with composure and a minimum of distress involves learning and skill, and also can lead to mishaps and misfortune.

The reality is that conflicts are in fact often difficult challenging to sort out and resolve. So, it is not surprising that most of us are ambivalent at best, when it comes down to the willingness to work through them. Leaders in particular often grasp that such a process will be demanding and arduous. Consequently, they too, may avoid the issue altogether.

Many, if not most conflicts in organizations appear purely personal in nature. Generally, they seem to arise out of "personality clashes," on the one hand, or obvious conflicts of interest, such as "interdepartmental wrangling," on the other. Yet, should these accumulate - conflicts which seemed unique to the situation which spawned them - can often be seen as widespread by-products of a dysfunctional organizational system. (249) There are many instances where - if we are to truly appreciate organizational conflict - we will need to look beyond persons, words, and behaviors, and perceive the deeper issues of which they are a manifestation. (249?)

The central question then becomes whether a team is ready, willing, and able to direct its attention toward the heart of the organizational system itself. If so, the challenge becomes one of seeking solutions that reach deep enough into underlying attitudes and relationships, so as to avoid the automatic generation of future symptomatic problems. Situational conflict has the potential to reveal new processes, ideaes, or relationships waiting to be born. Discord has the capacity to point directly to what is not working in a group or organization - if we are able to look carefully. (199)

At times conflicts that arise indicate that some form of fundamental change is called for at a systemic level; and for precisely this reason, hierarchical, autocratic systems consistently resist change, albeit at the expense of organizational learning. Such systems may instinctively seek to defend themselves by actively suppressing conflict, or they may use other means such as denial, rationalization, or diversion. A frequent method is the invention of stories that personalize systemic discord. And, individuals who are invested in maintaining the status quo can easily convince themselves to endorse stories that blame individuals for systemic failures, when deeper causal factors are at work. Adversarial stories then serve to disguise and distract attention from fixing the holes exposed by the conflict - factors which may be structural, procedural, or relational in nature. Simply speaking, it is easier, and more convenient to focus attention on individuals, pairs, and subgroups.

Naturally, a leader's attitudes about conflict resolution will have a potent impact on the direction taken by a given team. Janis, for example, found that often, once the leader had expressed his views, members fell into line, deferring to him or her. It was not necessarily the case that leaders stifled dissent; in fact many appeared quite democratic in how they ran things; the salient issue was more a matter of the leader subtly reinforcing compliance with their own opinions. In summary, writes, Goleman, "The groupthink that resulted was a matter of degree: somewhat less initiative by members, a notable lack of opposition to the leader's views, a compliant falling in line behind him."(1985, p.192)

No doubt we are all highly conditioned around ideas of autarchy. For example, we can notice that, particularly in primary and secondary school systems, the value of "obedience" tends to be taken for granted. The importance of compliance remains unquestioned, and entrenched. Such training is good preparation for living in an authoritarian society, but not in a democratic one: for a democracy depends on informed & educated minds, on actively engaged people, rather than passively receptive ones. Teams that aspire to be self-managing are wise to keep these realities in mind.

While autocratic approaches tend to settle conflicts unilaterally - through decisions backed up by threats of coercion or manipulation, teams that are truly self-governing learn to own their conflicts and become responsible for resolving them, so that the entire paradigm for conflict shifts from one of avoidance or confrontation to one of learning. (251) In such a climate divergent perspectives, needs, and expectations can be negotiated, rather than reduced to commands on the one hand, or avoided altogether on the other. (245)

However, the truth is that we often feel more comfortable among people similar to us. Our challenge is to deeply appreciate the fact that profound growth can emerge out of lively debates in which participants come from clashing worldviews. Obviously, in order for such an exchange to be life-giving, it must be conducted in an atmosphere of respect - listening and receiving what the other has to say, rather than simply promoting and defending ones' own position. Even then, allowing the foundations of our belief systems to be called into question can feel very unsettling, as the ground seems to shiver and shake beneath us. Yet, it is undeniable that each of us has the potential to find within ourselves the fortitude to engage in this kind of radical openness.

One might even say that, because we linked to one another in an inter-subjective reality, we depend upon the other to live as freely and truly as possible. It is as your distinctness, candidness, and sincerity has the capacity to elicit my own capacity to embody these qualities. And, because, being human, each of us is finite, our comprehension of truth must be limited as well.

In this light we can contemplate a form of intersubjective meeting which Maurice Friedman (1983, pp. 121-122) has called a "dialogue of touchstones." Such a dialogue is characterized by "an acknowledgment…in which each person's point of view is confirmed through coming into dialogue with the opposing views of others. The goal…is not the community of affinity, or likemindedness, but the 'community of otherness.'" This way of being with other human beings involves the welcoming of difference or conflict. Rather than fearing or trying to evade this form of meeting others, this orientation calls forth a profound appreciation and honoring of the realm of dialogic meeting. As Friedman goes on to say: "The 'confirmation of otherness' that the 'dialogue of touchstones' assumes & brings into existence means that no voice is without value…[that] every voice needs to be heard precisely because it represents a unique relationship to reality."

Surely, in the depths of our hearts we feel that human life is worth the risk of being with others on the cutting edge of change. For it is only through such meetings, that we as individuals - and the institutions that surround us - will be enabled to transform and evolve. (Shepherd, p. 280)

6. Behavior Patterns

"I've always thought that some of the things people suffer most from are the things they tell themselves that are not true."
Elvin Semrad


It is vital to distinguish between the affects, behavior, and cognitions, which express the life of the group-as-a-whole, and those, which express the reactions and responses of individual members, per say. This distinction can become more evident whenever a group member becomes aware that they are having intense feelings that are different from those they have experienced either in isolation or in other group contexts. If a group member notices this is occurring it can be worthwhile for them to explore the possibility that they may be experiencing emotion "on behalf of" other group members, without being consciously aware of doing so. (Smith and Berg, p. 63)

Unless systematically attended to, such dynamics tend to function outside of our awareness, at both individual and collective levels. For this reason that Smith and Berg utilize a group-as-a-whole level of analysis, and argue that a comprehensive understanding of group process necessarily involves an examination of both conscious and unconscious dynamics. (1997, p. 17)

The authors offer a useful example of such an event:

"Consider…an individual who seems always out of step with the other group members and who draws a great deal of hostility for his or her apparent deviance. At the individual and interpersonal levels, the pain and anger inside the "deviant" member as well as the distain, hostility, and smugness inside the other individuals, point to the tension and polarization in the interpersonal relationships in the group. By changing the frame to the group-as-a-whole level of analysis, these same observations may suggest [the group's] sense of relief - based on the shared belief that the painful…feelings in the group are located in only one person and will disappear once the person leaves. The group-as-a-whole phenomenon of scapegoating points out that what may be experienced as painful and tension-filled at the personal… level…may [in fact] be deeply comforting for the entire group." (p. 64)

Smith and Berg provide us with an important reminder: that all groups, if they are to fulfill their purpose, require the presence of diverse participants. These differences - in talents, interests, perspectives, preferences, convictions, etc. - need to be brought into the group and then integrated in a way that simultaneously allows for a sense of unity. The authors state that this group-level requirement to unify differences: "makes it almost inevitable that conflict will occur." They add, "[It is] the very fact that individuals contribute differences [which] makes it possible for the group to be effective, yet these same differences threaten the group's capacity to function." (p. 65)

The most fundamental dilemma for individuals in groups arises out of the powerful "mixed feelings," or ambivalence, generated by group membership itself. They explain:

"Each individual upon joining a group, experiences…the simultaneous wish to be both "a part" of the group, and "apart from" the group. This simultaneous desire for inclusion and fusion triggers the [reciprocal] fear of…absorption and deindividuation, while the desire to be independent triggers…fear[s] of exclusion, aloneness, and isolation…. [This] creates a sense of existential anxiety for all of us at primitive levels of awareness.

"While the nature of the fusion-abandonment tension may not be self-evident to the individual in the group setting, the anxiety that emanates from it usually is….An initial goal for the individual in the group is to keep a lid on this anxiety by pretending that it does not exist, or by replacing it with behaviors that seem acceptable to others in the group….[However], when anxiety is handled in a way that increases it…another oscillating process in the deep structure of the individual [is activated]." (p. 66)

There is a wealth of psychoanalytically oriented research that is highly relevant to understanding this phenomenon. The research suggests a powerful correspondence between an infant's experience in the first few months of life, and the adult experience of participating in a group process. Freud himself understood that individual and group psychologies are intimately intertwined. Although his work was focused almost exclusively upon individuals, he recognized clearly that at birth we immediately find ourselves interacting within a group setting - the family.Obviously, an infant is utterly dependent upon his or her immediate social environment (Scheidlinger, 1952).

For an infant the primary caregiver holds the keys not merely to pleasure and pain, or gratification and frustration, but also to life and death. And for just these reasons, it is natural for infants to have powerful love-hate feelings arising toward a mothering figure. She (or he) after all, is the source of feeding, holding, attending, and nurturing; and they are also the person who frustrates the infant's desires for these vital attentions. A substantial amount of data now indicates that it is routine for an infant to split off the "good" feelings associated with the mother who gratifies, from the "bad" feelings associated with the mother who frustrates. Because an infant must find some way of dealing with these intense and overwhelming affects in relation to his or her primary nurturing figure, an effective (although primitive) way of doing so is known as "splitting" - which may be described simply as "partitioning a set into two subsets."

A substantial body of literature has shown that all of the adults "psychological defense mechanisms"are rooted in the humble circumstances of early childhood. These (originally designed to "protect" us from emotional pain) include denial, splitting, displacement, minimization, rationalization, projection, and projective identification, among others. The extent to which these "numbing devices" rigidify and continue on into adulthood, will be a function of the overall level of nurturing received during childhood.

It is fascinating to see these very mechanisms at work in connection with adult group dynamics. Group members routinely utilize defenses such as splitting and projective identification in the attempt to escape the primordial levels of fear that group-work can generate. Actually, an array of defenses will often be employed simultaneously as the group psyche seeks to rid itself of troubling emotions or insights.

A very common tendency is for whole groups to partition themselves into sub-groups that are identified with opposing positions. This may take place around issues such as gender, race, sexual orientation, or countless other "hot-button" topics. Groups utilizing "splitting" in this way may in fact be composed of members with strong feelings and convictions regarding the topics under discussion. However, the key question at such moments is whether group members are able to apply a sort of "tri-focal vision" to unfolding events. This entails the ability to attend to processes that are unfolding at a number of levels simultaneously: individual, interpersonal, and group-as-a-whole.

No doubt this is a challenging skill to develop. However, groups that are unable to do so may find themselves faced with a number of very limited choices, none of which are especially satisfying. A given debate may drag on and on, seemingly going nowhere, as each side continues doggedly reasserting its righteous position. Or, the debate may escalate into verbally abusive, contemptuous exchanges. In extreme cases a disagreement might escalate into violence. On the other hand, members may decide that their best bet is to "forgive and forget." In this case the best a group may be able to hope for is a "truce" and a willingness to move on - with or without a resolution of the original dilemma. However, if projections have not been re-owned and reintegrated, we can certainly wonder how much "letting go," and heartfelt forgiveness has actually taken place.

In this regard it is worth mentioning that theoreticians such as Bion have commented that it appears to be quite common for individuals to become intellectually, as well as emotionally, regressed when their attention is absorbed in a group milieu - as if they are experiencing a "loss of IQ points" (Smith and Berg, p. 127). The cognitive constraints imposed by dynamics such as these may very well contribute to this phenomenon.

How might these patterns actually play out in a group setting? I begin by first making an "unconscious decision" that some feeling or quality is "not me." This "not-self" can include any number of traits: tendencies to avoid responsibility and blame others, hostility, self-indulgence, manipulation - all are prime candidates for being disowned. Suddenly, these same traits appear in the outside world; now it is "the other" who is expressing these qualities. At least this is what I perceive and imagine when am "projecting." Even more efficient is the capacity to "export" my own disavowed emotions directly into the sovereign realm of another person's mind and heart; this can be achieved through the exquisitely complex defensive maneuver known as projective identification.

At the individual level, as Bradshaw (1995, p. 75) has shown, both the origins of such coping mechanisms, as well as the ways we maintain them in later life, can be conceptualized as dropping into an auto-hypnotic trance. In a group setting participants naturally gravitate to an alignment of attention and energy. As a critical mass of group members become unconsciously entrained, they these defenses though a unification of attention. And, as they do so, for a majority of members, the group experience will now feel lighter, more enjoyable, more "integrated," even more loving. Meanwhile, on the other side of the invisible "movie screen," a subgroup or singular group member will find that they are manifesting the very characteristics, which the group secretly longs to discard. Understandably, this is quite confusing. (Smith and Berg, pp. 68-78) As Smith and Berg explain:

One of the key consequences of splitting for collective life is that certain individuals or subgroups can come to carry particular emotions or positions on behalf of others….special roles where individuals or subgroups carry the "baggage" for others. A powerful example is when one individual in a group is made into a scapegoat by becoming the repository of the bad feelings of other group members, thereby enabling [others] to feel good about themselves." (p. 70)

Scapegoating can be thought of as hostile social-psychological discrediting routine by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. It is also a practice by which specifically angry or hostile feelings may be projected onto others in the form of overt or covert blame,. The target tends to feel - either consciously or unconsciously - wrongly accused, blamed, or criticized. In addition he or she is likely to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks to influence. A key feature of this dynamic is cognitive distortion. In so far as the process is unconscious, any bad feelings - such as the perpetrator's own shame and guilt - are also likely to be denied. Generally speaking, scapegoating frees the perpetrator from the experience of unacceptable feelings and can provide a certain amount of narcissistic gratification in the form of a self-righteous discharge of aggression. (Kraupl-Taylor and Rey, 1953)

McClure (1998, pp. 119-121)has listed four situations in which groups tend to manifest scapegoating behavior. This type of behavior can occur, for example, if feelings of frustration and anger at the leader have escalated before appropriate norms for their expression and resolution have been established. In this situation a group is likely group to direct those emotions toward one or more of its members. A second scenario involves an authoritarian leader whose style is to impose his her will on the group. This situation, too, can easily elicit a scapegoating response. Here, a parallel process may be established in which one or more group members seek to impose their will on others. Similarly, unresolved conflict between co-leaders frequently results in scapegoating behavior, as the conflict is transferred into the group process itself.

Finally, incongruence between a leader's verbal and nonverbal behavior can trigger scapegoating behavior within the group. This occurs primarily as a way of creating an outlet for the expression of feelings of distress, discomfort, and apprehension. In all of these scenarios scapegoating serves to deflect attention away from the source of the discrepancy or conflict. The target - individuals or subgroups that are "made wrong" - will often experience confusion, or a feeling of being overwhelmed by the group attack; frequently, this response elicits further attack by other group members. Understandably, without intervention, this dynamic can have damaging psychological consequences.

To appreciate the universality and power of this dynamic it is useful to recognize that this phenomenon may be archetypal to our species. The high priest in ancient Semitic tribes would periodically confess the sins of the tribe over the head of one or more goats. One of the goats would be slaughtered, the other sent away out into the desert, and through this sacrifice the tribe would feel purified, cleansed and renewed (Perera, 16-17).

Quite often this sort of "shadow-play" goes unimpeded and unacknowledged. This occurs in part because its roots remain buried within a magical level of consciousness where a kind of participation mystique prevails. Another reason that a clear perception of these "ceremonies of exile and atonement" tends to remain outside of the group's awareness, is the contemporary person's difficulty focusing attention on systemic (whole system) processes, a phenomenon Peck (1994) has described as "a hole in the mind."

Meanwhile, as members continue to wear their socially appropriate masks, or personae - other forces drive the group process, distorting both perceptions and actions. Today, as in ancient times, group members turn on one another as if - were we only able to change one another or get rid of "disturbing elements" - our problems would be solved. However, seen from a systemic point of view, it is clear that once a system emerges it cannot be changed by merely by analyzing its individual members or singling them out for removal. Said another way, we cannot change a human system by changing individuals. (Wheatley, 1996, p.78)


7. Group Leadership and Facilitation

"Denial is pushing something out of your awareness. Anything you hide in the basement has a way of burrowing under the house and showing up on the front lawn."
Howard Sasportas


McClure's comments on the various dimensions group leadership are based on the assumption that human groups possess an inherent capacity for self-organization: that once a group of individuals decide to join together, the group's propensity to grow and develop is a given.

"Group leaders [can] facilitate [or interfere with] the group's natural unfolding. ...[While] control is an illusion…leadership is not without power. However, the source of power does not come from the force of the leader's intervention, but from his timing. Just as the Aikido master harnesses the energy of a stronger opponent with exact timing, so, too, does the leader contain or perturb by correctly timing his interventions."(p. 82)

Regarding the "containment function" of the group leader, McClure draws on Winicott's description of mothering as the creation of a "holding environment." This holding environment refers particularly to the kind of protective care a mother provides for an infant during its first years of life. As a child continues to grow he or she will internalize this sense of security, reliability, and safety. Having been the recipient of "good enough mothering," the child will "emerge with a strong coherent sense of self and the ability of emotional (affective) self regulation." (McClure, pp. 83-84)

Another element, indispensable for creating a "safe container" in the early phases of group formation, is "boundary management." This can be accomplished by providing predictable structure: managing time and the environment, and addressing ethical obligations. Each of these areas can be regarding as a building block in the construction of a climate of trust and safety. In a similar way the leader will initially need to be explicit in his or her efforts to ensure physical safety, restrain excesses, and protect the confidential nature of the group experience. (McClure, 1998)

McClure (p. 85) adds another vital observation regarding structure, stating that an important facet of the leader's responsibility is to provide "a clear meaning and definition of the group." No doubt, this meaning will change and evolve as the group organizes; however, initially the leader should provide a clear vision, one that will act as a touchstone during the turbulence and uncertainty that exists throughout the forming stages.

Besides creating a sense of security that is vital for future development, containment also serves to harness the group's creativity. This is similar to a situation in which a poet's creative energies are constrained by the meter or rhyme scheme of the form in which he is working. As in many creative activities such as writing, painting, or composing, where the artist's creative energy is constrained by the medium in which he works, the goal here is to nourish the energies of social creativity.

The leadership skill of "purturbation" also has a number of facets; among these are a willingness to tell the truth, and the capacity to be emotionally present. The leader, through giving and receiving honest feedback, models this behavior and encourages group members to do the same. Process comments are another form of intervention focused on "perturbing" the group system. This amplification requires the group leader to attend to both the latent and manifest levels of communication occurring in the group. Manifest behavior refers to the groups' overt level of operation, which contains communications and stories shared by group members. The latent level, on the other hand, refers to the levels of feeling, thought, and action that lay outside the awareness of group members. This level is often expressed symbolically, through metaphor. Process commentary allows for group activity to be feed back into the group. The leader, by creating such a feedback loop, enables the group to continually develop its self-awareness as well as its ability to become self sufficient in learning to make use of such iterations. (McClure, 1998, pp. 92-94)

This is especially crucial in the conflict stages, when the forces of regression and immaturity, vie for ascendancy with the energies of growth and generativity. As already mentioned one aspect of this process involves the expression of anger and frustration toward the leader. Leaders often retreat from engagement when they misinterpret such "attacks" as personal in nature. The crucial leadership task at this juncture, involves moving toward, rather than away from, the lively expression of anger and a subsequent resolution of conflict. McClure (pp. 82-123) argues that this movement must be both initiated and "modeled" by the leader. In optimal circumstances, the group will go on develop and refine these skills for themselves, as they create their own norms around these issues. The critical factor is timing. As McClure notes, "the leader must not relinquish power before the group is ready." The leaders ability to "invite, facilitate, and withstand the encounter" establishes the crucial norm of conflict resolution. And this is a prerequisite for a group to move on to further stages of self-organization.

8. Limit Cycle Groups

"…the disappearance of the conscious personality, the predominance of the unconscious personality, the turning by means of suggestion and contagion of feelings and ideas in an identical direction…"
Gustave Le Bon, writing on the behavior of crowds and mobs in 1895


McClure begins his book with these words: "Most groups never reach their full potential. In many cases, groups never progress beyond the initial states of development." (1998, p. ix)

Later in the book, he devotes an entire chapter to the exploration of regressive or "limit-cycle" groups. By "regressive" he is referring to groups that exhibit a specific kind of functioning. In such groups, members remain unconscious, minority voices are repressed, and internal conflict stays unresolved. Here, as McClure clarifies, we are speaking about the "dark, denied and unacknowledged behavior of groups and organizations:"

"Typically [such] groups are stuck at the forming level of development and exhibit…four general characteristics [including]: (a) avoidance of conflict and dissent, (b) abdication of responsibility for the group's behavior and dependence on the leader, (c) group narcissism, and (d) psychic numbing. When combined these traits inhibit the maturation of groups and result in a kind of 'group mindlessness' wherein members distort their inner and outer realities to conform with a dominant group view." (1998, pp. 165-166)

The term "limit-cycle" is used to describe these behaviors from the perspective of chaos theory. From an outsider's point of view the group can appear as if it has "shut down;" in effect such a group has become a closed system that, by definition, limits energy exchange and feedback from other systems in its environment. As the group becomes more isolated, opportunities for constructive reorganization decrease.

The descriptor "limit-cycle" refers to a back-and-forth motion, in which novel, explorative behavior is restricted, and the group finds itself "doing the same thing over and over again." There is often a sense of being stuck in patterns, and "going around in circles." It is important to note that, when self-organizing tendencies are blocked in this way, it is not that the group stops changing entirely. Rather, the forms and processes it settles into begin to resemble a slowing pendulum, which moves toward a middle point or "collective mean," as energy dissipates and difference is diminished.

In point of fact many groups are unable to sufficiently work through their differences, and therefore remain unable to evolve beyond the initial stages of development. Being "stuck" in this way can be quite frustrating. Unfortunately, a group that can find no other outlet for its vast energy (and does not see a way to extricate itself from this predicament) will commonly develop destructive tendencies. As already noted, McClure argues that healthy cohesiveness is primarily developed during the conflict stage, as members endure a period of anger, frustration, and chaos. "Successful completion [of this stage] solidifies cohesiveness, whereas ineffective or incomplete resolution results in a brittle…fragile bond." (1998, p. 168) In many cases, such groups are able to function with a moderate degree of effectiveness; but they lack flexibility and resilience. Under any amount of significant stress, the group will resort to - "a malignant cohesiveness that [serves only to enable] them to maintain the appearance of harmony." (1998, p. 168)

While mature groups have acquired the necessary skills to bring to light their own shadow material (and in the process liberate their potential for continued growth), regressive groups demonstrate recognizable patterns, which include psychic numbing and scapegoating:

"Over time, regressive groups members anesthetize themselves to contradictions in the group...When numbing is complete, members' values become synonymous with those expressed by the group. enabling [them] to participate with little or no noticeable discomfort in the group's activities. However the physical, emotional, and spiritual damage done…is often considerable. Members who are unable to conform or deaden their awareness are customarily shunned and ultimately excluded from the group." (1998, p. 169)

The onset of two more interrelated qualities - "abdication of responsibility for the group" and "dependence on the leader" is another indicator that a group remains stuck in a limit-cycle pattern. Two factors contribute to this state of inertia. First, there can be reluctance on the part of group members to take charge (thereby risking unpopularity, mistakes, etc). A second underlying issue arises from one of two factors: the group leader's lack of state-of-the-art group dynamics knowledge, on the one hand, or their difficulty relinquishing control to the group, on the other. McClure contends that in optimal circumstances, a mature group is one composed entirely of leaders. (1998, p. 170)

Finally, limit-cycle groups can be recognized through their narcissism, a malignant form of group pride. Ideally, productive, healthy groups develop a sense of "group self-worth" arising from their accomplishments, their ability to create synergy, and the rich quality of their interpersonal interactions. These conditions come to pass as a result of their members' capacity to value, respect, and trust one another. Such a milieu is also a result of group members' ability to feel safe enough to speak, hear, and honor each other's truths. However, a group that unconsciously recognizes that it has been unable to grow and mature, often over time, just "gives up." Unable to realize its creative potential, the group continues down an increasingly limited path - one that does not involve facing the pain of its own shortcomings. This "self-assessment" (and the accompanying feelings of impotence, frustration, animosity, etc) will ordinarily be split off from awareness. Instead of the facing its own failures such a group is prone to project its own deficiencies outside of itself - usually upon an "out-group." But, as Bion, McClure, Smith and Berg all describe - these projections can occur within the group - such that a sub-group or an individual is regarded as if they actually possessed the attributes projected on to them.

As members numb themselves to the contradiction between the group myths, and the group's true nature, their ability to perceive reality is severely diminished.

"By splitting off and projecting outward their dark, shadowy side, regressive groups maintain an illusion of harmony. A [group] myth is created…that disguises any internal conflict. Members describe themselves in glowing terms…The greater the pressure in regressive groups to suppress and deny critical thinking and deny their own dark side, the more likelihood dehumanizing actions against their perceived enemies will occur." (1998, p. 171)

To protect the "validity" of the group myth, a regressive group will go out of its way to silence members who seek to expose it. Of course, if they are to maintain the myth, group members need to find ways to convince themselves that they are doing no such thing. At their worst, groups that have invalidated the potentially corrective power of dissent are capable of "vile acts" of coercion and cruelty. And, as time goes on, group members tend to learn to censor themselves in order to avoid group censure. This self-censorship lessens emotional discomfort and allows members to minimize, rationalize, and otherwise deny the ways in which the group uses splitting, coercion, shunning, and other forms of punishment to stifle dissent. (McClure, 1998, p. 171) Such a group is truly stuck - its "reality tunnel" narrowed by an ever-increasing sense of paranoia, claustrophobia, and its own unwillingness to tolerate the emotional pain of clear awareness.

Are there things that can be done to reverse this process? There are, but this is by no means an easy process, nor is the outcome assured. In McClure's words it will certainly require "significant work and often considerable pain." Often, intervention by a trained group consultant is the only workable means of facilitating movement in these groups. (1998, pp. 178-179)

What can be done? Impasses - the points beyond which a limit-cycle group is unable to proceed - offer opportunities for change and transformation. The test will be whether the group as a whole is willing to focus its attention on the impasse itself, and explore the intrinsic meaning of "being stuck." If it is able to do these things, an expansion of group consciousness is possible. Overall, it is critical to unearth and address the conflicts that have been suppressed. McClure takes a very firm stand on this point:

"The group must recognize conflict as a healthy catalyst for change and norms for its expression and resolution must be developed. Once conflict is openly addressed members sometimes discover that it was the fear of conflict that was debilitating. Its expression can be quite cathartic." (1998, p. 180)

As McClure has also emphasized however, all groups have regressive tendencies. Healthy groups are able to recognize that they are exhibiting these dynamics, and somehow marshal their courage to struggle with these inclinations. Inflexible groups, on the other hand, ignore the emergence of these proclivities within the group, hoping they will go away. McClure (p. 182) asserts: "They never do! All regressive group characteristics that are denied or suppressed will continue to haunt the group, in one form or another, until they are acknowledged."

Kornfield (1993) has offered another important and highly relevant perspective on this phenomenon. While his focus is on the interdependent dynamics of "stuckness" and "release" in "spiritual communities or "communities of practice," as we will see, many of these concerns have parallels in progressive, holistically-oriented academic programs, such our own.

Kornfield first notes a predictable common reality: that students who enter spiritual communities usually do not expect that they will encounter difficulties concerning abuses of power, money, sexuality, or drugs. These students, who are inspired by a strong sense of idealism and hope, fail to include these shadow areas in their concept of inner work. However, difficulties regarding money, sex, alcohol, and inflated egos are in fact challenges faced by humanity as a whole. There is no reason to believe that spiritual communities will be exempt from them. There is another important dynamic at work in communities such as these. People joining communities of practice are often looking for a sense of family; they long for friendship and support, and also for healing amidst the ordinary isolation of modern society. (1993, p. 257) But, as Kornfield observes:

"If the practice of the community does not address the unfinished family issues and pain of its members, then the deficiencies will continue to intensify. [Members] can easily recreate their old painful family system…. [However], even when students have become aware of community problems, they may be afraid to confront them or leave because they don't want to lose their family again." (1993, p. 261)

The key to overcoming these difficulties is awareness. As a first step this includes honest questioning. We must be willing to ask our community: "How are we lost, attached, and addicted, and how are we benefiting, awakening, and opening?" (1993, p. 262) As Kornfield notes, naming the demons with honesty and kindness has the power to dispel illusions. He adds:

"We must do something even more difficult than posing questions. We must tell the truth to ourselves and we must speak the truth in our communities… Each troubling area, any illusions about the practice and the teacher 264, exploitive behavior, or unclear moral codes must be addressed. 264 Teachers [as well as students] have to be able to deal with the underlying problems in themselves, whether old wounds, cultural and family history, isolation, or their own grandiosity."(1993, pp. 263, 264)

To tell the truth in a community is to make the community itself conscious. Speaking openly, while holding the well being of the community in one's heart, can be extraordinarily beneficial. And, this courageous willingness can lead to healing and transformation for individuals and community alike.

There are in fact qualities, which individual group members can cultivate within themselves, and which increase the likelihood that such a group dialogue will be constructive. Among these are awareness and honesty, blended with deep compassion for all concerned. Still, confronting these stormy and painful areas of a community's life usually will require enormous persistence and the wisdom of everyone involved. In reality the process of addressing these problems can be so explosive that, without the support of trusted outside parties, it is commonplace for such situations to be poorly handled. (1993, p. 267)

Finally, it must be acknowledged that some communities become so grandiose, so unconsciously duplicitous and fearful that they are unwilling or unable to face their difficulties. Inevitably, some unhealthy systems are exploitive and abusive beyond repair.(1993, p. 268)

9. The Generative Group

" Leadership within a spiritual context seemed different, for the leader here was intent on cooperating with the soul of the group and with a process that he/she could neither control nor ever fully understand."
Thomas Yeomans

Let us recall that the group shadow refers, by definition, to material that is avoided (otherwise it would not be in the shadows), and which has a major impact on a group's capacity to evolve to more complex levels of self-organization.

McClure makes the point that, in actuality, all groups can be thought of as operating on a continuum. At one end is the least developed, or regressive group. This is a collective in which members' primary form of address is "ego-speak." Here we find the perfect environment for observing "the games people play," "control dramas," and "defensive routines."

At the opposite end of the continuum we can find the highly evolved and cohesive group. McClure calls this the "generative group," and describes it as one that is reaching for the highest levels of group development. Here we encounter an authentic transcendence of the ego, which interestingly enough, is accompanied by an increase in differentiation among members. Such a group discovers that they are participating in a "truly transcendent experience of higher consciousness, a 'something' that manifests itself through the willing, undefended, self-revealing, tolerance, curiosity and patience of its members." (McClure, 1998, p. 146)

Clearly, McClure is describing the emergence of an of "I-Thou" communication style far beyond the presentation of self as "persona," or social mask, which is characteristic of earlier stages of group development.

In Peck's model of community-building, the stage of "emptiness" follows those of pseudo-community and chaos, and precedes the group's entre` into community. He notes that:

"Emptiness is the hard[est] part, and also the most crucial stage of community development. It is the bridge between chaos and community….When members of a group finally ask me to explain what I mean by emptiness, I say simply that they need to empty themselves of barriers to communication. And I am able to use their specific behavior during chaos to point out specific things - assumptions, ideas, motives - that have so filled their minds as to make them impervious as billiard balls." (1987, p. 95)

Being human, however, we are not very fond of discomfort or suffering - either our neighbors' or our own. In a group setting the process of "letting go of our old maps" is accompanied by a willingness to deeply know others and be known by them - "warts and all." As group members begin to truly reveal themselves coming out from behind their "walls," it is all too common for other members to exhibit one of two reactions: they may either try to "help," or else "ignore" (often by quickly changing the topic) - the person who has just let down their defenses. In this case a person who has just made him- or herself vulnerable tends rather quickly to retreat back into their shell. After all, it is not an easy thing to become radically open, vulnerable, and undefended. How much more difficult does this become if others immediately attempt to "heal" or otherwise change you, or if they behave as if you haven't said anything of much importance at all? (Peck, 1987, pp. 100-102)

Peck emphasizes that at this pivotal juncture a group leader can support the group in coming to the realization that it is blocking expressions of pain and suffering. Should the group agree, they would immediately discern that in order to truly listen, they would need to empty themselves, even of their distaste for "bad news." The truth is plain to see: the transformation of a group - from a collection of individuals into a genuine community - requires that its members be willing to "die into life." This is also a process of group death - and at another level - one of being re-born. Here, we can notice an emerging metaphor - one, which suggests the "labor," associated with both birth and death.

Let us now add into this brew, ingredients from McClure, who provides a highly nuanced account of the kinds of processes that lead a group toward authentic community. McClure's model posits a sixth stage of development, which emerges subsequent to the phases of performing, unity, disunity, conflict, and disharmony. He refers to the next chapter in a group's possible history as "harmony;" upon emerging from the conflict/confrontation period, a group will tend move directly into this phase. Unlike the urgency felt during the earlier developmental stages - where issues of safety and trust, dependence and independence, power and powerlessness were central - members in the harmony stage tend to feel a sense of contentment. It is as if they have achieved this state of serenity by successfully passing through a "trial by fire."

Yet, even at this plateau-like stage the continuing urge for growth and evolution is discernible. At this juncture group members may become restless or bored if they are not involved in deepening their capacities for awareness, self-discovery, and a more vital sense of community. Here, a group's ever-present urge to take their next steps toward maturity will be expressed through members asserting independence within the group context, sharing their intimacy needs, and generally taking risks through self-disclosure. (McClure, 1998, p. 142)

Now, a rare opportunity is arises: one in which members can openly accept and acknowledge one another's (and their own) "dark sides" - facets of themselves that they have so far kept hidden. With personal relationships forged and a significant degree of trust established, members are now free to integrate fragmented parts of the self. It becomes possible to reveal oneself very fully and to experience the acceptance of others; in turn, this nourishes each individual's own capacity for self-acceptance.

McClure suggests that even at this stage there is important work for leaders to do. Rather than supporting the group through the intense anxiety of previous stages, the leader now needs to help balance the strong sense of cohesion and calm which prevails - with an appropriate amount of challenge and healthy tension. This will likely be centered on the personal learning that emerges out of participants' openness, and their willingness to give and receive honest feedback. (McClure pp. 142-147)

At this point the group will be moving into a deep and profound sense of community. They have certainly earned it! As Peck shares, the most frequent thing members say at this time is: "I feel safe here." And, this is a rare feeling. It has taken a tremendous amount of work for a group of strangers to achieve the safety of true community. And, when they succeed, it is as if the floodgates are opened.

"As soon as it is safe to speak one's heart, as soon as most people in the group know they will be listened to and accepted for themselves ...vulnerability in community snowballs. The walls come tumbling down. And as they tumble, as the love and acceptance escalates, as the mutual intimacy multiplies, true healing begins…When its death has been completed, open and empty, the group enters community…it is like falling in love." (1987, pp. 67-68)

In McClure's model the final developmental stage is called "performing." Interestingly, McClure maintains that it is highly unusual for groups to reach this stage; he also contends that very few group leaders have actually experienced it. Nevertheless, it can be equated with a "peak experience," a kind of sustained self-transcendence achieved by the group as a whole. Such a state is highly dynamic, yet paradoxically, also possesses a timeless quality. There can be a sense of spontaneous action emerging directly out of the "empty" present moment; actions that arise out of this fertile emptiness simultaneously express members' attunement to one another and their sense of alignment with the group's overall mission. (1998, p. 146-147)

Drawing on theorists ranging from deChardin, Grosso, Jung, Loye, and Lazlo, McClure brings our attention to the concept of a "universal or cosmic mind," an idea that has been restored and revitalized by contemporary transpersonal psychology. These theorists draw on ancient texts from sacred traditions in the East and West, and from modern and indigenous peoples. (McClure, pp. 183-203) Here we are dealing with an explicitly "spiritual" (in the sense of "holistic" or "integrated") dimension of human experience. A group which is able to touch this kind of immeasurable awareness, would naturally become what David Bohm (1996 ) has described as a "coherent micro-culture;" much as a healthy cell contributes to the health of the whole body, such a group would be one, which is healthy within itself, and contributes to the health of other groups and the planet as whole. Bohm is among a handful of group leaders and theoreticians who have explicitly set out to explore the "further reaches of human nature"- the most evolved capacities and mature expressions which human groups are capable of realizing.

Regarding these issues Wilber has made an invaluable contribution by taking up a question that has been widely overlooked. Specifically, Wilber identifies a concern most readily observed in spiritually oriented groups; he has termed this state of affairs the "pre-trans fallacy." Wilber offers the following hypothesis: since both pre-rational states and trans-rational states are, in their own ways, non-rational, they appear similar or even identical to the untutored eye. In progressive, new-age groups in particular, there can be a tendency to confuse "pre-" and "trans." Wilber colorfully describes one manifestation of this confusion:

"On the other hand, if one is sympathetic with higher or mystical states, but one still confuses pre and trans, then one will elevate all prerational states to some sort of transrational glory (…infantile primary narcissism, for example, is seen as…the mystico unio). Jung and his followers, of course, often take this route, and are forced to read a deeply transpersonal and spiritual status into states that are merely… undifferentiated and actually lacking any sort of integration at all." (Wilber, 1995, pp. 206-207)

Be this as it may, there are groups who have addressed these issues head-on and, in the process have successfully negotiated their way around such pitfalls. Recently, Yeomans (1999) has begun sharing the results of pioneering explorations which he has called the Corona Process. Studying group development within a psychospiritual framework, participants have evidently reaped rich rewards. Yeomans, currently a leading teacher and writer within the domain of spiritual psychology, had studied with Roberto Assagioli, one of the founding fathers of transpersonal psychology, and originator of the discipline known as psychosynthesis. Although the lion's share of Assagioli's focus remained on the integration and self-realization of the individual, he did set the groundwork for what he called inter-individual psychosynthesis: "the harmonious integration of the individual into…larger groups up to the 'one humanity.'"(Assagioli, 1976, p.5)

Yeomans, in turn, has described the texture and "feel" of the energy of self-organization, as groups evolve toward increasingly higher levels of maturity and self-expression. Noting that there is "a force for group development with which we can learn to cooperate," he offers a model, which posits three coexisting categories of human experience, with each dimension functioning as a nested "holon." These are: the personal - which includes healthy ego development and optimal social functioning; the transpersonal/existential - which deals with collective and transgenerational aspects of the psyche; and finally the spiritual - which encompasses the experience of our deepest identity and awareness of inter-being with all Creation. Work here deals with issues of freedom and responsibility, core values, and one's sense of life purpose. These three dimensions of experience are seen as completely interdependent, much like height, depth, and breadth in the spatial world. (1999, pp. 44-45)

As an intentional methodology designed to catalyze the emergence of a particular kind of "group field," the Corona Process can be seen as supporting a fusion of these realms. It is this physio-psycho-spiritual field, in turn, that makes possible an experience of the "group-soul," a ground of being which holds the group's deepest sense of purpose: in essence, the group's vocation. From this perspective group leadership involves an acknowledgment of all three dimensions of the group's process, recognition of which is foreground at any particular time, and a capacity to aid the group in developing the full realization of its creative potential. And, this of necessity would include the group's capability to experience an alignment with its deeper purpose. (Yeomans, 1999, pp. 54-66).

Yeomans, (p. 64) like Peck, has stressed the significance of "emptiness" as a major causal factor evoking "group synthesis:"

"Much as an individual needs to be 'empty' of small self preoccupations in order for soul-force to move in his or her life, so here the group needed to empty itself…64 in the same way in order to be infused with the energies of the deeper organizing principle - letting go of expectations in order to welcome the unknown that would emerge in the present experience of the group."

Yeomans (pp. 50-52) has shared some tentative observations regarding specific strategies that may help constellate the Corona process. The first of these is an adaptation of a Native American Council process to group dialogue. Known as "the majority of one," this calls for an approach in which - if one voice dissents, no decision is made, but dialogue continues. A second principle concerns the importance and relativity of time, in which no rigid or inflexible deadlines are set for conclusions and decisions; a third is the use of the circle - also a Native American practice - in which it is a requirement that every voice have a say in deliberation and dialogue. Another hypothesis suggested by the Corona work is that, as more of the truth of experience is by spoken by group members, and more differences are held by the group as a whole, "deceit and pretense" fall away; here authenticity emerges naturally as defense mechanisms are less needed: "Personal truth, moment to moment, was the means to this liberation from fear and defensive behavior." Finally, it was discovered that much patience was needed in supporting the gradual letting go of individuals' defenses which had often been in place for a long time.

"We discovered that paradoxically, not pushing people to open up, allowed this to happen more quickly…In fact big steps seemed to stimulate the reactivity of members and increase the level of fear in the group. Conversely with [the] patience to process, and small steps, members could be aware of and work with their own reactivity, [while] remaining connected to their deeper intentions and soul."

Finally, these explorations also suggested the importance for a group to take "time out," as a way of reflecting on their work and life. It is very common for groups to be overwhelmed by and, in a sense "immersed in," old contexts. The power of old, unconscious habit patterns; reactivity to internal and external pressures; and the deep suffering arising out of pain and anger which remain unexpressed; all of these frequently serve to dampen our ability to envision what is possible, feed a sense of alienation. For all these reasons it is extremely useful for groups to take the time to re-discover, time and again the qualities and activities that bring them rest, refreshment, and creativity.(Yeomans, 1999, 66-67)

In summary it is clear that pioneering "experiments" such as these are extraordinarily valuable endeavors - "experiments in truth," that can provide us with maps of unknown territories. May these and similar courageous explorations, such as those occurring at CIIS, open us to new levels of appreciation for the possibilities of life in human community.



"Only the wounded healer heals."
T.S. Elliot



1. Review

We have walked many roads in search of the shadow, and have discovered that its home is right in our own back yard. In this final section our goal will be to utilize the concept of the shadow to provide another view of H3 in Cohort-life. H3 entails an integral approach to learning, to perceiving, and to being in the world. It is echoed in words such as "integrity," "health," and "wholeness." The unconscious shadow - on both individual and collective levels - is characterized by an array of denied feelings, thoughts, and responses that do not fit an idealized self-image. In this light it is fascinating to realize that, in a group context the impulse to avoid pain and conflict, and to obscure and bury deviant views may actually arise out of a felt-need to preserve the integrity of the group-self. Even if this self-image is skewed or distorted, it would seem that the impulse toward the achievement of H3 - toward integrity and wholeness - is shaping the group's process nonetheless. Be this as it may, it is possible to argue that the shadow represents a "threat to the achievement of H3," in the same way we might describe certain factors as internal or external "threats to validity" in any form of research (Merriam, 2002) (Patton , 2002). In sum, however, our purpose will be to generate questions rather than provide answers.

Let us briefly review the paths we have traveled. So far in our inquiry we have explored three general areas - 1) the human penchant for splitting off sectors of our awareness, thereby creating shadow dimensions within our own consciousness, 2) the profound interconnectedness which occurs between participants whenever we join together in a group context, and 3) self-organization as key systemic property of human groups.

The Group Shadow

Initially, we focused on the individual shadow - the "realm" where we hide away those aspects of self that our ego has rejected. Here we can find our infantile attachments and other odds and ends "we don't want to be:" selfish, small, stupid, lustful, brutal, destructive, uncaring, ugly, mean, afraid, etc. Nevertheless, from these very depths we can also unearth "buried treasure," discovering a storehouse, which contains the best, as well as the worst, that is within us.

If we truly seek personal growth we are required to face and come to terms with the psychological shadow. And, just as there is an individual shadow, so too, groups, organizations, communities, and even nations show indications of this phenomenon. According to McClure all groups contain a "collective shadow" consisting of,

"the unexpressed emotional negativity that group members experience as threatening. Additionally, personality characteristics and emotions that [individual] members are unable to accept in themselves are also hidden in the collective shadow." (1998, p. 166)

At the collective level "shadow-work" will involve a re-integration into the conscious life of the group those actions, emotions, or thought-processes which have been "extruded" from the group process. Wholeness can be recaptured through the recognition and acceptance of these compartmentalized and discounted areas of the psyche. Such a group will be energized and empowered to go on growing toward a state of health and expression of its inner potential.

One obstacle to this integrative process, however, is the fact that the group shadow functions through collective defenses, whereby a group maintains its coziness by erecting barriers against information that might upset it. We observed some of the ways in which a group of people, when caught up in this kind of group consensus trance or "participation mystique," will find themselves operating by way of a tacit social code: one, which says that they will see only what they are supposed to see. "Unsee-able" (and therefore "unsay-able") dimensions of experience simply remain "out of frame." In this regard Shepherd has observed that the collective shadow of a group or a nation is particularly difficult to see, since we "support each other in our blindness." As Shepherd advises: "We must withdraw our projections and take responsibility for our shadow. Until we take back the burden of our own shadow, evil will continue to sneak out behind our backs." (1993, p. 271)

Group Relations

We then proceeded to explore the "group-as-a-whole" vantage point - a perspective originated by Wilfred Bion. Bion's primary hypothesis was that, when people meet in a group to achieve a goal, there are actually two configurations of mental activity operating simultaneously. First, there is the work group itself - in which participants are engaged with the primary task because they have chosen to fulfill a given purpose. They cooperate, search for knowledge, and learn from experience, becoming more competent as they do so. At this level the group can be thought of as an "open-system." Yet, it is also routine for this facet of group-life to be disturbed by influences arising from a parallel set of "mental phenomena." Upon investigation these appear to be an expression of a "closed feedback loop," a level at which the group has closed itself off to all information that does not affirm its basic premises.

It should be emphasized that the groups Bion studied functioned more or less effectively, and were made up of members who were not significantly troubled according to any index of mental health criteria. Despite this being so, Bion noticed that a group process often manifested in such a way that participants' behavior seemed analogous to a "temporary psychosis," one in which they experienced a "diminution of effective contact with reality." All in all he noted the surprisingly frequency with which a particular kind of a group mentality emerged. This group culture revealed itself as one in which the individual, despite his or her sophisticated and mature skills, could be caused to regress and become temporarily caught up in primitive defense mechanisms, such as splitting, projective identification, depersonalization, and infantile regression. (Schramm, 1994)


Finally, we viewed groups through the lens of "self-organization." In sum this exploration revealed an innate seeking for connection evident in many kinds of systems: an inherent drive to organize into more complex forms of organization that include more relationships and more variety. As this takes place, structures simply emerge. These structures are not imposed or pre-set, as is the case in most human institutions. Rather than following a top-down, hierarchically-based design, self organizing systems allow structural patterns to emerge as the system discovers what is possible. Drawing chiefly from the work of McClure, we sought to explore the application of chaos theory to human groups. We began to see that, while an increased ability to function synergistically can be an expression of a group's process of transformation, there are no guarantees that this movement into higher states of organization and complexity will occur. Here our primary goal was to investigate some of the ways in which groups may find themselves in a state of impasse on the one hand, or able to evolve toward higher levels of order and complexity on the other.

2.) Self-organizing Systems

Because the concept of self-organization is central to the Cohort experience it will be useful to briefly review a few essential ideas, placing them in context within the larger domain of chaos theory. As Briggs and Peat (2000) note, the scientific term "chaos" refers to an underlying interconnectedness that exists in apparently random events. Scientists are currently using chaos theory to understand the hidden patterns underlying the creation of thunderstorms, raging rivers, hurricanes, and gnarled coastlines. They go on to say:

"…the theory of chaos represents nature in its creativity, embracing a vast range of behaviors, from weather patterns and waterfalls to the firing of neurons and sudden shocks in the stock market. It is as much about how nature makes new forms and structures as it is about nature's 'messiness' and unpredictability." (p. 13)

Some history: in 1977 Ilya Prigogine won the Noble Prize in chemistry for demonstrating the capacity of certain chemical systems (dissipative structures) to regenerate to higher levels of self-organization. In the older, mechanistic model of phenomena - disturbances had always been viewed as disruptions - fluctuations that would only quicken the decay (or "entropic winding down") that was the inevitable future of all systems. But Prigogine showed that it was possible - even for systems considered "non-living" - to respond to disorder by giving birth to new, higher forms of order. Over time Prigogine extended his studies to networks as diverse as thermal convection currents, the life cycle of amoebas, and human social systems. The implications of this work were profound. If matter is no longer passive, but capable of generativity and spontaneous self-organization, it becomes possible to view turbulence, confusion, and apparent chaos in a fresh way - as potential doorways to the emergence of more sophisticated levels of order. (Shepherd, pp. 95-133). Prigogine, rather than framing the results of his research in terms of "chaos," prefers to use the term "complexity." In general he and other chaos/complexity theorists have described this remarkable phenomenon as "order for free."

When we see the spiral of evolution in our universe, how can we help but marvel at the power and beauty of the process of self-organization? Some fifteen billion years ago the universe was born: the elements synthesized, stars galaxies and planets formed, life and the genetic code came into existence; multi-cellular life and photosynthesis emerged, followed by a profusion of animal species, and finally humanity and culture. Clearly, these principles are not a startling new feature of the world. Rather, they are the way the world has created itself for billions of years.

While it is true that we are just now beginning to grasp the prevalence and awesome potency of self-organizing processes, we need to remain vigilant that we do not reify or "deify" these principles. Obviously, we are in error if we choose to operate as if the 2nd law of thermodynamics has been suspended. The rediscovery of self-organization (as significant and exciting as this may be) must not become like a flag to which we "pledge our allegiance." No doubt, plants, animals, trees, flowers, birds, dogs, and humans are all fundamentally open, living systems which are continually exchanging matter and energy with their environments. Still, the process of change and growth can be laborious indeed. Perhaps, if caterpillars could speak, we would hear them look up at a butterfly and say, "You'll never get me up in one of those things!"

It is true that until very recently, science told us that all things without exception are moving from higher to lower states of order, and that, eventually everything would succumb, decaying into complete chaos. Interestingly enough, science had apparently overlooked the fact that the 2nd law is most pertinent when applied to relatively isolated and closed systems like machines. The most obvious exception to this law is life, which is characterized by open systems that engage with the environment and continue to grow and evolve. While systems that can be considered essentially closed, do decay toward states of lesser order, little attention was paid to the fact that all systems we find in nature are alive. (Wheatley, 1992, p. 77)

Because the psyche is an aspect of the cosmos, we would expect to find in the psyche itself, the same hierarchical arrangement of wholes within wholes, reaching from the simplest and most rudimentary to the most complex and exclusive. In general, this is exactly the discovery of modern psychology. Learning itself is hierarchical, involving several different levels of awareness and integration, each of which is "meta" - to its predecessor. As Wilber points out - in both psyche and world we can see an evolutionary process composed of the realization of, "higher-order wholes and unities and integrations. The holistic evolution of nature - which produces these - shows up in the human psyche as development or growth." In this way - not unlike the geological formation of the earth - psychological development proceeds, stratum by stratum, level by level, stage by stage, "with each successive level superimposed upon its predecessor in such a way that it includes but transcends it [and envelops it]."(Wilber, 1980, p.2)

As Macy (1991, p. 194) notes:

"Open systems go through stages of 'positive disintegration' before reorganizing into more inclusive & adaptive wholes. This ongoing self- organization requires an ever-increasing openness… and the relinquishing of constructs that are no longer valid. [Often occurring] as a function of positive feedback we can speak of new life emerging from outgrown modes."

However, as we have seen, human systems (individuals, groups, organizations, nations) do break down; limit-cycle groups do manage to harden themselves to the change and development that positive feedback loops can bring. Rooted in unconscious reactivity and denial, they seek to mimic closed machine-like systems, repeating variations of an endless loop that says, in essence, "All is well. All will be very well. And every manner of thing will be very well." Thus, while open systems can display an inherent capacity to evolve toward states of increasing complexity & order, this is by no means inevitable. While human beings can grow, this by no means assures that they will grow. As Peck succinctly reminds us:

"Many people are either unwilling or unable to suffer the pain of giving up the outgrown which needs to be forsaken. Consequently they cling, often forever, to their old patterns of thinking and behaving, thus failing to negotiate any crisis, to truly grow up and to experience the joyful sense of rebirth that accompanies the successful transition into greater maturity." ( 1979, p. 52)

Beyond our large brain and larynx, or our opposable thumbs, the quality that most readily differentiates distinguishes humans from our animal brethren is our relative lack of preformed, inherited, fixed instincts - patterns that give other creatures a relatively predetermined nature. Compared to other species we humans seem to have more freedom: an ability to exercise control over our behavior, and to change. Whatever the other characteristics of human nature, it would seem that, precisely this capacity for transformation, is its most salient feature. From this point of view, we can even say that, for all practical purposes there is no such thing as human nature. The unique characteristic of the human being is the vast range of possibilities in any situation. As Frankl (1963) writes:

"One of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above conditions and transcend them…. a human being is a self transcending being… Things determine each other but Man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes, within the limits of his endowment and environment - he has made out of himself."

Still, we also are inheritors of powerful drives for safety and security. As Robert Anton Wilson (1990, p. 77) remarks with his usual flair for reminding us of the obvious: "Aristotelian dogmatic habit also reinforces and gets reinforced by ancient mammalian territorial imperatives. Wild primates, like other vertebrates, claim physical territories; domesticated primates (humans) claim 'mental' territories...."

Coming back to consider self-organization and development we can take note of a very intriguing characteristic. Such systems, instead of looking to a pre-designated structure, apriori principle, or hierarchical leader to create order, make use of feedback loops to enhance movement toward new levels of organization. For this kind of transformation to occur, however, first what is called a "bifurcation point" (point of departure) must be reached. Such a point marks the moment when random and seemingly chaotic fluctuations become "amplified" through the process of feedback; this phenomenon in turn begins to link with other fluctuations - creating a multitude of interconnecting feedback loops. In actuality this kind of linking involves two very different kinds of feedback. Negative feedback damps and regulates activity to keep it within a certain range, while positive feedback, amplifies fluctuations from the norm. As Briggs and Peat note: "…when negative and positive feedback loops couple together, they can create a new dynamic balance - a bifurcation where chaotic activity suddenly branches off into order." (2000, pp. 15-16)

Two additional factors are worthy of note. The first concerns the role played by "momentum," the second, by "attractors." In the context of self-organizing systems we discover an alternative to the imposition of order from above. Order is emergent, with new properties appearing that cannot be predicted from the form and movement of the original system. In the case of human groups, we see the following dynamic: below a critical threshold of energy input into a system, the random patterns of individuals remain independent, one from the other. But when there is sufficient energy or stress to cross the threshold, the system begins to transform en mass. The group system organizes itself at a new level of complexity and coherence.

Noteworthy also is Shepherd's observation that the self-reinforcing patterns (known as "attractors") form only if the system contains enough diversity and variation - "differences that make a difference." In any case, the attractor seems to beckon the system in a particular direction. Suddenly, it is as if a group of individual musicians, each playing their own tune, has made a decision to become an orchestra - one that would rather play in concert. The result is harmony, order, and an emerging musical structure.

3. Transformative Learning, Self-Organization and Emergence

The Cohort experience is a core element of the transformative learning and change concentration of the Humanities Doctoral Program at CIIS. Cohorts themselves might be described as "experiments in self-organization," where there is learning in community, and also learning about community. Particularly in the Learning Community course, principles of self-organization and transformative learning are interwoven. As a way of deepening our understanding of how these domains are interrelated, it is helpful to make a distinction between "change" on the one hand, and "transformation" on the other. In the 3rd edition of the American Heritage Dictionary (1998) we find that these words are considered essentially interchangeable:

Change: n. 1. The act, process, or result of altering or modifying. 2. The replacing of one thing for another; substitution. 3. A transformation or transition from one state, condition, or phase to another.
Transformation: n. 1.a. The act or an instance of transforming. b. The state of being transformed. 2. A marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better.

This is understandable since the word "transformation," after all, simply refers to a "change in form." And, as countless sages including the Buddha, have pointed out, change or impermanence is one of the "marks of existence" in our the world.

However, it is possible to make a distinction between change that is transformative, and change that is not. Imagine a person stuck in a dingy prison cell. Modification or "variation" could be equated with rearranging the furniture within the room, while "transformation" would indicate walking out of the cell (and the prison) altogether. Similarly, we can describe two levels or kinds of change. "1st-order change" refers to change within a given system. Here, the system itself remains unchanged, while its elements or parts undergo some kind of change. "2nd order change" refers to a change in the system itself, where the system is transformed in terms of its structure or communication patterns. In practical terms second-order change techniques lift the situation out of the plane of solutions that have not worked because they are of the same nature as the original difficulty.

This way of conceiving change derives in large part from the groundbreaking insights of Bertrand Russell and A.N. Whitehead in logic and mathematics. Whitehead and Russell's' Theory of Logical Types points to the logical distinction between a member of a class and the class itself. In doing so the theory provides a basis for describing changes that transcend a given frame of reference. The theory is not so much concerned with what goes on inside of a class (between its members); rather, it provides a way of considering the kinds of metamorphoses which occur in the process of a shift from one logical level to the next higher.
(Watzlawwick, 1974. p. 6)

Practical and Logical and Hierarchies

From a practical standpoint it is important not to confuse these levels. For instance, if our aim is to help an entire family system to improve the quality of its functioning, we will need a different kind of focus than if our goal is to support one of its members in changing. Gregory Bateson, in studying family systems, identified a phenomenon he called the "double-bind." What doublebinds have in common is that they are structured like paradoxes or antinomies in formal logic. Examples of these would include the well-known paradoxical statement, which says, "This statement is a lie, " or the bumper sticker which reads, "My convictions are not for public display." Encountering such paradoxical assertions commonly elicits a puzzled smile, for at some level we realize that the confusion is inherent in the structure of the message itself: what is being communicated at one level of discourse is simultaneously contradicted by what is being said at a second level.

However, as Watzlawick (1974) has shown, this general pattern appears very frequently in human communication, and is by no means limited to behavior labeled as psychiatrically disturbed. Paradoxes that are incorporated into systems of communication can be of stark practical importance. Commonly, doublebinds arise within an interpersonal relationship (or system) where there are two conflicting levels of communication and an injunction against commenting on the conflict. Since we all communicate at a multitude of levels, this can occur when we indicate one thing with our words, and simultaneously, the polar opposite with our physical posture and gestures, or the pitch, tone and tempo of our speech.

With this kind of systemic distinction in mind it can be seen that, if we are to proceed further in differentiating transformative from non-transformative change (and in the process understanding and appreciating the discipline of Transformative Learning more deeply), we will need to consider these topics from the vantage-point of a larger, more inclusive context - that of a "systems view of the world."

The Systems Approach

The genesis of systems theory was rooted in a realization of the limitations of both the analytic method and reductionist assumptions in science. It also reflected a growing awareness of the need for new ways to study wholeness and "organized complexity." (Olds, 1992, p.75) In fact the emergence of the discipline of "systems science" itself can be thought of as a response to complexity - to the recognition that "the world is made not of so many isolated bits, but of complex systems of interrelationships and networks of interaction." (Montuori and Conti, 1993, pp. 4-5) Although it draws from the worldviews of a great many indigenous traditions, contemporary systems science in and of itself represents a major paradigm shift in human thought.

For more than two centuries classical western science assumed that any phenomenon could be adequately understood in terms of its parts, and had proceeded on the assumption that the world could be understood and controlled by dissecting it. The "systems" approach, in contrast, arose out of a realization that "wholes" - be they bodies, cells, persons, organizations, or ecosystems - are not just a heap of disjunctive parts, but dynamic, intricately organized and balanced systems. (Macy, 1983, pp. 70-74) In an effort to perceive and understand phenomena, which had eluded the mechanistic model of reality, scientists began to look at wholes instead of parts, and at processes instead of substances.

Systems theory can be thought of as an interdisciplinary model or metaphor, which seeks to address a science of wholes at different hierarchical levels. According to Ervin Laszlo, the formulation of General Systems Theory was much broader, and of greater significance than a single theory: it created a new paradigm for the development of theories (from Ludwig von Bertalanffy, http://www.isss.org/quoteslvb.htm). The systems "way of seeing" is particularly valuable in that it enables us to notice isomorphisms across various levels of systems, in terms of similarities and relationships, as well as discontinuities. (Slip, 1991). Laszlo and Gregory Bateson continued working along these lines, addressing their attention to systems theory as a "bridge between conventionally separated domains." (Olds, 1992, p. 75)

Laszlo offers this elegant definition of a system: "an ordered whole in relation to its relevant environment." (Olds, 1992, p. 76) The contrast between a "non-additive system" and that of an "unrelated heap" can be represented as the qualitative difference between a completed building and a pile of bricks. Also of relevance is the concept of "synergy," a term coined by Buckminster Fuller, which refers to the fact that the output of a total system is not reducible to, or predictable from, the behavior of separate subparts within the system.

An equally central characteristic of systems is their tendency to be arranged in increasing levels of complexity (Olds, 1992, p.78.) This key attribute refers to the tendency to be arranged in hierarchies, with systems embedded within systems. In this way electrons dwell within atoms, which dwell within molecules, and so on, extending through organisms, communities, ecosystems. planets, solar systems, and galaxies. According to Macy (1993, p. 77) this is not a hierarchy of rank and authority, as in an army or church, nor is it a hierarchy of being and value, as in the thought of Plato. It is more like a set of nested boxes: In reality any system encloses and is simultaneously enclosed within systems; it remains in a state of interconnection through a dynamic flow of energy & information. Thus, we are given a new kind of unit with which to apprehend the universe - the holon. And, because this perspective involves an important distinction from conventional notions of hierarchy, a new word - holonarchy - is used. As Wilber (1980, p.1) writes:

"Everywhere we look in nature… we see nothing but wholes. And not just simple wholes, but hierarchical ones: each whole is part of a larger whole, which is itself a part of a larger whole. The universe tends to produce…higher and higher- level wholes, evermore inclusive and organized."

As previously mentioned in the discussion of self-organization, there are two primary processes by which a system creates and sustains its unique form of order and dynamic equilibrium. The first, termed "adaptive self-stabilization" refers to the system's utilization of a negative feedback process to maintain continuity of pattern or "homeostasis." The 2nd mode of systemic functioning, called "adaptive self organization," occurs via positive feedback loops, whereby information about a change in environment is used to reorganize the system in entirely new ways. Here, the system's deep structure can undergo modification through a process of "complexification." Macy (1993, pp. 74-76) explains that through this capacity to flexibly cope by processing information, a system moves towards greater variety. In this way homeostasis/self-similarity, and change/evolution are each sustained. A certain degree of continuity of structure is maintained, while the system as a whole adapts to a new level of environmental demand.

Cognitive Systems

Specifically relevant to issues of transformative learning is the fact that, just as we can speak of "energy-processing," physical systems, we can also speak of "information processing," cognitive systems. Cognitive self-stabilization would involve all that we do to maintain stability and constancy within our knowledge base. On the other hand, adaptive self-organization requires learning new constructions and the evolution of new governing principles for the learning process itself. (Macy, 1993, pp. 82-85) Mezirow points to "reflective discourse" as a primary form through which transformative learning takes place. For Mezirow (2000 p. 114) this is,"…the process in which we actively dialogue with others to better understand the meaning of an experience." Obviously the "meaning" of an experience will be unique to each individual and will change as a person continues to grow.

Let's consider the dynamic tension that exists between forces maintaining the status quo in our way of thinking, and those which promote change. It seems to be an immutable fact of life that if we wish to develop a broader vision, we must be willing to forsake our previous, more limited perspective. However, it is often more comfortable not to do so, at least in the short run. It is easier to stay where we are, and to continue to use the same old "microcosmic map," thereby hoping we can avoid enduring the demise of cherished notions. And, because this is so, most of us operate from a narrower frame of reference than that of which we are capable. To the degree that we fail to transcend the influence of our particular culture, set of parents, and formative childhood experiences, our own lives, relatively speaking, will remain in a state of stasis. (Peck, 1979, pp. 44-58)

This is no mere academic consideration. As Morin (1999) has emphasized, when a given system finds itself saturated with problems it can no longer resolve, it has two possibilities: either a general regression or a change of system. Ideally, transformative learning enables us to choose the latter course of action. But again, this is a delicate matter, since growth is in no way assured. Each of us have encountered, at one time or another within ourselves, a formidable resistance to expanding our awareness or making needed changes in our "external" lives. No matter how many times we say to ourselves, "Change is good…" the simple fact remains that, a large part of us is frequently invested in "staying the same." As M.K. Gandhi once said, "My most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence."

An identical principle applies at the collective level. As Rollo May (1958, p.17) has written,

"When a culture is caught in the profound convulsions of a transitional period, the individuals in the society understandably suffer spiritual and emotional upheaval… Finding that… accepted mores and ways of thought no longer yield security, they tend either to sink into dogmatism and conformity, giving up awareness, or are forced to strive for a heightened… aware [ness] of their existence - with new conviction and on new bases."

Training Transformers

Obviously, the transformative learning and change concentration is designed to do more than support students in focusing on their own academic development and personal growth. Students are not in training to become some sort of self-referential "savants" of the inner worlds. Rather, the TLC context is one of preparing graduates for an active engagement with the world at large. No doubt the program encourages maturation. This is a natural and logical preparation for the tasks ahead. But, as doctoral students in this very unique program, we are also being initiated into mysteries. We are, so to speak, learning to catalyze human maturation at the species level. As future "doctors of contextual studies" we are in training to offer the priceless gift of perspective.

One might say that we are learning how to aid others (and ourselves) in viewing our planet from the vantage point of outer space, rather than only seeing what is evident at ground level. From this aerial perspective, it is quite clear that we live on a round planet, a place where rigid boundaries and "taking sides" can seem childish, even absurd. As former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, has said, "Our problems are only going to be solved with the participation of all people, all societies, all cultures, because we're dealing with a systemic, global problem. Anything short of perceiving its global scope is putting on Band-aids." (Montuori and Conti, 1992, p.2)

It is perhaps useful at this point to recall the depth and breath of the CIIS mission, breathtaking in its scope. The school's founder, Haridas Chaudhuri, had been a student of the Indian meditation master Sri Aurobindo. In a recorded greeting which can be found on the Internet, http://intyoga.bravepages.com/index.htm Chaudhuri speaks of the possibilities of a next step in human evolution that is at once a maturation, and a great spiritual, intellectual, and artistic renaissance. His message clearly conveys the idea that whole societies, like individual human beings, have within them an ever-present potential for spiritual growth. Concerning Aurobindo George Feurstein (http: www.miraura.org/bio/ot-on-sa.html) has shared these words: "Sri Aurobindo['s] integral philosophy is today recognized and appreciated as a monumental synthesis of the highest cultural values of East and West…There is an immense wealth of outstanding psychological and spiritual discoveries embedded in his voluminous writings."

In periods of radical change and dissonance, established paradigms are brought into question and into consciousness. It would appear that we are living through such a time. From this point of view it is possible to re-frame the current crises we face as part of a "rite of passage." At the vanguard of the movement to actively grapple with this issues are individuals and institutions taking responsibility for experimenting with new paradigms, and asking new questions. CIIS is one of these.

Regarded from this vantage point the preponderance of national and international leaders would be seen as using obsolete "thought contexts," which are no longer able to help us understand - or successfully confront - many of the problems we are now encountering. Systemically speaking, the crucial issue arises from an entirely different order: our elaborately interconnected institutions have all been constructed within a paradigm which itself has become unworkable. Meanwhile, we are encounter facing a global crisis of vast proportions (Eisler, 1987) (Laszlo, 1994 )(Montuori and Conti, 1993) (Morin, 1999). All of our old solutions are now being called into question, presenting us with huge challenges for the planet and ourselves.

Harman (1988) and Morin (1999) for example, have both suggested that we are currently in the throws of a pervasive shift in our "worldview," a mental revolution which may be of greater proportions than that of the Copernican revolution some five hundred years ago; then, western civilization was compelled to accept and envision a "new" Earth, no longer at the center of the cosmos. Perhaps, today we are encountering a similar "de-centralizing" of the human ego, as we begin to grasp the true extent of our interdependence. Morin (1999, p. 77) asks: "Are we irremediably engaged in a race to a generalized cataclysm?…The death/birth struggle [of our species] is perhaps the way…toward the general metamorphosis - on the condition that we raise to consciousness this very struggle." It would seem imperative that, sooner rather than later, this crisis serves to motivate human culture as a whole to change its direction, thereby enabling us to work realistically with the actual challenges we are facing.

The TLC curriculum is clearly geared to addressing the inherent limitations of the modern (and post-modern) worldview. Now we can begin to weave together a few of the connections between the TLC model of Cohort "self organization," and two very different kinds of change. We can recall that the first kind of change occurs within a given system (for instance, the members of a class - whether objects, situations, persons, concepts, etc.), which itself remains unchanged. In contrast, the second sort of change is that one involves transformation of the structure and process of the system as a whole. Something that seems impossible to achieve from "within" the rules of the system, can be surprisingly easy to accomplish if we can use a paradigm or worldview "outside" the bounds of those on which the system is based.

An example with which we are all familiar would be that of a person having a nightmare. He can do many things in his dream - run, scream, hide, fight - but no change from any one of these behaviors to another can itself end the nightmare. As the old saying goes - in this predicament, "the more things change, the more they remain the same." The one way out of a dream, obviously, involves waking up - a change from dreaming to a completely different state. We are all a bit like the dreamer. At the individual level

As individuals all of us display a very human tendency to become attached to "mental models." These can be thought of as deeply held generalizations, sometimes described as "stories" about the world and our place within it. (Senge, 1990) These unconscious assumptions appear so obvious that, ordinarily, we tend to have little awareness of them, since no other way of construing the world has ever occurred to us. Research has shown that, normally, once a person is committed to a mental model - data contradicting their convictions and images does not to lead to correction of inaccurate views. On the contrary, this information is more likely to lead not to a validation of our "stories," as well as further refinement of them. (Watzlawick, 1974).

What is so for individuals, also applies at the level of society as a whole. Willis Harman (1988 p. 10) observes that:

"Every society rests on some set of largely tacit basic assumptions about who we are, what kind of universe we are in, and what is ultimately important to us. They are typically not formulated or taught because they don't need to be - -they are absorbed by each person born into the society as though by osmosis. They are accepted as given, obviously true."

Considered self-evident and tacitly assumed, this mindset about how things happen acts as a mental context within which problems are perceived and endeavors mounted; interestingly, these very endeavors tend to justify the assumptions on which they are based.

In utilizing the metaphor of "outdated paradigm as nightmare," we have arrived at key juncture; and, we are obliged to ask a vital question. Could it be said, that we, who live in the contemporary world, are ourselves caught up in a nightmare? Below are two answers. In the first Berman in The Reenchantment of the World (in Feuerstein, 1990) speaks about one dimension of our current way of being in the world:

"[This] consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merger with nature, but rather total separation from it. Subject & object are always seen in opposition to each other…The logical endpoint of [this] worldview is a feeling of total reification: everything is an object, alien, not-me; and I am ultimately an object, too, an alienated 'thing' in a world of other, equally meaningless things. This…cosmos cares nothing for me, & I do not really feel a sense of belonging to it. What I feel, in fact, is a sickness in the soul."

Elsewhere Fuerstein (1995, pp. 123-124) adds to this:

"The technological 'progress'- the rational conquest of nature - has assumed irrational proportions. And it is not only the arms race that is threatening all life on earth. The 'fall-out' of industrialization and consumerism is also actively destroying our planet through the pollution of water, air and land…and the unthinking destructions of forests […vital to life as we know it]…The world populations is continuing to grow exponentially, as is the tragedy of world hunger, and therefore the probability of political upheavals and oppression…Even the privileged suffer: from a fundamental disorientation…a marked decline of psychic health and physical fitness… a virulent consumer mentality - fed by 'hidden persuaders,' a stagnant morality, and free-for-all pluralism that governments seek to counter through totalitarian measures."


In this light it becomes paramount to discern the kinds of learning and change that can be considered transformative. Montuori and Conti (1993) have pointed out that the term "paradigm," much in use today, has lost a great deal of its revolutionary impact. As they explain, the original intent of Kuhn, who is credited with bringing this word to the forefront of modern discourse, was to describe a set of assumptions about reality that form an indivisible web of beliefs about the world, beliefs we take to be reality and that function as a compass that guides our lives on an unconscious level. In practice the term "transformation" has gone through a similar process of blunting and attenuation. As a concept much of its original power and meaning has been diluted.

In short, the term "transformation" is routinely used to describe any major sort of change, particularly if it is accompanied by some intensity of feeling. Hampton-Turner and Trompenaars, for example, take up the question of whether it is possible for organizations, social systems, and cultures as a whole, to hold apparently dichotomous or "opposing" values in a way that is synergistic, rather than antagonistic. To this end they explore six dimensions of cultural diversity, each of which describes a particular "values dilemma." These are: "universalism vs. particularism," "individualism vs. communitarianism," "specificity vs. diffusion, "achieved status vs. ascribed status," "inner direction vs. outer direction," and "sequential time vs. synchronous time." They suggest that no particular value is completely satisfactory to an individual or a social group, especially when experienced in isolation from its complementary pole.

Often, as contemporary people, we hold the belief that when opposing values exist, we must choose between them. But as Fay (1996, p. 223) notes: "Time and again we have seen that options posing as competing alternatives [and ] that positions masking as complete answers are only partial and one sided….requiring their supposed opposite for completion."

Our day-to-day life is inexorably constituted by a back and forth movement between opposite ends on a continuum: each day we experience a flow between innumerable polarities: sound and silence, light and dark, pleasure and discomfort, and so on. In the realm of matter we find the fundamental positive and negative polarities of attraction and repulsion; in organic life there is the basic experience of sexual polarity. In the emotional dimension there are also examples of duality: confidence/doubt, enthusiasm/depression, holding on/letting go, and so on. While fluctuations between these can sometimes be somewhat dramatic, these movements ought not to qualify under the rubric of "transformation," if we are using the term to mean, a change, which is "meta" to both alternatives, i.e., the fusion of opposites into a higher synthesis.

As human beings, we naturally differ with one another in terms of perspectives, attitudes, beliefs, convictions, etc. These differences, which are often deeply held, have divided us from time immemorial. When it comes to the complex matter of people with a vast array of divergent points of view, biases, interests, and commitments - "working things out" - it is in fact possible to distinguish two major types of solutions. One is realized on the same level as the problem, and can be described as "the middle way of compromise." The other solution is achieved at a higher level, and can be called the "way of synthesis." The latter is analogous in a certain chemical combinations, where the final product includes and absorbs the two substances into a higher unity endowed with qualities differing from those of either of the individual elements.

Slater (1974, p. 148), in many ways echoing Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars' view regarding the resolution of conflicting values, suggests that "tolerance" is a dead-end street, as it implies a lack of connection between opposing views. Significant change and growth, he maintains, must involve a fusion of opposites: "not a compromise between antithetical positions, but a response that meets the human needs underlying both positions, since such needs are -with widely varying intensities - universal."

Within this context the term "transformation" means "death"… and "birth." It implies the demise of the predictable, and, by definition, entering into a way of being that is altogether new. Given the need of our world for renewal and "re-creation"- it is important that we seek to preserve the radical and revolutionary meaning of this word whenever possible.

4. Cultivating and Tending the Garden of Transformation

At best, a group of students in a Cohort setting will move together through the stages of group development, and in the process experience "learning" and "transformation." Mezirow, who is generally considered a founding father of the discipline known as "transformative learning," describes it this way: contemporary

"the process by which we transform our taken-for-granted frames of reference (meaning perspectives, habits of mind, mind-sets) to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective so that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action." (Mezirow, 2000, pp. 7-8)

Watering and Fertilizing the Garden

Likewise, in a chapter entitled "Transformative Learning for the Common Good," (in Mezirow, 2000) Laurent Parks Daloz posits four particulars, which when combined, tend to create a climate conducive to "transformative" levels of learning. These are: the presence of the other, reflective discourse, a mentoring community, and opportunities for committed action.

Clearly, the intention behind the Cohort experience is for transformative learning to arise in the context of a group process. Are there specific things one can do to support the twin processes of self-organization and transformation? Meg Wheatley believes that there are, and suggests that we can begin by fostering within ourselves a "willingness to see the world differently."

"It begins with a change in our beliefs. We give up believing that we design the world…and instead take up roles in support of its flourishing. We work with what is available and encourage forms to come forth. We foster tinkering and discovery. We help create connections. We nourish with information. We stay clear about what we want to accomplish. We remember that people self-organize and trust them to do so." (Wheatley, 1996, p. 38)

Wheatley's core point is that if we wish to support self-organizing, what requires our attention is not the design of specific structures; rather, our primary focus can be on nourishing conditions that will lead to the emergence of necessary structures. The primary role of leaders, she adds, is to sustain a group by asking what is needed. "Do people need resources, or information, or access to new people?"

One of the primary needs of the self-organizing group is access to information. And, for this reason our capacities for self-organization are furthered by openness. In healthy human systems, asserts Wheatley, people support one another with information and nurture one another with trust. Shepherd, too, places a strong focus on this open, allowing climate, specifically noting that the development of "trust" is required for spontaneous organization to occur. "When trust is missing we [create] hierarchy, which cannot tolerate chaos. The desire for control and efficiency [itself] short circuits the natural process of self-organizing systems." (1993, p. 142) Interestingly, Parks Daloz echoes these thoughts in discussing conditions that are needed for transformative learning to occur. He highlights Mezirow's assertion that,

"…because transformation involves the whole person… [what is required is] the establishment of a climate of safety in which people feel free to speak their truth, where blaming and judging are minimal, where full participation is encouraged, where a premium is placed on mutual understanding, but also where evidence and arguments may be assessed objectively and assumptions surfaced openly." (in Mezirow, 2000, p. 114)

Some`, (1999, p. 95) too, in speaking of indigenous cultures' wisdom, has described a virtually identical set of prerequisites for the emerge of an authentic, shared sense of community:

"…What is required for the maintenance and growth of community is…a village-like atmosphere that allows people to drop their masks. A sense of community grows where behavior is based on trust & where no one has to hide anything. There are certain human powers that cannot be unleashed without such a supportive atmosphere, [and which enable us to] believe in our ability to unlock potentials in ourselves & others far beyond what is commonly known."

Mezirow asserts that deep approaches to learning: 1) focus on meaning, and 2) include the inevitability "of change in the learner as a person." It naturally follows that such changes can leave adults feeling extremely vulnerable. We spend the majority our lives committed to particular ways of thinking about the world; one day we marshal our courage and begin to question some of our most cherished assumptions; there are many potential risks involved in this endeavor, and foremost among these is discovering that one's customary "ways of seeing and being" are suddenly unsatisfactory or unworkable. As Taylor reflects, changing "how one knows," risks changing "everything one knows something about" - personal and professional relationships, ideas, goals, and values - in short the totality of one's adult commitments. She adds:

"One area in which Mezirow's otherwise informative scheme for facilitating adult learning could be more helpful is in examining the emotional complexities and psychological costs of transformation, which he mentions only in passing. In fact developmental growth is enormously challenging. Though it may be experienced as exhilarating and energizing it is also, at times, traumatic and overwhelming." (Taylor, in Mezirow, 2000, p. 160)

Even so, when it comes to in transformative change, there is no "one size which fits all." As valid and on target as all these formulations may be, there is much more for us to understand about how these vital perspectives can be applied at all levels of our social structure. And, there is much more to discover about the conditions needed for the emergence of learning that - in Mezirow's words - is truly "emancipatory."

Pruning, Weeding, and Cutting Back

Also, while it is evident that establishing a climate of safety and trust is paramount, this should not be equated with fostering comfort in the form of complacency. On the contrary, as Mezirow (Taylor, in Mezirow, 2000, p. 155) has observed, personal discomfort can be valuable in creating a context for deep learning. e goes on to say that Transformative Learning begins with a "disorienting dilemma,"…an "experience which problematizes current understandings and frames of reference." In other words, confusion, when not alleviated by any further information, tends to galvanize us to be particularly ready to hold fast to the next piece of concrete information which seems to make sense of our dilemma; we long for that which promises relief - the reward of re-organizing the "puzzle pieces" into an understandable whole (Watzlawick, 1974). Stated plainly, there can be great value in the state of being "disoriented."

Still, this is not an easy process. Peck has described this situation very clearly:

"Because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our maps of reality, we mostly seek to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity…Not only individuals, but also organizations are notorious for protecting themselves against challenge…Just as it is necessary for individuals to accept and even welcome challenges if they are to grow in wisdom and effectiveness, [so too must]… organizations." (Peck, 1979, pp. 52-53)

The predicament is that there are many things we need to renounce if we are to give birth to an authentic learning community. Not the least of these is our sense of "certainty." Undoubtedly, it can be very difficult to give up certainty - in the form of positions, beliefs, and explanations that have defined us and lie at the core of our personal identity. As Peck has stressed, such a "giving up" is a sacrificial process. And, such sacrifice tends to be painful because it is a kind of death, the kind of death that is necessary for rebirth. Yet, even when we realize this on an intellectual level, this kind of dying is still a fearsome adventure into the unknown. (Peck, 1987, pp. 99-100)

Clearly, the work of transformative learning and group self-organization can be simultaneously demanding and joyful. Briggs and Peat describe variations on this theme at the level of individual transformation. For countless years many Native American traditions have used the containment of the superheated interior of a sweat lodge to foster psychic self-organization. Traditional psychotherapies, too, make use of a container: during the psychoanalytic hour a patient is encouraged to let go, free associate, and make contact with the chaotic material in his or her subconscious. Briggs and Peat underscore another point: that exploration of newness entails a sacrifice of the familiar:

"Seeing….beyond abstraction and the seduction of the "known" involves entering….into doubts and uncertainties and allowing our abstractions and mental constructions to die or be transformed. When this happens, creative insight self-organizes, catching us unaware with the shock or delight of the unexpected truth, essence, or being [itself]." (2000, p. 23)

Meanwhile, returning to the Cohort experience and striking a balance ala` McClure, we are reminded that a group can transform either "forwards" or "backwards;" that is, under certain conditions it is relatively predictable that a group will move in the direction of a more rigid and regressive way of being.

The Overgrown Garden: Going Nowhere - Fast

A related issue is that of circularity, which itself is usually linked to a group's experience of "being stuck." Since groups bring to the surface powerful contradictions in their members, a major task of any group can be seen as the effective modulation and "metabolization" of these apparent polarities. Smith and Berg offer the following distinction:

"The successful management of these tensions can provide members with a connection both among themselves and with the group. [catalyzing]… a group collective life, and the development of individuals upon whose energies the group depends. [However] when the group fails to hold these contradictions and works to have them expunged or expelled from their midst or carried burdensomely by one particularly member or subgroup …then the preconditions for 'stuckness' have been created." (pp. 14-15)

Smith and Berg (p. 210) assert that at the center of the experience of "being stuck" is a "vicious circularity that can make paradox both intellectually and emotionally disturbing." Faced with what appear to be mutually exclusive subgroups, beliefs, wishes, fears, etc, group members are easily tempted to utilize a dichotomous or "disjunctive" way of thinking about the group's process. The authors make another pivotal point, namely that the greater the intensity of a group's wish to avoid dealing with the contradictions they are experiencing, the more these "conflicting" opposites" will tend to dominate the process.

"[A significant]…threat to…group [functioning] is [the possibility] that only one side of group members' reactions to being in the group will be allowed expression. The other side will be held unexpressed, creating a potentially dangerous explosion if the forces containing these emotions prove to be insufficiently powerful." (p. 211)

Groups employ another common strategy to deal dissimilarity and disagreement, often with the best of intentions. Group members may try to compromise with one another by finding a middle ground, in the hope that contradictions will disappear. At CIIS it is likely that such an initiative will be framed in terms of "partnering" with others, rather than fighting or competing with them. Ironically, in doing so, members may remain unaware that they are continuing to operate within the very paradigms to hope to transcend; for they are using a frame of "domination" in attempting to purge the group of tensions that are inherent in subgroup energies/positions already perceived as incompatible. This may well provide the group with feelings of temporary fulfillment, as they reassure one another that they are the kind of people who can work through or "put aside" their differences in the service of cooperation. Besides this, what group would want to go into its G-Doc presentation, demonstrating that it has been unwilling or unable to do so?

Naturally, a reciprocal scenario is also quite common. This routinely occurs when is opposing subgroups are pitted against one another. As the group attempts to "subjugate" one side of the contradiction, the group's process sets in motion the very forces that will reassert the conquered set of emotions or views. (Smith and Berg, pp. 212-13)

With the permission of the author, a member of C-16, here is a posting which presents one view of our process prior to our 2nd Intensive, and which illustrates a number of these principles:

"Our cohort is currently discussing how we will spend our time at the January Intensive. Some of our members-A and B among them-have argued that we need to proactively make plans to address certain issues that they believe existed within our group dynamics when we met last August. They argue that the 'regressive' (Smith & Berg, 1987. p. 220) experience of discussing and analyzing our past experience will facilitate the group's progress toward successfully handling these issues in January. Other members-C and M among them-have argued that assuming that issues of the past (which may or may not have really been present) may actually create them anew. I've attempted to be circumspect about this debate, but I imagine anyone who reads what I've posted would put me in the first camp-and they would be correct in doing so.
After reading Smith and Berg, however, I no longer believe that one side or the other are'correct.' It seems to me that we're in the middle of a paradox, which I would express with the following two sentences….I believe that this 'absolutizing' of each position is a result of being in the grips of a paradox. Well, here are the two sentences:
We create issues by assuming we have them

By assuming we have issues we recognize and resolve them

As our cohort has debated what to do about our 'issues' that either exist or don't, I believe that we've slowly been 'splitting' (Smith & Berg, 1987. p. 68) into subgroups that advocate one or the other of these positions. To my ear, our conversation has taken on a quality that I regard as repetitive and argumentative (though covered with a veneer of politeness). I believe this is a good example of how any group can become paralyzed when debating a paradox instead of exploring it.

For the sake of our current inquiry the license will be taken to note that the group member referred to, as "M" above, is in fact, Monty, our professor. This offhanded reference opens up a number of rich avenues for further investigation. Among the questions we are called upon to pose are these: What exactly is the role of a Cohort leader? Is the leader a group member, or "something other" than a member? If they are not in a primarily hierarchical relationship to the group, what is their position?

Related to this, what sorts of input are appropriate for Cohort facilitators to offer? Is it possible that there are types of leader input, which at first glance, seem to be innocuous, casual comments, but which in fact serve as powerful interventions impacting the group in unintended ways? Might our lack of clear distinctions around this topic actually create obstacles to the process of group self-determination? Is it possible that such "non-intervention/interventions" might in fact dominate the group process, perhaps even more potently than the classic and timeworn autocratic approach? And, if so, what might students be learning, if only implicitly, about how power and authority function in our world, including institutions which are founded on "emancipatory learning," such as the TLC program? With these rich questions in mind, let's continue our journey.

5. The Role of the Leader in Self-Organizing Systems

We are now able to turn and take a fresh look at the Cohort leadership structure itself. There appears to be an impression among students (based on statements they have heard from a number of Cohort facilitators) that the advisor/professor/facilitator role is based on a policy of fundamental "neutrality" or "non-intervention." Whatever connotations these terms may have, this simply seems to be the impression received by many Cohort members. However, within this context, the responsibilities, limits, and privileges of the leadership role itself are apt to remain rather vague, and without precise definition.

Clearly, the LC course (and the Cohort experience, which is central to it) is based on principles of self-organization. In fact the leadership model for Cohorts stands in stark contrast to the way things are managed in the vast majority of organizations and small task-oriented groups in our world. Generally speaking, organizations take for granted that leaders need to provide the organizing energy for systems, which themselves have no internal capacity for generating self-creation, self-renewal, or self-transcendence.

"Trying to be an effective leader in this machine story is especially exhausting. The story say that he or she is leading a group of lifeless, empty automatons who are just waiting to be filled with vision and direction and intelligence. The leader is responsible for providing everything: the organizational mission and values, the organizational structure, the plans, the supervision. The leader must also figure out, through clever use of incentives or coercives, how to pump energy into this lifeless mass." ("Reclaiming Gaia, Reclaiming Life, www.margaretwheatley.com)

Conversely, as applied in a Cohort setting - the leadership role that is presented is obviously designed to be non-hierarchical.

On the CIIS website (2002) we are offered an introduction to the program as a whole:

"The Transformative Learning and Change concentration of the Humanities Doctoral program is designed for learners who wish to combine innovative scholarship with a commitment to action. The concentration stresses the development of capacities to design and facilitate change in individuals, groups, organizations, and cultures. It facilitates the development of strong academic capacities, including critical and creative thinking. The transdisciplinary context of our research aims not just to describe, but to change human systems."

Roles, Definitions, and Boundaries in a Non-Hierarchical Setting

A central objective of the Cohort experience, then, is to provide scholar-practitioners with multiple, experiential opportunities for learning how to become "system-change agents." McClure has emphasized the critical importance of the group leader at all stages of development. He (or she) is in essence a "midwife:" supporting, encouraging, and aiding the group as it gives birth to itself. This group-midwife has a great many tasks to attend to, and these vary as the group evolves through different stages. By gently offering just the right amount of "containment and perturbation" at the appropriate moment (evoking a negative feedback loop here, a positive one there), the group is supported in moving toward greater degrees of freedom and self-determination. If optimal maturation is to occur it is also falls to the leader to help the group recognize its own blind-spots, at times aiding members to let go of previously unexamined assumptions and beliefs - at least until the group can perform these functions for itself. In this sense a leader dons a mantle similar to one, which therapists and spiritual guides have worn throughout history.

Still, we must not forget that in the TLC program, the facilitator is concurrently the course instructor and each Cohort member's PhD advisor. How do the academic aspects of the course fit here? And what about the dissertation, and all that it entails? Professor, group leader, advisor, and honorary Cohort member: in trying to discern the boundaries of these roles, Cohort members are left without contextual markers. Perhaps even more relevant is McClure's observation that, in general, group leaders tend to be insufficiently trained and have too few supervised group experiences in their background. McClure's critique also includes the assertion that many texts fail to adequately characterize the stages of group development and the skills relevant to group maturation. (1998, p. 122) Clearly, the transformative process involves powerful experiences for all concerned; this being so we can expect that group leaders and co-leaders, in course of performing their duties, will experience an array of very intense emotions. Among these are: self-doubt, boredom, anger, defensiveness, and fear, as well as joy, fulfillment, and empathic connection. (McClure, 1998, pp. 118-119).

With all this intensity we may well wonder whether the Cohort leaders themselves receive a sufficient level of support and supervision vis-à-vis this demanding position. This question is especially salient in light of the current availability of advanced-level group relations knowledge. For instance in a recent article, Lawrence (1995) described with painstaking care the way in which managers and other group leaders are "used" by the groups and individuals they lead - to reinforce defense mechanisms against anxiety. This is seen as a mutual process in which a manager typically ends up "holding" (or "being a container for") an enormous amount of unspoken and unconscious emotion.

One of the areas in our on-line LC space was named the Elephant Room, alluding to the question, "Is there an elephant in the room which we are all pretending isn't there?" Clearly, in the design of the LC course - a great deal of care and attention has been brought to bear on the curriculum and format of intensives, as well as to the complex process of transformative learning itself. Perhaps, then, the "elephant" - if there is one - is across the room, where no one thinks to look. What if the "elephant" has less to do with the students' explicit learning and more to do with what is being learned implicitly - specifically as a result of the relationship between the facilitator/advisor/teaching assistant and the group as a whole?

Strange Loops and Paradoxes

From this perspective it seems likely that - in terms of a group's capacity for self-organization - the "amorphousness" and absence of distinctions vis-à-vis leadership may well have a number of unacknowledged consequences. There are a number of fascinating paradoxes at the core of this dilemma. The first of these can be described as an inescapable state of circularity. The leader, who appears to be scrupulously working to abstain from defining the situation for the group, ("telling the group what to do") ends up doing just this. In their zeal to exercise neutrality and self-restraint, the leader creates a situation where they are in fact defining the situation in a very significant way, and in the process, telling the group exactly what it may (or may not) do or be.

As Smith and Berg have shown, unresolved paradoxes at the level of a group process often generate a specific kind of feedback loop, which in both cybernetics and logic is called a "strange loop." An example of how this process can occur in a Cohort setting: first, the group leader is perceived as sending a double-message - in essence - "I am in a leadership role/I am not in a leadership role." This action in turn sets a tone in the group, which says: "although many things in the group can be questioned, there is one exception - the assertion that I am controlling the group through my stance of 'non-intervention.'" The statement - "I am not controlling this group" - can be thought of as generating a "self-referential strange loop." Interesting enough, an example of this type of phenomenon can be found in the Bible where it is written: "Even one of their own prophets has said, 'the Cretans are always liars'" (Titus 1:12). Here we have a circle, which defies all logic: the Cretan prophet is Epimenides, and he declares, "All Cretans are liars." The strange loop shows itself when we point out that if the Cretan is telling the truth, he is lying. The other side of the conundrum is that only if his statement is false, can it be true.

Understandably, PhD students in a Cohort setting who are living this kind of embedded paradox (without being aware that they are) will find the experience bewildering, even maddening. This will perhaps become clearer if we examine the situation in context. We are speaking about a group of students whose fundamental wish is to earn their PhD. Likewise, it is clear that, beyond the academic dimension, an essential requirement of Cohort experience is that the group demonstrate its competence in group-learning. While the details are sketchy at best, the accomplishment of this goal will take each individual a substantial way toward the attainment of a long sought after (and much sacrificed for) goal - their PhD. Obviously, this final demonstration of competency will be evaluated in some way; but, by what measure, and according to what criteria? The group finds itself in the position of being led by a leader/non-leader toward a goal it must show that it has achieved, and which will be evaluated by unspecified others according to a set of criteria that the group never quite grasps.

Meanwhile, the group facilitator refrains from precisely delineating their role, and in the process does not address the specific ways in which they inexorably influence the group dynamic. Embedded in this paradox is an implicit denial that, in terms of the exercise of power, the leader has "one-upped" the group, (perhaps even more so than if they had simply told the group what to do). While it may appear that the facilitator is taking a non-intrusive, nonhierarchical (in essence "one-down") role in relation to the group, students' gut feeling may tell them otherwise. At the end of the day the group facilitator is simultaneously students' professor and PhD advisor, and each of these roles inherently carries a substantial degree of evaluative power.

In any case, as we have seen, groups need leaders to move through the stages of group development. Likewise, in terms of self-organizing systems, there often seems to be a specific catalytic agent at work, which frees the system to respond to the "strange attractor" beckoning it to make the leap to a higher level of complexity. In this regard we can ask whether there may be a "downside" to a group leader being wedded to the idea of "non-interference" or "strict neutrality." Perhaps an optimal way to examine this question is by once again, posing another: namely, "What is being learned by Cohort participants?"

If the norm is that - at the start of the Cohort experience - there are no preset norms or contexts which will be provided by the group leader, then we can certainly expect, before long, a great deal of infighting - as Cohort members' fears, desires, prejudices, and unresolved emotional issues all arise. If the leader indicates - either tacitly or explicitly - that the Cohort is a place where emotional expression and/or "processing" is legitimate (and/or expected), then the danger becomes one of indulgence. Without a clearly defined mission the group can very easily become lost in interminable discussions about conflicting opinions, perspectives, etc. We can also expect conflicts to be clothed in their traditional win-lose, zero-sum garb - the mantle of the dominator system.

If, on the other hand, Cohort members perceive (whether this is explicitly articulated or not) that the group leader is not fond of "processing," then another set of dynamics can be predicted to unfold. Here we can certainly expect the phenomenon of "group-think" to prevail. Conflict will be suppressed and perhaps shrouded by a thin veneer of politeness. If authentic debate and dissent is avoided, genuine decision-making processes will be unable to emerge. Again, while lip service may be paid to ideals such as respect, mutuality, collaboration, and partnership, we can expect that a dominator-type of ethos will be reinforced.

6. Program Goals and Ambiguity

Today, mistrust, a sense of disconnection, and a general lack of "civility" seem to be the on the upswing. Many groups in our society are so polarized that people cannot hear one another. Peck (1987) offers an insightful observation in this regard: today we bandy around the word "community," applying it to almost any collection of individuals - a town, a church, a professional association, and so on. Peck compares genuine community to a very precious jewel that is rarely encountered. The question remains: "How can we use the word meaningfully?"

What is Community?

Maurice Friedman, (1983, p. 122) a scholar known for popularizing the work of Martin Buber, addresses a contemporary phenomenon to which Morin has also given considerable attention - the hyper-specialization of knowledge where, "we know more and more about less and less." Friedman writes: "the indispensable minimum of humanity in a learning community…is caring enough to have a [genuine] interchange…Hearing and responding to one another are the simplest prerequisites for a learning community."

This issue is turn linked to another, which Morin also has stressed: our paradigmatic enmeshment in an invisible web of Aristotelian thinking. Whitehead (1920) called this the "Fallacy of Bifurcation." Arguing for humanity's acute need for "a reform in thinking," Morin describes this phenomenon - the black/white, right/wrong, approach to problem-solving, as: "simplistic in the extreme, which underlies so many dialogues, [leading] inevitably to dead-ends…[This occurs in part because it is] blind to inter-retro actions and circular causality." (1999, pp. 124-125) The problem, it would seem, is our proclivity for a "reducio ad absurdum" approach to life - the notion that all of reality must be able to be categorized as either "this" or "that."

Morin firmly insists that only a complex (dialogic and recursive) kind of thinking is able to adequately grapple with "the 'inseparability of problems'…in which each depends on the other." (1999, p. 132) While this shift in mind demands a great deal from us, it is worth the effort, for only this fundamental kind of learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. With practice we learn to re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. (Senge, pp. 13-14) No doubt, we as a community of learners are fortunate indeed if we have the luxury of moving beyond our instinctive linear thinking, which is deeply rooted in "Aristotelian" two-valued (either/or) logic. Why is this vital? The simple fact, declares Morin, is that this way of thinking: "nips in the bud all opportunities for comprehension and reflection, eliminating at the same time all chances of corrective judgment or a long term view. (1999, p. 128)

This change-in-mind, or "metanoia," as Senge (1990) refers to it, is neither simple or easy, however, for our traditional approach to thought is essentially a self-reinforcing circular pattern, and one that commonly lures us into a doublebind. In a group setting we can all be a bit like Ulysses: captivated by the song of sirens, we can, without warning, find ourselves buffeted back and forth between a rock and hard place. On one side a phantasm beckons. Friedman depicts this situation succinctly: "What is very often the case [in university settings is], people putting what other people say into their own categories & then cutting them down on that basis…We use our language games in such a way that they shut out people who do not use our language. This is extremely pervasive." (1983, p. 161)

Zinker, (1977, p. 46) a Gestalt therapist specializing in creativity, articulates an alternative scenario. Here it is as if we are beguiled by another spectral presence:

"…as the distinctness of 'figural' issues between [individuals] begins to evaporate, so does their capacity for creative exchange. The… result of [a] loss of differentiation between two people is that they can no longer disagree and "rub against each other." Creative conflict, or simply good contact, is sacrificed for routine interactions which are flat, static, and safe."

A task-oriented group enmeshed in either of these polarized modes will no doubt feel that it is - at some level - "spinning its wheels." And under these circumstances it falls to reason that that stronger personalities will often feel compelled to "assist" the group (and themselves) to get to the finish line. As this occurs, "back channel" or "back room" dealings - in which major decision are made behind the scenes - can easily become another "norm-by-default." Beneath the surface of an uneasy alliance of inattention, however, there may well be a cesspool of anger, resentment, hurt and often a constant stream of gossip - all denied and unspoken - at least at the public level of group process.

Returning to consider the general thrust and direction of the TLC program we can find on the CIIS website this description:

"This doctoral program focuses on collaborative learning, dialogue, and
self-reflection, and encourages learners to bring their full experience and
goals squarely into the educational process. Learners prepare themselves
for engaging contemporary cultural dilemmas by transforming their
capacities for communicative learning (pursued through dialogue) and
emancipatory learning (exploration of one's own underlying assumptions
and explanatory stories.)…The curriculum focuses on the psychology and sociology of change, understanding cultural perspectives, systems thinking, and innovative qualitative research methodologies. (CIIS Website, 2002)"

These are vital and worthy goals. Yet, in a Cohort-setting, as we have seen, it is quite possible for the group to create an unconscious set of priorities - in essence a hidden agenda, diametrically opposed to the goals and objectives just cited. Without a clear sense of boundaries, limits or definition of what a Learning Community may be, it is not surprising that aspiring, anxious PhD students would be tempted to avoid the challenge of dealing with their diversity - "the differences that make a difference." After all, their goal is a completed "G-doc," not an endless, frustrating, morass of conflict. Things need to get accomplished; the group needs to come together, learn together, and demonstrate that it has done so. It is very tempting for the group to implicitly demand that its members sacrifice their sense of truth to preserve an appearance of consensus. And, if perchance they conclude that an expectation of "what happens in Cohort" is an obligatory amount of processing, disagreement, and even uproar, these too can be creatively conjured up and enacted, without necessarily contributing to a resolution of differences.

Trust the Process

Certainly, there were moments in C-16 when many of us have felt connected, at ease, in synch: when we relaxed over good food and drink, when we became entrained in concentrating together on a problem or fascinating question, or when smaller subgroups spent time together. But, at the group-as-a-whole level, these were more than matched by a pendulum-like oscillation between exchanges that were remarkably divisive, and a "hale-hearty-well-met" kind of fellowship, which enabled us to avoid the discomfort of animosity. Obviously, neither "solution" - antagonism or avoidance - is preferable, and both can hinder a group-level rootedness in the integral heart. In private conversations a number of Cohort members acknowledged that their own solution to this circular process was simply to step off the merry-go-round - emotionally detaching from the whole business, while continuing to participate.

C-16 was originally introduced to Cohort-life by a teaching assistant who, being a graduate of TLC, spoke directly out of her own experience and in so doing acknowledged the importance and value of attending to group process issues. However, by the end of the first day of the first intensive the lack of specificity around our purpose seemed to already have taken a toll. We obviously were experiencing a fair amount of confusion and agitation; group irritability, which was running high, seemed to be leading us to move into "fight" mode. It had been quite an uncomfortable first day, and the next day - as we ardently tried to find some solid ground - we seemed to flee (as fast as possible) into a "super-structure-land," complete with lists and lists of lists. Upon arrival, Monty humorously commented on the rather obsessive quality of our emerging group. Preferring that the group not become mired in "process work," Monty, as professor, provided some immediate structure and direction at the academic level. Yet, relieved as we obviously were at this turn of events, we nevertheless remained unable to clarify the program's definition of the terms "task," or "process." We worked to have faith in the unfolding flow of events.

As time went on, however, this ambiguity seemed to generate a consistently unsettled climate. Since the G-Doc presentation and final artifact were requirements - it was unclear what would happen if the group got "stuck" in a major way. Other questions arose: "How could we establish any solid sense of direction without parameters around goals, expectations, etc?" It was clear from talking with other TLC students - past and present - that there was a wide variance in the attention given to emotional expression, academic work, and specific training. That said, "What's a Cohort to do?" Does the group smile, and simply "fake it, till it makes it? Does it just go through the motions of group cohesion in order to look good? Somehow figure out what it takes to "pass," and proceed, full speed ahead, toward that image? It seems likely that, when external Cohort parameters remain undefined - but the group nevertheless is given the message that its doctoral level work will be evaluated - massive confusion can reign. Fog and storm clouds are likely to roll in, until eventually the sky has become overcast from horizon to horizon - pervading and coloring the entire Cohort experience.

Another question comes up. Given that the boundaries of the Cohort experience are perceived to be quite nebulous, how would a group even begin to discern whether it was "stuck" or not? At this juncture a "sensible solution" may occur to the participants: perhaps it would be best to simply "trust the process," rather than "analyzing" or "having too many ideas" about the Cohort experience. The thought arises: perhaps the most efficient way to cope is to turn a god deal of one's attention to other classes and projects.

Here, we can catch a glimpse of (as if out of the corner of our eye) of yet one more fleeting shadow - that of hypocrisy: long recognized as an archenemy of spiritual growth. For, in such a circumstances a learning community may in fact be learning how not to reveal (to itself or others) the ways in which its own learning process feels constrained or encumbered. Be this as it may, it is critical to remember that, if the issues we are raising are valid, they are systemic in nature. In other words, whatever uniqueness our Cohort displays needs to be seen as superimposed on a larger backdrop: namely, issues and patterns generic to the on-line Cohort structure as it is currently designed.

Generally speaking, the situation virtually implores an earnest group of PhD students to avoid dealing with one of the most critical decisions of all: deciding how to decide. For better or for worse, a group can ignore this most critical decision, and just get by, in which case the process will happen by default - the "whatever" factor. This seems to have been the case with C-16. From there, the predicament itself generates a circular process of infinite regress. The situation may indeed be transforming - but into a twilight-zone-like strange loop where the unspoken norm is that… "we simply will not discuss, debate, or resolve the fact that we do not thoroughly discuss, debate, or resolve things…because if we did, our difficulties with conflict resolution would interfere with demonstrating out competence in collaboration, group learning, and self direction, in other words, finishing our G-Doc…and we can't have that, because we have a job to do… completing the G-Doc, the LC course, and ultimately, graduating."

Approximately one year into our group process, one Cohort member suggested that we simply acknowledge that, what we as a group had "decided" to do, is to learn "about" transformative learning, rather than be involved in the process of transformation per say. During our first intensive the guidance we received involved the somewhat enigmatic mention of the classic mnemonic, referring to the stages of the group development: "Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing." It is said that a group unable to "storm," cannot optimally "perform." What then, since the state of "non-performance" is 1) an undesirable outcome, and 2) impossible for the group to identify? The circle then returns to its starting point. People wonder: "What is our primary' task?' And how are the smaller tasks we need to accomplish related to 'processing?' Is our academic work related to quality of our interactions and relationships with one another, and if, so how?"

Game Without End

Watzlawick has referred to the experience of this kind of impasse as being caught in a "Game Without End." The game cannot generate from within itself the conditions for its own change, nor can it produce a change in its own rules; neither can it create a shift from a group focus at the level of content, to one at the next highest level, that of process or pattern. Such a change would be "meta" to the Cohort game itself, and no provision is made for this possibility. (Watzlawick, 1974, pp.22, 157)

As one might expect - immersion in this kind of circular situation, particularly in a high pressure doctoral program (or any realm of life that is meaningful) would likely generate a fair degree of anxiety, agitation, and chronic upset. And, being human, it is not at all unusual for us to respond to this distress, by blaming - someone or something. Perhaps it is the school's fault… or the professor's…or the teaching assistant's… the assignment's, other group members'. As Senge (1990, p.78) has noted, a linear view always suggests a simple locus of responsibility. If things seem to be going wrong - "He did it, she did it, it did it." Or perhaps instead of the "if-only-blame-game," we play the "guilt-game," "I did it." In any case the operative thought-form is that "someone or something" should change - but only at a first-order-level. Scenarios like these are reminiscent of Gregory Bateson's descriptions of double-binding messages in certain families with a psychotic member. In extremis, such communication patterns can be a very effective formula for promoting cognitive breakdown.

In fact in a "Game Without End" many different solutions can be attempted within the frame that is already given, but they invariably lead to the same outcome, namely, zero second-order change. Replacing this game with a new one would necessarily involve dealing with the frame itself - that is, with the class and not with its members. (Watzlawick, pp. 22, 157). As Senge has pointed out (1990, p. 171), for most of us, the structures within which we operate are invisible, "Often the structures are of our own creation. But this has little meaning until those structures are seen."

Thus, until we are able to "see" our predicament systemically, our attempts to handle "what comes up in Cohort," will often be limited to a first-order change perspective. We will seek to replace this behavior, with that one, or this attitude, with a more functional opposite. This is eminently understandable given our philosophic heritage. Our traditional "Aristotelian" two-valued logic operates by setting up artificial divisions and polarizations. For instance, if "A" represents a problem - it is logical to conclude that "Not-A" represents a solution. The only conceivable solutions are "more or less of the same:" a change in quantity, rather than context. The reality is, however, that many effective and viable solutions are never even considered because they lie outside the frame of reference being used. And, since their assumptions about problem solution are linear and fixed, the would-be problem-solver remains bound and limited to one narrow frame of reference.

This exhortation, posted by a plainspoken, forthright Cohort member prior to our January 2002 Intensive reflects precisely this state of affairs:

"Let's take care of lurking issues like grown up doctoral students and let's execute a
group doc of transformation in Jan compared with our floundering in August.
If I've po'ed anyone or not pulled my weight...write or call me...no garbage dumping in Jan. as we outlined in August, we need to be responsible for our own concerns and speak out for ourselves."

Part of the predicament here is that certain "solutions" can actually contribute to the problem. And, if they continue to be applied, solutions of this kind can be predicted to escalate a difficulty. The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920's is an example of this phenomenon. As enforcement of the prohibition became more stringent, "more of the same" did not produce the desired result, but rather made things considerably worse. In practice actions taken with the intention of re-establishing a level of order and stability, in fact served to create more deviation from the desired norm. Paradoxically, negative or "balancing" feedback, which was initiated with the ostensible purpose of establishing greater system stability, instead created a positive form of "amplifying" or reinforcing feedback. In such circumstances recursive positive feedback loops, can lead to a "runaway" - an "escalation without limits." Instead of leading to healthy adaptation and growth, they move the system toward an eventual breakdown - a process Bateson referred to as "schismogenesis."

In a Cohort setting a particular form of schismogenesis is likely to occur at the affective/emotional level. The process appears to work this way; First, it seems realistic and accurate to say that those who choose to enroll in CIIS (and the TLC concentration) are, perhaps without exception, persons who possess a strong sense of personal integrity and openness. Among such a self-selected group, it seems likely that members will find themselves entrained into a group-level denial regarding the self-sealing, self-reinforcing and paradoxical loops at the heart of their Cohort process.

With children, jobs, and spouses, all pressing for attention outside of school…and dissertation planning, classes, and other projects are occupying the rest of our attention in school, who, after all, has the time and energy to spend figuring out how to make the Cohort work by deciphering abstruse paradoxes of self-reference? "Besides," the thought continues, when I signed up for all this no one mentioned anything about cutting through an overgrown jungle of confusion in unknown territory, with one machete, surrounded by unfamiliar locals? The instructors aren't emphasizing strange loops as an integral part of the curriculum. And then there are those big dogs - who all seem to be named Chaos: We run from them; they chase us - not only snapping at our heels as we go - but somehow suddenly always showing up around the next corner, showing us their pearly white teeth. Someone ought to mention this in the student handbook. "

Without a doubt denial can be a necessary and effective coping mechanism in a variety of situations. However, the reality is that, due to fundamental honesty with which CIIS students seem to be blessed, this denial may well evoke a sense of collective shame or guilt. At a systemic level, these uncomfortable challenges to one's basic integrity could then generate predictable reactions in the form of additional positive and negative feedback loops, as individuals and the group attempt to adapt and find their balance. However, if these dynamics are not named or discussed, it is almost certain that awareness will be deflected elsewhere. Stressors would be likely to appear instead in the guise of hostile or insensitive one-on-one interactions in which individuals come away feeling discounted or rejected. Under such circumstances, a continuing schismogenesis, and the breakdown of a sense of community is virtually assured.

The Power of Coherence

A contrasting image has been offered by Wheatley, who suggests that, for optimal self-organization to occur, "a system needs access to itself." She is quite clear on this point:

"It needs to understand who it is, where it is, what it believes, what it knows. These needs are nourished by information. If it moves through a system freely, individuals learn and change, and their discoveries can be integrated by the system. But if information is restricted, the system can neither learn nor change." (Wheatley, 1994, p.82)

Wheatley goes on to make a number of intriguing points regarding the relationship of a group's capacity for healthy self-reference and its ability to grow and self-organize. She writes:

"Identity is the source of organization. Therefore, the most important work we can do at the beginning of an organizing effort is to engage one another in exploring our purpose. Identity includes such dimensions as history, values, core beliefs, capacities, principles, purpose, [and] mission. But frequently, as we look into the organization we see multiple selves - messages, goals, and behaviors that tell conflicting stories. How do we know what is important to the organization? Which identity should we honor or ignore? [In such situations the] process of self reference breaks down [and the] opportunity to choose among different selves feels too much like Russian Roulette." (Wheatley, 1996, pp. 58-59)

Wheatley suggests that integrity is the only alternative to the unnerving effects of such incoherence. In essence she is advocating a wholehearted embrace of the principles of H3, where differences remain distinct, but no aspect of self stands apart. Clear at its core, a group can afford to be less anxious or defensive, less concerned about where they stop, and the rest of the world begins. A sense of inner wholeness fortifies them to take risks, and to expand their range of cognitive, affective, and behavioral options.

"Identity," then, is the filter that every organism or system uses to make sense of the world. New information, new relationships, and changing environments are all interpreted through a sense of self. In this sense identity can be regarded as an essential condition for organization. (Wheatley, 1996, pp. 14, 85) Here, it is possible to think of "meaning" as a strange attractor. A "meaning attractor" allows the group to wander through the realm of chaos, making decisions consistent with its sense of purpose. (Wheatley, 1994, p. 136) As Wheatley asserts: "In a world of emergence, new systems appear out of nowhere. But the forms they assume originate from a dynamic process set in motion by information, relationships, and identity." (Wheatley, 1996, p.87)

From this point of view it becomes clear that a critical leadership skill will be that of assisting and even championing the bringing to light of areas which have been hidden in the shadows. Optimal development and realization of a group's creative potential will depend upon its ability to "know" and "be" itself - as a whole, rather than fragmented process. This capacity in turn centers upon an access to information - regarding self, others, and the surrounding context. The good news is that the movement toward wholeness is a natural, inbuilt process, a manifestation of an inherent urge toward greater complexity. From a leadership point of view this suggests that what is most helpful are actions that support the group field in creating coherence and integration. Still, as we have also seen, re-owning one's shadow - at either the individual or collective level - is easier said than done.

The following on-line posting helps to illustrate a few of these points. Here, the Cohort receives feedback from the facilitator, which is an amalgam of various conversations that occurred as we prepared for last year's January Intensive. Monty shares with us a crystal clear snapshot of the questions with which we have collectively been wrestling:

"They include things like--what the hell is Transformative Learning when it's at home? What do we mean by transformation? How does it apply to us? Are we supposed to be transforming ourselves? How? Into what, exactly? Will we be graded for it?

"And what's with this group work? How does it all work? What about our "shadow" stuff? What's the relationship between task and process? Are we processing enough? Why don't we do more process stuff, and figure this all out? Are we holding back? What are we afraid of, if anything? When is enough too much? Is this process stuff always a hassle? Are we doing therapy here, or what? And do we get graded for it?"

"One of the things we'll be doing next semester is figuring our how to become a learning community. Part of the deal here is figuring out what our actual expectations are of such a community. I have no intention of imposing my view of what it should be. Part of the learning process is for every cohort to figure out how it understands its own task/process dynamic within the context of the learning community." (CIIS Website, 2001)


A few final questions rise into view: Is it possible that the built-in ambiguity regarding both group leaders' roles and the structure/process of the Cohort experience itself may actually be at cross purposes with the learning objectives of the TLC program? Paradoxes of self-reference create a circular, but self-contradictory process, in which they assert and deny themselves at the same time. When they arise in human discourse they spawn vicious cycles involving mutually exclusive interpretations of "what is actually true, and what should be done about it." In a group setting this dynamic is manifested through the communication process itself. What does seem clear is 1) - that limit-cycle groups are caught in self-referential, vicious circles; and 2) - that groups that experience themselves as enmeshed in impassable, strange-loops remain "stuck," and consequently are very limited in their ability to evolve. As Smith and Berg (recap:

"Motion without movement can be found in the repetitive patterns (often unsatisfying or counterproductive) that [may] involve different settings…but feel the same because the pattern of responding is the same. Movement refers to leaving old patterns at least for a time and exploring new psychological or emotional ground in the life of the group." (Smith and Berg, 215-216)

So, one set of questions that comes to mind has to do with the fact that some groups fall at the "regressive end" of the growth continuum. Limit-cycle groups can be characterized by various kinds of rigid thinking, denial, and punitive behaviors, often emerging in a disguised form. Individual deviation from a shared, but unspoken group dogma can bring swift disapproval or outright rejection. In extreme cases a "regressive" group can be more than merely "stuck." The group's internal demand is that members conform to its own skewed, but disavowed norms. This dynamic will not only will obstruct the processes of transformation, learning, and group maturation; it often is psychologically detrimental for individual members as well. (McClure, pp. 168-172) As we have seen, "limit-cycle" groups, commonly exhibit behaviors such as group narcissism, scapegoating, and psychic numbing. McClure (p. 172) contends that: "examples of [these type of groups] abound in academia, business organizations, religious communities, governments and larger social systems." What provisions are made in the TLC program to counter the harmful and destructive elements of such group processes?

Groups can generate runaway positive feedback by trying to solve impossible problems, such as trying to make "what is so" - be other that what it is. This can happen, for example, through a group's active pursuit of an agenda that includes denial and splitting. However, should this occur, a remarkable reversal will inevitably take place: whatever it is that people in a group are refusing to pay attention to, will eventually come to dominate the entire process. In a fascinating turn of events, whatever aspects of the group-self are considered "not-self" (and therefore deserving of being either ignored or rejected) - it is these, which will begin to "run the show." And, like any cult-like collective, the more this occurs, the more intense will be the need to deny its reality.

As we have seen, in this quest for "mindlessness" groups can go so far as to unconsciously appoint "mind-guards," whose job (which is also unconsciously carried out) is to "protect" the group, perhaps by setting up some sort of melodrama, or group schism, whenever the group is in danger of confronting things it would rather avoid. This can easily be accomplished if the "mind-guard" has the ability to play on people's fears. And, as we have also seen, groups can be quite active in this regard, going so far as to shun, ostracize, or exclude any members who address the role of shared illusions in the group's life. Beyond these issues lies another: most of us tend to exempt ourselves from this description. The more psychologically sophisticated we are, the more likely we are to think we are immune to these difficulties, and assume that only fragile or unstable people have such vulnerabilities. (Deikman, 1990, p.2)

We know, too, that, if not interrupted, positive feedback cycles can be both self-sustaining and dis-integrating. As Morin notes, they can be "uncontrolled, self-nourishing, self-amplifying, self-accelerating" processes. Speaking of human society as a whole, he has said that, "the question today is that of knowing…whether we have crossed a critical threshold in the process of acceleration/amplification that could lead to an explosive runaway."(1999, p. 74) No doubt, reinforcing or positive feedback can be the engine of growth (Senge, 1990, p. 79) But, not all growth is a plus. Slater, too, addresses the odd, unnerving, even ghoulish context in which we modern-day humans seem to be enfolded. One well wonders whether this is not an isomorphic condition of our time.

"The kind of growth Western culture has experienced over the past three hundred years would be considered a sign of gross malfunction in any other context. Healthy growth is paced differently - it does not absorb or destroy everything living around it. It is cancerous cells that grow and reproduce rapidly in total disregard of their connections with surrounding cells….[Additionally] There is a spiral effect that comes from the fact that our disease is continually being externalized: the more we create a diseased environment, the more frantic we become in our efforts to escape it. And each motion in the service of escape carries us farther and farther from the state of health… we are seeking…" (Slater, 1994 pp. 38-40)

In point of fact runaway positive feedback can, at times, produce an adaptive mutation. Enantiodromia, a term originating from the classic Greek period speaks to the interdependence and inseparability of opposites. When applied to human culture and social organizations it suggests that social patterns will turn into their opposite by being pushed to an extreme.
In organizational or social contexts, doublebinds and circular states of impasse can be the stimulus for morphogenesis. The key question, however, is how vicious cycles, can be transformed into "virtuous" ones creative circles, which allow us to transcend into another domain.

The program's stated goal is the creation and dissemination of a skill/knowledge-base, which empowers practitioners not merely to document or analyze transformational group processes, but also to act as effective catalysts for the emergence of creativity and innovation. Ideally, graduates will have acquired an initial level of expertise, enabling them to begin serving human systems by nourishing their capacities for growth and evolution. To this end the Cohort can be seen as a prototypical society. As is true of any other group, Cohorts are vulnerable to the phenomenon of groupthink, which is the norm in groups that have stopped evolving? And, if our goal is to become proficient in the ways of transformation, the question remains, what are such groups are tacitly learning?

One could imagine that, if authentic empowerment does occur in a Cohort that is stuck in a back-and-forth, limit-cycle mode, it would do so in spite of (or in active opposition to) the group's norms. Nevertheless, the psychic cost of accommodating such a process - which may involve being ostracized, shunned, or at the very least marginalized - seems an unnecessary and inappropriate burden for students to bear. Naturally, in many cases, the Cohort - driven by individuals' creative capacities and the group's collective desire to accomplish its goals - will "get the job done with flying colors." But the hidden suffering will certainly impact and occupy all involved.

7. Power and the Shadow

We can find the institute's stated goals on the CIIS website. These include:

"the affirmation of spirituality, a commitment to cultural diversity and a dialogue of difference, an embracing of intellectual, cultural, and spiritual traditions which further the effectiveness of emancipatory movements such sustainability, feminism, social and political liberation, cultural self-expression and ecological activism." (CIIS Website, 2002)

It is obvious that the school seeks to provide its graduates with capacities for broadening the range of human potential. It holds out a vision of possibility - for realizing such aims as: the creation of a more sustainable world, a collaborative future, viable social relationships, and learning environments that are alive. It is also unequivocally clear that, as doctoral students, we have the privilege of attending a school that consistently demonstrates courage, innovation, and an intention to create a deeply integral approach to life-long learning. And, as we witness a mounting dis-integration and instability overspreading the world, the value of the work we are doing together becomes increasingly evident.

As we explore the concerns, which are interrelated with the topic of transformation, we are naturally drawn to take a fresh look at issues of power and authority. And naturally, we are called to find skillful means to aid one another in building relationships that are creative and compassionate, rather than primarily competitive or coercive. The TLC program within CIIS offers students many questions to contemplate. For our purposes we will pose just one: "How can we invent forms of organizational life that are not relentlessly destructive of human values, whether by omission or commission?" In actuality the Cohort experience itself might be seen as one attempt to answer this question. But before inquiring further we need to look at the overall context - the environment in which this question is rooted.

From Coercive Power to Generative Power

Arguelles (1987) has argued that for millennia humanity has been caught up in a "civilizational trance," one that has now culminated in a sort of "technological binge." We have become intoxicated, says Arguelles, with our growing power to manipulate our environment, and as a consequence, we have already created a dangerous and massive depletion of resources. Using the metaphors of addiction and recovery, Arguelles asserts that humanity stands at a critical juncture in its evolutionary path. We can be compared to an alcoholic hurdling toward his or her "bottom," and, as such, we face a stark choice between "continuing on our binge" or "reaching for sobriety." Our choice will determine whether we, as a species, will have the option of enjoying our beautiful planet, or will soon face large-scale disintegration and crisis.

Ervin Lazlo, the renowned systems-thinker, reminds us that humans currently have the ability to act consciously and collectively - exercising forethought in choosing our path forward. As cited by Eisler, (1987) Lazlo emphasizes that we are living in a "crucial epoch" and that we must not leave the next steps in the evolution of human society to chance. The consequent state of imbalance on our planet makes it imperative that a considerable number of human beings "awaken," and choose to accept leadership roles through which they can offer their own unique talents in the quest to find solutions to these extraordinarily complex problems.

In addition to the issue of resource depletion, let us recall that humans continue to have at their fingertips a nuclear arsenal capable of eliminating (at the very least) all vertebrate life on our planet. The expansion of biological weaponry, the increasing likelihood of the occurrence of a positive feedback cycle of global warming, as well as countless other examples of schismogenesis are indications that our human capacity for ignorance is, presently, the most dangerous adversary faced by our species. From this evidence one could easily draw the conclusion that we are demonstrating an extraordinary lack of wisdom in using our human power, so much so, that this state of affairs might well be described as a massive "learning disability."

In this light it is intriguing to realize that in order to examine the subject of power we must first overcome a sort of squeamishness. The topic of power itself seems to be often accompanied by a peculiar discomfort - as if not quite apropos in polite discourse. In a great many situations the act of naming the power arrangements that are operating, is itself taboo. Those who possess social power spend a great deal of effort keeping it hidden. Those who do not are often averse to raising the issue. This is understandable: breaking the taboo and speaking about power dynamics brings invisible realities into the foreground. And this is a risky business, for such an act simultaneously raises questions about power, while threatening the freedom and entitlement of those who possess it.

Because the topic of power has remained "in the closet," there is often a tremendous confusion about the issue as a whole. Even Jung seemed to demonstrate a rather strong ambivalence in insisting that: "Where love reigns, there is no will to power, where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking."(in Hillman, 1995) By creating such a dichotomy (in essence asserting that these conditions are mutually exclusive) he discounted the enormous power of love; by the same logic it follows that to seek empowerment is loveless behavior. If we accept this doublebind we will find ourselves living in a world of increasingly stereotypic and simplistic dimensions. And we will create self-fulfilling (and self-defeating) prophecies: powerful people will be expected to be heartless; the person who aspires to be a more loving soul will naturally be left with only one alternative: renunciation of personal power, and a state of powerlessness.

The reality, however, is that today there are a multitude of groups composed of heart-centered people, working toward a vision of global unity and personal transformation. These goals, like the stated ideals of CIIS, can be thought of as strange attractors - guiding lights on the human journey. During the last century social justice movements have made countless inroads all around the world. Diverse arenas offer testimony to a growing desire for more open and just societies. As Eisler (1987) has documented, there appears to be a steadily mounting revulsion in world public opinion regarding violent repression. This collective sentiment is being reflected in many arenas - from the United Nation's focus on the rights of children to the world-wide attention now being given to the prevalence of violence against women, whether through battering, rape, genital mutilation, or female infanticide. A significant manifestation of this trend has recently occurred in the "truth and reconciliation hearings" in South Africa. In all of these dimensions we see evidence of a determination to find ways of transforming conflict into something constructive, rather than destructive.

In organizational life, too, we have seen the emergence of a "power-in-connection model:" a focus on synergic relationships that simultaneously build connection and enhance the power of all concerned. (Eisler and Montuori, 1998) Shepherd suggests that this dynamic might be described as "power-with," and "power to, " rather than "power-over" or "power-for-oneself-only" (Miller, 1997)(Shepard, 1993). These ideals, too, can be thought of as "strange attractors," beckoning us in the direction of more complex ways of thinking and more compassionate ways of behaving.

Still, it would seem to be a grave mistake to underestimate the power of a competing set of attractors: humanity's five to six thousand year history of operating through a paradigm of power which Riane Eisler (1987) has termed the dominator system. Speaking of this phenomenon Philip Slater (1991, p. 3-4) has commented that, today, what is coming to an end is not "the world" - but an era - the era of authoritarianism:

"It is an era that has lasted for over 5,000 years - virtually all of recorded history - and still dominates our ideas and customs. This cultural system is so old and so familiar that we tend to mistake its customs and habits for human nature. I call such pervasive social systems megacultures. A megaculture is a core of attitudes, practices, and beliefs shared by a wide range of vastly differing cultures, and covering most of the globe. Many of the agonies & upheavals of our time result from our efforts to move into a new era while still toting a huge load of emotional and intellectual baggage from the old one; The emerging megaculture is democracy."

Eisler, too, (1987) offers a profound exegesis of these core human values, arguing that human society, throughout time, has been organized according to one of two basic, and divergent sets of assumptions:

"The first, which I call the dominator model, is what is popularly called patriarchy or matriarchy, - the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model."

Eisler's work is especially significant in terms of its implications: the era of the Dominator system has lasted for virtually all of recorded history. Literally for millennia, the organizing principle of power over others (and the environment) has held sway, insuring the dominance of various privileged groups. Males in particular have benefited enormously - in terms of social status and opportunity - from an orientation that might well be regarded as an obsession with autonomy and individual power. And, still today, if we look closely, we can perceive that these foundational premises subsist in the daily life of most any workplace, school, or family.

Based on her research Eisler does acknowledge many hopeful trends, all of which suggest a broad based movement toward a more Partnership-oriented system. At the same time she offers this sobering observation:

"In the last few centuries the partial shift from a dominator to a partnership society has partly freed humanity, allowing some movement toward a more just and equalitarian society. But at the same time there has been a strong countermovement both on the left and the right, to more deeply entrench the dominator society…Given the strong inertial pull of androcratic social and ideological organization…a totalitarian future is a real possibility." (1987, p. 184)

The Challenges of Deep Democracy

It is clear that both the Transformative Learning and Change doctoral program and CIIS as a whole emphasize the "partnership way." As we have seen, self-organizing human systems, by definition, involve mutuality, openness, equality, trust, and collaboration. Transformative Learning, too, appears to be deeply rooted in democratic principles. We find this intriguing assertion by Mezirow, (2000, p. 28):

"Transformation Theory suggests that transformative learning inherently creates understandings for participatory democracy by developing capacities of critical reflection on taken-for-granted assumptions that support contested points of view and participation in discourse that reduces …threats to rights and pluralism."

But what is the Partnership way "really like" - in practice? As Montuori points out in the preface to Zaiss's book True Partnership - the alternative to "power-over" kinds of relationships is not some sort of homogeneous, wishy-washy world in which no one expresses differences or disagreements, and where everyone is always "nice:" In fact,

"It is important to differentiate between a real partnership…in which both partners win and what, following Riane Eisler we call a dominator relationship…Unless this distinction is clarified and ground rules established around the quality of relationship, the term 'partnership' will just mean working together 'dominator-style.'" (2002, xii-xiii)

If the TLC curriculum has as one of its intentions the development of competencies "not just to describe, but to change human systems," then the Learning Community course would seem to be the ideal vehicle for acquiring and practicing these skills. Naturally, given the pervasiveness of our authoritarian heritage, we can expect that "dominator" and "partnership" elements would both be visible in Cohort settings. Likewise, it is predictable that we will find both democratic and autocratic tendencies within ourselves.

In C-16 we witnessed just this kind of unfolding. While the openness of the environment allowed for the current innovative G-Doc, there were also strong pulls toward authoritarian functioning. This was reflected in our use of the "360" feedback process (in which all members provide feedback to all other members). An aspect of this process also sheds light on the ingrained, taken-for-granted nature of the premises that underlie hierarchical thinking in general. When the idea of the 360 was first suggested, it was presented as involving students only, and did not include either the group facilitator or his teaching assistant. While a later addendum was eventually incorporated, it clearly took the form of an afterthought, and it was not evident that either the group facilitator or teaching assistant were particularly enthused about it. This sense was reinforced once the Intensive arrived, and meetings with each student were scheduled, but no provision was made for either the professor or his assistant to receive in-kind feedback.

While many of us found the 360 questions quite useful and empowering, there were aspects that evoked concern for some participants. Perhaps the most important of these was the way in which we initially debated whether to utilize this tool or not. The original proposal was that Cohort members' feedback regarding one another would be sent on-line to the professor, and then at the Intensive, presented anonymously to each Cohort member. When this exercise was first suggested on-line, a number of individuals expressed their "dissent" in relation to the "anonymous" format of the feedback process itself. While their reasons varied, the sentiment expressed online by these individuals was clearly unfavorable. When all was said and done, the questions for the 360 were simply sent to the group via e-mail. While it was later reported that a number of private phone conversations had occurred with the group facilitator in which salient issues were discussed, these were not reported in public on-line postings. Given this unfolding, an overall impression was conveyed that the decision itself was a "fait accompli" - one in which concerns expressed in our public forum had not been taken seriously.

In general, this series of events can be seen as merely one expression of how - from our inception - C-16 had chosen to deal with differences of opinion. One of the central issues we faced during our first Intensive in August of 2001 was the presence of strongly felt disagreements as to how (and whether) we would deal with "conflict," if it arose. (In reality conflict was already arising as we discussed the topic itself.) In our second Intensive in January 2002 we managed to deflect ourselves away from another contentious subject: how we would make decisions if "dissent" arose within the group. (Once again, there was obvious dissent already occurring, as to whether or not the subject should be raised at all.) Given these unresolved issues, it should come as no surprise that by the following spring, we were ill equipped to have substantive discussions or make democratically based decisions about the 360-feedback process.

By definition TLC students are individuals who already have taken a courageous leap in attending a highly progressive and innovative program. Obviously, however, this fact in no way exempts any of us from our past conditioning. There is no mystery here: the educational system within which each of us has spent so many years is based on obedience and on a power-over dynamic. Throughout our schooling we are reinforced for compliance and acquiescence, and usually punished for questioning procedures or authority. Therefore, to the degree that critical reflection on the Cohort experience itself is absent, we can presume (in this respect at least) that students are being trained for "more of the same"- fitting themselves into a framework in which substantive debate is discouraged and a muted cynicism prevails.

No doubt, when it comes to our beliefs about authority, we have acquired deeply conditioned habits. The truth is that, after some five thousand years of the prevailing authoritarian paradigm, we are all recipients of this legacy. And, from this perspective it makes sense to conclude that, if we do not de-construct these assumptions within the Cohort experience itself, participants and Cohort leaders will tend to envision the interrelationships in hierarchical terms. This may take numerous forms, including a subtle lack of "realness" and directness. When it comes to speaking their own truth, students are more likely be somewhat "circumspect." On the other hand these more oblique ways of communicating may be episodically interspersed with both passive aggressive and explosive expressions of frustration, often directed toward Cohort assistants. Slater's description of the following archetypal scenario speaks to these "habits of the heart:"

"The quintessential authoritarian leader is also insulated from his environment. Since [the feedback he receives] is filtered through people whose well-being depends on his approval, his subordinates tend to tell him what he wants to hear - that his decision are correct and everything is going well. Others who suggest that his ideas, actions, or general direction may be misguided (and that perhaps he will need to make drastic changes) are either ignored or punished. This occurs primarily because the very definition of this kind of power contains the idea that it cannot be questioned. As a result all questioning or opposition tends to be seen as malicious, and 'bad news' received as a personal affront…No individual used to being automatically obeyed can retain his or her flexibility, balance, adaptability or judgment, which like unused muscles, will inevitably atrophy. Thus it is often the case that the more senior one is in such a hierarchy, the more one is subject to the disease of being 'hard-of-listening.'"(1991, p.13)

All power exists as a relationship. Regarding Cohort-life as a whole, it is hypothesized that, in the absence of a very clearly defined, explicit "partnership" approach to social power, both leader and group will find themselves gravitating toward a habitual and time-honored "paradigm of power." In a sense a "familiar attractor" will pull the group in the direction of the known. The process will appear more like a decision by default, rather than an intentional, conscious group-choice. Once this occurs it is predictable that some voices, such as those identifying these dynamics and questioning their merit will be marginalized and/or excluded. And regrettably, certain kinds of learning and discussion will become taboo.

Cohort leaders can expect to be the recipients of projections, which emanate from such a mindset; and to be sure, leaders will need to neutralize these projections though openly speaking about them in the group context. However, because we have all been conditioned along these lines, there will be an unconscious, yet powerful impulse for Cohort leaders, despite their best intentions, to enact, rather than discuss, these dynamics within the group.

Training Democratic Leaders

One implication of this view is particularly striking: the extraordinary challenges involved in modeling - and training others to model - a use of authority that is both democratic and empowering. At the outset, we can see that democracy, as a collaborative form of "self-government" is unique in that it requires participants to be able to function - at times simultaneously - in both leadership and "followership" roles. To this end democratic leaders need to focus their energies on inspiring honest interactions, supporting a group in building trusting relationships, and encouraging both self-management and strategic integration. (Cloke and Goldsmith, 2002)

At the heart of relationship-building in a democracy is the ability to stimulate dialogue between people with opposing views. Among the ways in which a democratic leader can aid this kind of conversation to emerge are: inquiring, acknowledging, refereeing, concretizing, exploring, summarizing, challenging, coaching, redirecting, and uniting. Because democracy thrives on diversity, leaders are needed who can bring diverse perspectives and constituencies together to form an integrated, dynamic whole. Whereas bureaucracies strive for uniformity because it is predictable and easy to control, democratic forms of social organization strive for diversity because it is innovative and leads to unexpected results and organizational learning. (Cloke and Goldsmith, 2002, pp. 178-180)

In addition, any group seeking to embody democratic principles will need leaders who are able to empower others to lead. A vital facet of this process includes the leader's ability to embody the values to which they are committed, and this skill may perhaps be the most potent avenue for catalyzing a democratic ethos. Such "teaching through inspiration" at times may involve taking a stand, or sacrificing resources, time, or energy in moving the group toward a state of deep collaboration. Here, the coaching process may move from an initially structured contribution: offering knowledge; to less structure: creating opportunities for "doing" and practicing key skills; and finally to what might be called a "leaderless leadership style," which is primarily a way of being - simply the living of qualities such as clarity, imagination, mutuality, humility, and openness.

Slater reminds us that the idea of democracy as a political system is quite recent. The fall of monarchy rule in the United States and France occurred, after all, only some 200 years ago. He argues that, at best we are very gradually moving into a new era - the hallmark of which will be the widespread actualization of principles of democracy. Meanwhile, we are surrounded by contexts pervaded through and through with what Slater calls "an obsession with hierarchy" - a core element of which is the "assumption of verticality" - where everything owes allegiance to "something higher." Democracy is self-creating, rather than fixed or imposed from above. It also is a decentralized form of self-organization, where power is defused among the widest possible constituency. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, democracies are self-governing. This can be difficult to grasp since terms like government or rule suggest control from "above" - an image derived from our authoritarian heritage. (1991, pp.17-22, 182-191)

Many myths exist that keep hierarchy in place, and common sense suggests that the most effective means for people to truly grasp the possibilities inherent in the "partnership way" is through the actual practice of democracy. It is obviously unrealistic to expect the transition from authoritarianism to democracy to be effortless or easy. In fact, for both groups and individuals committed to this goal, this endeavor can be arduous indeed. Democracy requires more of us than hierarchical autocracies, partly because of the complicated, sometimes chaotic nature of what needs to go on at meetings. (Cloke and Goldsmith, pp. 90, 229)

Because there is so much to learn, having adequate time for group development is essential. We then have the opportunity to discover that leadership is a diverse skill that everyone can exercise. A given group needs the time to develop a variety of other capacities as well; among these are abilities to dissent with integrity; to argue passionately without creating unnecessary enemies; to be able to accept paradox and complexity, and to utilize non-dualistic thinking and the skills involved in "emotional intelligence."

Interestingly enough, Charlie Joiner a collaborator with Yongming Tang, founder of Synergic Inquiry shared a similar awareness as on-line guest instructor in a 2001 CIIS on-line class in Transpersonal Research Methods. SI is described as a collaborative, action-oriented methodology in which differences are not regarded as sources of friction and conflict, but rather are utilized for the wisdom inherent in them and the learning they can promote. Joiner:

"One of the major reasons for failure in use of SI is not allowing enough time for the process. It takes time to understand differences, to do the self and other knowing. There needs to be a bit of pause to begin the integration phase. This phase needs openness and time as well. So if you have a one-day workshop…the odds are you will not be successful at achieving synergy. In addition…[knowing oneself and others] in depth is very essential. It will fail if this is done only superficially." (CIIS Website , Introduction to Transpersonal Research Methods, Spring 2001)

In more authoritarian groups and organizations, avoidance, accommodation, and manipulation of differences routinely take precedence over dialogue and resolution. In contrast, democratically based systems and self-managing organizations tend to focus on negotiation of divergent perspectives, needs, and expectations. They do so through reliance on collaborative learning processes such as feedback, dialogue, relationship building, and consensus. A result of applying of such skills is synergy. However, these skills, in turn, actually depend on the development of fundamental behaviors and traits - such as courage, imagination, caring, empathy, forgiveness, insight, and integrity. While it is true that these human qualities cannot be instilled "from the outside," they can be "led." They can be facilitated, encouraged, supported, mentored or coached. In the same way, while another person cannot be ordered to be creative, it is possible to create conditions under which the emergence of creative thought and behavior is enhanced. (Cloke and Goldsmith, pp. 163-164, 201)

Cohort as Garden, Cohort as Marriage

It would appear that what the deeply democratic leader transmits is essentially an environment in which creative flourishing can occur. Again, this process might be compared to cultivating a garden - where we do not "grow" flowers, but instead create the conditions in which flowers can grow. Thich Naht Hanh, (1992) a Zen master who has championed democracy throughout his life, suggests that the role of a teacher is offer their knowledge and wisdom in such a way that, "the good seeds in the people can be penetrated and can sprout and become flowers, the flower of understanding, the flower of compassion and so on."

He continues:
"A good organic gardener does not discriminate against compost, because he knows how to transform it into marigolds, roses, and many other kinds of flowers. When we look deeply into ourselves we see both flowers and garbage. Each of us has anger, hatred, depression, racial discrimination… To practice mindfulness means to recognize each seed as it comes up and to practice watering the most wholesome seeds whenever possible, to help them grow stronger."

Finally, in thinking about the issue of teaching and learning the art of democratic leadership, a celebrated statement from the 1960's counter-culture may come to mind: that "not to choose is to choose." After five thousand years of androcacy, it seems unrealistic to imagine ourselves to simply reclaim our potential on demand, as if it were second nature.

In a Cohort setting, ideally, we are all learning to become leaders, and this necessarily entails the conscious creation of an environment in which empowerment can blossom. Much like a gardeners Cohort leaders have the option to consciously choose which seeds to water, and which seeds not to water. If desired, it is certainly possible to let "nature take its course," returning every so often to observe whether the garden is able to become autopoietic. The Cohort garden may receive the nourishment it needs, or perhaps go to seed. Theoretically, a leader might even choose to "water the weeds," simply to see what happens.

Let us shift metaphors for a moment, imagining instead that a Cohort actually is an arranged marriage. Intimate relationships can be wonderful, uplifting, incredibly nourishing experiences. And, as is common knowledge, they require "a lot of work." What happens if we are unwilling to do this work, or simply do not know what is involved? These words offered by John Welwood, (1996, pp. 126-127)) a highly respected couples therapist, return us to some of our earlier images of the shadow. Welwood suggests:

"Even in the most conscious of relationships, tensions and frictions are bound to build up. Often the more loving two people feel, the less inclined they are to focus on areas of conflict. Therefore, couples need to practice consciously emptying the bag on occasion, by setting aside special times to explore grievances and resentments that have been building under the surface… Relationships…become weighed down by their shadow - all the denials, [and] evasions… that a couple has stuffed away over many months. As two partners grievances accumulate, they become increasingly afraid…that their relationship will be swept away in a torrent of negativity. As a result…the distance between them increases."

In just this context we can ask whether a group will be able to learn about the process of making "partnership-based" (democratic) decisions when it is unable to master the art of "having a good (and fair) fight?"

In closing we need to consider two more points. The first has by now hopefully become evident: how challenging the processes of transformation and self-organization are - in practice. One of Frank Barron's many eloquent descriptions of the creative person speaks to this issue. He writes:

[This] person has great capacity for further growth, which involves somehow being able to leave oneself behind, to shed old coats, to molt, to metamorphose, to find a new order of selfhood in obedience to internal demands for change. This capacity for self-renewal is related to the…[issue of] retardation in the formation of the self [vs. defining]… himself as [an evolving] process. (1963, p. 168-169)

Dying into Life - Person and Planet

Said another way, Cohort participants need help in the kind of "dying" that is a prerequisite for growth. However, this "letting go" is not merely an individual matter. The broader predicament in which we all share is that, today, we appear to be living in critical times. On the one hand it seems an act of hubris to think that the future depended exclusively on our actions. However, there is a complementary way to view our dilemma. In "The Synthesis of Nations," Donald Keys (Synthesis, Volume I.) frames our situation this way:

"At each level of organization [we see that]… particles… cells, or… organs become a community, with community relations, functions, and responsibilities. Now we are coming to the end of a long road. The world will organize, as a community, or human life will largely, if not entirely, perish. If it does not entirely perish, the entire drama of evolution of human communities will have to begin again, to reach the same point we are at now, at some distant time in the future...after a gap of ten thousand or a million years."

From this vantage point each of us represents the whole human race. Within each of us is a desire to grow, and a reciprocal desire to avoid the challenges of growth. Perhaps humanity is in fact in the midst of making an evolutionary leap. If so, then it would also be hubris to think that the future did not depend on our actions. At this level, whether humanity collectively succeeds in this leap is each of our personal responsibility. Today, it would seem that what we need, as Gandhi's put it, are "experiments in truth." The Learning Community experience provides a superb laboratory for this kind of research.




"The torch of doubt and chaos, this is what the sage steers by."
Chuang Tzu


M.K Gandhi, one of the great "integrators" of the last century, utilized an extraordinary blend of inner spiritual work, sensitivity to the suffering of the poor and disenfranchised, and masterful use of skillful political means to bring about social change. His "nonviolent army" eventually won the day in the face of the immerse power of the British Empire; colonial India celebrated its independence on the 15th of August 1947. This example spawned a movement that has been taken up by countless nations and groups in throwing off overt colonization, as well as various forms of unofficially sanctioned oppression. Gandhi had indeed discovered an "alternative power source," which he sometimes referred to as "truth-force" (or Satyagraha).

One day during the long campaign for freedom, just as the train on which Gandhi was traveling had begun leaving the station, a news reporter on the platform cried out, "Mr. Gandhi! What is your message?" As the train very slowly moved down the track the inimitable Gandhi hastily scribbled a note on the back of a paper bag and handed it off to the reporter. It said, "My life is my message."

The Reality of Limitation

The purpose of this section has been to document, as well as to explore, the wider implications of the "constraints, foibles, and frustrations of C-16." Our goal has been to review the difficulties of our online learning community experience from an integral perspective, in the process reframing our understanding of "group competence" to include, identify and even celebrate "failure" as well as "success." In C-16 we beheld a microcosm of the world at large. We have been a group of 12 doctoral students, a professor, and his teaching assistant, aspiring to operate with integrity and wholeness, and discovering together our own unique forms of group mindfulness and creativity. At some moments we encountered harmony, joy, and synergy; at others we found ourselves unwilling to endure the kind of "constructive suffering," letting go, and grieving which can also lead to transformation.

The current inquiry has fundamentally been about our limitations - specifically, those attributes which our egos (both individually and collectively) would rather were not so. Our exploration has considered some facets of this phenomenon in specific and others from a more general perspective. From an integral point of view we have been obliged to seek an understanding, not only of the limitations of C-16, but of isomorphisms occurring within CIIS/TLC as well. The current survey can only be a beginning - at best capable of inviting further discovery, and suggesting some possible avenues to explore. Traveling further down this road would require great "heart:" for the climate or group milieu in which "paradigms of inquiry" are investigated will itself come under a daring and disciplined scrutiny.

A paramount realization is that the shadow itself arises out of a failure to embrace our own limitations. All human beings are vulnerable to becoming addicted to an autopoietic self-image - one that we find pleasing, and seek to feed and sustain; and one that we want other others to receive, confirm, and reinforce as well. Yet, to the degree that we are attached to maintaining a self-image that is false - in essence a mask constructed to exclude the less palatable aspects of ourselves - we are destined to live a life that is fundamentally dishonest. We will feel compelled to a continually avoid and somehow get away from a "reprehensible sense of inferiority" that embarrasses or shames us, and which Jung described as "the other in us." This being so, we will be constantly dominated by a desire to "jump over our own shadow," rather than face it. And the most direct way of doing so will be, as Jung put it, "by looking for everything dark, inferior, and culpable in 'others.' (Zeig, p.1)

It is tempting (and very human) to think of "limitation" as something negative, a condition to grow beyond, or transcend. One is reminded of the widely circulated self-help quote that says: "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours." While a stance toward life that includes persistence, patience, and energetic determination can be indicative of psychological health and inner strength, when taken too far, this same mind-set can lead us into the realm of grandiosity. This is so, because to be human - by definition - is to be limited. Inevitably, we will "miss the mark;" we will fall short and make mistakes. We simply do not (and will not ever) possess absolute independence or absolute control. Hopefully, this very knowledge will become an integral part of our personal power, reminding us of our need for structure and boundaries, and for each other. As Bradshaw emphasizes, "None of us has or can have unlimited power…and grave problems result from refusing to accept our own essential nature." (1988, p.4) In fact a healthy sense of our human limits can act as a balance to our capacities for autonomy and self-determination. And this insight can be freeing - serving as the root of both our sense of spirituality and humility.

Usually, however, the concept of "essential limitation" is not easy to accept. To perceive oneself as essentially limited can be a narrowing, even claustrophobic experience - one that we struggle against with all our might. "Man is the creature who wants to be God," observed Sartre. This struggle tends to show up in one of two forms - either as narcissistic self-enlargement or wormlike helplessness. At times these stances alternate within us; nevertheless, both extremes reject the invitation to be authentically human. (Kurtz, 1981, p. 11) (Kurtz, 1992, p. 28)

There is an alternate view: one which regards persons - humans - as being "ontologically caught in the middle," containing a contradiction. This vision of humanity states that - to be human is to sustain the tension of always being pulled toward two opposite temptations: to try to be more than human… or less than human. Said another way there is an essential incongruity, an inherent conflict at the very core of the human condition. To be human is to live within this conflict: because we are pulled in both directions, we can exclusively be neither. Yet, because this tension flows to the depths of our being, some of us seek to resolve it by being only one or the other, beast or angel. Some three hundred years ago the French mathematician and mystic observed one consequence of this striving: "He who would be an angel becomes a beast." The attempt to be more than human leads us becoming less than human."(Kurtz, 1981 pp. 10-15)

All this is like being intoxicated - being high on hubris, drunk on the notion that we can have absolute control over who and what we are. From this point of view, the essence of sobriety will be found in the profound acceptance and visceral realization that one is both: light and dark. This is a form of humility and involves learning how to live with (and even rejoice in) the reality of our "mixed-up-ness," our being beast and angel, sinner and saint. It is an embrace of ordinariness - one that sees us as good enough, and not in need of pretending to be other than the way we are. Jung spoke of the "transcendental function" as a "reconciling third," which emerges after conflicting opposites have been consciously differentiated, and the tension between them has been held, rather than denied or overridden. (Perera, p. 118) When we can accept that the essence of being human resides in a deep conjunction of infinite craving and essentially limited capacity - that we are finite beings who thirst for the infinite - then we are on our way to true freedom. In simple terms - we discover wholeness within limitation.

Authenticity and Growth

If, as students of the transformative process, we aspire to become catalysts in a world aching for wholeness, we are obligated to, as Gandhi suggested, "become the change we want to see." Nothing less will do. Only our wholeness and integration can create a climate in which others feel safe to let their own yearning for this state of being find expression. Beyond this, how can we call others to fulfill their highest potential if we have not gone through some of the fire of transformation ourselves? We need, in other words to face our own shadow, to make "an intricate study of the myriad ways in which we disown, deny, and project our selfishness, cruelty, greed, and so on onto others."(Keen, in Zeig p.202) This is not an endeavor for the faint of heart. As Jung (Zeig, p.4) wrote: "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore, not popular."

It would seem then, that, in terms of catalyzing genuine transformation "walking our talk" is essential. If we are to support the process of self-organization in individuals, groups, families, organizations, etc. we ourselves first need to gain access to our humanity in its fullness. Hiding parts of ourselves will not accomplish this. Neither will failing to acknowledge our shortcomings, or pretending to be something or someone we are not. Projecting disconnected parts of our psyche into relationships with others; saying one thing and thinking another; blaming others for our decisions; none of these will, in the final analysis, help us in evoking the mysterious processes involved in self-organization and maturation.

Yet, the goal here is certainly not to cast blame either on others or ourselves for these very human tendencies. We have all acted out these classic aspects of the shadow, and we can expect to do so again. A more balanced view is to think of these elements as merely one side of a coin. The coin's other side might be named "authenticity," and connotes a radical transcendence of denial and willingness to experience self and world - "as is." This necessarily involves a coming to terms with repressed and unresolved grief. Since loss is one of the profound "givens" in life, no one is spared the experience of it; and since real loss is universally painful, often heartbreaking, each of us (particularly in modern culture) is continually tempted to evade and sidestep our sorrow.

But to move forward from loss without grieving leaves us with nothing but a "hole in the soul." We forfeit our true being by turning away from the natural, healing power of grief. Robert Bly has spoken of the process of re-owning our grief as "learning how to shudder," and goes on to observe that a person seems to "inhabit themselves more completely" when they have reached a point where their voice is able to hold grief. Opening to suffering when it arises, rather than suppressing our reactions, allows us to be deepened by the experience - and to receive the gifts it bears - compassion, wisdom, and deep creativity. This openness in itself is one of the most effective means at our disposal for connecting deeply with others. By cultivating this "faithfulness to what is" over time we will finally be left with an abiding sense of the role and significance of tragedy in human life. And we will more and more deeply come to understand its powerful potential as a growth-facilitating influence. We will recapture for ourselves a renewed and genuine vitality, and we will be empowered to help others to do so as well.

Yet, we must not allow this awareness to convince us to invest in yet another idealization - only this time an image of "realness" or authenticity. The simple intention to bring thought, word, and deed together - realizing that we will inevitably fall short - is more than sufficient. In a great many situations this calls for simplicity of "being," not a complexity of "doing." In fact often what is needed is a kind of "non-doing." As the Talmud says: "If you add to the truth, you subtract from it." And, yet for us complicated humans, this kind of "openness" and "willingness"- and the task of discovering "the courage to be" - is challenge enough. However, to successfully return home to the source of our being, and to share ourselves from this place of inner truth requires one further step. We must be willing to hold fast to our truth when our heart confirms it, and the very next moment to relinquish this hold when it does not. As William James put it: "We have to live today by what truth we can get today and be ready to call it falsehood tomorrow."

As already noted, the acceptance of unequal, unilateral, hierarchical relationships is deeply ingrained - not only in our current organizations - but also in our general approach to thinking about institutions and the way they are structured. It is not surprising, therefore, that many organizations find themselves using the all the "right" rhetoric regarding empowerment, teamwork, diversity, partnership, etc while offering complex rationalizations for inconsistencies between expressed values and actual behaviors. (Cloke and Goldsmith, 2002, pp. 201, 218) Obviously, the CIIS community is made up of human beings who are seeking something more than "business as usual." Yet, these same considerations apply.

All of us are heirs of the dominator system. As such we have much to unlearn - and to learn - about human relationships characterized by complementarity and mutuality. Complementarity refers to individuals fitting into each other, thus enhancing each other, rather than diminishing self or other. Mutuality depicts the two-way reciprocal nature of human relationships that are deeply human. Such relationships, in and of themselves, seem to furnish the invitation and the opportunity to grow and expand: one simultaneously receives by giving, and gives by receiving. We are free except from the necessity of choosing. And, the necessity of choice means that we must choose to limit ourselves. In doing so, we create ourselves as finite, incomplete beings - as essentially limited, yet continually craving "more." Indeed it is because of this incompleteness, each of us needs others, and can fulfill others. The inviting illusion of self-sufficiency and independence is just that - an illusion. Our "interdependence" - or capacity for mutuality and partnership - then, derives from our mutual vulnerability. We are in fact, essentially limited beings, who strive for unlimitedness. However, when we can affirm, acknowledge and consciously embrace this shared weakness, rather than despair we paradoxically discover our enormous strength - we find that we can give and get without threat. Alike in our weakness, we are able to find in our differences only strength. (Drake, 1972) (Kurtz, 1981).

Accepting our contingency - our "not-God-ness" - is not an easy burden to bear; often it lead us into the temptation to live in illusions - specifically, that one can adapt the world and all possibilities to one's own will. It is necessary, however, to resist this temptation and to choose reality, as the only positive arena for value in human existence. (Drake. P.8) Yet, as for thousands of years society has been structured, as Montuori and Eisler (1998), have pointed out, within social institutions of every imaginable shape and form human beings have been viewed essentially as resources to be exploited, in other words as objects to be manipulated and used.

Regarding the prevalence of the "command-and-control" model in organizational life Montuori and Eisler (1998) state:

"Unless we address the overarching values and organizational framework, there will be no systemic change in the direction needed. There will continue to be talk about a shift from rigid hierarchies to more flexible heterarchies. But even the flattest organization will still be racked by dominator power games in which individuals vie to "be on top."

To the degree this analysis is accurate, it also reveals the degree to which we are deeply institutionalized. We have all - sometimes for decades - been a part of hierarchical and bureaucratic work settings which rely on principles of top-down decision making, competition over resources, restricted assess to information, vertical feedback, and expectations of conformity and obedience. Routinely, we have participated in institutional structures that provide little opportunity for creative expression, authentic relationships, or ethical dialogue. And, despite the fact that, without regenerative work, people's souls wither, most, if not all of us have, through sheer necessity, become inured to such contexts. (Cloke and Goldsmith, 2002, pp. 89, 218)

From the vantage point of transformative learning in general we can turn to Brookfield's claim (in Mezirow, 2000) that: "for something to count as an example of critical learning, critical analysis, or critical reflection, I believe that the persons concerned must engage in some sort of power analysis of the situation or context in which the learning is happening."

Objectification, by any other name…is just more of the same. In this regard a posting from a member of our Cohort, expresses our own dilemma quite well. Apparently somewhat exasperated, they wrote: "That said, could we please keep our eye on what's getting swept under the rug labeled [the value of]'ambiguity' and 'responsibility to self-organize?' I think that it's not just a good idea to place accountability where it belongs, but that transformation and transformative learning *requires* it." Truthfulness really does have liberating power."

If, as increasing number people around the world are concluding, human society is currently in the midst of a paradigm shift, it is crucial to recognize not only the scope, but also the depth and kinds of changes that are implied. It would appear that in many realms of daily life, we have not yet come to terms with the tenacity of the old ways; nor have we taken the time to imagine in detail what groups, organizations, and nations would be like once authoritarianism had been outgrown. (Cloak and Goldsmith, 2002, p. 1)

Training Collaborative Leaders

In this section of our G-doc we have attempted to view C-16 as a microcosm, reflecting key isomorphisms within the TLC program, as well as the larger society. We have suggested that the program's current frame of reference - regarding issues of neutrality, ambiguity, and group leadership - may be actually be contributing to the reinforcement, rather than genuine transcendence, of traditional dynamics associated a non-systemic, reductionist paradigm. We have further suggested that - in the Cohort experience itself - the focus on individual and interpersonal, as opposed to group-as-a-whole dynamics - adds fuel to the fire of habits we urgently need to outgrow. Perhaps the creation of conditions leading to the finest possible blossoming of transformative understanding within a group context will require more from all of us than we are now giving.

Certainly, the concept of leader neutrality is appropriate and fitting in terms of not imposing ones expectations or trying to unilaterally change Cohort members. However, in terms of group leadership it is as if, in the effort to avoid linear thinking and enmeshment, facilitators become entangled in the very dynamics they wish to avoid. It would seem that what we need at the present moment is a community contemplation regarding how we, as aspiring leaders, can embody the principles we seek to share - and, in the process, reflect the new paradigm in our interactions with other human beings.

Assagiolli, one of the forefathers of the current transpersonal/spiritual psychologies, emphasized the capacity of the individual to participate in a universal state of being. He quotes Radhakrishnan as saying "The particular privilege of the human self is that he can consciously join and work for the whole and embody in this own life the purpose of the whole (1983, p. 128) In the role of guide, rather than authoritarian organizer, the democratic leader can function as a center for a milieu which is still implicate. He or she can become, so to speak, a catalyst who is serving the group by supporting a new context to become explicate. In this way new perspectives and fresh opportunities become accessible to group members.

This stance, however, requires that the leader evolve as part of the system as a whole. Beyond this, they must be both giver and receiver, allowing the presence of those they are leading to enrich their own lives. This prototypical leader has the demanding job of simultaneously remaining aware of and making explicit, the strange position they hold - that of being both inside and outside the system at the same time. Just as many fields of knowledge are coming to understand that "the observer affects that which is observed," so the group facilitator faces an inescapable reality: they an integral and influential part of the Cohort with which they are interacting. The professor and teaching assistant will be transferring or "transmitting" information and energy, as well as knowledge, to the group; and certainly, too, they will not be able to determine ahead of time the way in which the system as a whole will process their input. However, while it is prudent for a leader to remain vigilant in avoiding the imposition of their own solutions or expectations onto the group, it is not necessary to give up a sense of causality altogether. As in all areas of life, it is instead possible to view the process of leadership within a fresh context. (Robertson, in Weiser and Yeomans, 1985)

This emergence, in turn, is made possible through a shift in the leader's experience: from that of a separate, causative agent toward one of being an "agent-provocateur" for a universal process of synthesis. In this context the leader's effectiveness does not rely primarily on their individual power, but rather on cooperating synergistically with an inherent flow of self-organizing processes. Obviously, the skill of seeking, evoking, and affirming the emerging potential within a human system is not simply a technical one. Rather, it is honed through the leader's own sensitivity to the subtleties, nuances, and vast array of interdependent relationships constellated by an ever-evolving, living context. (Robertson, in Weiser and Yeomans, 1985) To truly change the context of change we need to do more than deconstruct and break out of the old paradigm. We need to help others and ourselves to be born into a new one.

It has been said that, "The brighter the light, the darker the shadow." We are called to bring deep care and attention to precisely those unpleasant things within ourselves and between each other, which we ardently wish would just disappear. But, there is work, which transcends this act of courage. It would seem that the forces of health, wholeness, and growth can be kindled by an encounter with energies of a corresponding resonance. It is much like one candle simply lighting another. Gandhi often called this energy - soul-force. Gradual and painstaking as this process may be - the active cultivation within ourselves of empathy, genuineness, openness, passionate dedication to inner truth, and a willingness to respond compassionately to others - may in fact be the quickest, most effective means to becoming vessels for transformation in a world yearning for a better way. There is no question as to whether the promise of the work we are doing together is important, even imperative. The only question that remains is whether we will find ways to fulfill this vision by welcoming others - and especially ourselves - with all our hearts. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, the world - all of us - are now facing with a heroic challenge: we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or perish as fools. The choice is ours.




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Appendix A






Note: Postings are essentially chronological. Names have been changed in keeping with our mission.

Invitation: Obviously the overt and explicit topic under discussion is that of gender - certainly a "hot-button" topic. But is this all that is taking place here? You are invited to see how many other sub-texts you can find, which illustrate themes discussed in the preceding essay, and have little to do with the subject of gender.


You might want to think of this like a game called: "Find the Shadows."

How many can you find?



X: Z...do I detect a bit of sarcasm here? I'm on the phone with Y right now and we have decided that you are obsessed with...We tell you this in the most loving way.


Y: Per some requests, I have copied my conversation with Z that is currently happening in [another class] and brought it over here into LC where it belongs. Please give feedback and comments. Thanks.


Z: As I have used the phrase "I don't feel safe expressing my thoughts" recently, I will put my two cents worth into this conversation. For me safety means I can disagree, dissent or free-think on line without being personally attacked. It means I will not be subjected to being put into a blanket category that takes away the legitimacy of my postings. It means that I won't have to feel as though others are discussing my failings in conversations off line. Lastly it means for me that I won't become the object of ridicule because my way of life and interest are different from others. So, if I discover that the safety I thought was available on-line is not there, I must create the safety for myself, by being more guarded with which thoughts and feelings I am willing to share and what kind of interactions I am willing to engage in. Withdrawal to a certain extent is just a way of protecting oneself in a no win situation.


Y: Z, I feel compelled to respond to your posting because I know that you were hurt by the conversation that X and I had in the other classroom. It was NOT our intention to hurt you nor was it our intention to ridicule or stereotype you. It is difficult for me to understand why you did not recognize that we were joking since we are all sooooo playful with each other in so many different ways. I can only assume that we hit a sore spot or that somehow you do not recognize our true fondness for you?! You have been very abrupt and withdrawn for some time. It makes me sad that you have responded in this way…. I was hoping that we could explore a situation similar to this one so that hurt feelings are resolved before we meet again face-to-face. I also realize that you are going through major personal life transitions right now and I want to be supportive of that too. I'm sorry for any pain I have caused you. I hope you can engage with me/us about this so I/we can learn from it. Thanks, Z


Z: So, the process of the last few weeks has been very interesting for me. I have mulled over my willingness to continue in the program, going back to before I met any of the cohort. I was willing to pursue the PhD. Then and so that hasn't changed. What has changed for me is the sense that I can freely share with the cohort what I feel and think without being perceived as a lout or as a dominating male. In other words I don't feel free to be myself. The only way I can think of to continue in the program is to become less involved in the conversations and less of a target. That's no fun. So, the resolution I've come to today is to be myself, recognizing that being so alienates the more sensitive members of the cohort. Even this is less than a happy solution, for I feel that I've lost my sense of membership in the family, so to speak. Its as though I woke up and discovered everyone was not who I thought they were, and I didn't fit in their world any longer. While I'm fine with not fitting into the group, I feel a sense of sadness at the loss of the fantasy. I think that may be the trap that's created by this program. We're not only here to pursue an advanced degree, we're supposed to create a community while doing it. But what if someone doesn't fit into the community? How does that person interact in good way? Community takes a certain energetic, openness and as has been mentioned above, trust. Can one be in a community and not be open and not trust? Can one be on the fringe of community and still be part of the community? Questions from the fringe.


Y: Maybe I am totally clueless, but I don't understand your posting at all. I don't understand what made you think/feel that you can't be yourself and why you have not addressed that incident(s) specifically instead of making blanket comments about a whole group of people. Certainly not everyone in the group has oppressed you and made you feel that you can't be yourself. In my experience with this group, everyone is very loving and understanding, granted we all have our flaws, and I don't agree with you that you are not appreciated in this group. If that has become your reality, I think your reality is skewed. You may find that some of your thoughts or opinions or interests conflict with those of the other members but underneath all that 'stuff' we're just a bunch of nice people trying to work together and earn a degree. Just because there is conflict or even hurt feelings, doesn't mean that we don't love & trust each other. Even families have their differences and their dysfunctionality. Nobody is perfect. I believe that you and I can find common ground regarding this issue -- and in fact, I think that it is essential that we find the common ground because if I remember correctly it was you and I that brought the head-heart connection to C16 in January. Come back to the center, Z. Come back to the heart -- even if it hurts..


Z: Thanks everyone, thanks for responding to my previous posting. It was intended as a reflection on my process and inner dialogue about how I am experiencing the collaborative process of learning community. I posted it thinking that since we are exploring collaborative inquiry, I would open myself up to your input, and see what collaboration can create… I think the meat for me is to go inside and find the gift in the whole thing. I'm looking for the pony so to speak. I find that I leapt into the community thing with both feet (my style) assuming that the other members of the cohort were playing in the game as I construed it. I am abashed at my own naivety and lack of discretion. so I am reassessing my relationship here. Its as though I met new neighbors that I really liked and opened my home to them and welcomed them into my life, and then some day at dinner, they started telling racist jokes. I would have to reassess the relationship, and interact in different ways. But first I would need to grieve the loss of what I had been delighting in, and get over my sense of embarrassment at getting too close too quick. so I am just laying my process before you, as part of my reflection in the collaborative space. Is that an appropriate use of the space or not? If not lets get back to discussing our presentation question. Times a-wasting


Y: Z - Why are you still avoiding directly addressing my comments to you? I have addressed you specifically several times and yet you continue to write vague comments addressed to 'everyone.' Am I mis-perceiving your avoidance of me?
Also, I want to say that your most recent posting (directly above) still speaks about things that seem strange and/or untrue to me. For example, you describe the relationship we have as a group as "playing in a game" and describe yourself as "naive and lacking discretion." I don't think any of us (and I can only truly speak for myself) are "playing a game." I think we are doing real work - personal and professional and trying to get the most out of it that we can. I also think it is incorrect to describe yourself as naive or lacking discretion because what accurately happened is that you trusted in the group to share yourself, you had some unpleasant experiences and then you withdrew. It was not naive to participate - it was required. Lastly, your comments about the racist neighbors is offensive to me. I think your judgments of us are as much of a problem in this
experience as your misinterpretation of our intentions. Using your example, did it ever occur to you to educate your racist neighbors about the way in which their language might be offensive and ask them not to do it in your presence? Couldn't
that be a more reasonable solution than moving from neighborhood to neighborhood in search of the perfect neighbors? Even in the midst of all of this Z, I still respect and care for you. I am asking you again to meet me on common ground here even if it is uncomfortable….


E: Z - in several postings you seemed to refer to the entire group as being a group you felt you could not be yourself with. This made me feel very sad, for I had not considered myself (I cannot speak for others) as having been part of the discussion that created these feelings for you. I only bring this up as a learning point for everyone, which is to remember that when we are hurting it is very easy to expand that feeling to everyone….I am wondering if this exaggeration is a way of releasing our feelings to the world. At some level we want others to hurt as we do. Z, I want to clarify that I don't know that this is what was happening for you & also want you to know that my own hurt is past. I appreciate and respect you too much to hang on to this …The real point is how do we work to avoid this from occurring to begin with -or is it even possible to. Do we want a situation where we must watch every word we write diligently or do we want a community where we can forgive and still love? Most important for this space, how do we take this experience and learn and hopefully change our community communications. It seems to me this is a form of collaborative inquiry as we share these thoughts and ideas.


A: I've been watching this dialogue evolve, and kept pretty much in the background so far. I'll write more soon, but want initially to add some context… I would like to suggest that any time we bring our whole (or at least more of) our being to an educational setting, these kinds of emotional issues can come up. In most academic and other settings, what you find is folks getting totally bent out of shape around issue like gender or race--societal hot-buttons, as B rightly points out--but never copping to the fact that there may be personal issues underlying some of the vehemence with which gender or race are addressed. Folks will "hide" behind objectivity, and trot out statistics or other "facts" to back up their positions (Bell Curves, Evolutionary Psychology, other approaches which back up this or that position.) We have created an atmosphere where people can, to some extent be freer to discuss how they FEEL along with what they think. And in such cases, long-held feelings of pain or whatever can come up. X, for instance, articulated well how for her the list of women-haters across cultures triggered a really strong reaction, which may not really have had much to do with those who posted those sorry lists, but just came up that way--a kind of knee-jerk "kill the messenger response," something we all have at times when a really sore issue is brought up. Z also was personally pained by what he perceived to be male-bashing, and told us that he is extremely sensitive to this sort of thing. I think it's admirable that we have reached a point where we can be this honest with each other. But can we then take the next step, and see what we can do after we've told folks we've been hurt and upset? The whole issue does, for me, go beyond the individuals involved… If, as part of this program, we look at issues around which we've had thousands of years of struggle and suffering, it's inevitable that at times some of us will really feel that pain come up for us personally. Like now. So can we create a space where we can discuss them openly, and all feel safe? A space where rather than keep hurting each other, we help each other understand what's going on? I am deeply saddened when Z or anybody else says they can't address a certain issue because the cohort simply isn't safe enough--particularly if it's a required reading and part of an assignment! In reading texts like Shepherd, we must be able to address the complexity of the text, assess the cultural and academic implications, and also see how they affect us personally, bringing together individual/social, objective/subjective, head/heart. A tall order! But one that is important, and goes beyond "processing individual differences" or "group stuff." It has to do with the basic question: If we DO value integral learning, that attempts to heal the age-old splits between head and heart, objective and subjective, and so on, can we create a space where we can do that safely? Can we really be integral? Or shall we just ignore the parts we can't handle? Can we create a space where we can learn how to address our differences and communicate in a way that is respectful? A way that does not attack or disengage? In other words, if we have painful issues around gender, and if there are no really good models to discuss those differences, can we at least explore a way, here, to do so? If we don't we'll just disengage--sure, things might be Ok again for a while, no hassles. But we will have dropped a very serious subject and made it out of bounds. What's next? What will we not be able to talk about next? We are moving on as far the learning community texts, and the specific focus on gender with Shepherd. But for our next month, we'll be looking at our relationship to knowledge and developing our own voice in this new and mysterious context we're in… there's nothing abstract about the way knowledge and learning manifested here: knowledge about men and women in history, and in the present. So how DO we react to expression of knowing, about gender, about our emotions, about our subjective experience? And can we remember then to also bring in a degree of objectivity, rationality, reflecting on our reactions, our emotions? Approaching the issues as whole persons? Within a community of others, people we do not know that well and can easily misunderstand, especially around very sensitive issues? Let's sit with this for a while. Society and history have not prepared us for this dialogue. Issues of gender are extremely difficult in any group, and the degree of self-disclosure you have all shown here has been really amazing and admirable. Now I would ask you to also take responsibility for your words, and come out of a space of vulnerability AND power, which we all have, and recognize to greater or lesser degrees. In fact, I'd like to say that most of the hurt here comes from the fact that we are both vulnerable and hurt, AND far more powerful than we think we are, PARTICULARLY when we're hurt... So how about we add a third element to our vulnerability and power, our creativity? You are all extremely creative, and I'm sure you can find very creative ways to express your power...to heal.


D: C~ You have captured how I feel...incomplete and disconnected. It hurts me to read Z's comments… and I have been feeling sad and hurt since then...maybe it's the same way Z has been feeling regarding lack of safety and trust? …I remain committed to getting through this and learning and growing from this episode. However, we need commitment and presence of those in pain and those with safety issues to work this out. I have approached Z about working this out via e-mail as per our group policy, but that policy doesn't seem to be working now. We need to utilize a different tool. I am going to take a very strong stand and say that I refuse to deny it and stuff it down. This is what life is all about...understanding one another and growing through those understandings. What luck does the world have, and do our children have, if a few good-hearted individuals who care about each other can't work things out? So what are we going to do?


C: Z and group, this is only my experience, and I notice I am feeling it now also, that I don't want to even bother to keep after something, that in a face to face conversation would be able to be addressed with a lot more ease, And….I felt like we all were in an exploration and you and E were bringing in issues about the man /woman relationship that I felt needed to get said.. so now what has happened is you have ended up saying the on line environment is not safe to continue, I honor that, and I am frustrated that we, in this learning community, cannot have ANY conversation with each other. I feel like we were/demonstrating what Shepherd, and to some extent Wilshire are pointing to, the way men and women have related to one another, which keeps much of what they are saying in place. I notice at the moment, this medium is very inadequate for depth conversation and authentic full self-expression,... So, for the record, I would be very interested in continuing the conversation that was not completed..... I am sorry that what took place in this space kept it from being safe.....


Z: Dear C: Thank you for the response to my paper. The disclaimer at the front is there because I don't want people to blindly enter into a paper that might trigger difficult emotional responses. While I understand your criticism about being professional and not needing to place such a message, I have caused as much pain with my rather blunt and bungling writings this month, and am rather concerned not to do so again. I have hopes that we can concentrate on issues that are not about gender differences for the rest of our time together. That is why I shied away from the Shepard book. If you will remember, all of the difficulties this semester (from my perspective,) happened when I began to write reflections around my readings in Shepard. I quoted the Church Fathers in support of Shepard's linkage of patriarchal domination to Aristotle… This was perceived as being an act of bias on my part against the female gender… So, I am very leery of commenting on Shepard. I would personally like to avoid any references to gender differences in the future, but they seem so ubiquitous in our world. I will certainly try not to make any statements of my opinion about them. I really appreciate your reading my paper and taking time to comment. I will consider all that you have said.


D: This is my experience of what happened, how I have felt.

1. I was one of the women in the group that Z perceived as - "which vilified males in another group" and - "then when I connected these experiences I realized I had totally misread the nature of the people I had been exposing what to me were precious ideas and thoughts." How I experienced this exchange in the group, where there were no males, was one of finally being free to be myself and express my pain and frustration of being a female in a male dominated society. I have been sexually harassed at work and on the street and even on the phone ordering pizza. These comments WERE NOT directed to any of the men in the group. No more so then were Z's or A's comments directed towards the women in that Group!! (Can anyone else see here how Z and X have had almost the same experience...Z feeling hurt by what was not directed towards him or any other C-16 males in the conversation in my small group... and then X feeling hurt by Z and As discussion- which was not directed towards her???) I was shocked and dismayed to see Z's posting in his small group about what was going on in my small group. I made an attempt to clarify with the other women in the group the point of the process and it seemed to be agreed upon that we were expressing our concerns and experiences with society at large. It hurts me, I feel sad as I take Z's comments of him not knowing 'the nature of the people' in my group. My nature is that I am a human, I am not perfect, but I overall have good and caring intentions. I have a dark side too... Anyway, every time that Z has posted that he doesn't feel like he knew us, that he mistrusted us I feel upset: sad, angry, mad. I feel as if I am being unfairly judged. I also have realized that I feel as if I am being abandoned by Z for making a mistake. I am working hard now to put myself in Z's shoes and get through these feelings, because like you F, - I KNOW Z is a good, kind, caring person. I am working hard to understand how I hurt him.... and to forgive both of us, which I think is do-able.

2. "This was reinforced by the postings of other women in the group cheering X on while she ranted about the oppression heaped on her by me and the other males." I believe/think that what I wrote in that posting was that I supported X in her beginning a difficult conversation, but that I thought the whole group should be involved. I thought the whole group should be involved because I thought it was finally an issue where we had some diversity (gender) and I knew that other females in the cohort were struggling with gender issues. I thought we could work together and communicate and get through these feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, etc. that both the males and females were going through. I was excited about the opportunity to work through some of these things, about the opportunity also to start to see how people are perhaps PROJECTING their own crap and baggage onto one another. I had an incredible experience earlier in the semester working through some issues with E via e-mail. I mean totally incredible!!! He helped me to see my own issues that I was projecting onto him and I was able to let go of some of the negative feelings I was having. It was probably one of my greatest experiences throughout this entire program. This is what I imagined would happen, that everyone would be able to experience sort of a similar process. That we could maybe eventually get to some sort of group "a-ha!"

3. "…I don't expect you to understand that last sentence…" When Z makes a statement such as this…I take that personally as a put down. When I read back over that statement, I can also see where Z is coming from, I get the cultural implications and I am able to let go of feeling bad about or hurt by that statement.

4. I have approached Z via postings and e-mail about wanting to work this out and I have experienced him giving either no response or a very matter-of-fact response. I have felt sad and mad and confused by his postings about the group outside of the group. I have taken them personally. I have thought and felt that this can be worked out and should be worked out. I have felt confused by Z's bringing up the topic and then stating he would like to drop the topic when Y wanted to work it out, because she was upset by his comments.

5. Finally, I do most definitely agree that we should not project our thousands of years of female oppression and suffering onto the men of the group.


A: If indeed we've decided to approach this with head and heart, then we're faced with more than just "objective," "rational," "intellectual" knowledge. We have to incorporate the heart, emotion, intuition, and the subjective. Now it's true, [for example, that] we have to deal with APA style, in whatever permutation. But we can also look at, what makes us afraid or bored by it? How does that reflect our personal issues--fear it will restrict creativity, issues about previous negative experiences with anal educational systems, fears of inadequacy...can I hack it? So we get more "personal." In that intersection between personal space and "objective" space (basic criteria), there's the possibility of creativity and transformation. Now for me, that possibility arises when we dialogue between head and heart, theory and practice, intuition and reason, and so on. Such a
process is inevitably messy, but potentially very deep, even with a seemingly non-issue like a basic requirement such as APA style.…It becomes the source of dialogue and learning about ourselves….But if we're stuck, that means there's some resistance, and that resistance may be very personal, emotional, and subjective in nature. At the same time, the invitation is for everyone to reflect, learn, see how a different perspective based on research makes sense of a situation in different ways, and gives us a new frame that might, just might, help us get unstuck. As Z wrote so beautifully, "one of the values of community, (is that) we teach ourselves who we are by discovering our boundaries when in interaction (confrontation) with others." Exactly. No magic bullet, but hopefully, as we interact with people who are sometimes very different from us, we learn about ourselves and about the subject we're studying from a different perspective. Can we create a space where we do not disintegrate into "f- you then," spaces. Where we say, "OK, this person is very different from me, and some of the stuff they do irritates me. Let me look at myself, and see if there isn't something I can learn about myself here too. Is this irritation telling me something about myself?" Since there is no magic bullet, sometimes we have to give people time to try to heal, work things out, and live with a certain amount of discomfort and ambiguity. Z and X's boundaries came up, they both went, "Whoa! [Deleted!]" and then looked within, made themselves vulnerable, and were courageous enough to say, "I want to keep working with you, and stay friends." No magic bullet, and maybe they're drawing on some of our readings, thinking about the stuff, trying to heal. Gender is not an easy issue, and in our society the discourse about gender is sometimes very painful and "unevolved." I think X and Z really came through, and are willing to be open and work on stuff, and I admire them for it. So to make a long story longer, yes, we're coming at this integrally. What does that mean? Well, it means integrating the polarities you're addressing in LC: head/heart, theory/practice, subjective/objective, content/process… And the thing is, you have to find your own balance, your own definition of where you fit there, how you create those dialogical relationships between the polarities inside and outside. Who are you personally, and as a cohort, if you integrate those polarities? I can't tell you that. I don't WANT to tell you that. It's your courage, vulnerability, creativity, intelligence, power, intuition, and love that will eventually do it. And you will learn alone, and in interaction. I can make suggestions, provide some guidance, but like an art teacher, I can show you some of the basics, but what you create with that is totally yours. I think it's a grand challenge, and I think every one of you is not only up to it, but capable of contributing something profound.

F: I thought we …' killed' this issue in August when as a group we ALL agreed to take response-abiity for speaking up if we felt offended, oppressed or otherwise dominated directly with the person with whom we were having the issue...didn't we? I think if I am dominating or oppressing anyone in this group, I'd hope that the agreement is upheld (or why did we bother making it?) and you, as a person according to Meizrow who has the necessary emotional development to participate in transformative learning, would approach me directly re: the perceived oppression. If we can't sort it out, then I guess it goes to the group to look for a collective reality...my sense is with this group we could almost always find a
satisfactory meeting point one on one...ala I think…picking up the phone and calling rather than writing, in her email…. I reaffirm my agreement to do the same with anyone else in the group that creates my feeling dominated or oppressed. I won't apologize for my position, I was asked, there's my answer. I happen to fall into the category A labeled as "Too busy for this s-t" which means I am fully engaged in my local community with how I relate to others re: not only gender, but as holistic an approach as possible. Therefore I acknowledge having little left to give the web based learning community beyond my best efforts. Had we more face to face time or a longer residency, our options to "process" would be expanded, but our group has VERY REAL constraints in its established format. I've done conference calls...its not much better than the web and I won't be participating in any. thanks for listening... Love you all...I think this is the greatest bunch of pioneering people I've had the pleasure to associate with...hoping this doesn't tear us asunder.

E: It takes an inordinate amount of detailed attention to work out what someone meant by a particular word or phrase, and then to unravel what followed the original misunderstanding and then pick up the conversation again and head in a new direction. Face-to-face, this could be done in less than a minute and we'd be moving on. Here, it takes so much longer that frustration, anxiety, and even paranoia, can set in. What a bummer! And, when we get to subjects about which we have a lot of emotion, our online limitations really come into play. Was anybody besides me *not* surprised when Z read X's posting and then said, "I don't feel safe here" Imagine being Z - stepping right into one of the most sensitive topics in our culture (gender stereotyping and dominator issues) - and then reading these words from X: "Z...do I detect a bit of sarcasm here? I'm on the phone with Y right now and we have decided that you are obsessed with...we tell you this in the most loving way." I winced when I read this! Can you all see how easy it would be for Z - or anybody - to "hear" X saying (a) you're being sarcastic, (b) Y and I are talking about you behind your back, (c) we have decided you are obsessed with…, and (d) you ought to receive this communication well because we love you. Can you see how easy it would be for anyone - not just X - to "hear" Z's withdrawal from the Shepherd conversation and his announcement about not "feeling safe" as saying (a) you are attacking me, (b) you've made this space unsafe, and (c) it's your fault I'm leaving. Now, please, please, PLEASE keep in mind that I write all this without knowing ANYTHING about what X OR Z actually felt, thought, or intended when they wrote their messages!!! Furthermore, I would suggest that Z and X didn't - and quite possibly STILL DON"T KNOW what each other felt, thought, or intended. And this is just ONE example. I'm sure each of us can recall numerous others. When I saw all this happen, what I wanted to do was throw up my hands, scream f**k at the top of my lungs, and quit writing anything online other than dispassionate, rational thought or whimsical, chatty stuff. All I could think of to do instead was post a picture of a tree with deep, unseen roots and then write an anguished poem. Now, I'm offering this reflection in the hope that something valuable for our common life will come from it. I don't know how it's been for the rest of you, but for me this has been a VERY painful thing to witness. Well, pain can be a great teacher, and I've been doing my best to be a student. Here are some conclusions I've drawn from this experience:

1. Our online environment SIGNIFICANTLY limits our ability to convey (a) complicated ideas, (b) lengthy points of view, (c) hurtful and painful feelings, and especially (d) personal intentions.

2. We sometimes ignore or are blind to these limitations, and we have
unrealistic expectations about (a) what we can get across online and (b) how clearly others will interpret our meaning.

3. Remember when we decided last August that we wouldn't create problems for ourselves by deciding ahead of time about what we'd do when we misunderstood each other online? I've concluded that it's time for us to have that conversation, AND I suggest we do NOT open another site online to do this, but that we talk about it face-to-face in August.

4. Between now and August, we need to observe more about our possibilities AND our limitations online, so that we bring our best thinking to our conversation at the intensive. Well, that's what I've got. I really hope this adds more light than heat to our conversation. That is my intention.



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