Evolving systems: "dialogue" (and its implications for education?)
May, 2010 Core Group Meeting
May, 2010 Core Group Meeting
and Continuing Discussion
"Dialogue" (and its implications for education?)
From the May meeting summary:
"social and cultural organizations might best be brought together with the intent of allowing a collective purpose or objective to emerge from the interactions of the particular people involved, rather than with a pre-established purpose or objective. It was proposed that the core Evolving Systems group, having established some level of awareness of each other's distinctive backgrounds, interests, and areas of expertise, might move on to trying to more deliberately evolve/elaborate a shared sense of purpose. One direction that might be explored, given discussions to date, relates to existing educational structures and practices, and the degree to which they might usefully be reconsidered in the evolving systems context and the experiences with group dynamics of the Evolving Systems project to date."
Notes on dialogue by Stringfellow Barr
On dialogue, culture, and organizational learning, by Edgar Schein
A meeting summary (Alice)
Continuing the process of reflection on our first year and planning towards our next one, we revisited key themes from last month’s two sessions, including the idea that several people affirmed the importance of our group as a context in which we found it safe, and interesting, to engage in serious conversation -- safe because the group afforded a significant degree of freedom from the fear of immediate judgment, and freedom for people to say out loud things they are not certain about. Another theme was that for some people, the group meetings felt more disjointed and less continuous than desirable.
The session focused on using Barr’s and Schein’s papers on dialogue to envision and evaluate possible ways forward for our group. A primary question under consideration is whether we would like to make the creation of a dialogue-capable group -- a small collective oriented to exploration and inquiry, and as opposed to debate -- both the medium and goal of the group, or whether we want to develop as a dialogue-capable group in order to pursue an additional objective. We considered a range of perspectives of whether a group’s achievement of the capacity for dialogue could, or should, be an end in itself -- in general and for our specific group for the evolving systems group -- or whether the achievement of dialogue-capacity would eventually lead the group to lose energy and interest, come, in a sense, to work like a well-oiled machine that doesn’t make anything, because there is no conflict, no grist.
Or, would the ongoing process of dialogue, inclusive of participants’ getting to know one another, applying their experiences in the group to experiences outside of it (in classes, faculty meetings, other work and relationships), be transformative? (Although perhaps we could learn to anticipate them, especially with more deliberate study of dialogue.) As part of this, we explored what it means to get to know other people, and whether that is part of successful dialogue. Is it about their narratives of their experiences, or their ways of being what they are? Is it interesting? Is it finishable? How constrained by current discourses of personal identity, struggle, and growth need it be?
We gave particular consideration to “suspension” as a necessary move in dialogue. Defined by Schein as “to let . . . our perceptions, our feelings, our judgments, our impulses rest . . . for a while in state of suspension to see what more will come up from ourselves and from others” (p. 33), suspension emerged as a useful name for a stance of mindful attentiveness to one’s own responses, while at the same time slowing the articulation/expression of those responses, during dialogue. We considered whether suspension necessitates silence, or may in fact be active and interactive, but styled in a different spirit from the kind of speech that comes from defensiveness, a need to save face, or a wish to persuade. In relation to suspension, it was pointed out that to be in dialogue is to experience and reflect on what others’ behaviors trigger within one, whether or not others have made a similar commitment. In this way, one can approach any interaction from a stance of dialogue. It was also pointed out that it is valuable for our group, as a group and as individuals, to work from some formalizations of the dialogue process. Productive use of the term “suspension” emerged as a case in point.
We also took up Schein’s discussion of the dominance of face-saving in human interaction, and we used this term to reflect both on some of our own sessions and on recent discussions in the open group sessions. As Schein points out, the drive to save face and cooperate when possible with others’ drive to save face significantly inhibits dialogue and may contribute to the manifestation of conflict as divisive rather than generative.
We concluded with discussion of whether and how to change the format of our gatherings. Ideas included choosing a different meeting space or multiple meeting spaces; varying the pace and span of meeting times (start the year with a day together, choose one week and meet every afternoon, etc.); and the potential to travel, share experiences of art, film, meals.
Continuing discussion (below)