I. Permission and Copyright Information

II. Dialogue: A Proposal

III. Distributor's Sidebar Reflection

IV. An Open Letter from Donald Factor

 

I. Permission and Copyright Information

---------------------------------------

 

I have received permission to distribute the transcribed copy of "Dialogue:

A Proposal", Copyright 1991, David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett.

If you do redistribute this please notify Donald Factor

<70373.3230@compuserve.com>. Here is his permission:

 

   If you will read the copyright notice on Dialogue - A Proposal

(reproduced below) you will see that we are keen to get its message as

widely distributed as possible. So if there are any listservers or FTP

or WWW sites that it would be useful on, please put it out. I would like

to know where it ends up if that's possible. We do want to keep the

copyright notice intact because it makes the point that it not to be

used without express permission for any commercial purposes.

 

   Copyright 1991.

 

   C.  David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett.

 

   >>The copyright holders hereby give permission to copy this material

and to distribute it to others for non-commercial purposes including

discussion, inquiry, criticism and as an aid to setting up Dialogue

groups so long as the material is not altered and this notice is included.

All other rights are reserved.<<

 

II. Dialogue: A Proposal

------------------------

 

DIALOGUE

 

A PROPOSAL

 

by

 

David Bohm, Donald Factor, Peter Garrett, (Richard Burg)

 

We are proposing a kind of collective inquiry not only into the content of

what each of us say, think and feel but also into the underlying

motivations, assumptions and beliefs that lead us to so do.

 

DIALOGUE - A PROPOSAL

 

Copyright 1991.

 

        c. David Bohm. Donald Factor and Peter Garrett

 

The copyright holders hereby give permission to copy this material and to

distribute it to others for non-commercial purposes including discussion,

inquiry, criticism and as an aid to setting up Dialogue groups. All other

rights are reserved.

 

Revision History:

 

March 9, 1992 (DB, DF, PG)

November 26, 1992 (Transcribed - RB)

 

Please address any correspondence to:

 

Dialogue

Hawthorn Cottage

Broad Marston Lane

Mickleton Lane

Mickleton

Glos GL55 6SF

England

 

DIALOGUE - A PROPOSAL

 

Dialogue, as we are choosing to use the word, is a way of exploring the

roots of the many crises that face humanity today. It enables inquiry into,

and understanding of, the sorts of processes that fragment and interfere

with real communication between individuals, nations and even different

parts of the same organization. In our modern culture men and women are

able to interact with one another in many ways: they can sing dance or play

together with little difficulty but their ability to talk together about

subjects that matter deeply to them seems invariable to lead to dispute,

division and often to violence. In our view this condition points to a deep

and pervasive defect in the process of human thought.

 

In Dialogue, a group of people can explore the individual and collective

presuppositions, ideas, beliefs, and feelings that subtly control their

interactions. It provides an opportunity to participate in a process that

displays communication successes and failures. It can reveal the often

puzzling patterns of incoherence that lead the group to avoid certain

issues or, on the other hand, to insist, against all reason, on standing

and defending opinions about particular issues.

 

Dialogue is a way of observing, collectively, how hidden values and

intentions can control our behavior, and how unnoticed cultural differences

can clash without our realizing what is occurring. It can therefore be seen

as an arena in which collective learning takes place and out of which a

sense of increased harmony, fellowship and creativity can arise.

 

Because the nature of Dialogue is exploratory, its meaning and its methods

continue to unfold. No firm rules can be laid down for conducting a

Dialogue because its essence is learning - not as the result of consuming a

body of information or doctrine imparted by an authority, nor as a means of

examining or criticizing a particular theory or programme, but rather as

part of an unfolding process of creative participation between peers.

 

However, we feel that it is important that its meaning and background be

understood.

 

Our approach to this form of Dialogue arose out of a series of

conversations begun in 1983 in which we inquired into David Bohm's

suggestion that a pervasive incoherence in the process of human thought is

the essential cause of the endless crises affecting mankind. This led us,

in succeeding years, to initiate a number of larger conversations and

seminars held in different countries with various groups of people which in

turn began to take the form of Dialogues.

 

As we proceeded it became increasing clear to us that this process of

Dialogue is a powerful means of understanding how thought functions. We

became aware that we live in a world produced almost entirely by human

enterprise and thus, by human thought. The room in which we sit, the

language in which these words are written, our national boundaries, our

systems of value, and even that which we take to be our direct perceptions

of reality are essentially manifestations of the way human beings think and

have thought. We realize that without a willingness to explore this

situation and to gain a deep insight into it, the real crises of our time

cannot be confronted, nor can we find anything more than temporary

solutions to the vast array of human problems that now confront us.

 

We are using the word "thought" here to signify not only the products of

our conscious intellect but also our feelings, emotions, intentions and

desires. It also includes such subtle, conditioned manifestations of

learning as those that allow us to make sense of a succession of separate

scenes within a cinema film or to translate the abstract symbols on road

signs along with the tacit, non-verbal processes used in developing basic,

mechanical skills such as riding a bicycle. In essence thought, in this

sense of the word, is the active response of memory in every phase of life.

Virtually all of our knowledge is produced, displayed, communicated,

transformed and applied in thought..

 

To further clarify this approach, we propose that, with the aid of a little

close attention, even that which we call rational thinking can be see to

consist largely of responses conditioned and biased by previous thought. If

we look carefully at what we generally take to be reality we begin to see

that it includes a collection of concepts, memories and reflexes colored by

our personal needs, fears, and desires, all of which are limited and

distorted by the boundaries of  language and the habits of our history, sex

and culture. It is extremely difficult to disassemble this mixture or to

ever be certain whether what we are perceiving - or what we may think about

those perceptions - is at all accurate.

 

What makes this situation so serious is that thought generally conceals

this problems from our immediate awareness and succeeds in generating a

sense that the way each of us interprets the world is the only sensible way

in which it can be interpreted. What is needed is a means by which we can

slow down the process of thought in order to be able to observe it while it

is actually occurring.

 

Our physical bodies have this capability but thought seems to lack it. If

you raise your arm you know that you are willing the act, that somebody

else is not doing it for or to you. This is called proprioception.. We can

be aware of our body's actions while they are actually occurring but we

generally lack this sort of skill in the realm of thought. For example, we

do not notice that our attitude toward another person may be profoundly

affected by the way we think and feel about someone else who might share

certain aspects of his behavior or even of his appearance. Instead, we

assume that our attitude toward her arises directly from her actual

conduct. The problem of thought is that the kind of attention required to

notice this incoherence seems seldom to be available when it is most

needed.

 

WHY DIALOGUE

 

Dialogue is concerned with providing a space within which such attention

can be given. It allows a display of thought and meaning that makes

possible a kind of collective proprioception or immediate mirroring back of

both the content of thought and the less apparent, dynamic structures that

govern it. In Dialogue this can be experienced both individually and

collectively. Each listener is able to reflect back to each speaker, and to

the rest of the group, a view of some of the assumptions and unspoken

implications of what is being expressed along with that which is being

avoided. It creates the opportunity for each participant to examine the

preconceptions, prejudices and the characteristic patterns that lie behind

his or her thoughts, opinions, beliefs and feelings, along with the roles

he or she tends habitually to play. And it offers an opportunity to share

these insights.

 

The word "dialogue" derives from two roots: "dia" which means "through" and

"logos" which means "the word", or more particularly, "the meaning of the

word." The image it gives is of a river of meaning flowing around and

through the participants. Any number of people can engage in Dialogue - one

can even have a Dialogue with oneself - but the sort of Dialogue that we

are suggesting involves a group of between twenty and forty people seated

in a circle talking together.

 

Some notion of the significance of such a Dialogue can be found in reports

of hunter-gather bands of about this size, who, when they met to talk

together, had no apparent agenda nor any predetermined purpose.

Nevertheless, such gatherings seemed to provide and reinforce a kind of

cohesive bond or fellowship that allowed its participants to know what was

required of them without the need for instruction or much further verbal

interchange. In other words, what might be called a coherent culture of

shared meaning emerged within the group. It is possible that this coherence

existed in the past for human communities before technology began to

mediate our experience of the living world.

 

Dr. Patrick de Mare, a psychiatrist working in London, has conducted

pioneering work along similar lines under modern conditions. He set up

groups of about the same size, the purpose of which he described in terms

of "sociotherapy". His view is that the primary cause of the deep and

pervasive sickness in our society can be found at the socio-cultural level

and that such groups can serve as micro-cultures from which the source of

the infirmity of our large civilization can be exposed. Our experience has

led us to extend this notion of Dialogue by emphasizing and giving special

attention to the fundamental role of the activity of thought in the

origination and maintenance of this condition.

 

As a microcosm of the large culture, Dialogue allows a wide spectrum of

possible relationships to be revealed. It can disclose the impact of

society on the individual and the individual's impact on society. It can

display how power is assumed or given away and how pervasive are the

generally unnoticed rules of the system that constitutes our culture. But

it is most deeply concerned with understanding the dynamics of how thought

conceives such connections.

 

It is not concerned with deliberately trying to alter or change behavior

nor to get the participants to move toward a predetermined goal. Any such

attempt would distort and obscure the processes that the Dialogue has set

out to explore. Nevertheless, changes do occur because observed thought

behaves differently from unobserved thought. Dialogue can thus become an

opportunity for thought and feeling to play freely in a continuously

engaging movement. Topics of a specific or personal nature will become

entwined with areas of deeper or more general meaning. Any subject can be

included and no content is excluded. Such an activity is very rare in our

culture.

 

PURPOSE AND MEANING

 

Usually people gather either to accomplish a task or to be entertained,

both of which can be categorized as predetermined purposes. But by its very

nature Dialogue is not consistent with any such purposes beyond the

interest of its participants in the unfoldment and revelation of the deeper

collective meanings that may be revealed. These may on occasion be

entertaining, enlightening, lead to new insights or address existing

problems. But surprisingly, in its early stages, the dialogue will often

lead to the experience of frustration.

 

A group of people invited to give their time and serious attention to a

task that has no apparent goal and is not being led in any detectable

direction may quickly find itself experiencing a great deal of anxiety or

annoyance. This can lead to the desire on the part of some, either to break

up the group or to attempt to take control and give it a direction.

Previously unacknowledged purposes will reveal themselves. Strong feelings

will be exposed, along with the thoughts that underlie them. Fixed

positions may be taken and polarization will often result. This is all part

of the process. It is what sustains the Dialogue and keeps it constantly

extending creatively into new domains.

 

In an assembly of between twenty and forty people, extremes of frustration,

anger, conflict or other difficulties may occur, but in a group of this

size such problems can be contained with relative ease. In fact, they can

become the central focus of the exploration in what might be understood as

a kind of "meta-dialogue", aimed at clarifying the process of Dialogue

itself.

 

As sensitivity and experience increase, a perception of shared meaning

emerges in which people find that they are neither opposing one another,

nor are they simply interacting. Increasing trust between members of the

group - and trust in the process itself - leads to the expression of the

sorts of thoughts and feelings that are usually kept hidden. There is no

imposed consensus, nor is there any attempt to avoid conflict. No single

individual or sub-group is able to achieve dominance because every single

subject, including domination and submission, is always available to be

considered.

 

Participants find that they are involved in an ever changing and developing

pool of common meaning. A shared content of consciousness emerges which

allows a level of creativity and insight that is not generally available to

individuals or to groups that interact in more familiar ways. This reveals

an aspect of Dialogue that Patrick de Mare has called koinonia, a word

meaning "impersonal fellowship", which was originally used to describe the

early form of Athenian democracy in which all the free men of the city

gathered to govern themselves.

 

As this fellowship is experience it begins to take precedence over the more

overt content of the conversation (sic). It is an important stage in the

Dialogue, a moment of increased coherence, where the group is able to move

beyond its perceived blocks or limitations and into new territory, But it

is also a point at which a group may begin to relax and bask in the "high"

that accompanies the experience. This is the point that sometimes causes

confusion between Dialogue and some forms of psychotherapy. Participants

may want to hold the group together in order to preserve the pleasurable

feeling of security and belonging that accompanies the state. This is

similar to that sense of community often reached in therapy groups or in

team building workshops where it is taken to be the evidence of the success

of the method used. Beyond such a point, however, lie even more significant

and subtle realms of creativity, intelligence and understanding that can be

approached only by persisting in the process of inquiry and risking

re-entry into areas of potentially chaotic or frustrating uncertainty.

 

WHAT DIALOGUE IS NOT

 

Dialogue is not discussion, a word that shares its root meaning with

"percussion" and "concussion," both of which involve breaking things up.

Nor is it debate. These forms of conversation contain an implicit tendency

to point toward a goal, to hammer out an agreement, to try to solve a

problem or have one's opinion prevail. It is also not a "salon", which is a

kind of gathering that is both informal and most often characterized by an

intention to entertain, exchange friendship, gossip and other information.

Although the word "dialogue" has often been used in similar ways, its

deeper, root meaning implies that it is not primarily interested in any of

this.

 

Dialogue is not a new name for T-groups or sensitivity training, although

it is superficially similar to these and other related forms of group work.

Its consequences may be psychotherapeutic but it does not attempt to focus

on removing the emotional blocks of any one participant nor to teach, train

or analyze. Nevertheless, it is an arena in which learning and the

dissolution of blocks can and often do take place. It is not a technique

for problem solving or conflict resolution, although problems may well be

resolved during the course of a Dialogue, or perhaps later, as a result of

increased understanding and fellowship that occurs among the participants.

It is, as we have emphasized, primarily a means of exploring the field of

thought.

 

Dialogue resembles a number of other forms of group activity and may at

times include aspects of them but in fact it is something new to our

culture. We believe that it is an activity that might well prove vital to

the future health of our civilization.

 

HOW TO START A DIALOGUE

 

SUSPENSION of thoughts, impulses, judgments, etc., lies at the very heart

of Dialogue. It is one of its most important new aspects. It is not easily

grasped because the activity is both unfamiliar and subtle. Suspension

involves attention, listening and looking and is essential to exploration.

Speaking is necessary, of course, for without it there would be little in

the Dialogue to explore, But the actual process of exploration takes place

during listening -- not only to others but to oneself. Suspension involves

exposing your reactions, impulses, feelings and opinions in such a way that

they can be seen and felt within your own psyche and also be reflected back

by others in the group. It does not mean repressing or suppressing or,

even, postponing them. It means, simply, giving them your serious attention

so that their structures can be noticed while they are actually taking

place. If you are able to give attention to, say, the strong feelings that

might accompany the expression of a particular thought - either your own or

anothers -- and to sustain that attention, the activity of the thought

process will tend to slow you down. This may permit you to begin to see the

deeper meanings underlying your thought process and to sense the often

incoherent structure of any action that you might otherwise carry out

automatically. Similarly, if a group is able to suspend such feelings and

give its attention to them then the overall process that flows from

thought, to feeling, to acting-out within the group, can also slow down and

reveal its deeper, more subtle meanings along with any of its implicit

distortions, leading to what might be described as a new kind of coherent,

collective intelligence.

 

To suspend thought, impulse, judgment, etc., requires serious attention to

the overall  process we have been considering -- both on one's own and

within a group. This involves what may at first appear to be an arduous

kind of work. But if this work is sustained, one's ability to give such

attention constantly develops so that less and less effort is required.

 

NUMBERS: A Dialogue works best with between twenty and forty people seated

facing one another in a single circle. A group of this size allows for the

emergence and observation of different subgroups or subcultures that can

help to reveal some off the ways in which thought operatives collectively.,

This is important because the differences between such subcultures are

often an unrecognized cause of failed communication and conflict. Smaller

groups, on the other hand, lack the requisite diversity needed to reveal

these tendencies and will generally emphasize more familiar personal and

family roles and relationships.

 

With a few groups we have had as many as sixty participants, but with that

large a number the process becomes unwieldy. Two concentric circles are

required to seat everybody so that they can see and hear one another. This

places those in the back row at a disadvantage, and fewer participants have

an opportunity to speak.

 

We might mention here that some participants tend to talk a great deal

while others find difficulty in speaking up in groups. It is worth

remembering, though, that the word "participation" has two meanings: "to

partake of", and "to take part in". Listening is at least as important as

speaking. Often the quieter participants will begin to speak up more as

they become familiar with the Dialogue experience while the more dominant

individuals will find themselves tending to speak less and listen more.

 

DURATION: A Dialogue needs some time to get going. It is an unusual way of

participating with others and some sort of introduction is required in

which the meaning of the whole activity can be communicated. But even with

a clear introduction, when the group begins to talk together it will often

experience confusion, frustration, and a self-conscious concern as to

whether or not it is actually engaging in Dialogue. It would be very

optimistic to assume that a Dialogue would begin to flow or move toward any

great depth during its first meeting. It is important to point out that

perseverance is required.

 

In setting up Dialogues it is useful at the start to agree the length of

the session and for someone to take responsibility for calling time at the

end. We have found that about two hours is optimum. Longer sessions risk a

fatigue factor which tends to diminish the quality of participation. Many

T-groups use extended "marathon" sessions which use this fatigue factor to

break down some of the inhibitions of the participants. Dialogue on the

other hand, is more concerned with exploring the social constructs and

inhibitions that affect our communications rather than attempting to bypass

them.

 

The more regularly the group can meet, the deeper and more meaningful will

be the territory explored. Weekends have often been used to allow a

sequence of sessions, but if the Dialogue is to continue for an extended

period of time we suggest that there be at least a one week interval

between each succeeding session to allow time for individual reflection and

further thinking. There is no limit to how long a Dialogue group may

continue its exploration. But it would be contrary to the spirit of

Dialogue for it to become fixed or institutionalized. This suggests openess

to constantly shifting membership, changing schedules, or other

manifestations of a serious attention to an implicit rigidity which might

take hold. Or merely, the dissolving of a group after some period.

 

LEADERSHIP: A Dialogue is essentially a conversation between equals. Any

controlling authority, no matter how carefully or sensitively applied, will

tend to hinder and inhibit the free play of thought and the often delicate

and subtle feelings that would otherwise be shared. Dialogue is vulnerable

to being manipulated, but its spirit is not consistent with this. Hierarchy

has no place in Dialogue.

 

Nevertheless, in the early stages some guidance is required to help the

participants realize the subtle differences between Dialogue and other

forms of group process. At least one or, preferably two, experienced

facilitators are essential. Their role should be to occasionally point out

situations that might seem to be presenting sticking points for the group,

in other words, to aid the process of collective proprioception, but these

interventions should never be manipulative nor obtrusive. Leaders are

participants just like everybody else. Guidance, when it is felt to be

necessary, should take the form of "leading from behind" and preserve the

intention of making itself redundant as quickly as possible.

 

However, this proposal is not intended as a substitute for experienced

facilitators. We suggest, though, that its contents be reviewed with the

group during its initial meeting so that all the participants can be

satisfied that they are embarking upon the same experiment.

 

SUBJECT MATTER: The Dialogue can begin with any topic of interest to the

participants. if some members of the group feel that certain exchanges or

subjects are disturbing or not fitting, it is important that they express

these thoughts within the Dialogue. No content should be excluded.

 

Often participants will gossip or express their dissatisfactions or

frustration after a session but it is exactly this sort of material that

offers the most fertile ground for moving the Dialogue into deeper realms

of meaning and coherence beyond the superficiality of "group think", good

manners or dinner party conversation.

 

DIALOGUE IN EXISTING ORGANIZATIONS

 

So far we have been primarily discussing Dialogues that bring together

individuals from a variety of backgrounds rather than from existing

organizations. But its value may also be perceived by members of an

organization as a way of increasing and enriching their own corporate

creativity.

 

In this case the process of Dialogue will change considerably. Members of

an existing organization will have already developed a number of different

sorts of relationship between one another and with their organization as a

whole. here may be a pre-existing hierarchy or a felt need to protect one's

colleagues, team or department. There may be a fear of expressing thoughts

that might be seen as critical of those who are higher in the organization

or of norms within the organizational culture. Careers or the social

acceptance of individual members might appear to be threatened by

participation in a process that emphasizes transparency, openness, honesty,

spontaneity, and the sort of deep interest in others that can draw out

areas of vulnerability that may long have been kept hidden.

 

In an existing organization the Dialogue will very probably have to begin

with an exploration of all the doubts and fears that participation will

certainly raise. Members may have to begin with a fairly specific agenda

from which they eventually can be encouraged to diverge. This differs from

the approach taken with one-time or self-selected groupings in which

participants are free to begin with any subject matter. But as we have

mentioned no content should be excluded because the impulse to exclude a

subject is itself rich material for the inquiry.

 

Most organizations have inherent, predetermined purposes and goals that are

seldom questioned. At first this might also seem to be inconsistent with

the free and open play of thought that is so intrinsic to the Dialogue

process. However, this too can be overcome if the participants are helped

from the very beginning to realize that considerations of such subjects can

prove essential to the well-being of the organization and can in turn help

to increase the participants self-esteem along with the regard in which he

or she may be held by others.

 

The creative potential of Dialogue is great enough to allow a temporary

suspension of any of the structures and relationships that go to make up an

organization.

 

Finally, we would like to make clear that we are not proposing Dialogue as

a panacea nor as a method or technique designed to succeed all other forms

of social interaction. Not everyone will find it useful nor, certainly,

will it be useful in all contexts. There is great value to be found in many

group psychotherapeutic methods and there are many tasks that require firm

leadership and a well-formed organizational structure.

 

Much of the sort of work we have described here can be accomplished

independently, and we would encourage thi Many of the ideas suggested in

this proposal are still the subjects of our own continuing exploration. We

do not advise that they be taken as fixed but rather that they be inquired

into as a part of your own Dialogue.

 

The spirit of Dialogue is one of free play, a sort of collective dance of

the mind that, nevertheless, has immense power and reveals coherent

purpose. Once begun it becomes continuing adventure that can open the way

to significant and creative change.

 

III. Distributor's Sidebar: A Reflection

----------------------------------------

 

One of the open questions about Dialogue is what potential it may have in

organizations. There is a brief section, at the end of "...A Proposal",

addressing the question. The writers expressed a hopeful resolution to the

way in which Dialogue might be limited by fear and anxiety. The dialogue

process runs against many forces which are alive in organizations. Section

IV of this mail message is a letter from one of the authors which takes a

much more cautious position than that offerred in the original paper.

 

My consulting practice involves working with groups in organizations. I

believe the introduction and maintenance of Dialogue into organizations

(with the phenomenological and epistemological focus of Bohm's intention)

is impossible. The process does not offer any protection from the explicit

and implicit forces which result from 'leadership', 'authority', and the

power structures of our organizational systems. Organizations are generally

purposeful in narrow ways. To undertake a process without purpose in such a

system, will excite anxiety and tension in the unconscious life of the

system. The paradox may be fruitful, but I believe that the seed for the

process must evolve from within the system if the fruit is not to cause

indigestion! Organizations that are moving to open communication and more

intimate relationships may approach dialogue as they evolve into more

engaging systems. But to bring Dialogue from outside, is likely to have

unintended consequences or, more likely, to merely prove unsustainable.

 

We have seen two alternative definitions for a form of dialogue which is

derivative of Bohm's experiment. One is "contingent" dialogue - a group

focusing on a particular problem. The second, as DWeston named it, is

"strategic" dialogue. These may be valuable and productive techniques for

deeper human communication in organizations. But we ought to recognize how

different they are from the invitation Bohm extended to examine "thought

arising."  I believe the following letter from Donald Factor sharpens the

distinction from two particular perspectives.

 

==========================================================================

Richard Burg                                          Voice   510-848-4258

Meridian Group                                          Fax   510-848-4257

1827A Fifth Street                            800-3MERIDIAN (800-363-7426)

Berkeley, CA US                                            raburg@well.com

==========================================================================

 

IV. An Open Letter from Donald Factor

-------------------------------------

 

[This] is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to the organizers of the recent

Sundance Gathering organized in Utah by Bill Isaacs and Margaret Wheately

amongst others. It is aimed at clarifying the difference between our approach

and Bill's. [Richard,] please feel free to distribute this too.

 

                              An Open Letter

 

.....As you may be aware Anna and I worked closely with David and Saral Bohm

for ten years. During that time the idea of group dialogue emerged and grew.

Because the project involved ideas that were subtle and quite new to the

culture it seemed important to try to clarify, so far as we could, what we

were attempting. I, along with David Bohm and Peter Garrett, wrote a paper

entitled "Dialogue _ A Proposal" as a starting point. Of course, since

David's death the nature of what we began continues to unfold.

 

One reason for this letter is that I have noticed what I believe is a deep

confusion that has arisen amongst many of those who are interested in

dialogue and that I believe ought to be addressed in the sort of gathering

that you have arranged. It seems to me that this can best be expressed

through a consideration of two topics that I take to be crucial to both the

theory and practice of dialogue _ at least from a Bohmian point of view.

 

They are:

 

      Facilitation

      Purpose

 

Notions of the need for facilitation arose early in the development of

dialogue because of the fact that the nature of the activity seemed to lack

any obvious precursors in our general culture. We were unable to find

acceptable models that were relevant to our intentions. Not even T Groups

which appeared to have much in common with what we were after seemed

entirely to fit. Patrick DeMare's work with median groups in London was the

most relevant but, unfortunately, remained relatively unknown. And "action"

oriented methods seemed to derive from very different assumptions. Because

of this, in introducing people to dialogue David Bohm used to take the

approach of conducting a two or three day seminar discussing with them his

notions of the nature of thought as a system and how it tends to lead

inevitably to self-deception, before introducing them to dialogue. When the

dialogue began he then behaved, not as a facilitator, leader or expert but

as an engaged participant. Of course, this must be seen in the light of the

fact that he was well-known and that most participants came primarily

because of him. However, his intention was to make dialogue a conversation

among equals where everyone's ideas, opinions or theories would be taken

seriously but also be vulnerable to challenge and inquiry.

 

Since his death we have attempted to continue our exploration in this same

direction. These days there are no stars or perceived leaders to whom

members of the group can look for aid or advise. Participation has thus come

to be seen as a collective undertaking, a mutual responsibility for what

goes on _ or what doesn't go on. If someone attempts to control the group

process or to guide it toward his or her objectives or personal viewpoint it

is incumbent on other members of the group to query this, no matter what

authority might be claimed. If an individual in a group feels that the

conversation has become stuck, circular or out of line with the intentions

of dialogue, then it is important for that person to say so in order that

the whole group can look at what is actually happening. The intent is

neither to criticise nor to alter what is happening but to try and see how

it arises and what it means.

 

Clearly, if a designated facilitator takes on this sort of role then the

other participants will expect him or her to do the intervening and keep the

dialogue "on course." No further thinking will be required nor will there be

much possibility of insight. Whatever learning occurs will derive largely

from giving attention to an external authority rather than from any

first-hand recognition. Further, since the facilitator plays a role that is

different from that of the rest of the group, s/he will be limited in his or

her ability to fully participate. We have noticed that if one or more

participants remain relatively aloof from the nitty-gritty of the dialogue

then a subtle _ or sometimes not so subtle _ sense of being observed,

judged, manipulated or studied, by the one who necessarily has to protect

his or her vulnerability, will arise and tend to limit the possibilities for

expression in the whole group.

 

I accept that this non-interventionist approach is not shared by all

practitioners of dialogue. I am not arguing that it is "the one true path"

but I am raising this issue because I believe that both the interventionist

approaches and the non-interventionist approaches have validity, but in

different realms. Can they, somehow, be harmonised? Frankly, it seems to me

that a blending of these methods would be extremely difficult because at

least one core assumption is not shared. I will refer more to that in the

following section on purpose.

 

But first I want to mention that what I am suggesting, here, is an approach

that treats the common occurrence of frustration in dialogue as an

unavoidable and necessary  product of the process itself. In my experience

frustration is the one thing that is universal in a group's experience and

this appears to also be the case in our entire culture. Generally,

frustration will lead, on one hand to alienation or on the other to

violence. It could be argued that a great deal of our culture is dedicated

to distracting us from our frustrations in an attempt at defusing them. The

painful experience of frustration is, therefore, something that needs to be

sustained in the dialogue so that its meaning can be displayed and

understood. I have come to suspect that frustration may have to be seen as

the crucial motivating force that can drive the dialogue deeper into unknown

territory and thus toward the experience of creative insight. If this is the

case, then a facilitator can serve little purpose other than to help the

other members of the group to reduce such uncomfortable periods so that the

conversation will flow along a course that is more satisfying or

satisfactory to the desires, assumptions and agendas of those concerned.

Frustation does not require facilitation.

 

My second topic is purpose. As we suggested in "Dialogue _ A Proposal:"

 

     Usually people gather together either to accomplish a task or to be

     entertained, both of which can be described as predetermined purposes.

     But by its very nature Dialogue is not consistent with any such

     purposes beyond the interest of its participants in the unfoldment and

     revelation of the deeper collective meanings that may be revealed.

 

The moment that somebody turns dialogue into an event for which money is

charged, or uses it to aid an organisation then, it seems to me, that it

has, implicitly, taken on a predetermined purpose. It must, at the very

least, satisfy the desires of those who foot the bill or give a good

impression to those who have paid the price of admission. If the facilitator

is working as an entrepreneur then this concern is magnified since his or

her need to make a living also becomes part of the purpose. Now, I have no

objection to this in and of itself. What concerns me is the confusion

between this and the kind of dialogue that David Bohm and those of us who

persist in continuing his work value highly.

 

There are also many obvious similarities between these approaches but this

in turn raises the issue of what Bohm called "similar differences and

different similarities". (See: Bohm & Peat: Science Order and Creativity)

These, he argued, are crucial to how thought organises our perceptions of

reality and why we so often get it wrong. He also pointed out that the

strong desire _ often experienced as a necessity _ for practical outcomes of

an activity are generally the result of deep cultural assumptions that need,

along with all other assumptions, to be inquired into. In this context he

suggested that the meaning of dialogue lies outside our culture and that

dialogue might be a valuable way to begin to transform the culture as a

whole.

 

At the time that we wrote "Dialogue _ A Proposal" we added a final section

to address the question of dialogue in existing organisations. But I now

believe that our view was too optimistic and that it also may have added to

the confusion that concerns me. I suppose Patrick deMare's comment to me

about the sort of dialogue that he and Bohm envisioned sums up the

difference. "Yes, dialogue is very subversive."

 

No organisation wants to be subverted. No organisation exists to be

dissolved. An organisation is, by definition a conservative institution. If

you didn't want to conserve something, why would you organise? Even if an

organisation runs into serious trouble _ if, perhaps, its market or reason

for existence  vanishes _ there remains a tremendous resistance to change.

(And, by the way, our larger culture is also an organisation.) I suggest

that the most one can hope for is a change in the more superficial elements

which would naturally occur as an organisation co-opts (See: Schon, D.

"Beyond the Stable State") some of dialogue's ethic of inquiry. And maybe

that is all that is required to accomplish its aims. But any deeper change,

any change that might threaten the very meaning and therefore the existence

of the organisation or its power relations would tend to be rejected _

perhaps subtly and tacitly _ because such vulnerability would not only be

threatening to those within the group, but almost certainly to those who

perceive from without _ perhaps from higher up the corporate ladder _ what

this subgrouping of their organisation is getting up to.

 

In such situations then some form of direction is obviously required. I do

not mean to argue against a process that works. What is more interesting to

me are the questions, "Is it possible to sustain a group (and to sustain it

as a creative enterprise) without a pre-existing purpose?" And "Is there

value in atttempting this?"

 

My tentative reply to these questions would be that it can be sustained and

that it does have value, but that to realise this requires a very unusual

level of commitment on the part of those involved. It means, first of all,

that participation in a dialogue group ought to be sustained for a long

period of time. This is especially difficult in the sort of process that I

have been describing because there is no clear idea where it is heading nor

what might unfold. There is much doubling back and repetition. In time,

though, the various rhythm's of the process can be perceived. This sort of

dialogue is about the process of thought, not its products. If it is to be

sustained gratification must be postponed _ maybe, indefinitely. But in the

meanwhile learning does takes place, often subtly and as an integral part of

the process. This learning does not necessarily improve the functioning of

the group because the group is always attempting to progress into unknown

territory. However, it does tend to get translated into other activities

where creativity can be released. It's all very non-linear and ambiguous and

frustrating and doesn't sit easily with our normal cultural assumptions. But

for me it has been of immense value.

 

This is some of my present thinking. I hope that it might help to stimulate

further exploration. We would be grateful for some feedback on these issues

which we believe are very important along with any other comments you feel

might be helpful. Anna and I both hope the gathering goes well and look

forward to hearing about it.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Don Factor