Building on a recent talk with my good friend Trevor Malkinson, I’ve been wondering how might present and future contributions at Beams & Struts become more process-aware? Especially in terms of exploring more conscious ways of communicating that may at times inspire experiences of collective intelligence and a more resonant online we-space for readers? In other words, how might we help conversations evolve here with a greater enacted awareness of our collective consciousness and development?
I’d like to begin by outlining a few principles for engaging such conversations. The first one that comes to mind is not being afraid to take leadership for whatever conversation we happen to be apart of—whether in an article, essay, or response. Sometimes this happens by making the effort to stop and feel into the perspective of the other person in the conversation by attempting to apprehend the fullness of their view or position from their perspective, not simply considering their perspective through ours. In other moments this may require noticing how we are communicating by listening with careful discernment for our own and other’s authentic voice and building from that. Still on other occasions, this may involve cultivating qualities of mutuality that invite respect—that is, sincerely establishing and building resonance with others for greater generative purposes in and beyond the conversation.I’ll put the second principle to consider in the form of a question. Are we willing to accept—particularly when the heat of a good argument is on—that all our existing ideas and views are thoroughly partial (a foundational integral insight from Wilber), no matter how comprehensive, integral or seemingly complete? What will it take for us to honestly realize that our perspectives are always and thoroughly incomplete? And what would it mean for a community to think from such a shared body of realization?
Finally, what happens in our communication when we connect with a subtle awareness of the life-world context that contains all our present human and more than human communities? In the context of conversation, this principle engages a worldcentric awareness that is sorely needed to work with the staggering complexity of problems and issues we’re now confronting individually, in communities and collectively as a species. And when we let go further into an in-the-moment apprehension of the ultimate context that is wanting to live more through each of us, how might this subtler yet even more profound kosmoscentric awareness begin to shape and direct our conversations? The quieter we become inside, the more presence seems to want to open to contain and enagage with such immensities.
As an avid reader of Beams and Struts, I’ve been inspired by the commitments of the writers and visitors to work towards building a more integral culture in their lives, work and thought. Particularly one that embodies qualities of being that inspire us further into wanting to contribute to the life of the conversations happening here. Another question then to contemplate: what are these essential qualities of being in the context of conversations here? And how might we develop them further, inspiring us to outgrow certain conventional norms of conversation and to work at the project of unearthing new ones?
The aspiration to bring about and help co-evolve new forms of culture is no small undertaking. But what makes any culture singularly valuable is its ethos—the core, guiding ideals that are actually lived into. In the context of conversations here, it’s the forms of communication that shape this communities’ ethos and the particular ultimate concerns of its contributors. Put in another way, it’s crucial to recognize that when inquiry is consciously engaged, the process itself becomes a subtle but powerful form of action. In more philosophical terms, our ways of being in conversation here or anywhere for that matter, are at least as important as the content of what we're discussing or arguing, which brings me to the topic of debate.
The trouble with adversarial debate is its thoroughly lacking care or reverence for others and the relational context that fundamentally underlies and supports the conversation. Adversarial debates tend to flare up when we become overly identified with our particular perspective and feel the need to defend it, like we might defend a friend or a family member if attacked. Good debate on the other hand is to a greater extent freed from this attachment and resulting violence insofar as it abides by highly principled guidelines including supporting one’s own views with a commitment to sound reasoning, making strong compelling arguments and expressing a deep concern for uncovering truth in the world. If debate becomes highly problematic when it takes an adversarial turn, what are the alternatives?
Leaving behind the troubled horizons of adversarial debate involves being ready at any moment to practice being the change we wish to see in the conversation (to recontextualize Gandhi’s wisdom), which for now I will call a generative conversation—particularly one that evokes a shift in our views, a lucid opening of minds, a sharing of a process that may even go so far as to awaken an egoless passion for our ultimate concerns together here. Take a moment to imagine your part in this.
Though adversarial debate may seem impossible to avoid in certain situations, to catalyze a generative conversation often involves bringing forward and sharing the latent qualities of being that are needed to support the field of conversation. If for example, the life of a strained conversation suddenly needs humility, hopefully someone is there to provide it! I have found that it helps if you or I can find a way to authentically connect with this quality of humility from within in real time and try to communicate directly from this experience. Another example, let’s say you or I are resisting moving into open inquiry when its needed in the conversation. What would it take to try questioning the need to advocate and argue and all the self-contractions that arise with this old project? What happens when we challenge our selves instead of the other, as we’re typing? How does this influence the words that you type? How does this influence mine?
Moving into such a conversation often asks us to be vulnerable to the needs of the arising truth in the situation, which doesn't require renouncing power or compromising our voice. That's Wilber’s integral transcend and include paradox working its way into conversation. By sensing beyond the limited horizon of my intellect, and attempting to discern what is needed--from the point of view of this conversation, from the point of view of my point of view, from the point of view of yours—I try to become meta-aware of different perspectives. And in so doing, make an in-the-moment contact with a more dynamic set of possible horizons for sharing and unfolding new meaning with you.
The good news is that in striving to enact a field of generative inquiry, the shared qualities of being and relating that make relationship so rewarding can suddenly become tangible again in our conversations. It is well established that a certain quality of care, warmth and openness is needed to support creative discoveries intersubjectively, and the beauty of this experience is that our intelligence depends to a great extent on the quality of how we engage our consciousness relationally. Put in another way: our brilliance collectively-speaking, depends on how we are showing up together, how we are able to come together, listen, engage, inquire and explore this vital dimension of community in conversation.
Acts of conversational leadership require an entrusting of others--that they too are hungry for a different form of conversation, and a confidence that we can work together and build new intersubjective patterns of engaging one another in conversations that make new meaning, not simply defend our hard-won views and inadvertently hurt each other in the process.
Regarding these desirable intersubjective patterns, it is worth commenting briefly on a couple.
Let's try this from a more first-person perspective. How are you regarding the person whose ideas you are responding to online? Are you honoring them existentially in a friendly fashion as brothers and sisters with views and perspectives? Or are you attacking their thoughts or person, however covertly or subtly? Another way to put this, what is your interior quality of being--in relation to them--as you write? Are you defending or selling your view to an abstract audience? And if so, how aware are you of this as you write? If you inquire in your response to them, does the person simply answer your question, railroading your gesture to move the conversation forward? Or do they pause to consider your question and linger a bit in the space it opens for you both and consider possibilities for engaging you? As you write, are you observing your own thought process-that is, are you witnessing your thoughts, emotions—interior context as it reveals itself in relation to theirs? And if so, what is that meta-perspective offering the conversation as you articulate your view? What happens when there is a moment of suspension of your judgment, a sincere second consideration of their view, instead of railing against it and indirectly, them?
In noticing our reflex to defend our views when challenged, and learning how to harness (for the purposes of transmutation) this urge to fight or challenge or spar in real time is necessary to build stronger intersubjective allegiances in order to become more powerful vehicles for uncovering truth together.
In working with these processes, we start living into the change we’d love to see more of in our conversations—an example it seems much of today’s online world is in need of.
Unearthing New Norms of Conversation Online