Monday, May 21, 2018

Power and Love

Saturday morning Susan and I arose early (no small thing on a weekend, when sleeping in is a treasured option) to catch the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Aside from the breathtaking pageantry on a gorgeous day in jolly old England—labeled "crackers" by a British commentator, whatever that is—and an incredible array of hats (a milliner's wet dream), I was impressed by the homily delivered by Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He's based in the US but crossed the pond for the chance at 16 minutes at the lectern in front of the British royals, the BBC, and all three major American television networks. (Though apparently he'd only been offered five minutes, he seized the time, and made the most of it.)

In an impassioned delivery, Curry's spoke about the power of love—certainly a topical theme for a wedding. While Curry made the case for how anything is possible if we trust in love, I was struck by how Adam Kahane harnessed the same horses to plow a different field in Collaborating with the Enemy, a book I read earlier in the week. While I was favorably impressed by Curry's admonitions about how powerful love can be in a marriage, I want to focus this essay on Kahane's work about the marriage of power and love.

Jacob Corvidae, a friend of mine who used to live at Dancing Rabbit (and currently resides in Boulder CO, where he works with Kahane) recommended the book. Kahane's work has special appeal for me because we both work with groups, trying to help them solve problems collaboratively—without asking anyone to shift their core values or alter their personality.

—Setting Kahane's Table
To better understand Kahane's concepts, here are his definitions for three key terms:

o  Power (per theologian Paul Tillich): the drive of everything living to realize itself.

o  Love (also per Tillich): the drive toward the unity of the separated.

o  Holon (per Arthur Koestler): something that is simultaneously a whole and a part.  

While "holon" is a new term for me and I define "power" differently (I think of it as influence: the ability to get others to agree with something or to do something), I want to present Kahane's thinking in his terms. [The italicized segments that follow are quoted from the book.]

Kahane contends that every person and group possesses both of these drives—power and love—and that it is always a mistake (unbalanced) to employ only one. Per Martin Luther King, Jr, "Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic."
With respect to group dynamics, Kahane believes that effective collaboration requires three kinds of stretches, all of which challenge conventional wisdom:

—The First Stretch: to Embrace Conflict and Connection
His foundational idea is that there is more than one whole. Having worked in the field of group dynamics for three decades I agree with him. It is sobering how much trouble I have getting people unstuck because of their belief that there is a single whole (a single reality) which they are aligned with and which those in opposition to them are not. (Why move toward others when you are closer to the truth?) Commonly enough, both sides of a disagreement have a similar idea about their being only a single whole and each feels righteous about their perspective being the one that's correct. Effectively, neither side is motivated to work with the views of others, resulting in a stalemate.

Things can proceed much more fluidly if you accept the notion that there are multiple wholes. You have one, and those who see the same situation differently have another. The more wholes you can include in  your awareness, the better chance you have to build robust responses (ones without holes).
 Kahane further believes that in complex situations that are not amenable to imposed solutions, we need to be able to both fight and talk; to both assert and engage. The key to being able to work with multiple wholes is being able to work with both power and love.

This challenges my thinking that fighting is antithetical to collaboration. While I have always been in favor of not ducking hard issues and of getting disagreements out in the open—and I am fully aware of the constructive potential of conflict—I have mostly experienced fighting as destructive, rather than a sign that someone has reached the limits of how far they can stretch to include another's whole. 

To be clear, Kahane's claim is nuanced. The use of power can be a constructive element to the extent that assertion is generative. Once you encounter resistance, continued pressing slides into being destructive and is no longer healthy. Going the other way, the generative side of love of engagement. But once it starts to engender capitulation, is crosses into the anaerobic breeding ground of manipulation. Kahane makes the case that fighting and talking are the two complementary poles of collaboration, and that going to too far toward either is ineffective. You need both.

Further, it's important to differentiate between problems that can be solved, and polarities that cannot be solved but only managed.
—The Second Stretch: to Experiment a Way Forward
Kahane describes four ways of talking and listening:

a) DownloadingHere I listen from within myself and my story. I am deaf to other stories; I hear only what confirms my own story ("I knew that already"). The talking associated with downloading is telling: I say what I always say, because I think that my story is either the only true one or the only one that is safe or polite to tell. I assert that there is only one whole (for example, one objective or team or strategy) and ignore or suppress others. Downloading is the typical behavior of experts, fundamentalists, dictators, and people who are arrogant, angry, or afraid.

b) Debating
Here I listen from the outside, factually and objectively, like a judge in a debate or a courtroom ("This is correct and that is incorrect"). The talking associated with debating is a clash of ideas: each person says what he or she thinks, and some ideas and people win and others lose. This mode is more open than downloading because people are now expressing their different views and are aware that these are their views and not the truth ("In my opinion… ").  

c) Dialoging
Here I listen to others as if from inside them, empathetically and subjectively ("I hear where you are coming from"). The talking associated with dialoging is self-reflective ("In my experience… "). This mode opens up new possibilities because now we are working with multiple living holons, each expressing its power and love.

d) Presencing
Here I listen not from within myself or another, paying attention just to one specific idea or person, but from the larger system ("What I am noticing here and now is… "). When I am in a group that is presencing, it is as if the boundaries between people have disappeared, so that when one person talks, he or she is articulating something for the whole group or system, and when I listen, it is as if to the whole group or system. 

All four of these modes are legitimate and useful. It's not that we need to employ only one mode, but rather that we need to be able to move fluently and fluidly among them. 

According to organizational theorist Karl Weick: People find their way forward not necessarily because they have a good map or plan. Instead it is because they "begin to act, they generate tangible outcomes in some context, and this helps them discover what is occurring, what needs to be explained, and what should be done next." They don't need to have a clear vision or goal; they only need to have some shared sense of the challenge or problematic situation they are trying to overcome. Collaborative teams typically make progress not be carefully executing an excellent plan to achieve agreed objectives, but by acting and learning from this acting. 

—The Third Stretch: to Step into the Game 
We have to take action; not just watch and wait for the perfect moment when all stars are aligned. The way I frame this concept is that there will be times when you need to commit your weight forward without knowing where the ground is, trusting that firm footing will appear where you need it when your foot comes down.

The question about collaborating that I am asked most frequently is, "How can we get them to… ?" But in non-hierarchical, non-controlled collaboration, you cannot get anyone to do anything. We blame and "enemyfy" others, both to defend and define ourselves. We see ourselves self-centeredly as the protagonist at the center of the drama of what is going on around us, so when we experience a challenge, we react as if it is a personal attack against which we must defend ourselves. We are frightened of being hurt, so we separate and shield ourselves by asserting that we are right and others are wrong. We fear that if we collaborate with those others, we will become contaminated or compromised—that we will betray what we stand for and who we are.

The problem with "enemyfying" is not that we never have enemies: we often face people and situations that present us with difficulties and dangers. Moreover, any effort we make to effect change in the world will create discomfort, resistance, and opposition. The real problem with "enemyfying" is that it distracts and unbalances us. We cannot avoid others whom we find challenging, so we need to focus simply on deciding, given these challenges, what we ourselves will do next.

If you're not part of the problem, the can't be part of the solution. Playing it safe (staying above the fray) is not good enough.

Self-centeredness means that we arrogantly overestimate the correctness and value of our own perspectives and actions, and we underestimate those of others. This impedes collaboration because it distorts our understanding of the situation we are in and what we need to do, and it creates conflicts with the others we are discounting.

The essence of the third stretch is assuming responsibility for the role that we ourselves are playing in the situation we are trying to change, and therefore for what we need to do differently in order for the situation to change. This stretch is challenging because it requires us to take the risk of engaging fully in the situation and so being changed or hurt by it. It requires us to be willing to sacrifice some of what feels known, familiar, comfortable, and safe. "In a ham omelet," the quip goes, "the chicken is involved but the pig is committed." Stretch collaboration requires us to be pigs rather than merely chickens.

When we notice ourselves blaming others—focusing on what they are doing and what we hope or demand that they do differently—we need to bring our attention back to what we ourselves are doing and what we need to do differently. Sometimes what we need to do is to try to influence others—but now we are taking responsibility for, and willing to change, our part in the situation that we are all part of. Whenever we find ourselves distracted by others, we need to come back to the simple question, what must we do next? 

• • •
So how does this map onto my understanding of group dynamics? Seen through the lens of Robert Moore's seminal on male archetypes, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, I have struggled over the entirety of my adult life with a tendency to be too often the Warrior (who is overly fond of assertion) and not enough the Lover (who extends empathy). Now Kahane invites me to see the collaborative potential when the Warrior and Lover are balanced in one body. This shift in my thinking is both liberating and enlightening.

I am also aligned with the concept of letting go of control and working with what emerges. Skilled facilitation, I've discovered over my career, is not so much about about steering and delivering solutions, as it is about: 

• Creating a resilient container (stout enough to hold the energy and safe enough that vulnerability blossoms);

• Asking the right questions;

• Bringing your whole self to the task;

• Paying attention to what's happening; and

• Articulating what the group reveals about itself. 

It's an art form.

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