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Clues to the Nature of a Gathering

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Part of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development (1991). Prepared in the process of envisaging the group dynamics of the World Parliament of Relgions


A Strategy Discussion. One major common thread is the concern with "what next?", given the apparent urgency of social transformation, the inadequacy of existing approaches, and the weaknesses of existing meetings in giving birth to more adequate initiatives -- especially where there is any question of "paradigm shifts" and "non-linear thinking".

A Dialogue. The gathering might be considered a dialogue or a conversation, in the best sense of these terms -- such as when an event is described as "magical". But this interpretation would evoke a certain impatience if there was any sense of dialogue for dialogue's sake, or with conversation as a collective indulgence.

An Experiment. In a real sense the event is an experiment in meeting organization. As such it may also be thought of as a laboratory. But the experiment is one that is continuously redesigned by the participants as it progresses. And the outcome is of far more than purely theoretical interest. A concern may be to discover the potential of more highly integrated groups.

An Exercise. The process might be seen as a spontaneous exercise in self-organization in which participants rehearse various ways of articulating and working with an emerging pattern of agreements and disagreements, especially where all are wary of simplistic consensus. However the exercise is more concerned with comprehending and sustaining global patterning than with developing particular technical skills.

A Game. To the extent that this term implies the many unsatisfactory dimensions of "game-playing", this would not be an appropriate perception. However, the meeting could usefully be understood as an exploration of some of the dimensions evoked by Hesse's Glass Bead Game. There is a concern with bringing profoundly felt differences into play.

A Construction Project. The gathering could be viewed as an exercise in constructing a whole, a pattern, a piece of psycho-social architecture, or a cognitive device. There is a certain concern for design and fitting elements together to make something of relevance to psych-social transformation -- if only for the duration of the event. Metaphors such as a dynamo or a fusion reactor may be used.

A Journey. As with many such events, it may be considered as an expedition, an exploration, or a simple journeying together. However much of the interest in this case comes from articulating the dimensions of collective purpose amongst participants with very different contributions and commitments to the crisis of the times.

A Collective Brainstorm. In the spirit of creativity groups, the gathering might be considered a brainstorming exercise. However there is a very strong resistance to the trap of a purely intellectual, "head" exercise. The concern is then more with creatively combining different kinds of insight, whatever their source. How should people "psych each other up" to a higher order of collective interplay -- integrating the "insight storm" into a fruitful "weather pattern"?

A Collective Therapy Group. The group is definitely not a therapy group, although many participants will be familiar with that mode if it becomes appropriate to use it for a while. However the event might be considered an exercise in healing a group as a whole or at least understanding what that could imply.

A Collective Dreaming. There may be aspects of the event which reflect the best sense of dreaming, especially of giving appropriate form to the future or "dreaming the future into being".

A Collective Meditation. The process may be considered as a collective meditation, and periods of silence may be appropriate (as in Quaker "gathered" meetings). But the overt emphasis is on verbal articulation of insights, from whatever awareness they emerge.

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