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In Quest of Radical Coherence

a group design initiative

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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


How might a new quest be understood -- and how might one engage in it? How will the future perceive the opportunities we are not currently exploring or able to see?

How can we find a way to get some worthy excitement back into life -- reframing the dreary challenges of daily life and the many social and other problems which many so tragically face? What would make the hearts of young people sing?

How could one person, or a group, radically reframe their relationship to their environment?

How can we safeguard against the many traps and illusions associated with such enterprises -- especially any group enterprise? How can we avoid the deadly sins of action in a group -- pride, arrogance, sloth, and the like?

How can we safeguard any coherence and zest that we evoke, whether individually or collectively?

How can we guard against dilution, adulteration and dispersion? How can we avoid misinterpretation and cooptation?

How can we avoid turning such an initiative into an exercise in self-indulgence and self-righteousness?

How can we more fruitfully reframe our individual weaknesses and strengths in any collective enterprise?

What might be the framework for a new form of collective intensity? How can we give focus to our coherence?

What might be the new challenges that such an initiative could seek and evoke?


Does the secret of such a quest not lie in some way with the coherence we have already achieved individually in our lives -- rather than in a coherence to be engendered by some form of externally negotiated agreement or mutual understanding?

It would seem that we can only build on our individual life momentum and the associated insights and learnings. Where possible, we need to count on significant others to challenge those patterns which appear to hold us back.

The gift we can individually bring, each in our own way, is to reframe the group we constitute on any such quest. It is our individual responsibility to uncover its coherence, each in our particular way, and to the extent of our ability. Each therefore creates and holds the coherence of the group -- it is not an external artefact, charter or rule to which we subscribe. We do not need to seek vainly to agree or to conform.

This could not be a one-time process. Rather each is continuously confronted with "playing" the pattern of energies perceived as part of the enterprise. Each "plays" the others as instruments, weaving in external themes as appropriate. We are each other's instruments. We design each other in or out of our personal understanding of the quest.

Despite the radical privacy of individual involvement, the mystery of the group process lies in how each is affected by the coherence of the themes played by others in the group -- without "hearing" them in any normal sense of communication. There is subtle reinforcement and mutual entrainment. There is challenge. There is whatever one can individually dare to perceive and sustain.

How we individually communicate to each other, and what we communicate, is a matter of personal choice. Such communications do not define the group. They may aspire to do so, with each tugging valiantly in a particular direction according to a particular style -- possibly evoking the support of some others. But the group coherence lies beyond or behind such exercises.

The style of the quest involves great uncertainty and calls for radical questioning. Everything may prove to be both asset and liability at different times during the quest. But the fact that one may cease to play a particular note or chord, does not mean that that note or chord will not be played again in another context -- perhaps by another instrument or in another key.


The world as my orchestra. The challenge being to understand how it is playing my very own music -- and in what sense I compose and direct it.

Life as an exercise in playing the Glass Bead Game with the rest of the world -- with all the aesthetic and scientific harmonies that need to be evoked to prevent the world from falling apart. The future must still be played into existence -- as in some older belief systems.

Variants of the above with the group as the world or the player.

The Conference of the Birds.


Who would be part of such a collective quest? And who is not?

Each can endeavour to design new people into the pattern of coherence that they bring. In this way each defines the membership of the group to which they belong.

Whether others reinforce this initiative by also designing the same new people into their own pattern of coherence is another matter.

Whether new people themselves design a pattern of coherence out of those they encounter will strongly influence their own degree of subsequent involvement. Some people may therefore effectively design themselves in whilst others design themselves out. Parts of some people may be in, whilst other parts are out.

How in is "in" will be determined by the coherence of the pattern the individual designs for the group, each in their own way and essentially unbeknown to the others. How much of such a pattern is recognized by others will depend on the degrees of mutual reinforcement and fruitful challenge.


What might radical coherence be understood to be? Something to do with an unforeseen balance between unity and diversity? A form of emergent order?

Diversity may be understood as a range or set of functions vital to the viability of the pattern of coherence. But it is quite possible to have certain kinds of music omitting many octaves, chords or notes. Viable ecosystems can function without many species.

How much diversity is therefore a question in endeavouring to understand the kind of unity or coherence that is individually sought. This may be a personal challenge to growing understanding.

But in any pattern of diversity there needs to be some kind of coherence to the functions present. What those functions are and how they are distinguished is a challenge for the individual pattern-maker playing with the group environment. Insights from many disciplines and traditions can be used to order individual understanding -- as well as personal learnings.

The energy of the collective enterprise will increase as each distinguishes more essential functions and develops a richer patterning for them. The music of the group, composed and heard by the individual, then becomes richer and more powerful. It is this coherence which is in some way heard by the rest of the group, affecting and guiding it in mysterious ways.


For any such coherence to be radical, it must be challenged by paradox or else be trapped in dualities.

Stressing coherence must necessarily evoke incoherence. Any such quest must live with a counter-balancing incoherence from which new degrees of coherence may be born.

Stressing radical new depths of understanding must necessarily evoke the trivial and mundane. Any such quest must work with the ordinariness of daily life as a framework for the extraordinary. Lead is essential to the formation of gold.

Stressing a new form of collective quest must necessarily call for a new degree of individuality. Any such quest requires radical individuality to free and form group relationships in new ways.

Stressing the essential privacy of the quest must necessarily call for a new relationship to the wider world. Any such quest must be challenged and nourished by the dramatic problems of others in the wider world.

Stressing a transcendent intensity to inter-personal relationships must necessarily be challenged by the undynamic, flatness of many daily encounters. How is the topography of mountains and valleys to be completed?

Stressing a quest for the unknown is presumptuous in the extreme and necessarily evokes lessons of humility. It is the humility that ensures the originality and appropriateness of the quest.

Stressing the novelty of any quest must necessarily eovke a sense of its banality. Paradoxically the quest maybe for insight considered normal to others or even to ourselves -- perhaps required to recognize it for the first time.

Next steps?

How can such a radical quest take form?

Can it be "talked up" by a creative design process -- each feeding onto interpretations of the other's insights, as a form of "psyching up"? Playing on each others sensibilities? Or each endeavouring to "entrance" others by capturing them in a story that defines them -- offering them entrance to a new vision of the world? Endeavouring to lay a "spell" upon them -- a "spelling be"?

How should a proposal like the above itself be challenged?

What is the most challenging way in which the following question may be framed and understood: To what form of action does such an enterprise lead?

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