Review: The Practice of Peace

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Amazon Page
Amazon Page
5.0 out of 5 stars Peace Through Open Space
November 26, 2009
Harrison Owen
The author gave me a copy of this book as a gift, after inviting me to lunch to discuss my review of Wave Rider (EasyRead Large Edition): Leadership for High Performance In a Self-Organizing World.

This book needs to be re-issued. It is a perfect complement to Tom Atlee’s forthcoming Refelctions on Evolutionary Activism (Tom is the author of The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All–read my review of EA at Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog.]

Although I knew the author was the founder of the Open Space Technology (OST) process, and recommend his book Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, I learn in this book that the other essential reader is his earlier book, The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform.

This book does something I was not expecting: it directly relates, in a tight DNA-like spiral, the use of open space technology (process is really a better word) to the practice of peace. This is not a book on Quakerism–the author has made an original contribution that has moved me further down the road toward Evolutionary Activism (focus on connecting all humans to all information, not on arriving as specific answers)-but I better understand the value of such books as Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk Through the Quaker Tradition as a result of this reading.

ALSO unexpected, I found this book to be a handbook for a “Whole Systems” approach to peace and prosperity. The author writes of “Multi-Factorial Development” attempting to do that, but i have the margin notation that putting a bunch of singular discipline experts (one from each discipline) in a room together does not create in any of them the ability to *do* systems thinking (or sustainable design). See Critical Path and The Philosophy of Sustainable Design.

The author is one of the originals in the Human Dynamics movement that I believe is now supplanted by Evolutionary Dynamics (humans are not the only ones evolving, and ALL species must evolve in co-evolutionary harmony if the Whole Earth is to evolve).

Some of my fly-leaf notes:

+ Chaos IS life–confusion is the intellectual equivalent of chaos, inviting innovation

+ Part of our problem is our inability to comprehend the complexity of neighborhoods, much less the complexity of the Earth or the Cosmos

+ Ego is the only casualty when opening ones mind

+ Conflict is good, it clarified vision, it allows the new to displace the old

+ Four core leader types: Warrior, Visionary, Healer, and Teacher–the four points on the Native American compass.

+ Warrior is central to the The Bhagavad Gita (Classics of Indian Spirituality)

+ Conflict must be TRANSCENDED–ignoring conflict is NAIVE (and I would add, and evil, as is continuing conflict for the sake of the military-industrial complex)

QUOTE: “Peace is the dynamic interrelationship of complex forces (including chaos, conflict and confusion) productive of wholeness, health and harmony. The Practice of Peace is the intentional creation of the requisite conditions under which Peace may occur.” page 17

I learned of Open Space from Peggy Holman, whose book The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems I bought as preparation for attending an event she was hosting.

The bottom line, and this book on the Practice of Peace provides several serious examples, is that Open Space WORKS, and moved groups from confrontation to consensus.

The author recounts his own experience in learning two big lessons:

#1 Mind-boggling complexity of apparently simple proble-solution sceaarios.

#2 Failure to understand that the failure of failed states is at root the failure to grasp the complexity of all aspects of the failed state from family to neighborhood to village to district to province to region.

The author renders due regards to Ken Wilbur’s Four Quadrants and to the Spiral Dynamics of Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, and relates these to the Great Chain of Being in which we move from nothing to body to mind to intelligence to soul to spirit to nothing. Two points jump out at me in this section:

1) It’s all connected. Separating the parties to achieve forced co-existence solves nothing.

2) “Muddling Thorugh” works precisely because it is self-organization, adaptation and innovation at every level WITHOUT “Command & Control”

The author demonstrates special regard for At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity.

Summarizing Open Space Technology (OST) as the circle, the bulletin board, and the marketplace, and estimates that it has been used twenty to thirty times across 80 countries with anything from five to 2,000 people at a time. It is effective, it is peaceful, and it harnesses what Buckminster Fuller called the essential axis: TIME-ENERGY. OST delivers high learning, high place, self-organization, and real community.

CORE POINT: Self-organization is what energizes and makes possible trnasformation.

+ Control is a self-inflicted injury, with external control–usually arbitrary–being the enemy of the OST practice of peace.

+ Practice of Peace is Gandhi for the rest of us, it requires openness to diversity of views, non-hostility (and I would add, from the Twelve Principles of the Santayana Institute, detachment from otucome, the one tangible result of my last two years of wandering in the wilderness).

GRIEFWORK matters, it is vitally important and allows all endings to be non-violent. I think immediately of the current financial collapse of Wall Street and the US Government (both bankrupt, at the end of a century-long Ponzzi scheme) and realize that we MUST offer Wall Street and the Federal Government a path through grief to to acceptance of the loss, shame, tragedy, misery, emptiness, and anger. We need to make the space for healing so we can all move on, and I realize this is what Truth & Reconciliation Commissions are all about. OST as GriefWork provides a means of dealing with denial, memories, despair, needed silence and grounding, and then reopening to vision and renewal.

The author cites Thomas Jefferson, that government governs best that governs least, and notes that the same applies to medicine, other endeavors, and to OST.

“The Rules” include


02 Use Circles (instead of squares or triangles with schoolhouse seating)

03 Nurture passion and responsibility

04 Remember (or teach) the four principles:

— Whoever comes is the right people

— Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

— Whenever it starts is the right time

— When it is over it is over

05 OBSERVE (and respect) the Law of Two Feet that allows negative energy to move on and find its own positive niche elsewhere

06 Keep GriefWork going, often this means being a silent witness offering a ground to reality

As the book draws to a close the author emphasizes that the Practice of Peace is something that can and should be done every moment of every day, and also emphasizes that Command and Control from the top down does not work for three big reasons:

01 Ignores most of the views outside the unilateral command and control structure

02 Displaces needed chaos and confusion with artificial control that is not sustainable

03 Assumes knowledge at the top that is actually rankism, not deep nor relevant knowledge

I put the book down wondering what a multinational intelligence open space gathering in DC over the holidays might look like. More on that at Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog.


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