Having addressed the various objections to the importance of collectivity, I'd like to keep my readers on board with the intention, the purpose, the aim, the motivation for all this. So, to summarise or recapitulate a little, my motivation is to envision more clearly a way of being, a way of relating – more collectively; in more collectivity – where each individual member of the collective is thriving, is able to live up to their fullness, their richness, their potential, their ikigai if you like; while the collectives, the communities, the groups of people-in-common are also thriving, and contributing their part to the greater whole, to their surrounding eco-system; and where this circles back to having the potential to support the individual members of the collective in their own thriving. This intention also shows up at the core of my slightly earlier writings about collective ikigai.
My guess is that most people would agree in seeing the attraction of a society and a culture in which individuals were supported in finding their fulfillment, while at the same time contributing effectively to the common good. How to achieve that is, of course, a complex challenge – the term ‘wicked problem’ is often used. And at a very basic level, it may be obvious that a wicked problem cannot be solved by a simple approach. I'm suggesting here that such a wicked problem cannot even be solved by the most talented individual alone. The approach, if not the solution, needs to be found in something beyond the individual.
This is where Collective Presencing starts to point the way. There, we experience things that certainly seem as if they come from beyond any one individual. They seem to be part of the emergent properties of the well connected group – the close-knit, trusting collective, to use a phrase I've used earlier. But in my view we can benefit from a more detailed understanding of possible process here, beyond something like “now sit round in a circle and the solution will emerge”. And to guide us to that more detailed understanding, I would say we can benefit from looking at the characteristics of relating in collectivity. What would we see in a culture of relating in collectivity?
The kind of qualities of an open close-knit, trusting, collective are clearly connected to how people relate together, and this leads me to focus on the aspect of relating itself. What do we see in people's relationships? How would we see people relating, when they are embedded in this kind of culture?
Here, I'd like to pick up a lead from Ria's Collective Presencing book, section 3.5.
As we focus on I and Us we expand our attention to include what is happening in the group at large. […] As we develop towards collective, shared and rotating leadership and collective wisdom, we are all required to learn this skill and competence, not just so-called leaders.
Noticing what is in the group builds on the capacity to be present to myself and in relationship with the other(s), expanding now to perceive the wider group’s field. It might start with noticing when you feel some kind of disturbance or awkwardness in the overall field. At such moments, you could offer some questions in the circle as a way of checking whether your sensing is shared or on track, and to help all participants notice what is happening: What is going on between us? What is at play at a deeper level in the group now?
Two things I'd like to pick out here. First, “what is happening in the group at large” will sometimes be about me. Maybe there is a pointer here towards a possible development or change in myself. Maybe what is happening in the collective, if it cares about me, is a subtle nudging or guidance for me. Let's not be paranoid or narcissistic here – these will only be occasional, as there are many many other things that could be happening in the group that are not about me.
Notice the second point, though. “you could offer some questions in the circle as a way of checking whether your sensing is shared or on track”. This time, that's the ‘you’, the member of the circle, not the ‘you’ who might be being guided. Here is one of the keys, in my view. The other individuals in the group check with each other, the better to know whether their intuitions, their insights, are shared or just limited by their own ego. So, in this collective guidance process, it's not one other individual, let alone an authority figure, who is interpreting for you what is going on, it is the group as a whole collective. As I've pointed out before, for me at least, guidance is much more easily accepted from a range of nudges from non-authority figures than from one central authority figure.
I'd like also to draw attention to another possible assumption here. The image drawn out in the quoted passage seems to relate to the context of a circle, but in a close-knit collective similar processes could happen asynchronously, not just together in a circle. It's like the difference between a collective Zoom call, synchronous, and a series of one-to-one conversations, asynchronous. Any one of us may get a sense of a direction that may be good for another to move in. But rather than naming that in a circle where the other person is present, we could take our musings to other people in the collective, to check whether they have a related sense, or whether it is just our own material, our own triggering, that is coming up.
We don't all have accurate insights; we don't all possess the right skills to lovingly nudge a friend in a good direction; even if we have the skills, we may not be the right person at the right time. We don't know what exactly to say. But, from the collective experience of close-knit life, the opportunity arises, and we are moved to say something, from that place of loving concern and humility. Others are, too. We are not responsible for the growth and development of our friends, but maybe we can take responsibility to say those things that come from those promptings of love and truth in our hearts, when they come.
And we can practice being open to that kind of insight, guidance, nudging, or however it lands in us, from others.
Now I'd like to point as clearly as I can to the next level of systemic complexity. I'm suggesting that we can collectively help each other: not only, in general, to develop and grow ourselves; but also to live in relationship, to embody those relationships, that allow the collective that potential in the first place. I find this really hard to keep in mind, so please accept my apologies for my lack of ability to express this. I can only hope that by throwing a few words at this I might get across something of the vision that I feel coming up through me.
I have been assuming the existence of a close-knit, trusting collective here. But it is us, ourselves, who are the people who (I hope) wish to constitute this collective, and it needs us to relate to each other in certain ways. Not the kind of traditionalist, authoritarian ways that result in a power hierarchy, but the kind of ways we see, prefigured perhaps, in Collective Presencing sessions. Can we bring that level of presence, that degree of connection, into our relationships outside the setting of a circle? This itself needs ‘embodied’ skills, competences, and by ‘embodied’ I mean practiced, self-trained, expressed in our patterns of behaviour (including speech), and imprinted (for want of a better word) in our neural circuitry, whether we are consciously aware of our responses, or have made them so automatic that they become unconscious.
This seems to me to be a plausible way of ‘boot-strapping’ such a collective. We focus first on the skills – the communication skills, you could say, prosaically – that allow us to embody that close-knit trusting collectivity at (Kegan's) 5th order, not 3rd order. That enables the collective to be that emergent entity with enough collective wisdom both to consolidate those skills of collectivity, and to go forward towards living into our lives' purposes; whatever growth and development we need to learn in order to play the roles, to contribute in the wider world, to those goals, those objecives, those visions that we hold dear in our hearts.
The link with collective ikigai is two way. The collective of which you could be a member helps you towards your personal ikigai. But also, it seems to me, one of the more urgent purposes for our being in the world at this time is to constitute and embody these collectives; to research and communicate to others how it can be done, and to help others to find those collectives in which they can truly thrive, and contribute to the thriving of others, through the thriving of the collective.
So now we have this part of the vision of relating to the collective as a guide or mentor perhaps, and not seeing any one individual in that role. That can help us each individually to move ourselves into a better place, a better shape; towards our ikigai and towards the fullness of our potential. Next time I want to move on, back to personal, intimate relationships and how that joins up, at least in my own imagination.