Dimensions of Social SpaceOctober 21, 2010 17 Comments
This post first appeared back in March of this year, and I am re-posting as I prepare to co-present a session tomorrow at the Bioneers by the Bay gathering in New Bedford, MA. In our session, “Transformative Leadership for Sustainability” we will experience each of the dimensions below . .
As process designers, facilitators, and change agents, we are called upon to help create conditions in which amazing things can happen between people, whether alignment, agreement building, innovation, etc. At times this can be a tall order. Thankfully we are supported by an array of tools and techniques at our disposal. Knowing which of the social architect’s tools to turn to in any given situation is a core challenge. Something I’ve recently found useful as a guide is consideration of the different dimensions of social space and how these can be leveraged so that collective work can bring about the very best.
My thinking here has been informed by the work of psychologists and anthropologists identifying three clusters of morality across cultures: the ethic of autonomy, the ethic of community, and the ethic of divinity. These clusters speak to me of the vital dimensions of social space.
Autonomy is that dimension that honors individual identity and agency. It can be very important for people to feel individually recognized before they commit to anything collective. Furthermore, autonomy can help mitigate group think.
Community is the dimension concerned with the integrity of groups in terms of shared identity and commitments. In collaborative work, we often spend time navigating between individual stakes and shared intentions as a way of creating healthy and generative environments. What is missing from these is that dimension that speaks to transcendence, to taking individuals and groups to another level of awareness and connection. This is the dimension of . . .
Divinity in this case may or may not involve belief in a supreme being. What research suggests is that this dimension of social space engenders a psychic and emotional sense of “uplift,” a physiological response that can lead to sensations of being a part of something much larger than one’s self or group. Subsequently, people may experience profound feelings of love, trust, and openness, making them more receptive to new relationships and ideas.
How then do we leverage these dimensions? A few thoughts:
- Autonomy: Differentiation. Create the opportunity for people to individually speak/write about their own hopes, fears, skills, etc. Don’t force agreement. Encourage differences of opinion. Create opportunities for individual thinking and gifts to be expressed.
- Community: Integration. Direct people’s attention and conversation to what they share with others. Help facilitate agreement. Point out shared interests beyond differences of opinions. Create opportunities for a group to work together toward some common goal or identity.
- Divinity: Elevation. Help lift people up to see the larger picture or meaning. Invite people to explore the bigger story of which they are a part. Share examples of moral exemplars (virtue can trigger feelings of uplift). Have people think/speak about places and events that are “sacred” and expressive of their deepest values. Play inspiring music. Read poetry. Meet/immerse people in the natural world.
Still playing with this and curious to hear your reactions and experiences.