Making Every Voice Count: A Lesson in Social Change

Making Every Voice Count: A Lesson in Social Change

Collaboration Incubator: Berlin, October 2018

I recently participated in three-day workshop / conference / think-tank offered by Vanilla Way. The organizing question in the invitation was, “How do we build a global grassroots democracy that enables us to create a future that nurtures us and the planet?” ( I’m usually interested in programs that deepen my commitment as a global citizen, and the weekend also provided an opportunity to build my network in my newly chosen city of Berlin.

I appreciated the intention of the organizers, that the results of the weekend should be an enhancement to the work that each of us is already doing, thereby serving both our personal needs and the long-term needs of society. My work as a leadership development consultant fit well with the profiles of the other 10 entrepreneurs, facilitators and community organizers. I had more prior knowledge of the agenda than most people attending because I volunteered to facilitate a couple of sessions on evolutionary leadership. I’ve also traveled extensively and my accumulated years of wandering the planet expanded my ability to see multiple sides at once. This ended up being an asset over the weekend.

Although the current state of global governance was a reference point for our discussions, we intentionally did not try to map all of its systems or propose solutions to fix broken pieces. Our main focus was to explore possibilities for grassroots democracy, and specifically projects to which we can apply our thinking and acting in local communities. Later in the article I’ll outline a project called #ALLVOICES that I chose to start and coordinate.


Our legacy of liberal democracy

In these times, when right and left are polarized, it’s easy to forget that this political theater is all happening on the stage of liberal democracy, the form of governance that since the fall of communism has become the de facto (or at least dominant) form of global governance. Although it is important to protect the frontier of devolving democracy against fascism, recreating of the rules of democracy so that it works for all is a more urgent task.

Liberalism is simply the movement towards freedom. In Europe, the dawn of modern liberal democracy is celebrated each year on July 14th, Bastille Day. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose ideas were used to rally the people during the French Revolution in 1789, called for legislative power for the people, creating a new social contract. Thomas Paine wrote Rights of Manin France in 1791, after influencing the American Revolution with his writing and activism. In it he defends the French Revolution, believing a revolt by the people is justified when a government does not protect the natural rights of its citizens. Since the American and French Revolutions, “liberty, equality and fraternity” have been the fundamental cry of democracy around the world.

During more than 200 years of democracy, the concept of “all people” has been updated both in terms of who is represented and the total number of people governed. It used to mean male property owners. Now we can see and hear people on Internet-connected devices across the globe who also want equality. In 1800 the global population was 991 million. In 2019, the number approaches 7.4 billion. We find ourselves in a more complex world with governments challenged to achieve fairness and inclusion for massively diverse and connected voices.


When governments and change agents struggle to act

Governments are here to ensure safety, welfare, tranquility and prosperity for their citizens. When our expectations are not met, that government and corporate institutions should help us meet our basic needs, we often react with anger, confusion and conflict. Since we don’t want to act out irrationally (or aren’t allowed to by law), we find other ways to cope with the injustice. Sometimes people go into isolation. Others find solidarity in social groups.

The Collaboration Incubator offered a clear agenda for us, using the Dragon Dreaming methodology to envision our lives and work meeting both our personal requirements and global needs. I can’t really say why or how it happened, but our attempts to move forward brought more resistance. Social tensions in the group began to surface. Some disengaged, others began separating into subgroups, others chose to abandon the process altogether. Some people felt left out, others focused on the need to resolve the discord in the group, and others wanted to stay with the planned agenda. Our goal to collaborate was stuck yet we longed for an interpersonal environment that engendered trust.

Once we reached a consensus to abandon the planned agenda, we slowly began to transform the tension by coming together in a circle and facing the uncomfortable feelings with conscious awareness. We called this a practice of “sitting in the fire.” Life and limb were not endangered, but the intensity required a fair amount of courage. I was a participant in the conflict and did my best to address the barriers to our collaboration. We each wrestled with strongly held perspectives as well as our individual identities. At this point none of us really knew what the outcome of the weekend would be, but we knew that we wanted to feel connected as a group. Although we wanted to take positive action on societal and planetary issues, human relationships and power dynamics took precedence.

(For more on the fire practice, check out the work of Arnold Mindell:

My personal journey

Although imperfect in execution, the fire practice worked and a few of us are meeting again to add the necessary support for participants before and during the process. Perhaps the urgency of the future (i.e., climate change, wealth inequity, AI) provided additional motivation to get unstuck and find new ways of interacting with each other. The points below summarize my insights and learning:

  • Proceeding in collaboration before trust is present creates resistance.
  • Trust is earned, until then I don’t trust any voice to speak for me.
  • Every voice tells a story. I want to pull more voices into the circle.
  • I want to live in a world where every voice counts.
  • I honor each perspective in the circle.
  • I use my voice and language to show a perspective on the whole.
  • Be the person who keeps the voices in, each and every storyteller.
  • Until the voices are all heard, a group is not formed.

When all the voices in the circle were heard with openness and respect, the group dynamic shifted. With some strong intentions and facilitation skills, we were indeed able to co-create a list of projects with collaboration partners. A project as defined by our process may simply be an idea that someone wants to share and develop. In other words, projects may need more thinking and planning, while others might already be up and running and need tactical support.

I found our process to be a perfect example of how groups get stuck. To get moving again, to be able to move through conflict and get on with making our communities thrive, we have to be able to listen to each other.

#ALLVOICES: An experiment in connection.

We talk about diversity and inclusion, but even the most conscientious of us falter. A voice of authority too often determines which stories are heard, which lives matter. The #ALLVOICES project hopes to achieve a platform for hearing more voices in the systems that represent us and govern our lives.

We’ll experiment and find ways to solicit, aggregate and curate stories. Starting small, then expanding out to the Internet-connected world, a spectrum of worldviews will be added. Perhaps by making a little bit more in each of us visible, we can acknowledge the existence of another person’s view on life in the moment and get curious about our differences.

I’m interested in hearing stories that connect us, and understanding that we often don’t agree is important. The goal is for each story to reveal what a person sees. Every story is a snapshot that captures an honest image of a person’s inner emotional landscape, love, hate, fear, anger, disgust, resentment, sadness.


We only need to listen. We do not need to agree.

The vision is inclusion. When a group of people to come together in a sacred circle, each authentic voice is represented fairly. Therefore, our project must have a code of conduct that makes it safe for anyone to participate. Consider the tall order of #ALLVOICES. A range of personal stories could be as loving and compassionate as a Buddhist satsang and as aggressive and hate-filled as a Trump rally. Personal stories are not about someone or something else other than what lies in the heart of every person who shares. These stories do not begin with “I believe,” are not about ideology or concepts, and not about the past or the future. The stories answer the question “Who are you right now?”

Belonging to a family

True family accepts who you are. I want to see if we can love our anger, discomfort, and our flaws. In that vulnerability, human stories can connect us because we share similar experiences. The human tribe is diverse, complex, and conflicted. If successful, we will find our belonging to each other.

By | 2018-11-22T13:47:34+00:00 November 20th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments