The Zen of Global Transformation


Richard Moore

Bcc: some folks


             The Zen of Global Transformation
                        rkm 6/02

s             Seeker: "How can I find the path?"
     Teacher: "Learn to walk, and the path will find you."

        "The needed change will come from people with
      changed minds, not from people with new programs."
               - Daniel Quinn, 'The Story of B'

For some time now I have been on a quest.  This is a quest
that many others are on as well, millions of them.  We are
all seeking answers to the same questions: What can we do to
save the world from disaster?  How can people learn to live
in harmony with one another and with nature?

We have tried many things. We have studied, written,
debated, and protested, We have formed movements and
political parties, published books, and we have even
occasionally achieved things that felt like progress. But in
the end, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that
the tide continues the wrong way, and rushes always faster.

Like many others, from time to time, I have felt that I had
found 'the solution'.  In some sense I don't think those
solutions have been wrong, and many of the other solutions
I've seen would probably work as well - if only enough
people would agree on one of them!

Agreement, it seems, is the Holy Grail of change.  If only
that mysterious grail could be found we would have the power
to do what now seems impossible.  But how do we move toward
agreement?  What is the path?   Debate doesn't seem to work,
it seems to lead only to more debate.  Education doesn't
seem to work, there are too many teachers with too many
different messages.  The obvious paths to agreement seem to
lead nowhere useful  And yet agreement, in some sense, must
happen before anything else can.

Sometimes, when a long search proves fruitless, you must
stop and do nothing.  You must empty your mind, stop trying,
and give the universe a chance to send you some kind of
inspiration.  If you do this, then sometimes an answer
appears that is surprisingly simple, one which has been
right under your nose all the while.  Suddenly you can
see what you have been seeking.

I have something to share with you which is an answer and at
the same time is no answer.  It is everything and it is
nothing. It is so simple that it would mean very little if I
simply told you what I have found.  We must retrace the
quest together, visiting the places where things of value are

Let us move on to the first part of our quest. If we are
seeking the holy grail of Agreement, let us visit a place
where 'reaching agreement' is known to be the main theme and
activity.  That place is called 'Consensus'.

   "Consensus does not mean agreement.  It means we create 
    a forum where all voices can be heard and we can think
    creatively rather than dualistically about how to
    reconcile our different needs and visions."
        - Starhawk, 'Lessons from Seattle and Washington D.C.'

   "I continue to be impressed by the quality of people's
    insight, creativity, and caring that can emerge whenever a
    space is held where there is sufficient listening to all
    voices... and how helpful it can be to have a "designated
    listener", so that the rest of us can be as passionate about
    our convictions as we would like to be, and still be
    heard... as well as  "overhear" each other being listened
    to, and begin to find common ground... and, of course, we
    need lots of people who are able to be "designated
    listeners", so we can all take turns.... it seems so simple
    a message."
        - Rosa Zubizarreta, process facilitator

Rosa Zubizarreta practices and teaches something called
"Dynamic Facilitation".  A brief description of "DF" can be
found on Tom Atlee's website:

DF is a particular flavor of consensus process.  There are
many other flavors as well, and the state of the art in
consensus continues to evolve.  We focus here on DF because
it convenient to do so, but we are in fact examining
consensus in general - and its potential to help us find the
holy grail of Agreement.

A DF session begins with a group of individuals who have
gathered to try to solve an important problem which effects
all of them.  DF is particularly suited to deal with very
difficult problems - where one finds lots disagreement and
divisiveness in the group.  There are limits to how deep
this divisiveness can go, depending on the skill and
experience of the facilitator. But within those limits, the
DF process actually produces more useful outcomes when there
is a maximum amount of real disagreement, conflict, and
divisiveness present.  We'll see why later on.

It is not necessary for us to go into the mechanics of DF
and consensus here. For now let's just say that something
magic happens.  For what we find at the end of a successful
session is something very special.  We find that the
individuals, despite all their disagreement and divisive-
ness, have transformed into a kind of mini-community.  They
have set aside their preoccupation with their disagreement,
and have learned to work together to find solutions that
everyone is willing to live with. They've learned to trust
one another, to listen to one another.   They've learned to
see one another as full human beings, beyond stereotypes.

In one sense such a session is all about agreement.  It is
about agreement on a solution to the problem at hand.  That
kind of agreement is achieved in these sessions.  But in a
deeper sense the sessions are not at all about agreement. 

Recall that a 'difficult' session is one where the
participants are deeply divided by their conflicting beliefs
and perceived interests.  The session must overcome these
differences in order for trust and community to develop, and
for problem solving to be possible.  But those differences
are not overcome by agreement, they are overcome by
experiencing that it is possible to go forward despite those

The 'solution' to deep disagreement, it turns out, is not
agreement but something else.  That something else is in a
different space than 'agree vs. disagree'.  It is in the
space of 'work together'.  People can, it turns out, build a
barn together even if they don't believe in the same things.
It's really not that surprising when you think about it.

Earlier our objective was the holy grail of Agreement. 
After looking at consensus, we should perhaps redefine our
objective as the holy grail of Community.  Agreement, in
the sense of 'all believe the same thing', turns out to be
unattainable. But from the space of community it becomes
possible to agree on how we're going to handle our problems.

A consensus session is a tool that can be used to produce
certain outcomes.  One of those outcomes is the solution to a
problem.  Another outcome is the creation of a temporary
community.  The tool can be easily learned, and it works
effectively. If applied in the right kind of situations and
environments, some rather amazing results can be
anticipated.  We will return to this later on.

Next on our quest we will refresh our understanding of what
started us on the quest.  What is it about the world that is
leading us to disaster?  Why do so many of us seek ways to
bring about fundamental changes?

Modern societies
Our modern societies are organized around two basic
principles: hierarchy & win-lose competition.

Private and public institutions are organized as hierarchies
and the major institutional decisions are the realm of
central headquarters.  It is difficult even to imagine
anything very different.  A corporation or government needs to
solve its problems with the big picture in mind, and all the
big pictures can be dealt with if they are collected together
at headquarters. There seems almost to be law of nature about
centralized hierarchy since everything seems to work that
way.  Hierarchies oppress us, but is there any way to do without 

Competition in our societies is all pervasive. The whole
society is set up as an adversarial machine.  We seek
knowledge by competing with other students.  We advance in
our careers by outdoing our co-workers.  Success in business
and 'competitiveness' are synonyms. We seek truth and justice
by setting up a competition between two professional
adversaries whose job is to out-perform the other in swaying
a jury.  We choose those leaders who compete best at telling
us what we want to hear.  Our nation's laws are decided in a
competitive forum where one wins by being the best at the
game of trading favors.

A good metaphor for our adversarial society is the old
rhyme, "The big fish eat the little fish, and chew on'em and
bite'em.  The little fish eat the littler fish, and so ad
infinitum."  Us humans are the infinitum.  We're the bottom
of the food chain.  We are like small mammals, scurrying
around the Jurassic Park underbrush, while the ground
trembles under the weight of giants. We are lucky if we
avoid getting stepped on by one giant institution or the
other.  Our own competitive energy, if we can muster any, is
used up trying to get our share of the scraps that filter
down to the underbrush.  I find it strange that so many
people refer to these societies as 'democracies'.

        "The masters make the rules,
         for the wise men and the fools."
            -Bob Dylan

There's only one place in our society where competition is
not king, and that place is at the top of the hierarchies.
Those with real power and real money have learned that it
makes more sense to run things for mutual benefit than to
vie for marginal advantage among equal adversaries.  Oil
companies do better by parceling out marketing territories
(or merging) than they would by competing on price.  The
richest nations no longer struggle against one another, but
have learned to collaborate in the exploitation of the
weaker countries.

Although competition rules the game for the smaller fish,
the biggest corporations find more leverage in gaming the
rules.  Change the regulations, pump in some government
subsidies or contracts, arrange for a troublesome
third-world leader to be ousted by a coup, and so on.  If
you look at the boards of the biggest corporations, you keep
running into the same names over and over again.  And many
of those you will recognize as past or present players in
high government circles.

What you find at the top of the hierarchies is an elite
community.  A community where common interests are
recognized, and mutual benefit is achieved through
collaboration.  Globalization brings this community out into
the open.  No longer do they need to hide in the shadows,
pulling the strings of their lobbying networks and beholden
politicians, Now they have a place (the WTO) where only they
are invited, where they can strut their power, and where
they can write the rules however they want.

While the elite act as a community, the rest of are divided
by competition and by our beliefs. Not only do the elite
have the power, but they have the self-awareness to maintain
that power as circumstances change.  We not only lack power,
but we - the people - don't have community and thus
'self-aware' action on our part has no meaning.  'We' cannot
do anything because 'we' do not exist as a self-aware entity
that can act and respond.

In an ironic sense, we can take encouragement from the fact
that the elite have succeeded in achieving community.  They
have proven that it is possible.  The number of people
involved is considerable (and variable), they are spread
around the globe, they have diverse interests and beliefs,
and they certainly never all get together in one place.  And
yet they demonstrate an effective community coherence.  It
can happen.

'Community from the top' has been achieved.  Is 'community
from below' achievable?  It may not be achievable.  In that
case, we are likely to be oppressed by hierarchies for the
rest of history.  This quest is about seeking escape from
that future.  I suggest that our quest be once more
refined.  We are now seeking the holy grail of
'Community from below', or 'Society as community'.

Let us first review how people have tried to change society
in the past...

Movements and Revolutions
Whole nations have indeed risen up and overthrown entrenched
rulers.  It has happened.  Unfortunately, the
community spirit that empowered the people during revolution
has typically been generated by the emergency conditions of
the revolutionary process itself.  When victory was
achieved, that emergency vanished, and with it the
effectiveness of the community.  Into the power vacuum
always jumped new power seekers, and soon new hierarchies
emerged with a new elite in charge. 

We learn from these revolutions that whole populations ~are~
capable of becoming a community even in the face of elite
opposition.  And we learn that such a community is indeed
capable of displacing those elites from power. Those are
very useful facts, and we can take courage from them. 
But we also learn that revolution itself cannot be the
unifying force for the community we would like to see.  Our
community must be based on something that transcends a
struggle with elites, something that can continue vibrant
past the anticlimax of success.

Revolution is not a viable path to overcoming domination by
elite-ruled hierarchies.  What about mass movements of other

A movement always seeks to make some change in the current
regime of society.  If the movement makes progress, then it
becomes a player in the game of power competition.  That
seems like success, but the movement is then always absorbed
into playing a game dominated by more experienced players. 
If the movement is ~very~ successful then it becomes a ~big~
player, as in the case of labor unions at various times. 
But still the result for those at the bottom is domination
by hierarchies.

If on the other hand the movement does not make progress,
then it has two paths it can follow.  It can wither away or
it can turn to revolution.  It may gather sufficient energy
for revolution at that point, but it would be sparked by the
revolutionary challenge itself.  That would lead us right
back to hierarchy - filling the vacuum left after victory
when the energy fades.

Recall Quinn's statement about 'changed minds not programs'.
Movements and revolutions are about programs.  They don't
work.  I think that might be what Quinn was getting at. 
'Changed minds' remains for the moment cryptic.

In some sense we are talking about Community vs. Hierarchy.  
Let's review that historically...

Community vs. Hierarchy: an age-old struggle
Back before agriculture, community-tribal consensus was
all there was. Hunter-gathering groups were relatively
small, and everyone had to work together to survive.  With
perhaps rare exceptions all societies were egalitarian,
consensus-governed, and autonomous from all other societies.
That's how it was for hundreds of thousands of years, as
long as homo sapiens existed and had language to talk about
'problems' and 'choices'.

Tribes typically had warriors, even though tribes didn't
have any reason to conquer one another.  Just as antelopes
defend their territories with antler rattling, so tribes
maintained their territories (fixed or nomadic) by spear
rattling and occasional raids.  These raids were typically
harmless to the neighbor's infrastructure, though perhaps
fatal to a few of the more heroic-minded warriors..

When agriculture came along, all this changed.  the more
aggressive tribes with the more ferocious warriors now had a
new mission for those warriors: "Capture the neighboring
tribe and make them till the soil for us from now on." 
Agriculture made exploitation economically feasible.

Perhaps only a few tribes chose the exploitation path at
first, but a few was enough to begin a seemingly
irreversible process.  Every region with agriculture went
the route of chiefs, kings, and emperors.  And until
relatively recent times there was always an absolute ruler
at the top and a slave-class at the bottom.

A bit earlier we were looking at consensus as a tool that
might help us build community.  And community is the
treasure that might help us overcome elite rule.  It seems
we are contemplating the revival of an age-old struggle -
that between hierarchy on the one hand, and community
consensus on the other.

Up until 10,000 years ago consensus and community reigned
supreme, unchallenged.  Hierarchy then struck like a lion on
a lamb, and the struggle was soon over.  Although the lion
has grown ever stronger since, we can nonetheless take some
encouragement from these observations.

We know that humanity, community, and consensus are
well-suited to one another. The combination dominated 99% of
humanity's existence, and during that time humanity lived
for the most part in harmony with nature - and without
devastating warfare.  It is encouraging to know we are
aspiring not to a strange and unfamiliar land, but instead
are thinking about how we might return home to our roots -
in a spiritual sense, not in the hunter-gatherer sense.

In Zen the goal is to perceive directly the full scope of
reality, an experience which is called 'enlightenment'.
Those who have taken the journey report that their
experience cannot be communicated in words. And indeed the
~practice~ of Zen involves neither talking about reality,
nor speculating about reality, nor even reporting on
'reality experienced'. The ~practice~ is to sit and do
nothing.  That's it. 'Nothing' in this case being
considerably ~less~ than what most of us think of as 'doing

This tradition has been passed down directly from the
Buddha.  Many assume that Buddha was the first to have an
enlightenment experience, but I suspect rather that he's
only the first historically recorded case.  I suspect that
much the same thing existed in (a few or many?) anonymous
and primordial shamanic practices over hundreds of thousands
of years.  Buddha was the first perhaps to accomplish the
exercise while under the subversive dominion of hierarchical

One can in some sense "understand" Zen with language, but
that understanding is not the practice, nor is it the same
as what is understood if one persists in the practice.  But
the language understanding is useful nonetheless in other
ways. With that proviso in mind, permit me to say something 
about how the Zen practice works.

It turns out that the practice of Zen - doing nothing
persistently and regularly in a certain way -
~automatically~ generates certain kinds of mental activity
and results.  The practice has no perceivable map or
compass, but somehow it always moves a persistent mind
toward the same general 'place'.  The 'place' has definite
content, but the practice is not about that content.  One
might say the practice is about how to walk correctly. Those
who learn to walk correctly will somehow always be drawn
toward the path they seek.

This teaches something about about effort and results, and
how they relate to one another.  In our competitive modern
societies we have a single paradigm about how to achieve
goals.  When we want to achieve a goal, we do so by focusing
our thinking and and our planning around that goal. It is
obvious to us that you move toward something by ~trying~ to
move toward it.

Zen teaches us that some goals can only be approached in a
more indirect way. Zen teaches us that sometimes it is
necessary to focus elsewhere than your goal in order to move
toward it.  It also suggests that 'elsewhere' does not mean
'anywhere'.  There may be a very ~specific~ right focus
for a particular goal, and that right focus may be quite
unrelated to the goal.

This observation offers us encouragement in the face of that
Catch-22 we encountered a while back.  We saw that trying to
overcome elite rule (movement or revolution) could not
succeed at that goal. Evidently that goal can only be
achieved in some other way. Zen tells us that other ways can
sometimes be found.

We are looking for something that moves toward universal
community, but energized by something other than struggling
against the regime.  We need to learn a way to walk that
leads us to community and that will lead us on beyond that,
helping us to use that community to build the kind of world
we want and deserve.  A world that connects us somehow back
to the primordial consensus world we enjoyed before the lamb
succumbed to the lion.

Let us now return to our examination of the consensus
process, and consider what kind of outcomes it might be
capable of producing.

Consensus and personal transformation
Earlier I said that the successful problem-solving that
occurs in a consensus session, although being the purpose of
the session, is not the outcome with the greatest benefit. 
The greatest benefit arises instead automatically from the
fact that for a while a community is created.  The problem
solving is about something that will be dealt with or not,
and life will go on.  The community that comes briefly into
existence indicates that something profound happens to the
participants - particularly if they had been separated by
lots of disagreement and divisiveness.

In reaching the community space, every person in the room
needs to get beyond their differences with everyone else. 
Not only that, but they go through the experience of
accepting all the others as valid real people, whose ideas
and concerns are worth listening to.  And beyond that they
go through the experience of collaborating effectively
with those people and, finding solutions  to problems which
at first seemed like win-lose adversarial quagmires.

For anyone raised in our adversarial culture, where
factional competition is the only paradigm available for
dispute resolution, I believe that going trough the consensus
community experience is by its nature a profound,
paradigm-eroding experience.  And if the problem being
solved is very important to the participants, and if they
come in divided among warring camps, the experience will be
all the more profound and may shatter paradigms.

Consider the extent to which we blame other groups in
society for the ills that afflict us.  In the USA,
conservatives are convinced that liberals control big
government and the media, and that they use those to impose
liberal values on everyone else.  "Liberals are the cause of
the problems and they are the enemy."  Liberals on the other
hand see everything being controlled by conservatives and
right-wingers. Neoliberal economics, hawks running foreign
policy, all aided by a corporate-controlled media.  How
right wing can you get?  "Conservatives and their stupid
voting choices are the problem and they are the enemy."  One
group blaming another is common, and such divisions have
long been encouraged by elites as a divide-and-rule control

Let's look a little closer at these attitudes of liberals
and conservatives toward one another. There are two points
worth noting.  The first is that neither the left nor the
right would agree with the characterizations being made
about them by the other side - and for good reason.  The
second is that both are really expressing the same concern -
a dissatisfaction with the loss of liberty and empowerment
imposed on them by large, centralized, unresponsive
institutions.  Each side blames the other for the
predicament, and each has over-simplified beliefs about the
other which reinforce the blaming attitude.

Consider now Joe Right and Suzanne Left - two participants
who are going through their first consensus process. Joe &
Sue most likely came in with the assumption that very little
would be resolved, least of all with 'those people' in the
room.  They come away, if the session is successful, with a
sense of empowerment, and with a new paradigm about how
conflict can be resolved.

Joe and Sue probably came in with the belief that the
session was going to be a fight between their two factions. 
Neither side would have any optimism regarding resolution -
both would have doubts even about 'wasting their time in the
enemy camp'.

What kind of 'mind changing' are Joe and Sue likely to
experience during such a successful session?  Certainly there's
the 'mind changing' involved in agreeing to a solution to
whatever the issue was.  That's the chaff, the collateral
output, the 'program' part.  That's the part you document
on your facilitator invoice. The important outcomes - the
transformative 'mind changes' - occur in a different space.

Consider the dramatic changes Joe and Sue must experience in
their attitudes toward one another during their
participation. Joe and Sue each went in to do combat with a
political nemesis.  They each found there instead a
potential collaborator - a real person whose genuine
concerns turned out to be not that foreign after all. To
some extent then, their main 'political enemy' has
evaporated.  The perceived enemy turned out to be an
abstract illusion, a phantom hologram projected on a cloud
of mutual misunderstanding and propaganda disinformation. "I
have met ~them~ and together ~we~ turn out to be a new

Here we have a 'mind changing' scenario, which may help us
decode the rest of Quinn's message: "The needed change will
come from people with changed minds, not from people with
new programs."  Consider how this scenario illustrates what
Quinn might have been implying.  Joe & Sue went through a
mind-changing experience, but it wasn't about 'changing
beliefs'.  What changed was their understanding of how
people can interact, what people are capable of, who can be
trusted, etc.

The 'program' part of the experience is the 'problem' which
the session deals with.  But the important outcome is the
transformation in the participant's understanding of people,
community, collaboration, and so on.  'Changed minds' refers
not to minds with 'new beliefs', but rather to minds which
'function in a new way'.  'New beliefs' is what programs are
about.  Minds 'functioning in a new way' is what can bring
about transformation.  

Consensus and community transformation
Let's now apply consensus to communities.  That is, let us
consider sessions where all the participants come from the
same community, and where the problem being solved is of
importance to the whole community.  Let us see what
additional outcomes might be expected.

Some community has a problem which is vexing the community
and which is raising the temperature among the different
'enemy camps'.  Perhaps it has to do with immigrants, or
youth crime, or whatever.  We set up a session with a dozen
or so people from all different parts of the community. 
Their task is to come up with a proposal for how to deal
with the community's problem.

At level 1, the program level, they come up with a solution
- one that takes into account the interests of all the
different constituencies.  And in these kinds of sessions,
that proposal is likely to be one that makes a good deal of
sense.  Here the session is functioning at the level of a
"citizen's jury", acting as a kind of representative body. 
Their proposal could be published in the local newspaper,
presented to City Council, or whatever.

At level 2, the personal level, the participants go through
personal transformations, of some degree or another, and
then return to their neighborhoods in the community.  In
their interactions with their family and friends, they are
likely to respond to stereotypical remarks and cliches in a
new way.  They've seen the 'enemy camp' and found comrades
there.  To some degree, they begin to erode the stereotypes
and cliches that pervade their environment and which help 
divide the community.

At level 3, the community level, something very important
begins to happen.  Let's restate our scenario in very
general terms:  The community has a problem.  They set up a
session and solve the problem.  The solution takes into
account the whole range of community interests.  The
solution is implemented and it functions reasonably well.

After such an episode, the people in the community deserve
to feel proud of themselves.  Here was a problem that civic
officials and the institutional world was not able to deal
with.  The people themselves dealt with it instead, with
very little bother and overhead.  Now suppose a community
were to go through this experience two or three times, with
different problems.   What is likely to emerge is a sense of
community empowerment, a sense of community 'being' and
community 'as actor'.

The consensus process, we learned early, is capable of
building a temporary collaborative community within the
space of of the session itself.  We next learned that the
process could encourage personal transformations of a
community-oriented kind.  Now we learn that the process
might even facilitate the emergence of real 'community' in
physical communities made up of neighborhoods.

The way we raise the level of effectiveness of the session
is by our selection process for session participants.  If we
invite people from very opposed interest groups, we increase
the level of personal transformation.  If we invite people
from the same physical community, we contribute to emergence
of 'community' at the local level.  If we run a series of
sessions in the same community, then we nourish that

What if such a community were to become ~really~ empowered,
dispensed with its city hall, and began running all of its
affairs with consensus neighborhood meetings?  What if a
whole region were made up of such towns?  What if such towns
and regions began to emerge nation wide?

If a large segment of the population were to live in
empowered communities, then the whole paradigm of society
would have been transformed for all those people.
Increasingly, they would perceive the hierarchies that
officially control them, and they would find those not only
noxious, but antiquarian.  When the whole society knows that
win-lose is dysfunctional, they will find it difficult
to tolerate the hegemony of our win-lose political system.

At some point there would be conscious engagement between
the hierarchical power structure, and the bottom-up
empowered population.  Indeed the engagement would really be
between the self-aware elite community, and the self-aware
society-as-community.  I cannot speculate about the nature
of that engagement.  I do know that this hypothetical
self-aware population would have a lot more wisdom that I
do.  I have not been through all these experiences of
empowerment and community building.  Perhaps, when the time
comes, we can have effective sessions including elite
players along with ordinary empowered folks. Perhaps in the
end the lion lays down with the lamb. Whatever will be will

Global transformation as a Zen practice
In Zen there is the practice and there is the goal.  The
practice is dead simple and the goal cannot even be
described.  If you try to reach the goal directly, you do
not make progress.  If you simply do the practice,
persistently, you are very likely to reach the goal.  Your
proper focus of attention is the practice.  The attainment
of the goal happens automatically.  You have no control over
what the goal turns out to be.  It will be whatever it is.

According to what we've learned on our quest, the practice
appropriate for societal transformation is the carrying out
of consensus sessions dealing with divisive problems in
communities. The goal is somewhere in the direction of an
empowered global society, but it cannot be described.  In
the case of Zen, indescribability is due to ineffability -
the nature of the goal cannot be expressed in language.  In
the case of societal transformation, the indescribability is
because the outcome is in the future.  It remains to be
experienced, and it will certainly hold surprises if it comes

In the end this quest has only one thing to suggest.  Somehow
arrange for these consensus sessions to start happening. 
The people involved don't need to have any vision of the
future, they don't need to know about this quest story, and
I need not have written it.  Or those involved may have their
own vision and theory of what's going on.  All that is
irrelevant.  The only important thing is doing the sessions.
It doesn't matter what 'problems' are being solved, and it
doesn't matter what the facilitator believes.  If we do the
practice, that will take us to  where we are capable of going. 
Hopefully, the feeling will be one of 'going home', of
'returning to our roots'.

I'll see you there, some sunny day.