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Politics for a co-creative world


published in Science of Mind, May 2003, pp 91-98



Life is a co-creative force, a co-creative reality. Everything is co-creating everything else. No matter what we do or don't do, we are all co-creating our future together.

We know this. So what would it mean to create a new kind of democracy based on the wholeness and co-creativity of Life?

First, we should probably acknowledge that all the battles between nations, peoples, political parties, and interest groups are co-created. As Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "Tweedledee and Tweedledum agreed to have a battle." That level of co-creativity has provided a lot of excitement and a certain rough-and-tumble method of conflict-resolution and decision-making for millennia.

But now we have weapons of mass destruction and powerful new technologies that could wipe out civilization by accident and social and environmental problems of such size and complexity that we need every ounce of positive co-creative imagination we can get just to make it through the next century.

We are all in it together now -- big time and for real. We can't afford wars anymore. We can't afford to continue co-creating disasters. And we can no longer afford to waste the amazing wisdom that lies buried in the power of ordinary people to learn, deepen and reflect together.

Gandhi was one of the first to point out that oppressed people co-create their oppression. He wasn't blaming the victims. With his nonviolent activism he used his insight to empower an entire nation to liberate itself.

Hundreds of teachers since then have taught the same lesson: We are responsible for creating the conditions of our own lives. Individually, we create our consciousness. Collectively we co-create our social realities.

War is a very low form of co-creativity. Debate is higher. Higher yet we find the co-creativity of dialogue, brainstorming, teamwork, community.

Co-creativity can be considered higher the more it replaces force and violence with consciousness, compassion, intelligence, wisdom and Life.

How do we lift democracy up the scale of co-creativity so that We the People more successfully and peacefully co-create futures that make sense for us, for our children, and for the world. How do we co-create a world that works for all?

Whether we're Americans or Iraqis, Israelis or Palestinians, Democrats or Republicans (or Greens or Libertarians), light-skinned or dark, we are faced with this challenge. Because a world that doesn't work for all is now a world that is co-creating its own destruction.

And that is not smart. Even if those of us co-creating global catastrophes each have an IQ of 140, we are not being collectively smart if we are fouling our nest and endangering future generations. All our considerable individual intelligences are not adding up to a bigger collective intelligence.

If we want to co-create more brilliantly and wisely, we need to develop our collective intelligence and our collective wisdom. These are aspects of what I call co-intelligence, a latent form of intelligence that takes wholeness, interconnectedness and co-creativity seriously. Co-intelligence can help us align our individual intelligence and individual wisdom to the deep wisdom of Life co-creating itself into a new civilization, a wisdom culture capable of conscious society-wide co-creativity.

In fact, I think that Life -- through its rapidly increasing catastrophes and opportunities -- is setting us up for an evolutionary leap into that new civilization.

If we wake up and look around, we will find we have so much of what we need to make that leap, to bring forth that new civilization, that wisdom culture. Among them all, I want to share here the most exciting thing I see:

Quietly, under the radar screen of the mass media, thousands of people have been discovering that ordinary citizens can bring forth the wisdom they need to guide their collective lives. They gather in small groups for several days to talk in depth about the state of their community, or about some serious issue confronting their society. They didn't choose to do this; they were selected at random to reflect the diversity of their community. They are given special access to full, balanced information and excellent facilitation (group process help). What they discover together almost always contains a deeper common sense than what they've heard from the media, politicians and pundits -- a common sense they can then share with the whole community.

I call these "citizen reflective councils." Their preciously wise common sense comes from their co-intelligent use of diversity and their co-intelligent use of unity.


This is a very simple, very powerful fact: The diversity of these citizen reflective councils reflects the diversity of their community or society. They are usually selected at random, "stratifying" the selection so that the council contains the balance of gender, age, socio-economic status, race, etc., that exists in the larger population -- making the council a microcosm of We the People.

So the council's members are quite different from each other. Many of them would not normally relate to each other in their daily lives. Sometimes their differences are chasms reflecting polarization in the community at large. But here they are, brought together to consider matters of great importance to their community or country. Like citizens in a jury, they rise to the occasion and, with the help of a facilitator, speak their minds and hearts -- and find themselves heard. As they are heard, their minds and hearts open, and they learn there is more than one way to view matters.

As the process unfolds, they see more and more of The Whole Issue. (Remember: Co-intelligence take wholeness as seriously as co-creativity.) Each participant sees this increasingly Whole Issue, and they come to see it together. They find themselves confronting a more complex reality than any of them realized. Their original solutions no longer satisfy them. They start looking -- together -- for understandings and options that make sense to them all, that are big enough to embrace The Whole Issue. They stimulate each other's creativity and clarify each other's vision.

With their diversity now an asset, the whole group becomes more intelligent and wise than any of its members -- collectively intelligent and wise.

When they finally arrive at Big Picture clarity about the situation and how to deal with it (sometimes accompanied by a group "ah-ha!!"), they send their wisdom out into the larger world from which they came. Usually there is a press conference where they deliver their findings and recommendations to government officials. Sometimes there are media stories about individual participants and the changes they went through. Sometimes discussion groups and study circles are organized to encourage thousands of other citizens to learn about what the citizen reflective council came up with and why. And the participants carry the experiences and new understandings they gained from the council into their own lives and networks.

But how could they find common ground despite their differences?


This miraculous new approach to politics and governance works because we are all interconnected at our core. We resonate with One Spirit, One Life, One Humanity. Just like the trees and iguanas, we know the wind and Earth as home. Just like the bears and cats, we bear and nurse our young, voice our pain, act our joy. Just like people in other lands, we struggle, we play, we gain, we die. We resonate with other lives -- the core of our being vibrating with the core of theirs. And any one of us, exploring deep enough within ourselves or each other, discovers peace, love, the sea of consciousness and the passionate spark of Life. We may be as unique as each wave on the ocean, but we are all the Ocean, nonetheless.

This fact may be lost for moments or lifetimes, but it is always there to be found. And it calls to us, over and over.

In the right group setting, with the right group process -- in open-hearted conversation about questions that matter -- our "core commons" -- that realm we all share -- calls to us. When our uniqueness is clearly seen and heard, when our diversity is recognized and welcomed, we find our way naturally to that wise common core. We discover there, together, our best selves -- and we find ourselves naturally co-creating in ways that make for common sense and common good.

There is political power here -- wise political power. Out of this it is now possible to create forums capable of catalyzing the collective genius of whole communities -- even whole countries -- using the collective genius of small groups of diverse citizens talking well together.

This new approach to politics and governance has been proven to work. These groups have been convened hundreds of times under many names -- citizens' juries, consensus conferences, Wisdom Councils, planning cells, and more (search the Web or go to These remarkable innovations keep expertise and leadership on tap to -- not on top of -- We the People. These innovations are part of an emerging culture of dialogue that can expand, ground and weave evolving collective wisdom into our common lives and culture.

Pioneers of this emerging movement are exploring which processes and arrangements work best, and how to combine them into effective, wise democracies. Others are spreading the word, telling the stories. Others are actually setting up these citizen reflective councils -- councils where citizens who reflect the diversity of their communities reflect together on public concerns and then reflect the latent wisdom of the community (now made visible) back to the community for further dialogue and action.


All life shares both unity and diversity -- The Center and The Dance. Thus, thankfully, in the presence of deep, welcoming, co-creative dialogue, our many diverse voices can generate a Big Picture we can all see. Our diverse thoughts and feelings can generate a Big Mind and Heart that can discover greater possibilities than we ever could alone. Our many diverse gifts can generate a Big Capacity that can move us together into better lives in co-creative harmony with Life.

There is more to it than this. There always is. But this is the heart of the matter. With this shift in our democracy we can co-create a new civilization, a culture that will not only solve its problems but transform itself whenever the time is ripe.

We can create this together, starting now. Our times are very ripe.




From adversarial politics to holistic politics

Politics is not about voting, lobbying, fighting or winning elections. It isn't even about representation. And it certainly isn't about corruption and manipulation.

Politics is how a community or society co-creates its future, how it decides which way it is going to go. All the elections, battles, congresses and manipulation are just familiar ways of doing that. Often they aren't very fair, effective, inclusive or wise. But there is no reason at all to keep doing politics in ways that don't help us co-create our future well together. There are many alternatives. (Click on the politics or activism buttons on

My new book, The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World that Works for All ( describes cooperative politics, holistic politics, and a "culture of dialogue" that has "citizen deliberative councils" (a.k.a. "citizen reflective councils") at its core.

Activists in these new political modes organize powerful conversations about compelling questions. They create statistics to measure a community's (or country's) quality of life. They perform dramas that speak passionately with all the diverse voices involved in public controversies. They find, map and weave together the human assets and capacities in their communities. They clean up campaign finances and monitor their local media. They organize ballot initiatives and city charter amendments to establish citizen reflective councils to advise the voters about what makes sense.

Every part of this kind of politics evokes the latent wisdom of We the People. Co-intelligent activism and leadership transcends issues and focuses on helping communities and societies build their capacity to handle all issues wisely.

The Tao Teh Ching says: "When the leader leads well, the people say 'We did it ourselves.'" That's the politics we need.



Examples of Citizen Reflective Councils

About twice a year the Danish Parliament tells its Board of Technology to get citizen input on a technological issue (biotech, telecommunications, pollution, etc.) by convening a "consensus conference." The Board of Technology gathers fifteen random Danes and briefs them on the spectrum of who believes what about the issue. Then these citizens select and cross-examine experts to get their questions answered. Experts from across the political spectrum give testimony in a forum (a consensus conference) open to the public and media. When the citizens have heard enough, they co-create a consensus statement about what policy should be on that subject. Their findings are presented to Parliament in a major press conference, and often study circles are organized around the country to expose more citizens to the recommendations of the panel. Have you heard of a saner democratic way to develop public policy on complex issues?

A similar but simpler approach called citizens' juries has been used hundreds of times unofficially around the world -- from poor Indian farmers deliberating about economic development policy, to Australian suburbanites figuring out how to handle pollution and erosion on their beaches, to urban Americans recommending solid waste policy. The results almost always make tremendous sense to diverse people.

John Gastil in By Popular Demand explains how we could use randomly selected citizen panels to evaluate ballot initiatives and candidates -- both of which have been successfully tested unofficially -- even putting the results on the ballots to counter special-interest propaganda in the media. Jim Rough in Society's Breakthrough! advocates a Constitutional Amendment to establish an annual Wisdom Council of two dozen randomly selected Americans to let We the People officially examine "the state of the union" every year.

That's only the tip of the iceberg. See The Tao of Democracy for more.

In his many articles, Tom Atlee advocates wiser forms of citizenship, politics and democracy, using our essential unity and diversity co-creatively. His Co-Intelligence Institute in Eugene, Oregon ( and his new book The Tao of Democracy ( are treasure-troves of ideas, practices, visions and stories for better lives together.