Sense-making – together and apart

Moment to moment we are each trying to make or maintain our sense of what’s real, what’s important, what’s going on. We use that “sense” to navigate our world, to function in ways that seem to work. Whole groups, organizations and societies do that, too, making and reinforcing shared collective sense in order to function. Problems arise when one way of making sense encounters another very different way of making sense, producing everything from puzzlement to all-out war. Solutions arise when different sense-makers explore their differences in ways that move them higher or deeper together into truly common sense they can use together to function better than they could separately, embracing more of the reality they’re both embedded in. This message points to a video and some blog posts that go into detail about all that.

When people or groups make sense of their world in very different ways, these differences tend to generate disturbances, sometimes even violent clashes.

Different ways of making sense are part of the human condition. Each of us needs to build some kind of coherent sense of what’s going on in and around us in order to be able to function in the world. We create mental maps and stories to help us understand how to effectively behave in our physical, social, and psychological landscapes. These maps and stories constitute our “sense of things”.

In a 36 minute video conversation with my London colleague Andy Paice, we explore what happens when different sense-making modes or perspectives interact. Grounded in a set of four graphics, we examine in some detail the nuances and implications of this dynamic.

We first take a look at how two different people or groups relate to each other and to “reality” – both shared and unshared. Then we look at the dynamics through which a shared sense of things can arise between two parties. We then examine the dynamics of arrogance and presumption, where one sense-making system pointedly rejects anyone or anything that disagrees with it as nonsense. Finally we explore how very diverse people and sense-making modes can interact in ways that cover more of the landscape of their shared situation, thereby generating collective wisdom that embraces more of what needs to be taken into account. We highlight some communication methods that are particularly helpful for finding actual common sense. (Note that when most people use the term “common sense”, they’re actually saying that something fits with what they and their friends believe, rather than something that is actually broadly understood.)

This video adventures into one of the most fundamental sets of dynamics underlying my idea of co-intelligence and my vision of wise democracy. It provides background understanding for an earlier set of four very practical blog posts I wrote describing dozens of approaches to developing and spreading “collective coherence” (see the links below).

And as Andy points out near the end of our dialogue, the Wise Democracy Pattern Language is “a mapping of all those technologies that are out there – that may be under the radar from the mainstream society – that go much much deeper than majoritarian voting systems, that actually do enable all these different parts to communicate to each other and to find coherent ways forward. That’s a big, big hope for the future…”

This is fundamental stuff. To the extent you really “get” what we’re sharing in this video and these blog posts, you will understand much of what I’m talking about in all my other videos, articles and books. So I invite you to take a look.

May the great collective sense-making Journey we’re all on together unfold with increasing diversity, coherence and wisdom.



MY “FINDING OUR WAY TOGETHER” BLOG POST SERIES on innovations in voting, generating shared understanding, and engaging broad populations and stakeholders in generative conversations


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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
Calling forth the wisdom of the whole for the wellbeing of the whole

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