“Participatory Knowing” and “Co-Sensing”

We know things with each other and the world – always.  We can know more about what’s going on by consciously, intentionally making sense of things with each other and the world.  That’s how we discover true common sense.

How do we know what’s “really” going on?  How can we see and understand the big picture and its important details, both of which are so often hidden, whether by design or by our own limitations in the face of the vastness and complexity of the world?

In truth, we don’t thoroughly and completely know anything.  We can’t even know everything that’s relevant to a given situation.  There’s always “more to it” than we think we know – and any certainty we may feel is more a feeling than a fact.

Of course, we CAN have CLARITY, but we are wise to hold that clarity lightly so we remain open to new developments or information that legitimately challenge our beliefs or that suggests we should change our minds.  To the extent we can manage to do this, our understanding can keep more or less abreast of what’s going on around us – a vital capacity in a rapidly changing environment.

Life is constantly unfolding in and around us.  At any given time we may be challenged to expand and revise our sense of the fullness of what’s going on.  To help us think about how to do that, I offer two coined concepts – “participatory knowing” and “co-sensing”.

Participatory knowing is about knowing things together – partnering not only with each other but even with the things we seek to know.  To succeed at this, we need to understand that we ARE related, interdependent, and co-creative – always and inevitably, with each other and with the world.  We aren’t separate and independent in what we know and how we go about knowing it.  “Participatory knowing” implies that we’re aware of that.  We’re aware that whatever we know is always linked to what other people – and even other forms of life – know and to other things that we and they can know more about.  We seek to apply this understanding to all our efforts to understand life.  To the extent we are aware of and adept at participatory knowing, we are able to sense, learn and get more clear about things together as they evolve.

Co-sensing is intimately related to participatory knowing.  It is our capacity to make evolving, authentic common sense together, to feel our way together humbly from shared ignorance, misunderstanding or confusion to shared understanding.  When I say “common sense” here, I’m not talking about the “everybody knows” variety of proclaimed common sense that is based on whoever shares our beliefs and is used to marginalize those who believe otherwise.  That pseudo-common sense is rooted in confirmation bias, whereby we ignore anything that might challenge what we already think we know.  Co-sensing, in contrast, is about co-developing TRUE common sense – the sense of things that comes from diverse people talking, thinking, and feeling together towards a shared sense of what’s real and right and possible.

Co-sensing not only requires all parties involved feeling their way together and sharing what they find as they go along.  It also requires including diverse modes of sense-making, often called multiple intelligences, multi-modal knowing, or diverse learning styles. For example, we know about life differently through “head, heart, gut, and spirit”.  Co-sensing involves stories and intuitions, images and movement, reflection and resonance, sensory experience and the arts, traditional authorities and open-ended creativity – all in addition to and integrated with each other and with Enlightenment-based engagement with facts, logic, words and reasoning.  Because different people and cultures have different cognitive styles – and because the whole of things is bigger than anything we can paint with any one of those cognitive modes – we “know” more of what’s important in life to the extent we can incorporate them all, using our diversity creatively.

So when I say “co-sensing” I’m ideally thinking about all parties involved using diverse ways of sense-making to develop deeper, broader, more nuanced understandings together.  To the extent diverse people or groups can do this, they can work together standing on common ground – and even shift that common ground and their collaborations when and as needed.  They become able to engage at a very high level of participatory knowing.

An awesome array of approaches exist to work at that, as implied by the diverse ways of knowing listed above, each of which has much scholarship and many methodologies associated with it.  But you can start out by thinking about the ways YOU make sense of things and where your approach(es) might fit within a larger effort in which you and others – people very different from you, who you may know now or not – could (or do!) make sense of things together.

I suggest that developing that capacity may be one of our most vital challenges, because it opens up possibilities for solving all our shared problems and pursuing all our shared aspirations.  That covers a lot of ground!

If you want to explore this further, check out
The Wise Democracy Pattern Language (including all the resources listed with each pattern)
Sense-Making: Together and Apart
especially the four links at the bottom.



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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

Evoking and engaging the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole

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