Generating Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards Everyone

I share with you three seemingly unrelated things that actually have everything to do with each other and all of which I ran across in the last few days: An innovative Citizens Assembly, an interview with the creator of Dynamic Facilitation, and the most articulate description of profound empathy I’ve ever seen. They all point to the intersection of peace and democracy, both of which, in their ideal forms, involve people in co-creating good things together – something I wrote about thirteen years ago as a peace activist getting into democracy activism. Getting into the nitty-gritty of what’s needed for “peace on earth, goodwill towards each other” seems appropriate for this holiday season, especially after the surreal year we’ve just lived through together.

I’ve been thinking about a popular holiday greeting (I’ve just updated) that declares “Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Everyone”. Sadly, after 73 years, it has a greeting card sound to it, an aspirational shallowness, as if we can just declare it into being, when we all know that we can’t.

But what many people don’t realize is that – if we really want to manifest these things – we have plenty of tools to help us. These seemingly high ideals are no longer out of reach.

I once wrote an essay about “The common ground of peace and democracy”.

In it I imagined communities and societies where everyone was busily working with each other to satisfy their individual and collective needs and to pursue their individual and collective dreams, mindful of how it all fit with the ongoing well-being of life as a whole.

What I noticed about that image was that it was essentially about co-creativity – lots of it. I realized that that’s what peace and democracy are both about, at their best: co-creativity, lots of it.

In that article I shared how “dialogue” is our conversational way of co-creating greater understandings, relationships, and possibilities together. I also share how much we now know about how to do that kind of dialogue and how much we’re still learning.

Just this week, I’ve witnessed more innovations and insights in this rapidly developing field. Check out these.

  • MICHIGAN’S CITIZEN PANEL ON COVID-19. Thirty randomly selected Michigan residents were called on to explore approaches to addressing the Covid-19 crisis. Delving together into the considerable differences among themselves and the experts they consulted, they came up with useful insights and recommendations. OfByFor, the panel’s conveners, innovated not only a remarkable new form of “democratic lottery” (about which you can watch a video on the site) but one of the most remarkable web presentations I’ve ever seen for such an initiative. My favorite part is how I can pass my cursor over the picture of any of the participants, and they come to life, describing what Covid-19 and being on the panel means to them. Their site embodies exceptional – even invitational! – transparency. We citizens-at-large can even watch Zoom calls where panelists listen to and question experts. The whole thing reminded me of another very innovative presentation of a citizen panel at work almost 30 years ago.
  • DECISION MAKING MEETS CHOICE-CREATING. I listened with great interest to one of Australia’s leading theoreticians and practitioners of deliberative democracy, Lyn Carson, interview Jim Rough, creator of Dynamic Facilitation, its democratic application, the Wisdom Council Process and the “choice-creating” conversations they evoke. I am a great fan of these innovations and in this interview Jim is delightfully articulate about their overall logic and application. He notes the importance of the facilitator’s reflective, empathic listening, which our colleague Rosa Zubizarreta describes in detail in “The secrets behind Dynamic Facilitation’s special power”. Jim’s and Carson’s energy are so good on the podcast that I just have to encourage you to listen to it.
  • REDISCOVERING CARL ROGERS’ WISDOM ABOUT EMPATHY. Empathy is basically “feeling with” someone, sharing their pain or experience, “walking a mile in their shoes”. But that feeling, sharing, and walking can be shallow or very deep. In the except below, psychologist Carl Rogers beautifully describes how to practice deep empathy that helps the other person feel truly heard, seen, and companioned. Just yesterday I listened to him on video on Edwin Rutsch’s Building a Culture of Empathy website AND read the excerpt below (with pronouns edited slightly for our current times):

I believe [empathy] to be a process, rather than a state….

It means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it.

It involves being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person, to the fear or rage or tenderness or confusion or whatever they are experiencing.

It means temporarily living in their life, moving about in it delicately without making judgments, sensing meanings of which they are scarcely aware, but not trying to uncover feelings of which they are totally unaware, since this would be too threatening.

It includes communicating your sensings of their world as you look with fresh and unfrightened eyes at elements of which the individual is fearful. It means frequently checking with them as to the accuracy of your sensings, and being guided by the responses you receive.

You are a confident companion to the person in his or her inner world. By pointing to the possible meaning in the flow of their experiencing you [can] help the person… to experience the meanings more fully…

— Carl Rogers

= = =

What if we could be that deeply empathic with each other, especially when we and/or they are suffering, fighting or turning away? What if we could work together like the Michigan Citizens Panel did, on every issue faced by our community or country? What if we could practice choice-creating together whenever we found ourselves stuck on different sides?

What if we developed and used such skills all the time? What kind of culture would enable us to do that? What kind of dynamic democracy and peace would we be living in?

We would be co-creating our shared lives together in ways that made more sense for all of us. We would have peace on earth and goodwill towards each other and all life.

We would be living in the spirit of these holidays every day of our lives.


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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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