An ecosystem of participatory worldviews

(NOTE:  I’m not really happy with the title of this post, but am having trouble thinking of a different one to describe what the post is about.  So please bear with me….- Tom)

…In this post I briefly explore some ways through which entities – people, groups, animals, trees, etc. – even ideas and feelings – may participate in larger whole systems they are part of. I consider seven approaches:  (a) the world of separate entities (our default modern perspective), (b) “a world that works for all”, (c) “plurality” that values deeply linked diversity, (d) the sharing of common resources, (e) reciprocity and mutual aid, (f) my wise democracy “of, by and for the whole” perspective, and (g) the co-intelligence idea of “intrinsic participation”.  
…. For each of these modes, I offer a few notes about its nature and the logic of its particular approach to participation, as well as potential drawbacks that might be related to it. This “essay” is neither complete nor coherent. Rather, it outlines a set of dynamics that could be explored further.
…. I note that these diverse approaches often manifest in the world as competing worldviews.  However, they CAN co-exist and even be treated as potentially complementary, with each bringing its own cluster of gifts and limitations to consider as we design more integral participatory practices and systems. 
…. I’m writing about these seven approaches because they have each shown up separately on my radar over the last several months.  There are undoubtedly more of them, and much more to say about each one….
– Tom

Over the last several months I’ve found myself confronting a number of different views about how whole systems can, do and should relate to their parts, how their parts relate to the whole systems they’re part of, and how those parts relate to each other.  These are odd dynamics to consider in this way, but once we see them, they’re everywhere…

I’ve reflected on these dynamic in very general terms during my explorations of wholeness over the last 35 years.  But just this week – in the middle of a heat wave – I realized that some of the proposals and analyses I’ve been seeing lately actually imply a kind of ecosystem of different approaches to such “participation” (the action of parts playing various roles in the wholes they are part of).

Over the last three days these have fallen into place and become developed enough that I decided to share them with you in their current outline form.

Most immediately “up” in my universe at the moment is the contrast between Indigenous perspectives on reciprocity (see “Braiding ourselves back into the world”) compared to the more fragmented worldview of separate individuals, groups and other entities that characterizes “modernity” (see my posts on “the systemic drivers of collapse” and “hospicing modernity”).  And I’ve been struggling with how the reciprocity approach relates to the wholeness-based fundamentals of co-intelligence, such as the wise democracy principle of “the power, participation and wisdom of, by and for the whole” and its “Prime Directive” to “appreciate, evoke and engage the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole.”

At the same time I’ve been exploring these three, I’ve also been involved in conversations about “plurality” (see “Pluralism, Plurality, and the Generation of Collective Wisdom” and my recent comment below it) and “commons and commoning”.  And behind them all is my old concept of intrinsic universal participation.  And this month many colleagues are involved with an ambitious experimental online Open Space event called “The First Global Summit for Co-Creating a World that Works for All”.  I first ran across the phrase “creating a world that works for all” in Sharif Abdullah’s 1999 book by that title and used it in the subtitle of my 2003 Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World that Works for All.

So what do all these approaches to weaving together parts and wholes have to do with each other?  I tackled that question a few days ago and below is what I came up with.

(Note:  I asked two AIs – ChatGPT 4o and Claude-3.5-Sonnet – for comments on my proposed “ecosystem of participatory worldviews”.  They suggested some new or edited positive features and drawbacks related to those worldviews. Their comments influenced just a few of my notes below.  Also, I’ve included all of ChatGPT’s “Summary Considerations” which seemed to me to do a fairly good job of wrapping up the essence of each worldview. Finally, at the end of this post, you’ll find a few participatory worldviews these generative AIs suggested adding to my “ecosystem”, as well as discussion of this whole effort, which you may wish to skip…)



= = = =

A. INDEPENDENCE – What if we – and everything else – are fundamentally separate entities?

Parts of the whole act as free and separate agents (usually within minimal constraints agreed to by them). 

Some positive features of this worldview: 
autonomy and rights, creativity and innovation, power, merit, status, and personal responsibility. 

Some possible drawbacks: 
alienated individualism, harmful power imbalances, fragmentation, cooperation subordinated to competition, neglect of collective and ecosystemic needs and social safety nets, difficulty addressing collective challenges, and unchecked destructive feedback dynamics.

ChatGPT’s Summary Considerations:

  • Potential for fostering resilience through diverse approaches.
  • Risks of neglecting collective needs and the wellbeing of the whole.

= = = =

B. A WORLD THAT WORKS FOR ALL – What if we could make things work for all of us?

Parts of the whole – and the whole, itself – function in ways that optimize the freedom and functionality of all the other parts. 

Some positive features of this approach: 
justice, fairness, equity, adaptability, inclusive growth, social harmony, and systemic balance. 

Some possible drawbacks:
oversimplification of complex individual differences, suppressed competition, anthropocentric or individualistic interpretation of “all”, and potential stagnation.

ChatGPT’s Summary Considerations:

  • Importance of balancing equity with recognition of individual contributions.
  • Potential for fostering a more compassionate and empathetic society.

= = = =

C. PLURALITY – What if we were both more unique and more linked together?

Encouraging the uniqueness of parts and their consequent diversity, while enabling positive connections across differences among them. 

Some positive features of this approach:
linkage, uniqueness, resilience, cross-cultural understanding, innovation through interactive diversity, and evolving complexity. 

Some possible drawbacks: 
lack of coherence, and the emergence of systemically toxic entities, conditions or technologies.

ChatGPT’s Summary Considerations:

  • Need for mechanisms to integrate diverse inputs into cohesive strategies.
  • Potential for creating a more resilient and adaptive society.

= = = =

D. COMMONS / SHARING – What if our primary role was caring for our common resources?

All parts share stewardship for the functioning and sustainability of what exists for their collective benefit. 

Some positive features: 
sharing (including shared responsibility), collectivity, sustainable resource management, equitable resource distribution, and cooperation. 

Some possible drawbacks: 
enclosure, free riders, neglect, and constrained individual initiative and ownership.

ChatGPT’s Summary Considerations:

  • Importance of robust governance structures to manage common resources.
  • Potential for fostering strong community bonds and shared values.

= = = =

E. RECIPROCITY – What if our world was woven from mutual support, accountability and gratitude?

All parts are embedded in familial webs of relationship and accountability for their mutual provision and the wellbeing of the larger living whole in which they participate.

Some positive features:
belonging, trust, social balance, contribution, embedded identity, resilience through strong social and ecological bonds, and mutual support and accountability. 

Some possible drawbacks: 
undue constraints on individual autonomy, insularity, loss or lack of individuality, freeloading producing tit-for-tat dynamics.

ChatGPT’s Summary Considerations:

  • Importance of balancing communal responsibilities with individual freedoms.
  • Potential for fostering deep, trust-based relationships.

(Note: This frame of “reciprocity” is inspired by the Indigenous version of mutual service, gratitude and interdependence rather than by the market version of transactional exchange. It also frequently characterizes rural agricultural communities and small towns, often in combination with the “Commons” worldview, above.)

= = = =

F. OF/BY/FOR THE WHOLE – What if we focused on helping the whole of life live well, through working with the whole of life?

Parts co-create each other – and co-create their shared relationships and their shared world – through evoking and engaging the power, participation and wisdom of the whole, by the whole, and for the whole.

Some positive features: 
co-creativity, interactivity, holistic and systemic thinking and problem-solving, and collective wisdom. 

Some possible drawbacks: 
“the whole” can be an abstraction leading to loss of concrete action and confusion about what it is, tendency to neglect local contexts and specific needs, a whole system may be valued over its parts.

ChatGPT’s Summary Considerations:

  • Need for clear frameworks to operationalize holistic approaches.
  • Potential for creating more coherent and synergistic systems

= = = =

G. INTRINSIC PARTICIPATION – What if we’re actually participating in everything all the time, regardless?

Whatever parts are or do, they are seen to be participating, playing roles in whatever is happening in the whole system or reality – whether they know it or not, or want to or not.

Some positive features: 
increased awareness of interconnectedness, intrinsic co-creativity, a call to become more mindful of our roles, responsibility without guilt or blame, mistakes and failures as learning, and a bias towards inclusivity.

Some possible drawbacks: 
dilution of responsibility, misdirection, “participation” becoming abstract and losing practical relevance.

ChatGPT’s Summary Considerations:

  • Importance of fostering awareness and intentionality in participation.
  • Potential for enhancing systemic resilience through conscious engagement

– – – –  

Only read the following if you’ve found what you’ve read so far interesting…  

– – – –

Below are the AIs ideas for further “participatory worldviews”.  To them I would add “Non-Dual”, which embraces the spiritual insights of mysticism (e.g., cosmic consciousness) and quantum physics (e.g., quantum entanglement) which suggest a level of reality where the whole idea of “parts” is illusory.

I have not taken the time to try integrating these other perspectives with the seven I noted above (whose only claim to special attention was that they were “dancing” together in my efforts to metabolize my own recently disturbed worldview).  Which raises a further inquiry:

I find the exploration of such wholes/parts dynamics to be both fascinating and potentially useful, since so much of our lives – and the fate of the planet – is unfolding through interactions among those dynamics.  In fact, this inquiry seems so important that I can’t shake the feeling that it has been more fully studied by someone else, or even that there is a whole field of study (and practice?) dedicated to studying it.  Do you know of any such work that has been done or is being done?  If so, let me know.



ChatGPT 4o added the following participatory worldviews:

Systems Thinking:

  • Emphasizes understanding the interconnections and feedback loops within systems.
  • Pros: Holistic problem-solving, long-term thinking.
  • Cons: Complexity, difficulty in implementation.


  • Decentralized management system promoting distributed authority.
  • Pros: Flexibility, empowerment of individuals.
  • Cons: Complexity, potential for confusion in roles.


  • Values ecosystems and all living beings equally.
  • Pros: Promotes environmental sustainability, long-term ecological health.
  • Cons: May conflict with human-centered priorities, challenging to implement broadly.

– – – –

Claude-3.5-Sonnet added the following participatory worldviews:

  1. Hierarchical: Parts organized in a structured order of importance or authority.
  2. Emergent: Parts interact to create higher-order phenomena not predictable from individual components.
  3. Fractal: Parts mirror the structure and behavior of the whole at different scales.

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