Strategic synergy between individual and collective

I just got off a conference call workshop in which the facilitator repeatedly maintained that “it all starts with the individual”, in the sense that an individual has to do their own developmental and “get your life together” work in order to be in a state of awareness, health, and personal organization to be able to then contribute to work for the betterment of their community and world.

This individualistic assumption collided with my own sense that the individual is shaped by their social systems and circumstnaces, and that it is often important to start at the collective level — creating support communities, conversational processes, technologies, etc., that facilitate personal development and positive individual contributions.

Of course, both are needed. Not separately, but together, because they feed on each other.

Whether we assume that “it all starts with the individual” or “the individual is shaped by their social systems and circumstances”, we miss the extent to which individuals influence collective awareness, functionality and evolution AND collective systems influence individual consciousness, evolution and functioning. Individual and collective capacities and dynamics constitute a feedback cycle which doesn’t START anywhere. Or perhaps I should more usefully say that this feedback cycle starts everywhere. (This is similar to it being more useful to talk about leaderful groups rather than leaderless groups. Both are true, but the framing invites different consciousness and behavior.) This realization about the feedback and synergy between the individual and collective opens our consciousness to strategies which maximize the evolution of BOTH.

Our challenge, then, might be stated as: How can we enhance and/or use individual capacities in ways that support healthy groups and societies SO THAT those enhanced groups and societies can then enhance and/or use their capacities to enhance individuals SO THAT those enhanced individuals can enhance their groups and societies and world, etc., etc., in an ongoing upward evolutionary spiral. Responses to this question could include such approaches as these:

* spiritual communities (sanghas) that enhance individual spiritual development, or communities of practice or inquiry that enhance individual capacity to learn and do work of a particular kind

* support groups that enhance individual behavioral change, such as decreasing carbon footprint (see David Gershon’s LOW CARBON DIET for a superlative example)

* group supports for individual behaviors that enhance collective intelligence, such as those that are part of Open Space, World Cafe, and Appreciative Inquiry that, in turn, enhance individual awareness and behavior outside of the group, including extending those behaviors to other groups, including the convening (by prior participants) of such gatherings elsewhere…

* data displays, art, and stories that show people their place in and impact on the larger systems they’re part of so they gain individual awareness derived from our collective capacities to fathom such systemic dynamics using computers, sensors, scientific research, crowdsourcing, etc. — especially in ways that encourage those enhanced individuals to increase the ability of the collective to gather the information necessary for such collective understanding (by, for example, participating in crowdsourcing activities) that can further uplift individual systemic awareness which results in more collectively healthy behaviors by individuals…

* citizen deliberative councils (or other conversational practices inclusive of diverse voices) that through creative use of diversity end up manifesting a higher level of GROUP awareness and development than the average (and even sometimes highest) developmental awareness of its members. This phenomenon, when empowered, can create policies and social systems that raise the whole community’s or society’s FUNCTIONING to a manifest COLLECTIVE developmental meme-state far above the general individual citizen’s, while constituting an attractor for the awareness of individual members of the community/society to expand… and those more aware individuals then become potential future members of such citizen deliberative councils, enabling those councils to rise even higher…

* creating and instituting economic indicators and “full cost accounting” protocols that internalize the full social and ecological costs of products and services into the prices of those products and services, so that the “free market” then produces socially and environmentally benign and healthy “invisible hand” collective outcomes. This involves individual behaviors which are shaped by the new regime of costs, so that people and companies pursuing their self-interest naturally end up serving the well-being of the whole, rather than destroying it, as so often happens with the current monetary/profit based protocols and prices.

Ultimately, we want a society where “Take responsiblity for what you love as an act of service” automatically serves the whole, partly through each person’s PERSONAL awareness and attunement to “where my passion and gifts meet the world’s needs” and partly because the social / economic / political systems, culture, technologies, communities people live in are DESIGNED so that life-serving efforts and outcomes happen naturally.

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