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Engaged Co-Intelligent Citizenship

Each of us has a special function to perform in the world, based on our unique talents and personal qualities, our lifetime learnings, and our heartfelt concerns and passions. When you discover these gifts within yourself and create or uncover your purpose in life, you will have found the key to a meaningful, happy life and to making your greatest contribution to healing our planet.

-- Jay Earley, "Life Purpose and Social Transformation"

Not every citizen is an activist. Many of us don't even exercise our most basic powers as a citizen. But we are entering an era where the consequences of our collective power and fragmentation are so great that more and more of us will be experiencing the negative effects of that power as it reflects back into our lives. Unfortunately, it is growing increasingly likely that each of us may personally suffer from one or more of the following:

  • economic disruptions (like job loss and stock market crashes),
  • environmental degradation (like wild weather and pollution),
  • very personal stresses (like toxic-induced cancers and lack of time),
  • extreme violent social phenomena (like children shooting each other and extremist groups doing bizarre things),
  • technologies gone bad (like antibiotic-resistant bacteria or new forms of mass manipulation),
  • political repression and scapegoating (including surveillance and pressure to conform and be quiet), and
  • a loss of security (from the threat of war and terrorism to the loss of privacy).

In times like these more of us may find ourselves called to exercise our citizenship in all its forms, and to try out new forms of activism in an attempt to make things better. Those of us who were apathetic and alienated may start voting. Those of us who voted may start boycotting. Those of us who boycotted may start working in our communities or volunteering for some activist campaign. Those of us who campaigned against war or pollution may start campaigning for institutional changes like citizen deliberative councils. Those of us who campaigned for institutional changes may start convening powerful conversations around strategic questions that shift the consciousness of whole systems. And in and around the rest of us, some folks may be inventing new technologies that empower us all, while others may be telling stories that inspire us all, while still others may be weaving together people or ideas into more powerfully synergetic webs of relationship, insight and vision within which we can all become the new world we want to see.

The seeds of the future are sprouting among us, in everything we do and don't do. Now is a great time to wake up. We've barely begun our evolutionary journey. There is still a long and wondrous way to go. Even at this moment, we are making the road we walk upon -- all of us together, and each of us individually.

So let's make a difference in the way we do it, even as we make a difference in the world.


All of us have roles, connections, capacities or resources that make it possible for us to make special contributions to this work. I've chosen below some common categories of people and noted a few basic things that each kind of person could do to help build a co-intelligent culture. Each one is just a teaser, a taste of the sorts of things you could do if you are that type of person.

Whether or not you find yourself in the categories below, I'm sure you know your life and special connections and capacities better than I do. Connect with others in your domain and brainstorm what you might do together. You could be Catholic, or involved in child care, or disabled, or a gardener, or anything else. If you get together with others like yourself and brainstorm questions like "Who do we know who could make a difference in this?" or "What is it about us that could make a unique impact if we worked together?" or "What media are we connected to that we should contact about this?" -- you would end up with far better ideas than I could ever come up with. But the following will give you a sense of what's possible....


You could get together with your colleagues and begin building a professional "eldership network" dedicated to using your specialty to empower people to co-intelligently self-organize.

Psychologists, educators, theologians, architects, planners, futurists, sociologists, healers, lawyers, librarians, mediators, writers and artists, performers, systems analysts, and many others have a similar, unique gift to offer in building co-intelligence.

They are actually doing similar work. They enhance self-organization, self-reliance, and self-realization at different levels of the spectrum of human systems. By that I mean these different professions deal with individuals or relationships or groups or organizations or networks or communities or regions or whole societies or the entire world.

But they aren't separate. Life at each of these levels unfolds in the context of all the others. Creativity, healing and intelligence at any one level is hindered or helped by the state of the other levels.

An "elder" is anyone who enhances self-organization and co-intelligence at one or more of these levels.

Ideally, the boundaries between the disciplines concerned with each level would be permeable, many practitioners would be competent working at several levels, and an overarching ideology and sensibility (such as the co-intelligence perspective) would facilitate networking among practitioners at all levels.

Human systems -- both individual and collective -- are very much alive and need caring attention. Professional eldership networks could help build bridges between professions in service to the larger goal of wise self-organization in all facets of human life.


You could explore how to see with a whole-systems perspective, and channel your gifts accordingly.

It is normal for your caring attention to get so caught by some specific suffering, dysfunction or symptom that you can't put much attention on the dynamics that generate such problems -- to say nothing of positive systemic changes that would resolve them.

All of us are biologically hard-wired to see what's dramatic, immediate and personal -- when what we need to address are often hidden, longer-term, more powerful forces, tendencies and opportunities.

The more time, money and intelligence we, as a culture, spend on relieving suffering, the less we have to give to preventing suffering and creating social innovations that would bring us a co-intelligent culture that would not generate such vast suffering. So try targeting your caring energies on transformational work.

Note that some traditional forms of activism support co-intelligence and some undermine it. A union fighting for a shorter work week helps transform the culture more than one fighting for higher wages, since it frees up people's time for community and citizenship. Environmentalists promoting real dialogue and green taxes do more to build a co-intelligent culture than environmentalists who do nothing but sue corporations (although that may be necessary also if the corporations refuse real dialogue). Community empowerment is more co-intelligent than welfare handouts. Etc.

For more ideas about co-intelligent social change activism, see Thoughts on Co-Intelligent Social Change .


You might help schools teach co-intelligence, whether or not they call it that.

Many existing programs fit that category: co-operative education, democratic classrooms, multi-modal learning, critical thinking, values clarification, conflict resolution, multi-culturalism (if it respects all cultures and includes the importance of having a common culture grounded in respect), volunteerism, community involvement, emotional intelligence, each one teach one, etc.

Systems thinking, ecological sensibilities and awareness of the student's own role in larger systems is extremely important.

As early as possible, and as consistently throughout the years of education, the skills and methods of real dialogue can be taught, to enable citizens to creatively participate in a culture of dialogue. You might support Open Space Conferences, Future Search and Wisdom Councils in the school system, involving all stakeholders, including the children and janitors. And nothing beats listening and feeling heard.

Programs that strengthen self-esteem by addressing not only the student's psychology but their family, social and community context, can also be very helpful, as can peer counseling programs. Both co-operative and competitive games can build self-esteem and team skills, as long as respect for diversity is honored and everyone has something they can excel at. We can all reflect on the mixed blessings of both competition and cooperation.


You could help generate co-intelligent stories and interactive, participatory, co-creative media. Networks of storytellers and visionaries could co-create entire utopian worlds to explore how co-intelligence might play out in every aspect of life and society. (See, for example, The story of Pat and Pat, the view from the year 2020.)

Multi-media art and communications could be used in ways that engage people's multi-modal intelligence (and, if we add multiple-user interactivity, even collaborative and collective intelligence).

If you are a journalist, join the "civic journalism" movement to use newspapers and magazines to actually engage people in meaningful issues and dialogue. Move away from false objectivity (e.g., reporting what authorities say as fact without comment, even if they're lying or manipulating, simply because they did say those things) and conflict-based reporting (including politics-as-sport metaphors).

Move towards giving people a better sense of the broad range of views (there are always more than two sides) and why various parties feel and think those things (the underlying values, stories, motivations).


Explore thinking systemically, and with the Seventh Generation (100-150 years after us) in mind. As you work on this, notice the ways the political system makes it difficult, and share your thoughts with your constituents. Invite their participation in dealing with this problem.

In all solutions, see how far you can go in evoking and using collaboration, community-based answerability, dialogue and well-designed self-organization rather than domination, regulation and manipulation.

Publicly advocate changing official economic indicators from production-consumption-monetary ones to quality of life ones. Since real security is social, economic and environmental, support the transfer of military funds to enhance these areas of life. Advocate socially responsible investments that support public and private entities that help and do not harm human and natural communities and the capacity for co-intelligence.

Work with your colleagues to nurture a culture of dialogue. Every problem constitutes an opportunity to transform the context and to build community involvement and co-intelligence. Support the use of citizen deliberative councils to provide guidance and political impetus -- and to stimulate dialogue -- at all levels of governance. (Again, see The story of Pat and Pat, the view from the year 2020.)

Explore how there could be a care-ful shift of more governmental functions from the public sector to the "social sector" -- the world of nonprofits, volunteers, and community collaborations. See what you can do to actually empower the social sector to do these jobs well, rather than just transferring social services to for-profit corporations.

Notice how volunteering for greater answerability builds respect. Support changes that reduce the power of money over politics and media.

Talk to your constituents about the need for empowered, self-reliant, self-organizing communities. Use your grassroots election efforts to build community networks that outlast the election. Encourage grassroots action of all kinds.


Seriously consider supporting community-based, ecological enterprises and the social sector. Most socially responsible investing compares favorably with other strategies.

Learn more about The Natural Step which helps businesses figure out how they can operate sustainably within natural systems. Learn about the impact of your work on the long-term welfare of natural and human communities.

Support the participation of all stakeholders in plotting the course of the businesses they're connected to, especially local ones. Engage these stakeholders -- stockholders, managers, staff, all departments, customers, suppliers, competitors, symbiotic enterprises, government officials, community representatives, and anyone else affected -- in generative dialogue formats like Open Space Conferences.

Make your organization a learning organization (see the work of Peter Senge and others).

All this would be much easier for you and everyone else like you, if there are government policies and laws -- such as green taxes and corporate answerability systems -- that level the ethical playing field for everyone. It is easier for individual companies to act ethically when everyone else has to, also. Push for these laws and, in the meantime, push your company as far as it can go in monitoring its own ethical behavior.


Explore ways your work could build understanding of the field of co-intelligence.

Help weave all relevant disciplines, theories and approaches into the fabric of co-intelligence-as-a-field. Find and build synergies among all these disciplines, theories and approaches. Help bridge between theory and practice.

Research ways to increase the wisdom of public behavior and public policy. This includes experiments in generating community wisdom (as with citizen deliberative councils) and in the many other sources of wisdom and how they can be enhanced and productively used.

Engage political, social and economic powerholders and the public in this new way of thinking. Teach accessible seminars and courses for all these audiences, as well as your usual students.

Encourage graduate students to help create balanced information and dialogue on public issues that will enhance citizens' ability to reflect and deliberate on these issues.

Offer your expertise to be "on tap" to duly convened citizen deliberative councils, rather than "on top" in the elite deliberations of powerholders. Explore with colleagues how to best apply your knowledge in service to human and natural communities.

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