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“What contribution to this exploration could be made by examining power and love through the lens of whole system processes?

In this paper I describe four fundamental whole system processes, processes by which systems interact with their environments:

  • differentiation (the difference process) and
  • homogenization (the commonality process),
  • individuation (the separateness process) and
  • integration (the togetherness process).

Systems express their power and love through the elaboration of certain of these processes and the suppression of others.

This paper grows out of conversations and exchanges of papers with Adam Kahane. It was stimulated by Adam’s reflections on what he described as his more and less successful efforts in working with some of the world’s most complex challenges, among them: child malnutrition in India, implementing the peace accords in Guatemala, responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa, tensions between ultra-orthodox and secular Jews in Israel, health care reform in the United States, and the shift to a low carbon economy in Canada.

Adam’s reflection was that success was more likely when the process was “bilingual,” that it incorporated both power and love. “Love is what makes power generative instead of degenerative. And power is what makes love generative instead of degenerative.” (From a speech to the Systems Thinking in Action Conference, Boston, November 17, 2008.)"

N.B. Good quotes from Martin Luther King and Paul Tillich on first page


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    Just got an email from Daily Metta about nonviolence :

    “Practical Idealism: Daily Metta (http://mettacenter.org/daily-metta/practical-idealism/)

    “I am not a visionary. I claim to be a practical idealist.” ~ Gandhi, Young India, August 21, 1920

    Idealism is a beautiful state of mind, a vision of possibility of what could be. But it can be naive and even destructive if it is not coupled with the means for putting it into practice. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King: love without power is soft and weak, and power without love is reckless. Nonviolence is the combination of both love and power, or as Gandhi called it “practical idealism.” What could be more practical, anyway, than finding a way through conflict without harming anyone in the process?

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      Ben, I am wondering if the distinctions below map across to the Oshry ones you quoted?

      A similar distinction is made with the drives of Individual Holons e.g people:

      There are four main drives of an individual holon:


      The vertical drive of the higher to embrace, enfold, or “love” the lower.


      The vertical drive of the lower to “reach up” towards the higher


      The horizontal drive for self-preservation, autonomy, and wholeness.


      The horizontal drive for self-adaptation, partness, and joining with others

      Each of these drives has an opposite and a pathological expression. Click links above for basic descriptions.

      For those with a strong stomach for Holons as a concept, I would direct you to a Fred Kofman (former MIT and Peter Senge’s pal in SOL) text explaining the various types of Holons in quite some detail (http://www.integralworld.net/kofman.html).

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        hmmm…. not directly, I’m sure - but there might be a link! Discuss at a development day…?

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          returning to this a year later, Agency and Communion look like a version of the conflicting/complementary drives - but agape and eros confuse me completely in this context?

          A reminder:

          power individuation (the separateness process) and differentiation (the difference process

          love integration (the togetherness process) and homogenization (the commonality process),

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        ​​Eros/Power: A Primal Fuel for Reinventing Organizations. Cultivating Relational Action Inquiry London, November 4th-5th, 2016

        Over two days of practice and exploration we’ll journey into the healthy and shadow sides of creative collaboration. With a view to enhancing individuals, team and organizational creativity, we bring special attention to how whole-hearted interpersonal relations can re-energize our work, weaving our life and work in service to the whole. On Friday we explore what we mean by Eros & power with reference to historical, cultural and sociological dynamics. Then we look keenly at how love and power are navigated and expressed at different levels of adult maturity. The workshop will be playful, provocative and interactive.

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          I saw this! Shome coinshidenshe, shurely?

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          Thanks Ben! This is fascinating.

          Below is an extract of a blog article describing Adam Kahanes’s talk on Power & love using holons, which I think complements your excellent post .

          “Crucial to the work is that both power and love can be generative and degenerative; generative when deployed together, and degenerative when deployed alone.

          I was intrigued that Kahane found it necessary to introduce Arthur Koestler’s notion of a “holon” before getting into the rules. A holon is something that is a whole in itself, but is simultaneously a part of a larger system. We live in a world of “holonic levels”, where a cell is a whole, but also part of an organ; the organ functions as a whole, but is part of the body, and so on. Rule #1 suggests to me that power and love dynamics must be examined in the contexts of part, whole, and both.

          So here are Kahane’s ten rules, followed by comments related to some of them.

          -1.All social systems are holons.

          -2.Every social holon has a two-sided power drive (discussed above).

          -3.Every social holon has a two-sided love drive.

          -4.Lack of love makes power degenerative.

          -5.Lack of power makes love degenerative.

          -6.Holons tend to favour power over love.

          -7.Power vs. love is not a choice, but a dilemma of polarity. It is a mistake to be only in one or the other.

          -8.When love dominates, make a power move.

          -9.When power dominates, make a love move.

          -10.We learn to balance power and love when we attend to the moments of imbalance, by making the balancing move."

          Degenerative power (#4) is pursuit of actualization that oppresses others’ abilities to actualize. This is quite common in societies like ours in which individualism is heavily emphasized. Kahane noted that positioning another group as “the other” can quickly become reciprocal and highly unproductive. Degenerative love (#5) manifests as the sacrifice of an individual or group’s self, identity, and/or actualization, perhaps to be part of a whole. These situations can be equally harmful (#7), but Kahane notes that the latter is more dangerous because it is less acknowledged (#6).

          Some in our society have greater endowments to self-actualize, which is what we traditionally perceive (misconstrue?) as power (#6). A related and difficult question that Kahane raises is: “If the power folks can get where they want to go without the love folks, then what incentive do they have to involve them?”

          Kahane also suggested that best conflict resolution processes are the ones that reveal more of reality to the participants. Consider:

          -1) Discussing scenarios that may unfold and how they might affect all parties;

          -2) Sharing personal, impactful, human stories from all parties; and ideally

          -3) Undertaking learning journeys to see different parts of the system at play, to create shared experience and mutual understanding.

          It would be difficult to argue against seeing more of reality to gain a better understanding of a situation. After all, nobody wants to be ignorant, do they?

          In some cases, there are systemic constraints on parties that make it difficult to participate in dialogue or make the desired or necessary power move or love move. In these situations, there is always a love move available: to acknowledge the aforementioned constraints and human challenges, which creates shared understanding (#9). Ultimately, this is how conflict resolution begins, by establishing common ground.

          The generative forms of power and love must inherently exist together, in balance, because they facilitate each other. Without the other, each alone is degenerative. Our challenge is to recognize the degenerative moments (#10) when we are exercising power inappropriately to self-actualize and become whole at the expense of others, or when we sacrifice the self inappropriately, losing our “part-ness” and becoming powerless.

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            certainly striking alignment and, I think, good insights does rule 8 justify grittiness? grottiness? nastiness? interesting… The conflict resolution processes sounds a bit like Senge’s ‘system leadership’ approaches (not that they seemed particularly powerful as a toolkit…)

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            These are core concepts for Barry Oshry’s community/society work (d/h and i/i), expressed through the ‘when cultures meet’ workshop. I wasn’t sure he had ‘released’ this - maybe he hasn’t - but it merits serious consideration.

            It is a brilliant intro to and overview of Barry’s work since it touches on the history - which I see as very relevant - and his work with power+systems and experiential and observational learning about them (generating true paradigms in a way few others in the field actually do or attempt) at social, organisational, and community levels.

            The concept in Oshry is that in the context of social difference, there are two core approaches: - a dominant/other system (usually instinctive, sometimes idealogical) which is essentially sterile (whether it tends to oppression, integration, or toleration) - a robust system, which sees difference as something potentially additive, conducive of survival and happiness etc

            There is a false paradigm between systems of power (differentiation and individuation) and systems of love (homogenization and integration), neatly expressed in the quote Tom pulled above, and the two he referenced:

            “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. This collision of immoral power with powerless morality constitutes the major crisis of our time.” Martin Luther King

            “Power is the drive of every living thing to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity… Love is the drive towards the unity of the separated.” Paul Tillich

            There are, interestingly, strong echoes of Mary Parker Follett here.

            Thus a truly robust system increases and balances differentation AND homogenization, individuation AND integration. Easy for an American to say? Well, this has been used and developed all over the world..

            The table of p27 adds another and deeper layer to Barry’s characterisation of organisational relational positions (top, middle, bottom, customer, helper), each with their conditions, reflex response, outcomes, and potential alternative empowering positions, since it expresses the disfunction in terms of d/h, i/i imbalances.

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              [ Incidentally - and I hesitate to post this lest it detract from the importance I place on the above - the concepts could be considered as similar to the two ‘opposing’ axes of the ‘core motivators’ proposed by Tony Robbins: certainty / uncertainty, significance / connection (the other bit in Robbins is growth / contribution).

              Robbins references - I know he’s not usually cited in this way: http://www.ted.com/talks/tony_robbins_asks_why_we_do_what_we_do/transcript?language=en http://bsix12.com/motivation/ ]

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                I have been corresponding offline with others about this and produced the below which may be of interest:

                This is all me reading into it but since I’ve asked Barry’s point of view I’ll feel free to ‘put words in his mouth’, in the sure and certain expectation they’re not right but might be interesting.

                From his organisational and social work, Barry discovered (sociology) that different relational positions (top, middle, bottom, customer, helper) reliably and predictably (but not always and every time) result in different models of individual and systems disempowerment, viz: * Tops become overloaded and disable the system by taking on all the responsibility * Bottoms become disregarded and disable the system by abdicating all responsibility * Middles become various things but all based on losing their independence of thought and action, and disable the system by helping to perpetuate it * Customers get screwed and disable the system by thinking their orders are sufficient to enable success. * Helpers (internal or external) get used and abused and discarded, and disable the system by pandering to it or lecturing it…

                In fact, each of these relational positions (and it’s important these are not levels/roles but everyone can be in all these positions at different moments) generates the individual disempowerment by their instinctive, reactive response to the conditions.

                This presents a hugely powerful model of how and why human organisational systems contain within themselves the seeds of the dismal kind of results we regularly see in the world. The prescription for change sits around seeing the system in these terms, described as the dance of power. The dance of power can perhaps be described as the way that ‘positional’ power systemically pulls back responsibility into these relational roles, instinctive responses and deliberate outcomes - and how the elegant, clumsy, determined and counter-instinctive practice of new and ‘mindful’ (reflective) ways of responding to these systems conditions can helped to change the results… and, perhaps, the structures.

                Incidentally, these ‘stands’, identity development which allows counter-instinctive responses, were significantly drawn from studying the ‘not always, not every time’ exceptions - the positive deviants, or just plain deviants, who did not respond in conditioned ways to the system, who threw the system out of balance and perhaps, sometimes, achieved some kind of new equilibrium. It was also developed through all kinds of observational and reflective study (not least, undertaken by Barry personally) of the heart-stopping moments of choosing to do different. [A number of the tools and approaches for how to do things differently from the reflexive and disabling response draw on the way in which the systemic conditions encourage difference without commonality or vice versa, separateness without togetherness or vice versa, or commonality with integration or difference with separateness - e.g. Bottoms typically become common and together (thing trade unions) and Tops typically are different and separate - turf wars among the bosses]

                Now, let’s step into the social/community sphere. Here, from similar starting points, Barry saw that the instinctive responses to difference allied with the power and patterns inherent in the insider/outsider, dominant/other relations. And that even the ‘good, socially approved’ responses to difference (tolerance etc) were disabling of the potential of the whole system. * The other becomes disabled and proudly stiff (whether in rebellion, fatalismo, or isolation) * The dominant becomes protective and proudly stiff (whether in denial or anger to difference or tolerance of difference) In the organisational context, what is lost is the potential to act in partnership - shared striving to a single goal, with multiple perspectives, inputs, with discretionary effort, joy and love. In the social context, what is lost is the potential to become robust, developmental flexibility and agility, and the ability to become richer and more diverse and powerful.

                What Barry saw further, I think, is that, socially, the ‘acceptable’ response to difference is also disabling to the system (though not as much as going to war against the other). (He uses preserve/protect vs allow/adapt - a precursor, as we often see in Barry’s model, of homogenize/integrate and differentiate/individuate)

                This, perhaps with some inspiration from Adam Kahane in this paper, led to bracketing commonality and togetherness (broadly) as a love orientation and difference and separateness as a power orientation. So the brilliance is in seeing the deep patterns in organisational and community life and that holding in mind BOTH - the inherent ‘power’ dynamics of dominant/other, top/bottom AND - the power and positive potential of balancing differentiation and homogenization with individuation and integration i.e. this is what I’ve identified above as ‘the dance of power’

                SO what might go wrong at an organisational or cultural level? We might respond reflexively not reflectively We might blame the results on the conditions and not see our role in it We might lock power with positional relations and steadily disable the whole system We might develop a love-oriented system which becomes anaemic We might develop a power-oriented system which becomes reckless and abusive

                What might we do right? Pay attention to the balance of difference/commonality and of individuation/integration Pay attention to the flow and potential of ‘power’ across These two might lead us to see that the same power can be generative or destructive. It cannot be generative for long where it is exclusively ‘love’ focused or exclusively ‘power’ focused, nor where it ‘sticks’ in the expected relational positions.