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At Home in the Universe with Miracles and Horizons: Reflections on Personal and Social Evolution

This is version 3.1 of the earlier paper posted in this space. It was originally written as a gift for participants in the Festschrift that dear friends organized in my honor, and has mutated into a statement of sorts of my perception of where I have been (e.g., my life's work), where we are (e.g., all of us, in the universe), and the meaning of life (as a teaser: "wholly but not fully human"). Among other things, I have a coherent statement of what I mean by "making better social worlds." If such a rambling document has a thesis statement, it is: To be at home in the universe is to know the universe as well as we can, to know our place in the universe as well as we can, and to be, as fully as we can, what we are – the seventh miracle; the makers of better social worlds through the coordinated enactment of compassion, empathy and mindfulness. Enjoy!

Dialogue and Deliberation, Virtuosity as a Practitioner, and Taking a Communication Perspective

Written for the Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement graduate certificate program, Fielding Graduate University, July, 2007

            in this paper, I want to focus on the question of how we can make a world in which people participate in making the decisions that affect them. And this starts at what might seem an unusual place: communication....

             I am more convinced than ever that attention to forms of communication is an important and relatively neglected leverage point for dealing with such issues. To put it bluntly, I believe that if we can get the form of communication “right,” then the best things possible will happen. Further, I believe that focusing on the forms of communication – in addition to or instead of focusing on the “issues” themselves – is the best way of breaking through the self-sustaining patterns that hold in place the problems we want to address. 


Going Public: Working Systemically in Public

This paper has been published in Spanish, Portugese and Italian, but not in English.

We have learned many things from systemic practitioners. We've tried to extend this work by moving from private face-to-face conversations to work in public with the public. We found that some aspects of systemic practice is robust enough to survive the shift in contexts and that we had to make some adjustments.


Toward Communicative Virtuosity

Presented to "Modernity as a communication process (Is modernity 'on time'?)", a seminar sponsored by the Department of Communications and Social and Political Theories, Russian State University for Humanities, Moscow, April 15, 2005.

I believe that we (collectively) make the social worlds in which we live by the way we communicate with each other (this is what I call "the communication perspective"). To think of communication this way requires concepts that include temporal extension and pattern recognition. In this paper, I offer a some concepts for thinking holistically about communication (using a gradient of increasingly large concepts) and revisit my earlier descriptions of "forms" of communication. Using a case study of incivility in contemporary American political discourse, I argue that changing communicative acts is unlikely to produce desired improvement. Instead, we need to develop the ability to discern and differentiate among forms of communication, and learn how to call preferred forms of communication into being.

Civic Maturity: Musings about a Metaphor

Presented at the Action Research Symposium, Fielding Graduate University, July, 2001.

I've been involved in projects that improve the quality of public communication about public issues in cities; my concern was how to make these improvements permanent and/or sustainable. As the title suggests, this paper was a record of and vehicle for thinking about this issue, not a statement of conclusions reached. For the complete Proceedings of this symposium, go to:

Reflections on the role of "dialogic communication" in transforming the world.

Presented to "Change and Development at the Turn of the Millennium" On the occasion of DISPUK's Tenth Anniversary, Rhodes, October 9-13, 2000

Scenario-planning is a powerful technology that guides decision-making in the present by envisioning possible futures. This essay is both a reflection on "epistemology" (the study of how we know) and a critique of a particular instance of scenario-planning. The critique claims that the process of scenario-planning per se depends on a very high level of good communication but that the possibility of that quality of communication is not included as one of the drivers of change when developing the scenarios themselves. I argue that whether "dialogic communication" becomes a normal part of society is a major determinant of the kind of future we will have, and thus decisions in the present should focus on improving the quality of communication.

Systems: Schools of Thought and Traditions of Practice

I have learned a great deal from systems theorists and systemic practitioners. This essay is my attempt to make some useful distinctions among the various schools and traditions. This file is a 400k .pdf file. You will need Acrobat Reader to view it.

Thinking about Systems and Thinking Systemically

This unpublished paper is a meditation on the distinction made in the title. It argues that both are useful but that they are not the same thing and have very different values and potential usages.