Being Ourselves Together

Recently, Doug Germann made a comment on the OSLIST, suggesting that after some few days in Open Space, people might begin to “internalize” the Four Principles and One Law. Harrison Owen offered an evocative reply:

Good wonderings, Doug. But I might suggest that you turn things around, or possibly upside down. Rather than internalizing The Law of Two Feet (and we might also add the 4 Principles), I suspect that it is more a matter of remembering what we already know and for one reason or another have chosen to repress. All of this goes with the idea that Open Space is truly not something new and radically different. In fact it is a forceful confrontation with a pre-existing condition.

We are already in Open Space by virtue of the fact that we have forever been in a self organizing world (the usual 13.7 billion years stuff). The Law and the Principles are descriptive of normative behavior in a self organizing world, and therefore Open Space, I think. In short, we do all of the above all the time — unfortunately we usually feel guilty about it, and because of this, we tend to do it/them badly, or at least awkwardly and grudgingly.

Thus with the Law: when faced with a nonproductive situation (no learning, no contribution) we always leave (hearts and mind out the window) — but the body remains feeling miserable, and making others miserable as well. Once we get the picture, things work better, and we feel a lot better. But it is not about doing something new, or internalizing some new truth — but rather remembering what we already knew and doing what we should/could have been doing in the first place.

Why bother with all this? Well if nothing else, I think it makes our job as consultants and facilitators a lot easier. First of all we are not inviting our clients to engage in risky behavior. Quite the opposite, we are opening a space in which they can really be themselves. And the real risk is to continue with the non-productive, guilt inducing, dependant behavior. The old Marxist Battle Cry might have some application here (with modification): People of the World Unite — You have nothing to lose but your chains.” In a word — Be yourself.

(…which points to another dimension of the both/and nature of Open Space: People can be united and unique, at the same time. The “marketplace” we make for “individual” passions, skills, interests, responsibility — and initiatives — is its own sort of “united” collective. In this way, the realization of Open Space can begin to erode traditional political and idealogical fault lines, in largely peaceful and powerfully practical ways.)