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Society's Breakthrough ...

Renaissance of We the People, Unifying the Young and Old, April 27, 2007
By Robert D. Steele (Oakton, VA United States) - See all my reviews

This is one of the most brilliant and compellingly comprehensive books I have read in recent time, and certainly one of less than 100, probably less than 25, and perhaps even one of the ten most important books available in English.

Everyone, including corporations, is starting to realize that Green is Good (see my list on Natural Capitalism), and that the Earth is at a tipping point. The ten high-level threats are Poverty, Infectious Disease, Environmental Degradation, Inter-State Conflict, Civil War, Genocide, Other Atrocities (e.g. kidnapping for body parts or child soldiers), Proliferation, Terrorism, and Transnational Crime.

What this author has done is pioneered the concept of Wisdom Councils at every level of society, a leap ahead of citizen involvement initiatives like Citizen's Councils formed in Denmark to study issues of national importance for legislative action. This book suggests a strategy for bringing "all" together as "We the People" where We assume our rightful role as intelligent top authority.

The author is acutely aware that we are fragmented, ignorant, inattentive, and ineffective as a collective at any level. He suggests that we got that way because we adopted a mechanistic system to govern us, where self-interest is the prevailing value, rather than dignity, sharing, open-mindedness, and so on.

He articulates a vision of a We-ocracy, a circle instead of a box, with a spirit similar to our Native American councils, where people seek what's best for all. And, he suggests a surprisingly simple social invention, not fully tested, that can make the vision real.

It was my great good fortune to meet the author personally at the Nexus for Change conference organized by Peggy Holman and others, and I found him to be one of the most sensible, down-to-earth, and focused individuals I have ever met. He told me there that collective problems require collective solutions, and I agree with him completely. It's about all of us, as well as each of us. Along with this book I recommend Tom Atlee's "Tao of Democracy" and the other books linked to below.

The author's conception of the Wisdom Council, which is now enjoying significant success and public appreciation in the Eco-topia of the Pacific Northwest, is one of a continuous Constitutional Convention with all of us as permanent delegates. It is a way "We the People" can come into existence and collectively choose topics, explore them and evolve consensus ... possibly some sensible sustainable decision or policy that goes out 200 years (what the Native Americans called 7th Generation thinking).

It's a simple approach that bridges all eight of what I call the tribes of intelligence--government, military, law enforcement, business, academia, non-governmental organizations, media networks, and most importantly, all citizens in all civil societies including social advocacy groups, labor unions, and religions.

The book describes an innocuous-seeming Constitutional Amendment to the United States Constitution. But the author inscribes the book to me, ending with "we don't need an amendment, we are out doing it." Now, there are experiments in cities and organizations in different countries, begun by ordinary citizens, proving that this strategy can work. (see www.WiseDemocracy.org) This is good news for those of us who care about society as a whole.

I recommend this book, and the three books below, to every citizen and especially to the 48% that do not vote. We get morons and thieves in power because we all do not vote and hence these charlatans are elected by a minority of dogmatic fanatics aided by less than honorable tactics such as Karl Rove has pioneered (see "Bush's Brain").

But beyond the bits of power our system currently provides to "the people," all-of-us-together can assert power over the system. This book, the books below, and the many books I connect in my varied lists, show us how. They are ammunition in our combat with the Republican and Democratic Party mafiosos. Unity08 is in my view a scam--a last ditch defense of the totally corrupt two-party "winner take all" and share the spoils system. Only the Center for Wise Democracy, Reuniting America, the Transpartisan Policy Institute, and a couple of other massive social networks now in formation, can transform political hypocrisy, corruption, and illegitimacy. Our government today, all three branches, is illegitimate. We can fix that.

We are long overdue for a popular uprising. This author, like Gandhi (see the DVD), provides for an informed non-violent revolution that is both inevitable, and unbeatable. We the People ... what a great concept. Time to honor it again, with the Wisdom Councils and the strategy of full engagement that the author outlines for us.

Robert D. Steele , Top Amazon.com #1 nonfiction reviewer

BOOK REVIEW: Society’s Breakthrough!
Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
By Jim Rough

1stBooks Library, 2002
ISBN: 0-7596-9168-1
Paperback, 268 pages.
List price $14.50
Overall Rating: ***** Pick it up today!

What is it about our society that perpetuates problems, and how can these enormous “unsolvable” problems be eliminated? This month’s book discusses an exciting potential solution in the “Citizen’s Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” But it is not just about society and politics—it is about harnessing the wisdom of everyday people to create lasting, beneficial change.

Consider the old story of the three blind men and their separate perceptions of an elephant. One thinks that it is like a tree (its leg), the second like a rope (tail), and the third like a snake (trunk). When the elephant causes trouble, each man comes up with a different “solution”—one that fails to solve the problem because he has learned about only part of the elephant. By using Jim Rough’s process, a breakthrough solution could be found that benefits both the men and the elephant: “We might place some food nearby to motivate the elephant to move to a more advantageous location for all concerned.” (Full story on p. 4.) Creating such unanticipated but functional solutions is what Society’s Breakthrough is all about.

The key is the use of “dynamic facilitation” with “wisdom councils” brought together to discuss issues important to the council members. This method of group facilitation is designed to draw out breakthrough ideas and generate solutions that can be given unanimous support by the group. Rough provides the principles of dynamic facilitation (p. 85+) and follows them up with the features of a wisdom council (p. 96+). These are mixed liberally with case studies about their actual use and results.

Woven through the book are a variety of models useful to understanding organizational behavior and society at large. These models expose “the game” and how it supports “the tragedy of the commons” (p. 58+), which in turn is a complicating factor to many of society’s deepest problems.

Because these problems tend to be gut-wrenching, emotionally-laden issues, solutions are politicized, and true resolution is not reached as feelings polarize around traditional (unworkable) options. Rough proposes wisdom councils as a way to use these strongly held feelings as a springboard to discovering new perspectives and new choices.

“Choice-creating is a nonjudgmental, heartfelt, energy-driven, creative thinking process in which people seek to invent new options that work for everyone. Instead of negotiating agreement on particular points or discussing ideas back and forth, people seek breakthroughs that everyone can fully support. These breakthroughs come in two forms—changes of mind and changes of heart.” (p. 233)

Whether or not you believe that this approach could be beneficial for the United States as a nation, the case studies show how useful it can be for teams and organizations. The result is a book that will interest all who serve as team facilitators, change agents, and those tasked with finding solutions to difficult problems. It provides a new way of thinking about and attacking problems and issues. There is enough detail included to allow the reader to try dynamic facilitation and wisdom councils in his or her own organization. Those who wish to serve as a dynamic facilitator, however, will also want to review the accompanying interview with Rough in this issue of News for a Change. In that interview, he provides insight on many of the key concepts in his book and also identifies several Internet sites that have additional resources.

The only major weakness of the book lies in its lack of an index. This makes it a challenge to use the book for reference after the initial reading. I ended up taking more than my usual quantity of notes as I read and used them to create my own index of special topics.

All in all, this is a book well worth getting, reading, and rereading.

CHRISTINE ROBINSON has more than 25 years of leadership experience in quality systems for the process industries. She has a master’s degree in quality, values, and leadership from Marian College. An avid reader, she spends a significant amount of her time with her nose in books and her body at the library.
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  • Bruce Elkin

    Jim Rough's new book, Society's Breakthrough is a challenging yet thoroughly hopeful look at pressing and often intransigent problems. Rough offers a new way to explore whatever we think are society's most pressing issues. More important, he shows us how to transcend problems in favor of what truly matters to us and to society.

    Rough's vision of a socety in which "We the People" truly govern ourselves and the institutions, organizations, and communities we create is nothing short of inspiring. Through innovations such as "choice creating," "dynamic facilitaton,"wisdom councils," and a simple, yet far-reaching amendment to the constitutin that he calls the "Citizen's Amendment," he asserts that We the People can reassert control over a system that has gone astray. Society's Breakthrough! describes how such changes would enable us to "come together and seek what is best for all, rather than authomatically relying on self-interested competition."

    Whether Rough is correct in regard to all the details of how the changes would come about, or not, his vision of "a living conversation" as the basis for society-making and policy creating is brilliant. It permeates the book. It lifts us above the details, inspiring us to imagine a society that is "more collaborative than competetive, more thoughtful than argumentative," and that would allow us to "exercise our creativity in the service of all." Perhaps more important than the vision is the fact that Rough outlines a comprehensive strategy for making such a living conversation possible at any and all levels of society.

    I started the book as a skeptic however Rough led me through his novel proposals and solid reasoning with clarity, power, and convincing arguments and examples. I recommend this book to anyone interested in change in government, organizations, and business. And to anyone interested in becoming a more thoughtful and empowered citizen.

    Bruce Elkin
    Organizational Development Consultant
    Salt Spring Island, BC

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    Imagine you are participating in a national body called a "Citizens' Wisdom Council". The first one was started recently after the passage of the Citizens' Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. You and 23 other randomly chosen registered voters have met for a week, and soon will disband. As you deliberated, a facilitator helped you ensure that your proceedings were collaborative, open-minded, and creative, and that every Council member's viewpoint was heard and respected. You wait in anticipation of the closing event when your unanimous conclusions are read to the whole country.

    Imagine that you are excited because the first several such Wisdom Councils resulted in a country wide discussion of a new quality. People spoke on issues from the heart. They listened to and respected each other. Even the reports on the television news were unprecedented in their depth and openness to new ideas. You aren't surprised. This is exactly what you experienced in the last week. You were pleasantly surprised as 24 strangers of differing political, religious, economic and ethnic backgrounds went from stating their positions to speaking of their hopes and dreams for the country, from speaking in halting phrases, to speaking from the heart. Now, your non-binding words will be added to the developing history of "Statements of the People" resulting from this process, and will lead to voluntary discussions in a wide range of forums across the country.

    If you find anything moving about this description, you have something important in common with Jim Rough's new book "Society's Breakthrough". Based upon his experience in helping people achieve break through conclusions and creative approaches to seemingly intractable problems in settings from saw mills to city government to Boards of Directors, Jim is proposing a visionary way of changing the quality of the dialogue in our country. I've been trained in his method, Dynamic Facilitation, and used it. I've seen it work in business teams. Thus, Jim's vision of a Citizen's Wisdom Council is rooted in a tested facilitation method. That is one of my personal criteria for taking a visionary idea seriously.

    Another thing is that Jim takes a "both/and" approach. He sees the value of various approaches to what he calls "Big Truth" processes. I see the Wisdom Council idea as adding at least two important features. First, that the Citizens Wisdom Council will serve the function of changing the character of dialogue about society's' problems from sorting out different positions, to finding new, creative choices. Second, that a non-coercive and thoughtful outcome from the Citizen's Council will spark a corresponding change in society as a whole.

    Finally, Jim doesn't present this as an all or nothing proposition. He calls on us to try it out in our local organization, workplace, corporation or community. This is a prescription for success, in my opinion. As people become familiar with the method where they live, the idea for the Citizen's Amendment becomes more practical. He proposes Wisdom Councils for every large organization where it just isn't possible to get everyone into the room together at one time.

    I like the way this book is written. I found it interesting to read and well organized. From beginning to end, I feel that Jim has done an excellent job of laying out his proposal. I felt he addressed all of my questions by the ending, and still kept me wanting more. The "more" I'm wanting will come in putting this idea into practice.

    I urge you to read this book for yourself. What are the challenges you see facing our country? People of many different political and religious persuasions have identified their dissatisfaction with the state of our democracy. What are your hopes and dreams for our still young experiment in government of, by and for the people? Jim's ideas are a challenge to the cynicism of "conventional wisdom" that says things can't be any different, and a call to action that offers both small steps and a vision of large scale change. It is an invitation to live by our deeply held values. At the very least you will come away from this book with a new way of addressing problems wherever you live and work. You can get further information on this book and Jim's seminars at http://www.tobe.net.

    Sterling Newberry is an independent conflict management consultant. He helps teams find creative solutions to knotty problems, and organizations to develop the potential of key employees, get more value from current personnel and increase employee satisfaction, creativity and retention. He can be reached through his website at http://www.mediate.com/opendoor, or by email at sterling@mediate.com.

    Sterling Newberry
    Independent Conflict Management Consultant

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    How is a new author to capture the public imagination in such times as ours? Jim Rough's premier book has done this in spades - no, in hearts. Without giving the story away, I urge all who are discouraged and perhaps embarrassed at our nation's fall from global grace to get this thoughtful little book. It suggests a simple solution by which government, governance, and civic life in the U.S.A. might come alive again. In this very bright first book, we find a simple way to move from today's mechanistic, short-term/close-up, hypercapitalistic priorities into a new democracy which applies our innate native wisdom and creates social and economic systems which operate sustainably and intelligently.

    Society's Breakthrough is a simple read with profound implications. It proposes a nationwide awakening into a new civic vitality and creative power. Rough proposes a take-over, a civic coup, a rebirth of democracy which taps and activates the social intelligence of We The People. An alternate title might have been "Reconstituting Democracy: A Constitutional Amendment for We The People of the 21st Century."

    Jim Rough writes for everyone, not for the scholar, yet he manages to convey a profound message. He proposes that the ordinary person is not only capable of understanding deeply complex issues, but is the BEST engineer and designer of new choices. We The People have never actually come to power in this country, Rough contends, yet it is We The People who are best able to understand and interpret our social systems and create self-organized solutions even to today's "impossible" problems. Rough proposes that we need only implement a simple structure in order to activate the collective wisdom that resides in We The People. The "Breakthrough" which Rough proposes is no modest thing, being a constitutional amendment. Its effect is to bring about a quiet yet total revolution. Skeptical at first, I found the book persuasive and exciting. Get it, and breathe again!

    Nicole Langley
    Langley WA

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