What promises are you willing to make?

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This is our fifth conversation based on the model developed by Peter Block in Community: The Structure of Belonging, building on the "Dissent""Possibility", "Ownership" and "Invitation" conversations we hosted from May through August.  Once again, we are delighted to welcome back co-hosts Eric and Elaine Hansen, who have worked extensively with Block, and are masters of this form.

Here is Block's take on the essence of Commitment:

Commitment is a promise made with no expectation of return. It is the
willingness to make a promise independent of either approval or reciprocity
from other people. This takes barter out of the conversation. Our promise
is not contingent on the actions of others. The economist is replaced by
the artist. As long as our promise is dependent on the actions of others, it
is not a commitment; it is a deal, a contract. A bargained future is not an
alternative future; it is more of the past brought forward.

The declaration of a promise is the form that commitment takes; that
is the action that initiates change. It is one thing to set a goal or objective,
but something more personal to use the language of promises. Plus, to the
extent that a promise is a sacred form of expression, this language anoints
the space in the asking.  

Community: The Structure of Belonging, p. 136

In this time of upheaval and transformation within our communities, our countries and the world as a whole, what are you truly committed to?  Consider your behavior and actions with others.  Consider the results and outcomes you wish to see in the world.

  • What promises are you willing to make?  
  • What is the promise you are postponing?

As always, we invite you to begin the conversation right now on this forum and in person with friends, family, etc. before joining us on our call this Monday, October 1.


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Nice to see that you're still with us Pawel (as an aside, I'd love to have your help with our Sacred Economics thread, where I'm asking people to do some synthesis and harvesting of what's been posted so far).

Your link is certainly apt:  

"'[T]he commitment effect"... is the condition of sticking with something 'long after it has become quite clear that it's not doing anything for us' or is even hurtful. We do this because we have an irrational commitment to things we've been doing for a while and don't like the idea that our investment in that thing has been a waste.

This is why Block also suggests that we must have the "Dissent Conversation," which is commitment's "twin."  "Yes" and "no" are friendly to each other.  It is "lip service" that kills the possibility for creating a future distinct from the past. The Dissent Conversation includes these questions:

  • What is the no, or refusal, that you keep postponing?
  • What have you said yes to, that you no longer really mean?
  • What is a commitment or decision that you have changed your mind about?

(Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging, p. 135)

Perhaps our experience with "the commitment effect" is one reason we might be afraid to make new commitments, along with the notion that failure is "unacceptable."  It's so much easier to be cynical and resigned than to step up, make a promise and take a risk.

Again, I'm reminded of the piece by Rebecca Solnit that I quoted at the top of this thread, and on our Cafe Call:

There are really only two questions for activists: What do you want to achieve?  And who do you want to be?  And those two questions are deeply entwined. Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style.

That is the small ongoing victory on which great victories can be built, and you do want victories, don’t you? Make sure you’re clear on the answer to that, and think about what they would look like.


Dyck: I see a clear distinction between a commitment, in the form of a promise, and telling the truth. How does telling the truth imply action?  How does it draw me as co-creator of a future distinct from the past?  These are the essential qualities I discern in the "promise made with no expectation of return," as distinct from "barter."  

Perhaps this quote from Block might be useful in addressing some of what I hear as your discomfort with this framing?

“I am willing to make no promise at this moment” is a fine and
acceptable stance. It is a commitment of another kind. Saying “I pass” is
an act of citizen refusal that is ennobling. This means that refusal does not
cost someone their membership in the circle. We need to hold the space
for that kind of refusal. When we honor the refusal of one person, we honor
that choice for all persons. When one person says no, that person is speaking
in some way for all of us. Holding space for refusal in the midst of a
conversation for commitment gives depth and substance to the choice or
commitment all others have made.  

Community, p.138

Ben, I love this quote from Block's book.  It seems obvious that the context here is the free action someone might take in a group or other social or societal situation.  This also looks like a great starter in what I'm reading as sensible 'coping' with everyday life... to finding our way in the spiritual domain.

Just how free one's action is depends on their own impressions (formed by past experiences).  All else being equal one is reasonably free.  I don't mean to minimize the internal binding and suffering that can occur when one sets up a inner conflict by making a wrong or imprudent promise/commitment.  Perhaps in these instances the external manifestation of promise is simply a tool (if we notice) by which to learn the structure of integrity and perhaps the impossibility of being without duality (until one realizes God state).

By contrast, legal or quasi-legal use of promise/commitment is not free... or at least not without penalty or consequence.  I'm referring to legal testimony, contract or implied contract, witness...

(It is late at night for me to be writing. Ideally, I would let this sit for a while. I hope I am able to communicate clearly my thinking on the subject of Commitment conversations and this process we are using for these conversations.)

Here is an idea - the typical way we approach things has been grounded in solving a problem. These familiar problem solving conversations have been interesting but kept us grounded in the past. It is my experience that we are at a historical transition point in our world and we need to have new conversations.  

Peter's framing of the conversations gives us an alternative way to talk about the future...a future we are living into.  In these conversations, the question is more important than the answer.

In the world that is currently falling apart, having the answer was the important thing. In our new world, questions that have no one answer will inspire us to discover what's possible and will open the way to a future we can not yet imagine.

For Monday's call, the Commitment conversation will be our focus.  It is an invitation for each of us to explore what has meaning for us, what we truly value as individuals and as a community.  The questions we use for these conversations have no right or wrong answer. They are crafted for each of us to wrestle with ourselves, not others. It is not a debate. It is about talking about what has meaning and matters to each of us.

As I ponder this tonight, I am struck with the reality that when I have made the big commitments in my life, I did so with no way of knowing what the future holds. And, in these big commitments, it seems to come down to this for me, I have committed to stay in the conversation.  

When I became a parent for the first time, I remember how overwhelmed I felt by the commitment I had unwittingly made to this new born babe. While I had done tons of babysitting and knew the how-tos of bathing, feeding, etc. It was the "soft skills" required to raise a child that overwhelmed me. My commitment was to stay in the conversation even when this child was not how I had imagined he would be, nor I the parent I thought I would be.

I leave you with this question to ponder - no response required.

What promise are you willing to make without expectation of recognition or reward for the well being of the whole?

In keeping with Peter Block's understanding of 'Commitment' I'd like to respond to the initial question of, "What promises are you willing to make?" with a reference to an article I'd posted to my 'City of Peace' blog in January of 2010.  Entitled, "What's Next? . . . Fence Moving" and under the caption, "A New Era Has Begun", I wrote:

There are those too like Roger Walsh who in a paper subtitled, "Key Ideas for a World at Risk", expresses a well qualified viewpoint similar to Richard Cook's that 'religion' has the capacity to "catalyze" human development and if that possibility were "widely appreciated" to in turn, "transform the culture".  The type of 'religion' to which Walsh refers however is not the "conventional narrative religion" with which most people are familiar, but something he calls "transconventional psychotechnologies".

The underlying point here however, entailed Roger's use of the term Karma Yoga--meaning not only the transformation of "one's work in the world into spiritual practice", but identifying "three key elements" of the process in such a way that "one simultaneously attempts to release attachment to the outcome."

In respect to my own practice, one of the meditation groups with which I often sit, having finished reading Sylvia Boorstein's, Pay Attention, For Goodness' Sake involving "the Buddha's Ten Paramitas", has just begun a subsequent study focusing on, "The Five Mindfulness Trainings".  For me, I suppose they reflect a reasonable set of the 'promises' I'm prepared to offer towards a 'new story' shaping 'Community and The Structure of Belonging'.

Namaste . . .

My experience with this topic is that we've found a few well-established fast food restaurants along our path and we're busy getting all we can at the drive-thru window.  Perhaps, sensing an 'ending' is a practical matter of not having the necessary time... or perhaps there is no group affinity to find more or better nutrition or diversity... My years say, "enougfor now Dyck, you will never be complete until you know what is real and what is not."

I'm rather comfortable hang gliding in a sky called commitment and being a wave in a sea called promise... having only a slight expectation of there really being dry land on which to set foot...  All so connected to my search for reality, the whole reality, nothing but reality... I swear!  So sensing we're coming to a close on our topic, here is what I take away.  This formed up in me after our Occupy Heart call yesterday.  A surprise to myself.

As with love, I am a servant of promise... not a master.


Let's back up and step away from current breakdowns in modern civilization first.   It's only 10,000 years old, it's in its infancy being born, and suffering under autopoietic observe errors in cultural matrixes in the units of our humanity.

All of us are indigenous people with a conservative biological evolutionary history of 3 million years as homo sapiens sapiens.  Our molecular dynamic central nervous system is reptilian, mammalian and finally a neo cortex that developed modern man.  3 million years ago the brain was 550cc compared to 1500cc today (?fact check I am no a scientist and think I am close).  Three million years ago our ancestors did the same things we do today:

  • Sexually we became frontal and started to look into one another's eyes and observe face rather that entering intercourse from the rear.
  • The human hand is a caressing hand that molds itself to texture, feel and sensitivity
  • Women delivered children and men participated in child rearing as a family unit in partnership
  • Gathering of food and hunting, today we go to super markets
  • Men served to protect and defend the family units safety, to day we have world wars

This TED talk introduces you to a distant relative 25 million years old and economics observer happening in modernity.  

“Laurie Santos: A monkey economy as irrational as ours”


Now in physics David Bohm studied with Albert Einstein and introduced the notion of a "Holographic Universe" and where everything is connected to everything from the micro to macro.  In other world a simpler way to see it as a explanation in a creation story explaining in physics how you arrived to this moment as an observer is simply this.  13.5 billion years ago the entire expanding universe that you witness right how as being outside of your human perception was created from in a big bang from the size of "green pee" and the unity that was inside the "green pee" is still happening throughout all the galaxies and universes that arose in that one moment.  Even more interesting is time and space are only observer in this narrow 3 dimensional physical existence and the shattering quantum physics of E=MC2 ruptured permanently that view point and opened the field of cognitive science and the roll of "observers" in living systems create possible possibilities.  

Good movie to watch 

Mind Walk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindwalk

So everything everywhere throughout the entire universe is happening in the light of molecular dynamic self organized activity "autopoieitic niches"called identities and narratives in emotioning=languaging in the entire   wen of life.  And its all happening only by being alive in the moment, natural laws.   There is no past or future, you are aware an enactive embodiment of continuously cognitive awareness presencing "itself" eternally and in infinite space and time, period.  Cognition is solely an autopoietic self organizing process of continuous sorting the edges and redefining one's virtual idenity with new a narrative = a story explaining the generative mechanisms to bring you to this present moment.  We are great at making up stories and we don't know if they are real or an illusion.  Cognition is source presence being consciously aware as an "observer" and when this "nous enlightenment happens in enactive embodiment" there is no memory of the past or concern of the future.  You experience directly internally the wholeness, maturity and transcendence of the "observer error" tripping up human existence.  

Finally, and practically speaking in our current everyday lives and immediate conditional situation by realizing in living a biological cognitive stance in your virtual identity and narrative you enter a continuous praxis of self reflective source presence in your "pre'given niche of personal perceptions." You learn to step away from declaring "truth and reality" in human conversations.  You become curious of "this" or "that" with another in live conversations.  You become authentically vulnerable in the story telling and flexible in an open conversations to invent and generate a "shared niche" together in mutual agreement. We live in person to person conversations in every domain of permanent human concerns.  Effective communications "hear" the validity of the "niche" being expressed without assessing or as truth or reality. It simply is.  The domain of friendship is a social relationship where this autopoietic skillfulness happens in all of us.  So, being autopoietic is not some new science, religious, spiritual, political, educational or commercial program or process.  It's who we are as human beings as Homo sapiens amans, social loving humans, operating in natural law already always.

Once a person enactively embodies this praxis as of source presencing as an "observer" giving authentic reports of it'e own "niche of huamn experiences" mutual "shared niches" begin to appear as new dimensions of coupling effective actions everywhere in networks of conversations.  i call this designing living organizations operating in "live speech acts" and as a standard praxis ruthlessly in rigorous communicative competency challenging pre'given "dead speech acts" in indoctrinated historic cultural belief systems of right and wrong, superiority and inferiority in positions, titles and publications. The P2P fundament is a social universal production cycle for building human trust in every domain of conversations in shared permanent concerns of business.  Current institutional discourses of power based in ownership burns up like paper in laughter as autopoietic virtual identities self organize in synchronicity by grounding "assessments" and "assertions" of the truth of reality as explanatory generative mechanisms in conversation.  We can stop killing each other. We are all in business together whether we like or not, and we build solidarity as a global society in a the new creative commons from the ashes of the tragedy of commons.  Appreciative inquiry and dialog is the new social pattern.  We are "creative assessment machines structurally determined to unify systems to serve wholeness."  Our creative entrepreneurial spirit in our breath is always asking what is missing?  And whatever I (you) (we) (us) do moment to moment is a creative act to generate a predicative directionality.  We use our integrated stories as clay using social sculpting, our traditional histories are weaved into a beautiful new tapestry in our living together in joyful celebration, all the indoctrinated belief systems based in transcendental authority based in power are destroyed, our romantic notions of physical limited existence breaks through to a holograhic implicit scalar universe becoming explicit in our autonomous autopoietic realization in living, and the ghostly archetypes of gods and goddesses in Platos' Cave give way to the secret hidden in human perception  in every ancestral pathway of our humanity. "All that has arisen in biological roots of human understandding converge into a new beginning in our humanity caring for the children of tomorrow in the household of our humanity ~ the web of life on earth.  

Well, that is mouth full! Trust the implicit universe and become explicit in the biology love that constitutes, sustains and maintains all life.  The is "Just One" creative principle and "IT" created everything and is the source presence having this conversation between you and I.  Victory happens in witnessing the glory of others and adorning the beauty of living with one another.  

Thank you for all the gifts you bring to cafe' and interest in my "niche of experiences as reflections."  I'll wait for you to tell me what is real or an illusion?

Latter Mushin


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