L7 Community Coregroups

Tools For A New Political Economy

Community Coregroups

Many thinkers and writers have proposed alternative political economies that depend on an advanced (and often ever-advancing) level of moral maturity, critical thinking capacity, and general education to function. To be persuaded by conscience, to navigate complex an multidimensional truths, to be free of reflexive groupthink and tribalistic loyalties, and to develop relationships and community that support robust civic engagement…all of this requires not only refinement of thought and exposure to a wide range of competing ideas, but also a supportive environment and interpersonal relationships to learn, grow and exchange ideas.

I outline one way to create such an environment — the Coregroup — below.

What would be the curriculum of such Coregroups? Clearly some of the philosophical, historical, developmental,
evidence-based approaches discussed in this website would ideally be part of that mix. But does Level 7 (or the “Integral Lifework” framework) need to be included? Not necessarily — and an example of an alternative “relationship-building” topic list is provided below. But genuine facts — facts that counter neoliberal propaganda and the destructive delusions of market fundamentalism — do require prioritization. More importantly, however, the essence of the Coregroup is its reliance on nonviolent communication, open dialogue, and sincere inquisitiveness to arrive at collective insight and mutual support of more sophisticated moral values. Coregroups are participatory in nature, rather than dogmatic or pedantic…and that is the key to their success around voluntary efforts to actualize egalitarian principles. In combination with the pilot principle, revolutionary integrity, and a multi-pronged approach to activism, the Coregroup can generate effective seeds for collective change within communities, organizations and institutions.

Why is the Coregroup a basic building block in Level 7 proposals? Because in addition to creating a participatory process, Coregroups are about building trust and relationship within a given community. The assumption here is that there are two ways of approaching consensus, cooperation and contribution in any civil society: 1) We can create rules and institutions that “inculcate, coordinate and enforce” collective agreements within a more legalistic and transactional quid-pro-quo, or 2) We can rely upon a much older psychosocial phenomenon in human social organization: mutually supportive relationships where investment is more spontaneous, compassion-centric, and interpersonal. In other words, rather than being persuaded to operate within the bounds of civic agreement because of a sense of duty, tradition or obligation, the Level 7 citizen is encouraged to contribute because they care about cultivating authentic relationships with their fellow citizens; where their civic engagement is an outgrowth of interpersonal engagement and social belonging.

(Excerpted from
Being Well and The S.A.P. Hypothesis)

The basic idea of how these groups work has come from many years of teaching classes, leading discussions, and being involved with support groups of many different types. And although the idea is simple, it won’t always come naturally, and may take some practice. What makes this approach so different is that it asks participants to follow a specific format, and provides guidelines of how to interact with each other in a group. The format and guidelines call upon us to be humble, compassionate and self-controlled in ways that may seem uncomfortable at first, but which really pay off in the long run in extraordinary ways.

The format of the group is a combination of guided discussion and meditation. The “Guide” can be anyone, and in fact I encourage that role to rotate among all members of the group, with a new Guide for each session. If it’s a newly established group, anyone can be a Guide. With an established group, participants should attend at least four sessions before volunteering for the role of Guide. The Guide’s responsibility is to offer up the discussion questions, allow everyone in the group to participate, to remind people of guidelines if they forget them, and to follow the format below as closely as possible. The Guide doesn’t answer the questions or comment on them, but encourages everyone else to do so and keeps the discussion going. The ideal Coregroup size is between six and twelve people, and the format of each session goes like this:

• Everyone is given time to find a seat, take some refreshment if that is offered, and visit a little with each other. This might be for ten minutes or so.

• The Guide then invites people to “check in.” This gives everyone an opportunity to share their name (just their first name or however they would like to be addressed), what is going on in their lives right now, any brief announcements they would like to make about upcoming events or resources they think the group would be interested in, and why they have come to this particular session. The check-in should take another fifteen minutes or so.

• The Guide then introduces the topic for the session – which all of the questions will relate to in some way – and then briefly covers the guidelines for participation (outlined below), including the 90-minute time limit.

• The Guide then starts the session by inviting everyone to take a moment of silence together to set their intention for the following hour. That intention is an inner commitment to “the good of All,” however each person feels this in their heart. This is sort of a prayer or meditation that projects goodwill and loving kindness from each person in the group towards everyone else in the group. This might just be a feeling of goodwill and love, or it might be words spoken silently that set our intention. An example of this would be: “May Love and Light arise in me today, and in everyone else here, so that whatever is healing, strengthening and nourishing can radiate through each of us into the world at large.”

• After a minute or two, the Guide indicates that the discussion is beginning. The Guide then asks the first question and leads the group in a minute or two of silent introspection in response to the question. The Guide then invites people to share whatever answers (or additional questions) they have found within themselves. Every person who guides will have a different style of encouraging this sharing. Perhaps they will offer additional questions about each question that is asked. But whatever they do, they must walk a fine line between inviting and encouraging discussion, and pressuring people who aren’t ready to participate. In a well-established group of people who already know each other, discussion will likely unfold naturally and easily. In a new group, some people may understandably be hesitant or shy.

• Whenever someone responds to a question, the Guide will thank them for their thoughts – without judging or evaluating what they have said – and then ask other people to add their own contributions. If someone is taking much more time than others in the group, or interrupting others, or for some reason isn’t able to follow the guidelines below, then it is the Guide’s responsibility to gently and compassionately help them understand this. Hopefully, though, the Guide’s main focus can be to create an inviting space for everyone to contribute. The Guide does not contribute any answers to the questions while they are guiding.

• If participants do have questions about the topic or the questions being asked, the Guide will redirect them to the rest of the group for answers. The Guide is not an authority here – in fact there are no authorities. There are only hearts, minds and souls seeking within themselves for answers. If someone has need of specific resources (introductory materials on the concepts of Integral Lifework, the services of an Integral Lifework practitioner, other resources, etc.), the more established or well-versed members of the group may encourage them to seek those resources outside of the group, but Coregroups are not intended to be a marketing or networking opportunity for professional services.

• When the session reaches the 90-minute mark, the Guide then reminds people of the time limit, thanks everyone for their participation, and then wraps up the topical discussion for that session. At this point, anyone who wants to stay to discuss business items can stay, and anyone who wants to leave can leave. This is a good time to have a ten minute break before beginning the business portion of the session.

• After everyone has settled back down, the Guide reminds people of any old business that needs to be addressed, of new business that needs to be decided upon, and invites people to bring up any new business items. This part of the session is often about logistics – who will Guide the next session, where to meet, what time the session will occur, who might need help with transportation, etc. It also might include discussion about social get-togethers, like potlucks, walks in Nature or other group activities. This part of the session should take no more than a half hour, so that the total Coregroup session does not exceed two-and-a-half hours. Some simplified version of “Robert’s Rules of Order” can be helpful for the business portion of the meeting, but groups can come up with their own way of doing business – whatever works!

You can see how the Guide has a lot of responsibility for helping the session be supportive and enriching. People with different personalities and strengths will have different approaches to guiding, but the intent is always the same: to empower the participants. Of course, the Guide isn’t alone in this. Each participant should also commit to helping each session be as successful as possible by following guidelines below. Because everyone will have the opportunity to become Guides themselves, that will help the group members build skills to support each other.

So here are the guidelines for participation, which are the foundation of the Coregroup itself, and in many ways more important than the Guide’s role:

Avoiding crosstalk. Participants may be inspired to share something in response to something another member says. However, there are no right or wrong answers to most questions. There is also no need to correct someone else’s misunderstanding…unless they themselves ask for clarification. Thus all answers and questions should be directed to the group as a whole, not specific people, and participants should refrain from reacting to what someone else shares – other than perhaps echoing the Guide’s appreciation and thanks for that sharing. For example, I might say “I appreciate what s/he just said, because it resonates strongly with something I also feel…” Participants should be very careful not to speak directly to other members of the group during the session, but speak to everyone as a group. Each person should feel safe and supported in sharing whatever they like, as long as that sharing follows the other guidelines below.

Appreciating diversity. Participants are to be as accepting as possible of all types of people, and all points of view, within the Coregroup session. If everyone thought and felt exactly the same way about everything, these groups would not be very enriching…or very interesting! Even when someone says something we think is appalling or offensive, we must train our heart to be compassionate and understanding, rather than judgmental or hostile. We might offer an alternate point of view to the group, but we must recognize that whenever this starts a back-and-forth between two or more participants, things can quickly turn into a debate. And that is not what Coregroups are about. They are about sharing from our heart, then letting go. About listening from the heart, and letting that go, too. If we are in doubt about how to process what someone has shared, we should take a moment to close our eyes, breathe deeply and see past their words into the heart of the person speaking them. After all, that heart is just like ours, with all its pain, grief and joy.

Nonviolent speech. The idea that things we say can hurt each other is not a revolutionary idea. But to create a safe and inviting place for people to share themselves openly, we must be especially careful with the words we use. Speech that expresses prejudice, hatred or disdain is not helpful. Speech that makes us right and someone else wrong is not helpful – especially because the real truth usually lies somewhere in the middle anyway. Words that belittle or embarrass others do not encourage openness. We may have feelings of anger over something being discussed, but in this group, such feelings should never translate into yelling at someone, or calling them nasty names, or putting someone down because they believe or think a certain way. Whenever we feel a strong reaction rising up that we can’t control, and that we suspect will disrupt the harmony of the group, we should excuse ourselves from the group for a few minutes to be alone and regain our composure, then return when we are ready.

Compassionate silence. Sometimes a certain topic or question may uncover a well of painful memories and emotions in one or more members of the group. But participants should commit to letting that pain be expressed without trying to comfort or rescue the person in pain. And when I am the person feeling pain – even if I am crying my heart out – I should also not expect other participants to comfort me or change my emotional state. I should not expect anyone to reach out to me, or try to make me feel better. Practicing “compassionate silence” means that the group accepts the pain of one person and allows it to just be. No actions need to be taken. No one needs to respond at all, other than the Guide who will express gratitude for the sharing, and perhaps create some extra time between questions to allow someone who is upset to recover their composure. If someone is so upset they must excuse themselves, the discussion should move forward without them.

Guiding the Guide. Sometimes an inexperienced Guide may flounder a bit in their new role. But that’s okay. Other participants with more experience can always offer the Guide the benefit of that experience, and raise a hand in the meeting to clarify a point about guiding (something about discussion format or protocol, reminding the Guide of something they may have forgotten, helping them manage a participant who is challenging the guidelines, etc.). Since everyone will have a chance to take on this role, being a Guide is really a shared responsibility for everyone in the group. However, it is important that each person find their own way into a style of Guiding that works best for them, so participants should only consider “guiding the Guide” when things are getting really off-track.

Speaking from the depths. Participants should take the opportunity provided after each question to look deeply into themselves for answers, trusting that there is deep iwisdom within them. Then, when they speak, they should offer that insight as honestly and simply as possible, without feeling a need to explain or excuse it along the way. Sharing might be a story, an experience, an insight, or a raw emotional confession. Whatever arises in response to a question can be a powerful support to others in the group, so there is no reason to hide it away, and every reason to share it.

Equal time. Everyone should be allowed equal time to share. Sometimes, especially with newly formed groups or when someone new joins an established group, one or two people can end up dominating the discussion without meaning to. Some people may find it easier to speak in a group, or hold stronger opinions about a certain topic, or feel a stronger need to make themselves heard. At these times, it is the responsibility of the Guide to remind everyone of the equal time guideline, and, if necessary, ask particularly vocal participants to allow others more of an opportunity to share. When offered in a nonjudgmental spirit of kindness, gentleness and warmth, this reminder is usually enough to help even the most talkative person become more generous.

Privacy. All participants commit to keeping what they learn about each other within the group. As tempting as it might be to blog about something, or share it with a friend, or even bring it up with the person who shared after the group is over, it is very important that all participants refrain from doing this. For sharing to be honest and safe, no one should feel like they will be gossiped about or confronted after the session has concluded. Of course there would be exceptions if someone has threatened to harm themselves or someone else, or to engage in dangerous criminal activity, in which case it may become necessary to involve professional resources that can intervene or encourage participants to seek professional help. While Coregroups are intended to be healing and transformative, they are not meant to become a primary resource for someone in crisis, someone on the verge of committing a crime, or someone in need of intensive personal therapy.

What about people who just don’t want to follow these guidelines? At one extreme, there may be people who may want to remain silent and not participate at all. At the other extreme, perhaps there are folks who can’t help being disruptive or hostile during their participation. And then there are those who just keep forgetting about one guideline or other. Since this whole process may be very new and different to people, it is important to be patient. It may take a lot of time and many gentle reminders to create a Coregroup that operates smoothly. Then again, there may come a point where one person’s inability to follow Coregroup guidelines becomes increasingly destructive to the group as a whole. At this point, if it is the consensus of the group, it may become necessary to ask the disruptive person to leave the group if they are unable to change their behavior. A conversation with the uncooperative person should be conducted privately, quietly and compassionately, with clear expectations about what needs to change and why. Whatever the outcome, it should be for the good of everyone involved.

There are many other issues that will arise over the course of Community Coregroups that are not addressed here, but these guidelines and definitions can get you started. I would encourage everyone interested in restoring their community relationships to participate in a Coregroup – or start one – and to really stick to it for several months. The longer you are involved, the more deeply you can explore mutual nourishment and compassionate action in a safe and supportive community. At the same time, I would also encourage groups that have been established for a year or more to consider branching out and creating new groups with their most seasoned members – or at least to rotate new members into the group to inspire more diversity and depth.

Once again, the topics for a Coregroup can be as diverse as the participants themselves. However, in the context of the S.A.P. hypothesis, I feel some topics should be carefully and frequently revisited. I’ve touched on many of those topics in the following list of discussion questions…. Key Topics for Coregroups:

1. What is the best meal you have ever eaten, and what made it so enjoyable?
2. What are some of the biggest stressors in your life? And how do you manage that stress?
3. When do you feel the most confident…and why?
4. What is the wisest piece of advice anyone has ever shared with you?
5. Are all people basically the same – the same needs, the same desires and hopes, the same worries and challenges – or are they fundamentally different?
6. What do you believe is the greatest barrier to happiness and contentment?
7. Why do people need other people? And is money or possessions a 8. replacement for what other people can provide us?
8. Can you think of a situation in your past where different people had different perspectives on the same event or topic? Were you able to see things from multiple people’s points of view? What are some of the challenges to doing that?
9. What does it mean to “give away our personal agency and power?” And what are some examples of when that has happened in your life?
10. Do you frequently exercise your right to vote? Why or why not?
11. Is it possible for two or more people to disagree, but both have pieces of the truth?
12. What is “critical thinking?” And what are some flawed argument styles – or “logical fallacies” – that people will rely on without realizing they are doing so?
13. What are “evidence-based” decisions, strategies and policies? When are they effective? When aren’t they effective?
14. What single societal problem do you wish could be solved? How would you solve it?
15. How would you define “The greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration?” What can we do that contributes the most to such objectives?

It must be noted that the Coregroup concept could be abused by both organizers and participants who want to expand their social network to further a personal agenda, ideological agenda, or for material gain. And, given the broken condition of many communities, and the survival reflexes of isolated and hurting individuals, we should exercise vigilance around those concerns. Yet, even with such risks in mind, it seems imperative that we begin to proactively and urgently address the disintegration of civil society, and Coregroups may be a constructive place to begin.

An additional consideration is that, although Coregroups were originally conceived for adults, there is no reason that teen Coregroups could not follow a similar format. And what about young children? Well perhaps, when adults and older siblings are engaged in Coregroups, those younger children could play together at the same location. This entire endeavor could encourage a revitalization of community centers that offer a safe space for both meetings and activities for kids.

(Eventually I hope to provide more materials for Coregroups – as well as some facility for organizing them – via www.integrallifework.com and www.level-7.com. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it of course makes good sense to conduct Coregroups either over video conference, or in outdoor settings with masks and safe social distancing.)

However, in the same sense that structural, systemic solutions are inadequate without genuine and enduring interpersonal relationships to support and maintain them, there is actually someone else we also need to encounter more authentically in the analog realm,
and that is our own self. The S.A.P. effect also seems to disrupt connection with our own interiority, making all other prosocial interactions that much more challenging, and undermining the ability to focus our volition and agency. How can we shape, energize or direct our own will into any sort of interpersonal relationship if that agency is constantly projected into the world around us? If it is constantly replaced with digital substitutions? If it is forever degraded by our own inner turmoil, disconnection and confusion…? Without recovering that healthy, whole and healing sense of self, our participation in interpersonal relationships will be stunted, awkward and incomplete. In fact, a Coregroup will be that much more productive in concert with strengthening a connection with our own interiority.

(Note: Regarding tools to recover a healthy, whole and healing sense of self, see the “Communing with Our Analog Self” section of
The S.A.P. Hypothesis, and additional the exercises in Essential Mysticism)

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