Team Syntegrity participants in Barcelona in June, 2017.The Team Syntegrity (TS) sessions held in Barcelona on 19-22 June provided a space and a method of hope in which a variety of social powers unfolded through association and combination.
The objective was to think collectively about how civil society may be able to confront the main global crises and democratise our societies. Since the results will be made public shortly, I will focus in this piece on the method that allowed us to come up with concrete proposals and the processes that helped us to advance and build a sense of belonging.
One of the key strengths of the sessions was the cybernetic method of non-hierarchical participation that set the rules for constructive and efficient dialogue and decision-making. This approach was based on 12 teams comprised of five members from a variety of backgrounds. Each team was in charge of discussing one specific topic and developing concrete statements, proposals or recommendations that set the path for strategic action.
Topic discussants (at the table) and a row of "critics". Behind them, some"observers".They received feedback from the "critics", who contributed to improving the discussions and the proposals. In addition, the "observers" moved information from one team to another in informal conversations, helping to develop further synergies. All participants were involved in each of the three roles, thus providing different inputs.
Fundamental to the method was relating the different topics in order to address the interconnected crises that are generating so much suffering at a global level, such as the economic, environmental, educational, media and ethical crises. Since everybody participated as a member in two teams, we were able to integrate bilateral learnings. For example, participating in the Internet and the Biosphere teams helped me reflect on the environmental consequences of the current models of production, distribution, consumption and disposal of communication technologies and contents.
The TS method therefore helped us analytically to connect multiple levels of reality. It provided the perfect organisation for efficient, individual and collective self-management. Although the method included several more aspects that I haven't mentioned, the following icosahedron is really helpful as it shows the different connections between topics and participants.
The icosahedron for Team Syntegrity 2017 in Barcelona.
The methods of collective participation, although extremely rich opportunities for the exchange of ideas, are never easy to complete successfully in practice – challenges and difficulties always arise. This is why the frameworks for discussion and decision-making that we established spontaneously were so fundamental. We had to decide on the fly the processes we wanted to promote and those we wanted to discourage.
For example, it was important to manage time wisely so that each team member would have the same opportunities to express ideas. Equally important were the processes of individual self-management, which worked great, as demonstrated not only by the high-quality contributions of participants, but also by the ways of contributing: the respect for others, the language, the tone, the demonstrations of support, the reorientation of discussions that went off-track...
The author and fellow participants.We managed to deal individually, severally and collectively with misunderstandings, dissatisfaction, irrelevant conflicts that distract us from the main effort, and even with the all too common problem of swollen egos, which had very little presence in these days.
In the face of dominant values of rugged competition, selfishness and the sick obsession with capital accumulation, we foregrounded the principles of cooperation, mutual trust and support, free sharing and empathy. However, we did not do so through simplistic binaries, but rather through an empirical, imaginative and creative orientation of these natural human traits. This way, competition ceased to be understood in the negative way that capitalism promotes, i.e., as a zero-sum game in which one side wins to the detriment of the other side. Instead, we practiced a healthy approach that allowed us to question, criticise and contrast ideas, discard, refine, piggyback or develop them as a team to reach the optimal level in what we may call a process of competitive collaboration. This is the kind of highly effective process of individual and collective improvement also to be found in team sports.
All of this was accomplished by treating others as human beings with intrinsic dignity. Acknowledging the value of each of us was fundamental in opening our minds to listening, learning and cooperating with others while still defending our own point of view. Collaborating, competing, contradicting, negotiating, accommodating and compromising, all took place to different degrees in one symbiotic process. Consensus was often reached, but it was not a necessary outcome since the statements and the proposals could also include differing views.
In contrast to the perverse logic of labour exploitation and consumerism that affirms the principle of "tomorrow, corpses, you will enjoy life", we experienced the joys and pleasures of engaging in practices of and for social justice. Against the loneliness that the system creates, we continued to build networks grounded on friendship, affinity, community and trust that can grow with time.
This is the logic of taking care of ourselves and of others, since we acknowledged that individuals fulfil themselves collectively and that the community requires individual freedom and creativity. This approach allowed for the crystallisation of a philosophy of practical love to different kinds of people; a potential that we all have inside us. This is love as the practice of freedom because liberty can only be expanded through genuine solidarity.
If the Enlightenment showed the power of rationality while excluding the power of emotion, Romanticism showed the power of passion while excluding reason. The exclusionist pattern has continued until today, when perspectives on the power of affects preclude the power of reason. However, social change requires a combination of affects and rationality. There is nothing more rational than the emotions that push us towards justice, freedom, fraternity and equality. In this vein, we engaged with the politics of feelings through a systematic TS method that helped us develop the concrete proposals and plans that we will shortly deliver.
The opening question.This approach of rational passion involved the diagnosis of classism, racism, sexism, LGBTI-phobia and other types of oppressions, as well as the therapy. First, understanding reality, to then develop the tactic of being change at an individual and community level, within a strategy to change concrete social realities and, eventually, achieve the objective of macro-social transformation.
The TS is one of the many practical examples developing around the world that provide a real demonstration that other forms of life and sociability are not only desirable, but also possible. In other words, massive oppression is not unavoidable, there are many alternatives taking place and we can learn from all of them.
The event showed that of course we can, when many people are dedicated to social justice and that, as Antonio Machado wrote, "the path is made by walking". The TS experience was one more step in building the "We" — based on informed hope, collective struggle and mutual trust and support — that is needed to face the multiple crises looming over humanity and the environment. And to create a more liveable world by and for the majority of the population.