Q9- An Exercise in Team Learning: Some/the(?) Root Causes of September 11

Last October 15, 2001 I wrote in my weekly KM column for BusinessWorld, the leading business newspaper in the Philippines, the following piece. I reproduce it verbatim below:

Japanese folklore says there are three kinds of power, symbolized by the sword, the diamond and the mirror. The sword symbolizes force: physical, military or political force. The diamond symbolizes wealth or resources. The mirror symbolizes the most powerful of the three.

I demonstrated the process of team learning before high school teachers of La Salle Greenhills. As part of their Social Science Week, they invited a speaker each day to talk about various aspects of the September 11 Event.

I talked about implications for education. No, I did not really give a talk or lecture. More accurately, we – teachers and I – explored the issue: what can we learn from the event? More precisely, what are the root-causes of the event?

I first explained the two basic phases: inquiry followed by decision. I stressed the importance of not mixing up the two modes, which means every participant must watch his or her thoughts and statements and constantly check what mode they are in. Mixing the two is unproductive. We cannot jump into judgments too soon or before we have collected and examined as much facts, possibilities and options as the group can collectively muster.

Said Fr. Anthony de Mello, in his book “Awareness: the Perils and Opportunities of Reality” : “…what you judge you cannot understand…if you desire to change what is into what you think should be, you no longer understand.”

Suspending judgment is essential in the inquiry phase, but in the decision phase consensual judgment – if it can be reached – is the essential prelude to team action.

I performed two roles: as resource person (offering content) and as facilitator (guiding group process). It provided a good opportunity for me to demonstrate conscious role-changing as I go through the physical motion of “switching hats” before I say something in another role.

The inquiry phase proceeded very smoothly from individual to group focus. This is the result of choosing an issue that involves actors external to the group. In team learning, the issue often involves the group members themselves as actors, and thus personal issues and defenses can and often block collaborative inquiry. The most common problem in this group was the unconscious shift to personal judgments during the inquiry phase – something I point out immediately to illustrate the point.

The other problems I saw were: making careless generalizations, cross checking facts, using labels that beg the issue or borders into judgment, and distinguishing symptoms from root cause.

As facilitator, I had to clarify what a speaker means in using a word or phrase, ask what is the premise behind a statement, or summarize the essential points of a speaker who tends to ramble. Most of the time after I made a facilitator intervention, I follow it up by briefly describing or naming my intervention – a heuristic tool to illustrate how a facilitator guides a group process.

The results of the group inquiry were as follows.

  • The US government’s actions, so far, seem to indicate that it is addressing only the symptoms;
  • US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has not been even-handed since the state of Israel was created by the United Nations half a century ago;
  • The US government does not seem to indicate that it can see, or fully see, the pain felt for decades by Muslims and Arabs who empathize with the predicament of the Palestinians and that this pain contributed to the behavior of the terrorists (a teacher preferred to use the term “so-called terrorists”);
  • The possibility that the US government will address the root causes at some later stage remains, or Americans will ask “What acts did we do in the last decades that contributed to the problem?”
  • The US government’s actions (“bully” was the label used by a teacher) belong to the same violence mindset as the terrorists’;
  • The bombing of Afghanistan increases the pain of the Muslim world, and may be exacerbating the problem;
  • Belief in violence sanctioned or justified by religion (or God) is dangerous for the overall security of the planet; and
  • It is likely that the terrorists’ choice of targets reflect their judgment of the two evils of America: military power and financial power.

On the last point, I briefly put on my “resource person hat” to say – heuristically again – that ascribing a judgment to an external actor is classified as an act of describing or estimating facts and, therefore, proper during the inquiry phase.

Finally, in the decision phase, we concluded that:

  • All parties should learn how to respect each other, no matter how different are their beliefs;
  • Reflecting on your own beliefs and mindsets is an important skill for teachers and for education; and
  • Reflective individuals are essential in learning organizations.

That brings us back to the third symbol, the mirror. According to the Japanese folk wisdom, the most powerful of the three is the power of self reflection and self knowledge. A man with the powers of the sword and diamond can be dangerous to others if he does not have the power of the third kind, the power of the mirror. The third power is not about winning. It is not about conquering someone else but yourself.

America is already the world superpower and a great financial power. We hope America will acquire more of the power of the third kind. On this may depend America’s moral leadership and our collective planetary fate as a secure and stable mosaic of civilizations.

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2 Responses to “Q9- An Exercise in Team Learning: Some/the(?) Root Causes of September 11”

  1. best exercise dvds Says:

    Nice way of putting it.I came across your article from Bing and enjoyed reading it. Have you been writing this blog for a while?Not long ago I recently started a blog myself and its been a really fun process. I’ve met some interesting friends since then but it is hard work sometimes! Anyway, thanks a million for your post!

  2. Jerrold Ringley Says:

    You know that was a fantastic article. I think I’ll create a blog post and link to it.

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