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In Quest of Uncommon Ground

Beyond impoverished metaphor and the impotence of words of power (Part #1)

Common ground
Peace and non-violence
Consensus and agreement
Leading edge
Universal values
Manifestos, declarations and charters

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Many good people and groups have sacrificed much over the past centuries to gain recognition for certain fundamental values, principles and approaches to collective initiative. These are now basic to the ways in which society is organized and governed. All new initiatives are presented and debated in terms of this language.

But the unquestioning manner in which these terms are treated has made of them an ideal pattern of camouflage to disguise initiatives which, deliberately or inadvertently, serve only to reinforce the individual and collective paralysis by which society is presently bedeviled. Many who sincerely believe in the profound significance of this new mode of organization tend to be unskilled in their ability to see how they are duped by those who only pay lip service to them.

Key values are systematically perverted in practice. They are widely and skilfully used to promote initiatives that are totally incompatible with their purported significance. Advocating such new modes of organization is now in the interest of those who can most effectively disguise their real concerns through using them. In the desperate search for evidence of support for particular values, much is permitted in their name by those who support them unthinkingly, believing that they should be supported at any cost. Any effort to question such initiatives is stereotyped as typical of the problems they purport to alleviate.

As noted by Edward de Bono in a book entitled Words of Power, certain words are selected by society for purposes which verge on the magical. The international community, and those concerned with social issues and transformation, also tend to attach particular importance to certain words. They are now part of the language of social change through which all initiatives are discussed. As a consequence their significance and relevance as transformative agents goes unchallenged. Many of these words have a metaphorical dimension. As metaphors they often demonstrate the challenge of metaphorical impoverishment and the impotence of approaches to change that derive from such conceptual dependency.

There is therefore a case for re-examining these core approaches to discover what they conveniently conceal if approached simplistically, as it is usually necessary to do if they are to be effectively presented through the media. The limitations of their value base, as absolute criteria, need to be openly recognized. Many acknowledge the cynicism with which they are used, especially by the self-serving, and the realities to which they are completely insensitive.

The purpose here is to challenge existing thinking on the basis that maybe the way forward lies, paradoxically, throughrecognition of the shadow cast by such modern icons. That shadow may well be associated with a fundamentally unhealthy repression of valuable features of the polar opposite of the favoured value. As it is said in fundamental physics, it is not a question of whether radical new thinking is required, it is a question of whether it is radical enough.

In what follows, a number of words are explored to attempt to identify the metaphorical traps and the opportunities which may lie behind them, or be obscured by them in some way. The statements below are not a denial of these values but a recognition of the constraints through which their deeper significance needs to be understood but a recognition of the constraints through which their deeper significance needs to be understood

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