Language is the house of being. This phrase by philosopher Martin Heidegger reveals a dimension of being human that connects, coordinates, and creates.
Mastering language involves more than words and terms. Language is our primary system.
- With awareness, we weave thought and meaning to bridge the mind and existence.
- With practice, we discern our reactivity and develop the capacity for reflectivity.
- With language, we wield the power of interpretation to generate meaning-making.
This manifests the possibility of generative communication.
This blog post examines layers of generative communication: the paradigm or mindset, the source of generativity, a set of principles, and the language of action. In the next post, I’ll examine language – specifically, a model of generative conversations.
The Mindset: Attitude for Action
Generative communication unlocks the context of being human in language. This intentional and interactive process generates a mutual commitment and shared meaning to co-create. We become more, as detailed here by Theory U scholars at the Presencing Institute:
Generative conversations … generate shared meaning and lead to action. They involve an authentic exchange of sharing and inquiry, leading to the emergence of new knowledge or understanding that could not have been created individually.
This shift in mindset – our awareness and attitude – is not of style; rather, it alters context. We transform our relationship to language from being describers of some objective-knowable world to being designers and authors of reality.
Language becomes generative when:
- Communication opens minds to bring something new into existence or prompts action that changes a situation.
- We accept responsibility for our intentions, speaking and listening, and claim our past, present, and possibility to shape our thoughts, feelings, responses, and results.
Emerging from fields of study such as cognitive studies, linguistics, the philosophy of language, and neural linguistic programming, generative communications reveal properties in language that access human faculties to unlock creation (being) and action (being-doing).
The Source: Spaciousness of Creativity
Generativity unlocks a paradigm to access the “‘poetic power of language’ to bring forth distinctions from the undivided flow of life,” as stated by scholar Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline.
Consider the word “generativity.” Notice its similarities to genesis, gene, genome, genetic, generation, and generous. All these words come from the root gen (“to beget, birth, produce”), the source of things, a context of origination from spaciousness without any frame of reference.
Generativity taps into our boundless humanity – an unlimited supply of truth (wholeness) and freedom (spaciousness) that shapes our authentic being (possibility) for consensual coordination (intention-action).
In his paper Biology of Love, systems theorist and biologist Humberto Maturana credits linguistic coordination as essential to our self-generating and self-maintaining structures:
Language is a manner of living together in recursive consensual coordinations of … behaviors and must have arisen in the spontaneous coordinations of behavior that takes place when living together; sharing space and food in intimacy occurs.
We humans are not only languaging animals, but we exist in languaging, and we disappear as humans if language disappears. … our psychic existence includes the relational dimensions of our languaging being.
I am still moved by a note sent to me by my mentor more than 20 years ago, as I struggled to discover my grounding with this generative view of language. The note said:
“Technically, ‘context’ is the generative mindset. Here generate includes but means more than ‘create.’ It is mistakenly referenced as creative, like the ‘to do’ part of create. But it is the ‘to be’ aspect of creation, as in ‘to be’ the source of that which is created. You could say that it is the source of the meaning of what is created, but that, too, is limiting. It is more like the source of the DNA or the source of the space for creation, or the ‘to be’ of the creation. It is where the Bodhi’s power dwells.”
Each of us finds our own way to truth and freedom to access “to be” as the source of that which is created. This is possible by unlocking the generative power of language.
The Power: Seeing and Being
When distinguished and spoken intentionally, generativity offers clarity, captures attention, and opens up possibilities that generate meaningful conversations.
Through distinctions in language, we discover a radically different way of seeing and being.
The ingenious map below (and here) developed by Nathan Shedroff reveals how distinctions in language generate a network of agreements and commitments.
For instance, what if we viewed organizations as networks of agreements? The power of our agreements determines our capacity to coordinate action, which is required to successfully serve clients, create new products, and initiate change.
With awareness and practice, we discover creative human faculties that transform our perceptions and understanding. We shift from using language as a tool used to mechanically transfer knowledge and information that describes a world that already exists (a representative view), to a way of being that generates meaning-making as action that creates a world that would not otherwise exist (a generative view).
Beyond performative branding or motto-making, the power of generativity involves the authentic source of our being. From that space, we architect reality, design worlds, and author existence – not as forced objects or a contrived will, but as flowing from being a deep commitment.
Generativity means giving birth to something, and that something emerges from this conversation. You feel connected, more understood, seen, heard, and experienced. You’ve been recreated beyond any label or concept – acknowledged as a legitimate being. That is generative communication.
If, after a conversation, you feel disconnected, isolated, or stuck, then you’re not in the realm of generativity.
The Principles: Foundation for Practice
Researchers at Theory U revealed, “we’ve only scratched the surface of this area. Supporting the development of honest emotional expression, trust, empathy, and collective commitment is a complex practice that requires time.”
The following principles support expanding the quality of our connection with others via communication and coordination:
1. Reality exists in a conversational domain.
This paradigm views experiences as constructed in language. We observe processes, structures, content, culture, and interactions as part of an interwoven web of conversations that constitute reality (see the MAP above). In conversations, we open minds, increase awareness, connect with emotions and ideas, and coordinate action. Human connection occurs in dialogue, not in monologue.
2. Conversations are interdependent and interactive.
Generative conversations necessitate intentional speaking and listening. Our listening – our openness and receptivity to acknowledging situations – conditions our speaking.
We come to appreciate the independence of authentic exchanges that lead to the emergence of new knowledge or understanding over time. A conversation with a mentor in early adulthood might stir questions that open up your future as a teacher. As a deeply committed teacher, you alter the trajectory of students who, generations from now, might inspire discoveries for humanity.
3. Generative communication is itself an “experience of action.”
When intentional, conversations can evoke emotion, inspire coordinating action, or open up new possibilities.
Scholar Fernando Flores distinguished language as “not simply a tool we use to describe a world that already exists, but rather an action that produces a world … that would otherwise not have existed.”
4. Communication includes implicit and explicit conversations.
We navigate concealed backgrounds, historical narratives, concrete agreements, or other discourses that shape our shared context. We are socialized inside implicit stories, assumptions, and beliefs that shape present-day listening and speaking.
Appreciating the nature of invisible and pervasive conversational backdrops gives us pause. We are continuously speaking into some background. Instead of diagnosing and reacting, with humility, we inquire and reflect to surface or discern backgrounds (stories and histories), create backgrounds (understanding, relatedness, and trust), and create agreements (possibilities).
5. Communication becomes reflective rather than reactive.
We become aware of the ways in which our thinking, thoughts, and motivations shape our interactions and world.
Observation is key: Buddhists have long observed that we don’t see things the way they are; we see things the way we are. Eighth-century tantric master Padmasambhava said, “Changes in one’s train of thoughts produce corresponding changes in one’s conception of the external world. As a thing is viewed, so it appears.”
6. Reflective conversations open us up to the being of human being.
With humility and inquiry, we suspend our assumptions, open our minds, and intentionally co-create experiences from our commitment to the situation. Instead of forced goals or direction, conversations flow, emerge, and unfold.
7. We become co-creators.
When we take personal responsibility for contributing to any phenomenon, we can discern how communication increases confusion, clarity, and/or quality. We seek to discover insights and workability.
The Language: The Challenge of “Coordination”
Generativity is often experienced only in the presence of some connection, possibility, or unpredictable result. But observe closely, and the source of that result will involve coordination from generative speaking.
“Coordination” is an overlooked challenge of human history, a critical aspect of life that allows for functioning (purpose) and action. Per Maturana, coordination enables the human capacity for self-generating and self-maintaining.
Acceptance, openness, and receptivity enable the coordination of everything from love (procreation) and discovery (art and science) to society (civilizations) and adventure (space travel).
More importantly, overcoming the challenges of coordination has evolved the human mind, as detailed in this thought piece, How thinking emerged on Earth, from bacteria to the human mind:
Language is a form of shared attention that enables human minds to share highly complex experiences with one another, including stories, instructions, and directions. With the emergence of language, thinking finally left behind its fragile penitentiary of living cells and moved into the air, the rocks, the pages of books, and the circuits of silicon.
Language is key to coordination, as detailed by scholar Fernando Flores, whose work on philosophy, coaching, and workflow technology was influenced by Heidegger, Maturana, and John Austin. In his 1987 book Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design (with leading AI figure Terry Winograd), he examined our flawed assumptions regarding intelligence, knowledge, and competence.
The resulting language-action paradigm revealed practical ways to improve coordination and effective action via tools such as speech-acts (see the GRID above).
Flores’ work details “conversations for action,” a way of co-creating that increases performance, enhances trust, and deepens relatedness.
Much of this paradigm shift involves relating to our word as our world. The power of our word creates a world that doesn’t yet exist. And this involves a level of responsibility for our humanity:
- With the quality of our intention (grounded commitment) and attention (clear/spacious listening) from a depth of responsibility (authentic disclosure),
- We relate to our word (speaking) with integrity (whole) to create future action (coordination), with the willingness to be accountable (complete) for conditions of satisfaction (possibility).
Part Two of this blog will examine the nature of generative conversations and language – specifically, speech-acts — in co-creating our commitments.
Reading Time: 8 min. Digest Time: 10.5 min.
View our related blogs:
- Generative Communication: A Model for Generating Commitment, part 2
- Upgrading Conversations Beyond Idle Talk
- What’s Growing in Your Conversational Garden?
RESOURCES AND RESEARCH:
- Flores, Fernando on philosophy, coaching, and workflow technology was influenced by Heidegger, Maturana, and John Austin presented in his 2013 book Conversations For Action and Collected Essays: Instilling a Culture of Commitment in Working Relationships,
- Scharmer, Otto C. Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges (2007)
- Senge, Peter, and Fred Kofman 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of a Learning Organization.
- Solomon, Robert and Fernando Flores. Building Trust: In Business, Relationship and Life. (2001).
- Winograd, Terry and Fernando Flores. Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design (1987).
- Special thanks to Nathan Shedroff for creating the Generative Map presented in this blog. It is rare for thinkers to share such complex and accessible work freely for the benefit of others.
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Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.
As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.
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