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Sunday, 05 May 2013 19:17

Rituals of Encounter

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Building the basis for consensus and friendly relations between strangers is not an easy task. In another context  I have described a series of criteria that are the essential building materials for constructing consensus on co-creative projects involving strangers. What I did not include in that list of methodological criteria was a description of the necessary foundations for the construction – the characteristics necessary for a successful first encounter between strangers. Here I hope to correct that omission.

We in the modern, fast, technologically “advanced” western world have all but lost touch with the processes and rituals of encounter that were such an important part of pre-industrial society – before production and consumption ethics consumed our lives, and reduced our social relations to superficiality and alienating values of competition, hierarchy and mutual (ab)use. We no longer have the time to engage with each other as feeling, sentient beings with whom we might share common goals, hopes and dreams. Instead we pay perfunctory attention to the details of initial engagement as though they were an almost unnecessary prelude to the essential stuff of closing a deal or gaining agreement to action. In this, we could not be further from the truth. The ways in which we initially encounter each other establish the ground upon which all subsequent dialogue will be built, influencing its shape and direction and, ultimately, its outcome. Without the proper foundation, the construction of consenus will eventually collapse. It may stand for a time, but inevitably, it will eventually fall. First impressions do count, but in much more than the superficial ways we have come to believe.

The ritualised processes of encounter used by our ancestors and developed over millennia of trial and error have much to teach us about establishing good, solid foundations for dialogue and mutual creation. In this essay I want to describe one such traditional structure of ritualised encounter – that of the Mãori – which still operates today, which still contains many of the characteristics of pre-colonial life, and from which I believe we can learn and eventually build a process that is amenable to modern life. The wisdom of these ancient social processes, although conceived in a very different context, still has the power to transform our world if we but use it with love and care.

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