Frustation and Subversion

By William van den Heuvel

This is a feedback to the open letter on "Facilitation and Purpose" from Donald Factor.

This letter, written on 20 Nov. 1994, responds to three topics raised in Don's letter:

Dear Don,

I have received your open letter of November 18, 1994 to the Sundance gathering and would like to return an open reply to some of what you have said.


I personally have no problem with organizers and facilitators. I think it's good to have somebody organizing a dialogue but in the sense of determining the time and the place, sending out the invitations, making the phone calls. This also includes saying "it's time to start" and "it's time to stop". I don't like to do this kind of thing myself but it has to be done, so I am glad when somebody else likes doing it. However, organizing a dialogue is not the same as facilitating. Your letter was about facilitation, not organization.

I can see that there might have been a time (in the beginning) that facilitation made sense. If I remember correctly, David Bohm had the notion of a facilitator being someone who helps the dialogue on its way but as it gets moving, the facilitator slowly dissolves into the background and re-emerges as an ordinary participant. That means the facilitator is only there to introduce the dialogue. Maybe it would have been better not to call it facilitator because this almost sounds like a job title. I have heard, we now even have certified facilitators. That this would happen, was to be expected.

If I were asked at the time, I would probably have suggested the term "introducer" (instead of facilitator). The word introducer already implies the temporary nature of the function: An introducer makes the introduction (perhaps in the form of a brief talk or seminar and facilitates the start of the dialogue) but once that is done, s/he is no longer an introducer. The "special status" evaporates automatically when the introductory stage is over. Nobody will take the term "introducer" as a job title. Can you imagine a certified Introducer? Who would want to be the great Introducer? It has no future!

I think, you're right about the disturbing effect of the presence of a facilitator. My own experience confirms what you say: I admit that I used to come to the dialogues, not for the sake of the dialogue but to see David Bohm. I was one of those "participants" who came primarily because of David Bohm. I wasn't actually interested in the dialogues; on the contrary, I was getting impatient with people speaking because I just wanted to hear David say something. That's also why I never said anything during the dialogue, if you remember. I knew that the dialogue was important for David, but to me David was more important.

In a certain sense, David's presence kept me from participating: I only started participating after David died. I clearly remember the crisis I experienced when I came to the first dialogue just after his death. David's absence was heartbreaking to me but at the same time there was also an absence of hope and expectation (for him to say something). This was a dramatic shift because all of a sudden there was no reason for keeping quiet. Somewhow, David's absence was also a kind of liberation. David was, of course, more than a facilitator but the presence of anyone else acting as a facilitor could also be disturbing (although not to the same extent).

I personally don't experience the presence of a facilitator as particularly disturbing but it would have the effect (on me) of not taking the same amount of responsibility. If something would require intervention (for whatever reason) then I would sit back and let the facilitator do it, whereas if there were no facilitator there, I might say something myself (like pointing out the common level of frustation during the last Saturday dialogue in London). I think there are good reasons for not having a facilitator in the room. It makes us (ordinary participants) more responsible for what is happening and it gives us a feeling that this is our dialogue: a (responsible) participant is not a guest! I am using the word responsibility as "the ability to respond". Of course, some participants may have a greater or lesser ability to respond than others but that doesn't change the general idea: Everybody responds according to ability. So, if this is what you mean by "non-interventionist approach" then I like it very much.


I am glad you raised the question of frustation. You are suggesting "an approach that treats the common occurrence of frustation in dialogue as an unavoidable and necessary product of the process itself". In my view, frustation is very meaningful; it carries a message, which should be read. I can only repeat what you have said already, which is that "the painful experience of frustation is something that needs to be sustained so that its meaning can be displayed and understood". I also share your suspicion that "frustation may have to be seen as the crucial motivating force that can drive the dialogue deeper into unknown territory and thus toward creative insight". In fact, I would put it a bit stronger and say that frustation is the potential that will drive us deeper into unknown territory if only we would be willing to take it not as something to get rid of but as something that is trying to tell us something.

This makes me think of a conversation I once had with David Bohm during the dialogue that took place in Danmark several years ago. Suzette and Olé from Danmark organized it and you were also there with Anna. If you remember, we first had a seminar in Copenhagen and afterwards we went to some holiday camp on the coast. The dialogue lasted several days. The inevitable frustation was steadily building up and, towards the end, reaching boiling point. The tension got so high that people started making suggestions like "let's hold hands", or "let's dance" or "let's sing" or other suggestions of that nature. Somebody even got up and wanted to play the piano. I was also getting somewhat upset because David had introduced the dialogue with his theories about proprioception and suspension but nobody seemed to be doing it. However, David himself didn't seem to mind the chaos that was developing. On the contrary, he looked very pleased and did nothing (or very little) in the sense of intervention to reduce the tension. This puzzled me, so during the coffee break I went up to him and asked him if this is the sort of dialogue he had in mind. To my surprise he said, "Yes, it's going very well". He explained to me that this place (the remote holiday camp) was ideal because nobody could walk out or stay away. Also the total number of people who were present was ideal; not too few for people to start adapting to each other and not too many to break up in sub-groups. The presence of so many different people guarantees that nobody can get his way. Whatever "solution" is being suggested by anybody (to reduce the tension and frustation) is immediately rejected by the others. That means, all exits are closed. David's theory was that people will first try everything else and only when there is absolutely no other possibility, they may remember what he said about proprioception and suspension. In situations of this kind, the probability is at its highest that somebody may discover it (being the only emergency exit available). From that time onwards, I realized the significance and potential of frustation. It would be a mistake to try to reduce the frustation that builds up.

This theory was confirmed by my friend Susanne. We (susanne and I) had, of course discussed proprioception and suspension before but it didn't seem to mean much to her (altough she understood everything intellectually). One day, she found herself in a situation where she was trapped. She had what is called a "Fango" treatment, where the therapeutist wraps you up in a special kind of warm substance, like mud. She was completed wrapped up and couldn't move. She knew this would happen, but when the therapeutist left the room, she was by herself and a feeling of panic started creeping up. She called the therapeutist but he couldn't hear her. She knew she was getting in a state of panic and that she was going to scream and loose control and there was nothing she could do. She told me afterwards that suddenly she remembered the conversation about proprioception and suspension and instead of desperately trying to find an escape she turned her attention on the feeling of panic itself. That dissolved the panic! It is only after this event that Susanne realized what proprioception is about. The suspension occurs as a side effect.


There are a number of other points in your letter but I agree with everything you say and there is very little I could add. This also applies to the topic of subversion. You said that no organization wants to be subverted and would therefore resist the kind of dialogue we have in mind. This implies that our kind of dialogue can not be carried into organizations. People who want to carry dialogue into organizations will have to remove the subversive element. Our subversive kind of dialogue is incompatible with supporting vested interests.

As I already said, I can only confirm what you have said. I would like to add, though, that we as a person are also organizations and that these considerations apply to ourselves (as individuals) too. If we are honest we have to admit that the subversive character of the dialogue is also a threat to us personally. What are we to do with this? To what extend, are we willing to apply our own insights? I think, this is leading to the question of identity or the self. Or rather to the ending of the self, which I believe requires passion.

This web page was created by William van den Heuvel