Beginning of a permacultural analysis of the mark group format
Social interactions that can build more fun, robust, energizing community/connectedess have been structured in many ways by different thinkers. I believe the Mark group is the best form, and has much in common with permacultural thinking, especially about working with flows.
This posting is rudimentary but I find it so fascinating to think of a mark group in terms of flows of energy, of unblocking of flows, and of deliberate blockages of other flows. It seems to me similar to Sepp Holzer's idea (or maybe it was Paul's words) that you mostly just observe but once in a while intervene.
The Mark Group is the best structure for human interaction I have ever seen. It is based on the premise that everyone is perfect and everything is perfect, and the threes structure communication games are designed to be played from that viewpoint. It was created by Dr. Victor Baranco in the 60's, when he had a flash of his own perfection and that of everything. From what I have heard in a training, he taught people their perfection, and they repeatedly asked him to remind them, so eventually he designed the games so people could remind one another of their perfection and he wouldn't have to go to the mark group. He also led mark groups himself.
The mark group is hosted at someone's house, generally, and people generally sit in a circle, more or less. There are two or more leaders, a secretary, and a "heavy." People coming to the mark group must arrive on time, and must register. The price of the group is "$10 or whatever." If someone really can't come up with any material commitment to contribute to the group, then the secretary gives the flower off the desk to the person and says, "here, give this as your commitment." This means that the principle of all-inclusiveness is in play. People-care, viewing all people as valid. There is also an acknowledgement of the emotions around, and the constructed nature of, money as a human invention without inherent value. Implied in this is, I would argue, the idea that value is self-created rather than being created by the money itself, by mass agreement.
The Mark Group is introdcued, and the viewpoint of perfection and the fact that Vic invented it must be included in an introduction. Vic said anyone could use his work in any way, as long as they mentioned his authorship. This is the principle of reinvestment of the surplus, or "freeware," in action. The viewpoint of perfection is the same as is implied in "the problem is the solution," in other words there are no problems in nature, only our perspective on those things we label as problems lead to a behavior as if they were needing to be combatted and viewed with suffering. No person is the problem, but rather there is a way of "winning"with or having fun with any person.
The first game is a warmup, and I personally believe it is intended as a mild irritation so people have something to complain about and then the rest goes up from there. I don't have a lot to say about it at this point, so I'm going to skip it. It's called mimicry, and the people who've come to the mark group (who may or may not already know one another) are asked to pick a partner they don't know or didn't come with and stand facing the partner, then one speaks on a topic given by the leader while the other imitates them in every way.
The second game is the one played for the longest duration. It is called Mockery. One person at a time agrees to go on the hot seat, which is wherever they are sitting. If you want to ask a question of the person on the hot seat, you raise your hand and if the leader calls on you then you can ask it. No subject is off limits. Questions must be interested questions, not interesting questions—that is, the question must have interest in the person on the hot seat, rather than drawing attention to or having interest in the person asking it. If it is an interesting question, the leaders will stop the game and the asker must say "thank you" and raise their hand again if they want to re-ask.
The person on the hot seat must lie, tell the truth, or refuse to answer the question. This is identical to the full range of options a person has anyway. The rule is designed to be unbreakable. But it also describes explicitly what has normally happened without being acknowledged consciously. If you design rules for a landscape or an invisible structure such that any behavior of the system is allowed, then you have a fool-proof system. The explicit acknowledgement that people lie some percentage of the time, and the permission by the rules of the game for them to do so, allows for a broader form of communication to emerge. If lies are like weeds, and if weeds are symptoms of disturbed soil attempting to heal it, then lies are a welcome part of improvement; herbicide in that case is harmful to the real healing process. Apart from healing, if the goal is fun (as the goal of games is) then the game is more fun if the rules allow for more possibilities—or, better put, if the rules do not require as much attention on enforcement (which would be impossible in the case of policing and scorekeeping of lies) vs. giving airtime for gameplay.
When the person asking the question has heard all they want to, they stop the cycle by saying "Thank you." The person on the hot seat must stop speaking when the cycle has been stopped with a "Thank you." In this there is a balance of forces at play—the structure is not as "free" as a freeform conversation, but it is more free in the sense of boosting the energy and the fun of the interaction, and in being free from the usual rules of :"politeness". The intervention of the strucutre--putting the questioner in a position of freedom to stop the speaking when it is no longer fun--differs from normal rules of politeness wherein one is expected to wait until the person answering a question has finished answering. The power is thus put in the hands of the asker, of their interest in the answerer. This is a bit of a "check dam" on the flow of false attention energy, I would say, allowing actual attention to accumulate. The positive emotion of putting attention on another person thus builds, and I would argue the feeling of intimacy builds as a direct result of this. Vic said you can like someone better by treating them better, and giving attention is the most generous gift.
The other principle at play here, obviously, is observation. Observe, observe, observe.
Mollison said something like "observe what people do, not what they say but how they actually behave," as he'd done in his anthropological study of human behavior. It revealed a different world to him from the one people spoke about. In the acknowledgment that people may be lying or telling the truth or avoiding the question, there is an open space for observation of the full range of human behavior, not merely a hearing of words. Speech acts, not merely speech.
The games traditionally have a break in the middle, and I'm going to skip this part because I"m running out of time. I'll come back to that later. But taking breaks is in my mind a part of permaculture.
The final game after the rest of Mockery is Withholds. A withhold is any thought or value judgment you have thought but not adequately communicated. (It may be positive or negative.) This game is held in strict confidentiality, and no one may bring up any individual's delivered "withhold" or even ask for their permission to bring it up outside the game. (Within the game you can bring it up, in your _own_ withhold.) Everyone must agree to confidentiality and not repeating a withhold outside the game—if they don't agree, they must leave the mark group before Withholds begins.
You deliver a withhold by saying, "So-and-so, there's something I've withheld from you." To which the person receiving it says, "Ok, would you like to tell me?" Then the person delivering the withhold says whatever it is they've withheld—for example, "I like your tie," or "when you were on the hot seat and you said you eat meat I wanted to punch you" or whatever the withheld communication was. The person receiving the withhold then says, "Thank you," and if the deliverer has more to say they can finish saying it—and a final "thank you" ends the cycle. This "thank you" must be flat in tone—neither positive nor negative—and the leaders are to be sticklers about enforcing the rules in this game.
The flows supported here are the communication of what's been suppressed, and what is suppressed is any response that would intimidate the person sharing their suppressed communication. You know you won't get any response but a flat thank you, so you're more emboldened. (The intervention here is to suppress the response.) The other factor at play here is the herd mentality—people find safety in numbers, as we are "herd animals," in Vic's description and in much psychological literature. If everyone else is delivering withheld communications, it is socially acceptable and supported to do so oneself.
Connected or reconnected. Fit with the right cycles and in the right season. Nourished and nurtured with natural energy. Aware of place and part.