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An Appreciative Adventure
by David Nelson

to the Many Paths essay,
"The World's Religions: Pieces or Patterns"
 Clarion Call, by Gene Flanery
Media Ascertainments, by Patrick Neas

copyright 2000 by Vern Barnet or the author, Overland Park, KS

From David E Nelson, The Human Agenda

Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry

1.  In every human being and every organization something works.

2.  What we focus on becomes our reality.

3.  Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.

4.  Being present to another person influences the person in some way.

5.  People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward part of the past (the known.)

6.  If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what are best about the past.

7.  It is important to value and celebrate differences.

8.  The language we use creates our reality. 

The Five Principles of Appreciative Inquiry

1.  The constructionist principle. We create the future through our ideas and imagination.  Language is the tool with which we create and make things meaningful, and reveal possibilities.  To increase our use and understanding of words will add value to our organizations.

2.  The principle of simultaneity.  In asking a question, we are at the same time creating change.  By our inquiry, we plant the seeds for co-creation, collaboration.  The mere act of asking questions will have an impact on the organization

3.  The poetic principle.  Organizations are a lot less like machines and a lot more like a work of art, open to multiple interpretations.  They can be a source of inspiration.    Reality is what we pay attention to.

4.  The anticipatory principle.  Human beings move in the direction of inquiry, as plants move toward the light.  To intervene at the level of the imagination is key.  We can dream and create stronger and more creative and humane organizations. 

5.  The positive principle.  The more positive the question asked, the more positive the storytelling and data.  When more people are telling positive stories there is greater chance for finding common ground and creating a positive future. 

This article was originally drafted for a business environment, but the principles apply everywhere and are planned as a dimension of the 2001 fall Interfaith Council Conference.
     The Reverend David Nelson, DMin, is the CRES associate minister and leader of The Human Agenda, which provides coaching, consultation, training, and resources throughout the United States. You can subscribe to his free e-mail newsletter, “Human Sightings,” by visiting his organizations website at

An Appreciative Adventure

Have you ever noticed while driving past a field of sunflowers that all the large blooms were facing the same direction? I am told that if you would take a day to watch, the field of yellow and black blooms would follow the Sun as it meanders its slow path across the summer sky. This interesting reality is known in science as the heliotropic principle. Plants turn to face their source of light and energy. Human organizations and groups operate in a similar fashion. Unlike machines that can be programmed to ignore the environment, people and organizations are influenced by what they pay attention to.

“APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY” is a completely affirmative approach to doing business. Some have called it the most important advance in action research in the past decade. Traditional organizational development has focused on finding what is not working and preparing strategies for correcting it. In recent years we have discovered, however, that looking for problems and concentrating on fixing what is broken can consume energy with little result. My experience as a personal and professional coach has shown that the five principles outlined below have improved service to customers, increased staff satisfaction, enhanced service, and nurtured the growth of individuals and teams.

Problem-solving identifies the “felt need.” Appreciative inquiry values the best of what is. Instead of spending time and energy on analyzing causes, it envisions what might be. Instead of looking at an organization as a problem to be solved, appreciative inquiry sees an organization as a mystery to be embraced.

The Constructionist Principle: Human knowledge and organizational destiny are interwoven. The staff and customers in an office create the office environment, not some predetermined outside force. Together we create the quality space and atmosphere. Each person’s unique perspective, woven together with others’, creates a beautiful tapestry of excellence. Appreciative inquiry begins with interviews that help the leadership team identify the positive core from which to build.

The Principle of Simultaneity: Inquiry and change are not separate moments but happen together. Inquiry is intervention. Excellent services begin when a potential client phones or walks into the office. The first questions we ask are often the most important in shaping the office experience. Even the most innocent question evokes change. The question is not, “Will we have an impact on another person?” We certainly will. Our choice is what will be the impact we will have.

 The Poetic Principle: Human organizations are more like books than machines. Pasts, presents, and futures are endless sources of learning and inspiration – like the endless interpretive possibilities in a good poem. As we share stories that give life and hope, we not only recall the past but also shape the future. There are never too many joy stories.

The Anticipatory Principle: Our positive images of the future lead our positive actions. The studies of rehearsing success in athletics, research into relationships between optimism and health, experiments with placeboes in medicine, and the work with the Pygmalion* dynamic in the classroom all validate the insight that what we pay attention to becomes our reality. To increase satisfaction, it makes more sense to interview satisfied customers than dissatisfied ones. We are more likely to move in the direction we study.

The Positive Principle: An affirming outlook and social bonding building and sustaining momentum for growth. The more positive the question we ask, the more long-lasting and successful the result. Hope, excitement, inspiration, caring, camaraderie, sense of urgent purpose and joy in creating something meaningful together are all central in evolving to the next level.

APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY has become the guiding theory in my consulting and coaching work. This method has made it possible for supervisors who once dreaded leading others now to enjoy being part of a life-giving force. Everyone deserves to reflect with appreciation about one’s work – and life. Remember the lesson of the sunflower. We grow in the direction we pay attention to.

* According to Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who lived on the island of Cyprus. He once sculpted an ivory statue of a woman whose beauty garnered a newfound, and nonetheless unrequited, love from Pygmalion. Aphrodite’s pity for the sculptor led her to awaken the statue to life.

This myth was the basis for George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, which in turn was transformed into the much beloved musical comedy My Fair Lady.

Responses to the Many Paths essay "The World's Religions: Pieces or Patterns"

For a free copy of the eight-page essay which provoked these two responses, send a self-addressed envelope with a 33¢ stamp affixed to CRES, Box 45414, KCMO 64171. The essay considers a way of looking at “three families of faith” in the context of an increasingly secularistic society, how the faiths can be purified by mutual encounter, and  how the wisdom of the world’s religions can bring about healing of the environmental, personal, and social distress of our age.

Clarion Call

Vern, I have been personally involved in interfaith dialogue for about a year and a half here in Kansas City. Our church is in physical proximity to both the Hindu and Sikh temples in Shawnee, Kansas. We have had community dinners together with both groups and have found the experience exhilarating. A few members of our church now meet on a monthly basis with some of the Hindu and Sikh leaders and we are currently planning a community picnic in June.

I found your article fascinating. Comprehensive is the word that comes to my mind but I know you like the term holistic. So yes, it was holistic. The definition of terms such as profane, sacred, and worship were helpful in setting a good framework of what a God-centered world view would look like.

Your categorization of the world religions into primal, Asian, and monotheistic brought a greater sense of a clarity of role for each group. These distinctions as you have laid them out provide a solid basis of appreciation for the diversity that is represented in each group and a clear view of their contribution to society at large.
I found “The World Religions: Pieces or Pattern” to be personally challenging while at the same time encouraging. I keep asking myself as I read how much am I contributing to the larger issues afflicting our society such as pollution, violence, and other causes of fragmentation of our culture. It is so easy to disagree with what’s happening all around without seeing our own contribution to it through either neglect or ignorance. In a day when organized religion is looked on with such contempt in our society, you have given adherents of all religions a gift.

Your article clearly suggests that faith communities have a great deal to contribute to the making of a healthy and just society. May we only accept the clarion call that you have issued and go forth in the power of the Transcendent One and make a difference.

Finally, I appreciate the fact that your efforts at CRES are not to blend all the religions but to celebrate our difference. You state clearly that the world religions are not all one. That gives me the courage as a Christian to dialogue with people of other faiths without the fear of contaminating my own.

We at Pathways have found our faith strengthened by interaction wit people of other faiths just like you say. Thank you for your efforts.

God bless!
  Gene Flanery

Gene convenes Pathways, a group of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians that meet for dialogue and friendship building in the Kansas City area. He is a missionary with the Full Faith Church of Love — West.

Media Ascertainments

TA few weeks ago I attended a talk by Dr Andrew Weill, the well-known holistic medical doctor. He asked his audience to join him in a thought experiment designing the worst diet in the world.  After listing unhealthy foods which would comprise the diet like refined carbohydrates, excessive saturated fat, hormone and anti-biotic ridden meat, and tons of refined sugar, Dr Weill went on to list those foods which would be avoided, the healthy stuff: unsaturated oils, high quality protein like fish and soy products, whole grains and fruits and vegetables.

Of course, after all of this, the audience got Dr Weill’s point: The Worst Diet in the World is the typical American diet.

I thought of this after reading Vern Barnet’s “The World’s Religions: Pieces or Pattern?” in a recent issue of Many Paths. Barnet decried our society’s addiction to violence. Any thoughtful person must be troubled by the state of our culture. If one were to design the Worst Culture in the World, our contemporary American culture would serve as an excellent paradigm.

The Worst Culture in the World, first of all, would banish uplifting, ennobling and intellectually challenging entertainment to the ghettoes of PBS or artsy cable channels. The mainstream media — the media that 90% of the population watches and listens to — will avoid like the plague the glories of Western Civilization — and Eastern Civilization, too! There will be no mention of Bach, Buddha, John Coltrane, or Dickens.

Instead, the air waves will be filled with moronic sitcoms, gratuitously violent action shows and wrestling matches, hateful political commentary, misogynistic and self-hating rap music, loud and stupid pop and rock, vulgar and violent talk shows which will air in the afternoon just as children are coming home from school and — of course — endless sports. Endless, endless sports. To top it all off, these delightful programs will be interspersed with advertisements encouraging people to become mindless consumers.

Voila!  The Worst Culture in the World. American culture at the beginning of the 21st Century.
In his book, Dr Weill admits that junk food has appeal because it is tasty — we are biologically programmed to like fatty, sugary foods — and it’s addictive. The same can be said of our culture. Most people are hooked on the cheap thrills of violence and brainless entertainment which requires no mental effort.

I recently attended “ascertainments.” At ascertainments, representatives of local charities and social agencies address the local media and tell them what their needs are. An afternoon session is devoted exclusively to high school students who talk about their concerns. The particular group students at the recent ascertainments were very sharp and articulate. A common concern many of them had was the lack of arts coverage in the local media.

I suggested that just as local TV news devotes time to high school football, perhaps they could devote some time to the arts. This provoked a woman representing a local TV station to whip her head around and tell me in a very petulant tone “We cover high school football because Western Auto is willing to sponsor it. They aren’t interested in the arts.” I opined that it is a shame that Western Auto decides what is newsworthy.

After I said this, several other media people jumped in to put me in my place and explain to me the reality of the media today: the media are just giving people what they want; no one is interested in the arts and that is why they cannot find sponsors for the arts, etc.

The media have created a mindless herd addicted to their slop and now they blame the victims. It’s like a heroin pusher saying he’s only giving his customers what they want. I must admit I don’t know what the solution is. At least for those of us independent thinkers who have avoided becoming addicts, great culture can still be found. Just as you can bypass McDonald’s for a restaurant which serves healthy food, there still are choices we can make. We should avail ourselves of all the beauty we can while we can and, if possible, share it with others. We should also, like a voice in the wilderness, proclaim what is culturally great and point out unsparingly that which is bad.

Patrick Neas

Patrick’s voice is known throughout Kansas City as the host of the Morning Show on KXTR.