As we begin to move through the New Year it is natural to wonder about what kind of year we will experience in 2016, and also to reflect on 2015 events—-where it seems we witnessed increasingly violent and difficult events—migrations caused by war, killings of young black men, among other events—resulting from complicated problems that seem almost unsolvable. At the same time, the news was good on many fronts—climate change representatives from 195 nations negotiated a substantive agreement; world-wide education rates moved up; and the number of people subjected to the most profound poverty moved down. But in spite of the positive news, there seems to remain this nagging, slightly paralyzing idea that the entire world, and our small portion of it, continues to remain stagnant and impervious to our best efforts.

One of the first events of this New Year was one of the worst for me to hear about. The invasion of Daesh (ISIS) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where they killed over 28 people is, in so many ways, unthinkable. Burkina Faso is a West African country located east of Mali, so for most who are not familiar with the country, they might think that this was just an expected expansion of ISIS activities—no matter how deplorable. But for the Burkinabe themselves, and for all of us who have lived there, it is truly a catastrophe. Certainly, the violent loss of so many lives is always a horrible event. But for the Burkinabe who have invested in creating a collaborative and peaceful society for more than a century, it was devastating and unthinkable. Having lived there, I developed great and enduring admiration for the Burkinabe society. Also, one of the first quantitative studies which illustrated the difference ‘deep participation’ and ‘social integrative power’ could make, was undertaken in this country. I know their resilience will surely see them through, but that does not mitigate the mourning and sadness for everyone.

And this unthinkable event is just one more reason why I believe people need to know about ‘social integrative power’ and the remarkable assistance it can give to those intent on rebuilding peace and prosperity. It does occur to me that in these blog presentations I have concentrated on the applications, outcomes, and how-to’s of this power, without paying much attention to ‘why’ groups would want to undertake this process. Actually, there are four reasons why social integrative power and the deep participation process are essential to the building of a peaceful and prosperous planet in this difficult era. They include: (i) the necessity of reinventing our institutions; (ii) the necessity to create a triad of economic, political, and social power; (iii) the necessity to generate two-way linkages between the local and national; and (iv) the necessity to maneuver through rapid and unsettling social change with inclusion and cohesion.

Reinventing institutions. We need to know and understand more about social integrative power because it is actually our very limited familiarity with this concept that limits our comprehension of what it can do. Yes, it is this power that connects us as friends and family, communities, cultures, and societies. And yes, this social integrative power can only work within connective, belonging, and trust configurations. But the trouble is, we tend to interpret this definition only in terms of the micro, and rarely if ever apply it to the macro side of the equation. For example we think of ‘connection’ in terms of the family, friendship circles, and social organizations that serve the local community. On the other hand, our understanding of political negotiation and threat power, or economic exchange and coercive power is primarily and strongly attached to the more macro levels of our societies, be they at the regional, national, or international levels.

What we have rarely taken into consideration is that ‘social integrative power’ is also active at this macro level. Cohesive social relations—with its connective, belonging, and trust configurations—are also essential at the macro societal levels of the community and nation state. It is this social power that actually gives the community and nation state, with its formulation of numerous institutions that form a particular cultural ‘thought world’ its initial “license to operate”. The trouble is, this legitimizing process (which only the underlying social institutions and thought world can offer) begins to disappear from sight as the process of legitimation accrues and becomes stable and systematic. At that point, political threat power and economic coercive power begin to maintain and often expand the ongoing, and newly legitimized systemic structure, giving the impression that these are the only two powers that matter. But while economic and political power can maintain, they cannot legitimate. This became apparent, for example, during the Arab Spring. As political and economic power failed because they had lost legitimacy, and social integrative power was not available, the force of physical domination and violence was introduced.

When long-standing agreements and institutions begin to lose legitimacy, sometimes political and economic reform will be sufficient. But if not, reinvention of those underlying social institutions that are no longer in-sync with physical reality (e.g. unbridled capitalism vs climate change) or working justice institutions that ignore racial injustice, is a necessity. The problem here is that most of the underlying social institutions that make up our current thought world have operated for long periods of time without sufficient challenge. But we are now in a period of rapid social, economic, political, science, and technological change that demands this reinvention of institutions. And so, we need to return to, and recognize ‘social integrative power’, for the necessary reinventions and reimaging of the institutions that underlie our groups and societies.

A Power Triad. Recognizing the necessity of adding social integrative power to economic coercive power and political threat power provides another insight as to why social integrative power is so important today. The emergence of economic power, starting in the 16th century was an important first step in defining freedom for the individual and creating greater trust through money exchange rather than the bartering of goods. Political threat power and the emergence of the nation state, primarily initiated by the French and American revolutions, were essential for the creation of democracy and further definition of individual rights. However, both the economic and political power focused on the individual and his (but not her) capacity to compete.

The idea of belonging, of connection, and expansive configurations of trust, which first brought forward the flowering of individual rights and democracy in the 16th and 17th centuries, quickly atrophied. As a result, the rights of the ‘working masses’ within Europe and America, or the peoples in what became the colonies of Europe, were rarely accorded the rights of belonging and connection. There were, to be sure, social movements based on political mass defiance that won partial rights, particularly in those nations states formulated as democracies. But political threat power could only maintain and expand the already given set of rights. They could not legitimate new and more just perspectives and institutions. That remained only within the purview of social integrative power. So, that is one more reason why this social power is intensely needed at this point in time.

In order for the concept of social integrative power to be accepted as a natural dynamic of this world similar to economic and political power, and not just one more ideology, further explanation is required. Briefly said, ideologies emerge from thought and theory, but recognition of a ‘natural dynamic of the world’ comes about through observation and practice. The two further elements of why social integrative power is so important today—the factors of ‘linkages among societal levels’ and understanding the necessity to ‘use inclusion and collective altruism to create cohesion’ will be discussed next time in this practice context.