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Ground Rules Deep Dive #1: Turn Opposition Into Proposition

by Milenko Matanovič

June 15, 2017

Together we are capable of extraordinary achievements. Over the years, Pomegranate Center has proven this by encouraging people to uphold a code of conduct that leads to creativity and collaboration. This code of conduct, what we call “ground rules,” is essential to creating a positive atmosphere that focuses on how things can be improved, free from complaints. In this series of short essays, I will look at different ground rules, evaluate why they are important, and share stories from the field.

There is a difference between reacting and responding. In reacting, how things are is in charge. When we react we find ourselves in an invisible box defined by the problem, by what we oppose. When we respond, the possibility starts breathing. We basically say, “Yes, things are not working now, but that can change.”

At one community meeting, an elderly woman could not bring herself to propose anything. She was angry and obviously didn’t like the new development we were discussing. When it was her turn to propose an idea for how to make it work, this was the exchange between her and me:

“I do not want anything to change.”

“Do you have any ideas for how this project could work?”

“I oppose this project.”

“On what grounds?”

“It will destroy things I care about.”

“What things?”

“Views and old trees.”

“Would you support this project if the views and old trees could be protected?”

“It is impossible.”

“Our team wants to do the right thing. What would you have us do?”

“Protect views and old trees.”

“Thank you.”

Another example. We conducted a community meeting setting priorities for the metropolitan region. One person’s contribution was:

“Death to big oil!”


“Climate change, pollution, plastics that kill fish–do you want to hear more?”

“I understand. I am concerned about the same things. But at this meeting we are focusing on solutions. What do you propose instead?”

“More green energy, daah.”

“Why didn’t you say this in the first place?”

We live in a society where complaining is normal.  It is easy to say what we don’t like.  But if we want to be creative, sooner or later we need to identify solutions. The real work starts when we look at what we react against squarely in the eye, accept it, and then ask: now what?