March 1st, 2007

Being and doing in the language of sociocracy

Here is a note I sent to a sociocracy yahoo group (and blocked from appearing there). It’s a follow-on to the post Getting past labels.

I experience an inner dissonance when I compare the sociocracy’s intentions with its language. If I understand Sharon below, sociocracy aims at clarifying what people agree to do (“roles and functions”) rather than what they are (identity/status). In contrast, in English at least, the language of sociocracy labels people rather than activities, i.e. it says “Nancy is the Facilitator” (or “Bookkeeper”), rather than “Nancy facilitates ” (or “keeps books”), or “Nancy’s role is facilitation” (or “bookkeeping”). Moreover, I notice the habit of capitalizing the people-labels, which I further interpret via my English-language lens as giving weight & importance to the people label. In English, I think capitalization is used mainly for identity. Given that English is not the native language of sociocracy, I wonder if perhaps the people-labeling and capitalization are accidental or intentional. In talking about people and actions, here are three choices. (Are there more?)

  • Say what someone is: “Nancy is the Facilitator” .
  • Say what someone does: “Nancy facilitates” (or “keeps meetings on track”).
  • Say what a role/function is: “Facilitation consists of task focus and participation monitoring”.

I think of these choices as (respectively)

  • language of being for people,
  • language of doing for people,
  • language of being for functions

I would expect that sociocracy would want the second and third choice rather than the first one.Why do I care about this language issue? Because at odds with the intention of sociocracy (and NVC) are strong ego (identity/status) habits. I want to support putting the intentions into effective practice by undermining the old habits and nurturing new ones, via some awareness and verbal skills. Since language influences thinking so profoundly, I like to consciously align language with intention as well as possible. The language shift I’m suggesting aligns better for me than what I’ve been hearing (including in Sharon’s note below).



2 Responses to “Being and doing in the language of sociocracy”

  1. Susan L Says:

    Conal, from a linguistic standpoint, the English “labels” with the -er or -or ending parse as “one who.” So “Nancy is the facilitator” parses as “Nancy is one who facilitates.” This is a far cry from “Nancy is President” (label) or “Nancy is tall” (evaluation). In sociocracy, we are using labels that say what a person does or what role they fill. I am the note-taker, not the secretary. There are labels, and then there are labels….

  2. conal Says:


    I suggest that the parsing you offer is one, rather than the, parsing. That one leads to one meaning, and probably a linguistic origin. I’m suspicious of other meanings, considering (a) the capitalization, (b) ego habits, and (c) observations around the use of the word “trainer” in CNVC-influenced circles. In the latter case, to my surprise, “trainer” quite often is used to mean something quite different from “one who trains”.

    Your example of “President” also comes from “one who presides”, doesn’t it?

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