We, the People... PDF Print E-mail

April 2013 - The FoCuSeD™ Facilitator eNewsletter



We, the People... | Gary Rush Facilitation

We, the People… These are some of the most powerful words ever written. An outstanding book by Richard Beeman called, “Plain, Honest Men – The Making of The American Constitution” is a recounting of the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in 1787 to create the US Constitution. What happened holds lessons for all of us. So, what does this have to do with Facilitation Skills?




In 1787, the US Continental Congress called for a convention to rework the Articles of Confederation, the existing document defining the structure of the US Government. In May 1787, 55 delegates from 12 of the 13 original colonies (Rhode Island refused to participate) gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they decided to start from scratch and write a new Constitution. George Washington presided over the convention, which lasted from May 25th until the final Constitution was signed on September 17th.


Setting the Stage


First of all, the delegates were very important people in their respective states and throughout the country. They had very diverse opinions, goals, and views on representation, how the government should be structured, slavery, commerce, etc. They were powerful, intelligent, well educated, and very opinionated. They were as polarized in their views as the politicians today, yet they managed to overcome their differences and create a constitution that has lasted for 226 years. How? They came to Philadelphia with one goal in common – make the country better. Despite their parochial tendencies, they collaborated for the good of the entire country, not just their state (under the Articles of Confederation, each state was treated almost as a sovereign country). What enabled this to happen were the tools and techniques they used.


They had a “Facilitator”


George Washington facilitated the Constitutional Convention. Throughout the convention, George Washington remained neutral – he listened. He guided the delegates by acknowledging who was to speak and how they would work. His role was critical in keeping the deliberations civil and enabling all points to be presented and heard. His only contribution to content was on September 17th when he argued in favor of changing the representation formula from one representative for every 40,000 people to one representative for every 30,000 people.


They Believed in the Wisdom of the People


The delegates were an elite group of men with many having advanced degrees, yet they respected the views of each other and the populace. Gouverneur Morris, a delegate from Pennsylvania, commented on the convention, “I have many reasons to believe that it is the work of plain, honest men.” The constitution was sent to the 13 states for ratification – they were looking for general agreement from the citizens. They even wrote it into the Preamble that, for the first time, gave power to the people – “We, the People…” For the first time, People were sovereign – not states and not a federal government.


They Collaborated


Throughout the convention, numerous proposals were presented regarding almost every aspect of the constitution. It would have been easy to simply compromise – take a little from one proposal and a little from another and combine them. Instead, they talked about the issues to understand each other’s point of view. They met outside of the convention – they had dinners together and maintained a personal relationship despite their ideological differences. They lived the belief that even with ideological differences they could still hold civil dialog and could mingle and interact socially.


They used Facilitator Tools


Whenever the discussion got to fine details, they broke into smaller groups to fine-tune the details and then present back to the larger group. Asking the many delegates to discuss detailed ideas without a draft from the working sub-groups would have been ineffective.


They Kept it Simple – K.I.S.


For me, one of the amazing aspects of the Constitution is that it is only 4 pages long. Adding all of the current amendments, it runs to 7 pages long and takes less than 32 minutes to read (to put it into perspective, the California State Constitution is 350 pages long and the European Union’s draft constitution is over 855 pages long). We can learn a lot from that.


We, the People…


Aside from a history lesson:


  • Even with ideological differences, we, the people need to be able to interact socially. We only understand someone else when we listen to understand each others' point of view.
  • Being polarized doesn’t have to mean we, the people have to dislike and distrust one another. We must be willing to compromise to allow pursuit of our goals.
  • We, the people can and should respect those who disagree with us. Diverse opinions bring richer solutions.
  • We, the people need civil dialog. Our only hope for solving the problems we face is to get together and talk about how we, collectively, can solve the problems.


Facilitation Skills enable Collaboration.


Without George Washington, the Constitution would never have been written and, to paraphrase Gouverneur Morris’ comment, I believe that, “To solve today’s problems it requires the work of plain, honest men and women.” We, the People… logo