Tag Archives: Tree Symbol

A Symbol for Sociocracy: The Tree

Book cover of the German edition of the Social Life of Trees
The Hidden Life of Trees provides an example and the basis of a metaphorical language of the tree as a symbol for sociocracy.

Last year we discussed a symbol for sociocracy, Symbol of Sociocracy? — a logo. The symbol that has often emerged in workshops is the tree or tree like networks.

Well, we now have many more reasons to adopt the tree. A review on today’s New York Times of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World by German forest ranger Peter Wohlleben explains how trees have social networks and take care of each other.

“These trees are friends,” he said, craning his neck to look at the leafless crowns, black against a gray sky. “You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.”

Trees Take Care of Each Other

Trees in the forest are social beings. “They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web.” They keep ancient stumps alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.

“Trees, like people, wrinkle as they age. Sometimes, pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.”

Wohlleben applies anthropomorphic terms liberally, describing how trees talk rather than communicate. “Scientific language removes all the emotion.… When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.” He wants to reawaken a childlike fascination of the forest. Hidden Life has sold 320,000 copies and has been optioned for translation in 19 countries (available in the US in September).

The literature on the behavior of trees explains how trees are less like individuals and more like communal beings. They are stronger when working together in networks and sharing resources. Artificially spacing out trees so they get more sunlight and grow faster can disconnect them from their resilience mechanisms. They need more insecticides to maintain themselves..

Increasing Social and Economic Value

In private forests in Switzerland and Germany, the wood produced is more valuable. In one forest, “When they wanted to buy a car, they cut two trees. For us, two trees would buy you a pizza.”

Ten years ago, Wohlleben left the forestry service discouraged. He had led a successful program in which people could adopt a tree and for a contribution, bury cremated remains beneath it but the forestry service was not supportive or this or similar efforts. As Wohlleben planned to move to Sweden,  the city of  Hümmel in the Eifel forest also left and hired him to manage their trees.

Now in fully in charge, Wohlleben replaced heavy machinery with horses, eliminated insecticides, and experimented with letting the woods grow wilder. “Within two years, the forest went from loss to profit, in part by eliminating expensive machinery and chemicals.”

A Symbol for Sociocracy, and Metaphors in Practice

The opportunities for metaphors are obviously numerous and I suspect it will be  a fruitful joining of ideas based on the biology of trees.

Peter Wohlleben’s website list the many books he has written on biology, nature, and the forest. This is just the latest.  I look forward to reading the book in September. Some of you will get to it faster.

Citizen Hive and Another Tree

Citizen Hive is a sociocratically governed Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)  in Sweden that describes themselves as part Hub, part Cluster,  and an alternative working and meeting space. Members offer a wide range of services that include interior design, IT solutions, facilitation, legal help, and financial information.

Citizen Hive simply is a miniature reflection of how society is meant to be. …an efficient and transparent organisation that includes and integrates the diversity in society.

An organisation where equivalence puts the individual; the personal, civic or professional, at the heart of the organisation that they have chosen to participate within, benefit from and contribute towards. Citizen Hive is the space where we can all find our empowerment in favour of a larger purpose – where we can all be leaders—a system that holds that space regardless of the title of an individual, whatever their position would be.

Their organizational chart on the Citizen Hive organization page is in the form of a tree:

Tree Organizational diagram from Citizen Hive in Sweden.

Many of their diagrams on the site are the shape of the cells in a honeycomb such as the original organizational chart below on their About Us page:


They have very nice definition of sociocracy on their Governance page:

Sociocracy is a holistic approach for inclusive decision-making, efficient governance and the ongoing evaluation and improvement of your team, project, or organization. It fosters empowerment and an attitude where people feel encouraged to experiment, fail and learn.

The reasons for adopting sociocracy:

Citizen Hive has chosen this as our governance system because we want transparency and equivalence in our organization. We believe in self leadership and self governance as means for creating sustainable values to society as within Citizen Hive.

Sociocracy is a social technology for purposeful organization. It radically changes how an organization is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed through a set of “rules of the game” that bake empowerment into the core of the organization. Unlike conventional top-down or progressive bottom-up approaches, it integrates the benefits of both without relying on parental heroic leaders. Everyone becomes a leader of their roles and a follower of others’, processing tensions with real authority and real responsibility, through dynamic governance and transparent operations.

Citizen Hive is facilitating the meeting of a diverse group of people , to start new coöperation projects, and to spark bright ideas. With Sociocracy as a neutral governance system, we believe more fun, sound and sustainable projects can occur, where the individual sovereignty is maintained.

Thanks to Jan Höglund and Michael Göthe
for sending the link to Citizens Hive.

Symbol of Sociocracy?

The power of using a tree as a symbol of sociocracy is not that it turns the hierarchy on its head, which one can do just as easily with the rake diagram. It’s that the tree  is an almost universally positive  living image  and its biology understood. It is universal symbol of life, growth, beauty, and eternity.

People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy, and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.

From the film, Batman Begins, 2005.

A tree demonstrates the circular hierarchy created by the principle of consent and does it without triggering negative reactions. Many people believe “hierarchy” implicitly means “autocratic” and “power over” because that is their only experience.  People are in intentional communities and humanistic lifestyle movements, at least in part, to avoid autocratic hierarchies and to find an alternative. References to “higher” and “lower” circles in sociocracy can end the conversation.

Unit, department, division, council, and board could be used to avoid the higher-lower terminology, but they are still attached to autocratic bureaucracies. Roots, trunk, branches, and leaves just as clearly illustrate the functions and relationship between parts and can be used without triggering negative reactions.

Trees better illustrate  foundations of sociocracy in cybernetics, the study of systems that use communications and control to sustain themselves and adapt to their environment. Each part of the tree communicates its needs to every other part. Each controls the condition of the other. No part can ignore any other part and thrive. No leaves, no roots. No leaves, dead trunk. Damaged trunk, dead roots.

Instructive and Symbolic

Giant Oak TreeA tree is an illustration of a specific process and a symbol of all processes. It is a semi-autonomous, self-organizing system that is self-correcting and well integrated into its environment. The environment feeds and protects the tree while trees protect and provide for the environment.

The lawnmower spark-plug is a good example of consent that removes it from the realm of personal preference. When the spark-plug is dirty, it “withdraws its consent.” It can’t function. Its range of tolerance has been surpassed.  But as a symbol, it doesn’t work. Who wants to think that in order to object, they have to bring the whole system to a halt. If that were true, very few people would ever object and the purpose of objecting, to improve the proposal, would be defeated.

Few can empathize with a lawnmower or a spark-plug. Creating a diagram that looks like a flower with petals for circles is credited with convincing one community to try sociocracy. It was familiar and welcoming.

Recognizing Diversity

There are flowering trees, tall trees, low to the ground trees. Trees that grow on rocks and trees that grow by swamps. There are twisted trees like those in tornado alley that are gnarled and bent sideways but still grow, putting out new leaves every spring. While there are many kinds of trees, each with its own ability to trigger empathic responses, they are still trees.

Row of tree graphics.

Each organization has its own personalities, its own leaves. Its hidden roots.  If tree were the symbol of sociocracy, by choosing a specific tree to be the symbol of its uniqueness, a sociocratic organization would at the same time take on the symbol of sociocracy.