Blinded by White Privilege

“We need an advisory committee to advise the steering committee on how to involve the communities that are not here.”

 “We just need to empower…”

 “We could provide mentors or buddies for people so they don’t feel uncomfortable coming into the room.”

 “Maybe we need someone to come and help us get comfortable with having the conversations.”

All seemingly innocuous comments that are meant to be helpful in addressing a lack of diversity in a room full of forty or so almost all white, highly educated, corporate like people for a conversation about the next steps of a voluntary organization whose mission is dedicated to creating an inclusive society.  Innocuous because, as white people, we do not even know what we are saying.  We are saying, “How do we make it possible or more comfortable for others – the other – to come into our world?”  (And it was a diversity discussion that also included seniors, disabled and very young people as well as people of colour.)

There is no consideration or thought that maybe others don’t want to come into our world or that there are other worlds and world views that exist that maybe we should be more curious about. That we should meet at some point other than in our own world view.  That the invitation to “come and join us and we’ll figure out ways to make it easier for you” might not be all that inviting.

It is the difference between being in your own home and being a cautious guest in the home of another.  Sometimes as guests, we are on our best behaviour. We try to fit into the context of the environment we are in but maybe we never fully relax, never really feel invited to show up fully.  It might even look like we are fitting in but when we go back to our own home, our own environment, we are finally able to relax, knowing someone is not going to judge us or patronize us because of assumptions they are carrying they cannot even see – even when it might be right in front of them in full living colour.  Cannot see because white privilege is blinding.  It blinds us to the things we take for granted without knowing we take them for granted.  In 1988, Peggy Wellesley wrote a thoughtful and eye opening piece on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.  Twenty-five years later what she writes is just as relevant and real as it was then.

I never have to wonder if I will be followed by store staff or security guards when I go shopping.  I never have to worry about being arrested at night while locking up my place of employment (and certainly not more than once), keys in hand, police parked in the parking lot. I will never be mistaken for the janitor as I move furniture prior to an Art of Hosting training to get the room ready.  But these things have all happened to friends of mine whose skin is not white.

And it is simple but powerful things that often get overlooked, partly because we are not even aware and partly because we don’t understand how important these things are.  Language is one of those things.  I am paying attention to the language and invitation in a way I never did before and it is taking me on a deep journey.  The opening sentences of this post are a beautiful example of how I am listening with new ears and hearing through the lenses of some of my friends who keep challenging, in loving, gentle but fierce ways, my world view.

Carolann and new friends

Ursula Hillbrand, Dave Ellis, Renee Hayne, Carolann Wright-Parks and Barbara (Bob-e) Epps-Simpson – a few of these people (Dave, Carolann and Bob-e in particular) have been instrumental in helping me expand my world view.

Pictures are another thing.  When I asked my good friend Carolann Wright-Parks, with whom I have had the privilege of co-hosting with in service of the African Nova Scotian Faciltiators Guild, if she knew of any African New Brunswickers who might be interested in attending the Art of Hosting training there this past November, she said to me, “Kathy, I looked at that invitation but I didn’t see myself there.”  She wasn’t meaning herself – she was meaning there were no people of colour in the pictures.  The pictures were from the previous AoH training in New Brunswick.  There were no people of colour at that training.

World Cafe with Diversity

Now I have pictures I use of my friends that illuminate the greater diversity that is showing up.

Not too long ago, in my own naivety, I would have shaken my head, wondering why it mattered.  Wondering why we were not attracting people of colour into our trainings.  Wondering why, even though we keep trying to invite it, we cannot achieve greater diversity.  But now I know why it matters.  It matters because I don’t see it when I look at pictures. Blinded by the white, I do not even realize I identify with the people in the pictures.  I am already there.  Many of my friends haven’t been able to identify with the people in the pictures in the same way.  I am much more aware now of the pictures I use in invitations.

In Minnesota, there are a few good friends in an exploratory conversation – Dave Ellis, Barbara (Bob-e) Simpson-Epps, LeMoine LaPointe, Nancy Bordeaux, Jerry Nagel and myself about what it takes to generate transformative conversations on power, privilege, race and racism – because the ones we’ve been in aren’t yet creating the kind of shift we believe could be possible.  The language of social justice, restorative justice and racial justice has only taken us so far.  What is the language that is needed to take us – all of us – to a different conversation, to a different reflection, to a different perspective, where equality is based on diversity, not on sameness?  What is the language that is a door opener and invitation to shifting the shape of the conversation as we’ve known it?  We don’t know it yet.  We don’t presume to know it.  We know it is needed and we feel now is a time of greater receptivity.  We are excited and hopeful to be in the exploration.  Just like we are in the exploration of Growing Hosting Artistry at the end of January 2014 in Minnesota where we will explore world view, creating safe containers, working with shadow and a few other themes that seem central to growing our depth and capacity as hosts.

Now when I am in a meeting like the one I described above, I find myself stirred up and agitated, sometimes even outraged whereas I know a couple of years ago I would not have seen it.  I would only have seen how progressive the people and the thinking are – which is also true.  And that makes me curious. More and more I am aware of bringing expanded listening and awareness and a willingness to speak up from gained experience and exposure to questions and friends who will not let me rest in naivety or white blindness. And I am grateful to my friends for their boldness, courage and willingness to be in the openness of challenging our limiting beliefs so we can host ourselves into what will hopefully be the transformative space, individually and collectively, that will show us the way into the transformative conversations we are yearning for.

Youth Engagement Impeded by Pressure of Elder Legacy Need?

It is a freshly minted question for me.  Is youth engagement impeded by the pressure of older adults wanting to leave a legacy or the need to get it right?

The question began fermenting for me during the Art of Community Building training for African Nova Scotian facilitators in June of this year (2013).  It was an Open Space question posed by the (now) late Rocky Jones: how to engage the youth?  I used the Law of Two Feet to find my way to that conversation and listened in for a few minutes, trying to understand more about a question that is asked all the time in all kinds of situations.

I wondered out loud, if they really knew what the youth wanted?  That’s what they were trying to find out, they told me. You know those moments when you feel that vague stirring in your soul because something is not connecting but you’re not sure what or why?  I was in one of those moments, feeling that there was a point that was wanting to emerge – in my own mind anyway – but none of us in the conversation were hitting on it.  It was a vague sense of somehow missing the mark and it kept stirring for me.

Later at dinner, the hosting team and a few others of us continued the conversation.  Rocky and Roshanda Cummings, a young leader and apprentice host on our team who came from San Francisco to co-host with us,  got into a beautifully intense conversation about the role of elders, about Roe wondering where her elders were, with Rocky listening intently as she poured her heart out about what it was like to be a young black woman in the places she lived and traveled.

I thought about how Roe had been invited into this work – not with the question of “how do I engage you” but with the open hearted invitation of “what can we do together and I would LOVE you to come to Nova Scotia to do this work with me!”

Stillheart Roe and Kathy

I began to wonder how many conversations around youth engagement (or engagement generally) come from a place (unintentionally of course) of fear, regret, reproach or judgment.  Reproach and judgment because youth are not meeting some standard of engagement or community participation that may no longer even be relevant or of interest to youth.  Fear and regret that elders may have let youth down, let themselves down in the process, worried about what kind of legacy they are leaving youth and community.

And then I wondered, “What if a conversation with youth about how to engage them had a totally different starting point?”  Inspired by Mary Oliver, for instance, and her great question: “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life!”  What if a question like that was the invitation to a conversation where we really listened to each other instead of suppositioned?  What if everything about the conversation said, “I care about you and what you care about,” if engagement came from the place of how do I support you in that which calls you from the soul, and what could we do together and learn together if we jumped into engagement from that point?

Just sensing into these two approaches, the energy shifts shape from one of burden and how do I get someone else, in this case youth, to do something they don’t seem to be particularly interested in doing to one of curiosity and eagerness as I anticipate listening in to what makes someone else come alive and imagining with them how they could do more of that!  And maybe I could do it with them!

Road Trip With My Dad

I’m sitting on the deck of my cousin’s home, on the Gaspe  coast of the St. Lawrence Seaway, near Rimouski, watching the relentless movement of the tide – in and out, taking in the smell of the salt sea air, feeling the call of memories and of stories past, present and future.

Gaspe Coast from Sainte-Luce Sainte-Luce-20130812-00493

I’m on a road trip with my dad – to his homeland in Quebec.  He felt the call of coming home and invited me along.  He grew up on the Gaspe coast, his family’s home one one side of the road, the seaway on the other side. Although I also grew up in a coastal community, it is not the same as being right on the sea, being shaped in some unknown way by the tides; and there is no doubt the sea is in my father’s blood.

Having just completed my first memoir: Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, I am full on in the exploration of how stories shape our lives, what are the stories we focus on and the ones we give life to.  There is some story in my book about my father and his family, a little of what it was like for him to grow up in this place.  I am aware they are told from my perception and interpretation of what he has shared.  He – or members of his family -would probably reflect reflect them quite differently.

9781452575728_COVER.indd

 

Last night we were joined at the home of my cousin and her husband  by two more cousins (two of her siblings) and my aunt who is almost 90 years old and looks amazing for her age.  She is part of the reason we are here.  Because she called and asked my dad if he would come.  Another aunt, who will visit tomorrow, is another part of the reason.  My father is the last surviving member of his immediate family, his parents and his five siblings all living in spirit now.  My aunts had been married to his brothers.

For two of my cousins, it has been maybe 30 years since I’ve seen them.  For the other cousin, it has been since the death of another cousin – sometime in the last decade.  It surprised me to try to remember how long ago it was.  Time is fleeting in so many ways, it seems as if no time has passed.

I would not have taken this trip on my own.  It would not have even occurred to me.  For some reason Quebec seems far away for me – not geographically but maybe through all the stories I don’t know.  And, yet, being here, all the stories, known and not known, melt away as I find myself lovingly embraced by this part of my family I see so infrequently – and why would it be any different.  I am curious now about what are the stories that are here and now, what are the stories that will emerge late while I sit here by the St. Lawrence Seaway, taking in the salt sea air through all my senses, feeling the call of story in new ways.

Generosity – Guest Post by Bob Wing

“To be generous means giving something that is valuable to you without expectation of reward or return. Many traditions measure generosity not by the size of the gift, but by what it cost the giver.” 

Give me your heart

For awhile I have been pondering the topic of generosity, wanting to share some reflections – and I might still do that.  However, in the meantime, I am delighted to share reflections from my good friend Bob Wing, Warrior of the Heart Sensei and Art of Hosting Steward.  I resonate with much of what he wrote in response to an email thread on this topic and delight in how he is sharing his reflections through story.

I asked him if he would be willing to guest blog here on Shape Shift and he agreed.  He is my very first guest blogger and this is what he wrote:

I have some experiences and thoughts I would like to share, though they raise more questions for me than answers. 

A true story about generosity:

I learned something of generosity years ago, in a liquor store. I was in the check out line to buy some good beer. I remember it as being Guinness Stout. There happened to be two men in front of me, also waiting. One of them, a Native American (most likely a Lakota), asked me what kind of beer I had and what it was like. Well, you can’t really just tell someone what Guinness is like, so with a great sense of generosity and a very good feeling about myself, I gave him one.

It surprised me how reluctant he was to accept my gift. It actually took some coaxing. Finally he would only accept it if I would receive one of his Coors beers in return. Compared to Guinness, I find Coors quite anemic and I didn’t really want it.  In that moment, however, I realized that genuine generosity lay in me letting him give me something in return … a trade …not a gift… and then he could leave without a feeling of obligation to me. My real generosity was in accepting his equality by allowing him to give me something in return. 

Another true story about generosity:

In the early 1980’s I knew of a small group of very respected Lakota medicine people who had been invited to tour places in Europe to bring their “medicine” and to lead healing ceremony for whomever wanted to come. Their travel had been paid by sponsors but by tradition they could not/would not receive any money for their work. Medicine, both physical and spiritual, is held to be a gift and not a business.

The problem arose when most everyone who came saw it as being “free” and failed to offer gifts in return. While the medicine people could not “charge”, they did expect (this also by tradition) that their generosity would be met with material generosity in return. A medicine person does, after all, also need to support his life and his family, so it is important there be a way to do that, or the medicine/generosity-based culture crumbles. In their traditional culture everyone understands this and so are as generous as they can be in return.

 What finally happened was that after continually not getting anything in return the “medicine stopped flowing”. They perceived not getting anything worthy in return as being neglected, devalued, and even insulted. They stopped doing anything real. I think it was a misunderstanding of cultures, not so much of Native American and European, as of business culture and gifting culture misunderstanding each other.

 Some ideas on generosity: 

Gift culture is based on openness to a return and business culture is based on demanding a return, though maybe they are not really so different in essence. In both, if the return is not at least of some equality, then each will soon stop functioning–the medicine will stop flowing. 

 However, the language and gesture of each seems to be so very different. Maybe the difference involves who is perceived as having responsibility for seeing to the equity. In a gift culture, the responsibility for equity of the return is usually with the receiver of the medicine, and in business culture the responsibility for the equity of a return is usually with the giver of the medicine.

 Also, I think that business culture tends to promote separateness and gift culture tends to support relatedness. In our culture, business culture seems most dominant, though I suspect that the basis for keeping a sense of relatedness, even in business, is actually an expression of gift culture. It may come from the sense most humans have of needing to be related to others. 

 Personal awareness of generosity:

I am aware that I am in love with gift culture and I suspect most of us are. I love being generous as I suspect most of us do. I love having the means to be generous in all ways, although I don’t always seem to have these means. It’s a quandary.

A big problem for me sometimes comes in my skillfulness to communicate my needs in a culture where people most often seem to act as though it is either “free” or it “costs”, maybe similar to the essence of the problem the Lakota Medicine people had. When I sense that I’m not in some way being gifted enough in return, my “medicine” stops flowing. I don’t like it when that happens. I search for good ways to travel between these two. I like the saying I’ve heard many times before and have really taken to heart, “I don’t work for money, but I do accept money for my work.”

And this, to me, is some of the crux of what we meet up with when the work we do is for the good of ourselves and others, to shift the shape of patterns that no longer serve and generate new patterns that serve us better.  How do we value this important work in the world and not feel embarrassed or awkward about being paid well for the work?  What is the spirit of generosity and reciprocity that creates expansion and openings for things to flow in the best of ways and continues to make what we offer widely available, recognizing various capacities to be financially generous and knowing that generosity shows up in other ways too?

Thank you, Bob Wing, for your willingness to have your reflections shared here.

Seeing and Being Seen, Having Voice

St. Cloud is a small city in Minnesota known euphemistically as “White Cloud” because of its reputation as a racist town.  Some residents of this community have decided this is a reputation that needs to shift.  They are taking action in the form of Conversations that Matter.

Mayuli Bales became aware of the Art of Hosting a couple of years ago through one of the early trainings in Minnesota.  She began to dream of what might be possible in her home town and the seeds of the multi-cultural community gathering for conversation began to take shape, seeds just harvested mid-November 2012.

It was the first gathering in St. Cloud about race and culture convened by people of colour.  Mayuli pulled together a local calling team despite not being able to explain clearly what the Art of Hosting is and they got to work, supported by InCommons and the Meadowlark Institute.

Some of the most passionate discussions in the hosting team were about seeing and being seen, having voice that is acknowledged and recognized. The experience of so many people of color is that they are invisible, not seen, not heard. Heartbreaking. For them. For those of us on the hosting team too.  For me.

The dream was to Color the Cloud. The purpose for our gathering co-evolved by the hosting team the day before was:

Discovering together our community, to build the future by:

  • Seeing each other
  • Contributing all of our voices
  • Getting skillful at being in conversations that matter to us
  • Co-creating the evolving story

So much anticipation.  So much hope.  So much anxiety. Could it really happen? The three day design that emerged used the themes in the purpose as themes for each day.  Day 1 was Discovering Community: Seeing and Being Seen.  Day 2 was Building Community: Getting skillful together. Day 3 was Practicing Community: Co-creating the evolving story.  The design included the usual interweave of patterns, practices and teaches.

Drummers who opened the community conversations in St. Cloud

We were welcomed into our space by drummers – three members of a family with Aztec heritage, a father, mother and their three year old son who took up his place as a drummer.  The father shared with us, “You’ve been told in school and in your museums that Aztec’s are extinct.  But here we are, my wife, my son and me.  We are not extinct.  Neither is our culture.”  Culture must adapt to survive while cherishing those elements which make the culture distinctive.

He shared with us the story of the drum – as a grandfather, as a heartbeat, as part of community voice with its own message for each of us.  We were all invited to drum.  All of us.  Latinos, Somali’s, Oromo, African Americans, White Americans (and Canadians too) – broad categories of culture which do not do justice to the full multiplicity of culture in the room.  One world where many worlds fit.  Could fit.  Could be invited to fit.

The container was set, to be strengthened over the next few days. The invitation to see.  To see who else is in the room.  Who else cares enough about coloring the cloud to show up – for a morning, an afternoon, a meal, for three days. To be seen.  To contribute voice.  All voices.  Welcoming the languages present to be spoken aloud for all to hear.  Slowly at first but building so that by our check out circle, people were freely speaking their language, interpreted for the English speaking among us to comprehend, to see, to witness.

We became aware, as a hosting team, that these people, showing up day after day, did not need to hear our voices introducing teaches into the room.  They needed to hear each other’s voices, each other’s stories.  In ways and on a scale that had not yet happened in this community.  They needed and wanted to become skillful in practicing conversation with each other.  And to use conversation to support each other in initiatives and projects called out during the proaction café.  So we let the teaches of frameworks go and we focused on processes, ways and means of continually inviting them into conversation with each other.

The story of the new began to emerge during Open Space, Collective Storytelling, World Café, Proaction Café and smaller deep check in circles.  Surveying the small groups at any given time or in any given process, it was easy to see the diversity in each circle.  It was heartwarming.

Two of many stories to share here.

The first is of a member of our hosting team, a beautiful Somali woman dressed in the full traditional garb of her culture and often in the most brilliant of colours.  At the end of Day 1 she is part of the check out team.  Sensing the energy is low, she has a plan.  She looks down at her dress, begins to pull up the top layer of it, tying it in a knot, exposing the next layer of dress which still goes down to the floor.  Just this is so unexpected she has our full attention.  Then, she invites all of us to imagine with her that we are cats, to get down on the floor moving around on all fours, meowing.  Amidst gales of laughter, all who were able in the room, get down on all fours and move through the room with varying degrees of gracefulness and hilarity.  Be prepared to be surprised!  How many stereotypes did she smash through with this simple gesture of fun and delight?

The second story is of a self-proclaimed native son of St. Cloud, an older and retired white man.  He was asked to share his story in the collective story harvest and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would unfold.  He offered his story, not only as his story, but as the story of his mother and his grandparents too.  Among the people in his group were three young Somali women.  Later in the collective harvest, one of these young women stood up and said, “We are always asked about my culture and what it’s like to live here. I have realized that we don’t stop to ask the people who have always lived here about their culture and what it’s like for them to live here.”

Later, when we reconvened in our full circle, someone pointed out to me that this man was now sitting in the middle of these Somali women.  Still later, when I thanked him for bringing his story to the group, he thanked me for the opportunity.  He told me he had arranged for these women to meet his mother and hear her story directly.  Delight all around.

These are just two small examples of how we the purpose of our gathering gained life and vibrancy.  People were beginning to see each other and to feel seen by each other, to give voice and be heard.  It is a beginning for a town that is coloring the cloud, shifting the shape of its reputation and sending out the message that the future is being co-created by people who care about where they live and about each other.

Resilience, Grief and Collective Consciousness

Human beings are remarkably resilient.  We have this amazing capacity to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get on with getting on after all imaginable and unimaginable nature of horrors, calamities, catastrophes, shocks to the system – that happen to us, to our families, our communities, our organizations, globally.   Hope really does spring eternal even though at times it is hard to access.  It’s like the grass, flower or weed that pushes it’s way through concrete to bloom again in the light of day.

I find myself in a deep contemplation of this resilience, despite, at times, overwhelming odds and continued attempts at suppression.  My contemplation of resilience is weaving together with grief and what is alive and communicated in the collective consciousness, without it being visible. This is alive and emerging for me because of work and conversations I’ve been in and over the last few months in particular.  What I write today are half formed thoughts percolating more with each conversation.

Recently I worked with a client – a department in a large organization – that has gone through a significant amount of change, restructuring, everyone applying for remaining positions and no one knowing the outcome.  This was the most recent in a series of changes.  I know I could be referring to almost any organization.  The conversation they wanted to have was how to work more horizontally in a hierarchical structure and how to be more transparent with communication.

We began with a circle, asking people what makes them hopeful.  Eleven people in the room.  Responding with a talking piece but popcorn style.  Nine spoke about what made them hopeful.  The tenth person, with tears just beginning, spoke about not having hope.  Not anymore.  Not after so much change and so little care for human collateral along the way.  The eleventh person went deeper in this vein, apologizing because she had nothing hopeful to offer.

We welcomed the tears into our circle.  Thank you for your courage and honesty.  For sharing what is alive for you in this moment.  Hearing about the hope expressed by so many was too much.  It evoked the other truth sitting in the room.  The truth of grief.  Before we knew it, many in the circle were in tears.  I was not surprised it was there.  I was a bit surprised at the depth of it.

Our organizations tend to make it hard to tell truth – not “the” truth, but the multiplicity of truths that exist in the same space.  And in change efforts, there is a tendency to just want to get it done, to move from A to B.  The fear is that if we factor in the human response, the emotional response, nothing will get done, we will be overwhelmed.  Yet not creating space for it drives it underground, like rivers under the earth that can destabilize what appears to be a solid foundation and where sink holes spring up unexpectedly.  We seem surprised when they show up, caught off guard.  I wonder why?

With this group, after welcoming tears, exploring the change curve which is predicated on the grief curve, looking at circles of influence, in just a couple of hours the group was collectively ready to turn toward the future – with collective hope and inspiration now bubbling through.  It was relatively simple though I don’t, by any means, believe or mean to say that all it takes all the time is just a couple of hours.  But I am curious about what it does take and how much more simple it likely is than we imagine through our fear and structures designed for effectiveness and professionalism.  Emotions?  Not so professional. Trying to banish them from the workplace?  Not so effective.

In a conversation with a friend after this event, she said to me, “We have forgotten how to grieve.  We think we are supposed to grieve alone, but really we need to grieve in ‘community’ – with others. Witnessing each other.  Holding space for each other.”  That’s what I witnessed with this group.  A collective experience of grief that showed up differently for each person.  Those better off feeling excited about opportunity but afraid to speak it knowing others were worse off.  Those worse off afraid to speak their disappointment and disillusionment Almost everyone experiencing some kind of survivor guilt after so many left.

For me, it sparked reflections on the grief embedded in collective consciousness.  I am by no means an expert on collective consciousness.  I understand it is “how an autonomous individual comes to identify with a larger group or structure.  It implies an internal knowing known by all, or a consciousness shared by a plurality of persons.”  Most of it is not conscious or articulated but it becomes visible through the patterns which show up over time – even embodied in individuals. It seems to show up in lineages.  I have witnessed the pain and grief of generations no longer alive in their descendants who were not even alive at the time of the harm – the pain and grief as alive as the time it happened, as in the people it happened to.  It makes me deeply curious about how this is possible, what it takes to release the grief, to open the space for healing?  I don’t have the answers of course.  But I yearn for the spaces where this can happen. Where we can show up with curiosity, with compassion, humility and grace allowing despair, sorrow, grief and pain to come in – the grief alive in this moment, the grief alive in the lineage from days gone by without resolution, yet.  Seeking the ways love, joy, delight, happiness can co-exist – in each of us, in how we show up, in our lineages too.

It brings me back to resilience. Everyday resilience as we arise each morning and go about our day, our lives, our business with varying degrees of success, the resilience of families, of generations, of communities and of our organizations.  I am in awe.  I am relieved.  I am inspired.  Feeling the call, as always, to perpetuate resilience, perpetuate hope.  To boldly, or quietly, bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people, to evoke and invite that in others.

This is the call that invites so many of us to continue to dive deeper into the journey of personal transformation and the call, by the way, to Hosting from a Deeper Place, the Art of Hosting the Subtle, in Brazil at the end of February 2013.

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.  If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.  Truly the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” Lao Tzu

As we each do our own healing work, we contribute to healing in the collective consciousness.  But what more becomes possible when we do this work in community – with each other?  This is one of the questions I carry everywhere I go.

The Field Beyond Difference

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,

there is a field.
I will meet you there.

Rumi

Rumi’s words, with a slight variation, encapsulate the experience of an amazingly culturally and age diverse group of participants, apprentices and hosts who gathered September 11-14, 2012 in the middle of the Phillips Community of South Minneapolis where all of us discovered there is a field beyond difference and we are willing to meet each other there.

Image

There was a tremble in our fourteen member hosting team as we prepared to welcome over seventy Somalis, Native Americans, African Americans, Anglo Americans, Latinos, people from Liberia, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia and more, together with two translators: one for Somali and one for Spanish.  We were not sure how many would come, how many would stay or how many would come back the next day.

This Art of Hosting training, supported by the Bush Foundation’s InCommons in partnership with the Meadowlark Institute, was called by Amina Saleh a co-founder of the Native American Somali Friendship Committee, in the hopes that bridges could be formed across the  multiplicity of cultures that have come to reside in the Phillips residential area of South Minneapolis.  The original residents of this community were primarily African Americans, Native Americans and Anglo Americans.  In the 1990s immigrants and refugees began moving into the area in search of affordable housing.  Over the years, the cultures clashed, tensions rose and violence across the cultures, particularly between the Native Americans and Somali communities, occurred.

Amina found herself at an Art of Hosting training in March 2012 and became curious about what might be possible if a training was hosted right in the middle of her community, in the community centre, where the children congregate after school.  Well, we found out!

We started with a beautiful Lakota sage ceremony offered by Lemoine Lapointe from our hosting team, to open the space, to cleanse ourselves, open our minds and, even more so, our hearts.  An offering from one of the cultures present in the room, inviting others to also offer in a right moment or opportunity.

Lemoine Lapointe

Each one of us was then invited to bring our voices into the circle by responding to: my name is…, I live…, I’m from…, my ancestors are from… and I speak …. languages. As we listened, we became aware, beyond the diversity of skin colour already visible in the room, of the richness and multiplicity of cultures and languages represented in the space, the richness that showed up sometimes in a single individual as well as in our field.  It took our breath away and opened our curiosity.

The purpose that emerged for the four day training was: Hosting meaningful conversations as a way of giving life, (1) inviting in our full selves and each other, (2) sharing language and frameworks, (3) staying in it – together and (4) building “whole” community. The phrases in the purpose statement framed each of our four days; scheduled to begin around 9:00 with a hard stop at 3:00, because this is when the children arrived in the community centre we were in and when some of the single moms in attendance also needed to be home to greet their children.

Beautiful visual depiction of our 4 day flow by Nou Ka Yang

Our first afternoon was a caféWhat is in your heart that brought you here today? What is in your heart for your community? What would you like to give life to here for your neighbourhood?  Powerful, surprising questions, giving pause like unexpected questions do.  Silence at the first café round while people let the question sink in, then decided how fully they wanted to bring themselves into the room, into the conversation, into the others also at their table. Cautiously, at first. What is in your heart? Not, why are you here? Not, what’s in you mind?  What is in your heart? Are you willing to go there yourself, let alone speak it into the centre of the table?

By the third round there was a beautiful buzz in the room as people began to relax into the invitation to bring their full selves.   In the harvest, one man offered, “Unlike Vegas where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens in this room should not stay in this room. We all need to take it back out into our communities.”  This became a mantra for participants for our full time together.

People were ready and willing to offer their rituals, ceremonies and stories into our collective space.  In addition to the opening sage ceremony, we experienced a Somali coffee ceremony, an Aztek ceremony and a Hmong ritual and an African American dramatic story telling: Sojourner Truth, in addition to Native American ceremony, song and round dance from the Dakota and Lakota cultures. We gifted each other with prayers and blessings.

Sometimes it was a bit uncomfortable with the varying perspectives and cultural norms around touch, song, dance and partaking in another culture’s ceremony; but only just in that moment before understanding blossomed and more ease entered with the witnessing of things precious.  Graciousness, curiosity and respect filled the space and the conversations. Deepening our individual and collective listening skills invited us all to show up even more fully.

The realization that issues, concerns and passions arc across cultures invited people into bridge building. Education, children, community housing, racism, racial profiling, relationship with police, healing, well being.  Learning to navigate the dominant culture and stand up, both for what is right and for rights of an individual no matter each person’s roots or ancestral history.  Awareness of commonality in the diversity. People care about many of the same things even if their way of approaching them or their cultural norms may be different.

Invitation to Open Space

As we gathered in our check out team: Amina Saleh, Kadra Ahdi, Lemoine Lapointe, Molly Matheson Gruen, Susan Phillips, Bob-e Epps, Anne Gomez, Lori Lindgren Voit, Nou Ka Yang, Marcela Sotela, Jerry Nagel, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Ginny Belden Charles and me, there were tears.  Tears of hopes realized, connections made, community strengthened, deep sense of belonging.

Our work began in the hosting team itself on our prep day.  It was the first time many of us had met in person as is common in these trainings.  There was a great variety of experience and understanding of the Art of Hosting in the team, from lots to little to almost none, with people eager to deepen their skill, grow their capacity.  The team quickly became strong and cohesive with each person stepping in, contributing, supporting as one fluid movement, offering what we each could, asking for what we needed. We formed community.

We became a field to welcome the larger field of community activists and organizers from across cultures who showed up.  And came back. Day after day.  For four days. They sensed something different. Became engaged in possibility in new ways. They made plans for next steps on very specific projects. Co-creating a new hope for the future. Giving life to community from a different place.  Stepping into courage, transcending fear, reaching out, seeing the human face of diversity and knowing that shifting the shape of the communities they live in and touch is possible to ever greater degrees.  Humbled, touched, delighted to be in this work that matters so deeply.

Intentionally Shifting the Shape of the World in 2012

Wow.  2012 is a breath away. When I started the Shape Shift blog I wrote: “the shape of the world is shifting. It is constantly shifting but never more so than now. This is evident in health care, education, finance, communities, technology, organizations and other systems that have become vital to how we function today.  We can be passive recipients of the impact of these shifts in the world or we can become active participants in shaping the future of the systems, organizations and communities that we feel passionate about – that are near and dear to our hearts.”  This was true when I wrote it, and started Shape Shift Strategies Inc, in August of 2009.  It is even more true as we are on the brink of 2012 – a year that has been much prophesied and written about.

If we are paying attention we can literally and figuratively feel the earth shaking underneath our feet as significant shifts take place – in the natural world and the manmade world.  Earthquakes and tsunamis in New Zealand and Japan, the Arab Spring, Occupy to name just a very few.  I say paying attention with the full awareness that there are many of us who see the greater scope of these stories and feel the significance of them in our very beings and there are many who do not yet see the stories under the stories that show up in mainstream media – a medium that is struggling with seeing and understanding the deeper patterns of these movements in the world.

If I am to imagine into 2012, I can only imagine that the chaos and complexity of our systems, our social structures and  our communities will increase.  This because of the reluctance and deep resistance of letting go of what we know, even when we know it doesn’t work anymore, to embrace what is waiting and wanting to be born.  It is so hard to see new ways when all we can see is what we have already built.  I’ve seen it in the conversations surrounding the Healthier Health Care Now gathering set for Utah early in January.  “We want you to be different, but please do it in familiar ways.  Because we don’t know how to support something that looks and feels different, especially when you cannot tell us exactly what it will look like in the end.  We have to be accountable, after all.”

How do we become accountable for our future when we are anchored to what we know, what we have always known, what already exists?  This is why the chaos will increase.  It is already telling us what we know no longer works.  Our collective response?  Hold on tighter.  Don’t let go.  How deeply shaken do we need to be to let go, let fly into the void of the unknown?

Thank God for the growing pockets of people, teams, communities and communities of practice who see a different future and who steadfastly work toward it in the not knowing.  There are so many I can name – because I am part of them – and so many I can’t because I don’t have knowledge of them but I am not so insular as to believe they don’t exist.  Paul Hawken’s work in Blessed Unrest is just one indicator of this world wide revolution that is taking place right under our very noses – whether we see it or not.

Those of us working and living  in the spaces of not knowing the specific shape of the future or of what new systems could emerge from the old as we are shaken free in the chaos, we are Warriors of the Heart.  To be a Warrior of the Heart and be well, we need personal practices that keep us connected with source and allow us to access our own resilience, courage, compassion, strength, joy and love.  There are individual and collective dimensions of practice. We build personal capacity in our individual practice.  We amplify, accelerate and activate so much more when we come together in our collective work and journey.

2012 may show us more and more the intersection between the relational field (love and loyalty) and the strategic field.  We have treated love and loyalty somewhat dismissively – the soft skills side of the equation.  In business we need to be hard – hard nosed, make hard decisions.  What if this is not true?  What  if our greatest path forward is to embrace more fully the relational field so that our choices are actually more strategic, have a longer term view and value all the things that are important to our survival in a time when so much of what we have always known seems threatened?  What becomes possible when we sink into what we’ve known even longer than what we’ve always known – the wisdom and knowledge accessible to us in ancient wisdoms that become more present to us as we pause and listen deeply – to the earth, to the whispers in our own hearts, to the yearning we have to be connected to something that has deep meaning and purpose. What would a world look like that connected through love and loyalty and then developed strategy for the highest good of us all?

The shape of the world is shifting.  It always has been.  Is it shifting faster now?  Feels that way.  What is the intentionality we can individually and collectively bring to amplify, accelerate and activate the shift we desire to see in the world?  What is the shape of the world you want to live in to?

I experience such deep gratitude and appreciation for my friends and colleagues (the ones I know and the ones I haven’t met yet) around the world.  You inspire me.  You lift me up in the moments when I have lost sight of my own light.  You give me great hope for what is possible in a new world order.  I am humbled and honoured to do amazing work in the world with people I care deeply about – from a place of open heartedness and a field of love and connection that makes possible the impossible – only seeming impossible because we can’t always see the how.  The how stops us.  The vision and intention for shaping a future we want to live into compels us all forward.

Walking the path of not knowing.  Setting strong, clear intentions for what I want to see unfold in my own path of shifting the shape of the world in 2012, letting go of the how and inviting what is ready – and urgently wanting – to show up.

Why Don’t Those Occupiers Just Go Home?

The Occupy Movement seems to have hit a perplexing moment – yet another one, that is.  Officials in many cities across North America are trying to figure out how to make the occupiers go home.  Fall is settling in to many places and what many assumed was a passing fad hasn’t yet faded away with the cooler temperatures or fiercer weather.  If they didn’t have any demands like typical protestors and no proposed solutions to the problems that others could then shoot down, then why haven’t they just packed up and gone home?

So now, many officials are trying to figure out how to get them to disburse while opinions of the movement and the occupiers vary dramatically within the media and within communities in each of the cities.  Some people think they are an eyesore filled with people, mostly young, who don’t have jobs and are only looking for a handout.  People who have this perception seem to just want them to go home and find a job like everyone else.  Public officials are certainly playing off of the perceived dangers pointing to drugs, alcohol and even some deaths in some cities as reasons to disband the occupiers.

Other people see them as vibrant communities that people flow in and out of, people with and without jobs, people on traditional career trajectories and those on alternative career trajectories, who are standing up for democracy and “voting” by their very presence in public spaces.  My own bias or world view is that there is something more going on here, something deeper, something fundamental to understanding the shifting shape of the world.

Occupiers have been gathering long enough that minimum structures and process have emerged.  These tent villages include library and food tents as central points of focus.   They have been working with consensus decision making and ways of being heard in large crowds where any kind of speaker system has been denied.  The movements have stayed largely peaceful even in the face of being provoked at times.  They are communities that are taking care of each other in some beautiful and perfectly imperfect ways.

They are example of translocal communities that are learning from and with each other and supporting each other.  They exist in individual cities and they are part of a field of attraction that makes them more than any single city.  That the movement spread so quickly and virally from one place to the next points to its magnetic attraction and the sense that there is something more going on here.

Maybe the occupiers haven’t presented demands or proposed solutions because they know we don’t know what the solutions to our problems are and they won’t be solved by a few people locked away in a room brainstorming or strategizing our future.  The greatest likelihood of deep, systemic solutions appearing is the collective curiosity and discovery of what is possible through intentional dialog the likes of which we may have not seen before – like the 1000 table, 10,000 person cafe conversations that took place in Tel Aviv earlier this year – the first of its kind but surely not the last.

Our culture is such that any one person or group presenting solutions feeds into our predominant public and social structure of debate – giving people something to latch onto to elucidate all the reasons those solutions won’t work and dividing us into camps of right and wrong, good and bad, smart and stupid.  What happens when we invite ourselves to see past the dichotomies to hold the paradoxes and allow all possibilities to exist in the same moment?  The very idea is perplexing in a world that has become beautifully complex and yet where some still want to boil it all down into nifty little compartments of thought and action.  We don’t live in that world anymore.  We haven’t for some time.

Our systems – financial, health care, education, transportation, environment, to name a few – are in deep trouble.  For the most part, they no longer support themselves.  They are out of integrity.  Most of them would be financially bankrupt if we let them be.  Officials can try to make the occupiers go home – in fact, as I’m writing this I got a test message saying police in Halifax are forcibly trying to remove the Halifax Occupiers from Victoria Park right now, in the pouring rain.  But taking them out of public spaces does not change the condition of these systems or the condition of the globe in this moment.  It might allow some to pretend that we can go back to business as usual, but we have long since passed that point.

So, if we opt out of the ways we have always done things, where does that take us?  To the field out beyond right and wrong (to badly paraphrase Rumi)?  If enough of us were able to let go of everything we think we know and allow ourselves to surrender into the edges of our learning and experience, maybe collectively we will begin to imagine what’s next and lean into creating the conditions for that emergence – emergence meaning we all left with something no one brought.

The deliciousness of possibility has me salivating with eternal hope.  The inquiries I am in around stewarding what wants to emerge along with the deeper underlying patterns inherent in the work I am called to do make me deeply curious about the Occupy movement, the staying power of it and how it will influence the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people.

Community of Practice – What’s it All About?

One of the biggest questions arising out of Art of Hosting trainings and related work I’ve been part of these days is, what’s next?  How do we actually practice and sustain what we have just learned?  How do we grow our skill, courage and capacity as practitioners?  How do we create fertile conditions in our organizations or our communities to shift the shape of our future, the way we work and even the work we do?

In March 2011, I co-hosted the Art of Collaborative Leadership in Nova Scotia with good friend and colleague, Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute in Minnesota.  He shared a model he and Chris Corrigan have been using in Minnesota as a means of thinking about and being in a Community of Practice (CoP).  I refer to it often now as it reminds me and the groups I work with of key elements that contribute to learning, growth and shifting the way we work and are with each other.

Work alone can be drudgery.  Learning alone can be a great intellectual pursuit and might lead to some shift within you as an individual but does little to generate collective learning.  Building good relationships is a good skill to have but in and of itself, you might as well be in a social club.  It is where and how work, learning and relationship intersect that creates the potential for a rich and relevant community of practice.


The intersection of work and co-learning is where innovation happens as people think about the context of their collective or co-learning in relation to work.  Ideas are generated and possibilities emerge.  Without relationship though, there is often no traction or sustainability to the innovative ideas that emerge – they simply dissipate into thin air because there is no impetus to work with them on an ongoing basis.

It is at the intersection of work and relationship that sustainability happens.  And not just any relationship will do.  The relationship needs to be of good quality, filled with respect, trust and deep caring for each other – the quality of field that enables divergent points of view to be expressed, where passion for the conversation, the work, the future and friends is welcomed.  Friendships we will fight for and support.  We don’t necessarily start there but how beautiful when we tend to the relational field with such care and intentionality that so much more can spark without risk of offending anyone, without having to tiptoe around the conversations that are most necessary in our learning, relationship and work.  These are friends with whom we will venture into unexpected places, uncertainty, emergent fields and creative explorations as well as nurture and cultivate the innovations that most spark our  passion and curioisty.  When these people call us because they need something, we respond.   Sometimes we drop everything else and respond.

Powerful friendship, kinship or mates is fostered in the place between relationship and co-learning because part of what we are learning is how to be together in new ways that break old patterns that have defined relationships, at work, home or in other places where we make contributions and commitments – patterns like hierarchy and culture,  old ways of moving work along,old ways of meeting and of thinking about meeting agendas, conferences or programming.

One of the key reasons we want to shift our relationships, aside from the experience of feeling better, working more effectively and enjoying showing up at work and projects is to focus them on achieving something meaningful and relevant in the world – maybe systemic change, maybe some smaller initiative. Otherwise, nothing happens.   We are at such a pivotal time in our human evolution on this planet, a Community of Practice will be most meaningful when we bring our relationships and collective learning  to bear on the shift we are wanting to create rather than putting up with the shift that just shows up.

Having now been in several conversations about community of practice, most recently with emerging leaders in Halifax – none of whom are following conventional career paths,  this model becomes extremely helpful in focusing on the purpose of a community of practice, especially as conversations tend to veer to one component or the other.  The power in the model is that it reminds us that each of these elements is fundamentally important to shifting patterns of work, organizations and communities, as well as individual patterns of relationship.

Communities of Practice could and will be many things – defined by the people who gather in them.  There is some core that attracts people into them – it could be creating an active practice ground in a community or organization for new skills, a safe haven in an environment that seems resistant to new work and new ways of working, an opportunity to grow individual and collective capacity.

The ones I’ve been part of seem to have an energy and magnetic attraction of their own that keep people showing up, an ease of flow and relationship, shared leadership and shared responsibility.  Nobody has to make them happen, they almost seem to make themselves happen.  They are fun.  People who show up really want to see each other, be with each other and dive into deep places within themselves and with each other.  There is some intentionality applied and the CoP is able to follow the path of emergence that points to what needs and wants to happen next to be most meaningful to work, relationships and learning.  Many of these CoPs don’t just know that something different is possible, they are beginning to demand it and showing up together, cultivating deep relationships and imagining what is possible that none of us individually might have imagined on our own while growing skills to support what we are envisioning is one way of creating movement, maybe even creating a movement.