Princess Stories – A Key to Conflict Resolution

When we are engaged in conflict with someone else, it is often difficult to step out of it to gain perspective.  It is hard to pinpoint the exact problem, usually because we are absolutely convinced the problem is the other person, although we may begrudgingly admit that we might be contributing to the problem.

The answers to conflict resolution can be pretty easy.  Opening up to them is the hard part.  They are contained in the stories we tell.  If we can allow ourselves to listen to our own stories with a more discerning ear, we may be able to penetrate to the heart of the conflict more easily.

Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith, in their book Resolving Personal and Organizational Conflict, present a framework I find useful and powerful in explaining the underlying dynamics of conflict and my clients find it engaging. It is a way to explore worldview and experience the transformative power of worldview awareness.  It is based on the notion that we tell stories in a certain way when we are in conflict. The framework looks like this:

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Princess Story Triangle

If you think of fairy tales of old ( since the very nature of our fairytale storytelling is now, thankfully, changing), there is usually a Princess or damsel in distress waiting to be rescued by the Prince from the Dragon, wicked step-mother or other perpetrator.  The Princess is pure and beautiful and always the victim of circumstance or of the jealous or evil intentions of someone who has some kind of influence or power over her life.  She never rescues herself.  The dragon is evil and hateful and has it out for the Princess. The Prince is handsome and gallant and always arrives to rectify the situation.  (It is important to remember these are archetypal roles that we all assume so even though the Princess is referred to as “she” it could just as easily and often be a “he” in the role.)

We often tell our conflict stories from the perspective of the Princess.  In our stories about conflict we have with another person we are the victim.  Somebody has done something to us.  Whatever we perceive they have done, we use to justify our own actions or behaviour in the conflict especially when we find ourselves “acting out of character”.  When we act out of reaction, anger, frustration, we don’t feel good about ourselves or how we treated someone else.  If we can rationalize that we have been provoked into our reaction, that at least offers an explanation for our own behaviour that we can live with, that supports our worldview.  We become identified with our position and are unwilling to acknowledge what we may have done to contribute to the situation. The less heard we feel, the more entrenched we become in our position. Our attempts to resolve the conflict feel like giving in.

We want other people to understand our reaction in light of the provocation so we paint the person we are in conflict with as the “dragon”.  Then, it’s as if we had no choice because the dragon forced us into it.  While we see ourselves as “acting out of character” we see the dragon in our story as very much acting within character for them, more so if the conflict has gone on for awhile or is particularly entrenched.

One of the reasons we tell our conflict stories to others is that we are looking for our knight in shining armour to come along and rescue us.  Sometimes the rescue is simply in being validated or acknowledged for our own actions.  “The dragon did such a terrible thing, no wonder you reacted the way you did.”  Other times we are looking for someone to do something for us, to intervene or to make the dragon disappear.

In promoting our princess stories to whoever will listen, we are looking for sympathy. If we don’t get it, we go deeper into our story, give more detail, repeat ourselves. The repetition makes the story more and more real and we become more entwined with it. We drive ourselves deeper into the princess role because surely that will generate the sympathy we think we need. In exchange for the sympathy we seek, we trade in whatever power we may have to rectify our situation.  In the victim role, we are helpless to defend ourselves, change our situation or learn from the conflict.

When we finally realize that the knight in shining armour is us, we stop looking for the prince.  When we recognize that the dragon may not be purely evil but also “acting out of character”, we can begin to relinquish the princess role and truly learn from our plight.  One key to doing this is to tell our story from the perspective of our dragon, to become curious about how they are seeing the world.  The dragon in our story has their own version, their own worldview, of the conflict story.  What are the odds that they actually paint themselves as the dragon?  About the same as us painting ourselves as the dragon in our own story. Although sometimes that dragon is an internal dragon.

dragonform

As we tell the story from their perspective, we put ourselves in their shoes.  It enables us to see them in a new light.  Maybe they were reacting to something we said or did.  Perhaps they feel just as helpless in the escalation of this conflict as we feel. Maybe new awareness of their challenges and difficulties come to light that help us soften our own story, make us more curious and more generous, expanding the space for generative conversation to emerge.

Another benefit of telling the story from the perspective of the dragon is that it just might enable us to admit the pieces of our own princess story that we have omitted – the pieces that might have contributed to the dragon’s response, behaviour or actions.  If we let down our guard only momentarily, instead of signaling to the dragon an opportunity to attack as we fear it will, it just might signal an opening to disarm the conflict.

In order to do this, we must give up our need to be right and open ourselves up to alternative explanations, stories, scenarios or worldviews.  It is possible to have more than one right answer although when we feel absolutely that we are right it is a challenge to believe this.

Our princess story contains our truth. It is not always factual truth but it is emotional truth.  It also contains omissions.  The dragon’s story contains truth and omissions too.  It is in bringing the truths and the omissions together that an alternative story emerges, one that often contains the framework or foundation for resolution in an expanded truth.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our experience. What conflict could you shift the shape of if you found a different way to tell the story, if you become curious about the situation, your reaction, the other person, if you became more gracious and generous in responding to them – even if it is a stretch as you begin. Some stretches end up being worth it.

Dragon and Princess

Not Enough Time

Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver

Not enough time in the day.  Not enough time to get everything done. Not enough time to begin a project, to have a  conversation. Not enough time with a loved one.  Not enough time. Not enough.

clock with woman Clock with man

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am certain that in a world that seems to move at an ever increasing pace, almost every one of us has, at some point, uttered the wish for more hours in a day. Because of the pressure of to-do lists that never get completed, have you ever jammed more than is humanly possible into a day or tried to eliminate sleeping hours from your schedule? Has your feeling of not enough time, not getting things done ever been turned into a story of you not being enough?

Time. It is relative. When my older sons were little I remember one of them saying to me after I probably said, “Just a minute”, “Mom, minutes are long.” Minutes are long. They are short too. The day I stood on the mountainside in Gold Lake, Colorado in 2009, minutes were timeless, time out of time. Minutes can be 60 seconds and it can be a turn of a phrase where we have not assigned it a finite meaning of time.

Have you noticed that jamming the day full to the brim of all those endless to-do’s doesn’t seem to solve the problem?  Often it exacerbates it because time to refresh and renew is not scheduled in, leaving less opportunity for intentionality – intentionality in the stories you tell yourself and intentionality in your actions – so your stories count, your actions count, your passion is tapped into and surfaced so you feel yourself more alive in any of those precious moments.

What to do? There are many things to do to address the feeling that there is not enough time. Here are seven offerings on how to MAKE IT COUNT.

relax renew refresh

1. Tell yourself a better story – even if, as you begin it it doesn’t feel true – because neither is the story you have defaulted into.  Tell the story that supports how you want to be, how you want to show up, how you want to feel about time available to you and about your life, your path, your journey. Tell a story that makes these things count.

2. Who are the people you value – in life and work? Significant other? Children? Parents? Friends? Colleagues? Work partners? Others you work with or for? Schedule them in. Make the time for visits, phone calls, checking in. Otherwise, opportunities are missed and one day we may come to regret it.

3. Know your own priorities and dedicate time to work on them without distractions. One distraction is the priorities that others land on you.  Do they need to become your priorities or can they be handled in a different way or at a different time? Surprise yourself.  Ask the question.

4. Say no. Not arbitrarily but with intention.  It makes your yes more powerful and you can be more committed to your yeses when you know you have not taken on things that don’t fit with your passion, your goals, your context, because you thought you should, because you felt obligated, because you were asked.  Things that end up being done half heartedly because your heart wasn’t in it.

5. Turn off email.  Yes. It is possible.  It can be done.  Pick a time or two of day when you will respond and be disciplined about it.  Do you have your social media linked to your email that keeps distracting you back to social media? Turn it off. You can visit social media whenever you want, and you can schedule it.  You really won’t miss that much.

6. Do you know what renews you? Exercise. Quiet. Music. Meditation. Walking. Sleep. You name it. Go do it!  Schedule it in. You will be able to tackle that to-do list with more energy and move through it faster.

7. Need a half day for a project but can’t find it.  What are you doing with those 5, 10, 15 minute slots of time that show up between calls, before lunch, before heading out to a meeting? What if you opened a document?  Formatted a proposal? Captured a few thoughts? Read a few pages in a book that inspires you? You might be surprised how those brief intervals of time can add up to meaningful segments when you approach them with more intentionality and the same spontaneity you bring to surfing the web or other distractions that come your way.

Distractions are not all bad. But time is a precious commodity.  Doesn’t mean every minute has to be filled with doing.  It’s better if some of it is filled with being, renewing, remembering.  There are enough hours in the day, in the week.  Make them count.

 

Long Term Impasse at a Manufacturing Company Resolved With Two Hour World Cafe

Alanna Kennedy turned heads in our opening circle at the March 2014 Art of Hosting offering in St. Paul, Minnesota when she said she had recently hosted a World Café with welders at Emerson, the manufacturing company where she is a production manager. It was so successful she then did one with shippers.  A true life long learner (see about Alanna at the end of this post) and a third generation in manufacturing, she is not looking for what can’t be done, she is looking for how results can be achieved and success rates improved.  And in both of the Cafés she hosted, the outcome had immediate impact.

world cafe Fredericton 2013

In the case of the welders, there was a long term debate surrounding the criteria by which to measure and know if an individual welder was working within and meeting quality guidelines.  Everyone had a different idea.  In a way, the welders and the supervisors and engineers were speaking different languages with different worldviews. They were not able to hear each other across the worldviews and across assumptions of what they thought they knew about the other. The World Café method was an invitation into letting go of what they thought they knew and into becoming curious about what might be possible.

The original debate was about one measurement only – quality errors.  Welders resisted, speaking also about the individual signature of each welder and in some instances unclear written processes. There was a limiting belief, common in many places with many different work groups, that the welders, if left to their own devices, might want to negotiate for the greatest flexibility possible.  Welders know, like many trades and professions, that the quality of work of any one individual reflects on the quality of the whole.  They want high standards.

Alanna, being on the lookout for what works, sees opportunity in many processes and programs intended to address improving quality and operational standards.  Some forecast the failure of rate of programs like Lean and Lean-Six Sigma to develop lasting cultures of continuous improvement to be as high as 60%.  She calls this “fake lean”.   Overall, she says these programs are great at addressing the structure and technology questions for continuous improvement. However, they are lacking in the methods and tools to support the cultural and social development, or people questions, required to develop and sustain, through time, cultures of continuous improvement.  Alanna believes all change starts with social interaction. Change happens and work gets done through people, through the social systems. Enter the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter, which she found through Action Learning, with an emphasis on working with human systems, recognizing that the wisdom is in the room with the group most directly affected by the proposed change and that there are a few processes specifically intended to elicit the collective intelligence.

After attending a World Café workshop offered by Jerry Nagel of the Meadowlark Institute in Minneapolis, Amy Lenzo of the World Cafe Community and others, Alanna brought fifteen welders from across the three shifts together for two hours in a world café process. They were paid for their time even if they were off duty during the World Café and they were invited into a series of conversations about criteria for assessing a welder’s work.  For this particular Café, managers were present but supervisors and engineers were not invited.  What emerged in two hours was a resolution to the long impasse and a structure that never would have emerged without this café conversation process.

The welders identified three distinct categories of standards: welding skills, manufacturing processes and the individual signature of the welder.  This is a more comprehensive structure than what was proposed by supervisors and engineers and a structure welders were willing to hold themselves and each other accountable to because they want their counterparts to uphold a certain level of professionalism on behalf of the whole.  The results were captured in a document that reflected the conversations and that document was approved by HR and executive managers.  The end result was the resolution of a long term impasse with a better quality of result than had been previously considered possible.

Alanna then did a World Café with shippers who needed new work stations.  Others in the organization had been trying to design a new work station for the shippers but many of the shippers hadn’t been included in the initial planning and they were obviously stalling.  They did not like the proposed design.  Alanna rounded up shippers from all three shifts for a two hour World Café process. There were three tables of five people. The shippers changed tables, circling around design ideas, sharing what would and would not work until three new work bench designs that they believed would support their needs were developed.  In the harvesting, the shippers were able to share their ideas and the reasoning behind their designs with the engineers.  The shippers had the opportunity to engage in a different type of dialogue.  Again, a resolution to an impasse was obtained within a couple of hours by using the world café process.

Was it worth paying the shippers and the welders for their time?  Was it worth a two hour investment of time to call upon the collective intelligence of the group most directly affected by the changes? Was it worth the risk of bringing social technologies to a manufacturing organization?  The results speak for themselves.

Many people who have attended an AoH training or are aware of the methodologies like world café, open space technology, circle practice, appreciative inquiry will often say, “That’s really great, but it will never fly where I work.”  That’s why Alanna turned heads when she said she worked in manufacturing.

When asked how she might respond to people who say, “It will never work here”, she offered, “You have to careful.  I used it where we were stuck and had been working on an issue. In preparation, I bought each of my colleagues a set of books – circle, open space, world café and action learning – and put them on their desks.  I talked to them.  I first gained the support of my peers.”

She was strategic in her approach. The need, purpose and intention for the café were clear.  She knew who she needed to have in the room, and who not to have. She knew the result she was after in each case – eye on the outcomes – and she understood the conditions that would lead to the generative conversations necessary for success.  She had the confidence to take, what for some people, is a risk.  “A critical piece to understand is that all change is facilitated and begins with human interaction.  If you don’t address that, you won’t get the desired results, no matter how good the plan or the technology.”

Why does AoH work? “Because it is not about mimicking what some other company or some other people did to achieve success.  It is about adaptive solutions generated from the people and systems most affected.”

About Alanna Kennedy

Alanna Kennedy

Alanna Kennedy

Alanna loves the manufacturing world.  She describes it as “a unique social laboratory” which is why she deliberately returned to this world after completing her PhD.  She is a “hands on” manufacturing professional formally trained and experienced in operations and materials management with an active interest in the research and development of social systems within organizations as they pertain to the development and sustainability of cultures of continuous improvement.

Her 2011 doctorate in Organizational Development with an emphasis on successful cultures of continuous improvement with a focus on the facilitation and implementation of Lean, Six Sigma, and SEAM (Socio-Economic Assessment of Management) methods is from the University of St. Thomas, MN, where she also completed her MBA in 1990 with a concentration in operations and systems excellence including the use of lean methods.  Her undergrad BA is from the Indiana University Bloomington in Cultural Anthropology and Psychology (1980) with a concentration in social systems and the application of macro economic theory in non-western societies.

She is certified in lean methods by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.  She is CPIM certified by the APICS organization in production scheduling and inventory management, and is a licenced instructor for the global quality standards of electronics with the IPC Association.  She is also a licenced Brain Gym instructor, a kinesiology based program which uses physical movement to improve focus, learning and over all performance, combining it with Action Learning and Brain Gym and observing amazing, accelerated results for people working with stress and goal setting.

She will continue to pursue her curiosity about the integration of AoH practices and patterns with continuous improvement philosophies by doing a deeper dive into some of the individual methods and identifying opportunities for application in industrial environments.

Virtual Circle Check-In as an Entry Way to Practice

In the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter Training where Jerry Nagel and I are part of the hosting team, after we experience circle practice, usually as a form of check-in on our first day, we offer a little teach on check-in and check-out practices as a routine part of a meeting structure and flow, as a way to help people arrive into the purpose of the meeting and to wrap up the meeting before everyone departs.  We share how we, like many of our colleagues, also do this with our calls or virtual meetings as we are part of many hosting teams where members are drawn from many locations.

A participant at a November 2013 training in Grand Rapids shared her experience with how using circle with a virtual work group shifted the shape of their experience.

hands shaking through computers

“I work pretty much 100% via phone. Today, I was bringing a group together after a few weeks unconnected during the holidays. Wondering how to loop everyone back into the groove, I recalled  one of the things we learned at AoH in Grand Rapids, about how a “circle” acts as a form of check in and grounding.  I explained briefly what we did at our AoH workshop with the circle and a structure. I asked them, if we actually had a physical circle, what structure would they place in it and what about it would they like to share.

“Wow!  It was amazing how their “structure” actually related to the previously stated goals of the group and their own stated goals.  This set the course for the rest of the meeting. What could easily have been a painful meeting listening to how busy everyone has been, blah, blah, blah – turned into an awesome meeting. Picking their “structure” back up set action in place for our next meeting too.

“Just wanted to let you know this stuff actually works – if we use it;)”

Love that last line – this stuff actually works – if we use it! Where is your entry point? How do you invite people so they feel invited, thoughtful about it and engaged?

Transformative Questions Can Shift Worldview – Guest Author Jerry Nagel

authored by Jerry Nagel (Originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry, January 3, 2014)

 “The success of the intervention is dependent upon the inner condition of the intervener.” William O’Brien (deceased), former CEO of Hanover Insurance

QuestionsQuestions. It seems that when one adopts inquiry as a core part of a way of being in the world there are always questions. Some are simple: “How are you today?” Some are reflective: “Why did I say that? How can I help in this situation?” Some challenge us to explore areas of interest more deeply: “What is the theory behind…? How can we be intentional about collective transformation?” Some are at the core of our worldviews: “What is really real? Who am I? Why am I here?”  And sometimes a question can change our lives by creating the conditions to alter our worldview. The asking of a simple question can be a transformative experience.

Jerry Nagel Floor Teach ed

July 3rd, 2003 I experienced the transformative question that started me on a journey that would shift my worldview, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was part of a small group of people working on agriculture and rural policy issues in the United States that had traveled to Europe to examine how environmental and social values were impacting European agriculture practices.  During dinner one evening a powerful question emerged within the group that influenced our conversations for the rest of the trip.  The question was “Have we been asking the same questions [about rural development policies] over and over for so long that we don’t even know what the right question is anymore?”

This transformative moment started me on a journey of exploration, learning and self-reflexivity that has led to a shift in my worldview, a change in professional focus and a reconnecting with a curiosity about human behavior that I had explored in my early teens. It also reconnected me to a strongly held belief in human possibility that developed in my late teens and twenties and a deeper awareness of our connections to something greater that, for me, is sensed most during my times in nature.

in nature

As I explored ideas, methods and programs to find the right questions for addressing the current rural policy issues in my work back home in Minnesota in a change lab initiative called the Meadowlark Project and through my participation in the Donella Meadows Leadership Program, I couldn’t escape a similar question that was simmering within me, “What was my own personal ‘right’ question?” Having spent my professional and intellectual life working as a research economist on rural development with a worldview that assumed that if we created investments in the material well-being of people and communities (jobs, buildings, roads, etc.) then rural communities would thrive, it surprised me to discover that when I challenged my professional worldview I was also challenging my own personal worldviews and related sense of self or identity as an economist.

There were two big learnings from my work with the Meadowlark Project Change Lab. First was a recognition that while we all wanted to have the difficult conversations about the challenging and complex issues the Change Lab was working to address, we didn’t have the skills to have them. Second was a realization that while addressing the material well-being of a community was important and necessary, it was not sufficient to build a wholly healthy community. To do so both the material and human side of a community’s life needs to be addressed.

I found myself drawn more and more to actions that connected the work of rural development with one’s own or a community’s set of values and beliefs, which also connected with the work of my own personal explorations.

 “The essence of our leadership journey is about growing into our true identity as a leader and, by doing so, accessing an intelligence that is greater than ourselves and encompasses the whole.” - Petra Kuenkel, Mind and Heart, 2008

As someone trained in economics, my worldview was deeply embedded in the notion of ‘man’ as an independent actor making rational choices of pure self-interest. I found myself challenged by the paradox that we humans experience ourselves as separate, unique and free individuals, and the social constructionist perspective, which I was learning about and coming to accept while writing my doctoral thesis on worldview and Art of Hosting, that everything that we are and all that matters actually comes from our relational experiences as humans and that this begins the moment we are born (and possibly before).

These paradoxes troubled me for some time, as I also sensed that exploring them was part of the journey to connecting with my life journey. So, while keeping one foot solidly planted in the work of answering the emergent questions about rural development policy I also committed to an even more intentional self leadership exploration of the deeper questions of “Who am I? What is my nature?”

The challenge it seemed to me in this exploration was to let go of attachments to specific images of myself that would prevent me from not only participating in whatever evolutionary changes this journey might offer, but also prevent me from seeing the whole and my relatedness to it. I was beginning to understand that my journey was becoming an exploration of the ‘range’ of me rather than the ‘one’ of me.

The work my colleagues and I have taken on through the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter invites us into a wholeness – a way to connect how we are in the world with practices that support our actions. It also invites us to continually be aware of our worldview(s) and the impact on our hosting.  For me, as an AoH practitioner and host, this is an essential element in the exploration of growing hosting artistry.

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.

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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.

Soul Encounter with Burnley (Rocky) Jones

Every now and then someone walks into a room, makes eye contact, a door to your heart opens and they walk right in. That’s exactly what happened to me the morning of June 19, 2013 when I met Rocky Jones.  It was a two way exchange, a soul encounter. I can count my in person exchanges with him on one hand, literally – three days of Art of Hosting training, two dinners – one with others and one in my home –  what was to be the beginning of a next phase of important and difficult work in the world and now is a sum total of something that cannot be readily explained in words.

Burnley (Rocky) Jones

Burnley (Rocky) Jones

Carolann Wright-Parks, a friend and colleague near and dear to my heart, had persuaded Rocky to attend the first half day of an Art of Hosting training for African Nova Scotian facilitators on behalf of the Ujamaa board, to show support.

Even then, given his health, Rocky knew his time was precious. He gave thought and care to how best to devote his time, telling us fishing had a strong call on him.  He came for the morning, participated in our opening circle, heard my good friend from MInnesota, Dave Ellis do a teach on World View (inspired by the work we are doing with Jerry Nagel of Meadowlark) and was inspired enough to clear his calendar for the next three days to participate.

His presence in my heart grew deeper roots the next morning when, as a group we were checking in to the day and this 71 year old man, a man who has seen and experienced much in his day, who shifted the shape of the world for so many in the province of NS and beyond, a legend in his own time, sat there in full humility marvelling at how much he does not yet know, how much he has to learn.  He knew, like so many of us when we encounter the wisdom of ancient futurism alive in the Art of Hosting that here was something that when we practice it could shift the shape of how we show up together and just possibly could shift the shape of our most entrenched problems.

And he knew about entrenched problems having encountered them since the time he was twelve, as he describes in this TedTalk on Breaking Down Social Barriers.  In our three days I watched him in his passion, curiosity and marvel as we shared frameworks for understanding he had never seen before and as he shared the history of African Nova Scotians making these frameworks come alive in his experience and the experience of the whole group.

I watched his incredulity at dinner one night in deep conversation with Roshanda Cummings a young woman from San Francisco who was on our hosting team about engaging youth, about how as a young Black woman, at times, she feels abandoned by her elders.  He listened deeply, asking questions, trying to understand her experience and what he could learn that could help him invite youth in a way that they could find meaning and be supported in their journey too.

When the Art of Hosting was over, I couldn’t wait for the next conversation we would be in, and the next, and the next – looking forward to learning from and with this man and to working with him. He reached out to me with a sense of urgency, wanting to find a time before I was on vacation and traveling again, thankfully, or it never would have happened.

At dinner in my home, we shared stories of journey, talked about the sense of soul connection.  He said to me, “When I walked into that room, you really stood out.” I paused for the briefest of moments and responded, “Well, I was the only white person in the room.”  We both laughed because we both knew that wasn’t what he meant.  Soul journeyers feeling the immediacy of connection.

He also said to me as we talked about a book he was in the process of writing with others, capturing the stories of his journey, “There isn’t enough time.”  As I imagined the work of the coming months, I told him, “There is always enough time.”

Turns out, he was right.  I have no doubt he was sensing his path.  And now he continues his work energetically in the spiritual realm.  And his work on the physical realm will be continued by many who have been deeply inspired by him, his authenticity, integrity, impact and ongoing sense of journey.

I grieve deeply for a man I met for a few brief seconds of life, who impacted me deeply.  I can only imagine the depth of grief of those who’ve known him longer and also the sense of celebration of a full life, a life worth living.  I celebrate knowing him and I will carry him in my heart and soul journey in my own continuing exploration of race and racism and of changing the conversations to ones of community, healing, belonging and acceptance.

The ancestors live on in us. Rocky lives on in many.

 

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.

Gossip – Harmful or Helpful?

The stories we tell shape our experiences as much and more than the experiences themselves.  For anything we experience, there are a myriad of ways the story of it can be told.  How the story is told illuminates a lot about us as individuals and about the culture of the organizations we work for.  Many of the stories told are not done so with thoughtfulness or intentionality and this makes them very revealing for anyone paying attention and even for people not so tuned in.  You want to know about a culture of an organization, pay attention to the stories told by those who work there and interact with them.

Recently I’ve been working with an organization that is struggling with morale, trust and relationships, sparked by many challenges the organization has experienced over the last few years.  The topic of gossip is a central theme and it has us all curious.  It is not the first time I have come across this in teams or organizations that are challenged or even labeled as dysfunctional.

gossip

There are many questions and assumptions in this group that are not unique to it.  How do you know when it’s gossip?  Is all gossip bad?  How do we share information?  How is gossip different than information sharing?  It’s how we decompress.  We deal with such pressing issues, it’s only natural we would gossip.

It is not “only natural” that we would gossip.  There are lots of choices around how to share information and even whether to share.  Gossip is a form of information sharing that goes beyond the facts and beyond the attempt to understand someone or something.  It has an edge.  It is often malicious.  It has the potential to impact other’s reputations in destructive ways.  Generally when gossip is a pattern in an organization or team individuals know they are just as likely to be gossiped about next as the current focus of the gossip.  And, they do it anyway.

Gossip is one way of creating alliances.  These alliances are often formed to keep others out or to target individuals in pejorative and harmful ways.  It shows up in win/lose cultures and is way of trying to win – at all costs.

It is mobile as things do not remain confidential but spread rapidly.  When gossip is rampant it often has truth, half truth and complete untruth in it and it is hard to distinguish which is which. It focuses on private and personal affairs, attributes, assumptions and insinuations about others.  There is an energy to gossip which feels conspiratorial, sucks people in but also leaves people feeling bad about themselves – sometimes without knowing why.  Sometimes it traverses into bullying.

In the organization I was working with recently, some wondered why I would focus on gossip when the pressing issues were clearly laid out in a mind map of patterns and themes distilled from employee responses to a survey.  Some named leadership and accountability as the two most significant issues.  I agreed.  I also named gossip, role clarity, boundaries as a few others and I kept coming back to gossip, much to the disbelief of some.  Patterns of gossip are also about control and power.  This comes out of the formation of alliances, being able to shut people down and pushing agendas that are of interest to a few but maybe not unilaterally to everyone.  If we can shift the pattern of gossip in an organization, it becomes possible to shift other patterns as well.  Gossip detracts us from what more is possible.  It is energy and time consuming.

As we wrapped up our day I asked two questions for the closing circle: what is your commitment to changing the conversation here and what is the intentional story you want others to know about this organization?

Some of the comments about gossip were particularly illuminating.

“I gossip when I am afraid to go to someone directly.”

“I know it’s gossip when I am eager to contribute something to the conversation.”

“I gossip when I don’t think I am as good as someone else.”

“I feel awful when I gossip.  It’s yucky.  I will not do it anymore.”

“I do not like the person I am when I gossip and I do not want to end my career at this organization in this way.”

A lack of respect for others, is a lack of respect for self.  Our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. What we say about others says far more about us than about them.

We stop gossip when we decide to stop participating in it.  When we become curious instead of playing in the judgment which characterizes so much gossip.  When we become compassionate about the situation and the people involved.  When we refuse to send gossip on.  When we hold ourselves accountable to stop and when we hold others accountable by refusing to gossip with them, when we invite them into an inquiry about what is the purpose of the information they are sharing and are they inviting a conversation about how to strategize having conversations that matter with the people involved instead of about them.

collaboration

 

When we stop filling the space between us with gossip we have the opportunity to fill that space with generosity, curiosity and compassion, with conversations that are meaningful and relevant and to focus on successes and the things we appreciate about each other and what we do.  When we cultivate this kind of foundation, we create the base from which to have the conversations we’ve been avoiding through gossip – conversations about leadership, accountability and the deep purpose of the work we are in.

Gossip is only helpful in seeing culture and identifying challenges.  It is not conducive to healthy workplaces or healthy relationships. When we replace gossip with intentional, appreciative conversations, we begin to create the conditions for more of what is possible, more of how we can serve the needs we have identified and a bonus is that we feel better about who we are and what we do.  This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the best of ways.

Celebrating My Father at 80

My dad, Hector Jourdain, turned 80 on March 29, 2013. A milestone birthday we weren’t always sure he would reach. A year ago he was barely able to move, couldn’t navigate the stairs in his house and was sleeping on a chair in his family room because of that.  He was in the hospital for a month, fighting an infection, a back so bad he couldn’t stand and the after effects of radiation therapy for prostate cancer – one of the many times he’d been in hospital for extended stays for different reasons over the last few years.

When he was wheeled into a doctor’s appointment because his legs were too weak to support him, his family doctor was sure he was headed for long term care.  The doctor didn’t reckon on my dad’s will to live.  And not just to live, but to live a life that still feels like it has quality to it.

dad and the boys - Christmas 2012

His desire to live a life beyond mere existence prompted him to inquire about an advertised back belt, which prompted me to seek out more information, finding him a better belt.  He took himself to physiotherapy – despite his own scepticism and the scepticism of his doctor and he began a road to recovery that astonished his doctor.  It didn’t astonish me.  I knew once he made the decision to live life that anything was possible.  It is one of the things he teaches me – anything is possible.

There are many things I might not have imagined.  Chief among them was that my mother would experience dementia and that my dad would reverse the traditional husband/wife roles and become her dedicated care giver for so many years before he exhausted himself and her condition became so bad we had to place her in long term care.

My mom and dad in 2000

My mom and dad in 2000

Easter Saturday we celebrated this milestone birthday with friends and family at my dad’s home where he lives alone with his two cats and loads of projects that keep him occupied.  He is building a punt (row boat) in his basement – the second punt he’s built after refurbishing a canoe that had been in his family for years and had been used by his father decades before that to rescue two people off of ice flows in the St. Lawrence Seaway over a Christmas holiday.

dad and his handiwork

His garage is a workshop where he still putters away at rebuilding engines or creating parts when he feels in the mood to do so.  He has been called a “magician” when it comes to fixing engines and engine parts.  He is renowned for his skill and expertise.  The “hobbies” he has now give him choice. When he feels like it, he has things to keep him occupied, including housework, yard work and fixing meals for himself, continuing to experiment with new recipes. When he doesn’t feel like taking on one of his numerous projects, he can take it as easy as he wishes.

My dad and I have journeyed great distances together – not so much geographically, but spiritually and emotionally for sure.  I always knew we shared a strong connection.  We’ve had our issues over the years.  I know I’ve disappointed him a few times.  Despite those moments, he has always loved me unconditionally.  My friends have always been welcome in my father’s home or on his boat, when I was a child growing up and as an adult.

Dad's pride and joy - Bluefin

In typical family dynamics, there were times as an adult he could make me feel like a chastised child or cause me to doubt or judge myself – not because he intended to but because of the activation of old patterns sparked by a word or tone.  In my own journey to myself, my journey to open heartedness and embracing the stranger in me, without working specifically on any issues I might have had with my dad, I resolved them to the point that there is no longer anything he says or does where I feel chastised or judged or even guilted.  Our relationship is mature, some give and take, a lot of love and support.  We don’t need to fill the space around us with words all the time.

My father was 45 when he underwent his first open heart surgery.  He has had more health issues than I can remember since that time, mostly in the last half dozen years or so.  And he is in pretty good health, all things considered – not the health of a young man but the reasonably good health of an 80 year old man who has experienced a lot in life.

In some ways, his turning 80 is a bit of a miracle – one I cherish.  He changed the course of my life without me knowing it until just a few years ago.  He and my mom were in the right place at the right time to find me.  It was my father’s friendship with my birth grandfather that created the opportunity for us to become a part of each other’s lives.  Without my father, my life path would have been very different.  Hard to know how different, or where I would be today – maybe somewhere close to where I am, maybe not.  Given that I’m happy with the path I’m on now that continues to unfold in the most delightful of ways, I’m grateful that our paths crossed when I was baby  and grateful to have him in my life now.