Self empowerment threatens

Self empowerment threatens the stories we have been telling ourselves for as long as we can remember. Whether its myself I’m empowering, or watching another reach into their own empowerment, my life is changing. My choice:

  • be upset, feel threatened, find ways to thwart the coming change
  • be supportive, feel excitement, find ways to nuture the coming change

The choice is, in the end, about fighting or allowing.

The choice is, in the end, about fighting or allowing. 

In my last post, Beware listening through stories, I describe two ways people showed up for me while I was going through a tough time. Simply put: they listened through their stories and grief and were unable to support me, or they put their stories aside and listened and encouraged me in my own story. The former was about fighting threats to their view of the world; the latter was about creating the conditions to help me find my way. (Both are reasonable responses, yet as the receiver, only the latter feels like love and care.)

At Donald Trump’s inauguration in January there was great talk of a wall. At that same time, I was making my own wall to protect myself in a difficult time. I needed to figure out what my boundaries were. Here’s what it looked like in my journal:

I came to the realization that I am not going to stop doing what I need to do to be me, to grow into who I am growing into. On my side of the wall, at the end of a 21 year marriage, it meant looking after myself in a whole new way. (I know, this begs description and this will come.) What it meant was self-empowerment.

I am not going to stop doing what I need to be doing to be me, to grow into who I am growing into. 

On the other side of the wall was upset. What came my way was advice, fury, sadness, directions, and explanations — and a need for explanation. I imagine what was brewing for many behind the scenes: confusion, envy, anger and grief. When I am low, however, support does not come in their reactions to my reality, despite their best intentions. Others’ advice, fury, sadness, directions and need for me to explain what happened are about them and their journey, not me and mine. Hence: a wall.

Others’ advice, fury, sadness, directions and need for me to explain what happened are about them and their journey, not me and mine. Hence: a wall. 

Travel through the wall is two-way. When fragile, I stay on my side and raise the ramparts for those stuck in their story and their projections, unable to support me when I need it. Those able to walk alongside me, to care for me and my story, come through. This is moment by moment boundary setting to ensure that when I feel fragile, my needs come first.

When I feel strong enough I travel through the wall into other people’s stories, to walk alongside them without my story. To support them in their own awareness and self empowerment. I do this when the following conditions are in place:

  1. I am open, able to release my story
  2. The other is self-aware, knows that their story is their story
  3. The other is open to exploring the tension they experience in their story, what is going on for them
  4. There is love, care and safety for us

I realize now that what I have made for myself is perhaps more of  a cocoon of sorts, than a wall. It’s a safe place where I become more me, to prepare to be more me out in the world. Inside the cocoon I am not necessarily alone; there are people who join me and support me in my journey. Those that are able to travel with me join me. I leave the cocoon more frequently now, I go back and forth, stronger and more able to leave the parts of my story behind – not forgotten – to join others in their journey.

It seems the cocoon is not a one-time place and time for transformation, but one I can carry with me and make for myself whenever I need it. It is the boundaries I set for myself and the interactions I have with people, and the discernment about when I am able to be with them in their story out in the world and my expectations of people I invite into my cocoon, my side of the wall. I imagined the wall as permeable and so too is the cocoon. In addition, the cocoon is not a one-time event; I conjure it when I need it because change is not a one-time event. (I like my friend Michael’s take on change: think of it not as a noun, but as a verb.)

We all have the same choice, whether the change comes from within or without: resist our transformation or allow it. 

Self-empowerment is threatening to our sense of self and others’ sense of self. People will go to great lengths to keep us we were, and we will go to great lengths to keep them as they were. We all have the same choice, whether the coming change comes from within or without: resist our transformation or allow it.

As you become more you, what boundaries do you put in place to support your own empowerment?


 

Beware listening through stories

On February 3, 2017 my former partner and I shared parallel messages to let friends know what was happening in our personal lives:

This message let a wider circle of friends know what was happening in our internal worlds, but for most of my interactions with people, for months, when asked “how are you?” my answer was “good.” Sometimes I’d be more honest and say, “You know, I’m ok today. I have some stuff going on and I’m not at my best.” But the majority of time, the most people knew was that I was “good”, or “fine”. Just like them, I suspect, I gave the answer we all hope to hear, that all is well.

Here’s what I have learned: there is no way any of us can possibly know what is going on for someone else by looking at them, or even briefly talking to them. It is irresponsible to think that we can.

There is no way any of us can possibly know what is going on for someone else by looking at them.

As I hunkered down to make sure I kept it together during a significant time of transition in my life, and made my way through the world, I realized that no one else knows what is going on for me. A handful of people got close and gave me the gift of love and support, but when I went out to get groceries or went to work, I did not have a sign on me telling others what was happening. Even if I did have that sign — 21 year marriage just ended — they would still have no idea what it meant for me. All they have is their story.

It is not possible for others to know my story and what it means to me. And this tells me that when I see others on the street, or in a workshop or at work, it is not possible for me to know  their story and what it means to them. I can not know by looking, and I can not know by hearing a wee piece of story either. All I can know is the meaning I make of the story I tell myself. All I have is my story.

It is not possible for me to know their story and what it means to them… All I can know is the meaning I make of the story I tell myself. 

The tricky work of being in relationship with others is in recognizing that my reaction to what others do and say is my reaction. The stories I tell myself about them are my stories. To show up as my best self with them means I have to be aware of the stories I tell myself.

I have learned this because the stories others tell themselves about me are not my experience. Here are a few story pieces a handful of people have shared directly with me:

  • There must be a reason why! There must be someone to blame. Who made this happen?
  • You have lost so much! You are alone, without a partner. This is tragic.
  • You must be lonely.
  • You must not know what to feel, so I will tell you how you must be feeling.
  • You must not know what to do, so I will tell you what you need to know. Here’s how to handle money… here’s how to handle the separation agreement… here’s how to handle the kids.

These stories these dear people carry about my and my situation shape how they offer support to me. As they listen through their story, they act in ways that soothe them, not me. Despite good intentions, they are not supporting me at all. To me, what they say and do can feel disempowering; I sense a pre-supposition that I am broken, flawed, that something is now missing in my life that should be there, that I am incomplete. These stories that are not my own and have the power to deflate me — if I let them.

In contrast, a series of other stories have revealed themselves to me, that recognize and support my journey:

  • It took courage acknowledge the need to separate.
  • It took courage to enact the separation.
  • This is a time of transition, confusion and metamorphosis.
  • This is hard work and you are capable of handling this.
  • I am available to listen, with out judgement, and simply be with you.

This set of stories embodies an entirely different way of supporting me because they are listening for my story; they are not listening through their story. To support me, they put their story aside and make room for me. They trust that I am fully capable of living through a difficult time. When we spend time together, they give me space and room to figure out my next steps without inserting their agenda. If they are uncomfortable and upset about my new reality, they are able to put that aside and not let it run the show.

I have a new understanding about what it means to be heard and supported as we make our way through our lives. For me specifically it means this:

  1. I pay more attention to my own state and ability to be with others. If I am not able to listen for their story (and only able to listen through my story), I need to remove myself.
  2. I pay more attention to the quality of listening in others toward me. If they are only capable of listening through their story, and I am in need of support, I remove myself. If they are only capable of listening through their story and I am capable of listening for their story, I will stick around and be supportive.
  3. I choose to notice the stories I tell myself, check if they belong to me and if they are disempowering myself and/or others.

 

s t r e t c h i n g

s t r e t c h i n g

stretching is

the power to welcome

growing appreciation

for play

for belonging safely

in gratitude

sitting together

in fun and friendship

with open hearts

allows discernment

for next steps

hosting slowly to go far

in synergies of joy

and unexpected gifts

of seeing 

our quivers full

s t r e t c h i n g

courage and initiative


A poem caught in our closing circle at The Art of Hosting the Beauty in Difference in Edmonton last month.

Take the stage

 

When learners get to take the stage and show what they know, in whatever way they choose, it is amazing what will come out. They seem to learn more with this responsibility.

At the end of The Art of Hosting the Beauty in Difference last month, participants hosted themselves to notice what they knew and understood differently at the end of our four days together. They noticed–of course–that they learned different things and show what they learn in different ways. There was a 3D artifact, a skit, a musical, a dance and the team that hosted them in this experience by offering minimal, yet effective, structure.

This poem was caught while listening to them describe what they learned when pausing to notice what they had learned.

_____

take the stage

the heart 

of connecting

doesn’t take long 

when the participants

take the stage 

all it takes is

an invitation

to say yes

to trusting

the energy

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Depths of my inside world

The longer arm points to the camp
where I find prejudice and hurt
and hope
in the personal and local
I’m not so naive 
as I’m growing, discerning
what to say
what to be thankful for
what to look to: a spiral of fear or the good that always comes
what feeds my spirit Continue reading Depths of my inside world

How to say goodbye

When it’s over, it’s over. This is one of the principles of Open Space Technology a conversation process founded by Harrison Owen. The idea is this: when your conversation feels like it is over, ask, “is it over?” If yes, you move on to another conversation that energizes you. If no, you make arrangements to continue. Continue reading How to say goodbye

The expert/theatre trap

At the outset of summer I found myself in the expert trap: I started talking and talking and talking, not leaving any room for anyone else.

Friend A was organizing a big lecture about community connection. Friend B, Friend C and I were talking about how ironic it was to have a bigwig speaker in town to tell us about community connection, with us all sitting there in passive listening mode in a theatre and that we would not make any new connections in our community. So Friend B got in touch with Friend A to see if she would like to circle up and see what could be done. (Friend A is of our tribe of people who see this kind of conundrum.)

The conundrum is that we don’t get to know each other when we sit like this:

theatre style

Deeply embedded in this shape is expertise and the assumption that she at the front of the room has it and we do not. It is an empty vessel approach, where we, as the audience, need to be filled with all the things we do not know. Moreover, even after we have listened for ages, we are given no opportunity to notice what we know and understand differently, to consolidate what we are learning. And we are not given this opportunity as an individual, or a small groups or large groups. We drink from the firehouse then leave with a few drops of nourishment.

It’s not that this mode of information exchange is not needed–it is, under the right circumstances (see last two posts: shapes of conversation and direction or discernment). My point is this: Friend A was caught in a swirling environment of assumption that the best way to talk about connection was to disconnect ourselves from ourselves, and each other, and assume that the expert outsider has more information on the matter than we do. The ‘machinery’ of the city is caught in the assumption that we need to be told what to do, that we are not capable of figuring this thing out. Embedded in this is the further assumption that if we are simply told, we will go and do it and the problem will be fixed.

Friend A pulled off a remarkable feat. She acknowledged the desire, and in fact the need, to hear what the expert had to say (in theatre mode), then created a new shape that allowed people to meet each other, connect with each other, and figure out what this new information meant for them, for our lives and for our city. She did this:

small circles

Instead of leaving with a only a few drops from the firehouse (as is what happens with a lecture), people left having met and connected with people new to them.  They met around topics of shared interest. They took some time to notice what the lecture meant to them in practical ways that will change their lives and the city around them; they began to integrate what they learned into their being as individuals and a loose collective. Friend A delivered on connection not just by inviting an expert in, but by creating the conditions for the audience–citizens–to truly hear the expert by connecting with themselves and each other.

I almost wrecked everything for Friend A it because when Friends B, C and I met with her I fell into the expert trap. We sat at an outdoor cafe table on a sunny early summer day and missed that we were sitting in a circle. I didn’t let others speak. I said what I see, much like is written above, and then said it again and again.

Passion, impatience and my own insecurity got the better of me.

One of the reasons I most appreciate the circle as a shape for conversation is that it helps me find my place with others in a way that allows others to also have their place in the conversation. It does not diminish me: it focuses me. And most importantly, it allows us–me and the people I am with–to better see what we need to see. It does not diminish my passion, but allows it to show up more appropriately.

And, of course, the irony is not lost on me. What I was most critical of out in the world was what I was doing myself.

What I was most critical of out in the world was what I was doing myself.

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What opportunities do you see in your city to shift from the one-way “expert lecture” to create the conditions for collective discernment? What is your role in this?

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Conversation: direction or discernment?

In my last post on the shapes of conversation, I made the distinction between forms of meeting that facilitate direction (the board table and the theatre) and those that facilitate listening and discernment of collective action.

These two options–direction and discernment–are quite distinct from each other in terms of their usual shape, their purpose, and the assumptions made by all involved in where the expertise and leadership resides and how information flows. Further, the role of the “host” also differs, from chairing the meeting to creating the space, or a container, in which the discernment can take place.

DIRECTION DISCERNMENT
SHAPE board table, theatreboard and theatre small circles, large circlecircles
PURPOSE tell, direct, instruct, set people up to go do something listen, share, integrate, figure things out together
EXPERTISE in one, select few in everyone
LEADERSHIP at the top shared, distributed
INFORMATION FLOW from one or few, down to others from everyone to everyone
HOST ROLE chair the meeting co-create the space, or a “container”

Both approaches are right–in the right circumstances. It is a matter of acknowledging the purpose of the gathering and designing for that purpose. (For more on these purposes, see the shapes of conversations.) But these two choices are not mutually exclusive; the circle can be at the board table and direction can be set in a circle.

These two choices are not mutually exclusive. The circle can be at the board table. Direction can be found in a circle.

We don’t have two clear-cut choices. It’s not as though there will be no discernment for collective action at a board table, or that in working in circle there will be no direction established for the group or for individuals. What we do have to recognize is that regardless of the shape we feel the strong pull of expertise, and the assumption that expertise resides only in one or a few of us.

We have a deep-rooted tendency to feel either that “I am the expert”, or to feel that “they are the experts.” There are times when this is true, like my doctor friend with expertise in infectious diseases that I described last week, who has a clear role to inform and direct other physicians about what to do when unfamiliar diseases present themselves. There are many times when we find ourselves with other people and the expertise is shared, but we operate as though expertise–mine or others’–is what rules the day. When we believe this, it dictates the shape the conversation takes, regardless of our physical form. When we find ourselves in the expert trap, looking for direction, or giving direction, we are not stepping into the shared leadership that we are called to offer.

Circle square

With the intention of collective discernment the circle shape can find its way around a table. It depends entirely on how we put ourselves in the conversation. Here are a three principles and three practices my The Circle Way Colleagues and I use, developed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.

Three Principles 

  1. Leadership rotates among all circle members
  2. Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience
  3. Reliance is on wholeness rather than any person agenda

Three Practices

  1. Speak with intention: note what has relevance to the conversation in the moment
  2. Listen with attention: respect of the learning process for all members of the group
  3. Tend to the well-being of the circle: remain aware of the impact of our contributions

These principles and practices are a simple place to start, yet challenging to implement because they embody a significant cultural shift from our automatic expertise stance, to one that welcomes, invites and accommodates the diverse expertise within and around us.

Openness to vulnerability is leadership–and this kind of leadership is shared and easier to carry if we are brave enough to notice when it is needed. 

There is a cultural shift required of us to embody discernment, whether at the board table, or in a circle. We are each required, as citizens, to be self-aware in ways we are not well-practiced, and this self-awareness is a necessary precondition to collective awareness and discernment. At most board tables self-awareness is a scary proposition because it comes with vulnerability, but in this cultural shift vulnerability is not a liability, but a strength. Openness to vulnerability is leadership–and this kind of leadership is shared and easier to carry if we are brave enough to notice when it is needed.

Which principle or practice feels the most scary to you? 

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Resource:

The Circle Way Guidelines outline the components of circle, in addition to the principles and practices described above, that help create the conditions for collective discernment in a circle or even at a board table.

**Caveat** This form of conversation is not easily accommodated in a theatre setting for this simple reason: people can’t see each other.

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The shapes of conversations

The shape of a meeting reflects the purpose of the meeting: telling or listening. Both are appropriate depending on the intentional purpose of the meeting, and often telling and listening purposes are simultaneous. Here are questions I ask to figure out what shape I will use in preparing for a meeting:

  • What is the purpose of the gathering?
  • What needs to be told and who needs to tell it?
  • Who will be listening and to whom are they listening?
  • What are we listening for?
  • What is the shape that serves the purpose?

We are most familiar with two shapes of conversation: the board table and the theatre. These shapes, and our behaviour in these shapes, is about expertise and power; at the front of the room, or at the head of the table, is the one from whom we expect will tell us what to do, the boss or the expert. One person has the answers and the rest expect the answers. One person knows what to do and the others will make it happen.

board and theatre
Shapes of telling and following: the board table and the theatre

These are shapes for telling and following, for providing direction.

We all participate in these shapes: the boss/expert expects others to follow and the subordinates have steep expectations of the boss/expert. The boss will say how things will unfold. Subordinates expect clear directions.

The shapes of telling and following are the right choice in the right circumstances. A doctor friend has extensive expertise is infectious diseases and she has a role in the health care system to serve as a resource for front-line doctors. She has knowledge they need in their work; when something strange happens in their practice she tells them what they need to know as a speaker at a conference, at meetings around board tables or by teleconference, or a one-on-one consult. While there is room for questions from front-line doctors to understand what she is telling them, they trust the information she conveys, take it and use it directly. My doctor friend is in the telling role. The front-liners listen and follow.

Listening is a crucial part of telling and following. The subordinates, or the audience, are there to listen and are expected but the boss/expert to listen. This is listening as an individual: I hear what the boss/expert has to say, I take some notes, and I will adjust my actions as dictated.

The shape of a conversation shifts dramatically if the gathering has a purpose different from telling and listening. The intentional purpose of a conversation may be to explore and digest, and figure out a way forward together. In this case, the shape shifts to circle, where the expertise and contributions of everyone–rather than one or select few–are welcomed. The listening is done by individuals and the group because the purpose of the conversation is about collective discernment: we have something to figure out together.

circles
Shapes for collective listening and discernment: the circle of many sizes

These are shapes for listening–as individuals and as a group–that lead to wise action.

Shapes of listening and discernment are the right choice in the right circumstances. A city planner colleague of mine is working to create a new set of rules to guide infill development in his city and he recognizes that there are people with different perspectives on this that need to be taken into account: other people in city hall, builders and developers, and citizens and community organizations. He recognizes that they all have pieces to the city-puzzle we are making. He needs to listen to them all and he recognizes that as these different perspectives listen to each other, better solutions come forward. He offers, around little tables and within the whole group, ways for people to listen to each other and find ways forward that look after a wide range of interests. This tangibly helps him in his work and it enables everyone else make a city that serves them well.

All of these shapes are right in the right time and place. It all depends on the purpose: telling or listening, direction or conversation.

As you design and prepare for your next gathering, ponder these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the gathering?
  • What needs to be told and who needs to tell it?
  • Who will be listening and to whom are they listening?
  • What are we listening for?
  • What is the shape that serves the purpose?

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Interested in learning more about circle? You might be interested in The Circle Way Practicum and/or exploring The Circle Way.

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6 circle lessons (from a dream)

NestCity-BlogPostEvery once and a while a dream knocks me back into reality. I was setting up to run a meeting, the second in a series of three for a client. This meeting was going to work a lot like the first, but I forgot to print off my version of the agenda, the one with all the notes I have about what I need to say. I lost the plot. So I decided to wing it and start the meeting. Continue reading 6 circle lessons (from a dream)