My gatekeeper tension

The tension is growing within me.  I am in the inner circle.  Five of us decide who gets to play in our community of practice playground.

Our purpose as a community is to create space and place to practice being (and being in) learning living systems as social innovators.  As I imagine the playground down the street and the various collections of small people during recess, they choose who they spend their time with.  Sometimes the choices are clear and easy, other times agonizing.  And the choice is ultimately about resonance and attraction.

I struggle with being in a position where I am expected to accept or reject the people interested in playing in our playground because it interferes with resonance and attraction.  A couple of months ago, I glibly referred to the inner circle as the gatekeepers.  Today, my curiosity about the word ‘gatekeeper’ compels further exploration: what it means, how it shows up, and whether the purpose of the gatekeeper is aligned with the purpose of our community of practice, and emerging operating principles.

What it means

The Collins dictionary on my shelf, a gatekeeper comes with a gate and a wall, defined thus:

  • Gatekeeper – ‘a person who has charge of a gate and controls who may pass through it’.
  • Gate – ‘a movable barrier for closing an opening in a wall, fence, etc.  It is an opening to allow for access’ (and egress).
  • Wall – ‘a construction used to enclose, divide or support, often to protect and surround a position or place for defensive purposes’.

How it shows up

The gatekeeper, the gate and the wall show up in how we organize our community of practice.  Simply:

  • The ways we enclose, support and protect ourselves are the wall.
  • The people (inner circle) who determine who may pass through the wall are the gatekeepers.
  • The criteria for passage are the gate.

The quality of the relationship between these three elements is crucial for them to work well together.  The purpose of the wall must be clear to articlate the criteria for passage.  The criteria or passage must be clear to determine who may pass through.  If not, both the gate and the gatekeeper are not able to ensure the intention of the wall is realized.

Alignment of purpose

How well a wall functions is connected to the clarity of the wall’s purpose.  The purpose will dictate how permeable the wall needs to be – what, who and how much the gate and gatekeeper will allow to pass through.  To understand the purpose of the wall though, the purpose of the community of practice must also be clear.

Our emerging purpose:  To create space and place to practice being (and being in) learning living systems

Our emerging superordinate goal, to which our purpose serves, is to:  Be a meshwork of social innovators who create conditions for the continued evolution and growth of life

So what role does a wall in a community of practice play in light of these two statements?  To what degree does a wall separate us from others? Contain us?  Restrict us?  Support us?  Protect us?   Each of these can roles naturally occur in living systems.  They each can restrict us from, or release us to, our growth and evolution.

At this juncture, our gatekeeper practice does not align with these statements.  We judge interested play mates for fit, without criteria.  We are not clear what we are looing for – or not looking for.  We trust on our intuition, but likely also our insidious bias and limiting beliefs.  We decide if they fit before really letting them in and limit our opportunities to be surprised.  We may at some point also be distracted by another gate, ‘the number of people admitted to a sporting or entertainment event, and/or the total amount of money received from them’.

What I value in our community of practice is our trust in self organizing systems.  I value our keen attention to creating minimal structure to allow what needs to happen just happen.  I value our interest in creating dissonance for our selves and each other since we recognize that that is what we need to learn and grow in our life and work.  These qualities are welcoming and expansive in nature.  Our behaviour at the gate does not exemplify our ‘inside’ behaviour.

Emerging operating principles

My emerging operating principles for how I wish to operate as a gatekeeper at the gate in the wall around in a community of practice with the above purpose:

1.     Trust We trust that the people who are attracted to this playground bring something that our community needs.  We may not know or understand what that is as they pass through the gate, but we trust that if what we do resonates with them, there is a relationship worthy of exploration.

2.     Resonant permeability – The gate is open to those that feel called to play in our community of practice playground, whether they have been explicitly invited or not.  The gate is also open to those that feel called to step away.

3.     Evolution is expansive – Being welcoming to all who express interest in what we do is expansive.  Putting our attention to qualities of expansiveness will increase our expansiveness.

4.     Our space and place thrives when we are who we really are – There is no threat in trusting resonance and attraction.  Only those for whom our community of practice resonates will linger.

5.     The wall is a source of intelligence – A wall serves as the transition from one space to another.  The gate is simply where this transition takes place.  What, precisely is the transition, and the nature of it?  In the living system of a human body, a cell membrane serves as a wall.  Bruce Lipton (The Biology of Belief) even notes that the membrane may be the real source of intelligence in a cell, not the nucleus.  The wall may be the brain, as we have come to know it.  What if the real intelligence in our community of practice is in the people who choose to transition in and out of our community?

The gatekeeper in me welcomes all who pass through – the gate ‘as a mountain pass, especially one proving entry into another country’…

The gatekeeper in me is brave enough to share what is behind the wall.

4 thoughts on “My gatekeeper tension”

  1. I feel the tension that you are articulating and working through, Beth. Brava.
    My modus operandi for this moment, to go with the flow of people whom I cherish and who cherish me, for our courage, diversity, audacity, wisdom, uncertainty, truth-telling, question-asking, meaning-making, edge-dancing…for now.

    1. Thanks, Katharine – I love how you make your way through the world. I aspire to do the same. My tension is clearly that I see a different way of operating than my community of practice. Though truly, I am putting my thoughts out there and we will see how the system adjusts as a result.

      Enjoy the snow!

  2. I appreciate the integrity and honesty in your expression. From the ‘edge’, I experience your tension being trying to connect the mechanistic notion of ‘gatekeeping’ with the patterns of living systems. That’s the trap…paradigm clashes. I don’t think there are inner circles, gatekeepers, or walls in living systems. There is self-organization, emergence, disturbance, boundaries and interrelationships…resolving the tensions may come from engaging with the system, giving up gatekeeping…

    with love, Diana

    1. Lipton’s work is really insightful to this deliberation – there is a natural role for membranes (walls) and there are mechanisms for data/food/energy to pass through. But the purpose of the cell and the membrane has to be clear. If not clear, the cell doesn’t do what it it should.

      So I think there is a place for a wall/gate/gatekeeper, but depending on your perspective the roles can be quite different. If highly regulatory and sensitive, then restricted. If very open and dynamic, then open and dynamic.

      In the end, I am referring to a club of sorts – one that seems to want to limit itself by who it accepts as membership. I see a different kind of club where those who sign up are those who are compelled to – and we trust in and welcome this self-organizing. This is another way to not so gingerly shift into really being who we wish to be.

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