The stories we tell ourselves shape our lives and the world around us. When we are closed to learning more about ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves knock us about and take us wherever they want to take us. If open to learning about ourselves, we see that the stories we tell ourselves are stories we choose, whether consciously or unconsciously.
If open to learning about ourselves, we see that the stories we tell ourselves are stories we choose.
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
Sometimes a circle of two is all it takes for an opening of the eyes, the heart and the soul. A circle of two where another sits across from me and witnesses my growing awareness. A circle of two that enables me to stay in it.
A circle of two enables me to stay in it.
The words of Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway hit, Hamilton: “seize the moment and stay in it.” Now granted, Hamilton is heading into the battle of Yorktown when Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has him say these words. (The words that immediately follow are, “It’s either that or the business end of a bayonet.”) For Hamilton and his mates it’s about staying alive, literally. The metaphor applies to life today, whether we find ourselves physically fighting for survival, or in a more spiritual way.
Sometimes, to “stay in it”, to stay in the battle of grappling with growing awareness in myself, I need someone to sit with me. Here are the wise words of Camilla Gibb, in This is Happy:
Soon enough, words are pouring out, two winters’ worth of ice thawing overnight: the grief and that tight know of anger lodged in the pit of me becoming unstuck. Unmoored, though, they threaten to destroy everything. The feelings are bigger than me, stronger. I am aftraid of their intensity; I am afraid of going crazy, of doing harm, of standing on a bridge plenty high enough, when this is no longer, if it ever was, an option.
One witness, though—one reliable and loving witness with the capacity to hold—can change what you are convinced will be the inevitable outcome.
It is hard work to see and feel what we don’t want to see and feel. Witnessing growing awareness, without judgment, is a beautiful gift to give self and others.
I found myself in the company of people a couple weeks ago who completely understand and respect others’ needs to set limits and boundaries for themselves, so we can enable each other to show up well. In the language of The Circle Way, this is the “ask for what you need” agreement. In reflection, I have learned that I am not always quick enough to realize what I need, let alone ask for it. I didn’t.
Here’s what happened. We circled up for a board meeting for a few days and we had a lot on our agenda so we met for long, full days. On day one, I got up early to maintain my morning practice of writing and walking. On day two I was feeling under the weather, so I chose to sleep in the morning. Still under the weather on day three I chose to sleep. My ability to function and contribute lessened and lessened with each day both because of not feeling well, but also because I did not give myself the things that nourish me every day: time to exercise and fresh air and time alone to write and read.
Over the last several years I have become more introverted; I need more time alone to figure out what I think and feel about things. A day full of other people (including mornings and evenings), let alone several days, is a challenge to my inner well-being. I need time alone to look after my introvert so I can be my best self, for me and others. Without this time my energy stores deplete and my ability to be my best self declines.
I need time alone to look after my introvert so I can be my best self, for me and others.
Last week I didn’t take the initiative to make more time for myself, or to ask for our work schedule to change to allow more spaciousness. This opportunity to reflect has allowed me to see two underlying ideas.
First idea: I want to be in the room where it happens. Just like Aaron Burr in the Broadway hit Hamilton, I want to be there when great stuff happens. I don’t want to miss out on anything and I want to be a part of everything. If something neat is happening, I want to be a part of it.
Second idea: my needs are not as important as others’ needs. In my drive to be in the room where it happens, I fear rocking the boat, or letting other people down by either proposing something preposterous, or by simply not being available when needed.
Our meeting was productive and meaningful. It was a challenging time for us and we met each other well and yet I feel that for me, and how I show up for myself, there is room for improvement. How can I spend days with others, from dawn into the evening, in ways that maintain or even increase my energy stores?
Two contrasting shapes of how to spend three days together come to mind:
Here are five simple ideas about organizing full days of meeting:
Understand the purpose of the gathering at all scales: the reason to gather, the intention for each day and each chunk of time in each day.
Identify expectations and outcomes for the gathering that include both the tasks of the work and needs of the people to do that work. What kind of spaciousness is needed for what purpose?
Start a bit later than usual to allow for the spaciousness of life in the morning (checking email or social media, exercise or meditation).
Decide what works best for lunch and supper breaks. Is it a short break so the day can end early? Is it a longer break for spaciousness? Is the spaciousness needed before the meal or after? Are we sitting down together or can individuals go off on their own to eat?
Designate chunks of time for the whole group to meet. When does everyone need to be together? When can people work on their own schedule? Remember: the days do not have to be the same.
Unscheduled time in our lives helps us do our work. Over a few days of meeting, it is essential to find play time both with others and alone. It helps a group be its best self. When we look away from the tasks at hand, for a moment even, we can see what needs to be done more clearly.
Unscheduled time in our lives helps us do our work.
In my case, I learned that I need to let go of the need to be in the room where it happens and give myself space to discern which room I want to be in. Further, I need to make room for the work to work me, for this is how I find my way, how I figure out what and how to contribute to the world around me.
Asking for what I need is about enabling myself to be me.
How do you make room for you to be you, for “it” to happen?
I’ve noticed lately that the work I do is invisible to most people.
Last weekend I played a lead role as MC and hosted generative conversations at the Council for Canadian Urbanists annual CanU Summit–I was not the topic of conversation. I provided little content and set people up to meet each other and explore how to move their work forward. While they got into conversation and the room buzzed and hummed, I tended to their well-being in invisible ways.
A highlight of the Summit was the conversation I hosted between Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and neighbouring Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin. In the conversation, the Mayor proposed a new national aboriginal museum that made the headlines. The picture that appeared in the newspaper is the Mayor and Chief sharing a laugh, as it should be. Only my microphone and paper are visible in the bottom right corner.
Earlier this month I co-costed two conversations with citizens, business, government and community leaders about how the city learns–and how we can embrace being a city of learners. I found myself, as part of the hosting team, setting them up to make learning habitats, enabling them to identify and embody the living city systems of which they are a part. They did the work, they provided the content and they made meaning of their work. My content was invisible. It was not even my job to make meaning of their work: it was their work to do.
Nine years ago I walked away from a high-profile job in city hall and shelved the ambition that fuelled my ability to sustain that work. At the CanU Summit I watched the movers and shakers move and shake. I was out of the frame as the Mayor and Chief had a moving conversation. I was looking after plates and spilled coffee as my city figured out how it learns. I have to admit that my ego has a hard time being content with invisibility.
I’ve been wondering, what does the invisibility have to say? Here’s the response:
CONtent vs. conTENT
What are the gifts of invisibility? What is the CONtent I have to offer about invisibility? I realize that the invisible is asking to be made visible, and I also realize that I’ve been making the invisible visible these last few weeks in a series of blog posts. Here’s what I’ve seen and shared over the last few weeks.
A big lesson from a participant in a workshop who felt lost and couldn’t find her place in an unfamiliar way of collective listening (listening through World Cafe vs surveys or interviews): I am only one voice in many. (Making meaning as a system).
The feeling of being invisible is part of what we have to grapple with to create cities and communities that will thrive for each and all of us.
Where do you find meaning in your invisibility?
Note – This post was published in Nest City News on September 30, 2016.
Have recent global and local events of tragedy and terror left you overwhelmed and despairing? Do you wonder how it’s possible to see all that is good and true and beautiful when suffering is so prevalent? Would your hope and personal capacity for weathering this turbulence be restored by having occasion to talk and listen with others who, too, are deeply concerned for the well-being of our precious world?
Would your hope and personal capacity for weathering this turbulence be restored by having occasion to talk and listen with others?
If so, you are invited to join a circle conversation to explore these and other questions. A space where:
our stories are safe and sacred
we speak with intention
we listen with attention and curiosity
we offer no advice or critique
any answers and insights we might come to are our own
If you didn’t personally hear me speak, how is it possible that you heard me? This is the undercurrent of skepticism that surfaced in the closing circle at an event I co-hosted earlier this month. While the gathering generated a great deal of meaning for participants and the client, this question compels me to dig into listening and meaning-making. Who listens and who makes meaning?
If you didn’t personally hear me speak, how is it possible that you heard me?
Here’s the situation: we invited people to 3-hour workshops to explore how a city can be a learning city. We started with a World Cafe, a series of conversations in small groups with a variety of people, as a way for people to get to know each other and dive into the topic. (Our questions reflected the 4 pillars of the UNESCO pillars of learning: learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together.)
After this ‘warm-up’, participants were ready for the big event: to make a 3D model of the city as a learning habitat.
As we made and explored the models, the groups saw patterns in the metaphors and operating principles. They identified the qualities of the system that wants to come more fully into being. They could see:
Connected webs of relationships with multiple layers of pathways and connections
Circles of life
Synergies and exchanges
Nature and natural, organic processes
Gathering places where people come together
Inclusivity and diversity
Beauty and art, whimsy and creativity, fun
Sustainability and self-sufficiency
A city that evolves by learning
Participants identified a way of knowing, doing, being and living together that creates a city that works for them. For my client, who is figuring out her role in stewarding a project to foster learning in the city, this vision is essential. Her work is to figure out how to nurture this system. Not be the system, or make the learning habitat alone, because one person is not responsible for the well-being of a system. Her role is help it be healthy, to live more fully into its pattern. She is one of many gardeners.
Participants identified a way of knowing, doing, being and living together that creates a city that works for them.
The challenge we face is the inertia of staying in familiar ways of relating with each other and being in relationship with the city around us. Just because we can see and feel a new way of operating does not mean we are ready to jump into it. This tension surfaced in our closing circle: one participant spoke to the work as a state of mind, another voiced skepticism about whether we got what we needed to move the project along. While the former could lean into a new way of ‘hearing’ the system, the latter could not.
The skepticism was about the ability of the process to listen. In a World Cafe the hosts–the ‘official’ listeners–don’t hear the conversations, which means that people are not heard–by the ‘official’ listeners. The assumption: if the ‘authority’ doesn’t hear me directly I am not heard.
Four questions come to mind:
Who has something to say?
Who needs to hear you?
Who will digest what you say and make meaning of it?
Who is responsible to respond to what you have to say?
The purpose of this gathering was not to figure out how one person and a steering committee will roll out a project, but how a whole city can live into a project, and the critical support it needs from the one person and a steering committee. This involves a very different kind of listening.
A conventional way of listening to many people is through an interview or survey, where someone sits down with you to hear what you have to say verbally, or reads what you have written. In this way of listening, you tell me what you know or think directly and then I turn around and make sense of what I have heard from you and everyone else I have heard from. An interview or survey is a familiar way of ‘speaking into’ a system; it’s what we know.
World Cafe + Model Building
You tell me what you know and think with no interaction with other people
You talk and think and go deeper with other people (who may have very different perspectives)
Individuals and the whole
WHO MAKES MEANING
I analyze and make meaning alone
We figure out what it means as a group
WHERE YOU FIT
You remain outside the system
We are inside and part of the system
I see what’s happening and I tell you
We see what’s happening and we build relationships with each other to figure out what’s next
I maintain responsibility
We share responsibility
I want to know what people think (informative)
We want to know what we think and figure out our way forward together as a whole (collaborative)
Interviews and surveys are informative tools, with their time and place, not collaborative tools. Their purpose is not in helping a system see the relationships and patterns within itself. The choice for my client: informing herself or the city informing itself. The choice for citizens: rely on her to fix things, or jump in and help to improve (see improve vs. fix).
My client’s work, ultimately, will be to help people see and operate in a system that is not linear and tidy. That is the learning for a learning city. The challenge is to figure out how to nurture this system and do so in a way that honours the familiar, linear ways of learning as well.
As citizens and individuals, we must reconcile this fact: as one voice in a survey, or one voice in a World Cafe, I am only one voice among many. Our choice: entrench in the familiar or expand into new ways of making meaning that include us all.
As citizens and individuals, we must reconcile this fact: as one voice in a survey, or one voice in a World Cafe, I am only one voice among many.
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:
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:
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.
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?
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.
board table, theatre
small circles, large circle
tell, direct, instruct, set people up to go do something
listen, share, integrate, figure things out together
in one, select few
at the top
from one or few, down to others
from everyone to everyone
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.
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.
Leadership rotates among all circle members
Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience
Reliance is on wholeness rather than any person agenda
Speak with intention: note what has relevance to the conversation in the moment
Listen with attention: respect of the learning process for all members of the group
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?
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.