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Last week I attended a conventional event, with a speaker and an audience. It worked because I got what I was looking for: one-way information from an expert about how to do something.
I also got something I wasn’t looking for: the understanding that it is a big deal, and rare, for people to be in the same room together.
I also got something I wasn’t looking for: the understanding that it is a big deal, and rare, for people to be in the same room together.
The MC, when thanking the speaker, was effusive about how fantastic it was for us to be together, in this room together, authentically. My brain yelled at me: HOLD THE PHONE! DOES HE THINK BEING IN THE SAME ROOM MEANS AUTHENTIC HUMAN INTERACTION?
It got me thinking… do people think that being in the same room, face-to-face, somehow pulls out our authenticity in a way that we do not do via our devices? And what does it mean to be authentic, and does it automatically happen when we are in the same room?
A definition for authentic (adj):
- Being what it is claimed to be; genuine
- Made or done in the traditional or original way
- Based on the facts; accurate or reliable
- Relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life
If something is authentic, it is real, true, or what people say it is (Cambridge Dictionary). When it comes to people, Christopher Collins, in his article about the 5 qualities of an authentic person, defines an authentic person as, “representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to [another] person.” The person is not false or copied, not phony or fake.
I would go on to say this: present.
A person must be present to be authentic.
So yes, the audience and I showed up to get the information we were looking for. There was a little bit of Q & A with the speaker, but otherwise there was no interaction between attendees, the speaker, the MC and the evening’s host. Here’s my proposition: if there is little or no interaction between people, can there be any degree of authenticity? It seems to me that we have to get to know each other in order to know if we are representing our true nature or beliefs, if we are true to oneself or another. If we don’t get to know each other then we don’t get to know our beliefs, let alone if we are each living in accordance with our beliefs. If we don’t interact with each other, we don’t get to know each other. Therefore, if we don’t interact, it is not possible to know if we are authentic. (Perhaps we are, but we don’t know this.)
If there is little or no interaction between people, can there be any degree of authenticity?
So if there are no interactions, there can’t be any degree of authenticity — at least that we know of. Which means that if we are in a room together but do not interact with each other it is at most a shallow degree of authenticity.
I imagine an assumption in the MC’s mind: that since we are in the same room together that we are relationship with each other.
We have to interact to get to know self and other.
Perhaps it is ironic that we get to know more about each other, our thoughts and feelings and perspectives on things in social media than we do in person. On the face of it, social media may be more authentic than a conventional presentation in a room full of people. (Not saying it is; it could be.)
The event and the speaker was authentic in that it was what it said it would be: expert advice. Was it authentic human interaction that allowed everyone an opportunity to represent their true beliefs with integrity, and explore each others’ beliefs? No. We were in the room together but with exception to the speaker, we barely exchanged a couple of sentences with each other. We did not offer to self and others our presence to explore the world and how we make our way through it. Authenticity does not automatically happen.
If we are hungry to simply be in the same room together, are we also hungry for more human interaction that explores ideas and feelings and how we think and feel about those ideas and feelings? I am. It is in this realm that humanity expands itself and grows into new potentials.
If we are hungry to simply be in the same room together, are we also hungry for more human interaction that explores ideas and feelings and how we think and feel about those ideas and feeling? I am.
The last thing to leave the home in which I lived the longest in my life was my bicycle. After several days of packing, a day of moving belongings out and a day of cleaning, I locked up this home and got on my bike.
Spring wheels in the fresh air feel fantastic. This year it came with a little extra meaning — it was the means by which I closed off a chapter of my life to begin another. I rolled across the street to say goodbye to neighbours, then crossed again to say goodbye to other neighbours and shed a few tears. I rolled a few blocks north to leave a gift for a new baby, then a few more blocks north to my old neighbourhood hardware store for some things needed to set up the new home. Fighting back tears, I got what I needed, then got back on my bike and let tears come down as I headed down into the river valley.
About three years ago, I stopped spending much time on social media. My blogging activity dropped, from four posts a week to one every month or so. I showed up sporadically on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter because I didn’t have the energy for it as I cocooned, to figure out what was happening with my life and what I needed to do about it. I wrote about it in oblique ways, but was otherwise quiet to the outside world in social media, keeping my hopes and fears close, sharing and exploring them with the people closest to me and able to hold space for me: partner Peter and dear friends.
What was happening behind the scenes: challenging events related to my work and professional identity, the end of my marriage and the end of relationships with people unable to cope with the end of my marriage. Also happening behind the scenes: a stronger sense of personal sovereignty, new and renewed relationships with people able to hold space for Beth-in-transition (and vice versa), and an unabated thirst to grow and evolve into the emerging me, for my own growth and evolution.
I write to make sense of myself and life conditions. I’ve shared little bits of that here on my blog, but I write about specific people only if I have their permission. I do not write publicly about the people I am struggling with because I do not want them to experience shame or guilt from me, and I do not want to create the conditions for others to pile on. My intention is also to make sure that the writing I share is not from a defended place; I am not defending myself, nor am I on the attack. When I share publicly what I write, it means I have learned something about myself and how I relate with the world around me.
As my marriage was ending two and a half years ago, these were the questions I was asking myself (the Hamilton series):
- How do I make room for me to be ME, for “it” to happen? (Oct 24, 2016, Room where it happens)
- Who gives me the space I need to figure out who I am growing into? (Dec 1, 2016, Stay in it)
- What did I say no to that changed my life? (Dec 5, 2016, Say no to this)
- Is there an ending I should be paying attention to? (Dec 13, 2016, How to say goodbye)
- What is the story to choose for yourself? (Dec 17, 2016, Who tells your story?)
- How do I make room in my life for people with other, crazy points of view? (Jan 11, 2017, The world is wide enough)
After having sorted out all the details of our uncoupling, my partner Peter and I sent a message out to the world in February 2017: (INSERT link to Beware listening through stories)
Several blog posts over the last two years reflect what I was learning along the way and I reached deeper into myself, my longings and learnings in my interwoven personal and professional life. Some highlights:
- Beware listening through stories. It is not possible to know what is going on for someone else by looking at them, or having simple and shallow conversations with (May 2, 2017).
- Self-empowerment threatens. We all have the same choice, whether the change comes from within or without: resist our transformation or allow it (June 30, 2017)
- Harm happens, intended or not. Harm is not decided by the person causing harm, but by the person harmed. Admitting that I have caused harm means I have to change. This is a good civic practice. (Nov 13, 2017)
- Care out in the open. To care out in the open means I am willing to be changed by what I hear. (Nov 28, 2017)
- Colonial blind spot. For relationships to repair, I need to be ready to hear about harm, receptive to having my sense of identity be shaken, and willing to step into a relationship with reciprocity. (January 20, 2018)
- Welcoming outsiders. As we find ourselves increasingly challenged with the pace of change and conflict in our world, being deeply held and having the capacity to hold and examine conflict is essential. We need to do a better job of meeting and finding each other. (April 2, 2018)
- Sovereignty is necessarily disruptive. Telling each other what we need to tell is uncomfortable and necessary. Hearing what we don’t want to hear is uncomfortable and necessary. It hurts. We may feel—or be told—we are causing harm by doing this, but we are causing more harm by not speaking and receiving what needs to be said. (May 1, 2018)
- A castle’s not made for everyone – is a city? Making a city (or a family or an organization) that’s made for everyone involves trusting others’experience of the city. We find it hard to believe in the existence of barriers named by others if we don’t see that barrier, or experience that barrier ourselves. (May 3, 2018)
- Accommodate or exclude. When I know what I need to do to accommodate people, then I am consciously including or excluding them. If I do not ask, do not listen, do not accommodate, I exclude. (Feb 6, 2019)
And since my personal and professional lives are interwoven, my decision to leave the home I’ve lived in the longest in my life is also about my city – and who I want to be in my city.
That series of posts from when my marriage ended – the Hamilton series – shone light on questions I will welcome for the rest of my life:
- How do I make room for the Me I am growing into?
- Who holds space for me to figure out who I am growing into?
- Is there an ending that needs my attention?
- What am I saying yes/no to?
- What is the story I choose for myself?
On my way into the river valley, I followed a path that bends back and forth through a ravine. The spring melt made it treacherous earlier that week, the warmth of the day melting snow and covering the path with ice overnight, each day the path getting more and more clear. I rolled down until I came to the shady patches of ice, to walk beside my bike. On and off and on and off. Near the bottom, as I gingerly stepped down a narrow channel of concrete, I spotted an abandoned shopping cart. In it: two huge bags of dog food and a gym bag.
I made my way by the cart, a bit puzzled until I stepped back onto the clear concrete and got back on my bike. I realized the cart was aiming uphill. It was abandoned because it was not possible to push it any further. I imagine the human making the choice to stop, to take what was most important to them on her way up the hill and leaving the rest behind. Perhaps they came back for it, or perhaps she left it for others to carry. As I headed down into the valley for my next chunk of life, I realized I left a burdened cart behind. I didn’t need the cart or its contents. I didn’t need any longer to push a laden cart uphill through ice that made it very difficult to make headway. I turned to a new direction, releasing the need to make something happen that doesn’t want to happen.
This embodies many choices I have made over the last several years, personal and professional: I choose not to push my cart uphill.
If something doesn’t want to happen, I’m not afraid to notice this, to say so, to not spend energy making it happen.
This does not mean I don’t work hard—it means I notice when there is resistance and choose to work with it or against it. I am smarter about it. When there is resistance, in me, in others, I take the time to notice what it is and why.
I notice where there is resistance to explore the resistance, and I dig in. I enjoy spending time with others who are willing and able to do the hard work of digging into their resistance, or our resistance. This is the flavour of the next part of my life, with fellow citizen who also enjoy this exploration, in a new part of the city.
After leaving the burdened cart of resistance behind, I made my way along the river valley. A long and flat path, full of ease. I floated along, enjoying the crisp air of the misty morning. I found a river crossing, found my way through a wee neighbourhood to the road that makes its way uphill, to my new neighbourhood. I stopped halfway to enjoy the view, now clear of the mist. A new view of my city and my place in it.
I have acknowledged what has ended and is ending. I am clear about what I say no to and what I say yes to. I have acted on what I need to do to be the Me I am growing into.
I have moved to a new city—without moving to a new city. I am a new me without being a new me. I chose to be here. I chose how to get here.
Post script – After finishing this post, I started to organize my post-move bookshelf. These words fell open to me:
Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego. You are closed. Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side; life will not be helpful. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up.Eckart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
A community in conversation with itself does not rely on others to have the conversation on its behalf–the community is involved in the conversation.
A city (or group or organization) that brings in experts for a speakers’ series is not in conversation with itself. A city that brings people together to hear from someone (but not from each other) is not in conversation with itself. A city that presents a panel discussion that hundreds of people listen to is not in conversation with itself; it is a city that watches a handful of people in conversation about the city. The conversation is separate from the community, even when right in front of the community that has gathered.
The nuance here is significant, and you can catch it with a simple two-part question: who is involved in the conversation, and is there an opportunity for them to figure things out for themselves?
Who is involved in the conversation, and is there an opportunity for them to figure things out for themselves?
Even when we are in the shape of community–a circle–it is possible for a community to not be in conversation with itself. This occurs when we lose track of the energetic pattern of the gathering. (For more information, please see these two previous posts: host-attractor and host-on-the-rim, and roles and challenges for the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim.)
In two posts last year, I explored two patterns–the host-attractor and the host-on-the-rim–and the challenges we experience with them. In the case of the host-attractor pattern, the primary challenge is the expectation that the hosts will have all the answers and that participants will not question hosts. The danger in this is that the community will go where the host wants them to go, from a host-ego place that is not in service to the community’s learning process. In the host-on-the-rim pattern, the primary challenge is reluctance in the community to share and rotate the hosting work. The danger in this case is that the group will go where a few people want to go, rather than discerning where the whole group is wanting to go. The result is a wobbly circle.
Two examples of wobbly circles
The challenges in each pattern are about power dynamics and the power we give–consciously and unconsciously–to hosts or community, to a handful (or one) or to the whole. While each pattern in isolation appears to have distinct challenges, it is not a binary, either/or matter. Most often, the patterns are activated simultaneously, which creates significant challenges to the well-being of our social habitat because we don’t know which direction we are aiming to move toward: the expertise in others or the expertise in us. The latter disempowers community and separates us from ourselves, while the former empowers and moves us toward wholeness.
The challenges in each pattern are about power dynamics and the power we give–consciously and unconsciously–to a host or community, to a handful (or one) or to the whole.
These challenges appear under any of the following conditions:
- When a community is strongly attracted (consciously or unconsciously) to one or a few of its members and minimizes the contributions of others
- When a community strongly resists (consciously or unconsciously) the contributions of one or a few of its members
- When a community member has a strong desire (consciously or unconsciously) to be a host-attractor in the group
- When a host-attractor does not want (consciously or unconsciously) the attention and responsibility of being an attractor
- When a host-attractor denies (consciously or unconsciously) their presence as a host-attractor
- When a host-attractor wants to create the conditions for the community to host itself (and shift the attraction/identification from the host-attractor to the larger community)
All six of of the above scenarios involve subtle and significant power dynamics, full of shadow and projection. To best handle them, we need to be willing and able to talk about our attachments to how we perceive each other, and ourselves, in our relationships and we need to be in community to do this. Sometimes the host-attractor pattern is the right one. Sometimes we feel the need to shift into the host-on-the-rim pattern, what one reader (thanks Ian!) framed for himself as “host-as-all-of-us”. But if we are in the host-attractor pattern, relying on the guidance of others rather than our own guidance, we are not in a community pattern.
We need to be willing and able to talk about our attachments to how we perceive each other, and ourselves, in our relationships and we need to be in community to do this.
Ten years ago, six of us gathered around a teacher to learn specific material in a clear host-attractor pattern. We gathered around because we were attracted to both the teacher and the material she would teach us that would nourish our individual learning journeys. She laid out clear expectations about what we would learn, how we would learn it, and what she expected of us as participants. She created the conditions for us to get to know each other as a learning community ourselves and we choose to step into this during our time with her as a host-attractor.
Most learning events create a community of shared interest, where we find people ‘just like me’ for a time, and we are buoyed with a sense of belonging. When the event is over, the connection dissipates because the sense of community stemmed from identification with the host-attractor, not the community around the attractor. In its power to create community, the host-attractor energy is not long-lasting.
Most, but not all of us, chose to stay in relationship with our teacher after the training was complete and gathered regularly, as teacher and students with shared interests. After a while, the gap between teacher and students lessened and we made a transition from a host-attractor circle to a host-on-the-rim circle. Our teacher’s role changed dramatically, as did ours. We all had to remind ourselves that we were no longer looking to our teacher to organize us, host us, and teach us–we were doing that for ourselves. We all had to allow a melting away of our earlier relationship into a new one, and we spoke about it as we did it.
While the above example is a small community of 7, this phenomenon is scalar; it applies to groups of any size, including organizations and cities.
I wonder what it would mean for a city to embark on a host-as-all-of-us journey, for citizens to be in conversation with ourselves about who we want to be as a city, and what it will take to be that city? Yes, people with expertise need to be involved, but the difference is the acknowledgement that there are various kinds of expertise that need to be integrated into city intelligence and this means those expertise need to be in conversation with each other. The perspectives of the city need to be in touch with each other.
I wonder what it would mean for a city to embark on a host-as-all-of-us journey, for citizens to be in conversation with ourselves about who we want to be as a city, and what it will take to be that city?
The shapes of our conversations, and how we host them, create social habitats that allow for–and disallow–this kind of integration. It is easy to listen to sage on the stage, for that is a comfortable pattern because it is familiar and there is less work for us to do as citizens. A city in conversation with itself does the tough work to integrate a wide range of perspectives and experiences.
A city in conversation with itself does the tough work to integrate a wide range of perspectives and experiences.
Take a moment, on a walk or with a journal, or whatever works for you and ponder these questions:
What is the default in your city? Do you show up to community events and find yourself hearing about what one or a few have to say, or do you find yourself in conversation with a variety of people with time and space to figure out what you think, and what you have to say?
This is the fourth post in a series about “how much of me” to put in while hosting community that wants to be in conversation with itself. The first version of this appeared in Nest City News, February 15, 2019.
- Host-attractor / host-on-the-rim
- Roles and challenges for the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim
- 8 strategies to navigate power patterns
- A city in conversation with itself; shifting to host-as-all-of-us
How much of me do I insert while hosting a community in conversation with itself? This is a question I often explore in my work with cities and I’ve noticed two patterns in which hosts and community relate to each other: the host-attractor pattern and the host-on-the-rim pattern.
These two patterns are distinct in their energetic quality: the host-attractor pattern occurs when community gathers around the host (or a few hosts) and the host-on-the-rim pattern occurs when the host is embedded in the community and the role is shared by the community.
There are roles we play and challenges to be found in each of these patterns, and when we don’t acknowledge the roles in play, and the challenges that come with them, our experience can be confusing and wobbly. One of the ways the wobbles happen is by not paying attention to the power dynamics in the group. Below are 8 strategies to navigate these power patterns.
8 strategies to navigate power patterns
Here are eight strategies for hosts and participants in the variations of the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim patterns:
- State the desired pattern. Either pattern is appropriate, but it is essential to identify which pattern is the one you want to live into and make this clear for the group. While this is a good statement to be made by hosts, it is helpful if stated by participants in both patterns. Hosts and participants both show up better when the pattern is clear. If a transition is underway, knowing what you are moving from and to, and for what purpose, is helpful.
- Make the role of the host-attractor explicit in the host-attractor pattern. If the host-attractor pattern is desired, the host can describe how they will show up: “I am a teacher in this community and I have a different role from participants. This is what you can expect of me (roles and responsibilities)…”
- Make the role of the host explicit in the host-on-the-rim pattern. If the host-on-the-rim pattern is desired, the host can describe how they will show up: “I am a participant in this group, taking a turn as host at this time. This is what you can expect of me (roles and responsibilities)…”
- Notice the presence of a host-attractor in the host-on-the-rim pattern. The presence of a host-attractor in a community setting is best served by acknowledgement of the impact of their presence. A host-attractor can describe how they will show up: “I have been a teacher in this community and I have had a different role from participants. This is what you can expect of me now that I am not taking a leadership role…” A participant can also say this. This understanding may shift and change over time, and noticing this often—and how it is shifting—is helpful for both hosts and participants.
- Make the role of the participants clear. In either pattern, offering some boundaries about what it means to be a participant is an essential contribution to creating quality social habitat. This is most often done through the use of agreements, or ground rules. If the host-attractor pattern is desired, make the boundaries clear about the degree of participation and questioning that will align with the learning objectives. If the host-on-the-rim pattern is desired, the boundaries/agreements must be explored and agreed upon, along with the additional expectation that participants will take turns serving as host.
- Resist the urge to do what is expected of the ‘other’ pattern. If there is one pattern you are living into, the other pattern always has a pull to be aware of. In the host-on-the-rim pattern, the group (host and participants) could have a tendency to look to a host-attractor for direction or approval. All must be vigilant to not step into this territory or they will activate and reinforce the host-attractor pattern and destabilize the community. There is a particular responsibility for the host-attractor to not give direction or approval and consistently redirect that energy back to the community. In the host-attractor pattern, the group will have a tendency to resist the authority of the host-attractor if longing for a sense of community with less hierarchy. All must be vigilant about the aligning the appropriate responsibility—and authority—with the host-attractor as agreed. (Note #1: participation in the host-attractor pattern is a choice. Clear purpose and boundaries articulated by the host-attractor are a good start, yet the ultimate decision to participate is made by participants. Note #2: there is great trust placed in the host-attractor to not overstep the granted authority.)
- Acknowledge ego, identity and community. Embedded in these two patterns, and the variations of patterns in between them, is ego and identity at two scales simultaneously: the self and the community. The hosts are front and center, with potential for a lot of ego and identity investment, or on the rim, where the ego and identity is blended with the wider community. Self-identity and community-identity are not necessarily at cross-purposes but can be felt to be. This dynamic is at the heart of the relationship between these two dancing partners, and all the shadow and projection we bring as our imperfectly perfect selves into community.
- Explore conflict with humility and heart. If the pattern is not clear, an unclear host-attractor role is present and this will generate conflict in the group. Hosts and participants alike need to explore which pattern is desired and the steps needed to embody that pattern. If the host-attractor pattern is desired, it may be necessary for the host-attractor to step more fully into that role, with clearly articulated expectations of the host and participants and allow space for participants and host to digest discuss. If the host-on-the-rim pattern is desired, there is a need for the participants to step forward and for the host-attractor to step back. In both situations, regular checking-in on progress is essential. Moreover, an explicit invitation can be made to all involved to notice—and state—the drift whenever it occurs.
Note #1: Participation in the host-attractor pattern is a choice. Clear purpose and boundaries articulated by the host-attractor are a good start, yet the ultimate decision to participate is made by participants.
Note #2: There is great trust placed in the host-attractor to not overstep the granted authority.
A main feature of these strategies is this: there is no room for the rescue energy of the hero. A host-attractor can be imagined as a host-hero, the person on whom we rely on for answers and action, which means we don’t: a) have any answers or insight ourselves, and b) need to take action ourselves. The presence of a host-hero means disturbance is deflected and denied. And if disturbance is deflected we deny ourselves the experience of disturbance, we deprive ourselves of an opportunity for growth.
If disturbance is deflected we are denying ourselves the experience of disturbance, we deprive ourselves of an opportunity for growth.
This is the third post in a series about “how much of me” to put in while hosting community that wants to be in conversation with itself. (This content first appeared to subscribers in the Nest City News in May 2018.)
- Host-attractor / host-on-the-rim
- Roles and challenges for the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim
- 8 strategies to navigate power patterns
- Shifting to host-as-all-of-us (a city in conversation with itself)
There’s a regular event my kids and I attend, a bit of an annual celebration organized by another family. The invitation is always preceded with a bit of communication to confirm the date and time, to make sure we can all attend and the necessary adjustments are made to make sure everyone can attend. Sometimes it means a change of day, or a shift in the time we will gather.
The most recent gathering had a different energy to it; the date and time were predetermined and the usual adjustment of date and time to make sure everyone could attend did not happen. At our end, two of three of us were unable to attend, and since there was no accommodation all three of us felt bad about it. This experience of mine has made me think about the energy I put into invitations to gatherings, and how my behaviour reveals my intention, or purpose, for the gathering.
- Invite and see who comes. When I send a clear invitation out into the world, the people for whom it resonates, and for whom the timing works, will respond with a yes. An example is the Nest City Circle program that will take place September to December 2019, where I will cast a wide net and when the registrations come in I will see who has said yes.
- Invite specific people. It is a different kind of invitation when I am looking for particular people because I need to do a bit of work to find out who needs to be there, find out out what will make it work for them, and then take the action necessary to accommodate them.
These are two very different approaches. But if I want people to be at a gathering, it is my responsibility to ask them (after confirming they are interested in attending) what will make it work for them — and then do what they ask.
If I want people to be at a gathering, it is my responsibility to ask them (after confirming they are interested in attending) what will make it work for them — and then do what they ask.
Things to ask others about how to make a gathering work for them…
In my example above, my kids and I feel excluded because the date and time was inflexible; there was no accommodation, even when only a slight shift was needed, for all three of us to be able to attend. The first, and most simple way of accommodating people is to ask: Does the timing work? The day, the month, the time of day all come into play. It might be work schedules that get in the way, or a cultural event in the invitees’ world that I am unaware of. Asking what works allows them to tell me, and allows me to include them. Other logistical questions that help accommodate people and their needs, making them feel included, rather excluded. For example: how much notice is needed? what kind of food should be served? is translation is needed? Never underestimate how attention to these details can go a long way to welcome people into your gathering.
Enabling others’ participation also means asking, Are there any cultural protocols that I need to observe, or be aware of? Is there something special I need to wear? Is there a ceremony that needs to take place? Is there a gift I should bring, to offer thanks? Is there something I should not do? I might also want to ask, Do I need to offer compensation? This could be mileage and hotel costs, and depending on the context it could also include compensation for time. When I (or my client) is looking for information and insight from others, it is a good practice to ask, Am I asking for too much from you? Sometimes what I am asking for seems little to me, but it might involve a lot of work (mental or emotional) for the invitee and I have a responsibility to check in to confirm I am not asking for too much. I may need to shift to a more formal form of compensation where the work I am asking of the invitee is acknowledged with payment.
While I often feel vulnerable asking these questions, because it reveals what I do not know, I find that being willing to ask, and being open to the responses I receive and committed to act on those responses, something very simple is taking place: I am enabling a welcoming space.
The bottom line is this: if I want people to attend a gathering, I need to ask them what will make it work for them. This allows me to know what I need to do accommodate them. If I don’t ask them, I am making assumptions that allow me to unconsciously include or exclude them. When I know what I need to do to accommodate people, then I am consciously including or excluding them. If I do not ask, do not listen, do not accommodate, I exclude.
When I know what I need to do to accommodate people, then I am consciously including or excluding them. . . If I do not ask, do not listen, do not accommodate, I exclude.
What questions have you been asked, or actions others took, that made you feel your presence was sincerely wanted?
It is the nature of cities to share beauty and horror. Waterton, a small town at the edge of one of Canada’s national parks, was threatened by wildfire this fall, a reminder of the real threat faced last year. It was also a reminder of how towns, communities and cities are intrinsically related to each other.
September 2017 saw the Kenow Wildfire lick and nibble at the edges of the town; the visitor centre was consumed by fire, as well as other park buildings, bridges, roadways, housing and water and electrical systems. This September’s threat was a reminder of the relationship a town has with other towns and cities.
The Kenow wildfire of 2017 started with an intense lightening and thunder storm west of the park and town. The official message of Parks Canada, in the Park’s activity guide, describes events like this: over the course of a week, “hot weather, strong winds and extremely dry conditions fulled the extreme behaviour” of the fire.
Further: “Parks Canada worked closely with partner agencies and neighbouring jurisdictions as the fire progressed. Fire crews created fuel line breaks and helicopters dropped water on hotspots to prevent the spread of fire. In addition, fire retardant was sprayed on picnic shelters, washrooms, and other visitor facilities. In the Waterton townsite, high-volume water pumps and sprinkler systems were installed around the edge of the community and trees, shrubs, grasses, and other flammable items were removed from properties.” While this work was done by Parks Canada employees and residents of the townsite, others came to their aid. They did not fight the fire on their own.
The activity guide: “Heroic efforts by Parks Canada, with the support of the firefighters from agencies across the country and municipal fire departments from nearby communities and the cities of Lethbridge and Calgary, saved the Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site and the community of Waterton. We are forever grateful for your courage, your tireless efforts, and for all that you accomplished.”
Others came to their aid. They did not fight the fire on their own.
Simply put, the town could not save itself; it needed others to come in and help. A year later, the town was still saying thank you.
Not only do we require each other to survive within a city, but this survival strategy also scales up. Cities need other cities to survive.
It is in the nature of our cities and communities to share what is both horror and beauty. We move between our cities to escape horror, or provide assistance and support to those experiencing horror, and we move between our cities to enjoy beauty. It is in our nature.
With some planner colleagues, we have been testing the idea of “the healing city”, or a “city that heals itself”. Some people get it, and some people don’t. I think our response to this idea depends on our relationship to trauma and discomfort.
In a bar on Thursday night, I was with a group of colleagues celebrating the winter season. As you can imagine, a lot of chit chat, some things to nibble on, drinks in our hands, and pockets of people in conversation. One of the conversations was about one of our colleagues, whose 13-year-old daughter committed suicide two days earlier. The news was just spreading and, of course, we are shocked and horrified, sorting out our own reactions to this news from how to make sure our colleague and her family are getting the support they need. One of the people connecting people with each other is grappling with her own child threatening suicide that very afternoon. A friend cancelled our Friday supper date because she has to be at home on what appears to be a suicide watch for her teenager. Which frees up tonight (Friday) to support a friend (and my son) whose 18-year-old (my son’s best friend) spent the night in emergency for a tricky medical situation and will be in the hospital for a few days.
This morning, I am thinking about the TVs in the bar last night. Screens upon screens of messages like this:
WTF? (What the f&*$?)
WTF? Why are three young people who have, are threatening and contemplating suicide? One of these young people is among a wave of classmates exploring suicide. Why is this converging in my attention? WTF?
What are we not paying attention to, and why?
I notice two qualities of healing in my city. The first is the physical kind that can be clear and apparent (even when it sneaks up on us) and lands us in the hospital. It can be from a sickness, or an accident that causes injury, and it is usually obvious and clear how to handle it for medical professionals. This is the kind of healing our health system is largely created to do – like for my son’s friend – and we are learning as a society how to be more preventative and helpful, whether it is for disease or accidents.
The second quality of healing needed in my city is emotional, mental, and spiritual in nature. It is the trauma that comes with the physical events, or it is emotional, mental, and spiritual trauma that is experienced. It is the stuff we don’t see, or care to look at. It is the distress a teenager experiences that makes suicide an option. It is the attempted cultural genocide of colonial culture on Indigenous peoples. It is the upheaval experienced by refugees who have arrived in our city. It is the confusion experienced by newcomers finding their way in a new place. It is the settler population coming to grips with “losing” unearned power and privilege. It is everyone who has or is experiencing abuses of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual power. It is all the stuff we don’t want to talk about because it is too uncomfortable and disruptive.
A city that heals itself is a city with the courage to talk about the stuff that is uncomfortable and disruptive.
A city that heals itself is a city with the courage to talk about the stuff that is uncomfortable and disruptive. A healing city invites the legitimacy of others’ experience of life in the city; it invites revisiting our current power structures about who gets the help they need, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. One conversation last night shone a light on two family suicide stories from a couple decades ago: the child on the wealthy side of the family got help and attention while the child on the poor side of the family did not.
I’m sitting with these questions today:
- Do we know why young people are contemplating and committing suicide? Are we doing anything about it?
- Do we know if all citizens have access to our hospitals and get the help they need? Do some people get better care than others based on colour of skin or language spoken? Are we doing anything about it?
- Do we know the truth about our colonial nature? Are we doing anything about it?
- Do we know the experience of people not at all like us? Are we doing anything to understand and accept the changes we need to make ourselves to allow them to improve their conditions?
A city that looks after its citizens looks after its citizens. Should a city choose to be a place where people are looked after, I recognize that there will always be healing work to do. A healing city recognizes that there is always healing work to do.
A city that looks after its citizens looks after its citizens.