Nest City Blog

Heat of the cauldron

At a conference where the crowd assembled believes in designing cities to mitigate and adapt to climate change, we avoided talking about the heat—the emotional heat. And avoiding emotional heat means avoiding the hard work needed to effect the changes we say we want.

I do not think this is a conscious choice, but when we organize conferences, and pour the resources we do into them, we are creating the conditions for people to tell each other about what they think about a topic. While individually, as tellers,  we have explored topics at length, a conference collects the individual perspectives, puts them on display and does not allow for collective exploration. We do not notice, let alone explore, what we think; at best, we hear what a few think.

(As I write, I am conscious of a conundrum I am creating for myself. I am telling you, by writing, what I think, much the same way a lecturer does on a stage. The difference is that you are sitting reading, likely alone. You are not sitting in a room with tens or hundreds or thousands of others sitting beside you, also listening to me. You and I are not missing out on an opportunity to digest together, simultaneously, what I am exploring. And so I activate our one-on-one relationship, me the writer and you the reader. Further, rather than giving you instructions, like a (violent) saviour, I share what I notice and invite you to conduct your own exploration. Please share what you find.) 

Let’s explore the contrast between telling and exploring when we gather, face-to-face, in meetings, conferences and the like, and what it means for the heat.

At conferences, when we gather physically in the same city, the same space and the same room, we keep ourselves separate. The usual format involves “the sage on the stage”, the expert and the audience. The expert tells us what we need to know, the audience receives that information. There is no or little interaction between the expert and the audience; we remain isolated from each other. Under the guise of questions and answers, we declare dialogue is taking place, but with clearly delineated roles of expert and audience, this is not dialogue. At best, it is information sharing. (NOTE: When the purpose of gathering is to share information, this format is fine.)

We pretend that by being in the same room we are networking, that the audience and experts mingle and build relationships. While this happens to a degree, it is minimal. At meals, the protocol is for the known experts sit together at the head of the room, with the people who have organized the conference and/or who are going to introduce them. We might rub shoulders at the coffee break. We accept this minimal interaction as good, sufficient. 

When it comes to emotional heat, at conferences we organize ourselves to not talk about the heat we are feeling and experiencing. On rare occasions, a speaker may mention it, but we do not explore or digest it. It slips (or is shoved) to the side, remains outside of us, external. If we do notice the heat within ourselves, exploring that feeling is not expected, wanted, let alone accommodated. We sit. We listen. We network over coffee. What we could be talking about—what it will really take to move our ideas forward—is left alone. We are separate from our experience, and separate from each other. 

What we could be talking about—what it will really take to move our ideas forward—is left alone. We are separate from our experience, and separate from each other. 

What is compelling about conferences are the nifty people that assemble. It is fun to hear about compelling ideas and spectacular stories. It used to be that the only way to hear these folks and their ideas was at a conference, but this is no longer true. There are YouTube channels, podcasts, TED Talks, webinars. At any point, we are able to watch and/or listen to a plethora of thinkers describe what they think. Rather than sharing ideas, the conference is now about containing ideas; it doesn’t set them free, it keeps the ideas, and us, in a box. Hearing what they think no longer needs to be the purpose of face-to-face gatherings.

Rather than sharing ideas, the conference is now about containing ideas; it doesn’t set them free, it keeps the ideas, and us, in a box.

We organize conferences to control and contain what happens, by predetermining topics, themes and content, and by limiting exploratory  conversation to chance at coffee breaks. We do this as a defence mechanism, to avoid experiencing the heat of conflicting views. We do this to maintain our defended positions against others. We do this to avoid being open to the influence of others. We do this to avoid having to care about others. 

“The conference” keeps us in the realm of information dissemination, removed from the realm of action. Even when we say over and over that action is action we want. Ironically, what feels like talking in circles is what will lead us to wise action. What if, instead of control and containment (the conference experience), we offered a container? What if we offered a cauldron, instead of a conference? 

What if, instead of control and containment (the conference experience), we offered a container? What if we offered a cauldron, instead of a conference?

Join me in a thought experiment. 

“Conference”, as I am describing it here, is defined (at lexico.com) as: a formal meeting of people with a shared interest, typically one that takes place over several days. Let’s try a cauldron on for size (lexico.com) as: 1) a large metal pot with a lid and a handle used for cooking over an open fire, and 2) a situation characterized by instability and strong emotions.

What if, when we gather to ponder wise action, we chose not to contain emotional heat and allowed it, provided a container for it? 

The qualities of a conference and cauldron feel like this:

  CONFERENCE CAULDRON
Purpose Containment, control what is talked about Container, to support what needs to be talked about
Emotional heat Contained, discouraged Allowed, used to move toward wise action
What happens with conflicting ideas Audience watches debate take place on stage and conflicting ideas are generally defended, not explored Conversations in small and large groups explore conflicting ideas to better understand them and find a way forward 
Our experience One-way information sharing (with tolerance of clarification questions) Ideas come from unexpected conversations, people with similar interests find each other 
What it feels like
  • Stable
  • Predictable
  • Safe
  • Separation of experts and audience
  • Light attachment to the community 
  • Exclusive
  • Formal
  • Lecture 
  • Download of information
  • Familiar
  • Unstable
  • Unpredictable
  • Dangerous
  • Integration of all forms of expertise
  • Deep attachment to community
  • Inclusive
  • Informal
  • Conversation
  • Spreading of information
  • Strange
What we get from it
  • Ideas and thinking from those chosen for us
  • We are provoked to think differently as individuals
  • Ideas and thinking from everyone
  • We provoke ourselves to think and act differently as individuals and group
  • Surprising and synchronistic experiences

There is good information sharing at a conference, and the connections we make with each other are valuable. A cauldron, however, can amplify the ideas and connections we make—and their meaning to us individually and collectively. This happens because how we participate shifts from passive audience to active participant.  

When we passively sit in a room listening to experts, we are not listening to each other. A cauldron asks us to be in the heat as convenors, when we speak and when we participate. It asks us to expect something different of ourselves and others.

What is asks of us CONFERENCE CAULDRON
Convenors / hosts
  • Predetermine the topic and content
  • Design a program of speakers
  • Provide an environment that establishes conflict as a battle of wills
  • Leave emotional well-being of participants to participants
  • Craft a compelling invitation to explore
  • Design for community exploration
  • Provide an environment that supports exploration of conflicting ideas
  • Care for the emotional well-being of participants
Speakers 
  • Prepare lengthy presentation, ahead of time, on what needs to be said
  • Deliver and disappear (some stay, most “dump and run”)
  • Speak to serve the conversation in that moment
  • Participate in the event, be a part of the community 
Participants
  • Passively participate by hiding in chairs
  • Allow experts to shape opinion and positions
  • Listen to experts to inform individual action
  • Actively participate in the discussion 
  • Be open to the influence of many others
  • Participate in the discernment of wise action—for community and self

A cauldron is asking us to create the conditions to be in the heat of hearing self and other. It reminds me of the personal reflection time I need to hear myself, notice what I am feeling and experiencing, and discern the wise action that comes from a place of inner knowing. It is a place where facts and evidence rub up against my feelings, that I notice when it is time to act, or not. As groups, whatever size, we are no different–we need spaces to notice not only the actions I/we need to take, but the ones we are willing to take. The latter comes with reflection and commitment from deep knowing within, not a lecture from without. 

That conference I mentioned at the top of this piece?  The pinnacle was the violent saviour, the old white man with an urgent, preachy message: we must change or ways or we will die. He insisted we do as he prescribes to save ourselves. But sitting and listening for days is not going to be the answer because all we do while gathered is name actions that could be taken. We were asked to “drink from the firehose” of information about needing to take action and actions. After the conference, videos of the main speakers are shared so we can continue to feed our information addiction. An addiction that keeps us from action. 

When we meet face-to-face to talk about serious stuff, and the actions that are needed, I want to have time to digest the actions asked of me. I want time for us to digest the actions we are prepared to take, to notice if we are really committed or not, or what it will take. I want to wrestle with conflicting ideas to dig into what is happening underground, the real reasons why things are happening (or not) the way they are. I want to experience a support system out there that I can call on if I need it. For wise action that sticks, we need a cauldron from time to time. 

This is what I’ve come to realize: it is the emotional heat of the cauldron that enables action, not the familiarity of the conference.

This is what I’ve come to realize: it is the emotional heat of the cauldron that enables action, not the familiarity of the conference.

As always, the purpose of a gathering should guide its design. And with this, another lens into what the convenors and participants are looking for: the stability of a conference, or the danger of a cauldron. It is the latter that propels us into action. 

The violent saviour

He was a conference speaker with an urgent message: we must change our ways or we will die. We will only save ourselves if we do what he says, what he prescribes. 

His subject matter was climate change, but the subject didn’t matter. It was his stance: I know more than you do and if you don’t do what I say, you will die, we will all die. At one point his volume went up a notch to say:

My initial reaction was that it didn’t feel good to be yelled at. I also didn’t feel that blasting a crowd who believes what has has to say was an effective strategy to have a us listen. I chose to stay in my seat to hear what he had to say because he is wise and knowledgable; there was brilliant content in his presentation and his message. AND simultaneously I understood that his delivery was both inappropriate and ineffective. 

There was brilliant content in his presentation and his message. AND simultaneously I understood that his delivery was both inappropriate and ineffective.

A week later I realize that what bothers me most is the message that I received: that I/we need to be saved and he is my/our saviour. I experienced his stance as one of superiority; only he knows how we will be saved. I experienced his stance as one of fear, and that the harsh truth–loud and fast–is the only thing that will spark us into action. And, of course, that the action we take must be the action he wants us to take, in line with his master plan. (Yes, he used the words ‘master plan’.)

On reflection, today I see: a 74-year-old white man with a master plan will save the world. His backstory (as I imagine it): a lifetime of brilliant and unacknowledged work, and rejection from all major decision makers. He’s a rare human who can see our future better than we can, but since we can’t hear it, or don’t like to hear it, we have tuned him out for decades. So does he yell to be heard? Is this why he doesn’t even notice when the crowd before him is a few hundred people he does not have to convince? Is he so used to yelling to be heard that this is the only way he knows to talk about his work? Is it because he can no longer trust or believe that he is being heard, or that we are not the right people in power so we don’t count?

These questions and any potential answers don’t actually matter. They help me humanize him and empathize with him, but at the end of the day my experience is the same: he was insensitive and violent in the delivery of his message

A stance of superiority puts him in a place where he has the answers and the audience (me/us), being inferior, has no meaningful knowledge, information, skill or insight. While this did not add up to anything physically violent, it was mentally violent: we are not smart enough. It was emotionally violent: we don’t care enough. It was spiritually violent: we, and the work we do, is insufficient. He denies, with a stance of superiority and unwavering belief in his master plan, the sovereignty of others. 

He denies, with a stance of superiority and unwavering belief in his master plan, the sovereignty of others. 

If he wants to motivate me, this is not how to do it. 

If he wants to motivate most people, this is not how to do it. 

In the end, a good reminder for me to always check in with myself to see if I believe I am better than others. I know I “see” things others do not yet see, but what I do with that information, and how I share it, is crucial. It doesn’t mean keeping things to myself so I don’t upset anyone, and it doesn’t mean overselling people my message.

The saviour stance does not undertake this discernment because the interaction is not about the audience, it is only about the saviour playing the role of saviour.

There’s a delicate balance in this about knowing ‘where’ an audience is, what it can tolerate, and what it needs to know even if it makes them uncomfortable. (Note: when it is an imminent emergency don’t hold back.) The saviour stance does not undertake this discernment because the interaction is not about the audience, it is only about the saviour playing the role of saviour. And this is the violence of dehumanizing the people ostensibly served: it is the ego of the saviour who is served. 


Under what conditions does it make sense to put the sage on the stage? 

If we let go of needing expertise on the stage, what could happen next? 


 

Buying a car ‘with training wheels’

My two kids are great at metaphors. The latest: that they are buying a car “with training wheels”. 

They’ve been noticing their favourite vehicle out on the roads of the city for years: the Honda CR-V, circa 2000 +/-. They love the look of it; it makes them feel good. So when family friends offered a 1999 Honda CR-V to them for one dollar, they had some thinking to do. With some research, they identified the immediate repairs needed and the cost. There was research about what insurance would cost, and if it would be more economical under my insurance policy or on their own. They came up with a budget for operating costs that include insurance, registration, planned and unplanned maintenance. They researched the sale prices for other similar cars, and the shape they were in. They thought about the purpose of having a car and their budget, and where the money would come from. Then they made a decision: take on the responsibility of an awesome, well-loved Honda CR-V that they feel great about

They’ve been thinking about this, informally, for a few years, but the opportunity was in front of them and they had to make a decision. It was like the smaller version of themselves and the decision to try out a two-wheel bike, instead of the tricycle. They could have done the whole transaction on their own, but there were some training wheels: me. 

They could have done the whole transaction on their own, but there were some training wheels: me. 

Training wheels provide stability while learning a new skill. When we move from three wheels to two, those two little extra little wheels beside the rear wheel are that stability. (Even if only mental stability!) With my kids, there was a point where the training wheels came off and there was an adult hand on the seat as they figured it out more fully on their own. Then it was bike rides together, showing them the rules of the road. I offered layers of guidance, to “train” them about how the world around them works and how to fit in it safely. (Things like stop signs, stay on the right side of the road, make eye contact with car drivers, get out of the way of pedestrians.) As kids age, the nature of the guidance provided continues. 

First times are often wobbly. 

The “training wheels” my kids needed as they bought their first car showed up this way: 

  • What is the purpose of having a car? 
  • There is no pressure to make this happen now, so go at your own speed. It will happen when the time is right. 
  • What is your budget? How much do you want to spend to buy the car, on repairs, insurance? Do you have what you need to spend on the car? 
  • What is the risk of something unexpected happening to the car, or your ability to make payments? What is the likelihood of those things happening and the consequences?
  • Is this a safe thing to do, financially and physically? 
  • Does this feel right or wrong in any way? 
  • What are the steps to buy and make repairs to a car? 

With a little stability, they determined that a car was something they wanted to spend their money on. They figured out a budget. They determined that the $1 car (plus repairs) was the perfect and simple solution that meets their purposes. They researched the paperwork needed to buy and register a new car. They did most of the work, with me as training wheels on the side. 

Whether it is kids, co-workers, students, anyone for whom we serve as training wheels, this experience has taught me a few vital things about my relationship with the sovereignty of people making decisions. 

Whether it is kids, co-workers, students, anyone for whom we serve as training wheels, this experience has taught me a few vital things about my relationship with the sovereignty of people making decisions, whether they are my kids, clients, friends (or myself!):

  1. It is their decision to make, so I have to act like it is their decision to make. This involves careful discernment about what information or guidance to share, and when, to help them with their decision-making. Is the information relevant to their situation? Am I trying to push them in a direction I want them to go? 
  2. Acting like it is their decision to make means I have to ask: “Is this something you want to do on your own, or would you like my help/support in any way?” Whatever their answer, I need to respect it. After a while, I might discern that the question needs to be asked again. Again, I must respect the answer. 
  3. Acting like it is their decision to make means I offer what will stabilize them, not what will stabilize me. I need to notice if I am panicking about my kids having their own car and not let that interfere with their decision. 
  4. I need to notice when I have opinions that are not relevant. Sharing my opinion might be more about me, and what I would like them to do, rather than be helpful for them. When I offer my opinions in this way I am inserting my values into their decision making. 
  5. Supporting them to be clear on purpose helps them and me. With clarity of purpose, clear boundaries emerge about what is helpful and what is not. It enables them to put aside unhelpful advice or information. It also helps me discern what is helpful or not. 

Training wheels do not decide where the bicycle is going, or how fast it goes. They simply provide the bit of stability for the rider to make a new range of choices.

Training wheels do not decide where the bicycle is going, or how fast it goes. They simply provide the bit of stability for the rider to make a new range of choices. When my kids were learning to ride a bicycle, or buy a car, I no longer have control of where they are going. They are the decision makers. 

And most importantly, they decide if they want to use training wheels

This “training wheels” metaphor comes with great insight about respecting and allowing the sovereignty of others, whoever they are (kids, clients, partners, family, friends, or peoples). And whatever the other decides, I have a choice to make about my relationship with their sovereignty. If I want control, power over them and their decision, I will insert myself to affect the outcome. If I am not looking for power, I will offer support in ways that they determine are helpful (not how I determine are helpful). If I insert myself, even in the form of support, if it is on my terms, I am violating their sovereignty. 

If I insert myself, even in the form of support, if it is on my terms, I am violating their sovereignty. 

Violation of sovereignty takes place in clear and subtle ways. The clear ways: colonization of peoples and nations, racism, physical and emotional abuse, dictatorships. The subtle ways are in our day-to-day exchanges, and they are insidious, under the guise of being interested or helpful. (Note: The interest is not in what the decision makers want; the interest is in having something unfold the way they want it to.)

My kids, with a clear sense of purpose and budget, skillfully batted away some unwanted invasions into their sovereignty. Here are a few things said to them, and the underlying “threat to sovereignty” message: 

WHAT IS SAID THE MESSAGE 
“I think what you should do is…”  I know better than you

“An old car makes no sense for all these reasons… You should get a new car.”

I have better values than you
“Have you thought about this, about that, about this…”   You don’t know what you are doing
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”   You need my approval (or I want you to need my approval
“You should spend your money this way…”  You are not responsible

And my kids, how did they bat this stuff away? Their sovereignty did it. They recognized unhelpful information that did not align with their purpose and budget. They put it aside. 

And my kids, how did they bat this stuff away? Their sovereignty did it. 

It was fascinating to witness, and as I did my responsibility to be conscious of my motivation in a conversation became more clear. Offering unsolicited, or unwanted advice, is a primary indicator I can use to notice if I am trying to influence or control outcomes. If I am, I may be needing to feel more superior than the other, and there’s some exploration for me to do around that. None of this is about what the other needs; it has become about me and my needs, whether they are aware of this or not. 

It is also my responsibility to be conscious of the purpose of the conversation, with my kids or anyone else. It helps me keep track of my role in that conversation. Is the other asking for advice? Is the other needing me to hold space for them while they make their decision? Should I just step way back and leave them be? Do I have vital information the other does not have, and do they want it? And when it needs to be flipped around, what am I looking for from another? 

I feel like I’ve been using training wheels. My kids are helping me grow up, discerning more clearly power dynamics in decision making. They are helping me see questions to ask myself in my personal and professional lives:

  1. What does the other need of me? Advice, information, hold space, witness, distance, celebration? 
  2. What am I able to offer? Am I able to be what the other needs at this time — if not, say so. This is not personal; it is looking after self. 
  3. What do I need of the other? Advice, information, hold space, witness, distance, celebration?
  4. What is the other able to offer me? Are they able to play the role I need (they will do it, say yes or no, or be unavailable). Their response is not personal; they are looking after self.  

And the big metaphorical lesson for me, who supports people making decisions in a wide range of ways: training wheels may not be needed. If they are needed, it is the bicycle rider who decides for how long. To respect and allow their sovereignty, they make the decision, not me. Even if it means I tell them that it is their decision to make. 


NOTE #1: The exercise of sovereignty is disruptive. If I exercise it for myself, others may not like it. (They may be attached to feeling superior, giving advice, or attached to the way things were and don’t want things to change.) If I exercise sovereignty by NOT making decisions for others, that can also be tricky territory. This is how power works: it makes us want it, and it makes us not want it. 

NOTE #2: This post published with my kids’ permission. 

 

Teaching from “me in community”

I’ve been exploring a vital question for years, in anticipation of publication of my book, Nest City: how do I share my thinking and my work while being in community with my audience, especially when we are face-to-face?

We seem to think that when one or a few people talk to a crowd about community that we are learning about community. We are not. 

The question comes from long-standing ‘antibodies’ in my citizen-system (me) to the dominant learning pattern of the expert on the stage, separate from the audience. (There’s a time and a place for this, but we are not good at discerning when it is right on right circumstances for the sage on the stage; it is our default shape when we gather in groups.) I get itchy when we seem to think that when one or a few people talk to a crowd about community that we are learning about community. We are not. 

A gathering in this shape–even if the subject matter is community–is not about community. It allows us to see, or visualize, a community of shared interest, but it is not about creating community. In this shape we are talking about community but not doing community, let alone making community. If the purpose of the gathering is about community we would get to know each other; the community would get to know itself. If I leave a gathering having seen the faces of people who share my interests, but nothing else, then it was not about community. If I leave knowing names, knowing a bit (or a lot) about others, shared a bit (or a lot) about myself, found some new ideas together with others and thread some of those ideas together, then the gathering was about making community. Being in the same room, even if we are talking about community, is insufficient to claim that we are learning about community. 

I have no desire to be in learning spaces that claim to be about community when they are not. 

So when I find myself in teaching situations I put pressure on myself to create the seed conditions for community. This means I have a shift to make in my approach, as well as name the shift to the people with whom I am creating the learning habitat. The shift I must make is simple: from “me and community” to “me in community”. 

The shift I must make is simple: from “me and community” to “me in community”.

Me-and-community means I keep myself removed and separate from the community and it’s learning experience. 

Me-in-community means I am embedded in the learning system.
Here is the big difference between the two: separate learning journeys to interconnected learning journeys. Not only are participants connected to each other in their learning journeys, but my own learning journey is intertwined with theirs. We are not separate. We are in the learning together. 

This shift involves growing into new expectations of each other, new foundational assumptions about our learning habitat. For example, when I show up as the expert, what we are all thinking I will do is speak uninterrupted for a long time and lay out what I think. If we are at a conference, I speak for 30 or 60 minutes and then I get off the stage. There may or may not be opportunity for a token exchange between you and I in the form of some questions and answers. Further, I may well leave right after my presentation. Whether I physically depart or not, I leave it to you to figure out what you think about what I’ve said by yourselves. (And you are left, also, to figure it out individually, not as a group: by your selfs.)A community-focused way of learning involves contrasting basic expectation: I share what I see and sense, and then we figure out what it means to us. 

I do not leave you, rather I stay and explore with you. I might have a different role than you in the conversation that ensues, because I have a different experience, but I am in it with you. I do not drop a content bomb and run. I may have a role in holding space as the group discerns what it means for individuals, for the group, and any larger implications. I may jump in and participate with you while another holds space for us. The point: all of the perspectives in the room, all of the expertise, is allowed and invited to mix.

When we learn only from “the expert” there are massive an unimaginable missed opportunities. This is what you can expect of me: an expectation that unimaginable possibilities happen when we set ourselves up to learn together, rather than alone. 


You might also like the “how much of me” series, that gets into the power dynamics of hosts and participants, and what we expect of each other: 


This post first published in Nest City News, September 3, 2019. 

Fighting is infectious

Under the summer sun, fifteen kids, ranging in age from 6 to 10 years old, and two adults filed on to the bus last week, collecting behind me, near the back of the bus to keep the group together. I imagined the fun of a summer field trip until the adult camp leaders started talking. They were caught up in fight drama, full of fight energy. It was subtle, and infectious as it spread around the bus. If there was any fun on that field trip, it was not fun any longer. 

It was subtle and infectious as it spread around the bus. If there was any fun on that field trip, it was not fun any longer. 

The camp leaders were mad because they were running late. The group of them had been standing at the side of the road in between bus stops expecting the previous bus to stop for them. It did not, and they were furious. “What else would he be thinking? Why else would a group of kids be standing there? I called to make a complaint and they wouldn’t take the complaint because we were not at a stop–how ridiculous is that?” 

A nearby woman chimed in: “Those bus drivers! Not all of them, mind you, but there are enough around that just don’t care about people.” They went back and forth for a few minutes. In front of me, two women who did not know each other started to talk about it by themselves: “What a shame. Bus drivers these days. You can call 311 and make a complaint, but would they even listen? Would they ever change?” (Note: they didn’t hear the words of the camp leaders. They did call 311. It was the fight-feeling that was spreading.)

I found myself wanting to get off of the bus.

I wanted to escape the spreading infection of negativity and criticism and blame. I did not have the energy to witness the tempting pull to dehumanize, and demonize people we don’t even know. My stop arrived a couple minutes later and I stepped off, relieved. 

As I walked home, I thought about it and noticed that the camp leaders were:

  1. Experiencing anger about the bus not stopping for them. 
  2. Experiencing frustration that they were running late.
  3. Voicing their anger and frustration out loud.
  4. Blaming the bus driver for their anger and frustration. 
  5. Looking for and securing allies to justify their view. 

In that moment, they had hearts at war, as The Arbinger Institute, in The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, calls it. They needed to find others to blame, rather than try to understand the situation of the other (the bus driver who drove by) or take personal responsibility for their situation. 

In that moment, they had hearts at war. 

When the heart is at war, we see and experience the world in a specific way. Here’s a summary of how The Arbginger Institute describes the heart at war: 

  • View of the world: unfair, unjust, burdensome, against me
  • Feelings: angry, bitter, justified, impatient
  • View of myself: better than, a victim (I am owed), need to be seen well
  • View of others: wrong, incapable, inferior (or superior) 

I know this stance. It is a regular occurrence in my life that I have to pay attention to with my family, friends, clients and the people I work with. From this stance, I am not able to see others as people; I see them, and experience them and treat them, as objects. When I operate this way, everything is going wrong and everyone else is to blame. When my heart is at war, I view the world as unfair and unjust, which leads me to feel anger, bitterness, and justification. When I feel this way, I may view myself as better than others, or as a victim that is owed, which means that my view of others is that they are wrong, incapable and inferior, or even superior to me. And I will look for and encourage allies to support me in this stance. It often feels like an easy way to operate, and it can take a great deal of energy to knock myself out of it. 

In contrast, a heart at peace, also described by The Arbinger Institute, is a very different quality of being. Instead of viewing others as dehumanized objects, I view them as people, with hopes, needs, cares and fears as I have, and not more or less important than mine. There are two ways of being: 

HEART AT WAR

HEART AT PEACE

Others are OBJECTS: obstacles, vehicles, irrelevancies

Others are PEOPLE: hopes, needs, cares, and fears as real to me as my own

The stance of a heart at peace appears to be hard because it involves a degree of self-awareness, and a willingness to notice what is happening within me. For The Arbinger Institute, we each, in every situation, have a sense of what we’d like to do, or how we’d like to be. The path to a heart at war is in the betrayal of that desire. Honouring that desire allows me to maintain a heart at peace. If I do not, I begin to see the other in ways that justify my self betrayal. It takes practice, and with practice it becomes easier. Over time it becomes easier to tell fewer lies to myself. 

Over time it becomes easier to tell fewer lies to myself. 

Did the camp leaders betray themselves?

I am only imagining here… Did they mean to give themselves more time to get to the bus stop, but did not? Did they sabotage this plan and then in anger and frustration blame it on someone else? Are they so entrenched in a heart at war stance that they don’t even know they’ve done this, or was it an infrequent occurrence? (Perhaps they took personal responsibility later, but in the moment they did not.)

Were they aware of the example they were setting for the children in their care, to blame things always on someone else? Deep down inside, did they feel badly and chose instead to justify their indignation and recruit allies to the cause?

Deep down inside, did they feel badly  and chose instead to justify their indignation and recruit allies to the cause? 

(In contrast, I imagine a couple camp leaders and vibrating kids getting on a bus in conversation with each other, kids and adults intertwined. “Did you see that skeleton? Did you notice how big the horns were? Did you see that room full of bugs — which one was your favourite? Oh, I couldn’t go in that room, it was too scary, but I liked the video of the old man talking about the medicine wheel.” Full of joy and revelling in the shared experience of the trip, and, perhaps, one of the adults saying, “Oh my, I so wish that bus driver saw us waving our arms like crazy when we were caught between bus stops. We must have been funny looking!)

In a spirit of having a heart at peace, and not a heart at war, I try to imagine what it was like to be those camp leaders. I have no idea what their day was like up until that point, or the trouble they will be in if late. I have no idea what their life is like, any trauma that they are dealing with. All I can do is notice how they showed up, and how their energy–not necessarily them–recruited others.

All I can do is notice how they showed up, and how their energy–not necessarily them–recruited others.

This heart at war dynamic is akin to the prevalent war mentality that Charles Eisenstein articulates in his book, Climate: A New Story. A war mentality is a stance “based on a kind of reductionism; it reduces complex interconnected causes–that include oneself–to a simple, external cause called the enemy. Furthermore, it normally depends on the reduction of the enemy to a degraded caricature of a human being.” The ‘other’ is therefore “undeserving of reverence and respect, an object to dominate, control, and subjugate.” The camp leaders were operating from a war mentality, demonizing the bus driver and Edmonton Transit Service, and when another joined in they kept going. The camp leaders and the bystander joined forces. Others drew in this anger and riled themselves up.

This war mentality is in play in so many of our human interactions. The war on terrorism. The war against climate change. The war on drugs. The war on racism. It even drifts into the war on bus drivers. This mentality is pervasive and the irony is that it maintains the status quo: 

…fighting the enemy is futile when you inhabit a system that has the endless generation of enemies built into it. That is a recipe for war.

If that is to change, then one of the addictions—more fundamental than the addiction to fossil fuels—that we are going to give up is the addiction to fighting. Then we can examine the ground conditions that produce an endless supply of enemies to fight (Eisenstein, p. 17).

When the fighting never ends, the power structures remain the same; all we do is shift who has power and who does not. (Think about the Game of Thrones: endless fighting and all that changes is who sits on the iron throne. And you can never be sure you’ll be there for long.) The “ground conditions that produce an endless supply of enemies to fight” are the heart at war. In the end, then, the question is, who do we want to be? How do we want to be? 

The “ground conditions that produce an endless supply of enemies to fight” are the heart at war. In the end, then, the question is, who do we want to be? How do we want to be?

Do we want to maintain a clear separation between us and them, between right and wrong and maintain the game as we know it? Or do we want to make the transition to a world where conflict is not about right and wrong, but a way to make sure others’ needs are met, because in so doing mine will also be met?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Conflict does not disappear when we stop operating in fight mode. I do not advocate that conflict be ignored. We desperately need to talk about what works and does not work for us and work to resolve it. Instead of reverting to a war mentality of fighting and dehumanizing, we grow our capacity to be in conflict in ways that allow people’s needs to be met. This involves a lot of work within self, with others, and in relationship to the places we call home. 

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: I am not advocating no fighting under any circumstances. Like Eisenstein, I observe that being in fight mode all the time is not effective. There are instances where fighting does make sense: human rights violations, racism and genocide, ecocide. 

The infection that spreads, then, is not fight drama, but deep and meaningful, interconnected relationships: the ground conditions for support and care for self, others and the places we call home. 

The choice at hand for each of us: Which infection do I choose to spread? The anger and frustration that comes with fight drama, or the generative possibility that comes with exploring conflict? 

 


Resources:

Charles Eisenstein, Climate: A New Story, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 2018.

The Arbinger Institute, The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., Oakland, 2006, 2008, 2015.


The choice at hand for each of us: Which infection do I choose to spread? The anger and frustration that comes with fight drama, or the generative possibility that comes with exploring conflict? 



This post first published in Nest City News on August 9, 2019.

Disrupt the story of the land

A road trip is full of possibility. With the flexibility of time to take one of those turn-offs, there’s a chance to see something with fresh eyes. At the beginning of July, a friend and I drove from Portland, Oregon to Reno, Nevada in the United States. It was new territory — volcanic territory — that pulled us up to a lookout and down into a cave. 
 
In the northeast corner of California, just west of Highway 139, the Timber Mountain Lookout beckoned us off the highway. Wendy (waving in the photo below) toured us around her summer home, a place to keep an eye on things and send out the alert when there are ‘smokes’ — the evidence of fire. 
 
Wendy has all she needs in her lookout. It is a wee home with all she needs to look after herself and keep an eye on the land.

She has a kitchen, a bed, maps, cameras and lenses. 
 
It is a place of solitude, the quiet and peaceful kind or the solitude that comes with proximity of a surrounding storm. It is a place where there are few human and many animal visitors, but contact with fellow humans is the point. Wendy and her fellow lookout colleagues are in contact with each other and the wider emergency response system. In that location she is alone, but she is part of a larger endeavour.  
 
We created these lookouts to keep ourselves safe from fire. We chose to make these structures, at sensible locations, and create a means for the people working in the lookouts to identify clearly the location of smokes for their emergency services colleagues to investigate and, if necessary, fight fire that threatens homes and/or livelihoods. 
 
The lookouts come with a contract — the one who resides in the lookout is expected to see things we cannot see, to see on our behalf. And we who receive their messages trust what they name is worthy of investigation. 
 
The lookout comes with a contract — the one who resides in the lookout is expected to see things we cannot see, to see on our behalf. And we who receive their messages trust that what they name is worthy of investigation. 
I wonder, who are the people on the lookout for us all in other ways? And are we willing to receive their messages?
 
Who are the people on the lookout in other ways? And are we willing to receive their messages? 
I took this question to our next stop, nearby lava tube caves and a visitor centre at the Lava Beds National Monument. This second pause in our road trip shone a light on a story dominant culture does not like to hear: we settlers arrived to colonize North America and kill or displace people already here. 
 
 
A cave, for me, is dark and unfamiliar terrain,  a world that is unsettling and uncomfortable. Unfamiliar to me, yet intimately familiar to the Modoc people who have left evidence of having lived here for 14,000 years. 
 
When European traders and settlers arrived in the early 1800s there was displacement and a change in the way of life. Then displacement turned into state-sponsored extermination and California’s state legislature funded of a campaign to kill Native people: state sponsored genocide. 
 
A standoff between the colonizers and the Modoc people (who resisted ill-treatment and displacement to reserves and wished to be reunited with their homeland) involved the Modoc vanishing into the caves they knew intimately. Outnumbered 10-1, over the winter of 1872-1873 (the Modoc War), their knowledge of the land allowed them to resist and survive. 
 
The Modoc, who know the story of the land most intimately — where to find water, where to find food, what makes good shelter, the stories of the land and sky that sustain life and a thriving culture — were killed or forcibly removed from their homeland to a reservation in Oklahoma. The stewardship of the land changed dramatically.  
 
The Modoc were killed or forcibly removed from their homeland to a reservation in Oklahoma. 
The colonizers began a process to reclaim the land for homesteading. Between 1908 and 1930 Tule Lake was drained and converted to farmland. By lottery out of a pickle jar the land was given to homesteaders. A stunning map in the visitor center tells the tale. 
 
By lottery out of a pickle jar the land was given to homesteaders.
The vast majority of the lake was converted to farmland. What remained of the waterbody was labeled “Tule Lake Restricted Sump”. 
 
Our settler/colonizer language is fascinating: 
 
re*claim 
 
verb
  1. retrieve or recover (something previously lost, give, or paid); obtain the return of.
  2. bring (waste land or land formerly underwater)under cultivation.
Our language reveals what we thought of the land and the people who lived on it:
 
  1. The land is ours to take. 
  2. Indigenous use of the land is unproductive. 
  3. Settler use of the land is more productive.
  4. Indigenous people are not productive.
  5. Settler people are productive.
  6. Indigenous people are inferior. 
  7. Settler people are superior. 
We had our idea of what the land could be used for and, deeming ourselves and our ideas to be superior, we occupied the land.  We killed and forcibly removed people to do so, and now we non-indigenous people call it our homeland. 
 
Deeming ourselves and our ideas to be superior, we occupied the land. We killed and forcibly removed people to do so, and now we non-indigenous people call it our homeland.  
I feel a connection to the story of the Modoc because it helps me see my family land lineage more clearly. In similar fashion, colonizers declared land open for homesteaders in central Alberta and my Norwegian great-grandparents arrived as homesteaders. In another family branch, my grandparents took advantage of others having declared land was available for purchase on a lakeshore. They bought lake property to serve as a recreational property, along with many others, surrounding an Indian Reservation. And me, I own land in my city that was claimed for settlement of non-indigenous people. There are Indigenous people who feel the land my city — and “my” land — sits on was stolen. My family lineage, then and now, benefits from the land we assumed to be ours for the taking. 
 
And here I have a choice about how far to go into this cave, and I have at least two stories to choose from. 
 
I could choose to believe that since my people were stronger and superior, then no reparations are needed. It is a story in which there is no room for weakness, especially mine. There is no room to accept that my people before me did anything wrong. (Or if I do accept they did, there is nothing I have done wrong.) This is a story about winners and losers, and when you’re a winner you enjoy the spoils and when you’re a loser you have to buck up and take it. This is a story that takes me to the entrance of the cave and causes me little discomfort as I continue to reap the benefits of living in a system works to raise my people and put others down.
 
A different story will take me into the cave, where I am uncomfortable and in the dark, unsure how to make my way forward. It is the settler/colonizer story where I take intergenerational responsibility for the actions of my people, decades and centuries ago, that were taken from a place of superiority and power. It is a story where I accept that I am part of the settler/colonizer culture that continues to benefit from having taken land. I am part of the settler/colonizer culture that experiences unearned privilege because of my ancestors actions. I am part of the culture that continues to propagate this old story: we settler people are better than Indigenous people. 
 
I am part of the culture that continues to propagate this old story: we settler people are better than Indigenous people. 
A part of this new story shows up in how we tell the story of the land we live on, whether the land of the Modoc, or the Plains Cree where I live. I grew up, and was trained as.a city planner, thinking about two things: 1) the geography and nature of the land (topography, water systems, plant life, geology, etc), and 2) the story of settlers on the land. I paid some attention to the Indigenous people who traverse these time horizons, but not an appropriate amount. Our pattern is to behave as though a group of people did not and does not exist. Further, we are conditioned to not take into consideration their existence. 
 
How we tell the story of the land is changing. The usual story I tell and hear, as a settler/colonizer, is the big natural story, and then the story of settling the land. We are conditioned to tell the story as though no one was here when we arrived. We tell the story as if there were no humans of worth here.
 
Yes, Medicine Lake is a volcano that has been active for over 500,000 years, with the last eruption 950 years ago. Yes the Oregon Trail and the Applegate Trail are significant stories of European “discovery” and settlement of western North America. Yes, the Lava Beds National Monument acknowledges, rather than hides, the story of the Modoc, but it is the stories of settler/colonizer triumph, the hardship, the hard work, the heroes, the defeated that thrive. And we avoid looking at the stuff that makes us uncomfortable. We avoid looking at the things that take us off the security of our superiority pedestal. 
 
We avoid looking at the things that take us off the security of our superiority pedestal. 
 
The new story will acknowledge this more widely. 
The new story will acknowledge this more widely.
 
My friend and I went into one easy to travel (and lit!) cave. There are many more deeper, darker and challenging caves to look explore. As i write, I imagine myself in a place of solitude up on Wendy’s lookout on Timber Mountain. I learn some peaceful things about myself, and I also witness the disturbance of stormy weather within myself.
 
There is a series of caves I have only begun to explore as a settler/colonizer of North America:  
 
  1. I do not understand and acknowledge my people’s role in the story of displacement and genocide and North America’s Indigenous Peoples. 
  2. I do not fully understand the implications of my people’s arrival and settlement, that it involved a desire to explicitly to “kill” and “terminate” the Indians”.
  3. I continue to live in a story of superiority over Indigenous Peoples.
  4. As descendants of settlers and colonizers, I have benefited and received the privileges that come with their actions and a story of superiority.
  5. I do not fully understand or acknowledge the explicit and subtle ways this story of superiority runs in my life.
  6. I am conditioned to remain unconscious to the ways the story of superiority runs my life. 
  7. I am threatened by the “loss”  I perceive if I lessen my hold on what I own.
The story of the land we live on is not singular. The story I grew up with, the dominant story, conditions me and us to believe in a superior people. And this story works very hard to maintain its position of dominance. The way to erode the power of that story: make room for others stories of the land, and our relationships with the land. This makes room for disruption.

 This post first appeared in the Nest City News on July 24, 2019.

Hold the phone!

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):

  1. 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. 

Pushing the cart uphill

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):  

  1. How do I make room for me to be ME, for “it” to happen? (Oct 24, 2016, Room where it happens)
  2. Who gives me the space I need to figure out who I am growing into? (Dec 1, 2016, Stay in it)
  3. What did I say no to that changed my life? (Dec 5, 2016, Say no to this)
  4. Is there an ending I should be paying attention to? (Dec 13, 2016, How to say goodbye)
  5. What is the story to choose for yourself? (Dec 17, 2016, Who tells your story?)  
  6. 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:

  1. 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). 
  2. 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)
  3. 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) 
  4. 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) 
  5. 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) 
  6. 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) 
  7. 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) 
  8. 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)
  9.  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: 

  1. How do I make room for the Me I am growing into?
  2. Who holds space for me to figure out who I am growing into?
  3. Is there an ending that needs my attention? 
  4. What am I saying yes/no to? 
  5. 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

Shifting to host-as-all-of-us

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:

  1. ​​​​​​​When a community is strongly attracted (consciously or unconsciously) to one or a few of its members and minimizes the contributions of others
  2. When a community strongly resists (consciously or unconsciously) the contributions of one or a few of its members
  3. When a community member has a strong desire (consciously or unconsciously) to be a host-attractor in the group​​​​​​​
  4. When a host-attractor does not want (consciously or unconsciously) the attention and responsibility of being an attractor​​​​​​​
  5. When a host-attractor denies (consciously or unconsciously) their presence as a host-attractor
  6. ​​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. 


REFLECTION

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.

  1. Host-attractor / host-on-the-rim 
  2. Roles and challenges for the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim
  3. 8 strategies to navigate power patterns
  4. A city in conversation with itself; shifting to host-as-all-of-us

8 strategies to navigate power patterns

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. ​​​​​​​

Host-attractor pattern 

Host-on-the-rim pattern

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.

A wobbly circle

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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)…”
  3. 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)…”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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.)

  1. Host-attractor / host-on-the-rim 
  2. Roles and challenges for the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim
  3. 8 strategies to navigate power patterns
  4. Shifting to host-as-all-of-us (a city in conversation with itself)