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?
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.
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.)
I’ve met 12 fabulous new people over the course of the last several months in an online learning environment. We have gathered around a host-attractor, in the host-attractor pattern, and we would not have met if we were not attracted to our teacher and his offering. As a host-attractor, our teacher has laid the ground for a safe space for participants: he met each of us to make sure we were clear about what we were signing up for, he provided us with some guidelines and agreements about how we were expected to behave, and he makes himself available to each of us on our learning journeys (we are together for 9 months). Each time we meet as a group, he takes the lead and hosts us. He is the leader of the overall process at all times, gracefully checking in to make sure that what is happening is working for us, and offering us timely ‘teachings’ along the way.
In the host-on-the-rim pattern, the deepening of community field comes with a distribution of leadership. I first came across this explicitly as part of a community of practice ten years ago (the Ginger Group Collaborative) that gathered face-to-face every 9 months for an ‘inquiry’, a gathering where a small team of hosts would host the others in an exploration of a topic for several days. The next time we’d meet, another small team of hosts would emerge, and so on, as a community on a journey of discovery.
It’s not one or the other though; it’s a process of discerning what is needed of me/us now.
My last post identified the energetic qualities of the host-attractor and the host-on-the-rim patterns, highlighting the differences about what brings us together, what happens, the shape of hierarchy and our sense of community. It’s not one or the other though; it’s a process of discerning what is needed of me/us now. I ended that last post with two questions:
As a host I ask: what pattern will best serve the purpose of the gathering – more host-attractor, or more host-on-the-rim?
As a participant I ask: is the pattern we are activating the pattern we want to be in?
Roles and responsibilities
Thinking of the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim patterns as poles on a continuum (not either/or), there are distinct roles and responsibilities for each that, by knowing them, can help us be in the pattern we choose to be in:
A fixed host that leads the process at all times
Participants – engage actively in the learning experience with care for each other
Variable hosts that each lead the process from time to time
Participants – engage actively in the learning experience, which includes stepping in to host from time to time
Host – lay the ground rules or agreements for a safe container for the community, help people show up well, remove participants as needed
Participants – discern if the community and agreements are good fit (yes – show up well, no – remove oneself)
Participants – establish a clear purpose for the group and the agreements about how to be together, take turns hosting each other, hold each other accountable to your agreements, notice if you fit
Rotating hosts – remind the group of purpose and agreements, host in ways that serve what the community needs, help make space for those that don’t quite fit
Roles are clear and familiar and feel comfortable
If someone does not fit it is clear who will ‘deal with it’
Roles can be or feel vague, which feels uncomfortable
If someone does not fit, it is not clear who will ‘deal with it’
The challenges with both patterns stem from misunderstanding the roles and responsibilities of hosts and participants. If not addressed, there are power imbalances that make the circle feel wobbly.
In the case of the host-attractor pattern, there may be expectations of host-attractors to ‘have the answers’ and disappointment and conflict can arise if they do not have or offer answers. There is a trap that both hosts and participants can fall into: a desire for the insight of the host-attractor to be made available. I recently hosted a group of people from two organizations joining efforts to build affordable housing together and the members of one organization, a church, deferred regularly to “The Bishop”, who was in the room. While wanting to work collaboratively, there was a second trap tempting me as the host and participants: that insight of one with perceived power (host or participant) be received without question. While uncomfortable, it is healthy for participants to question and host-attractors to invite questioning because this is what allows a deepening in the shared community experience.
While uncomfortable, it is healthy for participants to question and host-attractors to invite questioning because this is what allows a deepening in the shared community experience.
In the host-on-the-rim pattern, a different danger emerges: a reluctance or resistance to share the role of host. This pattern asks participants to step in to the discomfort of being a leader, if even for a moment. A safe community will make this possible; rotating leadership will not happen in a community where expectations and needs are not discussed.
A neighbourhood group I volunteer with decided to take leadership roles that best suited our styles: the extrovert took the hosting role, the writer was our scribe, the convener was our volunteer coordinator. While we didn’t share the explicit hosting role, we did share the work and spoke candidly about our comfort and how much discomfort would ruin our individual connection to our community and our project. We found our way because we share the work in ways that suited us. Our individual and community well-being—and our identification with our community—rested with all of us. (We expect our pattern will change as we become more comfortable with each other.)
The challenges in each pattern are about power dynamics and the power we give—consciously and unconsciously—to a host or the community, to a handful (or one) or to the whole.
The challenges in each pattern are about power dynamics and the power we give—consciously and unconsciously—to a host or the community, to a handful (or one) or to the whole:
Signs of a wobbly circle
Expectation that hosts will have all the answers
Expectation that participants will not question hosts or anyone with authority
Reluctance to share and rotate the hosting work among community members
Going where the host wants to go, from a host-ego place that is not in service to participant learning
Going where a few people want to go, rather than discerning where the whole is wanting to go
While each pattern in isolation appears to have distinct challenges, it is not a binary, either/or matter. Most often, both patterns are activated simultaneously, which creates significant challenges to the wellbeing of that circle’s social habitat. These challenges can be addressed when we circle up and talk about what we don’t like to talk about: power.
How do you see the variations of the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim patterns in your world? Is it acceptable to talk about this, or taboo?
This is the second post in a series about “how much of me” to put in while hosting community that wants to be in conversation with itself.
How much of me do I insert while hosting a community in conversation with itself? In sitting with this question for years, I’ve noticed two patterns in which hosts and community relate to each other: the host-attractor and the host-on-the-rim.
These two patterns are distinct in their energetic pattern: the host-attractor pattern occurs when community gathers around the host and the host-on-the-rim pattern occurs when the host is embedded in the community.
The host-attractor pattern is easy to spot; it is activated when we gather around people whose work we follow, who compel us to think and be differently, who energize us and lead us. In face-to-face situations, or in online virtual communities, we circle up around them, to learn from them. They play a critical role in helping us find a community of people who make their way through the world like us, or are on similar life journeys. The host-attractor helps us find our distributed tribe, the people like us that we might not otherwise meet in our usual life because they call us together based on a shared attraction.
In contrast, in the host-on-the-rim pattern there is no ‘attractor’ front and center. The attraction in this case is not identification with the attractor, but rather with the community, of people to each other, the community as a whole.
The energetics of these two patterns of hosting are different in significant ways.
The energetics of these two patterns of hosting are different in significant ways. The host-attractor pattern is imbued with a teacher-learner hierarchy (not a bad thing), where the host-on-the-rim environment flattens the teacher-learner hierarchy into a community where all are teachers and learners. In the host-attractor pattern, the teacher is looked to for leadership and teaching; in the host-on-the-rim pattern, teaching and learning is expected everywhere, from everyone.
Here are the qualities of these two patterns:
Community surrounds the host
Hosts are embedded in the community, taking turns
What brings people together
Desire to learn more about the messages or teachings of the host-attractor
Shared identity, shared interests, desire to learn together
A teaching/learning community around a teacher
A community that learns about, from and with itself
The shape of hierarchy
Clear and distinct, fixed teacher and learner roles
Clear and distinct shared leadership roles to support the community
Sense of community
Primary identification with host; secondary identification with surrounding community is possible; sense of community is short, lasting the duration or the event or as long as there is a connection with the host-attractor
Primary identification with community, with each other; sense of community is long-lasting
It’s never a clear answer, it’s not one or the other, it’s a process of discerning what makes sense for where we are now.
When a community is having a conversation with itself, these two patterns are instructive when I ask the question: how much of me do I insert? It’s never a clear answer, it’s not one or the other, it’s a process of discerning what makes sense for where we are now. Two questions I ask myself:
As a host I ask: what pattern will best serve the purpose of the gathering – more host-attractor, or more host-on-the-rim?
As a participant I ask: is the pattern we are activating the pattern we want to be in?
How do you see the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim patterns in your world? Who do you rally around? Who do you rally with?
The next post will explore the roles, responsibilities and challenges that come with recognizing the host-attractor and host-on-the-rim patterns.