I finally entered the facebook world. I registered as “Rkm Cyberjournal” and any of you can ‘friend’ me if you want to join in the discussion. If your facebook name is different than your real name, include a note with your invite so I’ll know to accept. I’ve also registered as “Richard Moore”, but that’s only for Wexford friends. On a given page, I think it’s important to have a focus.
I’ve often heard people say that if you’re trying to change things in the world, you’ve got to be working on yourself at the same time. This never made a lot of sense to me. Why should being an activist imply that you need to be working on yourself? I’m still not sure about the general maxim, but I’ve found it’s true in my case.
As soon as I started working with people on this local campaign, the same problems came up that have always come up when I work with groups. Basically, it’s about me being too pushy. In the past, I’ve simply accepted that ‘working with people is difficult’. But with activism, I’m committed. I can’t draw back from it. By the way, the quotation, about being really committed, is from Murray, not Goethe. Thanks to Tree Bressen for clearing that up. The Goethe attribution is a widespread urban myth. Here’s the full quotation:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
— William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.
Providence did move, presenting me with an opportunity, bringing me together with some local activists. Whether our little campaign will amount to anything is not at all certain. What is certain is that I’ve got to change my approach if I want to be effective at this kind of engagement, working with groups. Providence was sending me a test challenge, more than a real opportunity.
So I’ve been ‘working on myself’, reassessing my ‘way of being’ with groups. Some rather deep introspection has been involved, as a few of you know, who I’ve been chatting with during this reassessment process. What I’ve figured out is that my role needs to be essentially about facilitation, rather than about my own ideas. This includes my ideas about how the group should operate, as well as my ideas about social transformation. My habit has been to be pushy about both.
My writing work has led me to the conclusion that our hope for transformation lies in the native wisdom of ordinary people. My introspection has led me to realize that I’ve got to take that conclusion seriously. If the wisdom is in ordinary people, then they don’t particularly need my ideas or my project management. What they do particularly need, is to learn how to manifest their collective wisdom. Everywhere I look I see dysfunctional process, where creative collaboration isn’t happening. And the process of creative collaboration is what manifests collective wisdom. That’s been a clear lesson from my research into facilitation and group processes.
Changing ones role, ones habits, is easier said than done. In order to change habits, it is necessary to pursue appropriate exercises. Habits come from repetition. The appropriate exercise is to approach every interaction, whether or not about activism, with a facilitation mindset. Every interaction is a rehearsal, practicing being ‘in character’ for the new role, to be played on the improv stage of activism.
My preferred model for facilitation is Dynamic Facilitation. From that model, I’ve extracted the elements that can be used in any interaction, when no one has signed up to participate in a formal process. The first element is reflective listening — reflecting back to someone what I heard them say. That’s a lot different than my habitual response, which would be to shift to my own ideas the subject.
The second element is asking questions, to draw out what’s really on the person’s mind, what their deeper thinking is. As long as people stay on the surface, you aren’t going to break through to the wisdom layer.
The third element is about pointing out synergies among things people have said. This helps nourish a collaborative atmosphere. In particular, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate convergences when and if they occur, and to remind people of how far apart they were when the conversation began. This reinforces an awareness that creative collaboration is possible, even in a diverse group. That’s an empowering awareness.
I’ve got a little notebook with me all the time now, so if I’m in a group meeting, I can jot down brief notes of who says what. Then when it comes my turn to say something, I can bring some of these elements into play. Even better if I’m on a panel, or acting as moderator, where I would have more chances to bring them into play.
One of the benefits of this approach is that it’s a lot less stressful than being pushy, and requires a lot less of my own energy. Just as in aikido, I’m working with other people’s energy rather than my own. And there’s even a ‘right time’ for sharing my own ideas. When people bring up concerns and ideas where I’ve got something to offer, then I can contribute without being pushy about it.
I’m not assuming it will be easy to get ‘off the book’ with this new role. There will be backsliding. But I’m committed, and the universe will help.
2012: Crossroads for Humanity:
Climate science: observations vs. models