Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Driving from the countryside of Stakke Lake in Minnesota, through the little towns and forested roads on the three hour drive to Grand Rapids, it is easy for me to forget that I am not in Canada, but driving through the US countryside, with my partner and co-hosting colleague Jerry Nagel, on our way to a rural community that is breaking its way out of any stereotypes we might conjure up about rural communities – in Canada or the US. What is happening there could happen anywhere. It inspires hope at a time when hope, especially for our rural communities, is deeply needed in the world.

Grand Rapids welcome sign

What’s Been Happening

In 2013, the Blandin Foundation funded a grant to the Meadowlark Institute to bring the Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter to the Itasca County area. Not a one-off training but, thanks to the vision of friend, AoH Practitioner and Global Steward, Bernadine Jocelyn, and her colleagues at the Blandin Foundation, a series of trainings intended to offer residents of Itasca County the opportunity to acquire and use skills of 21st Century Leadership to work with every day life and address some of the most pressing challenges in their communities. The Blandin Foundation was founded by Charles Blandin in 1941 to aid and promote Grand Rapids (population around 10,000) and the surrounding area (total population around 40,000) in such a way that it could be responsive to changing times, a beautiful alignment with the adaptive capacity of AoH offerings.

What’s happening there, with organic emergence and almost astonishing interconnectedness, is a thing of beauty. Four Art of Hosting trainings (130 people altogether so far) since November 2013 with two more in the works; two Community Cafés (with almost 100 participants altogether) convened by a planning team that sparked from an Open Space conversation in the first AoH, called by Sandy Layman, a well known community leader. She asked the question “How can we become a community that hosts its own conversations?” That question is gaining momentum as it continues to spark the curiosity and inspiration of the county.

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The first Community Café brought together participants from the first two AoH cohorts and was held one evening during the second training. The second Community Café was inserted into the middle of the fourth training, in an afternoon, and brought together participants from all four trainings and others who wanted to join in.

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The Stories That Bring the Data Alive

All of that feels like data. It is the stories that bring the data alive, that show the nuances and interweave of connections; the stories of who is showing up in the same spaces together; the stories of willingness to dive into challenging conversations to address both long held and emerging issues; the stories of risk and courage as people bring AoH patterns and practices into likely and unlikely work settings.

Truly a fractal of the community is coming together – people who might not otherwise find themselves in the same room or the same conversations. The county administrator. Educators. A senior leader in Corrections. Senior leaders of non-profits. Advocates for mental health. Consumers of mental health services. People who have been homeless, some still in transition. People with very diverse political views. Local radio station representatives. Artists. Business people. Blandin Foundation staff. More. All on equal footing with equal voice. All responding to questions centered on “What is the future we want to live into and what can we begin now?”

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The stories that are emerging from the people who have been through the training bring the impact alive and are heart opening. Our friend in Corrections, who was in the February cohort, shared with us that he only recently had the opportunity to offer a check in at the beginning of a meeting. He said it changed everything about the meeting. When we asked him how, he said, “People were very emotional.” When we asked him what his check in question was, he said, “How we are doing?” Simply, how are we doing? An invitation to a moment of humanity, an invitation to show up fully. They will now start every meeting with a check-in question. A small, but powerful, shift in practice.

The County Administrator shared that there is a discussion happening at the County offices about mental health funding, the number of agencies that provide services and the need for greater interagency communication. Someone at the county offices, who has only heard about AoH but not been to a training, said that what is needed for that conversation is art of hosting.

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In Bigfork, another Itasca County community, community leaders have used World Café to host a conversation about an ongoing contentious issue, bringing new insight and perspective to the issue, establishing a foundation from which to move forward.

The region is facing some growing, possibly divisive issues; particularly around resource extraction (economy) and the environment; issues that are growing more complex all the time. Experience with the patterns and practices of the Art of Hosting is helping people see the possibility of different conversations; conversations that invite a multiplicity of worldviews, give voice to all the perspectives beyond the vocal few, invite people who live, work and play in the region to imagine more of the future they all want to live into, to continue to forge new ways forward on small and large matters. There is a growing buzz in the community and a sense of urgency combined with curiosity and even hopefulness.

The Community Conversations planning team grows with each successive training. The team is now getting ready to call and convene a county wide “Grand Gathering” on November 22, 2014 using Open Space Technology – the first community meeting of its kind in the area. This demonstrates the increasing reach of a commitment that began with that Open Space conversation during the first Art of Hosting training nearly a year ago, building on an idea inspired by the Great Gathering in Fredericton, NB; which demonstrates the interweaving of stories across borders and geographic distances. (And, incidentally, we have discovered there is a history of relationship between New Brunswick and Itasca County thanks to the pulp and paper industry.)

KAXE, a local radio station, present at the Community Café and on the planning team, will be doing a series of radio spots leading up to the Grand Gathering, which is being hosted by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The team is in full volunteer recruitment and planning mode and the community is being invited to create an agenda of conversations and possible action steps that are meaningful and relevant to them. Some of the potential conversation themes have been popping up already in the Community Cafés and the AoH trainings. They include an emphasis on youth (brain gain), on revitalizing communities, co-ordinating resources and connecting diverse voices.

IMG_0824One of the many compelling themes that is emerging is around evoking stories and extending invitations. Care enough to ask for the story; bring everyone to the table to identify struggles and be open to hearing the unheard. Notice who is not there who should be and extend an invitation. Be a neighbour, bring a neighbour

It is the tip of the iceberg. The work has only just begun. This community is carving out pathways that can be an inspiration to other communities searching for new ways to imagine and live into the future. What can we begin now?

Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Worldview Awareness – Imagining the Possibilities

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It might have been in 2005, when I took part in my first Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter training on Bowen Island, that I first heard the term worldview, although I can’t be sure. Then and later, if it was talked about, it came in the context of a mechanistic worldview and a living systems worldview, comparing several points of each and recognizing that AoH operates from a living systems worldview. In my experience of AoH trainings, that was pretty much it until, in 2011, I started co-hosting with Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute in Minnesota.

Jerry was and is steeped in worldview awareness partly through working on his PhD dissertation that looks at social constructionist theory, worldview and the Art of Hosting and partly because of the deep and evolving practice he and we have been bringing around worldview in AoH trainings and beyond. Because of this, we have been developing a more comprehensive approach to worldview and worldview awareness than I had been exposed to before. Jerry and I, and friends and colleagues like Stephen Duns, Dave Ellis, Carolann Wright-Parks and others, have been adopting, exploring and adapting a worldview teach and practice in new, innovative and exciting ways.

What we have been learning from participants in the worldview awareness conversations in the AoH trainings we have led, is that the worldview conversation lingers in their awareness long after the training. In the evaluations we conduct a few weeks after each AoH training we do, participants often identify the worldview exploration as the most impactful part of the training. They state that the reflective space they are invited into about worldview(s), where it comes from, what their own worldview is and curiosity about others’ worldviews helps create an understanding of how to give voice and visibility to multiple worldviews and create openings for successfully leading different, more inclusive conversations on issues and challenges that routinely show up in organizations, communities and social systems.

World view eye pixels

If this can happen with a conversation over a couple of hours what more becomes possible with a deep dive into worldview awareness or worldview intelligence? This is what we are now on an inquiry to discover. It is what led to prototyping the first introductory day to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness in Halifax where we tested a few ideas and reaped enough ideas to inspire possibility for a long time to come. While the AoH conversations focused mostly on individual worldview, the conversation is now expanding to organizational and community worldview as well as creating the conditions for multiple worldviews to be welcomed into stakeholder dialogues and other places where the risks of engagement are perceived to be higher.

In the one day workshop in Halifax, participants came from a wide variety of places including provincial government departments like health and transportation, the school board, Nova Scotia Community College, Halifax Regional Municipality and community agencies. Quite a few had been involved in diversity and inclusion work for years – welcoming of diversity being one of the more obvious outcomes of worldview awareness – and others identified themselves as social change agents.

The learning environment was rich. Going into the day, Carolann, Jerry and I had so many choices of what to include in the one day and then during the day itself we had to make more choices. We know there is ample material for exploration in a variety of offerings. To say our imagination has been sparked would be an understatement. And we are quite inspired by the reflections shared by the participants in our one day offering, a few of which are below.

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A snapshot of some of the participants at the first Introduction to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness Workshop.

“I had no idea what I was walking into but knew when Kathy’s name was associated with it, it would be a great ride. I am a change agent. People’s stories here today have influenced my worldview. It is important to understand the other person and their worldview. This is a wonderful tool to initiate the conversation if you want to be or are a change agent. If you can’t get to the conversation, you can’t get to the change.” Change agent, Department of Health, NS Government

“It’s been a helpful day. I feel very validated in my current practice – which for me is heart work not training. I love the worldview approach and have many new trinkets to take away to apply in my work.” Diversity Officer, Higher Education

“I am more ready to ask more questions to try to go deeper in understanding of the issues and challenges we face.” Diversity Officer, Municipal Government

“I came in frazzled looking for the magic bullet to questions I’ve been carrying alone for six years and I am now connected into a community engaged in this work. I have lots more questions but am optimistic there is another approach – through worldview awareness.” Social change agent at an NGO

“I walked in with some assumptions that proved wrong. One day is not enough. I work in isolation in an interesting system. Starting a conversation with a different entry point might help me impact change in the system.” Employment equity officer in a public organization

So… stay tuned. There is more to come. Looking at Minnesota this fall, Australia in the new year and more in Halifax too. We are exploring a comprehensive approach to worldview awareness: transforming differences into progress, seeing how growing worldview intelligence in an area that has not been explored to the same degree or depth that religious and scientific worldviews have been explored will generate social change methods and processes in situations that have challenged the best of what we know to date in engagement strategies and practices.

Blinded by White Privilege

“We need an advisory committee to advise the steering committee on how to involve the communities that are not here.”

 “We just need to empower…”

 “We could provide mentors or buddies for people so they don’t feel uncomfortable coming into the room.”

 “Maybe we need someone to come and help us get comfortable with having the conversations.”

All seemingly innocuous comments that are meant to be helpful in addressing a lack of diversity in a room full of forty or so almost all white, highly educated, corporate like people for a conversation about the next steps of a voluntary organization whose mission is dedicated to creating an inclusive society.  Innocuous because, as white people, we do not even know what we are saying.  We are saying, “How do we make it possible or more comfortable for others – the other – to come into our world?”  (And it was a diversity discussion that also included seniors, disabled and very young people as well as people of colour.)

There is no consideration or thought that maybe others don’t want to come into our world or that there are other worlds and world views that exist that maybe we should be more curious about. That we should meet at some point other than in our own world view.  That the invitation to “come and join us and we’ll figure out ways to make it easier for you” might not be all that inviting.

It is the difference between being in your own home and being a cautious guest in the home of another.  Sometimes as guests, we are on our best behaviour. We try to fit into the context of the environment we are in but maybe we never fully relax, never really feel invited to show up fully.  It might even look like we are fitting in but when we go back to our own home, our own environment, we are finally able to relax, knowing someone is not going to judge us or patronize us because of assumptions they are carrying they cannot even see – even when it might be right in front of them in full living colour.  Cannot see because white privilege is blinding.  It blinds us to the things we take for granted without knowing we take them for granted.  In 1988, Peggy Wellesley wrote a thoughtful and eye opening piece on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.  Twenty-five years later what she writes is just as relevant and real as it was then.

I never have to wonder if I will be followed by store staff or security guards when I go shopping.  I never have to worry about being arrested at night while locking up my place of employment (and certainly not more than once), keys in hand, police parked in the parking lot. I will never be mistaken for the janitor as I move furniture prior to an Art of Hosting training to get the room ready.  But these things have all happened to friends of mine whose skin is not white.

And it is simple but powerful things that often get overlooked, partly because we are not even aware and partly because we don’t understand how important these things are.  Language is one of those things.  I am paying attention to the language and invitation in a way I never did before and it is taking me on a deep journey.  The opening sentences of this post are a beautiful example of how I am listening with new ears and hearing through the lenses of some of my friends who keep challenging, in loving, gentle but fierce ways, my world view.

Carolann and new friends

Ursula Hillbrand, Dave Ellis, Renee Hayne, Carolann Wright-Parks and Barbara (Bob-e) Epps-Simpson – a few of these people (Dave, Carolann and Bob-e in particular) have been instrumental in helping me expand my world view.

Pictures are another thing.  When I asked my good friend Carolann Wright-Parks, with whom I have had the privilege of co-hosting with in service of the African Nova Scotian Faciltiators Guild, if she knew of any African New Brunswickers who might be interested in attending the Art of Hosting training there this past November, she said to me, “Kathy, I looked at that invitation but I didn’t see myself there.”  She wasn’t meaning herself – she was meaning there were no people of colour in the pictures.  The pictures were from the previous AoH training in New Brunswick.  There were no people of colour at that training.

World Cafe with Diversity

Now I have pictures I use of my friends that illuminate the greater diversity that is showing up.

Not too long ago, in my own naivety, I would have shaken my head, wondering why it mattered.  Wondering why we were not attracting people of colour into our trainings.  Wondering why, even though we keep trying to invite it, we cannot achieve greater diversity.  But now I know why it matters.  It matters because I don’t see it when I look at pictures. Blinded by the white, I do not even realize I identify with the people in the pictures.  I am already there.  Many of my friends haven’t been able to identify with the people in the pictures in the same way.  I am much more aware now of the pictures I use in invitations.

In Minnesota, there are a few good friends in an exploratory conversation – Dave Ellis, Barbara (Bob-e) Simpson-Epps, LeMoine LaPointe, Nancy Bordeaux, Jerry Nagel and myself about what it takes to generate transformative conversations on power, privilege, race and racism – because the ones we’ve been in aren’t yet creating the kind of shift we believe could be possible.  The language of social justice, restorative justice and racial justice has only taken us so far.  What is the language that is needed to take us – all of us – to a different conversation, to a different reflection, to a different perspective, where equality is based on diversity, not on sameness?  What is the language that is a door opener and invitation to shifting the shape of the conversation as we’ve known it?  We don’t know it yet.  We don’t presume to know it.  We know it is needed and we feel now is a time of greater receptivity.  We are excited and hopeful to be in the exploration.  Just like we are in the exploration of Growing Hosting Artistry at the end of January 2014 in Minnesota where we will explore world view, creating safe containers, working with shadow and a few other themes that seem central to growing our depth and capacity as hosts.

Now when I am in a meeting like the one I described above, I find myself stirred up and agitated, sometimes even outraged whereas I know a couple of years ago I would not have seen it.  I would only have seen how progressive the people and the thinking are – which is also true.  And that makes me curious. More and more I am aware of bringing expanded listening and awareness and a willingness to speak up from gained experience and exposure to questions and friends who will not let me rest in naivety or white blindness. And I am grateful to my friends for their boldness, courage and willingness to be in the openness of challenging our limiting beliefs so we can host ourselves into what will hopefully be the transformative space, individually and collectively, that will show us the way into the transformative conversations we are yearning for.

Youth Engagement Impeded by Pressure of Elder Legacy Need?

It is a freshly minted question for me.  Is youth engagement impeded by the pressure of older adults wanting to leave a legacy or the need to get it right?

The question began fermenting for me during the Art of Community Building training for African Nova Scotian facilitators in June of this year (2013).  It was an Open Space question posed by the (now) late Rocky Jones: how to engage the youth?  I used the Law of Two Feet to find my way to that conversation and listened in for a few minutes, trying to understand more about a question that is asked all the time in all kinds of situations.

I wondered out loud, if they really knew what the youth wanted?  That’s what they were trying to find out, they told me. You know those moments when you feel that vague stirring in your soul because something is not connecting but you’re not sure what or why?  I was in one of those moments, feeling that there was a point that was wanting to emerge – in my own mind anyway – but none of us in the conversation were hitting on it.  It was a vague sense of somehow missing the mark and it kept stirring for me.

Later at dinner, the hosting team and a few others of us continued the conversation.  Rocky and Roshanda Cummings, a young leader and apprentice host on our team who came from San Francisco to co-host with us,  got into a beautifully intense conversation about the role of elders, about Roe wondering where her elders were, with Rocky listening intently as she poured her heart out about what it was like to be a young black woman in the places she lived and traveled.

I thought about how Roe had been invited into this work – not with the question of “how do I engage you” but with the open hearted invitation of “what can we do together and I would LOVE you to come to Nova Scotia to do this work with me!”

Stillheart Roe and Kathy

I began to wonder how many conversations around youth engagement (or engagement generally) come from a place (unintentionally of course) of fear, regret, reproach or judgment.  Reproach and judgment because youth are not meeting some standard of engagement or community participation that may no longer even be relevant or of interest to youth.  Fear and regret that elders may have let youth down, let themselves down in the process, worried about what kind of legacy they are leaving youth and community.

And then I wondered, “What if a conversation with youth about how to engage them had a totally different starting point?”  Inspired by Mary Oliver, for instance, and her great question: “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life!”  What if a question like that was the invitation to a conversation where we really listened to each other instead of suppositioned?  What if everything about the conversation said, “I care about you and what you care about,” if engagement came from the place of how do I support you in that which calls you from the soul, and what could we do together and learn together if we jumped into engagement from that point?

Just sensing into these two approaches, the energy shifts shape from one of burden and how do I get someone else, in this case youth, to do something they don’t seem to be particularly interested in doing to one of curiosity and eagerness as I anticipate listening in to what makes someone else come alive and imagining with them how they could do more of that!  And maybe I could do it with them!

Road Trip With My Dad

I’m sitting on the deck of my cousin’s home, on the Gaspe  coast of the St. Lawrence Seaway, near Rimouski, watching the relentless movement of the tide – in and out, taking in the smell of the salt sea air, feeling the call of memories and of stories past, present and future.

Gaspe Coast from Sainte-Luce Sainte-Luce-20130812-00493

I’m on a road trip with my dad – to his homeland in Quebec.  He felt the call of coming home and invited me along.  He grew up on the Gaspe coast, his family’s home one one side of the road, the seaway on the other side. Although I also grew up in a coastal community, it is not the same as being right on the sea, being shaped in some unknown way by the tides; and there is no doubt the sea is in my father’s blood.

Having just completed my first memoir: Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, I am full on in the exploration of how stories shape our lives, what are the stories we focus on and the ones we give life to.  There is some story in my book about my father and his family, a little of what it was like for him to grow up in this place.  I am aware they are told from my perception and interpretation of what he has shared.  He – or members of his family -would probably reflect reflect them quite differently.

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Last night we were joined at the home of my cousin and her husband  by two more cousins (two of her siblings) and my aunt who is almost 90 years old and looks amazing for her age.  She is part of the reason we are here.  Because she called and asked my dad if he would come.  Another aunt, who will visit tomorrow, is another part of the reason.  My father is the last surviving member of his immediate family, his parents and his five siblings all living in spirit now.  My aunts had been married to his brothers.

For two of my cousins, it has been maybe 30 years since I’ve seen them.  For the other cousin, it has been since the death of another cousin – sometime in the last decade.  It surprised me to try to remember how long ago it was.  Time is fleeting in so many ways, it seems as if no time has passed.

I would not have taken this trip on my own.  It would not have even occurred to me.  For some reason Quebec seems far away for me – not geographically but maybe through all the stories I don’t know.  And, yet, being here, all the stories, known and not known, melt away as I find myself lovingly embraced by this part of my family I see so infrequently – and why would it be any different.  I am curious now about what are the stories that are here and now, what are the stories that will emerge late while I sit here by the St. Lawrence Seaway, taking in the salt sea air through all my senses, feeling the call of story in new ways.

Generosity – Guest Post by Bob Wing

“To be generous means giving something that is valuable to you without expectation of reward or return. Many traditions measure generosity not by the size of the gift, but by what it cost the giver.” 

Give me your heart

For awhile I have been pondering the topic of generosity, wanting to share some reflections – and I might still do that.  However, in the meantime, I am delighted to share reflections from my good friend Bob Wing, Warrior of the Heart Sensei and Art of Hosting Steward.  I resonate with much of what he wrote in response to an email thread on this topic and delight in how he is sharing his reflections through story.

I asked him if he would be willing to guest blog here on Shape Shift and he agreed.  He is my very first guest blogger and this is what he wrote:

I have some experiences and thoughts I would like to share, though they raise more questions for me than answers. 

A true story about generosity:

I learned something of generosity years ago, in a liquor store. I was in the check out line to buy some good beer. I remember it as being Guinness Stout. There happened to be two men in front of me, also waiting. One of them, a Native American (most likely a Lakota), asked me what kind of beer I had and what it was like. Well, you can’t really just tell someone what Guinness is like, so with a great sense of generosity and a very good feeling about myself, I gave him one.

It surprised me how reluctant he was to accept my gift. It actually took some coaxing. Finally he would only accept it if I would receive one of his Coors beers in return. Compared to Guinness, I find Coors quite anemic and I didn’t really want it.  In that moment, however, I realized that genuine generosity lay in me letting him give me something in return … a trade …not a gift… and then he could leave without a feeling of obligation to me. My real generosity was in accepting his equality by allowing him to give me something in return. 

Another true story about generosity:

In the early 1980’s I knew of a small group of very respected Lakota medicine people who had been invited to tour places in Europe to bring their “medicine” and to lead healing ceremony for whomever wanted to come. Their travel had been paid by sponsors but by tradition they could not/would not receive any money for their work. Medicine, both physical and spiritual, is held to be a gift and not a business.

The problem arose when most everyone who came saw it as being “free” and failed to offer gifts in return. While the medicine people could not “charge”, they did expect (this also by tradition) that their generosity would be met with material generosity in return. A medicine person does, after all, also need to support his life and his family, so it is important there be a way to do that, or the medicine/generosity-based culture crumbles. In their traditional culture everyone understands this and so are as generous as they can be in return.

 What finally happened was that after continually not getting anything in return the “medicine stopped flowing”. They perceived not getting anything worthy in return as being neglected, devalued, and even insulted. They stopped doing anything real. I think it was a misunderstanding of cultures, not so much of Native American and European, as of business culture and gifting culture misunderstanding each other.

 Some ideas on generosity: 

Gift culture is based on openness to a return and business culture is based on demanding a return, though maybe they are not really so different in essence. In both, if the return is not at least of some equality, then each will soon stop functioning–the medicine will stop flowing. 

 However, the language and gesture of each seems to be so very different. Maybe the difference involves who is perceived as having responsibility for seeing to the equity. In a gift culture, the responsibility for equity of the return is usually with the receiver of the medicine, and in business culture the responsibility for the equity of a return is usually with the giver of the medicine.

 Also, I think that business culture tends to promote separateness and gift culture tends to support relatedness. In our culture, business culture seems most dominant, though I suspect that the basis for keeping a sense of relatedness, even in business, is actually an expression of gift culture. It may come from the sense most humans have of needing to be related to others. 

 Personal awareness of generosity:

I am aware that I am in love with gift culture and I suspect most of us are. I love being generous as I suspect most of us do. I love having the means to be generous in all ways, although I don’t always seem to have these means. It’s a quandary.

A big problem for me sometimes comes in my skillfulness to communicate my needs in a culture where people most often seem to act as though it is either “free” or it “costs”, maybe similar to the essence of the problem the Lakota Medicine people had. When I sense that I’m not in some way being gifted enough in return, my “medicine” stops flowing. I don’t like it when that happens. I search for good ways to travel between these two. I like the saying I’ve heard many times before and have really taken to heart, “I don’t work for money, but I do accept money for my work.”

And this, to me, is some of the crux of what we meet up with when the work we do is for the good of ourselves and others, to shift the shape of patterns that no longer serve and generate new patterns that serve us better.  How do we value this important work in the world and not feel embarrassed or awkward about being paid well for the work?  What is the spirit of generosity and reciprocity that creates expansion and openings for things to flow in the best of ways and continues to make what we offer widely available, recognizing various capacities to be financially generous and knowing that generosity shows up in other ways too?

Thank you, Bob Wing, for your willingness to have your reflections shared here.

Seeing and Being Seen, Having Voice

St. Cloud is a small city in Minnesota known euphemistically as “White Cloud” because of its reputation as a racist town.  Some residents of this community have decided this is a reputation that needs to shift.  They are taking action in the form of Conversations that Matter.

Mayuli Bales became aware of the Art of Hosting a couple of years ago through one of the early trainings in Minnesota.  She began to dream of what might be possible in her home town and the seeds of the multi-cultural community gathering for conversation began to take shape, seeds just harvested mid-November 2012.

It was the first gathering in St. Cloud about race and culture convened by people of colour.  Mayuli pulled together a local calling team despite not being able to explain clearly what the Art of Hosting is and they got to work, supported by InCommons and the Meadowlark Institute.

Some of the most passionate discussions in the hosting team were about seeing and being seen, having voice that is acknowledged and recognized. The experience of so many people of color is that they are invisible, not seen, not heard. Heartbreaking. For them. For those of us on the hosting team too.  For me.

The dream was to Color the Cloud. The purpose for our gathering co-evolved by the hosting team the day before was:

Discovering together our community, to build the future by:

  • Seeing each other
  • Contributing all of our voices
  • Getting skillful at being in conversations that matter to us
  • Co-creating the evolving story

So much anticipation.  So much hope.  So much anxiety. Could it really happen? The three day design that emerged used the themes in the purpose as themes for each day.  Day 1 was Discovering Community: Seeing and Being Seen.  Day 2 was Building Community: Getting skillful together. Day 3 was Practicing Community: Co-creating the evolving story.  The design included the usual interweave of patterns, practices and teaches.

Drummers who opened the community conversations in St. Cloud

We were welcomed into our space by drummers – three members of a family with Aztec heritage, a father, mother and their three year old son who took up his place as a drummer.  The father shared with us, “You’ve been told in school and in your museums that Aztec’s are extinct.  But here we are, my wife, my son and me.  We are not extinct.  Neither is our culture.”  Culture must adapt to survive while cherishing those elements which make the culture distinctive.

He shared with us the story of the drum – as a grandfather, as a heartbeat, as part of community voice with its own message for each of us.  We were all invited to drum.  All of us.  Latinos, Somali’s, Oromo, African Americans, White Americans (and Canadians too) – broad categories of culture which do not do justice to the full multiplicity of culture in the room.  One world where many worlds fit.  Could fit.  Could be invited to fit.

The container was set, to be strengthened over the next few days. The invitation to see.  To see who else is in the room.  Who else cares enough about coloring the cloud to show up – for a morning, an afternoon, a meal, for three days. To be seen.  To contribute voice.  All voices.  Welcoming the languages present to be spoken aloud for all to hear.  Slowly at first but building so that by our check out circle, people were freely speaking their language, interpreted for the English speaking among us to comprehend, to see, to witness.

We became aware, as a hosting team, that these people, showing up day after day, did not need to hear our voices introducing teaches into the room.  They needed to hear each other’s voices, each other’s stories.  In ways and on a scale that had not yet happened in this community.  They needed and wanted to become skillful in practicing conversation with each other.  And to use conversation to support each other in initiatives and projects called out during the proaction café.  So we let the teaches of frameworks go and we focused on processes, ways and means of continually inviting them into conversation with each other.

The story of the new began to emerge during Open Space, Collective Storytelling, World Café, Proaction Café and smaller deep check in circles.  Surveying the small groups at any given time or in any given process, it was easy to see the diversity in each circle.  It was heartwarming.

Two of many stories to share here.

The first is of a member of our hosting team, a beautiful Somali woman dressed in the full traditional garb of her culture and often in the most brilliant of colours.  At the end of Day 1 she is part of the check out team.  Sensing the energy is low, she has a plan.  She looks down at her dress, begins to pull up the top layer of it, tying it in a knot, exposing the next layer of dress which still goes down to the floor.  Just this is so unexpected she has our full attention.  Then, she invites all of us to imagine with her that we are cats, to get down on the floor moving around on all fours, meowing.  Amidst gales of laughter, all who were able in the room, get down on all fours and move through the room with varying degrees of gracefulness and hilarity.  Be prepared to be surprised!  How many stereotypes did she smash through with this simple gesture of fun and delight?

The second story is of a self-proclaimed native son of St. Cloud, an older and retired white man.  He was asked to share his story in the collective story harvest and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would unfold.  He offered his story, not only as his story, but as the story of his mother and his grandparents too.  Among the people in his group were three young Somali women.  Later in the collective harvest, one of these young women stood up and said, “We are always asked about my culture and what it’s like to live here. I have realized that we don’t stop to ask the people who have always lived here about their culture and what it’s like for them to live here.”

Later, when we reconvened in our full circle, someone pointed out to me that this man was now sitting in the middle of these Somali women.  Still later, when I thanked him for bringing his story to the group, he thanked me for the opportunity.  He told me he had arranged for these women to meet his mother and hear her story directly.  Delight all around.

These are just two small examples of how we the purpose of our gathering gained life and vibrancy.  People were beginning to see each other and to feel seen by each other, to give voice and be heard.  It is a beginning for a town that is coloring the cloud, shifting the shape of its reputation and sending out the message that the future is being co-created by people who care about where they live and about each other.