A Ritual to Hear Each Other

June 26, 2013 1 Comment


The last few weeks I have recited on a number of occasions the following first stanza from William Stafford’s poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

To me it captures the very reason why it is so important to make our social change work more fundamentally about connection, trust-building, and listening.  I have experienced this in a number of different ways recently:

  • Facilitating an impromptu and relatively unstructured dialogue with a high level state education official and very divided education reformers.  The result in just an hour of slowing down the discussion was much greater appreciation for everyone’s situations and perspectives and a recognized shared commitment to improving educational opportunities for underserved children.
  • Inviting a town governing body, rocked by rancorous debate, to begin their meeting by telling the story of what brought each member to the community and what keeps them there.  The tone immediately softened as people recognized common appreciations for the place they have all been called to serve.
  • Letting go of the planned agenda in a tense multi-stakeholder meeting about strategic planning for food security to allow people to voice their frustrations about previous aborted attempts at collaboration. Having cleared the air, and understanding better where one another was coming from, people were more willing to talk about their aspirations and commitments.

It seems so simple, and yet for some strange reason is so hard.  Perhaps hard to remember.  Hard to practice in the face of so many pressures to “do something.”  And yet, the fact is that when are unwilling to take the time to tune in to one another, we risk becoming puppets in the plays others have set in motion.  We become abstractions to one another, “characters” unable to see or act upon the promise of our unique individual and collective potential.

As Stafford says in the final stanza,

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

1 Comment

  • GibranX says:

    Beautifully stated Curtis, and so true! The idea that we make abstractions of one another really resonated. It has something to do with the industrial model under which we have been culturally conditioned, something to do with the scale at which we try to define and do the work of community.

    What you are describing here is really some next level facilitation, let’s find ways to make it more common.

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