This is an issue that I believe is at the core of building community where we live and work. I was delighted to learn that there is actually a national movement (of sorts) to promote the importance of this idea and thought I’d pass it on to you all.
You’ve probably heard me make the point when it comes to buying books for IISC from Harvard Bookstore instead of Amazon.com. For me, in addition to the bookstore, it also comes up around my local hardware store vs. Home Depot, and my local camera store vs. Best Buy. And on and one the possibilities go!
Thanks for considering your own possibilities in this regard. And thanks for listening!
During my first year of seminary, I took a Practice of Ministry class in which a series of guest lecturers came to share of their practical experiences from several years in the pastorate. One speaker, whose words I will never forget, was the Rev. Conly Hughes, Jr. of Boston’s Concord Baptist Church. His words of wisdom for a group of neophytes were to illuminate the importance of the pastor’s “ministry of presence”, coupled with her “ministry of absence”. He shared that while it is vital for any conscientious pastor to shepherd in such a way as to be visibly attentive to the day to day, mundane, core issues affecting a community of faith, it is also key that the pastor keeps watch so that her consistency of “presence” does not overwhelm, overpower, nor overbear in a way that stifles the leadership of others, hampers the community’s exercise of agency or which, frankly, allows her to be taken for granted by the people. (At least that’s how I recall the insights I gleaned from his very wise words).
Fast forward: a few years ago, when upon familiarizing myself with Interaction Associates’/Institute’s facilitation methodology, I came across the principle of “Balancing Form and Void”: Creating “Form” is providing participants with a framework or approach for moving toward achieving the desired outcomes. Creating “Void” means stepping back and allowing for open space in the room, both verbally and physically. I immediately noticed the reference to the Biblical text, which comes from the first Creation narrative in the Book of Genesis:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (NKJV)
As is often the case for me with what I believe to be a Living Text, I gleaned a new insight into its meaning, informed by these pastoral and facilitation contexts: Void – or open space, if you will – as a precursor for even God’s most creative, most productive, most awesome works to…(yep, the “E”-word): emerge.
And so, whether it’s the virtues and vices of “presence”/“absence” in ministry, or the balancing act of any good facilitator vis a vis the “form” and “void” of group processes, I am thinking a lot these days about what this has to do with leadership effectiveness, blind spots (i.e., our ability to discern between what the moment/season/organizational growth cycle calls for), and its connection to organizational possibility, potential, and re-creation.
Last week or so, Curtis tweeted a link to an outstanding book-in-the-making by author-practicioner Peggy Holman. If I follow it correctly, Holman is blogging pieces of her book as she is writing it and inviting folks to comment and give upgrades along the way. She is truly practicing what she is preaching, in that as she writes about emergence, collaboration and innovation— she does it. Pretty neat.
I loved her writing style and am fascinated by her content, so I thought it fitting to bring it forward into this space for our collective grazing. She frames the work of emergence as a way to navigate change – whether on the personal, organizational or global level. Through noticing “patterns of change” through the stories we tell ourselves, Holman calls for a shift in our frames of reference for understanding and engaging Change:
In fact, terms like “bottom up” or “top down” cease to have meaning as we start working from a perspective that looks far more like a network of connections among diverse interacting individuals. As our frame of reference shifts, consider some illustrations of that new story of change. It is not that our traditional story disappears, rather it is integrated into a larger context:
So to riff on Curtis’ most recent blog, Im thinking that part of the what is wild about The Wild of Vermont is that it is a space that incites the engagement of mystery, uncertainty, vulnerability, creativity and humility. It is an approach. Holman’s table above, I think, is his way of making the same case for a re-orientation of approach. Like our 1:1 ratio around planning time to meeting time…I hear a sound that emphasizes Approach as vital to Emergence. As I stated to the participants in last week’s FL, quoting my sister-friend and she-ro journalist Charlayne Hunter Gault, its about when you enter a community, “coming correct”. Its not so much that you’ve arrived, its more about how you enter. Approach matters.
Share! My ears, mind and heart are wide open to musings on how we create spaces for emergence in our work, bring wildness to Cambridge, and/or “come correct” with our clients so that transformation, breakthroughs, innovation….really does happen. And this, not only as “deliverables” for our clients, but frankly, for our own sakes as well. Whats your sense? What do you make of Holman’s “patterns of change” above?
I loved this blog post entitled, “Overthinking Is the Enemy of Creatives”, because of its practicality and its resonance with my inner conversation these days. I hope you find it as valuable. I wanted to share it, as well as vibe on it, as a testimony to the truth of its conceptual premise. Check it out!
It’s a wonderful feeling to be in your zone….and, to personalize: I feel wonderful when I’m in my Zone. Last week’s co-training experience, so eloquently described in Curtis’s post, was certainly a Zone experience for me. Its when mind matters, but does not overbear – she is in collaboration with so many other parts of Me. It feels beauty-full, freeing, effortless, magical, transformational. It is an unusually special phenomenon, not only for me, but for those around me who are observing, flowing, engaging, vibing with me as a result of it. The twinkles in the eyes, a spiritual knowing, and testimonies on the impact: that my being and doing what I am doing indeed helps – inspires – lifts – changes – another. I, too, am changed.
This is not a boast. This is a plea. My declarations here are themselves helping me give way to an emerging wisdom inside me. It nudges me to recognize the Zone, revere Her, and focus more intentionally there, so that I may live…and give life with as much meaning and power as possible.
So its true – I am often in my head about things. And it is also true –- that I not as often experience being in the spaces and places where I am out of my head (usually not out of my mind!) and into my heart, soul and body…with my mind doing its part as well. There, I find purpose, pleasure, power and promise.
I think it might be the essence of living itself.
As a personal goal in what is a transitional season for me, I am intrigued by the idea of taking this gift of Zone, and orienting my life goals and resources (time, talent, treasure, energy, time left, giftings, etc.) to build, re-design Self, from this place. I am assessing whether I have the courage enough to utilize Zone as a reference point for personal possibility. I hope this public confession entreats you to hold me accountable to this aspiration, provokes you to consider Zone, and to celebrate aloud the feeling, the reality, and availability of such, I believe, in each human life.
I can get down with philosophically complex, sociologically deep, analysis of intractable social justice concerns another time – but for this week, in this space, I owed it to Self to vibe it out, flow it out, and pay homage to The Zone…The Golden Hour. Light it up, folks! Light it up!
I find this video fascinating. My girlfriend showed it to me a few months back as she presented on theology and social media for her graduate program. Aside from the breadth of topics that bloggers can post on, this video gives us an insight on how vital technology, and specifically the Internet, is becoming to our everyday lives.
There is no denying that blogs allow individuals to have a voice. If that voice is read and responded to, communities are created, not limited by physical space. These virtual, content-oriented communities are especially strong in arenas such as Twitter. Twitter is a dynamic and responsive interface for conversation. Blogs have the same ability, though the conversation is not necessarily as seamless as it can be on Twitter. Regardless, the powers of shared thought, understanding and education are alive in these worlds and there exists a great potential to create real action, and even social change.
What I often question is how this will all play out over time, because though blogs are a tool which are not limited by physical space, access to their creation and use is limited. Blogs, and social media overall, are limited by the resources one has at their fingertips (pun somewhat intended), be it a computer, Internet access, electricity or even literacy.
History shows us those with technology often grow at an exponentially greater rate than those without it. So how do we most effectively create sustainable social change with the aid of social media, without further separating ourselves from the majority of the world (which doesn’t have constant access to a computer)?
Hugh Jackman, Australian dreamboat and actor, recently said he wanted to donate $100,000 to charity and asked his Twitter followers who he should donate to. After thousands of suggestions, Jackman said he would donate $50,000 to two different charities, Operation of Hope and Charity:Water. Both are incredible organizations. Most inspiring though is that this a success story on the power social media has to aid in social change. (Credit where it is due, my knowledge of Jackman’s charity donation is again the result of my girlfriend.)
Today we can communicate in ways rarely dreamed of five years ago. To have a voice, to contribute to conversation, to act, are all invaluable to the promotion of justice in our world. From Iran to Twitter, our need to bridge the gaps has never been more pressing, and our potential to create sustainable social change has never been so great.
I write this on the eve of the 3rd day of a training session of our Facilitative Leadership course, where the last of 7 practices,“Celebrate Accomplishment”, often gets the short shrift on this last day of training. The verdict is still out in terms of whether we will give it its just due for tomorrow’s class. Yet, I find myself wrestling with a provocative body of information I became aware of through a recent tweet I received on the subject of praise.
According to a study performed by the National Institute for Physiological Sciences:
Our findings indicate that the social reward of a good reputation in the eyes of others is processed in an anatomically and functionally similar manner to monetary rewards, and these results represent an essential step toward a complete neural understanding of human social behaviors.
In other words, those of us who made a conscious decision some time ago that we would not be, as the hip hop heads say, “paper chasers”, may instead just be chasers of a different kind: the currency of good reputation. Yea, even Solomon in all his wisdom suggests the NIPS report understates the reality: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1). For this wise king, the pay off of a good reputation is not equal to money as the scientists suggest, it is better. Whoa. News flash: As far as this neurological stimulus package goes, we, in all of our do-gooding, may just be as excessive, greedy, and self-serving as the Wall Street titans and capitalist fat cats we are quick to condemn. At the end of the day, it may be, that we all, in a Pavlovian sense, seek the sensation of reward – and whether money or praise, its all about us/our feelings.
What, then, might be the implications of such a phenomenon for the non-profit and social change sector that we live, work and eh….strive, in? On one hand, it confirms what we already know: that for a job actually well done, where a million dollar bonus or even a competitive salary isn’t on the way, we ought to lavish folk with what author and psychologist Gary Chapman calls, “words of affirmation” – verbal appreciation, simple verbal compliments (Chapman, Five Love Languages)
But not so fast! Hold back on the flowery words, my friends, for just a sec!
Consider the words of Alfie Kohn in Punished by Rewards
“[The key factor] in a positive judgment is not that it is positive, but that it is a judgment.
Kohn makes the case that praise actually lowers confidence and heightens pressure to live up to the compliment in order to receive future compliments – setting in motion a “rat race”, or the “praise maze” if you will (explaining some folks’ negative reaction to verbal affirmation).
Not sure what all this means for outcomes, evaluation methods, organizational culture, American pragmatism, parenting or how to break the power of negative words/images over groups of people who have been systematically targeted with such, but I’m sure some of you have ideas. What of it? Anyone others who may be cash poor and reputation rich want to weigh in? (No worries if you want to say something, well, nice….;-)
I suppose it’s the overlooked companion of Change: Anticipation. It’s the silent provocateur that causes us to peer into the distance, squint past the horizon, turn the proverbial corner, stand on the brink, gear up for the jump off, and on and on. It is the automatic reflex within us that kicks into gear once we have a cognitive or instinctual knowing, that things are about to…shift.
That Change is afoot, we well know: Sam Cooke crooned it; Grandma prayed for it; Obama touted it; analysts predicted it; planners plan for it. My thoughts here turn to unpacking a hunch that what we are missing out on, quite unbeknownst to us, is the wisdom, creativity and knowledge available to ( through?) us/clients in that (anticipatory space of) calm before the storm (of Change). Scharmer’s naming and exploration of pre-sencing gets at it; Gibran’s queries around testing for “readiness” in groups is along the same lines; prototyping as a way into solving complex problems is yet another expression within this same sphere. Rather than an anxious, fear-based, controlling energy wherein we brace for change, I’m suggesting that there is a playful, curious, self- and Other-awareness we can decide to adopt that enables us to learn from Change, and how to navigate it, perhaps even before it occurs.
Although it sounds pretty ethereal and intangible, I am convinced that there are skills and practices that individuals/groups can employ and imbibe that strengthens abilities to anticipate Change in a fruitful, strategic, edifying way. What those skills and practices are, Im not entirely sure (ability to reflect, trust, sensing, spiritual sensitivity, emotional healthiness, confidence, calmness – whether as individuals or among groups — are some things that come to mind).
At a time when families, institutions, neighborhoods, our nation and indeed the World seem to be in a cosmic holding pattern as we await what unfolds with the economy, the planet, the political arena, and within our own neighborhoods, the words of the great mystic Howard Thurman remind us of what is available to us in challenging times, where Change is imminent and the Hope that Curtis speaks of is so desperately needed:
“The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges, and to kindle a hope that inspires.” ~ Howard Thurman, Footprints of a Dream, 1959
Help me along. What do folks think this notion of a sphere/realm of practices of anticipation when change is imminent?