Clarity Through Community

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

“Give me the listening ear
The eye that is willing to see.”

-Howard Thurman


|Image from ky_olen||

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be part of a Quaker-style “clearness committee” with a few twists thrown in.  I have done a few similar sessions in the past, though it has been a while, and once again it proved to be a remarkable experience.  The impetus for the session was a friend who, acknowledging that she is at a crossroads in her life and career, reached out for help with discernment.  My wife, Emily, and I suggested convening a small group of people who know her well to lovingly listen to the core question with which she is wrestling.  Over the course of the two and a half hours we were together, there was an amazing peeling away of layers that occurred as we asked questions and watched for what either brought our friend to life or weighed her down.  By the end of the evening, she was excitedly looking at very real and enlivening opportunities in what she had previously perceived as being frivolous or “once I win the lottery” kinds of scenarios.

The clearness committee brings together two remarkable gifts – the power of inquiry and the abundance of community.  This is not a time to offer advice or to be grilled one-on-one by a coach.  This is really an occasion for friends to help us clear away the debris to reconnect with our core, and to begin to articulate a path forward.  For those who are interested, here are the abridged guidelines from conducting a clearness committee:

  1. The discerner brings an issue to a group of 3-5 people she/he has invited to be on the committee. In preparation for their meeting, s/he writes 1-2 pages about the issue, giving a clear statement of the issue, relevant background, and relevant foreground.  (Our friend did not write up anything, but gave a 5 minute presentation to start our session, summarizing the background to her situation and her core questions.)
  2. The group meets for 2-3 uninterrupted hours, and the discerner is the center of attention. Committee members are only allowed to ask open, honest questions, as opposed to leading questions with veiled advice. The discerner has the right to pass on any question.
  3. About 15 minutes before the session ends, the discerner is asked if she/he would like to do some “mirroring”. If not, the group continues with questions. If so, committee members reflect, or mirror, what the discerner said or did, but might not be aware of. “When you talked about X, your voice dropped and you seemed tired, but when you spoke of Y, your energy rose and your eyes got bright.

In our session with our friend, we did end with some concrete suggestions at her request – people to connect with, other opportunities to consider.  Simple and profound. I can’t help but think of the benefits of bringing these kinds of sessions into our social change work and organizations.  While we do often teach and practice what we call “listening as an ally” in our work at IISC, that often tends to occur in one-on-one situations.  But what about listening as a committee of allies.  What might that look like in the work we do?   Here is more information on clearness committees if you are interested.

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  • Gibran says:

    Curtis – this is really excellent! Coincidentally, I have recently been a part of THREE clearness committees among good friends.

    I have also been experimenting with it in my work with the Barr Fellows and they’ve express huge appreciation.

    Let’s continue to imagine how this could serve movement.

  • Cynthia Parker says:

    Years ago I was part of a community that experimented with this basic idea, but without the crisp, inquiry oriented ground rules. Not a pretty sight!

  • Cynthia Parker says:

    AND, I can see how this process, with the right container around it and strong relationships inside of it, can be wonderfully powerful.

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