Pauses for the Cause

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Slow signLast week, IISC staff took a step back to consider what we had been referring to as the roots out of which our collaborative capacity building work grows (we have since wondered whether these may be more appropriately cast as “lenses,” but more on that at another time), and to come to some agreement about what is core to our practice in these imperfectly titled areas:

  • networks
  • equity/power/inclusion
  • “the love that does justice”

We were guided in our conversations by the talented Mistinguette Smith, with whom I have had the pleasure of partnering in delivering our joint work with the Center for Whole Communities – Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most. Anyone who is able to handle a group of facilitators has certainly earned her stripes, and if that person can teach those “process experts” new tricks, well now you’ve really got our attention. Ms. Smith, we are listening!

One of the many things that Mistinguette did that served us well was to get us to pause and self-reflect at key moments in our various conversations. On several occasions, she had us breathe. She invited us to consider how we wanted to show up at different points in our retreat and then stopped action in the middle to have us check in around whether we were being true to our intentions and to consider the invitation to show up differently than we typically do. At one point, as we were getting into a particularly charged conversation, she coached us that, “What you hear will be much more important than what you say.” Wow, saying that in a room of people who really like to talk is downright dissonant . . . and helpful.  Our  conversations during the retreat were qualitatively different, from my perspective, in important ways.

I am taking much from the content of those two days, some of which I would like to share in a subsequent post, and on the process/experiential front, I was reminded of the power of pausing, of taking stock, and as a facilitator of inviting others to be mindful about what is most important in the way they show up. May we all be reminded of when it makes sense to take pauses for our causes.

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  • Gibran says:

    Wow! I’m so sorry I missed that! I often wonder about the gap between “ground rules” or “working agreements,” and actual behavior. In this context it seems that “pausing” in a group is akin to an individual “returning to the breath” when triggered or otherwise distracted. It makes perfect sense for a facilitator to help bring the group back to its higher intentions.

    One last thought – recently I heard two people talking, one said: “I wish people lived their values” the other responded with “they do.” What are the gaps between what we profess to believe and what we actually believe?

  • Cynthia Parker says:

    I want to second the celebration of Mistinguette’s work with us, and also celebrate the substantial progress we made in discussions–some of which have been going on in bits and pieces for a long time.

    I was also struck by the power of word choice. At one point we got stuck in a conversation about “beliefs” and whether we needed to have agreement at the level of belief at all. I think reframing the same substantive comments as “working assumptions” rather than “beliefs” helped us to at least agree that we could (and possibly should) come to an agreement on a short list of working assumptions that guide aspects of our practice.

    On Gibran’s point about living our values, our colleague Nancy Brodsky frames it this way… When you observe your own behavior in any given moment, ask yourself “what do I really care about right now” (“operational values” or “theories in use”) and check for potential gaps between that and what you say you’re about/want to be about (“espoused values). There’s lots of learning and opportunity for change in that gap!

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks Gibran and Cynthia. I was also reminded of Mistinguette’s helpful use of language (at least helpful for me) around the differences between orthodoxy and “orthopraxis.” It seems we (not just us, but the global we) can really get into it around beliefs, and that is not always helpful, and can even be damaging. Looking at the expression of the beliefs may actually yield more fertile and common ground. And on the front of living our values, I like the exercise I was introduced by someone where you look at what you think you value, your actions, and then what lies underneath those actions, i.e. what you are actually committed to. Sometimes it comes down to a different expression of a value, that in systems thinking lingo may be a “short-term” expression of the value at odds with our long-term aspirations (taking care of ourselves by eating comfort food instead of taking care of ourselves by working out).

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