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Asking Honest, Open Questions, Resisting the Need to Fix, & Letting the Light In

This past weekend, 22 Dinner Party hosts came together for our first-ever host retreat in Point Reyes Station, CA: a tiny town on the coast just north of San Francisco, replete with Douglas firs, foggy mornings, and clear-skied afternoons. One part wellness retreat, one part skill-building fest, one part The Real World for adults (sans the scandal,) the weekend was–if we may be so bold–straight-up magic.

We’ve known from the beginning that successful hosting isn’t about having the perfect thing to say at any moment, or offering help or guidance–and it most certainly isn’t about being an expert. But it does require that we really show up. Hosts have to be willing to model the same vulnerability that we ask of everyone at the table, while simultaneously avoiding the urge to speak at every moment, or to become a dominant voice. We have to listen without distraction, and engage in a conversation, rather than a series of rehearsed narratives. It requires that we be, in the words of today’s bona fide meditation gurus and the many peddlers of those age-old principles, really and truly present.

Going into the weekend, we had three goals in mind: First and foremost, we invited everyone to get their self-care on. We opened with a morning devoted to going inward: yoga and meditation and indulging in the finest cornmeal pancakes known to humankind.  We reflected on the very real men and women who’d brought us all together, and on where we are today, and where we’d been. At the group’s decree, “Monday AM” was on the list of things we were to leave behind.

Second, we wanted a chance to share what works and what doesn’t, and to dive into the “how-to’s”: How do you create a space that’s both casual and intimate (#chillpotluckvibes), and simultaneously invites people to go deep? What do you do when someone’s steamrolling a conversation? What’s the difference between an open and honest question and one that’s really advice-giving in disguise?

And finally, the host retreat was our first chance to bring together folks from across tables, and to begin to paint the canvas together. We wanted to walk away knowing that in five years, we’ll be able to look back on the weekend as a turning point: The moment the seeds of a movement first took root. We may not have a crystal ball, but we’re willing to place a bet: Mission accomplished.

dinnerpartygroup

A few takeaways:

  1. Be. Don’t do. Ours is a culture obsessed with to-do lists: An obsession we share, as one look at our post-it collection will prove. The compulsion to “do” goes beyond the occasional temptation to give advice, or desire to fix, or to correct (all of which should be squelched, pronto.) We want to be the perfect host. We want to make everyone feel instantly at ease, and taken care of. We want to say the perfect things, and create the perfect space, and cook up a main dish that could leave any foodie salivating for more. Among the themes of the weekend was letting go the constant need to do.
  2. Ask honest, open questions. We were joined over the weekend by the amazing Karen Erlichman, a facilitator with the Center for Courage & Renewal (an org we’ve gushed about before, and that it’s safe to say we’re a teeny tiny bit obsessed with.) Karen shared the distinction between open questions and closed ones, and questions you know the answer to, and questions whose answer you couldn’t possibly guess. It can be tempting to ask a question that’s actually a suggestion: basically anything that begins with the words, “Have you tried…” Asking honest, open questions means focusing on the present tense, rather than the past: “Where are you now,” rather than questions about the past, intended merely to satiate your curiosity. It means lifting up words and phrases you hear: “Say more about that,” and “OMG, I’m so glad you said that–that really resonates.”
  3. Invite silence. As a general rule, we’re not fans of rules. But one thing we do mention when someone’s joining a table for the first time is that folks are never under any obligation to speak, and that we don’t believe in awkward silences. Yet we’re hardly immune from the compulsion to fill silence, and the tendency to feel uncomfortable the instant a conversation pauses. We were reminded again and again over the weekend of the value of silence, and those rare moments that you can block out the noise, and really listen to yourself. There’s a difference, of course, between silence and feeling silenced, so for those of us who are prone to continually speak up, resisting the urge to jump right in can give someone who hasn’t spoken up in awhile a chance to speak. It can be as easy as starting or closing a dinner with a meditation, or simply making a conscious effort to allow space in between questions and different conversation threads.
  4. Hold opposites. “Hospitable and charged,” “silence and speech,” “forward movement” and “ugly truths,” “#chillpotluck vibes” vs. “#realtalk,” making space to laugh and to cry, a recognition that every one of our stories is different and that ours is a shared story. We got paradoxes aplenty, which can be challenging when our impulse is to put things in neat little boxes, and constantly categorize. Here, we apply the great law of improv: Yes and, y’all.
  5. Let the light in. Srsly. Yes, this s*#@ gets heavy. No, we don’t have any interest in pretending otherwise. But “have fun” is, to us, way more than the kind of empty directive found at the bottom of a 10th-grade science assignment. To keep people coming back–hell, to keep coming back ourselves–we have to want to be there. And that means laughing as much as we cry, and forging real friendships, and balancing the light and the dark.

Lennon FlowersWe’ll be heading out to eastern PA for our East Coast host retreat, September 26-28. There are still a couple of spots free for folks looking to start a table of their own, so email lennon@thedinnerparty.org if you want to reserve a spot.

Huge thanks to everyone who gave during our Indiegogo campaign: You all are what made these two weekends possible. On behalf of all of us here in Dinner Partyland, thank you.

This blog post originally appeared on TheDinnerParty.org. Learn more about how Lennon Flowers and her team are transforming life after loss from an isolating experience into one marked by community support, candid conversation, and forward movement.

Dialing in to a Circle of Trust

Montana's wide open spaces

Wide open spaces that isolate. Tight finances and long travel time. That makes it hard for pastors to leave their congregations for one retreat, much less a seasonal Courage to Lead series. But the value of connecting rural clergy with each other was too great to ignore. We wondered if there was another way  to build on an introductory retreat experience…by phone.

Can the sense of community and transformational learning generated in a Circle of Trust retreat be deepened through a series of participant/facilitator conference calls without additional face-to-face contact?

The answer I found was a resounding “Yes!”, according to a group of 43 western pastors who participated in an experimental project beginning in 2008. Each pastor attended an introductory Courage to Lead in-person retreat in Montana followed by a series of five “virtual book groups” based on Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness.

Their “up until now” conference call experience had left most pastors skeptical that the group follow-up calls would be worth participating in at all. I promised the calls would emulate the retreat format they had learned in a Circle of Trust, including large group discussions, journaling and small group discussions. To encourage deeper connection, I created multiple call groups from each introductory retreat that limited participants in each group to six. (A complete description of call mechanics can be found in the link that follows this post.)

Throughout the call series, I gathered participants’ qualitative assessments of the experience and later clustered those comments into themes. To avoid creating what I feared might be a dry write-up of results, I decided to communicate findings through “found poetry,” a new research reporting method I had discovered in which words and phrases from participant responses are crafted into verse in keeping with the themes they expressed.

Although there were some glitches to the groups, participants said that the practices and trust developed in the in-person retreat and the call format made deep communication possible – despite their original skepticism. “Irony,” a poem that includes multiple folks’ comments, communicates this evolution of feeling about the value of the calls:

Irony

I miss eye contact—
that I do miss.
Visual cues
are so important
that I was kind of
I was surprised
(the calls)
were as effective
as they were.
I was surprised
the phone
could be used to get away.
Wonderful irony
that this little
bane of our existence
could become
a way in(to) retreat.

The series also deepened participants’ practice with what we call “honest, open questions.” A consistent theme in their responses was the power of this practice to move their counseling relationships with parishioners in a positive new direction. Many said the innovative way of questioning shifted their own role from unrealistic and unsuccessful “fixer” to rewarding and empowering “witness” in support of parishioners uncovering their own spiritual resources.

A number of poems are devoted to this theme, but the most dramatic testament to the value of honest, open questions came from a pastor who used these questions to help a suicidal parishioner. She related that one day a member of her congregation had called in desperation, telling her, “I don’t want to live. I can’t fight the system. Everybody hates me.” The poem tells the story of what happened before she remembered to stop “fixing” and ask honest, open questions:

Before
I had a parishioner
in
suicidal mode:
I was asking
questions,
and when I got
too aggressive,
___­­­­___ cried,
“You’re not
helping me!”
I reflect on
my past ministry:
I was naturally
curious and aggressive,
and it makes me
want
to cringe.

Later, the pastor reflected on how using honest, open questions transformed a future call and may have helped saved her parishioner’s life:

As I sat with _____ in silence over the phone, my training in spiritual direction and honest open questions came back. I realized my spirit was already trying to have a conversation. I needed to get out of my judgmental head. I began to slowly ask _______ honest open questions that invited him to explore what_____ really needed. As I did, the situation on the phone deescalated.

Today _______ is still here. When _____ calls, I just listen … listen for feelings. Using the new skill caused me to look back on my old way of working with parishioners in crisis.

Facilitator Chris LoveTo learn more about creating virtual retreats, you can purchase a copy of the journal, Teaching and Learning from the Inside Out, edited by Margaret Golden, in which a longer version of this article first appeared. Individual articles are also available for purchase.

Chris Love is a Courage & Renewal facilitator from Corvallis, MT. She brings a background in education, marketing and organization development to the work and has facilitated Circle of Trust retreats for clergy, educators and health care professionals.

The New York Times Interviews Parker Palmer

The New York TimesOn September 4, the online New York Times posted an interview with Parker, Reclaiming ‘We the People,’ One Person at a Time. In case you didn’t see Parker’s note about it on Facebook, we’ve reposted it here.

Click to read the New York Times interview with Parker Palmer.There’s an interview with me in [the] online New York Times that focuses on my book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy.”  If you feel so moved, please leave a comment at the end of the interview, and share the link with your friends.

The interview was conducted by , Times staff columnist and co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN). “Solutions journalism” is a welcome alternative to the media’s long-time habit of reporting social problems without any attention to how they are being or might be solved. The result? Many of us feel overwhelmed and powerless to effect social change.

But there’s hope on the horizon! A new generation of journalists—committed to using the media to empower as well as inform—are devoting considerable skill and energy to achieving that goal. I’m grateful to know two of them: David Bornstein and Courtney Martin, also a co-founder of SJN [and also a board member for the Center for Courage & Renewal].

David has written a superb book called “How to Change the World” which you can learn more about at http://tinyurl.com/qdst7dm. And Courtney’s fine book, “Do It Anyway”, which I’ve praised here before, is at http://tinyurl.com/q7kk4dg.

As for “Healing the Heart of Democracy”, it’s now out in paperback, with a new Introduction and Discussion Guide. You can learn more about it here, http://tinyurl.com/p7zld4z.

People Can Change

To celebrate the paperback release of Parker Palmer’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, we’d like to share a story from the book’s new Introduction. This is the first time Parker tells this story in print. It’s about forgiveness and hope.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In March 2011, shortly after I sent the final draft of this book to the publisher, I had an experience that brought to life much of what I had written about. I participated in the annual three-day Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage sponsored by the Faith & Politics Institute in Washington, D.C., and led by Congressman John Lewis. The pilgrimage began in Birmingham, Alabama, moved on to Montgomery, and ended in Selma, where we marked the forty-sixth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a pivotal event in American political history.

On Sunday, March 7, 1965, six hundred nonviolent protesters, many of them young, gathered at the foot of Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin a fifty-mile march to the Alabama State Capital in Montgomery, a protest against the ongoing exclusion of African Americans from the electoral process.

edmundpettusbridge-1965When they reached the other side of the bridge, the marchers were brutalized by state and local police, mounted and on foot, with billy clubs and tear gas. This atrocity, witnessed on television by millions of Americans, scandalized the nation. It also generated enough political momentum in Congress that President Lyndon Johnson was able to sign a Voting Rights Act into law five months after the march.

The 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge was led by John Lewis, then twenty-five years old and chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. As leader, he was one of the first to be beaten by the police, who fractured his skull and left marks he bears to this day.

It left another kind of mark on me in March 2011 to follow the seventy-one-year-old John Lewis–U.S. Representative from Georgia’s 5th Congressional District since 1987, and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom–across the bridge where forty-six years earlier he had led others in a courageous exercise of people power.

John Lewis

During the three days of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I was reminded time and again of themes that are key to this book:

  • the centrality of the “habits of the heart” that we develop in the local venues of our lives;
  • the patience it takes to stay engaged in small, often invisible ways with the American experiment in democracy;
  • the importance of faithfully holding the tension between what is and what might be, and
  • creating the kind of tension that might arouse “the better angels of our nature.”

The twenty-five-year-old John Lewis and his age-mates in the Civil Rights movement were the descendants of generations of people who had suffered the worst America has to offer, but had not given up on the vision of freedom, justice, and equality that represents this county at its best. Those people nurtured that vision in their children and grandchildren at home, in the neighborhood, in classrooms, and especially in churches, creating a steady multi-generational stream of “underground” activity that was largely invisible to white Americans until it rose up to claim our attention in the 1950s and 1960s.

With the exception of such places as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, every stop we made on the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage was at a church–the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, and the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma–where we heard sermons, sang songs, and felt history.

Through study, practice, and prayer, civil rights activists had prepared for action in places like these. And when those actions brought the wrath of the politicians and police down upon their heads, the activists returned to these places to heal, regroup, and act again.

The few white Americans who were aware of the black church prior to the Civil Rights movement generally discounted its political relevance. As a boy growing up in an affluent white suburb of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s, I remember being told by a white clergyperson that African American religion was all about “pie in the sky when you die by-and-by,” a phrase used by capitalists who were unconsciously and ironically parroting Marx’s notion of “religion as the opiate of the people.”

“Pie-in-the-sky” was a racist, dismissive, and profoundly ignorant characterization of the role of the black churches in the United States. In fact, these churches birthed a form of social activism that eventually transformed the lay and the law of the land. Like the tiny church I wrote about in Chapter II of this book, these churches had long been helping oppressed people develop habits of the heart that empowered them to become participants in the democratic process.

At the end of the Pilgrimage, after we had marched across the bridge, we boarded a bus to take us to the Montgomery Airport for the flight home.

By happenstance, I sat just behind John Lewis and one of his staffers where I overheard Lewis telling a story.

In 1961, he and a friend were at a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when several young white men attacked and beat them bloody with baseball bats. Lewis and his friend “did not fight back, and they declined to press charges.” They simply treated their wounds and went on with their Civil Rights work.

In 2009, forty-eight years after this event, a white man about John Lewis’s age walked into his office on Capitol Hill, accompanied by his middle-aged son. “Mr. Lewis,” he said, “my name is Elwin Wilson. I’m one of the men who beat you in that bus station back in 1961. I want to atone for the terrible thing I did, so I’ve come to seek your forgiveness. Will you forgive me?”

John_lewis_official_biopicLewis said, “I forgave him, we embraced, he and his son and I wept, and then we talked.”

As Lewis came to the end of this remarkable and moving story, he leaned back in his seat on the bus. He gazed out the window for a while as we passed through a countryside that was once a killing ground for the Ku Klux Klan, of which Elwin Wilson had been a member.

Then, in a very soft voice–as if speaking to himself about the story he had just told and all of the memories that must have been moving in him–Lewis said, “People can change . . . People can change . . .”

At that moment, I felt as if I had seen deep into the soul of a true “healer of the heart of democracy.” I saw the faith in our shared humanity that has kept John Lewis on the march for all these years, despite the abundant evidence that we are capable of being unloving, untruthful, and unjust.

I thought of this good man again on June 25, 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that Lewis had helped make possible with his own blood, sweat, and tears.

As I say in the Prelude to this book, “The democratic experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into community, conflict into the energy of creativity, and tension into an opening toward the common good.”

When I heard John Lewis say, “People can change… People can change…,” I felt a sense of hope, not simply for “them” but for me.

The belief that change is possible–personal as well as social change–can keep us engaged with this endless experiment for the long haul, doing whatever we can to help democracy not only survive but thrive.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Healing the Heart of Democracy: Now available in paperbackThe new paperback edition of Healing the Heart of Democracy, released August 25th, 2014, includes two new features:

(1) a chapter-length Introduction with Parker’s latest thoughts, from which the story above is taken;

(2) a detailed Discussion Guide with links to videos related to key topics in the book.

Watch videos of Parker J. Palmer and singer Carrie Newcomer in the online discussion guide.


 

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9 Best Teaching Practices for Cultural Competency

Editor’s Note: Teachers have a special leadership role to play with their students, with their colleagues and with the communities they serve. As a new school year begins in the wake of the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Teacher Katy Reedy of Educurious offers a powerful call to action in this guest blog. Pass it on!

While no consolation, the tragic events in Ferguson have brought a national conversation about racial inequality to the forefront. Prominent politicians from both sides of the aisle are talking about everything from inequities in the judicial system to root causes such as the educational opportunity gap that exist for students of color.

In light of the current events, let’s take time to reflect on this important aspect of our practice.

Everyday Anti-Racisim - buy now at AmazonTo start, consider this simple but powerful framework from Mica Pollock from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in her book Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School.

“Educators need to keep asking a basic question: which of our everyday acts move specific students or student populations toward educational opportunity, and which acts move them farther away from it?  When considering any given action (e.g., a particular disciplinary practice), educators can draw a simple number line and literally ask one another: do we think this act is moving the students in question closer to educational opportunity, or farther away from it? Why? What is our evidence?”  (Pollock, p. 24).

Think how much of a difference it might make if this was the first question on everyone’s lips in our schools!

Here are The Cultural Competence 9 compiled and combined from various definitions, by no means a complete or definitive list, but intended to be a starting point for your own thinking and planning. Read it, be refreshed, and thanks for all you do in your classroom to work towards closing the achievement gap.

  1. Have high academic standards and expectations for each and all students. Exude publicly, positively, and enthusiastically the belief that each student can achieve those standards. (I am who I think, you think, I am).
  2. Get to know your students well: academically, socially and emotionally. Visibly demonstrate a connectedness with each one of them.
  3. Welcome students into your room as a place that is also theirs by including representations of students and their cultures in the classroom.
  4. Vehemently promote and protect psychological safety for everyone.
  5. Scaffold, make room for, develop and champion the intellectual leadership of students who have been disenfranchised.
  6. Apprentice your students into the learning community. Don’t assume they come to you knowing how to be successful in your class. Teach the skills and routines they’ll need to be successful even if you think they already know. (Some won’t!)
  7. Deeply know the cultures represented in your classroom. Intentionally build connections between in and out of school experiences.
  8. Demonstrate to students that you value their home culture and language. Help them understand code switching, as well as when and why.
  9. See all students as developing experts. Remember that lexile level does not correlate with a student’s ability to engage with challenging ideas. Provide scaffolding into cognitive skills to allow opportunity for students to think deeply about content. Actively coach students on the road to developing the skills to participate fully in the construction of knowledge.

List gleaned in large part from materials from the National Equity Project.

This post originally appeared in the Educurious Hot Topics e-newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

Learn more about the Center’s Courage to Teach programs and find a retreat near you.

And the Church Moved: Lessons in Healing and Hope

church-moving

Over the past few weeks, I have frequently found myself walking the short distance from our little home on Seven Hills Road on the north end of the Old Mission Peninsula to watch the progress of the enormous task of preparing St. Joseph’s Church for its unprecedented move to its new permanent home.

My curiosity was guided by a deep sense that this would be a historic moment for our community, and I was not expecting the time I spent watching this arduous task to become a quiet but profound metaphor for my own life.

John Schneider, my husband and a remarkable grief therapist, would have reminded me that curiosity is the forward scout for both healing and hope.

As a backdrop to this story, a few years ago, John and I decided to “downsize” after twenty-plus years in our Old Mission home with acreage enough to create a large labyrinth and paths for our grandchildren to walk and run in the meadow. We collected wonderful memories as well as “stuff” while living there and we found ourselves very disorganized when the move happened sooner than we’d expected. Subsequently, we began to overfill our new little home’s basement with boxes of memories and memorabilia.

The foundations of all our lives are filled with memories both good and bad, and sooner or later every one of us must decide what to keep and what to let go of in order to move toward new horizons of hope.

Captivated by the care with which the workers prepared the church’s above-ground structure for the journey to come, I watched as they proceeded to slowly and diligently lift the structure, using support and heavy beams, clearing away all that was necessary for the move to happen, all the while protecting what was fragile and taking as much time as they needed to ensure a safe passage.
Change is like that, is it not? The decision to take action first begins by caring for safe passages in our own upper levels—our heads and hearts. From there, we need both support and courage to clear the depths of our life stories before we are able to move forward.

This is an act of courage, this lifting ourselves up to begin sorting through what lies underneath. This remembering allows us to drink from a spiritual well that renews our vision and reminds us of what is yet possible, despite all odds. Such an act is always personal and always about community if we are to do more than merely survive the future that lies ahead.

I wasn’t alone in my observations of St. Joe’s historic move. It was a privilege to witness the community at large waiting and watching together, all intent upon the church’s sometimes precarious stops and starts as the driver expertly maneuvered the huge truck. He carefully missed a huge stone at the first turn of his wheels, then waited patiently for the other crew members to temporarily take down the M37 road sign until that first turn was completed.

This church, these people, this community knew where it needed to go, and hope was sitting right next to the driver.

Postscript –September 20, 2013

I have driven by the vacant area many times since witnessing the courageous moving day event of the church. Now, I realize, there is more that needs to be acknowledged to truly finish this story.

First, within a few weeks ground crews had smoothed and seeded the strangely vacant area where the church had been. Then the rains came -and kept coming! The barren seeded ground did not manage well on it’s own as rivers of erosion quickly formed in a steady run off of sand,seed and dirt along the highway. This wounded land was not healing despite the best planned intentions. The intervention happened quickly to include low tarp barriers placed along the road to hold the land until it could hold itself. Timing and timeliness were essential for corrective action. This reminds me of one of my osteopathic major premises–“Do not mistake motion for action.”

In large measure any “new ground” of ours also still needs tending that requires not just going through the motions but dedicated action over time. Who has tended us over time through the changes of our inner and outer landscapes once we had moved? Can you recall someone who patiently re-seeded your hope when nothing seemed to want to grow? These are the individuals who bless us with lessons in both grace and gratitude that we will never forget.

To reply to Sharon with your thoughts on her story, email olsonsha@acegroup.cc

USA Today Covers a Courage & Renewal Clearness Committee

Over the weekend, USA Today reporter Mary Beth Marklein published a story, “Finding a ‘clear’ path to leadership” about her experience at the Courage & Renewal 2014 Invitational Retreat. She described the Clearness Committee as a powerful “no-action” space, a space where “my time here was not to make things happen but to allow them to happen.”

Courage-170The Clearness Committee is one of the hallmark practices of the Circle of Trust approach, developed by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal. Many participants say that the Clearness Committee is the capstone of their retreat experience. It is a deep process of personal discernment that occurs with community support.

A fundamental idea underlies the Clearness Committee–that each of us as an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. In order to hear that voice of truth, we need a “safe space” to focus and listen. This idea of the inner teacher also means that nobody except you has the answer to your problems. For that reason, during a Clearness Committee no one is allowed to offer advice or “amateur psychoanalysis.” Rather, the process focuses on open, honest questions that help an individual see into their own heart.

This same premise supports the Center’s leadership approach, that great leadership comes from the inner teacher.

In the USA Today story, Mary Beth explained, “The Center’s approach is spiritual and practical, premised on the notion that effective leadership hinges on our ability to connect professional goals with personal values,” she wrote, going on to quote Parker J. Palmer who said that this is called “leading from within.”

Mary Beth attended the retreat just as she was preparing to take a break from her job as a newspaper reporter to train journalists overseas in Vietnam.

Her hope for the experience was to get some clarity about her goals for this career transition. She writes, “It did, but not in the way I expected.”

Check out the story at USA Today and tell us what you think–did she capture the essence of the Clearness Committee?

A Way Forward: Finding Middle Ground in Activism

Two autumns ago, I was experiencing what may perhaps be called divine discontent. I was becoming more passionate and vocal about causes in the world–most notably, environmental causes–but I felt stuck. I found myself arguing with the same three people on Facebook. “What good is this accomplishing?” I asked myself countless times.

After a period of frustration, I at last gained some traction. Having just received my first copy of The Sun in the mail, I came across an interview with Parker Palmer in which he discussed the premises of his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy. He offered honesty. He offered civility. He offered hope.

Whereas uncertainty had previously meant hopelessness, Parker’s concepts of “holding the tension” and “living in the tragic gap” spoke instead of a patient tending of the tenuous middle ground as being vital and potentially fruitful. Finally, I had found a way forward.

Once I realized that uncertainty was indeed part of democracy, I took a deep, smiling breath. It was not so bad after all. I was at last able to act, and I have been quite active ever since.

heather-cohen-2014Today, I volunteer for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby–a group founded to effect change and empower citizens–a group whose only rule is to practice appreciation for all, most notably for those who may oppose its work.

Today, I seek out those with whom I disagree so that I might learn from them and so that we might find at least a little common ground. This extends all the way to Capitol Hill, where I sit across the table from elected officials with whom I disagree and work to establish respect as a bridge to understanding.

Today, I also seek out allies–those whom I call political hybrids, those who consciously embody the tragic gap, doing so in the interest of cultivating understanding and common ground.

Here is one of my hybrid heroes: Dr. Katharine Hayhoe.

Today, the discontent of two years ago has dissipated, and the desire for certainty has been replaced by a new-found courage. What a difference a little bit of patient tending has made.

heather-cohenHeather Cohen is part of the 2014-2015 cohort of new Courage & Renewal Facilitators in Preparation. After many years of teaching at the community college level, she is now teaching at the character-focused and design-thinking charter school Village Tech. Heather volunteers with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and she brings both this organization’s work and her Courage work into her educational community and her community at large. She may be reached at HeatherLCohen365@gmail.com.

Coming Out and the Courage to Be Real

 

“We all have closets,” says Ash Beckham. “All a closet is, is a hard conversation, and although our topics may vary tremendously, the experience of being in and coming out of the closet is universal. It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.”

In this video, she talks about the “easiest hard conversation” she ever had. It was easy because she was real.

“I’ll give you 100 reasons why coming out of my closet was harder than coming out of yours,” Ash says, “but here’s the thing: Hard is not relative. Hard is hard.

“At some point in our lives, we all live in closets, and they may feel safe, or at least safer than what lies on the other side of that door. But I am here to tell you, no matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to live.”

Ash offers us her three “Pancake Girl” principles.
Be authentic. Take the armor off. Be yourself.
Be direct. Just say it. Rip the Band-Aid off.
• Most important: Be unapologetic. You are speaking your truth. Never apologize for that.

“We know it’s hard but we need you out here, no matter what your walls are made of, because I guarantee you there are others peering through the keyholes of their closets looking for the next brave soul to bust a door open, so be that person and show the world that we are bigger than our closets and that a closet is no place for a person to truly live.”
As a straight, white professional male, the closets I’ve found myself in have been facing painful moments in close relationships, failures in my work or being “the other” in a group. In each case the smugness and confidence born of my privilege is suddenly gone. Sometimes I quietly close the closet door and withdraw. Sometimes I let myself be vulnerable, admit that I do not know what to do and step into the conversation — and then I find my whole self moving forward in ways I could not imagine moments before.

We believe in being real. In taking the risk to be vulnerable.

How do you find the courage to step out of your closets?

P.S. Courage & Renewal programs are places to be real and find the courage you need for conversations of all kinds. See our calendar for upcoming programs and retreats.

This blog is a mirror of our August Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe to our monthly mailings here.

A Call to Teach for Equity

chip-wood_teaching_for_equitySome say education is the civil rights issue of our time. Robert Moses, of the Algebra Project, says children are the civil rights issue of this century. “In this 21st Century,” he said, “we need to include the children. They need to have a constitutional right to an education in this country.”

Teaching for Equity is a new book by The Origins Program that introduces approaches for eliminating the learning opportunity gap for children whose experiences each year in elementary school leave them further and further behind their peers. The book—written by Courage & Renewal facilitator Chip Wood and his colleague Linda Crawford—is for elementary teachers and teacher leaders, school administrators and specialists, teacher educators, school families and school advocates who work to find or create a more just and equitable elementary school education for students.

We shared a common purpose with thousands for a national education agenda that would level the educational playing field for all, and we have seen, instead, widening learning gaps that primarily impact students living in poverty and students of color. Models of instruction feature external modes of assessment, standardized practice for standardized testing, and sorting, classifying, and isolating students, teachers, and schools by performance on standardized tests. All of these practices have not worked to close the so-called “achievement gap.”

To create an equitable foundation for learning, certain school and classroom conditions and experiences are necessary to meet the basic needs of students for autonomy, competence, relationship, community, and play.

Teaching for Equity explores seven strands of practice that grow equity in education:

1. Personalized learning
2. Personalizing whole-class learning
3. Partnership
4. Attuned student-teacher relationships
5. Enhanced communication
6. Teacher integrity
7. Relational trust among adults, including student families

Provided these dynamic, interrelated social and cognitive pathways, children will grow in self-confidence; in self-regulation; in their capacity to learn for themselves, from their teacher, and from each other; and in their capacity to question. They will learn to work together productively, to care for each other, and to enjoy story, movement, music, poetry, drama, and image-making integrated with academic learning. They will learn how to listen—to be an audience, to learn the meaning of “me,” “us,” “we,” and that how we are different creates our traditions and our cultures.

These practices, founded on decades of classroom experience and on ongoing research, address children’s needs for autonomy, competence, relationship, community, and play. The book offers practical ways to link your standards, curriculum, lessons, instructional approaches, and your professional and personal growth to these equity-building practices.

Order here and view sample chapters: http://www.originsonline.org/bookstore/teaching-equity

Teaching for Equity by Linda Crawford and Chip Wood. The Origins Program: Education for Equity, headquartered in Minneapolis, has been working since 1979 to provide teachers and schools around the country with professional development for classroom teaching focused on arts-infusion and multicultural approaches.