By Courage & Renewal facilitator Carol Kortsch
Posted July 15, 2012
My husband Uli and I have very international roots and are naturalized US citizens. When Parker Palmer challenged facilitators to consider facilitating Healing Democracy Action Circles, I couldn't imagine myself forging ahead into the quicksand of American political conversation until I listened carefully and read his remarkable book, Healing the Heart of Democracy. I am pleased to report that we have hosted three action circle conversations in our home here at Stonehaven. We have quickly recognized the hunger for thoughtful conversation in community around our democracy. The social networking site Meet-Up offered an extraordinary pool of new friends who jumped courageously into our action circle.
Our inter-faith group that has been meeting monthly for three years formed the core of our diverse action circle so we had the advantage that many members were comfortable with diversity and honest, open dialogue. Our action circle included mostly naturalized American citizens from Egypt, Zimbabwe, Britain, India, Angola, Canada, and Germany. One week we had four 25 year-olds join us which was very refreshing, as our group is mostly 50+ year olds.
Over the past meetings a few moving revelations stand out in my mind:
The Egyptian who talked earnestly about the change in Egypt now that the country has been opened to communal dialogue. He passionately said that change would never come without "community in dialogue."
The honest moment when a young woman spoke about listening to us older ones and considering many of her friends who, like her, often are angry, stuck without work they had hoped for after college. She grew more aware as she talked, "Nannying and restaurant serving is maybe what we need to do now; this season of life is essential to prepare our hearts, to soulfully grow into other work." Hearing the stories of immigrants and PhD's who started from the beginning years ago brought her to say, "I think our generation just expects to have it all right now without working our way into life."
A dear friend from Africa said with tears in his eyes, "I came to America, left my country because I thought it was a place I would be free to speak my mind – I have found that that is not the case."
The Brit who feels judged because his beliefs are different, especially when he is not able to talk freely in most places about communism, socialism or any other -ism as having some merit. He is surprised, because he thought democracy in America would offer him more open freedom of expression, as in England where he feels he can more readily just tell it like it is.
A very well-read and articulate man said he wondered privately what we were talking about/ "Holding tension" had no meaning for him, even after we read out loud the 3rd habit of the heart. After half an hour of conversation, he suddenly became aware how radically important this idea was. He left saying he is going to think more about "how to hold tension."
We hosted a July 4th celebration named a Global Family picnic at Stonehaven – celebrating diversity, democracy and freedom! We had 80 guests representing 52 countries, which included 20 Middle Eastern students with the Dialogue Institute in a program funded by the US. State Department. We relished platefuls of international delicacies and thoughtful music in Arabic and English from Farah Siraj, but above all we enjoyed the joyful privilege of meeting together – united under the common purpose of the freedom to dialogue and play together as human beings. What a phenomenal gift we have been given – to relish this commonality, where ultimately we always find out that we are more alike than different.
Stonehaven is our home, dedicated as a place for reflective conversation in community and also a place for solitude. We continue to create this sacred space with a lot of blood, sweat and tears but fundamentally this property is dedicated to paying attention to the heart of what truly matters in life. Just as the fireflies were starting to pop, we invited the whole group to meet in smaller groups and consider a few provocative questions.
We hoped to stir the pot with more intentional conversation about freedom – and it worked!
Introduce yourself by telling us how you celebrate personal freedom in your life, or tell a short story of a place or a situation that comes to your mind when you think of freedom.
What global aspect of freedom would you like to offer to your grandchildren?
How do you make meaning of the conflict and tension inherent in holding both personal independence and communal connections? How do you work out the limits of individual freedom in light of the need for the common good?
I invite you to answer these questions yourself. Like one young woman from Saudi Arabia said to me later, "I thought I knew my answer to what freedom means to me, but once I started talking I surprised myself. It was like I was saying things I knew, but had never really spoken - I had so much to say."