My wife Jane and I recently spent two weeks in South Korea, my third trip supporting Seeds of Heart, the growing Korean organization that brings Courage & Renewal retreats and programs in the Korean language to Korean educators, clergy, and leaders. I was astounded at how quickly and solidly this good work serving Koreans has developed.
As we were packing our bags to fly to Seoul, we paused. Given the recent North Korean nuclear weapon and missile testing and the responses from the US president, we wondered if it was safe to go. Our Korean colleagues assured us that the only thing that had changed over many years was the current frenzy of western media attention and the crude comments by the US President. They felt that we were safe to travel.
Once in Seoul, the energy and activity swept us up. We spoke to many Koreans about the current state of affairs. They felt the relationship with the North was not significantly different from what they’ve experienced over many years. Their dominant feeling toward North Korea was one of sadness and thoughtful patience. They believe it’s evident that the regime in the North will one day collapse and the Korean people will again be reunited. And they were proud of the bold steps South Korea took last December to affirm democracy and impeach corrupt President Park Geun-hye.
I spent two days leading a Courage to Lead retreat for 40 Korean school leaders. For many this program was their very first experience in a Seeds of Heart. Together we shared the pain and the joy and the promise and challenges of leadership. In the closing circle several participants spoke to finding new ground from which to continue to fill difficult leadership roles.
I then led a four-day “Deepening Retreat” for 26 Seeds of Heart facilitators. Each is committed to growing Seeds of Heart programs across Korea. Each was deeply influenced by Parker’s writing and their own early experience in Seeds of Heart programs. They came from education, clergy, and non-profit leadership, men and women from early 30s to 60s. It was a wholehearted and powerful group.
We’d organized this four day program on broad questions that played off of Parker’s words that launched The Courage to Teach:
The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question—what subjects shall we teach? When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question—what methods and techniques are required to teach well? Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question—for what purpose and to what ends do we teach? But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question—who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form—or deform—the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?
For our purposes (and inspired by Simon Sinek’s elegant frame ‘Starting with Why’) we reversed the order of Parker’s core questions and focused on addressing these questions in this order:
WHO am I as a leader and as a Seeds of Heart facilitator?
WHY do I/we seek to bring Seeds of Heart to others?
HOW do I/we do so effectively?
WHAT then do I/we do next?
For each of the four questions, we examined our responses as applied:
To ourselves as individuals
To the collective of Seeds facilitators
To Seeds as an organization.
Our hope was to not only deepen the individual capacity of Korean facilitators but also to strengthen the collective, the organization and the growing movement in Korea. The time together seemed to powerfully fulfill this hope.
More Than A Decade Ago
More than ten years ago I began a conversation with a South Korean activist, philanthropist and businesswoman. She had called the Center for Courage & Renewal to inquire if Parker Palmer would come to Seoul to speak. In our first conversations I learned that Parker had a strong following in Korea and it quickly became evident that there was a group of leaders very interested in learning more about Parker’s work the programs and approach that the Center had grown in North America.
Our first conversations led to four Koreans (with facility in speaking and understanding English) attending a 2007-2008 Courage to Teach seasonal retreat series that Joanne Cooper and I led in Hawai’i. After each retreat and before we each flew home the following morning, Aloha, Hyesook, Siot, and Sunshine and I would spend the afternoon talking and dreaming about how to seed and develop the Courage & Renewal approach in Korea
From the start, we realized that all those who would successfully adapt and grow the Courage & Renewal approach in the Korean context and language may not have English language facility. Therefore it didn’t make sense that the only pathway to becoming facilitators was the English language, US-based Facilitator Preparation Program. Instead we explored how to creatively support the development of Korean facilitators and programs. There was a strong commitment to hold true to the core values, principles and practices established by Parker and early facilitators in the US as the approach was adapted to a different culture and language.
Over the 20 years that I’ve been engaged with Parker Palmer’s writing and Courage & Renewal, I’ve wondered to what degree our approach is ‘culture-bound’ and if and how it applies across different human cultures and contexts. Many have had experiences that affirm that the C&R approach thoroughly applies and seems to touch something universally human when we tend carefully to who is leading and facilitating, to the specific cultural and social context and to the people in the circle.
One interesting example involved language. As I understand it, Korean carries routine markers of status and hierarchy. My Korean colleagues quickly realized that such hierarchy contradicted the intention of a Circle of Trust where people interact with others from their own humanity not from their organizational and social roles and status. To adjust for this, all retreat participants in Korea adopt ‘nicknames’ to use in the program. I recently understood that this is not unusual in Korean settings where people seek to avoid the normal orientation to status and position.
On my first trip to Seoul in 2008, I led a one-day Courage to Teach retreat for 25 educators. Our intention was to test the model in a Korean setting. All the materials had been translated into Korean. My colleagues Aloha, Hyesook and Sunshine sat across the circle, co-leading and translating what I said. Siot sat next to me to translate what participants said. I quickly realized that translating for me everything said in the circle would interfere with the process, so I asked Siot only to translate anything I needed to know and to let the rest go.
At first I thought it would be a very long day but although I didn’t understand the specific words, I gradually observed and felt people responding in deeply familiar ways and sensed what they might be saying. At the end of the day, my colleagues were astounded that the Korean participants so quickly engaged in the process and so deeply and honestly shared of themselves.
This led to a wonderful, ten-year collaboration. In 2009, Siot and Sunshine attended the Gateway Retreat. In 2011 Aloha translated and helped publish Healing the Heart of Democracy in Korean adding to all of Parker’s previously translated books. In 2012, a large team of Koreans traveled to the US to attend a customized retreat on facilitation led by me and Marcy Jackson and to spend two days in discussion with Parker and Sharon in their home in Madison. In 2014 Marcy Jackson traveled to Seoul to lead a facilitator preparation program. Six Korean facilitators and a translator attended last May’s Courage Gathering in Minneapolis. These growing connections have been guided by countless calls and emails, growing strong friendships among us across the years.
My experience with Seeds of Heart in Korea offers a compelling case study of the approach effectively applied across culture and language. Not only has Seeds of Heart engaged hundreds of individuals in nine seasonal retreat series and countless other programs, they have crafted well the only non-English based Facilitator Preparation Program and created a Korean organization with a sustainable business plan that will grow the approach across Korea for future generations. As Courage & Renewal grows across North American and the world, I hope the Seeds of Heart model will offer inspiration and new possibilities.
A Sidetrip to the DMZ
Between the two programs, we stumbled into a unique opportunity to spend a couple of hours on the border of the Demilitarized Zone, looking into North Korea with a South Korean infantry major who commanded the troops guarding that section of the border. Standing at the site of this 65-year armed conflict and being in conversation with the young officers responsible for maintaining the peace and security of their nation was unexpectedly hopeful to me.
I felt fortunate indeed to witness the ongoing growth of Seeds of Heart and hopeful to imagine the role it will play in the future to ensure the peace and security of Korea and of our world.
Terry Chadsey served as Executive Director of the Center for Courage & Renewal from 2010 to 2017, putting in place systems to support a growing organization and increasing the impact and following of Courage & Renewal across the globe. Terry became a facilitator in 2002 and has led scores of Courage & Renewal programs for teachers, school leaders and leaders of all kinds. He worked in public education for 32 years, teaching grades K through 8 in Chicago, Australia and Washington for 22 of those years. He lives in Seattle with his wife Jane Chadsey where they are in love with each other, their not so young adult children, and their one and six-year old grand daughters.