Thursday, July 31, 2014

Balancing Transparency and Discretion

I've recently became aware of an evaluation process in an intentional community that raised a poignant question about the balance between transparency and discretion, and what it means to be creating cooperative culture.

The Back Story
In the case of this particular community there exists a Board of Directors that oversees 501c3 aspects of community operations (the portion of community life that donors can receive tax deductions for supporting), and that Board is comprised of a mix of community members and non-community members. This is a relatively common arrangement, designed to ensure both: a) that the community's voice is present in Board considerations; and b) that there are outside eyes making sure that the community's educational activities adhere to mission and long-term goals.

Given that this community's vision is to be a model of sustainable living for the wider culture—as is true for many groups—it further makes sense to include non-community members on the Board because of (hopefully) their ability to see more clearly what it will take to bridge between what the community is offering and what the mainstream is available to receiving, which is no simple thing to navigate.

The Lead Up
In this instance there were two particular positions in the community that were hired by the Board, and it came time to evaluate how well those two people were doing in their roles. For the sake of this story let's cleverly refer to them as Position A and Position B. Having gone through iterations of this before (evaluating how well managers and committees are functioning in their roles) the community had developed some years earlier a standard evaluation form for this purpose. To be clear, this form was an internal document that had not been run by the Board for approval because most roles in the community are not subject to Board review.

That said, when it came to evaluate the people in Position A and Position B, the Board was delighted to make use of the evaluation form and process that had already been vetted and was familiar to the community. The norm in this community is that evaluations proceed thus:

o  The Personnel Committee announces that the evaluation is underway (for a set period of time), and sends an electronic link to the job description and the evaluation form. Note that everyone in the community is given a chance to evaluate job performance: that includes the Board, other managers who work alongside this person as a peer, staff who work underneath this manager, and even people in the community who are only occasionally affected by this person's work. While it's common that only a small number fill out evaluations, the net is cast wide.

o  After the comment period ends, Personnel makes sure that copies of all evaluations are sent to the hiring entity (the Board in this case) and to the person being evaluated.

o  The hiring entity then meets with the person being evaluated and discusses what surfaced in the evaluations and decides how best to proceed.

o  At the end of this face-to-face review, both the person being evaluated and someone representing the hiring entity sign a form indicating that this meeting took place and that all parties have seen and had a chance to discuss the points raised in the evaluations. This signed document then gets turned in to Personnel to become part of that person's permanent employee record—which is kept confidential, accessible only to Personnel, the hiring entity, and the person themselves.

It is important to note that this sequence is spelled out in the evaluation form.

The Train Wreck
When Person A was evaluated, only a small number of people filled out forms. While more participation had been hoped for, the process went smoothly. For the most part the feedback was positive and it was not difficult to discuss the ways in which improvement was desired.

Things did not go so well with the evaluation of Person B, which occurred right after evaluating Person A. The number of people filling out evaluations was again small, but this time there was considerably more critical feedback. When Personnel dutifully passed along copies of the evaluations to the person being evaluated, a couple of Board members blew a gasket.

What was Personnel thinking when it blithely shared raw critical comments with Person B? While Personnel was just doing its job—as delineated in the evaluation process—the Board members who were shocked had apparently not digested how evaluations were done in the community, and at least one of them rued the candor with which they described Person B's shortfalls. In fact, it seems the complaining Board members didn't even read the evaluations forms, where the process was laid out. Oops!

In fairness to the upset Board members, they were seeing this through the lens of how things are typically done in the mainstream, where critical comments tend to be summarized (and defanged) before being passed along to the person being evaluated. This simultaneously protects the recipient from being overwhelmed by the bow wave of criticism (however large it is), makes evaluators feel safer in being candid, and makes it less likely that bad blood will result between evaluator and employee.

Going the other way, sanitized feedback is more vague (both in terms of the specifics of what has been challenging, and in terms of how it can often be crucial knowing who gave comments in order to frame their meaning properly), which blunts their value. In line with its commitment to direct and honest communication—including the hard stuff—the community has intentionally embraced an evaluation process where feedback is passed along unadulterated. (If you can't say it to their face, don't say it.) If the recipient struggles to take it in, the community will provide support (this is not about treating people as piñatas, letting them dangle in the wind while everyone gets free swings).

Finally, passing along evaluations unedited saves the time it takes to craft a sensitive and balanced summary (no one in community complains that's there's too little to do) and neatly eliminates the danger of someone inadvertently seeing the unexpurgated evaluations at a later date, thus defusing what might become time bombs. (And don't tell me that never happens.)

The After Grow
What makes this a compelling story is that no one is wrong and there's considerable tenderness about which road to take. Which path leads to a fuller transmittal of critical information and which leads to its most constructive treatment?

While I applaud the community for bravely setting a high bar for communication standards by embracing direct feedback, there's plenty of room to question whether that quashes the expression of concerns. This is a nuanced conversation that needs to include both an assessment of what's possible now, and what we want to be possible in the future. (If you are not living the change you want to be, how will you ever get there?)

I think the community gets high marks for having a full-featured evaluation process, yet a lower grade for weak responsiveness to the call for evaluations. There is also work for the community to do in bringing the Board into greater awareness about the ways in which the community is expressly trying to be different than the mainstream culture (as well as work for the Board to do in reading forms before they fill them out).

Like a lot of things in community, robust evaluations—ones that are accurate, comprehensive, compassionate, and constructive—are a work in progress.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Doing Your Work

Suppose you're part of a cooperative group that makes decisions by consensus and there's an important issue under discussion. At the end of the first meeting it's clear that a lot of people see the issue differently than you do. While the group has not yet drafted a proposal about how to respond, what is your work—as a responsible member of the group—to be ready for that step?

For any process to function well it's helpful if the participants are relatively self-aware and are willing to look at the ways in which they may be stuck, or not owning their portion of what may be difficult. That's especially true in consensus, where one obstinate person can monkey wrench the whole shebang.

That said, even if you agree that it's important to do your "personal work," what does that mean? Here's a list of nine ways you might go about that. While this list is not exhaustive, it's highly suggestive. Think of it as priming the pump.

1. Are you respecting the views of those who think differently than you?
While you have the right to have your opinions taken into account; that's paired with the responsibility to take into account those of others. Have you done that?

2. Are you discerning the difference between personal preferences and what's best for the group?
While it's fine to give voice to what you'd prefer, have you paused to think through how much of that is legitimately in the group's interest, as derived from group values?

3. Are you owning your mistakes?
On those occasions when the group proceeds despite your concerns and everything works out fine, do you afterwards adjust your thinking in light of what happens? Do you admit to others that your fears proved baseless?

The flip side of this is celebrating (note that I did not say "gloating") when your concerns turn out to be justified. The lesson here is that your assessments are sound—please remain courageous in expressing them.

4. Are you considering both the head response and the belly response?
We take in, process, and "know" things in a wide variety of ways. While the default mode of examination in Western culture is to share your best thinking, there is also emotional intelligence and body knowing. Are they invited to your inner council also? Perhaps more importantly, are they taken seriously when their advice diverges from what you think?

5. Are you letting the work happen?
Sometimes we allow our busy lives to crowd out the time needed to digest the issues at hand and to come to know fully why we've responded as we have. Do we protect adequate time for reflection, and are we sufficiently disciplined to use that time well.

6. If you're having an emotional reaction, are your clearing that first, before deciding what action to take relative to the presenting issue?
Strong reactions are often accompanied by strong distortion and distraction. If you don't first attend to working through the upset, it can be the very devil sorting through what's best for the group.

7. Are you exploring what's at stake?
Sometimes it's illuminating to look closely at why a thing matters—both to you personally and to the group. What's the bad thing that might happen if you don't get your way?

8. Have you slept on it?
For some of us, subconscious processing—the kind of thing that happens when you're not paying conscious attention to a thing—can yield an insight. Sometimes we awaken to a sense of resolution even though we went to bed troubled. (Meditation may produce the same effect.)

9. If you're the kind of person who likes to talk through things with others, are you being careful to not solely discuss things with those who share your views?
While the theory of talking things through with others is that we'll be less likely to get stuck in our own tape loops, sometimes listeners just reinforce our prejudices. If you purposefully seek out the ear of someone known to have a different view than you, you're far less likely to become ensnared in this silken trap.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Exit Dynamics in Community

Although it's not what folks generally have their attention on when they start or join communities, the other side of the coin is that people leave. To be sure, this can happen for a wide variety of reasons. Let me give you a hypothetical dozen—all of which I've witnessed:

1.  Maybe the bread winner in your household just had their job transferred to Kalamazoo or Timbuktu, and they really want to keep that job.

2.  Maybe your 15-year-old got busted for smoking pot in the bathroom of the public library (there's a reason that "sophomoric" is an adjective that refers to poor judgment) and you're heart sick over the possibility that the negative publicity will give the community a black eye and lead to your family being ostracized in the community.

3.  Maybe your mother is getting to the point where she needs one of her adult children to live nearby, and none of your siblings has enough flexibility in their life to answer the bell. You do what you gotta do and it's time to give back to Mom.

4.  Maybe your daughter's asthma has worsened to where you have to move to a climate with lower humidity.

5.  Maybe you love all the coffee shops, liberal politics, and Powell's bookstore, but if you spend one more winter in Portland's gray drizzle your SAD (which is bad) will make your partner mad and it's time to move to a sunnier pad where you can both be glad.

6.  Maybe you're sick unto death of your neighbor's barking dog and, after years of struggle, you're willing to move so you can finally count on getting a decent night's sleep.

7.  Maybe you can no longer tolerate the interminable meetings. Making decisions together sounded OK in theory, but OMG.

8.  Maybe your youngest child just left for college and the nest is empty. You don't want to be rattling around in all that house but there is nothing smaller available in the community, so downsizing means moving.

9.  Maybe your marriage has just dissolved and you cannot bear the thought of continuing to live in the same community as your ex. (Maybe 10 years from now, but not next week.)

10.  Maybe your mildly hyperactive daughter has been accused of bullying the neighbor kids and is no longer welcome in community play groups with her peers. Though the kids still want to be together, the other parents won't allow it. You feel your kid is being scapegoated, and don't want to live in a community where other parents seem unwilling to look at how their child is contributing to challenging dynamics.

11.  Maybe you came to community expressly to learn natural building techniques and how to incorporate energy saving technology into everyday life. Now that you've learned all that, you're ready to head off to your mountain top property in Colorado to build your dream home and retire next to a trout stream.

12.  Maybe you can no longer tolerate hearing youngsters scream at community dinners (ruining adult conversation) and you're bone weary of tripping over scooters and Big Wheels strewn about the pathways at night—right where the kids left them.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. There are many reasons why people leave. Sometimes it's because there's a problem in the community that's not resolving; sometimes there are personal reasons that have nothing to do with the community; sometimes it's a bit of both.

From the community's perspective there are three particular possibilities that I want to highlight. These are important both because there may be chances to turn things around even at the eleventh hour, and because it's an opportunity for the community to learn what it might do differently in the future.

Possibility A: Where the member is facing a personal challenge that suggests leaving and may not have explored how much the community could be an ally in finding a response that wouldn't require moving away

In this dynamic there is probably no expectation that the community has anything to offer, and it's quite possible that the member has not even made an attempt to seek help from the community. But that doesn't mean there are no options!

For this to have room to fully bloom I think it makes sense for representatives of the community (Membership Committee?) to pro-actively, yet discreetly, approach the person or couple to see if they're open to exploring how the community might be able to provide some outside-of-the-box support.

If the openness is there (no arm twisting, please) the support team can find out details of the situation beyond what is known publicly and perhaps help with spade work to follow through on promising suggestions, either on the private side (directly with individuals) or the public side (using community resources). Even if no appreciable help is realized through this effort, it will land well that the attempt was made and the community will feel better that it went the extra mile.

Possibility B: Where there are challenges in the community that have been named, but attempts at resolution have been unsatisfactory and the person is ready to leave in frustration

In this dynamic there is likely to be some hurt feelings, perhaps in many directions. It is a delicate thing knowing when you've tried enough, and when it's time to let go and move on. Not all problems are solvable and not all people are meant to live together. Exit can be the right choice.

Yet there can be considerable gold in panning through the dross of failed attempts at conflict resolution—if you approach it with an open, what-can-we-learn attitude, rather than with a how-can-we-assign-blame perspective. While it may not be easy to get the protagonists to engage in a post-mortem analysis (who wants to pick the scab off?), you might have success if a neutral team (Membership, I'm thinking of you again) approached with a promise to simply listen, to make sure there's clarity about that person's side of events and how it landed for them.

It's possible that this kind of listening will lead to an insight about how things could get unstuck if approached differently, and—if it's not too late—those may still be tried. But I wouldn't hold my breath. Mostly the point of this kind of examination is to learn how to do things better next time; how to not dig the hole so deep that no one can get out.

Possibility C: Where there are challenges in the community that have not been named publicly, yet the person is willing to leave over them

This dynamic is a particularly interesting one because you may not know it's even in play unless you're privy to inside information or someone tips you off. The public presentation is that the person (or couple) has announced that they're leaving for personal reasons that have nothing to do with community dynamics (after all, they have to say something about why their leaving), but that's not the case, or at least not the whole story. How will you know to ask about this if you don't know it's happening?

Why would people do this? Perhaps it's too embarrassing to disclose their reactions in group. Maybe they're conflict averse and would rather leave than try to work it out. Possibly they're intimidated by the particular folks they're conflicted with and don't have the gumption to face bully dynamics. Maybe there are a bunch of small things, no one of which is fatal, but the accumulation is overwhelming.
The beauty of this possibility is that if you're following my advice about being pro-active in Possibility A, the interviewing group might discover that it's really Possibility C (where the "personal reasons" were trumped up to deflect inquiries about community dynamics), or a combination of the two (where there are both personal reasons and community reasons). If you uncover this dynamic, you may have a chance to still work the conflict (by whatever means your group has in place for that purpose). But even if it's too late for that, you get more accurate information about the ways in which the community has fallen short, which gives you a leg up on dealing with whatever broke down.

Exit Interviews
With all of the above in mind, let's drill down on what you might ask if you're interviewing someone who has announced they intend to leave. Here are some questions you might pose:

o  How well did life in the community work for you and your family? What were the highlights; what was hard?
o  Did you find the community to be as advertised? If not, please describe the ways in which there was a misunderstanding about what you'd find, and give us any suggestions you have about how to correct those.

o  What suggestions do you have for how we could more accurately describe what life in our community is like? Please be specific.

o  What would you say to a prospective or incoming new member that you wished had been said to you?

o  Did you get the interpersonal support you were looking for as a member of the community? If not, what can you tell us about how we fell short?

o  Are there ways that you wish the community could be doing more for its members? If so, please describe the ways.

o  What, if any, aspects of community agreements did you really appreciate, and which do you wish were different?

o  What, if any, aspects of community culture did you really appreciate, and which do you wish were different? 

o  Are there any unresolved issues related to community life that are a factor in your decisions to leave? If so, please tell us what they are.

o  To the extent that there are personal reasons (unrelated to community life) influencing your decision to leave, have you tried to get help from the community in resolving those issues such that you could stay? If not, or you are willing to try more, we invite you to tell us in detail what those personal factors are. (While we cannot promise to pull a rabbit out of the hat, we're willing to give it a try.)

o  If you had sufficient support from the community, would you be willing to try any further to work things out so that you could stay in the community? If so, what would that support look like?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Like Daughter, Like Dad

OK, I know this is going to come across as fairly geeky, but hey, I was a math major.

Playing with Powers
Tomorrow, my daughter, Jo, will turn 27. Not only is that the bloom of life, but it's three cubed. While novel in and of itself, what caught my attention is that I'm four cubed (64 if you're scoring at home). I realize, of course, that it's not particularly difficult to have a parent who was 37 when their child was born, but think about it. Realistically, this is the only dual-cubed parent-child linkage that is likely without raising eyebrows.

Sure, I could be one of those older guys who just can't stop breeding (think David Letterman) and be 64 when my child was eight (two cubed), or an undisciplined teenager who got their family started right out of the box at the testosterone-enriched age of 19 (resulting in dad being only 27 when their offspring turned eight).

Powerful Playing
While you may think that math oddities are not a particularly loving or respectful way to celebrate the anniversary of my daughter's nativity, you'd be wrong. In addition to being related by blood, Jo and I share a geeky fascination with board games. (While I know that equates to "bored games" to many, not so with us.) In fact, she has boardgamegeek.com bookmarked on her laptop. 

Let me put this in perspective. Last month I spent a week in Guelph ON doing some consulting with forming communities and attending a four-day conference in nearby Kitchener. Because the conference ended too late for me to catch the once-a-day bus to Ann Arbor MI, I had a leisurely last evening with Derek, who was my concierge and chauffeur all week.

While I put a pork roast in a crock pot with vegetables for dinner—cooking for a group is an excellent way for me to relax—Derek rustled up some friends to come over for board games after I assured him that I thought I could hang with his crowd. After dinner five of us settled on a game of Puerto Rico, which is one of the first excellent no-dice games. It was released in 2002 and nominated for the coveted Spiel des Jahres Award (Game of the Year in Germany). Twelve years old—which is long in the tooth for board games—it's holding steady as the #2 rated game at boardgamegeek.com.

Having played before, I adopted the high-income strategy, emphasizing tobacco and sugar (which allowed me to buy the best buildings) and I cruised to victory with 25% more victory points than the person in second. In contrast, when I play with Jo and Peter (my son-in-law), I'm lucky if I win one time in three. When it comes to board games, I live in a tough family.

Additional Power Plays
While it would have been enough that July 23 is Jo's birthday, there's more. I learned Sunday that my good friend, Jennifer, has a daughter Cynder, who'll turn 16 tomorrow (which, of course, is two to the fourth). In turn, that reminded me that for five months last winter I was 64 (eight squared) while my stepson, Jibran, was 16 (four squared). Pretty powerful stuff, eh?

 
Finally, on a less quirky note, Dancing Rabbit founders Tony Sirna and Rachel Katz will be leaving the community tomorrow to begin an indefinite leave of absence. As the last two standing since their land purchase in 1997, it's a fairly big deal. Last night the community celebrated their inestimable contributions with an appreciation evening, which included oral testimonials, the presentation of a book of written memories, a puppet show, cupcakes, and a dance party. (Isn't that just about the best way to be sent off with love?)

Here was the tribute I gave Tony:


This last May I got my 40-years-in-the-wildeness-of-community-living pin. While that’s a long road, for the last half of that journey I’ve been walking with you, Tony. That’s two decades. Frequently enough, we were in the same room.

I remember your first FIC meetings at Christ Church of the Golden Rule in fall 1995, where you helped staff the Community Bookshelf table. I remember visiting the Dancing Rabbit House that you rented on Prince St in Berkeley near the Ashby BART, before you started your cross-country land search. I remember facilitating the where-will-we-buy-land meetings on Sandhill’s front porch with Rachel, Cecil, Aaron, and Halley. We go back a long ways.

You have been a precious friend because, like me, you are a community builder, you've always been able to see the big picture, and you’re not afraid of the fire. We both know what it’s like to be heart sore about our community, and to come to grips with the painful decision to leave it.

I appreciate you as someone willing to trail blaze as a leader in cooperative culture, as someone who emphasized social change work ahead of income production, and as someone who was a good friend in a storm—and we’ve seen plenty of heavy seas together. You were at both of my weddings to Ma’ikwe: the first one seven years ago and the one last week.

While I’m sad you’re moving away, I don’t expect to lose our special connection. From now forward we’ll just have to substitute quality for a paucity of opportunity.

Whatever is next, Tony, my heart goes with you.

No matter how you slice it, July 23 is setting up to be a powerful day.






Saturday, July 19, 2014

What the Duck?


I've been living at Dancing Rabbit since November and we have a new thing that's been going on the last several weeks: the traveling menagerie. There's a subgroup here called Critters that has a bunch of, well, critters.

Not only that, but they move 'em around. You've heard the old saw about the grass is greener on the other side of the fence? Well the Critters operate on a variation of that theme: the grass is always greener if you keep moving the fence.

They have a lightweight flexible electric fence that allows them to construct a temporary enclosure, which they relocate every so many days for the grazing pleasure of their small herd of four goats and a miniature donkey. If you need the vegetation brought under control somewhere, let them know and you can get your field or side yard into the rotational queue. If you don't mind the bleating, and the somewhat irregular trim heights, you can effectively get your lawn mowed and fertilized in one go with no drain on the national oil reserves. It's a pretty sweet deal.

In addition, they're experimenting with a free ranging band of three ducks—Khaki Cambells to be precise, two hens and a drake. The image above depicts the breed.

Nowadays you can round the corner on a building and run into the duck patrol cruising the neighborhood. On the one hand, it's disconcerting (WTF, did I just see three ducks walk by?). On the other, it's evocative of throwback depictions of medieval village life, where humans and animals commingled far more than they do today (think Pieter Brueghel): 
While you don't tend to see many DR folks wearing headgear with ear flaps (at least not in summer) duck liberation has been a definite step toward inter-species integration.

To be clear, this did not happen in a cultural vacuum, nor is it without boundaries. For years, the village dogs (at least the well-mannered ones) have been allowed to enter the village pub on cold nights to cozy up to the fire, and so far no one has suggested that the make-way-for-ducklings movement be extended to include visiting privileges in the common house kitchen—for which I'm thankful (and so is the health department).

It's turned out that the unfettered ducks are popular (as well as novel). Among other things they tidy up under the mulberry trees, which are otherwise a damn nuisance when the prolific fruit starts dropping, staining everything sticky and purple. (Now it's just the duck shit that's purple.)

So far all the outdoor dogs, cats, and humans have managed to coexist amicably with the quackers, and we hope that continues.

While it's too early to tell if this trend will persist, the Critters are doing all they can to get their ducks in a row, so to speak, to secure and maintain social approbation. With respect to choreography though, getting ducks in a row is much harder to achieve. The little darlings do not exactly constitute a chorus line. (Have you ever tried to get ducks waddling in syncopation? I thought not.)

I've come to view them more as a band of roving minstrels, and I'm enjoying their spontaneous riffs—punctuated by their characteristic tail twitching dance routines—as noteworthy contributions to the improvisational passion play, Life in the Ecovillage, showing daily.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Group Works: Honor Each Person

This entry continues a series in which I'm exploring concepts encapsulated in a set of 91 cards called Group Works, developed by Tree Bressen, Dave Pollard, and Sue Woehrlin. The deck represents "A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings."

In each blog, I'll examine a single card and what that elicits in me as a professional who works in the field of cooperative group dynamics. My intention in this series is to share what each pattern means to me. I am not suggesting a different ordering or different patterns—I will simply reflect on what the Group Works folks have put together.

The cards have been organized into nine groupings, and I'll tackle them in the order presented in the manual that accompanies the deck:

1. Intention
2. Context
3. Relationship
4. Flow
5. Creativity
6. Perspective
7. Modeling
8. Inquiry & Synthesis
9. Faith

In the Relationship segment there are 10 cards. The sixth pattern in this segment is labeled Honor Each Person. Here is the image and thumbnail text from that card: 



Respect each person's essential human dignity. View others' unique beliefs, approaches and concerns as a resource for group wisdom. Tolerate and even embrace idiosyncrasies, knowing that each person brings their gifts to the whole more fully when affirmed and appreciated.

This is a rich and subtle pattern. On the one hand, it's obvious. Who would speak against honoring each person (or in favor of purposefully dishonoring others)? 

Yet we are largely unaware of custom, of the water we swim in—unless we're swimming in someone else's pond, such as when we travel abroad. For the most part custom becomes an unnoticed backdrop that rises to our consciousness only when something is different. And the more different, the more we notice. When you take into account that most of us have been deeply conditioned in an individualistic culture, where identity is tied to the sense in which we are unique (rather than in a cooperative culture where we celebrate the ways in which we are similar), then difference tends to be strongly associated with distance. People who are different tend to become "other."

We may feel threatened by customs that are different than our own. We may feel confused. We may feel unwelcome.

Worse, styles may clash. A person who grew up in a blue collar family where mom and dad shouted and occasionally threw crockery when upset may behave in a way that feels overwhelmingly unsafe to a person whose family never raised their voice at the dinner table and only one person spoke at a time. Words and phrases that are precise and comfortable for a well-educated person may come across as unintelligible and manipulative to someone who barely finished 8th grade. Swear words are straight-talking to some; blasphemous to others.

In short, it's complicated. The trick, of course, is to focus on what's in the package, not on the wrapping.

The simple version of this is doing the work to not be triggered by the package (which includes dress, diction, skin color, emotional affect, physical disability, adornment, disfigurement, word choice, facial expressions, etc.), or at least to manage one's reactions. Yet this pattern runs deeper. It is not enough that you can parrot the words (or even the delivery); the object is to get what it feels like to be the other person; to see the dynamic through their eyes and their being. That is the deeper meaning of "honoring." It is much more than sharing the microphone.

Note the final portion of the text for this pattern: "... each person brings their gifts to the whole more fully when affirmed and appreciated."

The point here is that you will often not get what you might have gotten if you handle the opening poorly. Simply put, when people don't feel honored (or welcome) by their standards, they are far less likely to share what they have to give. If when they speak the audience stares back glassy eyed or checks their watches, it's not reasonable to expect them to pour their hearts out. 

In truly parochial settings, non-regulars can get labeled uncommunicative and surly for not sharing, yet the regulars may be altogether clueless about how unwelcoming they were. The newcomers experience no warmth or genuine interest in who they are or what they bring; the regulars experience boorish guests with off-putting habits, odd diction, and obscure reflections. It's a train wreck.

Does this mean you need to learn every culture's customs? No, but you can remember to ask a person what their customs of greeting are—rather than assume they'll be knowledgeable and comfortable with yours. 

When playing at home, the hallmark of honoring behavior is to be more curious than conforming; more accepting than judging. At an away game, it tends to work better if you watch and listen ahead of acting and speaking—the better to get a sense of local custom, before you inadvertently put your foot in something you'd rather you didn't… such as your mouth.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Seven-Year Stitch

Tomorrow, Ma'ikwe and I will recommit to our marriage.

While that may not seem such a momentous occasion given that the original ceremony was April 21, 2007 (which means our marriage is older than this blog, and not exactly above-the-fold front-page news), tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Ma'ikwe's decision to divorce me. It's also Bastille Day, the anniversary of the start of the French Revolution (325 years ago), marking the overthrow of tyranny and the French monarchy—just as Ma'ikwe was prepared to throw off the yoke of matrimony.

So it's no small thing to schedule our recommitment for July 14. Think of it as smudging the calendar. Right on the brink of dissolution, Ma'ikwe and I were carefully—over the course of the last 12 months—able to pick our way back from the edge of the falls without going over the edge and crashing on the rocks below.

It's been quite a year.

Marriage By the Numbers
Seven years ago we celebrated for four days. In the course of those four days we invoked four circles of community and enjoyed special meals with each: blood family, intentional community family, FIC family, and our spiritual family. The commitment ceremony featured four parts: past, community, who we are, and magic.

The first time we got married in the fourth month of a year ending in seven. Now we're getting re-married in the seventh month in a year ending in four. Balance. Ma'ikwe is an Enneagram Seven: the epicure and adventurer. In the seventh year of our marriage she'd had enough struggling and was ready to try something new. Yet she was also aware of the work set out for this type to mature and thrive:

Your spiritual journey is to search for right work and focused concentration. Spiritual growth will come to you when you approach life with disciplined sobriety instead of getting high on new ideas, options and plans. Like a stone skipping across a lake that sinks deeply when it comes to rest, you will do well to slow down, experience your inner depths, and focus on completion.

Freedom will exist when you accept the limitations of the present moment. Remember that envisioning something is not the same as manifesting it. True freedom comes with commitment and hard work—not from having unlimited options.

When I responded well to her decision to end the relationship (my therapist deserves a lot of credit here—I didn't know I had it in me), Ma'ikwe thought long and hard about whether to stay in the relationship longer, to see where additional work could get us. In the end though, she agreed and here we are.


Time on the Couch
Since last July, I've had 15 appointments with our therapist and couples counselor in Quincy IL (60 miles away). Sometimes Ma'ikwe and I went together; sometimes I went alone.

I've been working on my reactivity, clarifying what I want from the partnership, and delving into the murkiness of my sexual response. In turn, Ma'ikwe has been working on her tendency to withhold what she's thinking about, and to stop imagining that I'm upset with her whenever she catches me talking to myself (which I do a lot).

Recently we've been working on how to handle the situation when we both feel solid in our positions yet they don't match up. While this doesn't happen a lot (whew), it's not rare, and we've been learning how to accept occasional non-agreement without jeopardizing the partnership. The essential point is that we don't have to work through everything.

We have also been working on protecting intimate time together on a regular basis, and the primacy of consulting with one another before making major commitments. Slowly, we've been learning how to be better partners.

The Fork in the Road
It became clear to me last summer (in a way that I was loathe to face before Ma'ikwe's announcement last July 14) that I was going to have to choose between my marriage and my community, Sandhill Farm. This was not something I'd bargained for when we said "I do" seven years ago, and I had been resisting it even as Ma'ikwe was asking for more time together (after all, she had the option of moving to Sandhill; why did I have to be the one who gave up my home?).

But you only have to hit my on the head with a 2x4 once, so Ma'ikwe's divorce announcement got my attention. Facing the certainty of losing one, I was able to let go of my home and stick with the marriage—if Ma'ikwe would have me. (If she turned me down—a distinct possibility—then I still had my home of 40 years.)

I took a leave of absence from Sandhill right after Thanksgiving and have been living with Ma'ikwe since then at Moon Lodge, her house at Dancing Rabbit. While there have continued to be some things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day as well), we're mostly doing quite well. Well enough, in fact, for Ma'ikwe to put her seven-year itch behind her and recommit to the marriage.

Tomorrow, as we purposefully resew the threads of our commitment to one another—and begin wearing our rings again for the first time in a year—I'll be thinking of it as our Seven-Year Stitch.