Sunday, March 9, 2008

Family and Consensus

I'm in San Antonio this Sunday, recovering from my niece's nuptials yesterday. The wedding was lovely and it's great having a soft day to recover from the excitement and excesses of 250 people eating, drinking, and taking pictures until all hours of the night.

It was also the first time I'd been with all of my brothers and sisters (and their spouses) since my own wedding eleven months ago. Being with family is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and most challenging social dynamics I face, and that's what I want to write about today.

On the one hand, family represents my deepest roots, and is a connection that is very secure. On the other hand, my family patterns and history were mostly established during the years in which I was least socially evolved. They remember me as I was, and—even more embarrassing—I find it amazingly difficult not to behave as I did decades ago. It's humbling.

As an adult, I've lived in intentional cmty for the last 34 years. During that entire time, we've made decision by consensus, and that's meant learning a new way of solving problems and working through disagreements. in it's narrow sense, consensus is a way for groups to make decisions. in its broadest sense, consensus is a way of life. Nowhere do I face a greater opportunity to turn things around than when I'm with my family.

While occasionally I get a chance to make decisions with my family (like where to eat dinner last Friday evening), mostly it's just a matter of trying to navigate informal social contact. If I'm on my game, I can simply be curious about other people's perspectives and experiences—letting go of whether that's reciprocated. Instead of being eager to tell my stories, I can be eager to listen to theirs. I can practice the art of connecting one person's story with another's, and helping put people at ease by building a bridge to their struggles and successes. In short, I can let go of the focus being about me.

I think of it as guerrilla consensus. Where you bring to the moment the skills of paying attention and helping people connect without making a big deal about it. Mostly it's fun, and people tend to like being listened to carefully... I just wish I found it easier to do with my family—where all those years of petty irritations can come cascading back in a blink.

No comments: