Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Due Process versus Doing Process

Last week, I got in trouble at home when I started a dinner conversation on the front porch while one member was still in the kitchen, preparing something for the dogs while the rest of us were sitting down to eat. Her story was that I (and the rest of the cmty for allowing it) was being inconsiderate, even disrespectful by not waiting for her. I had announced at the dinner circle (with everyone present) that I wanted to have this conversation while we ate, and it was her view that it was my responsibility to wait until we were all assembled. In short, I should have cared more about including her.

[To be clear, she entered the conversation about five minutes into it. No decisions had been made in her absence and we paused to catch her up after she arrived. Nonetheless, she entered the room irritated by her feeling of being dissed, and participated critically in the discussion, turning what I thought was an exciting prospect—a media offer to showcase Sandhill's hallmark emphasis on food self-sufficiency—into a energy-sapping litany of all the things that could go wrong. What a downer. Dinner broke up with the proposal tabled until the next cmty mtg—slated for tomorrow.]

My view on this dynamic is quite different (now there's a shocker). While I agree that all members have the right to be included in conversations about matters affecting the cmty, I also think that members have the responsibility to show up in a timely way or accept that things will start without them. Respect is not a one-way street.

Due Process
There are a number of things about my fellow member's upset that are hard for me:
o While I had invited everyone into the conversation (making clear my intentions), she did not let others know about her plan to delay eating. She could, for instance, have said something like, "I'd really like to be part of that conversation; can you wait to start until I prepare something for the dogs?" We would have waited.
o This person does not always eat dinner. So it wasn't clear if she was ever coming to the porch.
o This person has a chronic pattern of squeezing in one more thing before a mtg and arriving late. At what point is she dissing others rather than the other way around?
o I have a lot of trouble with her transferring her undisclosed hurt (about our starting without her) into hyper-criticality about the topic. If she's walking into the room
upset, let's deal with that directly; don't take it out on the topic.

Doing Process
Clearly I'm not having any trouble getting righteous about my negative response to her criticism. But what's the point? By firing back at her with all of the above, I'm just making war. Worse, because I'm carefully wrapping it all in Process Principles, I'm essentially making it a Holy War (which is the most vicious kind of battle—one where you confer upon yourself the moral dispensation to ignore the decency and good intentions of the other side, and allow yourself to indulge in atrocities and mean-spirited attacks without guilt).

The point of good process is to serve as a guidepost for building relationships; for acting with respect and clarity. People take in, digest, and convey information differently. Good process is meant to help us keep those differences in view and to successfully navigate the gulfs separating our perspectives. It is not meant as a weapon, to fire upon the ships sailing across the gaps.

Just as therapists tend to be drawn to their field with an interest in their own healing, I've found that as a Process Consultant I get nearly constant chances to learn about my own blind spots, as I get tangled in my own feet.

Tempest in a Teapot
I'm giving a lot of attention to a relatively minor incident. A person feelings got hurt and we didn't sort it out very effectively in the moment. Even though no one meant a bad thing, it didn't go well. Shit happens.

The reason I'm writing about it is that, after chewing on it for a week, I've finally gotten past my Process Armor to find the golden nuggets about how I'm contributing to what's not working. When we return to the conversation in tomorrow's mtg, I'll be better prepared to speak from compassion, and check my high-mindedness at the door.

Over and over again, I get to take into my bones the essence of this aphorism from Arnie Mindell (author of Sitting in the Fire): "It's not about Truth; it's about Relationship."

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