Sunday, September 5, 2021

Distinguishing Between Having Concerns and the Way They Are Expressed

Today I want to examine a dynamic about which people frequently get confused—especially when they're upset: the difference between having concerns and the way they're expressed.

Suppose Person A does or says something that Person B finds outrageous. Perhaps A is perceived by B to be extreme or acting from personal interest that seems out of alignment with group values or agreements, or has sidestepped what B believes to be good process. Mind you, that may not be A's story (and probably isn't), but B is in reaction. Overwhelmingly, in my experience, they both have a point, but it goes pear-shaped when B does any of the following as a way of expressing their upset—rather than taking their concerns directly to A in a caring way, perhaps with third party help:

• Calling out A in a meeting (often with high affect).

• Railing about A in the parking lot to others.

• Unilaterally sabotaging or undermining something A acted on without group approval.

When this occurs and the choices B has made about how they're expressing their concerns is brought into question, the response is something on they order of, "Person A did an outrageous thing and I'm responding in kind. Now the gloves are off." Sigh. Does eye-for-eye frontier justice ever lead to world peace? Not that I can see. It's just war mongering. While B thinks A started it, does that justify fanning the flames?

Rather than constructively addressing the issues B has with A, they're piling wood on the fire and turning up the heat. Yuck.

Cleaning It Up

OK, so what can you do if you're wearing the FEMA hat? The first order of business is putting the fire out—stopping the sequence of provocative words and deeds. In general, the way in is through making sure that upset people have been heard, starting with the person perceived to be most in distress and working down the line. The concept is that people don't hear that well when they're upset, and you have to unclog the ears first. (People almost always deescalate if they feel heard accurately and their point of view is understood without judgment. Mind you, I'm only talking about hearing, not agreeing—don't conflate the two.)

To be fair, this step can be complicated by a third party (Person C) having a reaction to how B expressed themselves (see the list above), and their urge may be to comment on that first. Don't do that (if the goal is to turn this around). When people are upset they are rarely open to hearing comments about their actions. It works far better if you connect with B before attempting anything else. For that matter, I have the same advice for working with A, who may be poised to retaliate to what they see as B's aggression.

After you have established that all upset parties have been heard (to their satisfaction, not yours) then you can proceed to tackle two things: a) what are the concerns that B (and perhaps others) have with what A originally said or did; and b) what are the concerns with how B expressed their concerns. While these can be done in any order, I think it's important at the outset to make clear that you'll do them both, and one at a time. When working with messy dynamics, it almost always work better if you can break it down into components (simplifying the conversation), and not allow a conversation to mushroom into a free-for-all examination of past unresolved incidents (they can be done later if necessary). Keep it contained!

At the end of the day, people won't remember whether you tackled a) before b) or the other way around, so long as both were fully and fairly addressed.

Choices When Upset

Although this doesn't always occur to people in the heat of the moment, you always have choices about how you respond when you are in reaction. For what it's worth, here is the sequence I recommend for handling this on a personal level:

1. Developing the capacity to understand that you are having a reaction—by which I mean a nontrivial emotional response. It's a normal thing and doesn't mean you're a bad person. It's data. It's a sign that you feel something is off.

2. Take time to examine what that means to you; where the reaction comes from. If you are Person B, to what extent is this about what Person A did? To what extent is this about Person A (unresolved tensions or low trust with them, rather than about the specific action that set you off)? To what extent is this more about you than about A (something you are struggling with internally, or perhaps with another person and that unresolved tension has been triggered by what A did, but isn't really about them or that specific action)? It could be a combination of these—people are complicated.

Essentially, this step is taking time to crystallize what your concern is about, and what meaning you can find in the strength of your reaction. This step is meant to be helpful to you, independent of what happens further.

3. What is your menu of constructive choices based on the outcome of the previous step? By "constructive" I mean potential actions you could take that have a reasonable prospect of opening up a dialog to address your concerns. This probably translates into how best to inform A (and perhaps the group) to the fact that you have concerns about what A did and are in reaction. 

The priority here should be on how to clean this up, not on expressing judgment or condemnation (which is essentially indulgent and rarely helpful).

4. Making a choice about how to proceed. At any step along the way I think it's fine to elicit help from friends—not to faction build, but to explore your feelings, to help discern their meaning, and develop a menu of options about to proceed.

Note: it tends to be less provocative if you can report your emotional reaction, rather than being in it. Thus, "I am angry that you parked the community pickup in front of a fire hydrant and it got hauled off by the police. This is the third time you've done this in the last three months and I'm frustrated that you're not being more careful of community property" is different from "You asshole! Don't you ever learn? This it the third goddam time you've mindlessly parked the pickup in front of a fire hydrant it got hauled off! Even an idiot would have figured out how to stop doing this by now." See the difference?

This is not about suppressing your reaction, including your upset, it's about being mindful of how you go about it and how it will land.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Questions About Working with Emotions in Group

This is from the mail bag. Back in December, Carolina wrote:

If you are in the middle of mediation, how would it help to appear to take sides? To gush about one person? And I see now I made a mistake—watch what someone does not what they say. That's just a rule for life, and a good one if you live in close proximity.

I'm trying to make sense of the madness. Of listening to all people and their hurts and concerns and then not seem to really hear all of them. Plus, I wonder how useful lots of talk is when the actions are not being taken. I wonder who is really afraid of big emotions. That is a theme I hear on this blog. Others are focused on forming a community where all can be respected. As an outsider, that must be tricky to figure out when some are more persuasive than others and without a therapy background, some mental health issues may not be noticed.

There's a lot here. 

1. Appearing to Take Sides

When I'm working with someone in distress, my number one priority is connecting with the person at the experiential level—showing that person that I can feel what it's like to be them. Thus, it's important to get the affect right, not just the words. In doing so, I may come across as siding with that person, when all I'm really doing is seeing them as fully as possible.

For this approach to work well, I have to offer the same quality engagement with others in the conflicted dynamic. My experience is that others will generally give me room to be present for others, so long as I am present for them in turn.

To be clear, I am not "gushing about one person"; I am connecting with them.

2. Connecting Words with Actions

When I'm working with someone in distress, I'm simultaneously tracking what they're saying with their words, and what their saying with their energy. Sometimes, these two don't align, which always gets my attention, usually indicating that we haven't yet gotten to the bottom of what's going on for that person (say, when the speaker reports anger yet expresses themself in well-modulated tones; or the other way, when there is a lot of force and intensity in their speech, yet all of the words are about ideas rather than feelings).

Sometimes people make promises about future behavior that they don't keep ("I won't do that again," and then they do). Of course, you can't know whether the follow through will be there when a person makes a commitment to shift future behavior, but I think it's important to give them the benefit of the doubt. I'm not asking groups to be naive, but if the group doesn't allow for the possibility of change, it is far less likely to occur. 

3. Fear of Strong Emotions

—I wonder who is really afraid of big emotions. 

In my experience this is widespread. While it's common to find some support for working emotionally in groups, it is extremely rare to not find pockets of resistance to that. The wider culture does an abysmal job of preparing people to articulate their feelings and to listen closely when others express their feelings. For a number of people, their personal experience with the expression of strong feelings is that people are going to be targeted, dumped on, or abused. If that's all you know, is it any wonder you mistrust going there?

I focus a good deal on working emotionally because I think it's a critical skill, and it's typically hard for groups to buy into it. It's a heavy lift.

Just this week I had an example that illuminates my point. There was a contentious issue in the group and I made room for everyone to state how the topic touched them—not what they wanted to happen (that would come later), but the ways in which they were impacted by the topic, or the group dynamic in relationship to it. Not surprisingly, some people were worked up and they expressed their upset in the session—which was exactly what I had in mind. Afterwards I got roundly criticized by a few members who are uncomfortable with strong feelings being expressed in meetings, having found the criticisms to be raw, uncivil, and unproductive.

Interestingly, three of my detractors have been reported to be among the most provocative members of the group outside of meetings, where they apparently feel it's OK to unload on others they're upset with, or otherwise engage in provocative acts. In other words, they believe there should be special norms for meetings that don't apply otherwise—or at least not to them.

I'm scratching my head trying to understand how that works.

4. Respect

This is not just a song by Aretha Franklin. While almost everyone agrees that respect is a good thing, that concept is seldom unpacked to understand its nuances. Upon examination, it turns out that—surprise!—not everyone defines respect in the same way. Let me give an example of how this can go awry.

For some, respect means a willingness to hear their truth, in their own voice, which may be accompanied by strong passion. For another, respect may mean never raising your voice when communicating. It isn't difficult to see how these two perspectives don't play nice with each other, and each can feel they were promised respect that the other is not willing to give. Uh oh.

5. Knot Therapy

I do not have training in psychology and am not qualified to diagnose mental health issues. While they are a real thing and may be a factor in what's going on, I advocate engaging on the behavior level (rather than dabbling in amateur psychoanalyzing)—what actions are acceptable and which ones aren't. Never mind what the roots of those behaviors are, let's deal with what's in the room, let's unpack the reactions, and let's decide how to move forward. So the first point for me to make is that I am making no therapeutic claims about engaging with reactivity.

Better, I think, is to see what I am advocating as a way to untie the knots that are constricting circulation among members. In doing this work I try studiously to avoid the trap of allowing strong feelings to determine the menu of what gets considered. While I think it's beneficial to welcome strong statements germane to the topic, I do not allow those to dictate what we can or cannot discuss. I prefer to see the feelings as data, rather than as manifest destiny.

At the end of the day, it will be the group's work to discern how best to balance all the factors that are play, and you don't get extra credit for having spoken with high passion—though neither should you be penalized for it.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Hildebrand Elegy

Stan Hildebrand died this morning at a Kansas City hospital. He was 75. He had been in pain for a while, battling a peptic ulcer, and his body just gave out.

Stan and I journeyed through life together as fellow members of Sandhill Farm for 35 years, and I'm taking time today to recall this special person, who was forever curious and adventurous.

Stan first visited Sandhill in the summer of 1979. He had hitched to the community one summer afternoon, arriving unannounced. From that inauspicious beginning (dropping in at communities is considered poor etiquette) things improved greatly. I was the only one home when he walked up the gravel road, and it wasn't long before he was helping me dig postholes and install fence posts for pasturing our milk cow. It was the start of a relationship centered around farming and building community that endured for half my life.

We were an unlikely pair in that we came to our confluence from completely different paths. He grew up as the eldest son of Jake & Alma, a Mennonite farming family in the Red River Valley of southern Manitoba, near Halbstadt. I grew up the son of Val and Bob, in the Republican suburbs of Chicago. We both were acorns who walked away from the conservative trees from which we fell, to explore the world with fresh eyes, nurturing a root interest in trying to make a positive difference in a world that was largely going to hell in an adversarial, competitive handcart.

Stan quickly established himself as Sandhill's farmer, and taught himself to become an expert in the homestead manufacture of sorghum syrup—the community's main agricultural cash crop. After a number of years struggling to make ends meet solely through food production, he and I stabilized the community's income through value-based outside work. While I was an administrator for the Fellowship for Intentional Community and offered my services as a facilitator and trainer in cooperative group process, Stan became an independent organic inspector.

I have deep memories of working the fields before dawn on summer days to hoe out in-the-row weeds from our fields of sorghum, corn, and beans. As organic farmers our herbicides were attached at our wrists. While a field cultivator would do a decent job of removing weeds between rows, we had no mechanical advantage for removing weeds in the row (excepting what we could effect with a rotary hoe if conditions were right). 

That meant early morning trips to the fields in July and August (to beat the heat) and walking the rows to remove foxtail, purslane, bindweed, velvetleaf, and cocklebur, one plant at a time. While progress could be excruciatingly slow working alone, it was a social occasion when you did it as a team. Stan was most often the one who organized the weeding parties.

Trial by Fire

Sandhill first made sorghum in 1977—two years before Stan arrived on the scene—and it was the community's signature crop until a couple years ago. Over the course of more than three decades we overhauled our cooking process twice, always guided by Stan's insatiable hunger for making a better product.

Each fall, harvest would begin somewhere around the autumnal equinox and extend two or three weeks into October—until we either ran out of cane, or ran out of weather, as the syrup would be ruined by a hard freeze. In the early years, we cooked sorghum by the batch method, where one body of raw juice would be boiled down to a finished state in one go. In a typical 36-hour period we might cook 500 gallons of juice nonstop—in several batches, one after the other—to yield 6o gallons of salable syrup.

When we were in full tilt production, cooks had to stay up through the night every other day to stay ahead of the field work. During those intensive stretches, Stan and I would often take turns being the person who covered the graveyard shifts from midnight to dawn—mesmerized by the flames of the wood fires, and the sweet smell of the softly popping syrup as it gradually thickened. Even though we weren't awake at the same time, we were bonded by the work—generating a quarter of the community's income in three weeks.

I cherished partnering with Stan as a long-term member of Sandhill—as someone who joined with me to create and sustain an open attitude toward new members. Often there would be pressure from newer members to be more selective about additional people joining the group (the pattern, which I've encountered repeatedly in my work with intentional communities, is that the last ones to arrive have a tendency to want to close the door) and Stan was my steadfast ally in resisting the urge to pull up the welcome mat for the newest immigrants.

Stan and I had different personalities, and different sensibilities, but the dream of community and a strong belief in the basic goodness of people burned brightly in us both. I will be eternally grateful to have had him as a partner in building an open-hearted community.

Extended Family

In addition to being community members together, my life with Stan was more closely woven together by his becoming a second father to my son, Ceilee.

Ceilee, was born to Ann and me in 1981. Shortly after the birth, Ann and I broke up as an intimate couple and Stan got together with Ann. For the next 18 years, all of us—Stan, Ann, Ceilee, and me—lived together at Sandhill and Ceilee effectively had three parents. While that wasn't something I was particularly looking for, it worked well. I never felt threatened by Stan (he didn't try to replace me as Ceilee's father), and it was a bonus for Ceilee.

It's All in a Name

Stan had many nicknames at Sandhill, but the one that stuck the most was "Pooch," which had a convoluted etymology. Before coming to Sandhill, Stan was in a relationship with Sandy and the two of them experimented with community homesteading in Guatemala for three years in the early '70s (Tierra del Ensueño). During that time Sandy took to calling him Poophead—later altered to Poopsie—lampooning his grumpier side when the two of them were struggling in the highlands of Central America. Sandy shared this history with us (she tried living at Sandhill also but didn't stayed long), and Poopsie became his moniker.

When Shining arrived as the second child born at Sandhill, half a year after Ceilee, she had trouble saying Poopsie. It came out more like "Pooshie" which later got shortened to "Pooch." For reasons that will forever be obscure to me, that corruption of a small child's temporary mispronunciation stuck, and it's still the name I use to evoke Stan today. (Another thing that Stan and I shared was an appreciation for whimsy and life's oddities.)

All of that said, by any name Pooch, I'll miss you.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Support for Support Teams

In my work with cooperative group (water I've been swimming in professionally since 1987) I notice trends. In particular, where do groups struggle and what might help. Sometimes this leads to thinking about generic issues, such as communication, understanding consensus and navigating its challenges, meeting facilitation, diversity, and working with emotions (to name a few things that I offer concentrated assistance with).

I also specialize in organizational structure—right relationship between plenary and committees (or teams), and where the hot spots (and weak spots) are. I observe patterns, and I try to develop solutions to the challenges. In general I've come to the view that the big four committees that groups often need help with are:

Steering

Process—under which there are two potent subcommittees: Facilitation and Heart (offering assistance to members in interpersonal tension who are not able to find their way through it on their own).

Membership

Participation (non-monetary contributions to the well-being and maintenance of the community)

I have written about all of these previously in this blog (you can search by key word). Today I want to add a new concept that has recently emerged for me: The Support Team.

The basic idea is that members occasionally need help with meeting basic needs and may find it awkward to ask for it—especially if the only channels available are an announcement in plenary, a notice on the common house bulletin board, or with a message posted on the community list serve. 

While some do not have any trouble asking for what they need; others do. Perhaps they don't want to be a burden, perhaps they feel uncomfortable because they are uncertain about whether they'll be able to respond in kind and don't want to run a social capital deficit, perhaps it's embarrassing to discuss personal needs outside the household, perhaps fear of being turned down is too excruciating to take the risk of asking, perhaps they feel overwhelmed at the prospect of organizing and making good use of positive responses, perhaps they are unsure what to ask for and don't want to be vague or inarticulate. There are a number of reasons why putting out the call may not be easy.

The need for this tends to be episodic and can be wide ranging. It could be temporary debilitation (recovering from knee surgery) or permanent (an amputated leg). It could be acute (a bout with pneumonia) or chronic (think emphysema). While it tends to effect older folks more,* anyone can be affected. Even where there this a basic understanding that community members aspire to provide support to one another in time of need—and there is a wealth of heartwarming stories about how this has worked well (even heroically) relying solely on spontaneous personal initiative, there is also a sad underside to this, where help often is extended unevenly—mostly because members are unaware of the need or how they can help. In short, there is a dearth of coordination, where spontaneity and courage fall short. It's not anyone's fault, but there is nonetheless a fault line.

* This concept has terrific potential to be an integral part of how a community can sensitively offer substantive support for people aging in place. Just be aware that needs are not limited to seniors.

As I've become sensitized to this situation I've been thinking about what might help. The response I've come up with is the concept of a Support Team, whose job it would be to work behind the scenes to coordinate a flow of up-to-date information about household needs, shopping the situation discreetly among the membership, and then coordinating responses.

As I envision it, it would work like this:

—The Support Team would be available for any resident to approach it and discuss their household situation. This could be done with the whole team or with just a single member—whoever the resident would feel most comfortable with. The Team (or its rep) would listen carefully and compassionately, help the member get clear on their situation and the specific needs that are being requested. Note that requests will be tailored to that household's situation and can be wide ranging—anything from walking the dog at 8 am to dropping by for a chat and a cup of tea at 4 pm.

—The team would then draft a summary of the information, to be sent to all community members as a private communication, though only after its wording has been approved by the requesting household.

—Part of the communication would be a delineation of the specific things that others are being asked to sign up for. People who are willing to help can offer a one-off (cooking a pan of lasagne next Saturday) or an ongoing commitment (doing grocery shopping every other Thursday morning for the next three months), It's up to them. 

By doing it this way, people can respond discreetly, minimizing concerns about how their offer—or the lack of one—may be perceived by neighbors. The point of this is that you want offers to be made guilt-free, and minimally impacted by peer pressure. Responses can vary, depending on a number of factors: the responder's personal relationship with the requester, the responder's history with having received support from others in the past, the bandwidth in the responder's life to carve out support time for the requester, the comfort/skill level of the responder relative to what is asked for, etc.

—The team will then collate offers, clear up ambiguities, and slot shifts into a support chart specific to the requesting household, minimizing double-booking, and troubleshooting to fill unmet needs to the extent possible. Responders will be given their assignments and the chart will be handed over to the requesting household. While all slots may not be filled, half a loaf is better than none.

—The team will periodically check back with the requesting household to see if the situation has substantially changed and pass along updated information to the community as appropriate. Oftentimes community members appreciate getting updates (helping them track what's going on with their neighbors) even if they are not in a position to offer assistance. 

—If people miss shifts, the team may be on-call to assist the requesting household find a last-minute replacement.

—Annually the team could offer a summery report on how many requests it handled, roughly how many hours it devoted to the work (so that the community had a solid sense of how much the team was doing), any trends it noticed, and any ideas it had about how things could be enhanced.

It is important to understand that there would be no guarantee that all (or even any) requests for help will be answered. However, if you don't ask, the answer is always "no." It would not be the Support Team's responsibility to cheerlead or cajole; they would simply be passing along important and sensitive information accurately and with compassion—both for the requester and for potential responders.

No one would be required to use the Support Team's service; it would just be something available if you want their help. Similarly, no one would be required to respond to requests for help; it would just be an option. The Support Team would be a coordinating service intended to grease wheels that might otherwise be stuck or sidetracked on the road to compassionate support.

I'm thinking that this role might be filled by a team of 2-3 folks with the following qualities:

• compassionate

• empathetic

• good listener

• patience for working with people when they are under stress and possibly confused and disorganized

• organizational skills

• good communication skills

• discreet with sensitive personal information

• have the bandwidth to be able to respond relatively promptly to requests

• good with logistics and problem solving

• ability to collaborate well with others on the team

Anyway, that's my inspiration. If you like the general concept, feel free to tweak this in any way that you think might be a better fit for your situation. Think of it as a way I can support you and your group.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Back from the Potawatomis

Last Thursday was the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, and it was fitting that I was reading Braiding Sweetgrass (2013), the collected essays of Robin Wall Kimmerer, a native Potawatomi, about ecology and right relationship to the land, inspired by her dual life as a Native American and as a university professor in botany.

She writes with passion and poignancy about how the nature-based wisdom of Indigenous People—who figured out over the course of centuries how humans could fit into the rhythms of Nature, rather than how we could control it for our implacable greed—has been systematically discounted and ignored by the dominating white, European-centric culture. As the realities of Climate Change and the limits of Earth's resources come into greater focus, this is tender stuff to read. We could have done so much better.

Especially powerful for me was the chapter entitled "People of Corn, People of Light," which relates the Mayan cosmology, taken from their ancient text, the Popul Vuh. It's a creation play in four acts:

I. The gods made the first humans from mud, but they were ugly and ill-formed. They were crumbly, could not reproduce, and melted in the rain.

II. Next they tried carving a man from wood and a woman from the pith of a reed. These were beautiful, lithe, and strong. They could talk, sing, and dance. They learned to use and make things. They had fine minds and bodies, and could reproduce, but their hearts were empty of compassion and love. All of the mis-used members of Creation rallied together and destroyed the people made of wood in self-defense.

III. The third time the gods made people out of pure light, the sacred energy of the Sun. These humans were dazzling to behold—beautiful, smart, and very powerful. They knew so much they thought they knew everything. Instead of being grateful, they believed themselves to be the gods' equals. Understanding the danger this posed, once again the gods arranged for their demise.

IV. On the fourth try, the gods fashioned people out of corn. From two baskets—one white and one yellow—they ground a fine meal, mixed it with water, and shaped a people made of corn. They could dance and sing, and they had words to tell stories and offer up prayers. Their hearts were filled with compassion for the rest of Creation. They were wise enough to be grateful.  To protect the corn people from arrogance, the gods passed a veil over their eyes, clouding their vision as breath clouds a mirror. These people of corn are the ones who were grateful and respectful for the world that sustained them—so they were the ones who were sustained upon the earth.

Kimmerer goes on to challenge the reader with these paraphrased paragraphs:

Creation is an ongoing process and the story is not history alone—it is also prophecy. Have we become people of corn? Or are we still people made of wood? Are we people of light, in thrall to our own power? Are we not yet transformed by relationship to earth?

How can science, art, and story give us a new lens to understand the relationship that people of corn represent? Only when people understand the symbiotic relationships that sustain them can they become people of corn, capable of gratitude and reciprocity.

Science lets us see the dance of chromosomes, the leaves of moss, and the farthest galaxy. But is it a scared lens like the Popul Vuh? Does science allow us to perceive the sacred in the world, or does does it bend light in such a way as to obscure it? A lens that brings the material world into focus but blurs the spiritual is the lens of a people made of wood. It is not more data that we need for our transformation to people of corn, but more wisdom.

I dream of a world guided by the lens of stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed with an Indigenous worldview—stories in which matter and spirit are both given voice.

While scientists are among those who are privy to the intelligence of other species, many seem to believe that the intelligence they access is only their own. They lack the fundamental ingredient: humility. After the gods experimented with arrogance, they gave the people of corn humility, and it takes humility to learn from other species.

We may not have wings or leaves, but we humans do have words. Language is our gift and our responsibility. I think of writing as an act of reciprocity with the living land. Words to remember old stories, words to tell new ones, stories that bring science and spirit back together to nurture our becoming people of corn.

• • •

Inspired by what Kimmerer wrote, let me tell you a story. 

I grew up in northern Illinois, which is territory that was home to the Potawatomi before the Europeans pushed them aside. While I had no contact with Native Americans growing up, I gradually developed a sense of place, and connection with the living land—which happened to coincide with Indigenous beliefs, as described in Braiding Sweetgrass. It started with my mother's sister, with whom I shared a birthday (albeit 42 years apart). She lived in the two-story homestead house that her grandparent's built on the windswept plains west of Chicago in 1899. Today that house is smack in the midst of Elmhurst, a well-established suburb, but when it was constructed more than a dozen decades ago there wasn't another house in sight.

Growing up in the 50s, it was always a treat to visit Aunt Hennie, and stroll through her well-tended backyard gardens, which included a well-tended birdbath, grape trellises, and an amazing mix of flowers and small fruits—especially raspberries and currants. I took cuttings of her black currants to establish a patch when I moved to northeast Missouri in 1974 and started Sandhill Farm.

Years later, the entire 2006 crop of those currants were consigned to fermentation, which was the featured adult libation at my wedding the following spring. In fact, there's are still a few bottles of that vintage in the basement of Susan's and my house in Duluth. I use it mainly as a secret ingredient when the recipe (or my inspiration) calls for cooking wine, and every time I pull the cork I think of Aunt Hennie and my ties to her homesteading roots.

I grew up as one of five children—a typical number in the 50s—and it happened that when my father was horsing around with us young 'uns he would (for reasons that are obscure to me) often threaten to send us "back to the Potawatomis" if we didn't straighten out. To be sure, this was done in jest and only when he was in a jocular mood. While I had no idea where that came from (or why it was a bad thing to have come from the Potawatomis, much less to go back there), here I am reading the wisdom of an actual Potawatomi, and it has all come back to me.

While my father was a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist and was never seen with his hands in the soil, I am pleased to recall that I grew up in the land of the Potawatomis, and have come—over the course of my 71 years—to understand the power of a respectful relationship to the earth, and the need to curb the acquisitive lifestyle that my father so uncritically embraced. 

Sixty-five years after my father was tossing my sisters and me around on his double bed and threatening us with transportation—not to Australia, mind you, but back to the local Native Americans—I am humbled to take my inspiration for the way forward in these troubled times from a Potawatomi.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Reflections on the Day

I awoke this morning with a completely unscheduled day—something of a rarity. (I had a Zoom session slated for this afternoon, but it got canceled.) Thus, it's a perfect time for some reflection. 

Today is noteworthy in two special ways:

First, my youngest sister, Alison, turns 65 today. It's a marker that all my siblings (we are five) are still alive and all are now eligible for Medicare. What a journey! Having recently retired from a part-time job she held these last years working in the library of an elementary school in suburban Chicago, she has been volunteering there this winter because she loves the work so much (isn't it great when that happens?). The drive into work each day provides her with a rotating opportunity to have a phone chat (thank you, Bluetooth) with her brothers and sisters, and I've been enjoying those 10-15 min chats that roll my way every two or three weeks.

Unquestionably, staying connected is a lifeline in the days of pandemic and social isolation, and I honor Al's diligence in seeing to it that we Schaubs stay in touch. She has been the social hub of the family in our generation and we all have benefitted. Notably this includes maintaining and updating the family address book as a Google spreadsheet, covering a whopping 51 Schauberjobbers—our "official" nickname—spread over three generations, as well taking the lead in organizing family reunions. Thanks, Al.

Second, today marks the one-year anniversary of my return from my last business trip. As this was something I was doing once or twice a month (with social visits piled on top of that), "normal" life screeched to a halt. Of course, normal got redefined for us all. I'm only saying that in my case, I have suddenly been home a great deal more. 

Mind you, my work hasn't stopped (if anything, the stresses of the pandemic have led to more work with cooperative groups) and I've successfully made the transition to working remotely (we're all Baby Zoomers now). Like many of us, I've adapted—a process that never really stops, but the need for which has been accelerated during the last year.

While it's a blessing that I'm in the same boat as Al with respect to work—we both love what we do and are appreciative of the opportunity to continue to serve after getting our Medicare cards—I am also dismayed at that state of the body politic, and wondering what role, if any, I can play in turning that ship around. It is staggering to reflect that not a single Republican in either the House or Senate voted for the latest Covid relief plan just passed by Congress, despite it's being supported by 70% of the voting public.

What are they thinking? They claim it's fiscally irresponsible, yet this is essentially the same group that crowed about a 2017 tax cut bill for the rich that blew a hole in the national debt of a comparable size. Hard to argue both sides of that coin without looking foolish. 

Republicans argue that this additional stimulus is unneeded because the economy is on the road to recovery without it (I watched Mitch McConnell look right in the camera and say that last night on PBS), blithely sidestepping how the recovery is glaringly mixed. The rich are doing just fine—in fact the stock market is at record highs. Yet service industries are in sore need, and individuals mired in the lower third of the economy—which disproportionately includes BIPOC—are still struggling and were close to the end of benefits when this relief bill arrived in the nick of time. Are Republicans only interested in the impact on the owning class? It certainly appears that way.

To be fair, this battle is now behind us. The relief package succeeded without GOP support. The next test will be whether progress can be made on immigration reform, infrastructure, and voting reform with Democrats and Republicans actually collaborating. I suppose much will depend on whether the Republican Party awakes from the fantasy that an outvoted, disgraced, divisive, vindictive, and demonstrably unfit ex-President can lead them to returned glory going forward. How long can you retain power through viciousness, anger, a steady diet of misinformation, and cult of personality? A President who threatens primary challenges to any Republican who questions his actions or offers to talk across the aisle.

I guess we'll find out.

Going the other way it was a breath of fresh air to hear Biden last night, speaking on the eve of signing the relief bill. He spoke with sobriety and compassion (527 thousand dead in the US and counting!), he didn't bash Republicans, he's over-performed on his promises to distribute vaccines, and he tells the truth. I could get used to a President like that—one who tries to hold the whole, rather than one who is hellbent on poking holes.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

An Offer to Sleep in Mama Bear's Bed

As most readers of this blog know, I am professional facilitator and have been offering an intensive two-year program in that skill since 2003. I currently have three of these trainings in progress simultaneously—which I consider a full slate. (It means that in 2021 I'll be, on average, conducting one three-day training weekend every month.)

However, that's not the only way I package this information. In addition to myriad posts about facilitation in this blog, I have been offering introductory workshops on facilitation at a variety of community events for three decades. These are typically 90-minutes long, occasionally two hours. They are a taste, an hors d'oeuvre. In contrast, the two-year training is a commitment of 24 days. Think of that as a banquet series.

This year the Foundation for Intentional Community has given me a platform for providing something in between: a 10-hour webinar series on two subjects near and dear to the heart of my work: one on Facilitation, and another on Conflict. Each will consist of two-hour Zoom sessions running for five consecutive Thursdays. Each will be offered twice:

The first Art of Facilitation for Cooperative Groups will start March 11 and run through April 8. The second (identical to the first) will start July 15 and run through Aug 12. If you click on the title of the course you'll be able to see a more detailed description of what will be offered, as well as an opportunity to sign up.

The first Working Constructively with Conflict in Community will start April 22 and run through May 20. The second will start Aug 26 and run through Sept 23. Just as above, if you click on the title you'll be able to see a more detailed description of what will be offered, as well as a chance to enroll.

If you conceive of an event workshop as the Goldilocks version, and the two-year training as the full-deal Papa Bear meal—then the FIC webinar series is the Mama Bear entrée—something midway, in the range of a hearty soup and sandwich. Far more nuanced than an introductory workshop, but still only 5 percent of what is delivered in the two-year training.

If this webinar opportunity intrigues you (and I hope it does), here is a link to an introductory one-hour session where I'll answer questions about what you'll get from the Facilitation webinar. This will happen this coming Tuesday, March 2, at 4 pm Eastern. While you'll be asked to make a donation to attend this, you'll be allowed to participate at no cost.

While I always advocate for the two-year training, I am fully aware that 24 days and $3200 can be too large a hurdle for many to jump. This webinar series asks only 10 hours and $300—a much smaller amount of scratch to satisfy an itch. FIC and I are hoping that will make it a good deal more accessible. Attendance for each course will be limited to the first 40 who sign up, so don't be shy.

I'm intrigued to see what kind of attendance this generates.