Archive for the 'Dialogue' Category

Together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies: it took a village to translate Park’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. —Parker Palmer

Resilient people understand that sustaining a commitment to significant change requires the support, guidance, and inspiration of a community.

But not all groups are created equal in their resilience and effectiveness.

Groups that make a difference:

• have skillful, committed leaders who maintain focus and momentum over time,

• ensure that group time is used productively to achieve the group’s goals,

• have a stable core membership,

• engage in high-impact activities,

• follow through on plans with accountability for results, and

• train group members to successfully complete agreed upon activities.

In schools such collective work requires strong teamwork which can take a variety of forms.

In the area of social justice and political change the group RESULTS sets the standard for grass roots advocacy. Its purpose is to end poverty by “improving access to education, health, and economic opportunity” through advocacy and education of policy makers.

More recently “Indivisible” groups are forming and beginning to take action in many communities throughout the United States. Their purpose is to create local pressure on members of Congress to counter the most destructive policies and actions of the new administration, and even at this early date it appears that they are beginning to have some success.

Indivisible’s advocacy is based “…on a simple idea: Donald Trump’s agenda doesn’t depend on Donald Trump. It depends on your elected members of Congress and whether they go along with him—or whether they fight back.”

If any or all of these approaches are appealing, I encourage you to get involved.

Remember:

• that demagogues win when citizens feel overwhelmed and become resigned to the status quo, and

• that together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone.

I am relying on the long-term resilience of…

• the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law

• the courage of countless individuals within government and outside of it who speak truth to power in the face of bullying and other forms of intimidation

• the power of existing and yet-to-be established groups that will empower citizens to stand for America’s founding principles and place in the world community

• a free and independent press that will relentlessly seek and tell the truth to the highest journalistic standards

considered judgment over raw opinion and impulsivity

• science and rational evidence-based decision making over ignorance and superstition

• the historic capacity of Americans to resist tyranny wherever it may arise

sanity-preserving humor over arrogance and vindictiveness

generosity over greed

a sense of “we” over “me”

Most of all, I’m relying on the resilience of love to prevail over hate, inclusiveness over exclusiveness, respect over disrespect, civility over incivility, and reasoned debate over emotion and propaganda.

I don’t know if any one of these qualities will be sufficient, but I am hopeful that in combination they will provide a brighter future for all of us.

In what do you place your hope?

Our words matter…

As this political season has taught us, the feelings that words evoke are contagious. They can uplift and unite us or create hatred and division.

Likewise, particular words have a unique emotional resonance to each of us because of the meaning they possess in our life experience.

Here a few words that have such resonance for me:

Empower, as in enabling others by delegating authority and responsibility

Voice, as in “expressing our uniqueness” or enabling others to express their uniqueness (see “empower”)

Conversation, as in thinking deeply with others about important topics with an openness to learning

Learn, as in changing what we belief, understand, and/or do

Teach, as in promoting the intellectual, emotional, and physical growth and well being of others

Witness, as in “bearing witness to” the life circumstances of others.

What words most resonate with you?

Bridging the divide

Dennis

This political season has underscored the significant and emotionally-charged differences in values and perspectives that divide Americans.

Too many people from all political persuasions follow some variation of this thought process, perhaps unconsciously:

• You and I have different political views.

• Therefore, you are wrong.

• And, because you are wrong, you are evil.

I have learned that it is much harder to travel down the road of such harsh judgments once we have listened carefully and with empathy to the life stories of others to more deeply understand the people and events that shaped their views.

Such listening does not mean that we will necessarily agree with their reasoning nor that we will be able to influence their points of view.

But it will make it possible for us to see them as human beings worthy of respect, a quality that seems to be in short supply these days.

While I am not naive enough to believe that listening with empathy is the bridge across those differences, I do think it is the onramp to that bridge and an essential step in addressing the profound differences that divide us as a nation.

Do you agree?

Promote inquiry by asking “why”

Dennis

“I talk a lot less than I used to. I still talk too much, and I work on this every single day. A mentor of mine once told me, “You stop at the first question. Keep asking ‘why,’ and then ask again, and then ask again, because you’re not going to get remotely close to the truth unless you keep asking questions.” He would literally say, “Ask ‘why’ six times.”” —Dottie Mattison: Talk Less, but Ask ‘Why’ More

A consistent theme in these essays over the past several years has been the importance of deep versus superficial understanding.

Pairing “exquisite listening” with the kind of inquiry suggested by Dottie Mattison is a powerful means of developing understanding of important problems and issues and of strengthening relationships.

Asking “why” five times (sometimes called “the 5 whys”) or six times, as Mattison’s mentor suggested, is a means of helping individuals and groups explore in deeper and richer ways their own beliefs, values, and understandings.

It is also a way to better understand the root causes of problems that may be only superficially understood.

When have you used the “5 whys” or other methods of deep inquiry and with what results?

When questions are a barrier to inquiry

Dennis

One reason we ask questions is because we want information.

Another reason is to promote deeper exploration of a subject.

Some kinds of questions promote such exploration while others do not.

“Honest, open questions,” to borrow a phrase from Parker Palmer, invite inquiry. For example: “What are some things you might do to solve the problem you are having with your friend?”

Questions that clearly have “right answers” or are really disguised statements often thwart inquiry (“closed, directive questions”). For example: “Don’t you think you should call your friend to find out why he said that?”

Many of us have not had the opportunity to learn how to phrase honest, open questions – that is, questions that cause further inquiry and deepen relationships.

We may ask questions to steer the direction of the conversation rather than to truly seek to understand the views of others or to extend their thinking.

We may ask questions that narrow the focus of thinking rather than expand it.

Closed, directive questions often cause people to feel they are being manipulated, which breeds distrust and cynicism.

In addition, people whose habit it is to ask closed, directive questions often perceive honest, open questions through the lens of manipulation, suspecting ulterior motives and becoming defensive.

Good questions stimulate thinking on the part of both the person who asks and the person who answers. They deepen understanding and open up previously unexplored areas for conversation.

Individuals involved in such conversations feel like they have learned something about themselves, each other, and the subject at hand. In addition, they feel respected and understood.

Examine your questions. Do they promote honest inquiry or directly or indirectly tell people what to think and do?

In your experience, what types of questions deepen inquiry and improve relationships?

Deep work matters

Dennis

I’ve attended countless meetings during which some variation of the following happens:

Person A makes a point about a topic.

Person B comments on Person A’s statement.

Person C brings up another subject.

Person D returns briefly to person A’s comment and then makes a point on a totally different subject.

And so on as participants skate across the surface of important topics.

This type of “superficial work” is all too common in meetings, even those where important decisions are being made.

Likewise, professional learning can be deep or superficial.

So, too, professional reading and writing can be deep or superficial.

Deep work is obviously essential when decisions are being made and when learning is the goal, either for adults or young people.

While deep work typically takes time, a lack of time is not an adequate excuse for superficiality because there is always time to do what matters.

Deep work requires:

Intentionality. It is essential that we are committed to deep work when we examine our individual and collective beliefs, values, ideas, and practices.

Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, sustained focus over multi-tasking, problem solving over complaining, and meaningful professional learning over “sit and get.”

Protocols that help participants pay attention to both task accomplishment and the quality of relationships.

What other things promote deep work?


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