Moving our practices upstream
  • Here’s a 2,500 year old practice that might be worth something : )

    We found a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s classic book Being Peace in the Kufunda library. In it he talks about an interesting practice that Buddhist monks use to begin any conflict resolution process.  The entire community sits together, breathing, smiling, and holding in their minds the intention to help.  The two conflicting monks sit facing each other in front of the community. They too are expected to smile, no matter how difficult or forced smiling might feel to them. Hanh points out that smiling actually causes helpful physiological changes, even when we don’t mean it.

    For us the smile is an appealing practice for starting to reduce conflict, but there is a broader practice at work here. We often design social projects so that they will “produce” the outcomes we seek. The process Hanh describes does not simply produce peace. From the beginning, it is guided by peace. “Even before anything is said, the atmosphere of peace is already present…Peace work means, first of all, being peace.” When we take such an approach, we don’t work on peace. Peace works on us.

    The monks’ practice challenges us to move our intention upstream. How can we make our intentions manifest, however awkwardly and incompletely, as early as possible in the projects and processes we create? If we are working on a community engagement process, say, how might we actually seed engagement from the beginning? Maybe we could involve the people we are trying to engage right away in the vision and design stages of the project. We don’t have to wait for engagement. We can begin with it.

    Most of us have the intention to approach our work in this way. And perhaps we do it superficially frequently enough. But how often are we like gardeners who dig and weed and mulch and water without remembering to plant our seeds?

    January 11th, 2011 | Warren Nilsson & Tana Paddock | No Comments

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Warren Nilsson & Tana Paddock

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