Vulnerability as a strength
  • I recently finished reading the book Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, by Adam Kahane. A number of the themes he raised in the book have had a kind of haunting effect on me. One point that I keep revisiting is the idea of approaching vulnerability as a source of wisdom rather than as a sign of weakness. Here’s an excerpt from the book that captures this beautifully:

    In healing ourselves (and others), our wound becomes our gift. It points us to the part of ourselves that is sensitive and vulnerable and so requires our compassionate attention…Rachel Naomi Remen, a medical doctor who works with cancer patients, once said to me “A shaman is someone who has a wound that will not heal. He sits by the side of the road with his open wound exposed. The stance of such a wounded healer is fundamentally different from that of an expert curer: the doctor in the clean white coat who stands, objective and healthy, above his patient.” Our capacity to address our toughest social challenges depends on our willingness to admit that we are part of, rather than apart from, the woundedness of our world.

    This just feels so profoundly true to me…not just intellectually, but from my own experience, especially during my past few years at COCo. Given that our mandate at COCo is to support the development of healthy community organizations, we often talk about the importance of walking the talk- being a model organization ourselves. But what exactly does it mean to be a model? I think more than anything it has to do with being reflective and open about our blemishes and errors and the challenges we face in our journey to be the best we can be. So instead of modeling a perfect structure, we are modeling a way of relating to our structure that is experimental and inquisitive. And I think this stance is reflected in many parts of the organization, from financial management, to conflict resolution, to governance. We’re never going to be perfect, nor I think should we aim to be perfect.

    This open-wounded stance is a difficult one for me to take. But I find it easier to practice at an organizational level than at an individual level since it’s one step removed from my own ego. I see a huge potential in community spaces being places where we can practice this stance more regularly and in ways that will spread more widely.

    May 11th, 2010 | Tana Paddock | 9 Comments

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9 Responses and Counting...

  • Michael 05.11.2010

    Hey Tana,

    I just read a book about a history of Utopian communities in America in the nineteenth century (Heavens on Earth by Mark Holloway). Their goals and visions were interesting, but the description of practices is what really got me excited. I’m happy that your (or one of your?) focus is on practices and I’m looking forward to reading lots more about what you find re-appears across different communities and different organizations.

    The explicit practice I find the most reliable so far is the simple “check-in”. The practice I’m most curious about (and I wonder if is very difficult to wield) is the “speaking from silence” practiced by Quakers. I wonder if it is possible to begin to evaluating or compare different practices – like websites that compare different facilitation methods – so that people can see which practices work better in which ways. I imagine some are easier to implement than others (e.g. check-in vs. speaking from silence) and some are more reliable or possibly more effective in certain situations. I guess that there’s not enough data to allow for those types of comparisons yet though…

  • Sounds like a really interesting book. Yes, it’s the practices of expressive change we’re most interested in exploring. I feel like we’re just diving into this discovery process. The more people we talk to, the more examples and contextual nuances we’ll be able to gather. I agree with you about the reliableness of “check-ins”. I love simple practices like that…things that don’t require large structural shifts, but that have ripple effects. You might enjoy reading Rennie’s earlier post on inscaping if you haven’t already read it. He touches on checking in as a practice.

    I don’t believe speaking from silence is a practice that has come up so far in our conversations with groups, but it certainly and interesting one to explore. I was part of a dialogue circle that would start off every gathering that way and I found it to be quite powerful. I’d like to read more about what it means in the Quaker tradition. Perhaps I can borrow the “Heavens on Earth” book from you if you have a copy on hand…

  • Tana, this makes me think of David Whyte’s call to practice “robust vulnerability”. I like his phrase because it adds strength to the idea of vulnerability.

  • As far as my experience goes, there is a difference in purpose between checkins and speaking from the middle, or from silence.
    Checkins is about bringing everyone present in the current situation; and is asking to speak from a level that is below the surface – like how you really feel and think about things. For me it is a practice in becoming present.
    Speaking from silence, from and to the middle is when you can all start from that presence and then listening and speaking from the deeper level that is then available. As far as I have understood it, it is speaking from a soul level; and even a collective soul level.

  • Hi Andrew, I love David Whyte’s writing. Do you have is book handy to quote from? I’m curious to know how he elaborates on this term…

  • Hi Ria, that distinction makes a lot of sense to me. I’m curious about how one would go about creating a group culture of “speaking from silence”, especially in an organizational or more institutional setting where just the phrase itself would get people’s backs up as too touchy feely…myself included in such an environment even though I know from experience that it has a powerful effect on a group’s ability to think together in deep and creative ways.

  • Hi Tana; here is a website I found on the Quaker tradition of “messages from silence”. Perhaps it might offer some insight:

    If you scroll down to “the practice of sitting together in silence” and go from there, it is quite informative.
    Thank you to everyone for inspiring powerful reflection and for the books you’ve listed.

  • Here also are more guidelines on Quaker practices which lead to “speaking out of the silence”. Feels to me that the Quaker community has very good guidelines for those of us engaged in the communities for social change sectors…

    (scroll down to essentials of Quaker practice)

  • “We” cannot aim to be perfect. But each “I” can and must in order for there to be experience.

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