Making a Solid Fire: A Participation Manifesto

Friday, April 25th, 2014

THE WORLD NEEDS PEOPLE TO CONNECT,

AND IT NEEDS PEOPLE WHO CATALYZE THOSE CONNECTIONS.

It needs it in Board rooms and classrooms and conference halls.

It needs it in churches and mosques and synagogues.

It needs it in offices and theaters and living rooms.

It needs it wherever we show up together.

Some of us are compelled to speak our truth from the stage or soapbox or street corner or pulpit. Others of us are compelled to gather us together so we can speak our truths with each other. That is what I do and teach others to do.

I have a theater directing background, and I have always had a love-hate relationship with the stage. That fourth wall. I love the stage for its power to transmit profound messages with clarity. I hate it for the separation it creates between US on the baseball diamond, the theater proscenium, and the pulpit and US in the beer-drenched bleachers, the rows of plush velvet seats, and in the long, hard pews.

In the last few months, I’ve attended a few large-scale events that have been promoted as community building, but with their bright, exciting, charismatic speakers taking up most of the airtime, they have fallen short of their target.

It’s a shanda* to go to the trouble to gather us up and then not give ourselves the opportunity to build community. We’re not an easy species to herd. It’s a shanda.

We want to meld.

We want to commune.

We want that place where the boundaries between you and I get a little thinner.

They shimmer a bit.

How can we make the relationship between stage and audience not just more equitable but more generative?

We invite in meaningful participation.

HOW DO YOU DO IT?

  1. Trust that those assembled have the capability to be in conversation together. We’ve been doing it since we’ve been sitting around fires in caves.
  2. Invite small groups to form from the mass.
  3. Share simple tools that allow these groups to generate wisdom and maintain equity.
  4. Facilitate a process for groups to share back their wisdom with the mass.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE.

Now we know each other.

Now we know where we want to go together.

WHAT IF YOU NEED SUPPORT?

Talk to me. I can help you in dealing with…

  • Smart, independent people resistant to collaborative processes,
  • Shy participants who have a wealth of information and are not comfortable sharing,
  • Power dynamics along any number of lines: race, gender, position, age, etc.,
  • Delivering and responding to bad news,
  • Developing solutions to complex problems,
  • Engaging partners outside of your organization, and
  • Many other issues bedeviling you.

LET’S STIR UP THE CIRCULAR, SWIRLING ENERGY THAT FLOWS FROM PERSON TO PERSON TO PERSON.

Let’s make a Solid Fire.

*Shanda is a Yiddish word for “shame” or “scandal”. It’s reserved for things that are an unforgiveable disgrace.


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