Tag Archive for 'facilitation'

let’s be brave

today i suddenly needed to read this again:


i couldn’t find it, couldn’t remember if i knew where it came from, but it felt so important to re-presence. my friend hilary found it and then sent me the original:


and it was from mickey, who i recently met after a long time of trying to get to each other, and I was so deeply impressed by her, and to think our paths had crossed long ago in such a profound way made me feel like:


photo credit: @klovesnature

the overwhelming world: snippets

returning from being out of country and mostly away from the news, i find there is too much to take in. and i am moved to:

– remind everyone that Octavia Butler‘s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are required reading for all humans right now, not as escapist fantasy, but as relevant instructional prophecy. it was her birthday on the 22nd and i think she is whispering to us through her pages across time.

– send love to those who know borders, walls and fences cannot hold us, cannot keep us from each other. ‘our destiny is to take root amongst the stars’ (we are made of stardust).

and since i last wrote here, jasmine abdullah was released on bail! i love the idea that when she was pulled through that wall we all extended through it with practice and attention and strategies and family, and we didn’t let go, and we pulled until the wall shivered. want to really uplift the practices of chelsea cleveland who pulled a tarot card for black liberation each day, che rene who sent us an original song and alexis pauline who wrote this poem and released it the morning of jasmine’s release.

how you are in relationship is how you are.

i saw beyoncĂ©’s formation tour in detroit. i immediately bought tickets to see her again. that is my review.

the allied media conference was beautiful this year. i spent my time there in healing circles and rituals for orlando. i also got to cofacilitate the say her name gathering. there is a lot of tenderness in my work these days, a lot of opening and closing of circles, a lot of slowing down and trusting the strange processes of humans. we only move forward as we are able. it felt like as we stood face to face with each other we were clear that we have to rise above small differences – we are still more alike than most of the world, moving towards justice. family reunion feeling was in effect, and i met a lot of beautiful new loves over those days.

and i danced.

i want to tell you how i danced but you know it doesn’t fit into words. during and afterwards i felt free and i felt in communication with my body. i am healing and it is glorious, it is glorious to remember in my bones that i am meant to dance. it is healing to dance in queer space, always has been. i needed it, we needed it.

i spent the past week mostly away from the internet, working with first nations and environmental organizers building responses and strategies around the tar sands. the main thing i learned in holding that space is that everyone wants to be seen in their best intentions. then, maybe, there can be a real conversation around impact. people building movement over time will impact each other, but we still want to be seen for our good intentions, for our good hearts. often this is at the root of having disagreements with integrity – being able to see each other’s goodness in spite of the different perspectives that are just the nature of human existence. seeing where we can agree today in ways that increase the space for alignment in the future.

now i am deep in processing a pile of super exciting proposals from detroiters who are shifting the narratives of our city. my heart is swelling and i feel…hopeful.

when i look up it’s all overwhelming, tectonic shifts in global politics, and devastating national decisions. but if i keep my head down on the present moment, on the people i can touch, the places i love – there is a lot of good, a lot of pattern shifting, a lot of micro-liberations. we are learning to hold each other close as the bottom falls out.

it’s falling, it must fall.

in this way we will fly.

What is/isn’t transformative justice?

I’ve been thinking a lot about transformative justice lately.

In the past few months I’ve been to a couple of gatherings I was really excited about, and then found myself disappointed, not because drama kicked up, which is inevitable, but because of how we as participants and organizers and people handled those dramas.

Simultaneously I’ve watched several public take downs, call outs and other grievances take place on social and mainstream media.

And I’m wondering if those of us with an intention of transforming the world have a common understanding of the kind of justice we want to practice, now and in the future.

What we do now is find out someone or some group has done (or may have done) something out of alignment with our values. Some of the transgressions are small – saying something fucked up. Some are massive – false identity, sexual assault.

We then tear that person or group to shreds in a way that affirms our values. When we are satisfied that that person or group is destroyed, we move on.

Or sometimes we just move on because the next scandal has arrived.

I’m not above this behavior – I laugh at the memes, like the apoplectic statuses. I feel better about myself because I’m on the right side of history…or at least the news cycle.

But I also wonder: is this what we’re here for? To cultivate a fear-based adherence to reductive common values?

What can this lead to in an imperfect world full of sloppy complex humans? Is it possible we will call each other out until there’s no one left beside us?

I’ve had tons of conversations with people who, in these moments of public flaying, avoid stepping up on the side of complexity or curiosity because in the back of our minds is the shared unspoken question: when will y’all come for me?

The places I’m drawn to in movement espouse a desire for transformative justice – justice practices that go all the way to the root of the problem and generate solutions and healing there, such that the conditions that create injustice are transformed.

And yet…we don’t really know how to do it.

We call it transformative justice when we’re throwing knives and insults, exposing each other’s worst mistakes, reducing each other to moments of failure. We call it holding each other accountable.

I’m tired of it. I recently reposted words from Ryan Li Dahlstrom, speaking about this trend in the queer community. But I see it everywhere I turn.

When the response to mistakes, failures and misunderstandings is emotional, psychological, economic and physical punishment, we breed a culture of fear, secrecy and isolation.

So I’m wondering, in a real way: how can we pivot towards practicing transformative justice? How do we shift from individual, interpersonal and inter-organizational anger towards viable generative sustainable systemic change?

In my facilitation and meditation work, I’ve seen three questions that can help us grow. I offer them here with real longing to hear more responses, to get in deep practice that helps us create conditions conducive to life in our movements and communities.

1. Listen with ‘Why?’ as a framework.

People mess up. We lie, exaggerate, betray, hurt, and abandon each other. When we hear that this has happened, it makes sense to feel anger, pain, confusion and sadness. But to move immediately to punishment means that we stay on the surface of what has happened.

To transform the conditions of the ‘wrongdoing’, we have to ask ourselves and each other ‘Why?’

Even – especially – when we are scared of the answer.

It’s easy to decide a person or group is shady, evil, psychopathic. The hard truth (hard because there’s no quick fix) is that long term injustice creates most evil behavior. The percentage of psychopaths in the world is just not high enough to justify the ease with which we assign that condition to others.

In my mediations, ‘Why?’ is often the game changing, possibility opening question. That’s because the answers rehumanize those we feel are perpetuating against us. ‘Why?’ often leads us to grief, abuse, trauma, mental illness, difference, socialization, childhood, scarcity, loneliness.

Also, ‘Why?’ makes it impossible to ignore that we might be capable of a similar transgression in similar circumstances.

We don’t want to see that.

Demonizing is more efficient than relinquishing our world views, which is why we have slavery, holocausts, lynchings and witch trials in our short human history.

‘Why?’ can be an evolutionary question.

2. Ask yourself/selves: what can I /we learn from this?

I love the pop star Rihanna, not just because she smokes blunts in ballgowns, but because one of her earliest tattoos is ‘never a failure, always a lesson’.

If the only thing I can learn from a situation is that some humans do bad things, it’s a waste of my precious time – I already know that.

What I want to know is, what can this teach me/us about how to improve our humanity?

For instance, Bill Cosby’s mass rape history is not a lesson in him being a horrible isolated mass rapist. It’s a lesson in listening to women who identify perpetrators, making sure those perpetrators are not able to continue their violence but experience interventions that transform them, make that injustice impossible. If the first woman raped by Cosby had been listened to, over 40 other women could have been spared.

What can we learn? In every situation there are lessons that lead to transformation.

3. How can my real time actions contribute to transforming this situation (vs making it worse)?

This question feels particularly important in the age of social media, where we can make our pain viral before we’ve even had a chance to feel it.

Often we are well down a path of public shaming and punishment before we have any facts about what’s happening. That’s true of mainstream take downs, and it’s true of interpersonal grievances.

We air our dirt not to each other, but with each other, with hashtags or in specific but nameless rants, to the public, and to those who feed on our weakness and divisions.

We make it less likely to find room for mediation and transformation.

We make less of ourselves.

Again, there are times when that kind of calling out is the only option – particularly with those of great privilege who are not within our reach.

But if you have each other’s phone numbers, or are within two degrees of social media connection, and particularly if you are in the small small percentage of humans trying to change the world – you actually have access to transformative justice in real time. Get mediation support, think of the community, move towards justice.

Real time is slower than social media time, where everything feels urgent. Real time often includes periods of silence, reflection, growth, space, self-forgiveness, processing with loved ones, rest, and responsibility.

Real time transformation requires stating your needs and setting functional boundaries.

Transformative justice requires us at minimum to ask ourselves questions like these before we jump, teeth bared, for the jugular.

I think this is some of the hardest work. It’s not about pack hunting an external enemy, it’s about deep shifts in our own ways of being.

But if we want to create a world in which conflict and trauma aren’t the center of our collective existence, we have to practice something new, ask different questions, access again our curiosity about each other as a species.

And so much more.

I want us to do better. I want to feel like we are responsible for each other’s transformation. Not the transformation from vibrant flawed humans to bits of ash, but rather the transformation from broken people and communities to whole ones.

I believe transformative justice could yield deeper trust, resilience and interdependence. All these mass and intimate punishments keep us small and fragile. And right now our movements and the people within them need to be massive and complex and strong.

I want to hear what y’all think, and what you’re practicing in the spirit of transformative justice.

Towards wholeness and evolution, loves.

packing my octavia butler bag (reflections on the field innovation team boot camp)

i am returning from a gathering that felt like a redirection, or next thrilling iteration, of my life resources.

a few months ago, my friend renna reached out to me because she knew some people who were getting together to design innovative responses in real time to the challenges of disasters.

i have very little background in disaster response, but i do live in detroit, and am as obsessed with apocalypse as the next sci-fi head, and i regularly work with communities who have been devastated by a combination of slow economic disasters and faster natural or manmade ones. so i agreed to go.

and i am so glad i did.

the room was one of the most experientially diverse i have been in in a long time. there were first responders and people who had worked in the disaster response field for years and have published books on it. and then there were veterans, an astronaut, robotics experts, artists, nonprofit leaders, government employees, theater arts facilitators, scientists, writers, designers, makers, hackers, teachers, futurists, technologists with communications tools that made me salivate, gamers.

and me.

we are all volunteers, and most of us have never been part of a disaster response effort. and that is the exactly the point. a few years ago, some people who had been involved in disasters we’ve all watched at a distance or survived – 9/11, katrina, fukushima to name a few – reached out to a team of designers, convinced that there must be more innovative ways to approach the conventional response to disasters. with the design team, they (at the time housed within fema) cultivated a survivor oriented response framework during hurricane sandy. they asked how do we fundamentally transform the experience of survivors? not seeing people as numbers, but as stories, people with futures, sensitive traumatized individuals and communities at a major precipice.

what grew out of this was a project called the field innovation team (FIT). it has spun off from fema to be it’s own project.

it includes a lot of characters and really brilliant people. i met an elder astronaut/pilot with a dry wit that kept me cracking up the whole meeting. i met a man using sci-fi to prototype plans with communities. i met a woman who makes robots that can swim underwater during a tsunami and tell rescue teams where people are, where danger is. i met other people creating robots that can carry supplies and resources to people where there are no/dysfunctional roads, and eventually might be able to lift people out of places where vehicles and helicopters can’t safely reach them. i met technologists envisioning a world where the detritus of natural disasters can be processed through 3D printers to rebuild. i met two facilitators using theater, masterfully, to deepen the relationships of the room, and it felt good to be in their hands. i met techies who are creating communication tools that keep people connected where there is no wi-fi.

i met a safety trainer who told us all to pack our ‘go’ bags – not just for doing this work, but generally to make sure we were ready for the world that exists now, with rapidly changing climate and manmade conditions. what he described putting in that bag made me think of lauren olamina, octavia butler’s perhaps most famous protagonist, packing her bag to survive an unknown future. the whole training placed me firmly in my ongoing question about how we grow in the escalating tension of our times – living on a planet we have abused so thoroughly that she must respond.

i won’t lie – it was a politically complex setting for me. i am used to being in spaces where people generally agree on a set of core values, or at least assume that agreement. in this circle, i could feel the best part of each person there, but knew that many had journeyed corporate, military or government paths on their way to landing in the place of doing survivor-centered disaster innovations. the language was largely foreign to me, i had to ask a lot of basic questions to make sure i understood what was going on, and i was left with so many more questions yet to get answered.

but i felt good that they were excited about my world view. and as i shared what mattered to me, i found that the common thread in the room was not just saving lives, but a passion for community voices being at the center of any response, communities being at the heart of envisioning futures that move us beyond the long-term crisis of inequality as well as the urgency of disaster. i learned a lot more about the resource and legal challenges to handling crises with community direction.

most of the people i talked to agreed that disaster strikes in ways that unveil the social inequalities in a place, in ways that open people up to different pathways than they may have thought possible – it is an opportunity to do what octavia spoke of in the parables: shape change.

i feel like my belief that ‘there are a thousand paths towards justice and liberation’ is alive in this work. from our unchosen starting places, we reached this room, and we were able to hold each other as living intersectional entities between lots of different worlds that need to be not just in coherent conversation, but in flow, if we choose to survive and evolve together on this planet.

over the course of the training, it became clear to me why i, particularly, was there. all the diverse, seemingly random skills i have been developing can be of use for FIT. from my doula training to my somatics training to my sci-fi scholarship to my facilitation and process design work to my auntie skills to my coaching work to my ruckus/allied media conference/detroit learnings. perhaps more than anything else, i can imagine calling on my network of incredible people around the country, dedicated to the local brilliance of their communities.

my vision for my impact as a part of the team is to connect communities i love to resources that enhance local reach in the midst of a crisis. i feel like in most cities in the u.s., i either know (or am one step removed from) a body of local experts – people who love their city, understand it’s dynamics and reactions, understand why people stay there and what could catalyze them to save their own lives, and most importantly, have a long-term vision of justice and growth that can shape the innovations that will work immediately and sustain the right kinds of change over time.

one of the things i have learned in detroit is to seek out opportunity in crisis, and i have come to see this as a foundational emergent strategy. the idea of FIT in and of itself feels deeply aligned with emergent strategy – responding to disaster – unexpected change – in ways that contribute to community resilience long-term.

it is just a beginning, and i have a lot to learn. but i am thinking very, very big again, and it feels magnificent. i am excited to find out who in my network will be amongst the local leaders, healers, doulas, sci fi writers and strategists who will transform the way we as humans respond to crisis.

it feels like sci-fi in practice. and it feels like an invitation you say yes to. i’ll keep reporting back on the experience and lessons. and i hope to hear from those of you either interested in getting involved, or with ideas and feedback on all of it.

now – off to pack my go bag.

principles of emergent processes in facilitation

just spent several days facilitating the BOLD gathering with a team of brilliant people. i used emergent process to move us through the time together, and got great feedback. i have been identifying tools and principles for practicing emergent strategy in groups for some time. i am writing this to share the thinking, learning i am doing in my facilitation practice.

to reiterate from earlier posts, emergent strategy is strategy (a plan towards a goal) based in the science of emergence – the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. last year in a workshop at the allied media conference, we generated ideas with a working definition of emergent strategy as: intentional, fractal (the same at the largest scale as it is at the smallest scale, toxic, healthy, joyful, stressed, etc), strong because it is decentralized, adaptive, interdependent, and creating more possibilities.

rather than laying out big strategic plans for work, the invitation of emergent strategy is to come together in community, build authentic relationships, and see what emerges from the conversations, connections, visions and needs. it feels like more and more of my communities are growing comfortable experimenting with, testing, and learning emergent strategies.

i don’t see this as creating something from scratch, but rather innovating from need – lots of people have been doing this for a long time, calling it a variety of things. and of course nature has always been on it.

here are some of the principles i have identified in as clear a way as i can articulate them:

– lao tzu says ‘if you don’t trust the people, they become untrustworthy.’ the first principle is a positive flip of this statement – if you trust the people, they become trustworthy. trust is a seed that grows with attention and space. the facilitator can be a gardener, or the sun, the water.

– there is a conversation in the room that wants and needs to be had. don’t force it, don’t deny it. let it come forth.

– the connection between the individuals is what makes the whole group/community strong.

– passion is a more valuable force for action and accountability than obligation.

– develop a strategic direction based on the horizon you can see. move in it with awareness. develop strategic bodies and minds to adapt intelligently as the horizon changes.

i am also playing with fleshing these principles out into practice. for example:

in agenda development, look for places where you can open people to each other, and get their whole selves in the room. i am learning an immense amount about this opening, getting present, and connecting in my somatics studies. it changes what is possible when people take the time to acknowledge they are whole selves in the room. and changes what is possible when there is space for deepening one-on-one relationships as a way to build the strength of the whole room, early and often. even a one minute pairing exercise can increase the possibility of the room.

another tool i am working with, which i picked up from the very brilliant allen gunn at aspiration tech, is generating topics for necessary conversation individually, and then finding the priorities amongst those conversations together. this allows the work people are truly most passionate about to be articulated in their own words. it moves the group beyond obligatory conversations to what they really want to talk about and ultimately do.

good ideas become great movement growth strategies with the touch of passionate hands and work. ideas that emerge from obligation tend to go stagnate waiting for water.

so…work in progress. what do you think? what would you add?

Relinquish the safe territory of us and them

So much happens in this world because we can shirk responsibility – ‘them’ as a concept is such a relief, such a gift. ‘They’ are destroying the world, hoarding resources, dominating space, etc.

In that scenario ‘we’ are generally the righteous force, advancing deeply accountable visions, constantly. If we weren’t thwarted by ‘them’ there would be liberation and a perfection of balanced power.

It is so easy to go on in this way, holding the lines we inherited of mainstream and margin, powerful and powerless, bad and good, friend and enemy, divided, divided.

I just finished facilitating the Building Equity and Alignment Initiative. Environmental justice groups, national environmental organizations and environmental funders came together for an historic set of conversations for Mother Earth. Once again, I have glimpsed another way, a way that gives me hope we can actually reach a next phase of humanity that is worthy of both earth and the miracle of our brief lives.

I used to think transformation was mostly about people stepping into our own power, and I still believe that is a major foundational part of it: ‘presuming our power, not our powerlessness.’

But I am understanding more and more that it also has to do with how much we can see ourselves as one organism at the species level. That we as a species are learning how to bring justice, love and future generations into the center of our existence.

Some parts of the organism already remember this, never forgot it. Other parts are awakening to it, other parts sleep yet. If we are able to see it is all of us, an experience of being whole is within reach. The heart does not rail against the fingers, she feeds them. Amongst humans I see that sustenance come when we see each other’s humanity and possibility instead of focusing on each other’s mistakes and limitations, when we move to stand with each other, instead of holding the space between us as more sacred than our shared work.

People who appreciate the miraculous create futures full of miracles, generating more possibility – not in spite of other people, but because of connection.

It means we relinquish the safe territory of us and them, and walk onto the dynamic creation ground together. We endure the imperfections of each other until we reach understanding, shared vision and laughter. We pick up the work of future building, no less complex because we all carry it, but lighter, easier to sustain.

What we withhold of ourselves becomes our prison…that includes what we withhold of our need to connect, of our need to see our interdependence on this home planet. But when we see each other and are seen, hear each other and are heard, move each other and are moved, there is a chance for love, and for liberation.

We long for this, as a survival wisdom. We are learning to be of each other.

dear adrienne: how to do a fishbowl conversation

people ask me questions. sometimes i answer.

question: do you have instructions for running a fishbowl?

answer: yes!

(a fishbowl is a way to have an intimate conversation with a lot of people.)

set up three or four chairs in the middle of a room – these are the fishbowl chairs. set the rest of the chairs in a close circle around the middle. it should be easy to get from any chair in the room to one of the fishbowl chairs.

choose a small group of people as the starting speakers. they should be people who are familiar enough with the topic to get a juicy conversation going. (some people do better if they know way ahead of time that you want them to be a starter speaker, so keep that in mind in planning your fishbowl)

let them go for 15-30 minutes to get the conversation going.

when it’s time to open it up (generally when you can see the unspoken words forming on the lips of people in the outer circle), tell everyone it’s their turn to join the conversation.

the general rules:

anyone in the fishbowl chairs can be tapped out after they speak 2-3 times (…this can be more or less depending on how many people are part of the room and hoping to speak. i’ve noticed it’s hard to have a rhythm of conversation with less than two opportunities to speak, and hard to get other folks to tap in with more than three.)

obviously no tapping someone mid-sentence.

encourage the room to pay attention to who is speaking – you want to engage the difference in the room, however it’s showing up, and center voices of those most impacted by the topic at hand (whether its young people talking about youth incarceration, divas with their nails did talking about the dangers of gels and acrylics, or white men talking about white male balding patterns).

no one can tap back in til everyone (or at least most people) have had a moment in the fishbowl.

the facilitator can stay in one seat guiding and grounding the conversation while people cycle in and out, or float around and encourage participation. most groups can self facilitate once the conversation gets going.

afterwards consider having folks pair up to notice what they gained from the conversation.


(any additional tips or guidelines you know of? please share them!)