Sunday, December 5, 2010

Business Not as Usual

by Miki Kashtan

A week ago I wrote about facilitating a simulated City Council Meeting. That same day I participated in a real meeting that was very enjoyable and productive for those of us who were part of it. Sometimes I think that some people don’t even have an idea of how simple and easy it could be to function differently, and I want to offer, perhaps, some way of envisioning. I have a deep faith in the value of vision, especially practical vision.

This meeting took place as part of the Consciousness Transformation Community that I created last February. From the start, this community has been an experiment in doing things differently. I created a list of 17 commitments that together comprise my understanding of what living the consciousness of deep nonviolence means, such as “Assumption of Innocence,” “Openness to the Full Emotional Range,” “Risking My Significance,” “Generosity,” and 13 others. I invited people to join me in living these commitments and forming a community of learning and mutual. We have people in the group from North and South America, Europe, and Israel. I set up structures of support and decided for myself what I was happy to offer within the community. I created a gift economy structure, so that people who join are invited to contribute and are not in any way “required” or even subtly “expected” to contribute, either financially or otherwise. I had a very large vision for what we could create over time, and I was ecstatic to see the initial response.

Although vision comes easy to me, sometimes staying patient during implementation doesn’t. I confess to getting discouraged rather easily at times, which I am sad about because of the toll it takes on others around me. And here, too, as the first few months unfolded and I didn’t see the self-organizing happening, I became overwhelmed and worried that unless I did everything (which I was clear I wouldn’t do), the community just wouldn’t happen. As part of my own path of living these commitments I chose to share, in full, with the community what my experience was. I was deeply moved and amazed by how I was received. This initial reception turned into a structure that is now more aligned with my original vision than the one I initially created. Not only do I love the outcome, I also have been amazed at the process by which it came to be. In addition to my own coming forth, other people stepped forward and empowered themselves to make requests, offer themselves to the community, and express their longings, dreams, and concerns about the initial design. The new structure emerged from our collective engagement with all that was put on the table.

One of the elements of the structure we came up with was the establishment of monthly, open meetings for attending to community business. Anyone who is holding any responsibility for anything in the community (whether offering groups, or doing administrative support, or welcoming new members, or any other function, all of which are voluntary) is welcome to participate. In fact, anyone, even if not holding responsibility, is welcome to participate or submit agenda items. Our intention has been to have these meetings, themselves, be conducted in accordance with the commitments we have all embraced.

Last Sunday’s meeting had a number of agenda items. The one that engaged us for most of our time was the process for accepting new members to the community. I want to describe the unfolding of this discussion without getting into the details of the conversation, which would take many more words than I imagine people would want to read. At one point all but one of us were comfortable with the process as it has been so far. For a moment there seemed to be an impasse, because this person wanted something I was very much non-negotiable about. One of the commitments was primary in guiding our conversation: “Openness to Dialogue”. We engaged fully with attempting to understand the needs behind what this one person wanted. I was in awe at the care, the openness, and the presence. One by one the needs and their related strategies became known, until everything was heard. The result was a deeper understanding on all of our parts which led to a process of accepting new members that all of us liked better than what we have had. Along the way we discovered that one member was challenged at an earlier moment in the conversation and had lost trust, and we turned our attention to her. From this bit of conversation emerged more clarity about our process for deliberation and decision-making.

I am sitting here, writing this, and suddenly feeling almost inept at finding a way to describe how radical and hopeful this one meeting appears to me. I have been advocating that connection and effectiveness can go hand in hand and that full collaboration and inclusion do not necessarily mean loss of efficiency. Here, in this meeting, I experienced it in full.

Granted, we are not producing anything on which anyone’s life depends. And yet experiments like this can pave the way and show what’s possible. I am very hopeful and passionate about offering the building blocks of collaboration to organizations of all sizes that do have products and services on which others rely in a timely manner. Last May I co-led the first Making Collaboration Real (MCR) program, and wrote about it on this blog. The effects of that retreat were so powerful that we decided to make more offerings. We are launching an MCR full yearlong program starting this coming May, and an MCR conference in March. If you are curious, you can get answers to all your questions in one of our informational calls coming up starting in January 2011.