I am incredibly saddened about recent events in Dallas, Nice, France, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Orlando and too many other places to mention. As I hear people talk about these events, it is clear that there are many wide, seemingly un-bridgeable gaps in perspectives, understanding, current realities, and sense of empowerment/entitlement in our dominant systems. Perhaps the greatest gap I’ve witnessed is our individual and collective capacities to even have a conversation with one another about these gaps. The rhetoric quickly devolves into firm stances and beliefs about the root of the problems and the solutions needed—further widening the gaps and defining the various “camps.” And we are left facing the same systemic problems, relatively untouched, perhaps even further exacerbated by much of the collective responses. It is heart breaking to watch people whose hearts have been irrevocably broken witness the damaging after–effects of an already tragic situation.
And I know this is not the whole story. I know there are people reaching across various divides in an effort to understand, to make collective meaning with each other, to find and enlist deep wells of compassion and empathy in service to making a better future. I know people are starting to challenge and question their own well-funded, well-oiled beliefs about the basic structures and systems we experience every day. I know that mind sets are shifting, slowly but surely. I want to share a few small stories from a person who has, in his own way, started to create genuine conversations in situations that may have been somewhat intractable or too complex to bridge.
To preface, the context of these stories does not revolve around the kinds of tragic situations named above. The context is a person named Steve Kimball, who works for The US Forest Service, and who attended a training run by GLI called the Leader as Convener Workshop (LCW). In this workshop participants are exposed to various techniques, processes, and ways of thinking that can help groups of people create shared understanding and meaning of complex information and generate cohesive action or next steps informed by the collective intelligence of the group. Steve experienced this training and went back to his day job and began to implement what he learned. The following stories come directly from him with limited editing on my part to ensure clear context for all of our readers:
In conclusion, Steve offered the following insights:
These are some applications of the LCW session tools that our Forest put to use soon after I attended the session. We found there is power in engaging employees in genuine conversation where hierarchy is removed and the focus is seeking to understand, while building on the thoughts and ideas of each other. Our experience has validated that it can be more effective to convene face to face conversations rather than rely on email exchange and traditional meetings. I encourage others to try applying the convening methods offered in this course to issues at home.
I am incredibly grateful that Steve shared his stories with us. I think there is way more of this happening than we hear about through traditional means and media. And though Steve’s context for applying these tools might be less intense, intractable and divided than the situations I reference in my opening, I believe there is room for extrapolating lessons:
As Steve encourages in his close, we need to try something different. This is how we will bridge the gaps that plague and affect all of us in subtle and dramatic ways. This may require some courage and humility on our part. But we might be pleasantly surprised by the results when we do try something new. Thanks again for sharing, Steve!