(submitted by participants in our February 19 to 21 weekend of experiential education in facilitating and mentoring Inclusive Leadership).
Adults and youth from diverse backgrounds gathered on the traditional territory of the Lake Cowichan Nation, at the Cowichan Lake Education Centre to nurture and mentor Inclusive Leadership development in ourselves, our communities and our world. This is a collaboratively written account of our experiences together co-written by 27 of the 40 participants and edited by Linda Hill.
The community of inclusion that was fostered by our welcoming and generous hosts Linda, Linda, Kix and Raj followed a clear plan and a seamlessly organized agenda. The co-facilitators lived their philosophy by modelling inclusivity and compassionate communication throughout the weekend. Everyone was so caring in creating our own community of Inclusive Leaders of all learning styles and abilities. Inclusivity was rampant. We got it. Let’s pull back the curtain on how we transformed ourselves and prepared to transform our communities by embracing diversity in all living beings as gifts that enrich the world.
During our opening circle we welcomed all the diverse participants in our learning community! What an amazing diversity of skills, cultures, stories and heritages to appreciate. Thank you to everyone for being yourselves so beautifully and truthfully which makes the world colourful and meaningful. The youth who were present brought a great deal to the dynamics of the weekend. The group of people who spoke American Sign Language were amazing. We learned with and from beautiful people who were older, younger, more and less abled, familiar faces, new faces, friends. As we were each encouraged to bring out our personal strengths in leadership, we not only learned inclusiveness, we saw it’s benefits
As Raj says,“facilitating groups is valuing and balancing energy.” From the first openers and ice-breakers, we shared leadership in creating an open, safe, supportive, atmosphere which warmly welcomed unique connections to be formed and for people to be themselves, be expressive and embrace the uniqueness of others. We made efforts to encourage mingling and mixing during meals. We facilitated love, judgelessness, safety, kindness, warmth, equanimity, positive energy, choice, flexibility, autonomy, the right to say no, the right to pass, availability of a listening ear, of reiteration and of space.
Within this inclusive and safe environment we could relax and lay down our guards. All the facilitators and mentors were dedicated to ensuring every voice was heard or seen. This created time for sharing and learning that everyone has a voice no matter the way it is expressed. The Inclusive philosophy and strategies to encourage inclusion were very helpful. There was a yearning for connection. As one participant said, “The weekend was an affirmation of my personal convictions developed from a lifetime of being excluded.”
We learned communication skills by building on communications that are inclusive and respectful. We developed more ways to express gratitude, speak with intention, take pauses, give pauses and how to listen. Active listening, Virtues based communication, opportunities to learn more about NVC from Raj Gill and the Heart to Heart Groups! Although some of us found it stressful when we were invited to talk about ourselves, it was like lifting the weight of the world off shoulders. Engaging in conversations with people of all ages and backgrounds can also be stressful. But, by working on improving our abilities to start conversations with people we do not know we could find ourselves in the midst of many wonderful, rich conversations. We learned that active listening, re-framing, and being open to newness and uncomfortableness is freeing.
Mixing with people you don’t know even when their intention is to be inclusive is challenging. The Sufi teacher Rumi once said, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” We were free to find our common ground and feel our interconnectivity. Listening and appreciating each story reflected back spirit and determination. In connecting and learning about others, we were each able to connect with ourselves on a deeper level than any of us were ever expecting.
The skill building exercises and presentations were so fun, creative, and delightful. This was a safe environment to dare to be different.The content was clear. We appreciatively gathered information and knowledge from each other, built awareness, consciousness, and learned the value of mindfulness in the context of leadership. One participant shared, “During jigsaw learning, I decided that my gift of facilitating creativity and play would come in handy. We needed to engage in a creative process. There was not much time allowed and so the mechanism was only partially effective in fulfilling it’s purpose to teach “Leaving Out Losing.” We learned how to be active witnesses and other “debriefing” techniques. We learned a little bit about the competitive origins of this word “debrief” as well as many other words in the English language. We learned skills we can’t summarize and practiced skills we’ve learned before, while giving and being supported within this practice.
Experiential diversity education is a really different methodology that was a new experience without a reference for many of us. This meant that some participants didn’t know what to expect and were not as prepared as they would have liked to have been for this style of imparting knowledge that is based on interacting and participating. Despite the culture shock, this was enjoyable and rich learning with lots of variety – small groups, big groups, pairs and more. It felt great to be learning through inclusive group activities, games, fun education, and laughter. We were learning a methodology without being absolutely sure about what we were learning. We were learning how to help other people learn and understand by holding space. We continued to learn during breaks and times of celebration. Wow, the Saturday night Inclusive Community Celebration was a beautiful special time. The moon looks cool in a telescope and being all on this “pale blue dot” together was a powerful fact that unified those of us who stayed up late enough to look up at the night sky.
We learned how important it is to remember self empathy and self care. The program was pretty fast paced and, with the amount of content, staying on time was difficult to manage. Breaks are good but there was so much else to do. The time went too fast. There wasn’t enough chance to sit, eat and relax. Not enough walking and too many cookies! There was sickness, snoring, stressful personal circumstances, time-keeping challenges, distractions, and invitations that could be interpreted as manipulative. There was not enough male energy. Female energy and spirituality was highly visible, male energy not so much. It was challenging remembering that rules aren’t rules – just guidelines. Nobody actually hates or judges in this space but we still needed to learn not to make racist jokes. Lots of conversations were so intense they did not widen to include others. Some people used vocabulary, concepts or predominant ideas about archetypes that were stressful to listen to or to even grasp. In other conversations, the seriousness of certain issues, at times, became a little too much. As one participant said, “If you’re going to open a can of worms, then open it in a container or have a worm worshipper near by!”
Loud noises in an echo-y room made verbal communication more difficult, especially when people stepped on each other during discussions. Sometimes there was not enough visual/written information. Sometimes we were put out of our comfort zones by identities that were treasured by some but were triggers for others. For example, when people communicated across age differences, it took a lot more effort to strike up relatable conversations. One participant reflected that, “There was a moment where people shared songs from their Faith and that was triggering for me. I felt threatened and excluded until I had a good conversation about it with a facilitator.” Some of us found ourselves emotionally tired and exhausted (not necessarily unhappily) by processing so much information and interacting on a heart to heart level with so many people. Being around the large group and sitting for a long time with not enough alone time became overwhelming at times. Getting going on Sunday for action planning seemed to take longer than was needed.
During times of discomfort it is easy to get discouraged and shut down – but this time we found ways to step up and get our needs met. We found useful ways to translate and move forward through triangulation and other conflicts. Understanding how feelings are connected to needs and setting limits and boundaries around connections are all healthy things to do and lead to a better sense of self and self care. It’s alright not to feel alright. It’s okay to take time for yourself. It is satisfying to be open, honest and outspoken about self needs and discomforts. By taking time for self care we give ourselves time to learn more about ourselves, including our strengths and weaknesses. As we each become comfortable with ourselves we become more comfortable with others. There was valuable learning about there being a lot more to life than worrying about our troubles. One take-away from this weekend was just how amazing each of us are when we have the opportunity to show up in a space of respect, openness and support and share our stories. The gifts of our lives can really shine through. By learning that we have a lot to offer, by learning that there are always more things to look forward to, we learn not to be afraid and we can grow and branch out more – like trees.
The next step is follow-up. A future blog will be about how Inclusive Leaders create and implement plans to integrate and apply Inclusive Leadership to our daily lives, and the places we live, learn, work, volunteer and play. We invite you to follow our website, like and share our facebook page, and consider coming to our June 4 to 5, 2016 annual Inclusive Leadership Gathering.