(Submitted by ILC Founding Member, Raj Gill)
In 2001 I was planning to transition out of health care into a brand new career as a Life-Skills Coach. I launched my coaching business, “Prosperity Circles Coaching International,” and began a journey of exploring the power of collaboration. It was a time of becoming curious without being attached to specific outcomes. I was confident I had something of value to offer. I strongly believed that collectively we are much greater and more effective than we are individually. I had recently participated in a nine day International Intensive Training in Nonviolent Communication and a piece that stood out for me was that, “my feelings are connected to my needs, not to other people’s behaviour.”
I was needing, looking and searching for harmony, collaboration and greater trust and I was highly receptive to leaning new things. But in my openness and enthusiasm I had also experienced how some types of ‘collaborative’ relationships can emotionally bankrupt people. I was searching for genuine collaborations that would enrich everyone involved, rather than enriching only one person at the expense of the others.
In the Fall of 2001, I found myself volunteering at a conference called the Summit on Spirituality and Sustainability in Vancouver, BC. The organizers invited me to select a workshop and help the workshop facilitator by being his or her workshop ‘buddy.’ There were workshops on topics such as eco-psychology, meditating for world change and even channeling spirits. I found myself asking myself, “What is a health care professional like you doing at an event like this?” I eventually chose a workshop called ‘Playing for Peace.’ Although I didn’t know where it might lead, I was drawn to meet my need for harmony by playing peacefully.
When I arrived at the workshop room, I went up to the facilitator, Linda Hill, and introduced myself. “My name is Raj Gill and I’m your workshop buddy. Is there anything I can do for you?” Linda – who was busily looking after a little boy named Kyler while getting her workshops materials ready – said, “Not at this moment.” I was at a loss for how to be a helpful buddy. Then, noticing her busyness; I offered to get her some water.
When I returned with water there were a couple of conference photographers taking photos of Linda and the child, but no workshop participants. In my experience with workshops, presenters have a bottom line for the minimum number of people they will present to. For example, “I’m not presenting unless 20 people show up,” or 500 show up or some expected number.
Linda didn’t have a bottom line, and I soon learned that even though there were no workshop participants, being her workshop buddy meant Linda, Kyler and I were co-facilitating co-operative activities together. At that point in my transition out of my health care career, I still had a competitive streak and this was the first time I had encountered children in leadership roles or concepts such as “sharing leadership,” or “leaving out losing,” or “following the leaders behind you,” or “differences are gifts to appreciate not problems to be solved.”
Linda, Kyler and I took turns playing a Follow the Leader game and playfully followed each other outside into a city playground. It was lovely to be outdoors on a beautiful warm day creatively building peaceful connections. When Linda suggested that we find other people in the playground to follow, it seemed natural to copy the movements of a woman who was doing calisthenics. This experience of spontaneously and playfully collaborating with a stranger was empowering for all of us. After exercising together, we rested on a park bench. With the help of her daughter, the woman in the park shared that she had recently immigrated to Canada from Europe. Even though she was only beginning to learn English, she was delighted to become acquainted with us through the universal language of fun.
At the time, little did Linda and I know where the universal language of fun would lead us. We quickly evolved from being one time workshop buddies to becoming mutual mentors for each other. We co-founded a peace-building initiative called Inclusive Leadership and evolved from two collaborators into a team of adults and youth from diverse backgrounds. Together we have created an approach to Inclusive leadership that values everyone and models a blend of instruction, demonstration, experiential education and of course, learning through fun.
In the fifteen years that have gone by since we met, we are looking back at more than a hundred shared adventures guiding thousands of adults, youth and children to develop Inclusive Leadership skills for connecting with differences and communicating with compassion. In our work together and with other members of the Inclusive Leadership Co-operative we have developed a life-enriching curriculum based on the power of human connection for creating universal success. We continue to learn that collectively we are much more effective than we are individually. Our work together is not about creating a big crowd because whoever shows up are the ones meant to be sharing our message. The outcome of two or three or four or fifty people creating human connection leads to powerful collaborations whether these collaborations last a few moments or lead to a life-time of working together in harmony, collaboration and trust.