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Welcome to the August 101 Friends Newsletter

July 31, 2013

“Asking makes us vulnerable.”  Amanda Palmer

I discovered the work of artist Caleb Cole the other day.  It was at the end of a long (and wonderful) week of facilitating conversations about relationships and connection, and suddenly there was this photo that seemed to sum up everything we’d been talking about.  Cole CalebCole_Cross,2012has been working on a series of art works in which he takes “found” photographs and then changes them.  The series is called “Odd One Out.” 

After finding a discarded group shot, he cuts out and discards everyone except one person and that person is alone.  It’s such a simple transformation of a photograph and yet who can’t relate to the feeling of being different and alone in the crowd?

Or of the vulnerability of being outside the safety of the crowd?

Lots of things happened in the meetings we were part of, things we didn’t expect.  We were talking with a provincial group about building and expanding professional networks and in an exercise we led them through, with the intention of identifying others they might connect with,  many of them realized that the network they really needed to develop was with the people in the room, that there were people they wanted to get to know and understand better, who were sitting beside them.

In another meeting, with a group of self advocates, through a surprise move by our co-facilitator, the wonderful David Wetherow, we were led to ask them for help, which wasn’t what I’d expected, in the planning of a new business venture.   And, gosh, what ideas they came up with – it was a bit boggling…  they have had so little exposure to business theory and project planning and yet they came up with every single idea that we’d already had and at least four new good ideas that we hadn’t thought of.   CallForHelpDuring part of that day’s conversation they said, and I drew, this:  “Sometime you get overwhelmed . . . you need to call someone to ask for help.”

At the end of the meeting they talked movingly about what it was like to be asked for help by us, and how they felt honored and loved by our question.   And they talked about the assumptions of the world around them that they have no help to give, and how damaging that feels, to have one’s contribution discarded.

Many interesting things happened, and at the end of the week I realized that mostly they happened because we sat back and didn’t talk, and gave ourselves time to listen.  This reminded me of one of our earliest and most significant surprises.

Some years ago, when Spectrum was working around some strategic planning, we wanted to know what we were known for – what did people like about our work?   We had a bunch of ideas about what that would be.   As we waited for the independent surveyors to get back to us after they’d interviewed about 50 stakeholders, we imagined their feedback because as various points we’ve thought that we write great reports, we are really good at planning, we’ve got a great track record with folks who have had long term challenging behaviours, we felt good about how we’ve figured out how to include family and self advocate leadership, we’re professional, educated, knowledgeable about best practices, experienced, helpful, articulate.  Which of these would people focus on?

When the report came back, it was this: “You are good listeners.”

That was it?  We were working that hard to demonstrate great listening?  And then we started reading through the detailed quotes: “No one ever listened to me before”; “In fifty years of meetings I was expected to listen, and you came in and asked me what my story was and you just waited”; “You didn’t interrupt me – I’d never been not-interrupted before”; “You heard me”: “You didn’t jump to make it better or tell me what to do, you just let me talk.”   Again and again there were examples around the same theme.

Our friend and consultant Michael Walsh said about the feedback, “Now the thing to do is to figure out how to get even better at what you do well!”  And so we started figuring out what listening is, and what it isn’t, and how to do it better, and how to communicate it as a value in all our work.

Listening is so hard, it really requires a kind of meditative practice.  In one of our workshop exercises we get people to talk for six minutes and, often, when it is families talking they’ll come up later and say it was their first experience of just being heard.

Several years after, we have been looking at our work again, wanting to re-focus and plan.  Another set of interviewers made another set of calls to another set of people and we waited to hear back.   This time, people said things like we didn’t try to “own” them, we honored their relationships and listened to their networks and helped them expand their friends and deepen their relationships.   All the feedback had to do with a deepening expression and intention of listening.   The theme was similar but fuller and is expressed by the tagline that is now on all our communications: “Express yourself. Build your network. Find your voice.”

I think what I am coming to is that the old role of services and supports was “to help,” sometimes to help without listening, and while helping is often important, our new role has more to do with figuring out how to ask for help and whom to ask…  for ourselves and for those we care about.  It is about finding out who else might be out there – and what other kinds of answers, and conversations, might exist and about the realization that often the answers we need are in the rooms we are already part of.   “Through the act of asking people, I connected with them. When you connect with them, people want to help you.”  Amanda Palmer.

We believe we are surrounded by evidence of kindness, sharing and abundance.   If you’d like to share any of the articles or illustrations (not photographs of people or works which are obviously by individuals, who have only given us permission to use them here) from the 101 Friends blog  you are welcome to do so for the uses of non-profits or social justice organizations, giving credit to http://www.101friends.ca – a note letting us know either in the comments or by email or twitter would be great!   Copies of our books, posters and media works for use by groups are available at http://www.spectrumpress.ca  Inquiries about workshops, dialogues or facilitation can be made to aaron@spectrumsociety.org  Spectrum is a charity, although Spectrum Consulting: Collaborative – Learning, Research, Press is a Social Enterprise, and donations to our work can be made here – specify Research Training and Development if it matters to you, otherwise it’ll be used where it’s most needed.  You can subscribe to our blog as a blog on wordpress, or as a monthly newsletter at the link above.   If for some reason you’ve decided you don’t want to receive these newsletters, unsubscribe at the bottom of the email you were sent.  Feel free to forward this to friends who might be interested!

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