Friday, October 28, 2011

The Politics of the Broken Hearted

By Pia Infante

When I first read Parker Palmer's description of "the politics of the broken hearted" in his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, my heart expanded and contracted in resonance. I have a patched together heart full of despair, resilience, and ferocious hope about the time and world we live in.

As I track the impact on the public imagination and consciousness of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I experience a similar sense of expansion and contraction. Stories from the streets have been inspiring (encampments have grown in over 1000 cities) and terrifying (Oakland police raiding a camp of 70 sleeping occupiers with 500 policemen).

I particularly appreciate the General Assemblies that are a core part of how "leaderless" decisions are being made. I also appreciate the quality of listening that is elevated by the common practice at the General Assemblies that the speaker and audience do a call and response where the speaker talks in short chunks that are immediately repeated by the whole group. It's powerful. And interesting. And happening in many, many cities in our country and beyond.

I don't mean, at all, to idealize this effort, which has seen critique on all sides of the fence. It's un-contestable, though, that Occupy has sparked the interest and engagement of millions in a global conversation about the distribution of wealth in our time. It seems, too, that there are a million opportunities to engender the kinds of thoughtful, cross-perspective dialogue that TWI supports. I've no data on whether or not this is happening, but do shore up an immense hope and wish that it is.

I've been musing about the kinds of across the divide types of conversations that are likely occurring, however fruitful, on the streets and in all matter of venue. Rich Harwood recently blogged (and actually helped facilitate) about a dialogue between tea party members and Occupy organizers - with an intention to raise up the shared values and beliefs and possibly even solutions that could be located between the two grassroots movements. As with most dialogues between people who's identifications often divide them, he suggests it starts with listening into commonality. We talk often at TWI about the conditions that scaffold difficult conversations. A short list includes:

  • Start with sharing story, before talking about issues.
  • Show up as a demonstration of your values, not your positions.
  • Build relationship.
  • Perhaps put aside known topics of difference, at least at first.
  • Listen. (cannot be overstated)
  • Lead with inquiry.
  • Be willing to listen, and, even more so, be willing to be changed by this relationship/experience.
Not an exhaustive list. I'm sure you can think of 10 more elements that would be required to truly succeed at dialoging across difference.

I've written before that this kind of conversation takes practice and so much willingness. With ferocious hope, I envision that in and about Occupy encampments and in all of the ways that we are participating in the greater conversation about our common welfare, that we take this moment in history as an opportunity to talk between silos and across divides - into the collaboration it will take to make real the promises of our democracy.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Relationship Building As A Measure of Impact

By John Esterle

(The following can also be found on Beth Kanter's blog, as a guest post from John.)

One of the themes raised up as the GEO/Monitor Institute conference came to an end was the importance of trust and relationship building in networks. Indeed, that was my theme for the day given that I facilitated a couple of morning conversations on that topic and then in the afternoon heard Ify Mora from the Barr Foundation ( talk about how they use social network mapping to capture the relationships that have been built through their innovative Fellows Program.

So, as I leave the conference I’m wondering how storytelling might be combined with social network mapping to make the broader case within philanthropy that relationship building — and the spaces and processes that support it — matter. It’s an important challenge to meet because I think that unless relationship building is broadly recognized as a key measure of impact, it will continue to be under-resourced (to the detriment of achieving the larger goals and outcomes people are working toward).

The philanthropic exploration of networks potentially offers a new platform or frame to talk about the need to explicitly value process and relationship-based work. And that opportunity links to the other top two network themes raised up in today’s final session: the value of values (naming what’s important) and the need for funders to see themselves as changemakers within networks rather than just funders. In short, what might be gained by funders taking off their organizational hats and bringing our whole selves into the equation?

I think if more funders do step outside of their traditional roles it will be through different kinds of relationships with both grantees and other funders. And, as was apparent throughout various conference discussions, those relationships will blossom if they are built on trust, humility, and a willingness to be both vulnerable and generous with each other.

So, a percolating question for me going forward, both individually and organizationally, is:

How do we walk our talk when it comes to operating with a network mindset where process and relationships truly matter?