The Power of Community Conversations

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It is not news that we are living in a time of polarity, where individuals and communities are drawing lines in the sand and demonizing the other “side”.   But what if it were possible to ask different questions, that sought to understand, create a dialogue and spark a powerful vision for what community could be?

Powerful questions lead to powerful conversations that are not only meaningful but are transformational because people feel seen, heard, and acknowledged and this can lead to a shift in assumptions and create new connections that might not have existed before a meaningful conversation.

Paul Born in his book Community Conversations suggests that “Conversation is not just what is said; it is also what happens between people.  Conversation is not always about an event or time; it is part of a much larger process of change.  It leads to more conversation and is part of a journey to understand.  Community conversations area a deliberate form of listening to the people in a community in an effort to learn to agree, to become committed and engaged and to create a place in which discovering the obvious is possible.”

When I read this it, it reminded me of the importance of taking time to listen and to get curious….to find out about the story behind the story….in short to get to know the person in front of me through a meaningful conversation.  My friend Noa Baum an international storyteller has said that you don’t have to accept someone else’s beliefs and values if you listen to their story, it is their story.

Just listening to other people’s stories does not have to threaten me and in the process I can learn about myself and come to understand what matters most to them.   Stories make you listen and most importantly, they open up an exchange; a dialogue and this leads to finding areas of agreement or ways to discover how to accommodate each other’s differences.

Another friend, Gerry Lantz, President of StoriesthatWork, has said as a species, we are hard wired for story and connection.  He says all we have to do is look at our language and see how story is a fundamental part of our world.  Phrases like; “You won’t believe that story”, “You want to hear the real story behind that?”; “Have I got a story for you”; “What’s his story” are all part of our culture and cultures throughout the world.

Stories connect us and help to create community whether a geographically defined community such as a village, town or city; an assisted living community, a church community, or online communities.  They all share the same attributes of belonging, connections and the sense of being part of something larger than yourself.

This intense listening and seeking to understand is the underpinning for civic engagement where people from all backgrounds have a voice in decisions and actions that affect their lives.   In the recent report by the Knight Foundation and Gallup entitled Soul of the Community it was demonstrated that when people feel greater attachment in the communities in which they live, the communities are more successful.  In short, civic engagement is a key to achieving greater community attachment and an enhanced quality of life.

Civic engagement requires more than elected officials or organizational leaders making presentations to the public and answering questions in town hall meetings.  Civic engagement means gathering multi-sector stakeholders, providing baseline data, asking questions that are not already answered, identifying community assets, inviting diverse stories and input, identifying emerging themes and providing ways to enable positive action to take root.

As Peter Block, author of “Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community” has said “We will create a future distinct from the past when we engage in restorative conversations based on accountability and commitment. Being accountable means acting as an owner and part creator of whatever you wish to improve; to care for the well being of the whole and to act as if this well being is in our hands and hearts to create.  Being committed means we are willing to make a promise with no expectation of return; a promise void of barter and not conditional on another’s action…it is a choice made in the absence of reciprocity and this is the essence of power.”

It appears that this area will become an even stronger player in the global economy and it is increasingly clear that we are part of an interconnected world.  Now more than ever, broad based civic engagement is called for to enable citizens to imagine and co-create a thriving community for the good of the whole.

 

 

 

Moving from Anti-Bullying to Positive Community Norms

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As I reflect on this past week, I am struck by a common theme that affirms community well-being.
One is from a fourth grader writing a letter to this newspaper with a message to end bullying;   “….Change bullying to be nice…People are different…it doesn’t matter.  It would be cool to love each other”, and the other was a workshop on Positive Community Norms.   One view from a young student is calling for an end to intimidation and bullying and the other viewpoint lives in the world as if community norms are already positive.

Today, we see anti-bully campaigns pervading our schools especially after so many shootings.  We know that bullying can escalate to gun toting kids who feel they are not seen or heard and worst of all they feel they are not loved and do not belong, in short, they are hurting.  What we have learned from the anti-bullying campaigns is that “hurt people, hurt people”…… And this is true for grown-ups too.  Bullies do not feel seen or heard and feel that they must attack others to assert their place in the world and prevent perceived attacks.   So what is needed to turn this around?  Love!

Yes, I said it; the “L” word; bullying is a call for love!   Perhaps you remember from Sunday School days when you learned that Jesus reminded us, “to love your enemies” and that forgiveness is the surest way to disarm bullies. The way I see it, to stop bullying one must do three things; 1) have self respect, draw personal boundaries and hold your ground ,  2) call it out; name it when you see it,  3) join with others who share values that affirm “being nice”.   It is not OK for someone to intimidate you and attempt to instill fear whether it is the school yard bully, a neighbor, a public figure or a partner.   It is time that we all start turning the tide from negative community norms to positive community norms.  And the good news…it is happening!

Just last week, the Commission on Children and Families Health and Human Services hosted a workshop conducted by Montana State University on creating positive norms.  We learned that the key is to shifting from negative community norms to positive community norms is to challenge assumptions.  Assumptions based on fear, (False Evidence Appearing Real) lead to attacks in all of its various forms ranging from verbal slights, written word or physical threats.  Our assumptions are based on our view of the world and according to Albert Einstein it all starts from one fundamental question, “Is the universe a friendly place?”  If you see it as unfriendly and fearful place, you are ready to attack it before it attacks you, if you see it as friendly place, you expect to see possibility even in the face of serious concerns.

Annamarie McMahill, the researcher from Montana State, made the distinction between having a “fear” and having a “concern” and that a shift occurs when we balance a concern with hope because hope pulls us into a positive future and creates new cultural norms.   When people are open to new possibilities, it means leaving a familiar  and perhaps fearful place (the “known”) and launching in a new direction where we see possibility and where we acknowledge each other’s personhood without diminishing , demeaning or bullying each other.  We all need to belong, to be seen and as Mark Nepo, a leading contemporary philosopher, reminds us;   “As far back as we can remember, people of the oldest tribes, unencumbered by civilization, have been rejoicing in being on this earth together.  Not only can we do this for each other, it is essential.  For as stars need open space to be seen, as waves need shore to crest, as dew needs grass to soak into, our vitality depends on how we exclaim and rejoice, “I See You!”, “I Am Here!”.

My hope is that we grown-ups can find a way to actualize a fourth-grader’s call to “be nice” and to “see each other” even if we have different views of the world.

Creating a Quality of Life that Goes Beyond Economics

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Dr. Stephen Bavolek, creator of a positive parenting curriculum subscribes to a world of possibility and has challenged our community leaders to make the social environment as beautiful as the natural environment. This challenge struck a chord and many people have engaged in conversations and ideas for about a year. All subscribe to the notion that Coos County has the capacity to see itself differently. For example, we could document the reduction in drug usage, the increase high school graduation, the health of families, and the value of volunteerism and continue to build on the things that are working within the context of our beautiful surroundings.
This challenge inspired new thinking about how we might reframe the questions and imagine new solutions instead of fixing old problems. What if we reinforced the positive? What if we acknowledged things that are going well and grew those? What if this fundamental shift launched a new way of seeing and being and a sense of positivity and possibility went “viral” throughout the community? Furthermore, what if we could document and measure our improvements? Most importantly what if the quality of life and the measure of success was not just based on economics?
On a personal level we often measure success by status and how much stuff you have and on a national level, we measure it by economic growth, as if that represented progress. The assumption has been that with more consuming and more spending we will have a higher quality of life. Now that view is being questioned by many individuals and public policy makers alike, who wonder if there might be another way to get a true sense of growth and improved quality of life.
The traditional measure of economic growth has been the GDP (gross domestic product) which only measures economic movement without revealing whether that activity hurts or benefits the environment and quality of life. Most importantly, GDP does not tell us who is benefiting from economic growth. However the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) includes environmental and social factors as well. You could think of GPI as the “net” revenue after subtracting the “costs” from the GDP. Simply put, net quality of life must take into account the cost of producing it, so there are three essential indicators; economic, environmental and social, This means that decisions cannot simply be based on how much money a project generates, if it the costs grossly impacts the environment and the social fabric of the community. These new indicators provide a framework for creating agreements upfront in a decision-making process and enabling all stakeholders the opportunity to agree on what success will look like before a project is completed.
I remember seeing a special about the country of Bhutan that weighs factors related to the environment and sustainability in addition to economic return. This has evolved into a very sophisticated set of metrics and is being looked at as a model all over the world. Not too long ago, Governor Kitzhaber participated in a trip to Bhutan to learn more about these factors in making public policy decisions. It turns out that Oregon, Maryland and Vermont are all taking a lead in crafting new metrics to measure progress. The Governor is committed to making GPI an effective driver for policy and budget decisions and as a first step these indicators are being tested in some pilots for the 2015-2017 budgets. The intent is use GPI to craft the state budget in all three capital accounts; physical capital, human capital and environmental capital. This means that the public sector is setting a tone that maintains a balance between the three indicators and perhaps this will set the tone for cooperative collaborative efforts between local governments and the business sector.
In addition, The 2013 Oregon Values and Belief Survey sponsored by the Oregon Health and Science University, The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Oregon State University further confirms that Oregonians generally seek a balanced approach when it comes to weighing economic growth against protecting natural resources and promoting social wellbeing for the citizens.
Here in Coos County, we have an opportunity consider using new metrics for measuring local success in any number of developments and community-wide collaborations currently underway or planned. Since, Oregon is one of the states taking the lead in creating different indicators, we have an opportunity to extrapolate from the envisioned State GPI measures of success and use them locally as a model for others to follow, wouldn’t that be amazing!

Invest in people, create an enlivened future

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It is time to redefine the word “invest.”

It is not just about money. It is about heart and it is about time as well. When we talk about investing in the people of an organization, it is particularly courageous and daring in these times because it is a strategy of hope and possibility that inspires growth and prosperity.

No one can deny that we have been and continue to be in challenging economic times with accelerating technology and global connectedness. It seems we are faced with two choices: a) The Fear Model: hunker down, get small, cut back, and disinvest in the people, or; b) The Possibility Model: embrace the new, create, innovate, expand, and invest in the most treasured resource; the people.

Organizations are faced with balancing their priorities everyday; important choices that will determine their future viability. We look around today and see the same story played out over and over again in organizations that choose to hunker down — and, in many cases, while still making profits, at the expense of already stressed employees. We see health insurance eliminated, no or reduced 401K, no or limited wage and salary increases, and reduced hours. People feel less and less valued and that they simply don’t matter. They are treated as if they can be replaced by someone else who is desperate for work.

The quality of many workplaces is in a downward spiral where low morale has settled in. And in many cases, employees still work to provide the best customer service they can under dire circumstances.

The overarching message is “Be grateful you still have a job!” But what happens in the long run? We get smaller and more fearful and try to hang on to what we have.

But what if we could make a shift and start to turn things around? What if we could move to a sense of possibility, expansion and action by thinking differently and asking different questions when it comes to supporting and developing people?

I was struck by this quote from Peter Baeklund, a leadership coach who heard this exchange between a chief financial officer and a chief executive officer:

CFO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

The power of this response cannot be missed. The CEO recognized the power of investing in people as being essential to the survival of his company. It was not just a “nice to have;” it was critical.

The value of any organization resides in its people because this is where creativity and inspiration lives.

By simply maintaining the status quo they are not just standing still, they are falling behind and will become dull, uninspired and eventually lose any forward momentum. It is just a matter of time.

Why not build an organization and re-ignite the passion that started it all in the first place? Yes, technology changes the way we work and automation has replaced massive numbers of jobs. And in all of that, we must see new and emerging opportunities and innovation. There are always new chapters to create, new needs to be filled and new innovations that build on the ones that went before. Such an approach assumes growth, expansion and vitality but only if organizations are willing to leave fear behind.

Investments in people can take many forms: •Training onsite (technical and people skills). •Paid time-off to attend relevant educational courses including leadership development. •Business training offered through the Small Business Development Center. •Job rotations within organizations and at customer sites. •Job Shadowing. •Scholarships. •Share training (pooled resources from various organizations). •Community leadership activities.

Aside from education and training, other investments in people can be simple no/low-cost activities that immediately shift the morale in workplaces and help to create an enlivened and productive environment. Something as simple as a “good morning!” might start someone’s day. Or, how about telling people you appreciate them and thank them for something they did right.

Maybe the “boss” could rotate through different functions within the organization, (not exactly “Under-cover Boss”) to gain new perspectives and appreciation for the staff. How about starting a shift or a weekly meeting with the questions such as; “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” or “What worked really well on this project last week?”

Making a living wage is the essential building block and all human beings need to be appreciated, valued and know that we matter. Let me know about a time you really felt valued at your job. These examples will give us all inspiration and ideas!

Deborah Maher, President DFM Consulting Inc., specializes in positive organization change and leadership coaching. She is teaching a series on Positive Change at Southwestern Oregon Community College and is currently a commissioner on the Bandon Planning Commission

Empathy is the Key to Connection

Effective and meaningful consulting and coaching requires connection and this happens when we empathize with another. Brene Brown provides a fun and insightful look at the difference between sympathy, which separates us and empathy which connects us. I hope you will take a minute or two to watch this short video, it reminders us how to be present with others and that we are all interconnected if we allow ourselves to feel what another is feeling.

Stay tuned….I will be posting more resources that support positive change! http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=4646

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