Ward Maillard: Well, we did the warm up. That was before the race, now after the race we have to do the warm downs. I was having the wonderful experience of taking visual notes during the last few days, and there are some “thought chickens” too that may be worthwhile. I even have a “thought elephant,” I’ve never had one of those before.
Vivian Wright: You’re getting out of control.
Ward Maillard: It really is true. There was one thought chicken that said, “What makes ‘busy’ safe?” That was a gift from Valerio. “What make’s busy safe?”
There was, “Not talking verses listening,” courtesy of Ryan.
Of course there was “The man in the sombrero,” from Angeles. All of us guys are going out to buy sombreros. Also the “silver haired lady with the doe eyes.” I’m fortunate to be married to a brunette haired lady with the doe eyes, and so I know who I’m throwing my sombrero to.
Here is a question to go home with. “We have chosen to be here. Why?” You chose to be here. I have infinite gratitude to the people who say, “yes” because you have come into the commons. Peter and I were talking about it a little bit this morning, and the thing that really struck me dead center this time was the notion of “the commons,” and that we are meeting on that commons. We’re taking back the commons in a sense, because the commons, to some extent, have been co-opted. So this becomes the “restoration of the commons.”
And, there was what Peter was saying about language this morning, “in a word is a world.” And in fact, when we name the world, it comes into existence. In the Vedic tradition, in the creation hymns, it talks about the sages sitting in a circle to name the world into existence. To name something for what it really is means to enter into an intimacy with that thing in order to name it. What comes from sitting in the circle and naming the world into existence, is friendship, and community. Community happens when strangers enter the room, and are willing to sit together and name the world.
I was also thinking about the restoration of the commons because the notion of transformation or development, the things that need to be fixed. We don’t need to be fixed. I think, inherently within us is a kind of perfection that becomes inhibited by stories that don’t serve us. So point to the “re-storying,” – “restoring the commons” – “re-storying the commons.” This is the work that Chene Swart, who I hope we will have with us again next year, and her work in Narrative Therapy. As our departed friend, Sri said, “The world is not made up of atoms it’s made up of stories.” So, what is the story that we’re bringing into the world, and how is it serving us and how is it serving the world.
In the restoring of the commons, the commons is the place where we take the time to find the words to express a possibility that can’t be named by anyone else. So the possibility that we all are, in this circle, can’t be named by anyone else. And that’s powerful.
For those within this Mount Madonna community who show up, what they’re doing is bringing their flowering., bringing the nutrients in the earth that get drawn up through the roots of this community. And the people who come from outside the community, or better from the extended community, because there is no outside, are bringing their nurturance and the nutrients to this place, that make this community strong. There’s an exchange on the commons here that vitalizes the lives of those who are in the community and puts vitality out into the world.
I am struck with profound gratitude for this magnificent play group. It is a three-day play date. What a wonderful luxury. The gift that Peter and Angeles and Vivian bring; it’s the confidence to be humble with their gifts. It’s the gentle firing of the rockets on the space-craft as it orients itself towards its destination. It’s done with a lightness and a generosity of spirit. I always noticed that Peter names the gifts in the room so that we can find them. He sees me and so I can show up.
The thing that I didn’t share (from the assignment, “Make a sentence about what you are bringing into the world”) because I thought in some ways it was so obvious that I was a little embarrassed to read it, but it’s a declaration, “that I’m bringing a world of greater awareness into being by listening, reflecting and noticing people’s gifts.” That’s what I think, Peter, you do for so many people. You notice their gifts. And in that process there’s a reflection where people suddenly come awake to who they are.
And Vivian, your gift of wild humor and your bullets and flowers, they’re not a bandoleer, you wear them all over you, you know. The humor and the wildness to a point is so valuable.
Bob and Sampad, the gift of music.
And the students here; you’re not students. You’re our teachers, really. I heard some things come out of your mouths where I just went, “wow!.” You know, who is teaching who? Amber was instructing us the other night about, “You have to take care of your physical being, your emotional being, your psychological being, and your spiritual being if you want to do good work in the world.” And I was seeing this wise woman talking to the elders going, “Shape up guys, you have to get it together now if you want to keep going.”
As we come to the end we actually come to the beginning of the next journey where we go out from here hopefully with some energy and insight, I always do. But I want you top know how much you all matter. Your showing up, how much it matters. This couldn’t happen without you.
This is the commons. And this is the place where we name the possibility that only we can name. Thank you. I want to end with this gratitude and this sense of incredible well-being, because you are here.
Peter Block: I always thought it would be nice to do nothing. This is it. So. Can the two of you just start over from the beginning and do it again?
You know, if you talk about the restoration or the transformation, it’s never an argument against anything. It helps to make distinctions, like the difference between individualism and communalism. Those distinctions are helpful. But it’s not an argument against patriarchy. It’s not.
You don’t go to Mars, who is the god of war,” and say, “Could I interest you in peace?” And you don’t go to top management, who gives orders to the world and say, “Can I interest you in surprise?” There’s nothing to argue about. So that’s one thought.
The other thought is that all restoration, transformation occurs through language. The world is transformed through the words that we use. I love the sentence, in a word is a world, and every word is a world. And so the restoring occurs the moment you find new language to describe what you’re living into. All transformation is linguistic and it’s not a matter of semantics and it’s not a matter of translating what I hear into my own language, there’s no transformation there. Two disciplines in the world are central.
One is art. Art has a job to do. It’s not entertainment. When Bob sings he’s not entertaining us; he’s a prophet. He’s prophesying and producing and alternative experience through your singing, and your singing, a lot of them, are laments, a lot of them are grief cries, a lot of them are promises. You say last night, you brought into the world the possibility that I can lean on you, and so the function of art is prophecy. The purpose of prophecy is first, to describe the world as it is, the emperor has not clothes, this is the world as it is, and the other purpose is to say, “There’s another way; there’s an alternative world.” All the poetry, all the storytelling, the language of Angeles, offers us an alternative world.
So all of that in her speaking of it opens up another world. Just as soon as she says there’s three things that prophesizes another world of experience just in the saying of it. What she gives us, and the purpose of that language is the experience of aliveness. To step out of our toll box, our vertical coffin. Angeles does it so that we experience aliveness in her saying of these stories, and are making these lists. That’s the process, if you want to operationalize restoration. If you want to really get granular and operationalize it you say, well let me pay attention to the language you’re using that brings in an alternative world. That’s what I thought we’d work on this morning. The artist does it through poetry and through song, and the artist is the prophet.
The other central function is journalism, and the task of the journalist is the communal storyteller. The world we have now, in some ways isn’t reported by journalism, it’s constructed by journalism. The big journalistic question is, “What constitutes news?” In the patriarchal world, we’ve decided what’s wrong with us constitutes news. You can pick up any newspaper you want and the headlines are always some variation of, “this is what’s wrong with us.” Who died, who cheated, who lied. The most liberal of papers is doing the same thing it doesn’t matter. The liberal, conservative conversation is useless. Part of our task if the communal, the common good is what you’re after is to reconstruct journalism. Reconstruct what we call news. Reconstruct the common daily story of who we are.
That’s the second notion. The last thought is, all of this is occurring now. There is a movement afoot in the land in any dimension you want; whether it’s economics,
or whether it’s in liberation theology, or whether it’s in architecture. People are now reconstructing buildings and housing so that we can live a communal life and can raise each other’s children. Feed each other. And you’re it (the movement). All of you are in the midst of this transformation. It’s nothing that we have to start. We just have to make it visible and amplify it.
Those are some thoughts about how it comes into the world by paying attention to the nature of our speaking. There are those of you that I know are doing that.
Gary is in charge of public works for the city of Salinas. He’s the poet of public works. That’s his job title. Who would have thought that we’d have a poet in charge of water and waste management? Solid and liquid. And he runs the airport, you know, without even looking. In his speaking as the poet, he’s bringing another world into being. He’s talking about different ways of being, different ways of coming together, different ways of talking to each other. He’s a community builder, and you’re all community builders even though it’s never your job title.
Brian worked for Mars. He was an executive there and I know that he was bringing into being a world organized around community and one that cared for those that were uncared for, producers. Whatever your title is you’re still building community.
I thought the way to get completion for being together is to have you in small groups, which is always the place where intimacy and all these things occur. You have you come up with a sentence or an image that captures the world that you are in the process of bringing into being. A sentence that you can construct that describes the world that you are committed to bringing into being.
Not what you’re doing, or not what you don’t know, or not what you’re not doing, or not what you haven’t done yet. I don’t want to hear about the desert that you’re walking through and you’ve got thirty-nine more days until you finish, I don’t want to hear about the fact that, “If I grow up, and I haven’t grown up yet.” Everybody has a story of what they’re not. This is the cost of patriarchy. That doesn’t take you anywhere. I’m not interested in people’s story of what they’re not, or struggle. I want to give you a chance to spend thirty minutes with two other lovers to say, “What’s the sentence, or image, I can construct that would give voice to the world that I’m in the process of bringing into being.”
Now if you don’t understand this assignment that’s perfect. Any assignment well understood takes you nowhere. Nowhere.
So people say, “Can you define your terms?”
And you say, “Of course not. Why would I control you in that silly way?”
“What do you mean by bringing into being?”
The ambiguity of the question creates space for something new to occur. The methodology of restoration is a question, always. A question dropped into a small group, always. A question dropped into a small group where people have chosen to be with the stranger, always.
You’re bringing hospitality into the room when you say, “Sit with someone you know the least.” And it’s a question dropped into a small group where strangers have chosen to be with each other under the injunction of not being helpful. I’m not interested in what you did when you were my age, even though I’m older than all of you. I’m not interested in what I was doing at my age. So all the stories of victory are false claims.
“Here’s what I did when I was your age.”
“How’s it going?”
And the answer for us is, “Not well.”
There’s too much suffering in the world for me to claim victory. I know you’re doing well. But we’re not doing well. That’s the commons, the essence of the commons is the notion of, “To what extent am I invested in the well-being of the whole?”
That’s what the education is for. So don’t be helpful, you substitute for help, as Angeles said, with an acknowledgement of the mystery of who we are. My only task with you, my love for you, is only expressed by trying to understand who you are. Everything else is colonization.
Don’t use questions to be helpful because we’re watching. Conspiracy is a fact, it’s not a theory. And they’re all over the place. They’re ubiquitous. Got it? Those are the methodology of restoration.
Well what do you mean by that? Well I mean it occurs through engaging people in questions about intention. What I’m bringing into the world. In a small group with people who know each other the least and live under the injunction of not being helpful and are physically close to each other.
This is why building community through the internet is impossible because I don’t care that I can see you across the globe on Skype, life-size, in all your glory, I’m still alone, watching. With all that technology, I’m still alone, watching. Is it better than not watching? Of course it is. Am I glad we can call and I can see I have a godson in Singapore? I like seeing Peter. But it’s not community. There’s no touch. I can’t touch him. It’s always in a small group. Proximity is the last thing. So that’s the fun. Let’s do that.
Angeles Arrien: Thank you for your great riff. Took us into a real transcendent place where memory and imagination are woven together. I love the invitation that you started this morning. What it brought to mind was Mary Oliver’s great question at the end of one of her poems when she said, “What is it that you want to do with the one wild, precious thing called your life?” …. “What is it that you want to do with the one wild, precious thing called your life?”
That’s always a daily question and always thinking about the tribal people’s of South Africa often say that death is, from the time that we’re born death is on our right and destiny is on our left. Death is always asking us every day the question, “Are you using the great gift of life well? Are you using the great gift of life well?” And Destiny on our right is asking another question, “Are you doing what you’ve come here to do? Are you doing what you’ve come here to do?”
And what is it that we want to do with the one wild, precious thing called our life? And, when you were talking, an old memory came to me. Seven years ago I was asked to do some consulting work in New York and they said, “Well tomorrow morning let’s go down and meet, and have our meeting at the café below the Miracle Bridge.”
I said, “Miracle Bridge? What’s the Miracle Bridge?”
They said, “Oh you know, the Brooklyn Bridge. You know, we, us natives, we just call it the Miracle Bridge.”
I said, “Well, why do you call it the Miracle Bridge?”
They said, “Well, I don’t know. We just call it the Miracle Bridge.”
And I thought, “Well therein lies a story.” So I began looking for that story and it’s an incredible story about aliveness and commitment and being seized by something that is so important and matters so important that you’ll do anything to make sure that it comes into form. Which is really the definition of Eros. Eros is really the love of something to bring it into form and it’s not about libido it’s about the love of bringing something that you love into form. So I found the story about the Miracle Bridge and it’s a very short story but it’s a riveting story about doing something with the one wild, precious thing called your life.
The Brooklyn Bridge that spans the river between Manhattan and Brooklyn is simply an engineering miracle. In 1883 a creative engineer, John Roebling, was inspired by an idea for this spectacular bridge project. However, bridge building experts told him to forget it, it just was not possible. But Roebling, undaunted, convinced his son, Washington, an up and coming engineer, that the bridge could be built. And the two of them conceived the concept of how it could be accomplished and how to overcome the obstacles. Somehow they convinced bankers to finance the project. Then with unharnessed excitement and energy they hired their own crew and began to build their dream bridge. The project was only a few months underway when a tragic onsite accident killed John Roebling. And severely injured his son, Washington. Washington was brain damaged, unable to talk or walk. Everyone thought the project would have to be scrapped since the Roeblings were the only ones who understood how the bridge could be built.
Though Washington Roebling was unable to move or talk, parts of his mind were as sharp as ever. And one day, as he lay in his hospital bed, an idea flashed in his mind of how to develop a communication code with his wife. And all he could move on his body was one finger. So he touched the arm of his wife Mary. And he began to work out a tapping code with her. They developed a code, which they mutually understood. And for thirteen years he tapped out the instructions for her to tell the engineers how to continue building the bridge. Within thirteen years, and this consistent daily instruction to his wife, this spectacular Brooklyn Bridge was finally competed. And therefore they called it the Miracle Bridge.
I think we’re being called collectively and individually and relationally at this time in history to come and return into a place of deep engagement and aliveness and really participating in the great gift of life. And really entertaining the question, “What is it that I want to do with the one wild, precious thing called my life?” And in the conversation of restoration that the crucible of restoration is a return to aliveness.
Vivian Wright: There was so much invoked yesterday that wove together in a lovely way, and reflecting on it last night, I was thinking about the answer to the question, is there one Buddha or many? And I’m sure many of you know the answer is “yes.” At the truth body level, it’s all one. At the subtle body level, there’s more variety; and at the manifest level, where we have hands that can reach out and touch others from our heart, infinite variety; original medicine, strange and magnificent, and so necessary. And then I thought, it’s sort of like the bodies that Angeles invoked, the body of self, the relational body we create with others, and the body of the collective.
In my own experience of awakening, to have high affect on relationship, and have high affect on the collective, we have to focus on the relationship with the self—the foundation for relationality, which begins with self awareness and high regard. It enables that subtle level, the magnetic level that radiates from us – that’s part of that gaze that can’t be ignored. It’s the basis of presence and is really key.
It shows up in a lecture I like to give sensitive executives about being a big wheel. If you want to be a big wheel – I go to science, and say, let’s just talk about how you’ll affect reality. What is this material world made of? If you blow up an atom until you can see electrons the size of a speck of dust with your naked eye, what would you be looking at? How would reality look at that level? You would see a speck of dust here, and football fields away, another speck of dust – the real world. So I ask them, so what do you think is in-between the particles? And who knows? Sometimes I offer the idea that it’s love that holds it together. I tell them, if you really want to address the absolute majority of nature, work with the space between the particles. That’s where the heavy lifting is. Then you can move like a big wheel, from the largess of your being; and get there faster, instead of like a little wheel. Work with the space between the particles where the heavy lifting is. So when we work with the body of self, and the body of relationship, and the body of the collective, we’re still addressing what’s in-between the particles, and how courageous we can be, and expansive in allowing that bigger part to direct what happens.
Yesterday there were some powerful invocations; many were touched by the Black Hat of Zapata. I was wondering in those levels of relationship, can we show up with the wildflower showing between our bullets, with a gaze that refuses to be ignored. Do we know when we’re met by another, the silver haired woman across the room, who returns our gaze, who holds it, and calls from it the “swaha,” the surrender and offering of our greatness, and say, yes. And the “yes” of Sir Gawain, and King Arthur, to risk everything, to risk really giving their lives when there was a deal they were willing to risk them for. They heard the call to save their lives and risked exploring something impossible, “what do women want?” It’s a kind of ecstatic bravery that comes from a feeling of being called. Can we say “yes, with such courage? Risk giving our lives?
And the hag, Dame Ragwell – I thought about something that Peter brought up in a previous Chautauqua about fallibility – I can’t possibly language it in his beautiful way; but I think one of the important things, especially when we come here and get these seeds of inspiration, is to be prepared to be disappointed. I love his idea that “I’m not a development project; people have tried and failed,” this is it. In that, can I kiss the hag in myself – because she’s coming along. She’s a pretty good friend, and a source of great poetry – can I kiss the hag in myself? Can I kiss that hag in the other when I see their warts, and I know that there’s a Buddha inside? We’ve all got Buddha’s on board, and can we accept the hag quality, even of our great beauty, which shows up our expression of divinity, in such weird and wild ways?
I’ve said recently, teasing Rumi, I’m a kazoo that the Christ’s breath blows through. But yesterday I had a different riff on that. I was talking about my, sort of ferocious experience of the divine, and how it shaped me. I thought, well we’re all the body of Christ, you could say all, those parts, those different expressions, I thought, maybe I’ll be the asshole. But it’s an important part. (laughter) So this is causing more new material, beyond being the kazoo. And I thought about the dilemma about living into that wildness of who I am, and can that be of service to community; can that wild voice really serve?
And one of Angeles’ great teachings came to me about the three big lies: she says there are three big lies that we tell ourselves – one is the lie that I’m not enough, I’m not sufficient; my warts, my wearing of bullets, I’m not sufficient. And the other big lie is, you’re not sufficient to meet my needs. You’re not sufficient, that’s another huge lie. And the last one is, the universe is not sufficient to meet my needs. In my own experience, it’s wonderful to find that it doesn’t take perfection to produce a miracle.
In fact, once when I was very depressed about a leader I was working for and trying to support, and a wonderful Peter Block inspired socio-technical redesign of a laser jet factory – this head of a consulting – I was complaining about this leader always falling off the horse, and not keeping the vision. And Peter said there’s nothing worse than a perfect a leader. I said, what do you mean? He said, “There’s nothing to contribute. There’s no room.” So I just had to consider that, that when you see insufficiency on those levels, it’s a form of invitation. And that’s magical, because together we are enough. And I think that is the wisdom of the collective; and part of “re-storying.” The restoration of a view, that designs the architecture of how we hold ourselves in reality in a way, that allows our aliveness and humanity to be full. It allows for the mischief of our warts and hair, and ugliness to be a resource, and it allows us to show respect – as Angeles likes to say, it comes from “respectare,” to look again. Perhaps part of the magic is that curiosity, the “word” that so many of you brought into this Chautauqua – the curiosity to look anew, to look again. Respect for myself. Including the Zapata; courage and boldness, and presence; and the hag that says kiss me. That curiosity can re-story – invite so many possibilities we would never have imagined.
I think there was an invocation of bravery, in all of those offerings yesterday, and impeccability to move toward that aliveness in a more radical way. Will I bet my life on it? And how can it show up in a design of a restoration – designing the space, and the schools, and the classrooms, and the relationships; and even the dreams we hold to open up more of that, and not to be concerned about doing it perfectly. The hag can be a resource. So today I thought it would be nice for us to have some conversations that let us try on making a stake, you know, that gift of leadership, which is to take a stand and be seen for what you stand for. Try it out. This morning we’re going to have an invitation for some conversation about where am I, and that commitment to aliveness on the self and relational level, and the community level. What would be my edge of taking a stand like that? Peter I’d love for you to add to that with some reflections you’ve got. Or Angeles…
Vivian Wright: So now, we get to mess with what Peter stirred up, and the rest of us stirred up. And I would just like to hand over to Angeles, and initiation to have a conversation about that.
Angeles Arrien: Well one of the things that I really loved in what Peter stirred up – he’s so good at stirring the pot. And also, Peter, you have an uncanny capability to ignite memory and the imagination at the same time – which is really a definition of wizardry.
Peter Block: Put that on my resume.
Angeles Arrien: One of the things that I love what you’ve been exploring, are all the crucibles of connection – education is a crucible of connection, economics is a crucible of give and take, exchange – really, all about reciprocity, and the heart of generosity. And religion, really means to reconnect. To reconnect to something that you can rely upon. Then architecture is a way of building a sense of shelter, or home; but essentially, in its primal place is around honoring spirits of land, and spirits of place.
The fact that you’re using the word restoration – the heart of that word is to “re-story.” And I think we’re in an exciting time, not only of restoration as a healing word, but also as an active word into re-story. What it cultivates, for me is – it takes me on a journey, what is wanting to be re-storied in our lives at this time? Or re-storied in education; or re-storied in the spirit of generosity that resides in the human spirit; that the structures of economics support. Or what wants to be re-storied as far as structures that really create the embrace of place, and the embrace of home; or the experience of home, and what that means…
So I like the word restoration, a lot. Especially liked the restorative process – oh, it’s a wonderful phrase that you said, “The restorative process requires a community.” And when you think about that, it requires connection – any restorative process requires some kind of connection, and is not ultimately ever done alone. Any kind of healing is never done alone; any kind of re-storying, when we begin to re-story ourselves, it’s always in connection to something or somewhere, or someone, in someway. I think it would be wonderful, because community also means common unity. Which, I think the conversation that Larry, you were bringing in, and we were requesting from you around the plebian conversation, is the commons, or the common unity – or to be one together. And the wonderful phrase, “The solidarity of solitudes,” is another definition for a greater community. In a sense, in the day that we’ve been here together, we’re really a solidarity of solitudes reconnecting, and restoring one another through connection. And all of the categories – I love what you’re taking on around education, or around health, or around religion, or around architecture, economics, cause those are the crucibles of connection of reconnection, and re-storying. So I liked it a lot.
Vivian Wright: What a delicious invitation. There is a faith.
Angeles Arrien: Oh definitely, I have his back.
Vivian Wright: Well you know the rules here: find the unfamiliar; don’t offer help. So let’s have a conversation about re-storying.
Peter Block: So the question – I liked the re-storying. So you might ask yourself what’s the alternative story that you’re living into now? I do think, even though, regardless of how I talk about it, is not to argue or fight against patriarchy – it’s to creative an alternative to it. So you might ask the question – you’re here because you’re living into an alternative story. Otherwise you’ve found something else to do for these two days. Somehow in the naming of the new story, there’s power in that. So you might ask yourself, what name might I today give to the new story that I’m living into?
Vivian Wright: So with that, small groups.
Peter Block: Find two other people; don’t wait to be chosen.
Vivian Wright: Don’t offer help.
Vivian Wright: I just want to see if there are a couple of other voices that want to be plebian lecturers, just for a moment. Is there another voice who wants to add to what we hear before we go to small groups?
Vivian Wright: So what is the problem with this taxonomy of the plebian protocol?
Larry Inchausti: Well the thing that’s good about the plebian protocol, is that it has an ambivalent origin. People are both ashamed and proud of being plebeians. And if you call somebody a plebian, from an aristocratic point of view that’s a put down. But if you call somebody a plebian, who is a plebian, they see that as a compliment, or at least a neutral statement. And the history of that term, that the plebian is always set opposite either the aristocrat, or the communist leadership, or somebody who is credentialed in some special way of knowing that renders the plebeians or the people’s values, less than. And so to make of a plebian value’s a virtue is that you’re making the values of the people in the community, primary. And you’re also signaling that that is uncomfortable for a large number of specialized people.
Peter Block: The credentialed people.
Larry Inchausti: The credentialed people. And I think that’s part of why it’s an attractive term, because the world ‘people’ kind of got morphed into craziness. And the plebian is closer to a search for a community, rather than a search for an alternative power system.
Angeles Arrien: Oh, that’s so good.
Peter Block: It is. Community is the alternative revolution, isn’t it?
Larry Inchausti: Yea. And so when you look at the plebian leaders of history, like Gandhi, like Lech Wałęsa and Solzhenitsyn, these are all people who come from the grass roots who find their power in their identification with people who have been excluded from the power structure. They had to invent new idioms for power, like non-violence, solidarity, or Solzhenitsyn’s term, what was his great phrase? “The solidarity of solitudes.”
Peter Block: Solitudes?
Larry Inchausti: Solitudes, which he discovered in the Gulag prison camps; that there was a whole generation of people who had been weaned off Marxism by the penal institution. We’re ready for a kind of reframing of history. And that didn’t come from the elites re-educating them, that came from them suffering through the illogic of a system. Then when they spoke up out of their own experience, it was intuitive, organic, and revolutionary. But the problem is, the plebeians don’t have the confidence, often in their own experience, so they need help creating this space that you’re talking about.
Peter Block: That’s why they need to community.
Larry Inchausti: They need the community. And the spaces that are provided for them are, as you’ve said, often setups. Like the public speaking 3 minutes you get at city council, which is the heuristic of Q and A- You get two minutes, the bell goes off, the council doesn’t respond, they just let you talk, they don’t treat you as if you’ve said something important, You’re talking like you’re talking to your therapist: they’re not responding. Then they just let it go, and then they say, “thank you for your input.” And then you go back really pissed; madder than if you hadn’t said anything at all.
Peter Block: Well I think part of what you’re angry at is your collusion by accepting that structure.
Larry Inchausti: Yes. And even if you yell at them, you’re just proving how tolerant they are.
Peter Block: Beautiful. I always think of those moments as letting people shout out their complaints like wounded goats. That’s beautiful.
Susan: Larry, maybe you could help me on this plebian framing: I like what you’re saying about trying to get to the common values. But by calling it plebian, it still feels like it’s versus the patrician. Or the example that you just gave about the community member vs. the elected. So I’m struggling – and is there some other way to come at it where we get to the community members – the plebian – the lesser heard voices sometimes need help to create the container, to build the confidence, to come forward… But is it possible to have that conversation without being against the elite, but instead for them to name and claim something that can attract some of the resources so that we can do it together. So it doesn’t have to be against. It’s attracting – it’s creating a new question that we could all be a part of.
Larry Inchausti: This is that question, answer, heuristic. Is there some other way we can talk about this, rather than one person to another. The problem of, us against them, is built into the plebian circumstance. And if the plebeians could all have microphones at the city council meetings, or something… But that’s not something that they would necessarily think of or argue for, right? I don’t know, I’m honestly puzzled by this-
Peter Block: I think it’s a little bit like – that’s a both, and argument. So I’m coming to the conclusion that part of the royal protocol is the “both/and” conversation. Which means we never dramatize, or at least see things clearly on both sides.
Larry Inchausti: The people in power can see both sides. The people out of power can’t. Right?
Peter Block: Beautiful. Right. That’s an interesting thought.
Larry Inchausti: No, that’s how they view. When I talk to my administrator, he says, I was a teacher. I know what you’re going through. But you don’t understand what I’m going through, cause I’m in charge of all these teachers.
Peter Block: Yes. They claim superior knowledge.
Larry Inchausti: Yeah, they claim that.
Peter Block: That’s the conversation. It’s not even an argument. I love what you said, cause it’s a tough question. I don’t want to fight the aristocrats. Mostly it’s like the Dalai Lama who says, are you mad at the Chinese? “No, there’s too many of them.” I don’t want to present myself as arguing as if the people in the elite are the problem. Or need to be argued with. When I say you don’t go to a board room to be surprised, well you go there for a lot of other good things. So what we’re doing here is creating the alternative to that.
Now it sounds as if you’re arguing against. But at some point, you’ve got to say there is a social and human cost to the royal protocols. I like the word protocol, because it doesn’t blame any leader. It says this is something that we’ve collectively agreed as to how we’re going to function together. When you go to a conference that’s organized in the old way, we’re all agreeing to go there, and I listen to the power point. I ask my questions, wait for the breaks, and find somebody interesting to talk to. That’s how you come to terms with the reality. Not to set up a fight with it – but to blur and think that the people – that the superintendent or the state legislature will invent plebian protocols for a classroom. I think that is foolishness. That’s why I like in Angeles’ story – you want the force? Put your life on the line. Let’s not talk about prison sentences under certain conditions based on how wrong you are. Anyways, thanks Susan.
Amber Leigh: I actually feel really embarrassed about asking this, but I realized from last year’s theme that I shouldn’t be. What does plebian mean? I would really like that definition. Because I’m over here trying to understand and comprehend what you’re saying –
Larry Inchausti: Well I think Webster’s definition of plebian would be common people. So common people are sometimes contrasted to the aristocracy or an elite. Karl Marx used plebeians in a famous phrase, where he said, “Plebeians are the common people – ignorant perfection of ordinary people; that ordinary people understood injustice, they intuitively knew when they were getting screwed. But they were imperfect as to their knowledge of what to do about it.”
Angeles Arrien: Say that again.
Larry Inchausti: Common people were perfect in their understanding of injustice, but imperfect in their understanding of what to do about it. And so Marx thought that Marxism would be the solution to the ignorant perfection of ordinary people, by providing this elite who could interpret history to empower the people. But now we know, through history, that that created it’s own elitist, colonization of the people. So what Marx called ignorant, was really maybe a higher religious traditional wisdom, that couldn’t be appropriated by Marxism. And that is what we saw in Gandhi, and that’s what we saw in Lech Wałęsa, and that’s what we saw in Solzhenitsyn. It was an articulation of the wisdom of the plebian mentality that didn’t try to systemize itself into an ideology of either the left or the right – of either modern fascism, or modern Marxism.
Peter Block: Beautiful Larry. Thank you Susan for starting this conversation.
Peter Block: My assignment, since I chose to accept it is some thoughts about education, since this is theoretically an education oriented conference. So here’s what I’ve learned from Ward: When you take a learner and turn them into a performer, you steal their humanity.” Then it has a codicil that says, “If you steal someone’s humanity, they end up thinking you owe them something” That to me is an organizing framework for thinking about education. Our educational system is one that is becoming more and more sophisticated in stealing humanity from the next generation. Its unstated but main purpose is to provide custodial care and produce docility.
We organize and design most educational K-12 as a way to produce docile citizens. When Mrs. Shay told me in the 2nd Grade, second semester, on my report card, that Peter is a very dependable boy; I took that as a message from god. I decided if that’s the game, I’m going to win at it. So you become docile. You hide your feelings, you become a dependable boy, you become responsible. Most of our educational structure has got that in mind: some place to park my children in the morning, pick them up at night, and during the day, I want you to perform all fundamental child raising activities; not only teach them content, but teach them character, teach them values, you teach them about sex, you teach them about abstinence, you teach them about their health; you teach them about crime, you teach them about drugs… So in my city, you can’t lock your lockers, because they do surprise drug inspections, because we’ve outsourced to the police, in partnership with the school, the monitoring of my children’s drug activities. And if you smoke or do drugs, you are fast streamed into the correctional system. So we create a great “minor league” to fill all the jail cells that we built around the world. And that’s education.
We also have a conversation of “race to the top,” which means we’re interested in you if you’re the best, and if you’re not the best, it’s your problem – we call you a dropout; this is why Meg Wheatley’s book, Move Over, is so powerful. And then we scar you for life, You see adults all over the place saying they only went to the 12th grade; “I’m a college dropout.” And then we have billboard in Cincinnati that says, if you go to college and graduate, you’re going to make 1.4 million dollars more in your lifetime, which is a hell of a promise. That’s all about recruiting. It’s all about getting the best and the brightest. All of this steals our humanity.
It prepares us for the workplace. Basically school is a feeder system for either a correctional institution– depending on your skin color and the neighborhood you are from; your zip code. Your skin color in Cincinnati, either aims you towards the correctional future, or if you’ve got the right skin color, the corporate future. There it is the same process – where consistency, and control and predictability are our dominant values. Where speed, ease… efficiency, are gods. Those schools that do a good job of feeding that world, we think are high performing schools.
And then you look everywhere in the consumer society, and you’ll see people can purchase anything; everything is purchasable, my safety, my health, better living through chemistry… To me, if you step back and see the fabric of this culture, it is about, the privatization of the soul. It’s about the individualization of all of us. So we believe in competition. If it’s a race to the top, it means somebody is going to loose, because we know there’s not a lot of room at the top. As a result we have “deep parenting”: it takes on the form of a child management services bureau. A parent these days spends the most part of everyday managing services to their children. They are required to do very little work, very few things that were useful. They are just supposed to do well in school, and their “extra-curriculars” are always measured against the best and the brightest – Brazilian soccer players, Chinese cellists. Parenting these days, is managing the achievement dimensions of our children. And this is what Ward is up against in running a classroom.
What you’re doing here (at Mount Madonna) is creating an alternative to this world. What’s the alternative to this individualism? What’s the alternative to this notion that I’m not enough? If you listen to Walter (Breuggemann) talk about the Old Testament and Pharaoh’s economy, basically the message is, “No matter what you produce, it’s not enough – we’ve got your cows, we’ve got your land, we own you. We used to give you straw, but now you’ve got to make your own.”
In modern times, same thing: right now, no matter how much you work, it’s not enough. Everybody’s working hard, we give away nights and weekends. I got a plug, a piece of technology stuck into all of my orifices, and if you take one of them out, I get nervous. Take away my cell phone, “oh my god, where is it?” I go all over the place looking for it. To me, this is the patterning that you’re here to create an alternative for; not to fight it, but create the alternative. Education is about producing the experience of a communal restoration. I see this as a restorative conference; a conference on restoring the experience of our humanity. And to me that is what you’re doing here.
That is what this room represents. That’s why you have banners going to the ceiling. This is access to god, that’s what the steeple is about, that is what it is about – to create space, the teepee, the temple, the church; all of that is allowing the presence and access to god. This is a restorative process. I like the notion that the technology that we lack, is the communal restoration – this is the future that I’m giving my life to.
What would it mean? There’s something called restorative justice – the police chief in Longmont, Colorado in the past 20 years, has had 2500 criminals not go to jail, because he provided for them a restorative alternative. They’ve laid this out and nailed it. And it’s right up there with AA, as far as a great methodology. And the victim is asked, “Are you open to restorative process that could end up in the forgiveness of this offender?” And they say, “Yes.” And the offender, “you interested in the alternative to the judicial system where you don’t go to court. But if you show up for this, you’ve got to admit that you did it.”
In the retributive system, the first thing a lawyer tells you, is “don’t say anything. Don’t admit anything.” (If you are asked) “Were you awake on June 12?” “Don’t answer it.” Alright? “And for god’s sake,” the lawyer will tell you, “don’t talk to the other side.” It is the worst thing you can do for your case in the retributive system, is talk to the other side, and to own up to anything.
The restorative system says to the offender, “We are going to have a conversation between you, the victim, the families of both, and the community. You are going to be in the room together. Step one is you’ve got to show up and say, “I did it.” No waffling about that.” Just like the king said in the forest, “I’m not interested in you going to jail for 20 years, I want your life. The next thing you have to do is say I’m sorry. And the community and the victim hear that. And you ask the victim, “Do you believe that?” And if they say “yes,” then you go to the next step, which is, “I promise not to do it again.” Do you believe that? Yes.” Then the fourth is restitution – “What will you do to compensate to the community and the victim for the crime that you committed?” Then you ask the victim and the community, “You agree to that?” If they say. “yes,” then off you go. So Mike Butler has 2500 people in Longmont, Colorado that have gone successfully through this. It tells me that restorative processes are what education is about. I know restorative processes always require a communal experience. I can’t do it as an individual, I can’t do it one to one.
The work of education is to provide restorative experiences for people who come in the door. Another thing that I learned from Ward, is the Maturana’s notion that the way you learn math is to have people learn how to live together in the presence of a math instructor. That’s the idea. I know that relationships among learners is where learning occurs and it takes place in the presence of someone with content. To me that says we need restorative processes for whatever domain that we want to enter.
What we’re up against is a patterning by certain disciplines. If you look at a college and all the disciplines there are, there are a few that are more patterning to our way of being together than others. One is economics. In 1776, Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations. And he wrote it as an act of service and generosity. And he said peasants ought to be able to live as well as royalty. He lived in Glasgow, where they imported cotton from the south of the US, where labor costs were low – smart, ok; slave labor. And he said, “Look at it, if we allow people to make over and over, and over, and over again, what they’re good at, and sell it all over the place, everybody’s standard of living will rise.” He was right. Peasants in Ireland and Scotland, now had lace curtains; where before it was only for the royalty. Economics brought in the notion that efficiency, repetition, consistency, was good – and the luddites bombed the machines. They were against this technology – Amish won’t drive cars. Why? They weren’t against progress, they were against the breakdown in community. They knew that industrialization was going to centralize control, and it was going to break up family. It was going to break up community and tradition. So modernism has been an ongoing assault of tradition. If any of you in the world consult or train people, and you all do, you always hear the question: “what’s next?” So I’ve been saying for years, I have an answer to that question: “nothing!”
That’s what you create an alternative to, this modernist notion that efficiency matters. The corporatization of a culture is another way to think about it. Not evil, but a corporatization of a classroom.
We have to rethink economics. Economics is the allocation of scarce resources. Olivia Saunders, and Mark Anielski and a bunch of other economists are saying, “That is not true, it’s just something that we made up. Why don’t we create an economics of abundant resources? Why don’t we decide there is enough.” When the Jews left Egypt – Moses had great ambivalence, The Jews had great ambivalence; they asked, “What’s that desert you want me to go to? Cross over this body of water. How are we going to get across? None of us have a captain’s license.” They finally get across, and they say, “Well what’s the desert like?” Well it’s a place with no visible means of support. “Damn. That’s a hell of a promise – that’s right up there with you’re going to lose your life if you don’t get the question right; or I’m the ugliest thing in the world, so kiss me you fool.” …..And so they went, and what did they discover, in Sinai? They discovered, they had enough. Of course as soon as they were there, they started to recreate Egypt – they said, “You know, we have more food than we need tonight. Let’s store it away in case Yahweh doesn’t take care of us tomorrow.”
That to me is part of the work, part of the education of our children – tell them the economic system we live under is predatory; it works but it’s reached its limit, it’s not evil, it’s just limited. And you talk about the economics of abundance. And so Edgar Cahn has invented an economy of generosity. This is what you get interested in. Every time you do an act of generosity in 30 cities in America and 20 other countries, you get an hour of generosity in your bank account. When you need something, you say, I need somebody to pick up groceries, watch my kids, fix my car… Somebody who is looking to increase their assets of generosity hours says, “I’ll do that for you, but it’s going to take me ten hours” It says that everybody’s hours are worth the same, whether you walk my dog, or fix my rocket, you get one hour per labor.
You start looking for these structures. This becomes a curriculum for education – content based on abundance; content based on cooperation. This is what Ward is doing in the classroom. The tenets of the marketing mindset, are individualism, competition, scarcity – something only has value when it’s scarce. What we’re in search of is the alternative to that. And it all comes down to how we manage the room that we’re in at the moment.
The other patterning, belief system, is religion. We needed a religious belief system that supported the economic system. So we have this notion of scarcity in religion, of original sin in religion. We have religious institutions; we have the notion of judgment from god, an unforgiving and difficult god; we have a whole set of beliefs… So you start to teach, you say, well what’s education about? It’s giving them belief systems that aren’t based on competition and efficiency. But basically the religious message is there’s something wrong with you; you better watch out, you better not cry – Santa Claus, or God, or Jesus are coming tonight. It means I have to change my thinking.
There ought to be a conversation we can have about god, as a god of generosity. I asked Olivia, “Why did you get interested in economics of abundance?” And she says, “When I was young, I was interested in my own spiritual development, and I was interested in economics. They were in conflict with each other because I learned of a generous god, and a scarce economy.” And so the scarce economy means always that poverty is inevitable.
The third discipline is architecture. Basically modern architecture – the ten winning building designs, every year – the top ten year after year, are places that nobody wants to inhabit. They’re just good looking, square, boxy, modern, soaring sightlines, glass, and steel buildings. The same with landscape architecture – the top ten winners of landscape modern architecture don’t allow people to mess up the landscape. So you go in cities, and you see spikes where people might sit. “No loitering.” People who loiter in the city are now branded “homeless.” And we scrub them. In Cincinnati and New York, when they want to clean up a neighborhood, they do sweeps. They take homeless and poor people and sweep them out of sight – like dust. This is the mindset.
The alternative is to say, what’s the architecture of abundance – how will we design a room, a building, a chair, a park, a space, to support the idea that what we have is enough. That is to me is what we’re doing here; that is what this room shape is like, it’s not round, but it’s close enough. You say, “Let’s sit in circles, let’s sit on the floor, grounded.” People move around. Ward has transformed his role statement from teacher to consultant. To me, that’s what these three days are an example of.
Then it can get very concrete, very specific. I know, Valerio taught me that if you give a talk on the internet, if you can’t say it in five minutes, you’ve lost the world. So I’d argue with him for about the first half of lunch, and the second half I took his side. I said, “Sold. You’re right. What must be true for the internet must be true for the classroom also.”
We were saying earlier, most of the conferences we go to are all about content. We get called in all the time to give a talk. Then we have time for a Q and A, which is the interactive element of patriarchy. In some places they won’t even let you stand up and speak the question. You’ve got to write it in, as a screening device against disloyalty. I did with Bell Labs once – and so they kept handing a little card with a question, and it was piped into other locations. After it was over, I said, “Any questions you didn’t give me?” And the guy said, “Yeah one.” I said, “What was that?” Somebody wrote in, “Where did you get this guy?” Which was the only interesting question.
So that is the invention, the social invention you’re participating in. It is to devise alternative structures, which honor the peer to peer conversation as the place where all transformation occurs – Not some of it, not most of it. The idea of a master teacher piped into seven locations, it’s a defense against reform.
There are two conversations won’t take us anywhere: one is the “reform conversation.” It’s all about money, class size, teacher competence. None of it is about letting community take back the raising of my children. The alternative is let teachers do what they do in the classroom. But when it comes to health, and values, and character, when it comes to crime and drugs, and all those things, I have to provide that for my children – the neighborhood has to do that. That’s part of the work. It is to get neighborhood competent again; communities competent again. Not more services, but more citizen engagement. What would that look like? Well everybody in your block should know the name of your child. If I was raising children now, I would introduce them to everybody on the block – “This is my daughter, this is my child, this is her name. if you see her doing funny stuff, come talk to me.”
Let go of the notion of education reform, it won’t; financial reform, it won’t; more controls never reformed anything. Government control – less government is going to help us? The argument for less government is the argument for individualism, and individual rights. I would say the purpose of education is to restore our appreciation for the commons; that the job of teachers is to restore care for the common good. The question you ask every student, is, “To what extent are you investing the well being of everybody in this room?” And we get rid of the normal curve. Which means if I got an A, somebody got an F. Reform will never occur through more controls, more consistency; healthcare reform will not occur through better management on the part of the health professionals. They only account for 10% or so of my health. The other 90% is on us.
I think restoration is the business that you’re in. So this is a group of 50 people gathered together to experience and invent restorative processes, so that learning and surprise occur. As Angeles asks “when was I challenged. when you were last surprised, what are you learning about love?” This is what education is about. That is so beautiful what you say.
Now the one thing you have to let go of – my last thought – is the notion of development. If you think about it, development carries the message, “human development, personal development, employee development, student development, economic development, land development,” all says, “that what we got isn’t enough, that you’re not enough. You’re an empty vessel, and we’re going to do our best to spend a lot of money filling.” So we convince you that you’re a work in progress. I consider myself a completed work. I’m done. It’s not pretty, but this is it.
One of the things in religion that offers us – why we need to talk about god, we need to talk about religion or ‘not god,’ it doesn’t matter. We need to create space for religion, because it honors fallibility. In religion, we know we’re fallible. To believe you’re infallible is a sin against god. I like the notion of fallibility. Doesn’t mean I haven’t got there yet, it means, I’m not going to get there. And I have 73 years of evidence that I’m not going to get there. I’ve been working on this thing for a long time, and I’ve had a lot of help. All the people that love me have taken me on as a project. Results are deeply disappointing.
The idea of development is a patriarchal kind of language, it’s a colonial language. The idea that you know what’s best for me is colonial act. So the restorative education would not talk about the development of a child. It would instead say how do we understand who these children are? This is my experience with my kids, with Jennifer. So here in her 40’s, I’m finally getting a glimpse of who she is. In all the early years you spend worrying about how they’re going to turn out. And you manage them, and you guide them, reward them, punish them; and then you discover all you really needed to do is find out who they were.
So development, land development, if you talk about land developers, they’ll tell you if you can’t build on this land, you’ve rendered the land useless. What does it mean, “Land, god’s earth has no use, has no value, because we can’t build on it?” We go to other countries. We went to Africa, the British went to India, we go to Latin America – we’re going to develop you; help you become what they call “developing countries.” We used to call them “third world.” We’ve gotten more sophisticated in our colonialism. Now we call them developing countries. Now several of them are richer, smarter, stronger than we are. We’re a little cranky about that. So the word “development,” you let go of that because it is a deficiency based conversation. You say, “well restorative practices help to find out what people are good at.”
The purpose of education, in my mind is help people discover what they’re good at, what they know how to do. Now there is some content they need, but fine, be present with that content in the process of them discovering with each other what they’re good at, and how to make contact. It always becomes concrete in the social architecture of the moment. You try to help people give support for an inversion of our thinking. Restorative education is to help people realize you are cause, and we as teachers are effect. My children created me; I didn’t create them. That’s ridiculous. Students create teachers; audience creates performance. It’s an inversion.
One of the thoughts that Walter (Breuggemann) talks about in social structure, is about “royal protocols.” Most of our ways of gathering are based on a patriarchal, colonial, a royal based world. Race to the top means, “We’re here to produce kings and queens,” and all of you won’t make it. Every college freshmen class is told, look to the two people near you – they won’t be here. And they say it with pride. So all the conversation about bottom line, my child is a product – you’re going to Mount Madonna, what kind of product are we turning out here? When did my child become a product? So the language of product, bottom line, return on my social investment… All the philanthropists in Cincinnati want a return on their social investment. Well that’s really quite generous – I’m giving you this money, but I want to see some results. It implies that people doing social service are not interesting in measuring. It takes my wealth to generate the measurement, accountability. It’s not that you don’t want accountability, it’s just, why wouldn’t we want to know how we’re doing? He calls that the royal protocol.
A royal protocol is power point, what powers the point. The royal protocol is to run a class where you know what the outcomes are going to be by the end. If they are my students, I have tell the board of education and the state legislature, “Here’s what they’ll be able to do at the end of the year; I’m going to predict for every one of my students what they’re going to leave with.” That’s a factory model. What Larry (Inchausti) has given me, is an alternative protocol, which is a “plebian” protocol, a neighborly protocol. We need a set of protocols. And I like protocols because it takes the pressure off of leadership. It means the style doesn’t matter. I’m not interested in teacher behaviors; teacher pedagogy, teacher’s style – not interested. It’s overrated Whatever it is, it’s not going to change. The problem with schools in the urban center is not that the teachers are incompetent. The problem with the schools in the urban center is the kids are poor. The reason that colleges promise a million and a half dollars is they’re mostly training pretty rich kids. Those kids are going to make $1.5 more in their lifetime with or without college. The social economic status is the only predictor of school performance: charter schools, regular schools, voucher schools, no difference in performance.
The idea is to develop some plebian protocol – Larry’s going to explain to us later what that means, I just love that word – because it means that basically it’s the “credentialed” conversation that produces the transformation. You start saying, “Well who do we authorize to speak in this classroom?” Right now we authorize the teacher to speak; right now you’re authorizing me, and Angeles to speak. The narrative work says we have to engage in a process of reauthorization. Part of Ward’s assignment, and you in the classroom is to say, “Well who’s voices should we be listening to?” I know it’s not top management, and I know it’s not professors at major universities… And if I want anything new, why would I go to Harvard to find it? People ask me, “Well don’t you think boards of directors should innovate a whole new set of controls?” And I thought, “If you want to be surprised and find something new, why would you ever go to the board of directors? That’s a place where surprise is illegal.” You’re trying to invert that, and say that we want to re-authorize, and finding your voice is all part of that.
That’s the idea that we come together, restoratively to create a set of protocols which is a way of speaking to each other. The language of the royal protocol is a question, what are you going to do? Pharaoh was only interested in what the Jews could produce. He had no interest in their life experience. Every time you ask somebody. “What are you going to do about it, you’re colonizing them.” You’re saying, “I’m only interested in you and your utility. What are you going to do about it?” You say, “Well neighborly protocol, what did that mean to you? How did you feel about that? What did it cost to you?” That to me is a way of describing the world.
Those are some thoughts. Communal, restorative – I think the successor to the modern age, will be the age of restoration. And we’ll see restorative justice – we will restore the earth with buildings like this; we’ll restore our relatedness to each other, because the patriarchal – economy isolates us from each other. It’s stunning to me how hungry I am to make contact with anybody. Every time you do one of these and you break people into small groups, after eleven minutes, you say, what struck you? “I don’t know, I saw myself and another human being.” Which means until those eleven minutes I was pretty lonely. And I am. So restorative is to restore our connectedness to each other, and let go of all the work in progress. This is it. This is as good as it gets. Religion brings mystery into the conversation. Not that I haven’t found anything out yet. It’s just that certain things are unknowable. The idea that I can know you, profile you, test you, describe you, is all part of the royal protocol, and that becomes the work. So let me stop here. . What should we do now? I think small groups always comes to mind.
Peter: After listening to such a story from Angeles, you might think she is a difficult act to follow. You might ask, who would want to follow Angeles? And the answer is, everyone.
Angeles and I were once in a gathering, and the afternoon of that session was long. It was long, and it was arduous, and it was full of group process. At the end of the day I said, “How about if Angeles and I design tomorrow morning?” They all said fine. So the next morning we got together, about twenty minutes before the beginning, and we shared a little bit of feeling about the afternoon, and then I said, “Well let’s design the morning, Angeles.” And she said, “Fine, let’s design it.” And I said, “Who goes first?” And she said, “I will.” And I said, “Design meeting over.” So to follow her is a blessing. I am a lifetime follower of hers.
When you hear a story told as Angeles tells it, you reflect on what was so compelling about it? I think it’s in the expressions, it’s in the eyes, it’s in the aliveness, she speaks of what it takes not to be in the procession of the living dead, and then she shows us in the telling. And that to me is what’s breathtaking about it.
I also love the repetition she invites us into. It’s space for me, to wander on my own. It also is our task is to stay in the experience of her story, rather than think about her telling the story. Another incident in that same session we ended up redesigning by having Angeles go first, she told another story. At the end, somebody said, “Boy, I wish I had a video of that.” In other words, instead of staying in the experience of the story, she wanted to memorialize the story, to have it last forever; take it to scale.
Our work now for the next thirty minutes or so, is to stay in the experience of her, and the story she uses as an excuse to show up. I thought, maybe a question for the conversation might be, what part of the experience is still working on you? What’s holding on to you?
I also love in the midst of her poetic, Zapata-like way of telling the story; she tells the story, and I feel like the woman on the other side of the room. Throw me the hat. So in her telling of the story, she is that. I love that, and mixed with that is her love of lists; and I always feel seduced when she says, “Ok, there’s four things…” And then I go, “Oh no, now I got to write something down. What was the third thing? What was fourth thing? There’s two of those, and four of those, I feel like it’s a menu. Five of those, two of those, what was third thing?” So I think she’s tickling the engineer in me, and saying you can’t get away. You can’t escape this. So I would say the question is, what is evoked – what experience is evoked in the presence of that?
Finally, the key part of one of those lists about connecting to community, and in this is the importance of the stranger. It is common in some circles to talk about the stranger within. The shadow. To me, the stranger without is more interesting than the stranger within. There is a tendency in this supportive and inward environment to spend a lot of time on the stranger within – well I have spent a lot of time on the stranger within. And the stranger without is much more communally compelling. So look around and you’ll always say, “Who in this room do I know the least?” And the second is, when you find that person, don’t wait to be chosen. So part of our defense against community is waiting to be chosen – let me sit here, perhaps living the story of the “chosen one”. We all have a story about waiting. We are introvert; In FIRO B I’m low on inclusion, high on control, moderate on the third one, which I can not remember. See, I promise lists of three and I only come up with two. This is my tombstone: Here’s lies Peter. He gave a lot, but promised much more.
So you say, “I’m not going to wait to be chosen – let me find a person here I know the least.” Don’t wait to be chosen, ok, got it? And then you create another group of three.
Now the key element, and what makes the small group powerful, is the injunction not to be useful or helpful in any way, to those other two people; because help is always a form of colonialism. It always positions myself as if I know, and you don’t. And people are always saying, “Well when I was in that situation…” And as soon as they start to say that, the implication was, it worked out well. I always want to say, “Yea. And looked how it turned out.” So my advice, mostly, is littered with things that didn’t work that well. But I’m still determined to package what did not work that well and market it again. Resist that and decide that you refuse to be helpful. You choose to be curious instead of helpful. The most curious question in the world is, “why did that matter to you?” And to me, that is just so useful. And when they answer the question, you say, “Why did that matter to you?” And you ask them the third time, and the fourth time. If they get irritated for asking the same question, ask them, “Why are you irritated with me?” And when they answer, you say, “And why did that matter to you?” Got it? So let’s do that. Find one or two other people you know the least, don’t wait to be chosen, don’t be helpful, and sit in a little circle. The question is, “What’s holding on to you from the experience that’s Angeles just took us through?”
Angeles Arrien: I was thinking about, what would be a story, cross-culturally that has everything that you would ever want to know about relationships that I could tell? And would also have the shadow side of relationship, because any unclaimed part of our self, or a part of our self that we’ve judged in any way is always knocking at the door. I found a story that’s found in every culture of the world, that’s everything we need to know about relationship around connection and spaciousness. I thought I’d end this little riff with this story and then we could break up into groups and we could talk about what you related to the story and also the three processes of self (other and collective) and the four ways we can track to see if we are still alive. What’s inspiring me? What’s challenging me? What’s surprising me? What’s touching and moving me? So that I’m not walking the procession of the living dead.
This story is about the Knights of the Round Table.
…And the Knights of the Round Table had been living in this forest for a long time in a nice little village and community and doing really good work. But they decided that they really needed to do some deeper work and they needed to work just with the twelve of them and they knew there was a forest that only one person lived in and they thought that would be the perfect forest that they could work in together and go deeper for six months. They needed to do some really quality deep work.
And so Arthur thought, “Well, I’ll just go in and negotiate with this man in this forest. This King of the Forest.” So he went in and he said to the King of the Forest, “We thought it would be a really nice exchange, you know, we’ve been in the village for a really long time and we need some quiet time and you’ve had a lot of quiet time for years and maybe you would like to be in the village.
And the King of the Forest said, “No way. Now way. I like the quiet here. I like the animals and the birds and I like nature’s rhythm. No way.”
And so Arthur said, “Well, you know, you know, is there anything that we could do or find for you that would even tempt you to leave the forest in exchange for it?”
And the King of the Forest said, “Well there’s been this one question that I’ve been thinking about for years that I’ve never found the right answer to, and maybe if you found the right answer to it, you know, I’d think about leaving the forest and going over to that small village you’ve been taking care of.”
And so Arthur said, “Well, what’s the question?”
And he said, “Well, it’s not only the question. You have to get the right answer and you have to get the right answer in seven days or it’s not a deal.”
And, “Well,” Arthur said, “I need to know the question before I can make an agreement about whether I can do it in seven days or not.”
And he said, “Not only in seven days, but if it’s not the right answer, Arthur, it’s you life.”
And Arthur thought to himself, “Pretty heavy terms, this must be a big question.”
And he said, “Well, what’s the question.”
The King of the Forest said, “The question is: What does woman want?”
Arthur thought about it, he’d been married to Guinevere all these years and he still didn’t know. He thought this was a pretty good question. And he said, “Is that the question that you’re really serious about?”
And the King of the Forest said, “Yes. That’s the question I want the right answer to. What does woman want?”
Arthur thought to himself, “Well in seven days they could do a survey of all the ladies in the land. That was doable. On heavy terms, be my life if it’s not the right answer but it’s doable. We could do a survey of the ladies of the land for seven days and be back here in seven days.” He says, “You’ve got a deal.
So he goes out of the forest, and who does he run into but his most handsomest of knights, Gawain, and his most creative of knights. And he tells Gawain, “You know, look we have a deal but we’ve got to do a survey of all the ladies in the land in seven days.”
Gawain said, “Oh allow me to do a survey of the ladies in the land.”
Arthur thought, “Well that’s not such a bad idea, after all he’s my most handsomest of knights and he’s my most creative of knights and if anyone could get the right answers it would be Gawain,” because he’s one of those cool dude types, you know, the hunk variety type. And so Gawain went off and began to do a survey of all the ladies in the land.
About the fourth day into this survey Gawain himself decided that he’d just take a little pause in the meadow and think about because there had been three re-occurring themes that all the ladies in the land were saying about what they really wanted. And they were all congruent and some of them gave him pause. He thought, well his relationships would certainly be different now that he knew this consistent information but he had three more days to go so he decided he’d just take a little rest in the meadow.
He was lying on his back in the meadow and looking at the clouds and had his horse there and he heard a horse approaching, and the horse stopped, and then he sat up and somebody had gotten off the horse. So it was a beautifully bridled horse and he looked and all he could see was this long skirt with little feet. What did he see? Long skirt and little feet. What did he see? Long skirt and little feet beginning to move around the horse. And what did he see? Long skirt and little feet. And there, coming around the horse, he thought, well he’s prepared to ask another fair damsel, you know, what did she want? What did she really want in a relationship?
There standing before him was the ugliest woman he’d ever seen in his whole life. He had never seen such a grotesque looking woman in his whole entire life. In fact he had to take a couple steps back. I mean, he had a new definition of ugly, this was it. Ugly. I mean she had natty greasy hair and flies kind of hover crafting around her head and she had big red boils on her cheeks and a wart on her nose and when she smiled, you know, her teeth were yellow craggy and she had hair that kind of curled around her chin. And she was just ugly.
He thought, he couldn’t even look at her, and he said, “Good day,” he said, “I’m Knight Gawain and I’m a Knight of the Round Table and I’m doing a survey of all the ladies in the land and I was wondering if you could just give me your worthy answer and then we could both be gone on our ways…just really ugly.” He just couldn’t even look at her. His peripheral vision began to expand.
She said, “My name is Lady Ragwell. And I have the only answer that will give you the forest and save your king’s life.” And that got Gawain’s attention, how did she know the terms? The forest and his king’s life.
He said, “Well, let me just run by these three themes because I’m sure yours will fit.”
And she said, “I have the only answer that will work. But let me hear what you found so far.”
Gawain said, “Well, the first thing that woman wants is woman wants to be respected and honored for who she is.”
Lady Ragwell, she got all soft and dreamy eyed and she said, “Male or female, who doesn’t want to be honored and respected for who they are? But that’s not the right answer.”
Gawain went on and he said, “Well, the second answer then must be it. What woman wants is woman wants to have a sense of family and a sense of home and a sense of being protected and provided for.”
And Lady Ragwell, again, got all soft and dreamy eyed and she said very softly, “Male or female, who doesn’t want to be protected and provided for and to have a sense of home and a sense of family. But unfortunately that’s not the right answer.”
And Gawain said, “Well, the last one certainly must be it because all the ladies in the land so far have said this. All the ladies in the land want to have sweet nothings and affection and love spoken to them.”
This time she became very soft and very dreamy eyed. Still ugly. Still ugly. But very soft and dreamy eyed, and she said, Male or female, we all want to be loved and desired and spoken sweet nothings to. And regrettably that’s not the right answer.”
Gawain was stunned and he said, “Well then what is your worthy answer?”
She said, “Not until we strike a deal. After all, your king’s life will be saved and you will get the forest, but I must get something to. And my terms are these. That forty-eight hours after you return, you and I shall be married.”
Gawain, got this sickening kind of look. She was what? Ugly. Really ugly. And he was going to be married to the ugliest woman that he’s ever seen in his entire life. She was the ugliest woman in the whole kingdom. I mean really disgustingly ugly. And he said, “Ok. You know if this answer works. You know the other answers have greater odds. You know, I’ll give you my knightly word I’ll include it and I give you my knightly word that we’ll, you know, we’ll…”
She said, “Say it.”
“We’ll, we’ll get…ummm…”
“Married…we’ll get married in forty-eight hours. And I’ll have a castle and we’ll get married. If it’s the right answer,” and so he said, “What is the answer?”
She said, “What woman wants, and also most of all what woman wants but also men want this too, woman wants to have her way. That’s the right answer. And that’s the only answer that’s going to work.”
And Gawain thought about it for a moment and it certainly had been his experience, but you know, he thought what really will work is the answer about being loved and desired and spoken sweet nothings. So he thought he was still in a safe ballpark so he said, ‘Thank you very much and I’ll make sure that’s included in the rest of the answers. I give you my knightly word,” and they bid each adieu and said goodbye and he continued the survey of all the ladies in the land.
Seven days later he met Arthur at the edge of the forest and told him the four answers and Arthur said, “Oh, these are great.”
Gawain said, “You know, these are the three ones that every woman has said consistently but this is one I gave my knightly word that it be included so it has to be included.”
Arthur said, “Well one of these, I mean these are all great. One of these will definitely work.” So Arthur went into the forest and he met with the king and the king said, “Well Arthur. Today’s the day you have the forest, you have your life, or today’s the day I have my forest and it’s the end of your life. What have you found?”
Arthur says, “Sir, sir, what woman wants is woman wants to be honored and respected for who she is.”
The King of the Forest himself got all soft and dreamy eyed and he said, “My,” he said, “a worthy answer. Fine answer. Best answer I’ve heard for a long time but unfortunately not the right answer.”
Arthur went on to say, “Sir, what woman wants is woman wants to have a sense of home, a sense of family, a sense of being provided for.”
And again the king got all soft and dreamy eyed himself and said again, “Oh fine answer! Worthy answer! Impeccable answer, but regrettably not the right answer.”
Arthur thought to himself, “Well, two down, two to go,” he said, “Sir, what woman wants is she wants to be loved and desired and spoken sweet nothings to.”
This time the King of the Forest touched his heart and got all soft and dreamy eyed and said, “Oh, yes who doesn’t want to be loved and desired and spoken sweet nothings to? But regrettably, one of the finest and most worthy answers I’ve heard, but not the right answer.”
So this time Arthur gulped and he said, “Sir, this is not a consensus answer of all the ladies in the land but, sir, my knight has given his knightly word that it be included, sir, and this is the last answer, sir. What woman wants, sir, sir, woman wants to have her way.”
And the King of the Forest narrowed his eyes and stood up and looked at Arthur and said, “You, you have been talking to my sister! The forest is yours!” And he stormed out of the forest.
Arthur was so relieved and he went out of the forest and he pounded on Gawain and he said, “We did it! We did it! We did it!”
Gawain said, “Sir, which answer, sir? Sir, which answer, sir?” And Gawain said, “Sir, sir, please tell me which answer. I’ve given my knightly word to one of these.”
Arthur said, “Well, the one that woman wants to have her way.”
Gawain said, “Really? That’s the answer? Sir I have to marry that woman in forty-eight hours. I gave my knightly word,”
Arthur said, “Well, of course you should marry that woman. Who was that woman that saved my life and also gave us our forest? Of course you must marry her, of course. And who is this woman?”
Gwain said, “Sir, sir, it’s Lady Ragwell, sir.”
This time it was Arthur’s turn to pale and he said, “Do not tell me you gave your knightly word to the ugliest woman in the kingdom.”
And Gwain said, “Sir, I did, sir. She’s the one that gave me the answer, sir, sir, sir. And I have to get the castle, sir, sir. And we have to get married in forty-eight hours, sir.”
And poor Arthur, he went home and he told Guinevere and Guinevere said, “But can’t it be a small wedding?”
Being the knights they were they found the castle and being the knights they were they made sure the way to the castle and the marriage feast was lined with garlands and flowers and big archways in which Lady Ragwell could ride under and wave to the crowds.
So sure enough, forty-eight hours later, Lady Ragwell was waving to the crowds and waving to the knights and they could barely, barely look up and wave back because she was so ugly. She had this natty greasy hair. These flies that hover crafted around and these big red boils on her check and a wart on her nose and yellow craggy teeth and hair that curled around her chin and she was so ugly. She just reeked. She just smelled foul.
They went to the marriage feast and they got through the marriage feast. They were eating and she would eat the turkey drumsticks and flicks of turkey would go up into her hair and grease was all over her face and everyone just couldn’t look at her. They couldn’t look at her they were so grossed out. And it was a long day for Gawain. Finally. Finally. Finally. The feast was over and he took her inside the castle and closed the door. And he was so relieved that it was over.
And she said, “Now, Gawain, now you must kiss me. And I’m entitled to marriage privileges. And you must take me to bed.”
Gawain thought to himself, “It’s been a very long day. A very long day.” But being the knight that he was he kind of mustered himself up. And he looked at this hairy red-boiled cheek. And he just kind of closed his eyes and he just leaned over and kissed her. Then he opened his eyes, and there standing before him was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his entire life. And he thought, “Oh it has been a long day. I’m just totally hallucinating.”
She said, “That’s right Gawain. One half of the spell’s been broken. And now you get to choose. Which part of the day you want me ugly in and which part of the day you want me beautiful in.”
And he thought, he’s going to sit down for this one. So he sat down on a stone bench in the castle and he thought, “Well, if she was ugly during the day, night could be rather interesting. But if she was beautiful during the day everyone wouldn’t be so depressed about his plight but night could be rather difficult.” And he went back and forth and finally he said, “You know, this is going to affect you more then it’s going to effect me so why don’t you choose which part of the day you want to be beautiful in and which part of the day you want to be ugly in.”
Then the other half of the spell was broken because she got to choose to have what part of the day. She had the power of choice again to have her way. And it’s said that they lived very happily ever after in that castle.
But it’s also said that in that castle is where that old, old saying comes from: Remember the journey first and relationships will fall into place.
What was that old saying? Remember the journey first and relationships will fall into place.
Because male or female, we all want to be honored and respected for who we are. Male or female, we all want to be protected and provided for and have a sense of home or family. Male or female, we all want to be loved and desired and spoken sweet nothings to. And male or female we don’t want to have our choice taken away from us. Male or female, we want to have the power to choose and not have our choice taken away.
So that we can learn to learn, learn to choose, and learn to relate.
Remember the journey first and relationships will fall into place.
Remember the journey first and relationships will fall into place
And there’s always a Lady Ragwell in each one of us, whether we’re male or female, the parts of ourselves that we deem ugly or undesirable, but it’s our integrity who will always look beyond appearances.
And he kept his knightly word.
And he kept his knightly word.
Jennifer Block: Did they live happily ever after?
Angeles Arrien: Yes, they lived happily ever after. They did. And it’s said that they lived well and they died well. And it’s said that they lived well and they died well because they remembered the journey first and relationships will fall into place.
So that’s a good place for us to take a little pause and just see, where you are and what’s been stirred this morning because a lot’s been stirred.