Rish: Let's start from the beginning, Charles. There's a quote that I really like and the first part of that quote goes, "All grownups were once children." The second part of that quote says, "But only a few of them remember it." That was Anton de Saint-Exupéry. Could you share with us what you recall about growing up and those early influences that have shaped you into the person you are today?
Charles: "All grownups were once children. Only a few them will remember it." I was incredibly fortunate in that my parents chose, when I was two years old, to move to a beautiful part of the world, a place called Prince Edward Island, and when I was six, moved to a farm, so I was incredibly blessed to grow up very close to the land. I spent a lot of time in the forest. I have a favorite tree that I still go to when I go back to Prince Edward Island. It's a geenormous oak tree. I would spend many, many hours sitting under that tree. I would go there both when I was happy and as a way of celebration and gratitude, but also when I was frustrated and angry, the tree would be my place of solace. One of my greatest memories of childhood is the land. For me, I think of nature as source. It's a place from where I source my energy, my connection to a greater power. For me, there's no doubt, whether you choose to call it God, source, greater power, higher power, whatever you use, there's no doubt that there is a greater power, a source of greater energy that infuses my life. I connect with that through being in the natural world.
In fact, I was sharing right now, and sitting at a cleanse place in Whistler, British Columbia, and when I lift my head, I look out at the mountains, absolutely exquisite mountains that are being bathed in the morning sun and the clear blue sky, and just filled with gratitude for where I am and the world around me and the chance to be on this call.
There are a lot more things I could say about early childhood memories, but I think that's probably the most significant, is the farm. I'll just say one other thing. Living on what ended up being a hobby farm, I raised goats as a young teenager to earn money to pay for my school. We had sheep and pigs and cows and chickens, so it was a full-on connection with animals and my food source.
Rish: Beautiful. Thank you. Was there something about your deep connection with nature, what you mentioned, nature source as God in a large sense, that drew you to wanting to deeply connect people? A lot of the work that you do is really, at the end of the day, about connecting with people, the facilitation part, the communication part. Do you see a line connecting those two? How does that evolve from the early childhood?
Charles: It's a really great question and one I've not really particularly thought about before. I think what it comes down to for me in many ways is the heart and essence of nature in my work is connecting people to the things they care deeply about. If what they care deeply about is a connection to nature, or a connection to others, a connection to their work, to their families, it's about discovering that connection. For me, that connection to the natural world, that connection to others is core.
Rish: Can you tell us more about this idea of discovering connections? Why do you think conversations and having conversations is so important to this idea of discovering connections? What brought you to this realization that conversations is the best way to uncover the depth of what people are about?
Charles: Oh boy. We have an hour, right?
Rish: We do. :)
Charles: I'm going to tell you one story by way of answer to that and then we can maybe explore it a little more deeply. My recognition around the importance of conversation preceded this story. The story took place in 2005. I'll just say one thing about the piece that preceded it.
My original undergraduate work was in cultural anthropology and my fascination with studying and understanding culture and why people do the things they do is something that I'd say was actually the genesis of that, came from so many different people visiting our family as I was growing up and just a deep curiosity around the many families who would pass through and visit our farm. When I started to study anthropology, I became intrigued about what was it that shapes culture. I firmly believe that cultures change and our ability to change the world, for that matter, and make it have an impact and make a difference, really happens one conversation at a time. You change the context, you change the situation, you change the potential, you change the future through the conversations that you have.
The story that I want to share, in 2005, a dear friend of mine introduced me to a fellow by the name of Victor Chan, who has since become a very good friend. Victor is the author of many books about his deep, deep and abiding friendship with His Holiness, the Dali Lama. I was introduced to Victor because my friend felt that I could help Victor meet and connect with people who would help him with a vision, a dream he had for his life, and that was to create the Dali Lama Center for Peace and Education.
I introduced Victor to a number of people, helped him establish, make the initial very-early board of directors to the Center. One day, I jokingly said to him, I said, "You know when His Holiness is next in town we should have a fundraiser and bring in CEOs of corporations and have someone like Peter Senge or Jim Collins, people who are business gurus in conversation with the Dali Lama, and we'll charge the CEOs a lot of money and they'll be a good fundraiser."
Two weeks later, Victor came back to me in my office, I was working at the university at the time, and he said, "His Holiness really likes your idea and we're wondering if you'd like to organize it."
I said, "Sure." I had no idea what I was getting into. I hadn't organized big events before. Yes, I'd run the session with the Prime Minister and other conversations. I'd facilitated lots of things, but never organized something like this. One of the first people that I called is a dear mentor and friend of mine, Peter Senge at MIT, and Peter's comment to me, I'll never forget it, he said, "I would give almost anything to spend time with His Holiness, however, the idea of spending that time only with corporate CEOs, I don't think is the way to go." I said, "Well, what's the way to go?" He said, "I'm not really sure, but let's think about it." He said, "I strongly encourage you to talk to a few other people."
One of the people he encouraged me to talk to was a woman by the name of Barbara Stocking, who at the time was the executive director, or CEO, of Oxfam in the UK, so this is one of those conversations like my conversation with Audrey, that I will never ever forget. It was a rainy winter morning. I was parked on the edge of the road in the city. I was talking to Barbara. Keep in mind that this was in 2005. I was describing to Barbara the possibility of some kind of a dialogue with the Dali Lama, and she said to me, "What we need now more than anything else is to learn to connect across divides. We need to learn to connect for change."
It was such a powerful comment, because, for me, and it impacted me so deeply, because at the time I was doing lots of work certainly in academia, but also with non-profit organizations and with large corporations. The thought of bringing together corporate and NGO, non-profit organizations to learn with and from each other just became so compelling.
I realize that this is a long-winded response to your question, "Why are connections and the conversations that connect people so important to me. It was a powerful experience bringing 60 senior, mostly CEO, corporate executives and 60 NGO executive directors and leaders together and the design of that dialog was that I ended up pairing a corporate and an NGO leader with each other and the requirement to attend the dialog was that they would have a conversation with each other in advance around one question and the question that we posed to them was, what is the help that you most need to advance the work that you're most passionate about?
Now imagine the CEO of one of the world's largest oil and gas companies being informed that he needed to talk to the daughter of one of the leading Canadian environmentalists, David Suzuki and his daughter Severan and that the two of them needed to have a conversation around what they were passionate about. Needless to say, it created some really fascinating, powerful conversations that required people to step outside their comfort zones, their domains of focus and to actually engage with people that, in many instances, they'd been in controversy with prior to that.
I'm happy to say that 10 years later I've had the opportunity of visiting, in fact I took my daughter to Uganda in March to visit a couple of organizations that have evolved out of the conversations that were started at the very first Connecting for Change dialog. In fact, the ripple effects of those, that convening and the conversations and the relationships that were begun in that event are astounding and there are many that I don't know about. Of the ones that I do know, the impacts they have had have been absolutely profound.
The power of conversation, the power of connection, the importance of genuinely, of creating the conditions for people to feel things, to see each other as a fellow human being on this journey of life and to explore powerful questions is, I mean, that's the heart of what I care most deeply about.
Rish: That is very moving. Wow.
Charles: Let me share just a little bit more about the last point I was just saying about the power of questions. That question, what's the help you most need to advance the work that you're most passionate about, really worked well. I've since had the opportunity to learn so much from one of my co-facilitators at that initial Connecting for Change dialog who's become just an incredible mentor to me and I strongly recommend if folks on this call are familiar with Peter Block's work that you check it out.
Peter Block, his most recent book, actually not his most recent book, prior to his most recent book is a book called Community, the Structure of Belonging. I've learned so much from Peter about the power of questions. In fact, he talks about the best questions to pose when working with groups or even in a one on one conversation, is questions that personal, anxiety provoking and a little bit ambiguous. Just to give you an example and this is a question I've used with groups of over 300 people or groups of 15 people. I'll get people into small groups.
Peter has been a teacher of mine in this as well. Most powerful dialogs happen between no more than four people, so getting into a small group of four and a personal, ambiguous and anxiety provoking question that I just love to ask groups is what crossroads do you find yourself at in your life right now? What's the crossroads that you find yourself at in your life right now? To watch a group of, again, how ever many it is, but in groups of four listen deeply while avoiding the urge to be helpful, which is absolutely crucial, in my experience, to the beginnings of an effective conversation on the power of observing those, you can just feel the energy of care and compassion, because we all face crossroads every day of our lives.
Those crossroads could be around aging parents, it could be crossroads around what's the work I want to do in the world around, what's going on with my children? When people are authentic and share deeply about their personal crossroads, it's incredibly powerful.
Rish: Charles, how do you go about creating or modeling that kind of compassionate, caring environment because I think we all want to do that at some level and yet, like everything else, there must be a way in which you've perfected this so that you can have so many of these conversations? I was actually earlier going to ask you about how you facilitate conversations and I feel like you just went through that by sharing about the power of questions and about creating this environment but that begs the next question, which is how are you doing this so successfully constantly?
Charles: I feel like I'm referencing dear friend Peter a lot here. Peter has another little book called, The Answer to How is Yes. I'm going to answer you first a little bit tongue in cheek and then also say a little bit more. Your question is how do you create the environment, how have your perfected that, how do you go about creating that and my answer tongue in cheek is yes, you just do it.
Rish: That reminds me of one of the principles of improvisation, which is to say yes.
Charles: Exactly, exactly and it's to say, so first of all, is to say yes to your intention so this is, I'm going to reference now some of the work that we've been doing at the Academy for Systemic Change and forgive me, but I'm going to share another story that will circle back to your, more directly to your question.
Rish: We love stories, go for it.
Charles: Step one and how I believe in what I think is critically important in creating the environment where it's possible, to have more deep and authentic conversations is to be clear on your own intention. What is it that I want? What is it that I deeply care about? I want to circle this also back to Mary's comment about this work is not about gaining recognition. I think that was really, I think it's such an important piece. I know early in my career a lot of times I would work with groups and my focus would be much more on me. How am I doing, am I doing a good enough job of creating the conditions for this to be successful?
Am I looking good, am I, am I, am I and you notice that the focus is very much first person and it's not on what is it, what is it that I want to create, what is the outcome that we want for this group, which, to quote another teacher of mine, Robert Chris, he talks about the difference between first person orientation and third person orientation. First person orientation, I'm focused on myself. Third person orientation I'm focused on what is it I actually want to create. The power of intention and having a clear intention and ideally it's shared intention.
The story I want to share around this comes from the genesis of, we mentioned the Academy for Systemic Change, I won't tell the entire story, the evolution of the Academy, that's a whole other conversation but the Academy grew out of a series of conversations that a group of a dozen of us had over a period of about three years. At one of these gatherings we were in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona during one the biggest forest fires in the history of Arizona. It was about two and a half, three years ago. We were talking about the importance of what our intention as a group was around what we wanted to co-create together. One of our teachers, again, somebody else I'd recommend folks on this call know about, who is an amazing man by the name of John Milton. John is the founder of an organization called The Way of Nature. Again, I encourage people to look up his website, The Way of Nature, absolutely profound work that John is doing. As it turns out, John's cabin with 40 years of writings and his collection of books is in the direct path of the forest fire.
We ended up as a group having to be evacuated by the Forest Service from the place that we were holding our retreat. Just before we were evacuated we did a collective intention setting exercise where around a campfire we stood in circle. We had a little bit of drumming and then essentially I would say a form of prayer, we set the intention, held the intention together that John's cabin would be protected from the forest fire. We were then evacuated minutes after our intention setting exercise.
A couple months later we were together again in Yucatan and John reported to us that ... Well, actually he shared this with us earlier via email, his was the only cabin amongst a number of them that did not burn to the ground. In fact, the Forest Service was still trying to figure out what happened. There was a circle of green grass, actually dry, brown grass that wasn't burned, nor was his cabin. When we were together and he told us about this and brought us back to our intention setting exercise, his comment was, "I firmly believe that our holding the intention for the safety of my cabin and my work was crucial. How do you explain that? No idea.
I want to bring it back to your question, "How do you create the environment for the deep conversation and deep dialogue?" Number one is the intention, what's the intention that I'm holding? I will often, before I facilitate any kind of a meeting, go into the bathroom and close the door and take a moment in silent. If it's the kind of group where I might not feel comfortable actually doing this with the group, I will do it with myself with the intention that I'm holding for this experience for these people. That's one.
Two. I will very often share that. I will say to the group the intention I hold is that today we connect with each other in ways that we learn and discover things that we may not have known when we came into the room. What that might require of us is a letting go, a willingness to suspend our own judgments, to accept people's ideas for at least a minute before we contradict them or go elsewhere. I'll say a few things like that. Invariably, the most powerful way in my experience of creating the environment that you've asked about is to put people into small groups. Get rid of tables.
I was asked on this last Monday to facilitate a town hall for one of our government leaders. They showed me the design of the meeting and they had large tables with 12 people around each table, and they said, "We're going to have a deep dialogue at each of these tables with the 12 people."
Rish: How did that go?
Charles: I said, "When's the last time you sat at a table of 12 and had a deep dialogue?" They looked at me and went ... "I said, no, seriously, you'll end up talking to two or three people next to you." We completely re-designed the session. Removed the tables from the room. Had 120 people come in. They were seated in chairs in rows and within 10 minutes they self-organized into groups of four or five around topics they cared about.
I was really struck by your question, "How was I perfected in the process?" I'm not sure that I have. I'm not sure that anything is ever perfect. I'll say this for myself, it took me a while to build up the courage to do it, especially ... If you're running a meeting with senior executives at Pepsi and you tell them to stand up and take their chairs and move into groups of four, and here's the question you're going to explore, it's a little bit, "Oh, it'd be safer to just stay at our tables, use PowerPoints.
Give people a chance to stand up and as I call it "pump and dump and present." Having the courage to just do it is key. Shared intention, sharing your intention, setting your intention, a clear question that you're going to pose to the group. I'll give you one other powerful question that I really like, really can at times stop people in their tracks. What's your contribution to the thing you're complaining the most about? What a question like that does is it really forces people to recognize that they're part of the system that they're in so they recognize their place in it. Intention, set up of the room in small groups, and question. Then, just do it.
Rish: What a great paradigm-shifting question that is. I want to stay with what you shared. It seems so powerful that the idea of the power of intention at one level is what you need. We had talked right at the beginning of the call about the connection between the inner and outer journey. It seems like a connection point where your intention setting, the work you do there is directly reflected in the outcomes, or at least in the possibility of outcomes. Another one you shared was courage. Do you have other such internal practices, or that you've discovered along the way that seem to connect this inner and outer journey? I know certainly my time is spent trying to figure out how to perfect the external outcome. I'm curious if through all your years of work you really founded leverage points internally like intention setting, like courage, that allowed that connection?
Charles: Thank you. That's a really great, great question. Let me answer it in part, first with what's become probably my favorite quote by a gentleman who is deceased. He was the CEO of Hanover Insurance. His name was Bill O'Brien. Bill's quote was, "The quality of any intervention is a direct reflection of the internal condition of the intervenor."
Rish: Oh, wow.
Charles: Substitute intervenor with facilitator, leader, parent, partner. The quality of whatever it is that you do and the impact it has is a reflection of your own internal condition. I look back to some of my early work when I was coming from a place of trepidation, fear, scarcity, and that's not to say that those still don't show up. They absolutely do, but when they've been predominate I kind of go, "Wow." in the past it's like, "Boy, I can't believe that in spite of ..." It's interesting what I'm about to say, "In spite of some of those interventions we're still successful," but not at the level of evolving or evolution that I see is possible now. Being aware of your own internal condition, critical.
Interesting that both of my daughters were involved in very intense dance and did a lot of performance. One of the quotes I used to share with them was because what I'm saying is it's not that you don't have fear. It's not that you don't have nervousness. It's not that you don't have some of those emotions. I used to share with them, anytime you go on stage you will always have butterflies. The challenge is having them all fly in the same direction. What is the practice? What are the practices of harnessing those butterflies? Of harnessing that internal energy of recognizing what's going on for me in the moment.
Meditation for me is absolutely as a practice is key. Working with a personal coach and at times a therapist has been key to helping me to what do they call? Peel the onion of my own internal stuff and gain some appreciation. I've got to share my Tommy Hill nightmare. I've had the incredible pleasure of working with a couple, Peter and Anne Selby who are angelic healers. The work I've done with them has helped me immensely in understanding some my own internal dynamics and has given me so much source for appreciation and gratitude. As well as a source for reflection in meditation and in practice. Thanks to my work with John Melton. Again I encourage people to check out some of Johns work in the field of Tai Chi. Tai Chi practice and body movement has also been key.
Rish: One of the things I'm noticing throughout this call is that you're very intentional about and conscious about gratitude. You opened this call by calling out 4 people which literally you knew for a few moments. Throughout the call you've been pointing out the good works of Peter Brock, your friend John Melton. Even now you're giving him credit. It seems like something you've integrated into your life. If I'm off mark, then let me know. It also feels like it's connected to some of the things we were talking about about your internal orientation. Your conscious way you choose to be the world. Therefore exert some control if you will over external outcomes. Maybe it's not even that well thought out. I just want to put that out there and see if you have anything to say about that.
Charles: No. Thanks for for highlighting that, the gratitude piece. When I sit down and have time to reflect which in a way this conversation is. I thought for me conversation is perhaps one of the most powerful means of reflection. Especially if I'm in conversation with someone like yourself who's asking questions like the questions that you're asking to reflect. Reflection that's coming from me from this conversation is just the incredible number of people who I have been blessed to connect with. Who have influenced the journey, the path of my life. Just incredible gratitude for that.
People who know me well just find out that ... In fact the dear friends that I'm with right now in Whistler. One of them said, "Is there anyone that you ever interact with that you don't discover something good about?" It's not that I'm trying to think how to respond here. It's not that I'm looking for and creating connections for people purposefully. Sometimes I'm just so unconscious of doing it. The reality is there's very little in the world I love more than connecting people. Maybe it's a way of expressing my gratitude. I just love saying, "Hey Nipun you need to talk to this person because I know that they need to learn about ServiceSpace." Or "Audry we need to really make sure that you and Natasha talk to this person." That is something that absolutely feeds me.
Deep gratitude for those who have connected me to so many people and served me on my own journey. Deep, deep passion for doing that for others. Actually I'm going to give you one interesting example that so connects to this doing good. I was a little bit sad this week. I was not in Vermont. Every year in Vermont Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer and Arawana Hayashi host something called the Executive Champions Workshop. It is a truly transformative learning experience around understanding yourself and the context of changing systems. Making the world a better place. For the last 5 years I've been there as a guest and as a participant. This year I wasn't there.
There were many people I recommended go there. One of the participants called me yesterday on his drive back to Canada from Vermont. He said, "After the first day I felt like running. I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into. After the second day I was starting to get like I was feeling confused. What am I ... Why am I here. After the third day, I realized that there is a way that we can use our company to help transform the world. I want to thank you because on the surface I don't think I fit with that group. Boy am I taking away something that's going to be meaningful for our company."
Rish: Wow. That's cool. I want to focus on the revelations that are facilitated by having these deep conversations. One, what is it that the Connecting For Change program facilitates in terms of that shift? Why has that shifted something so powerfully in you where you call that one of your turning points in your life?
Charles: Let me go into the first question, what was it about that experience that had such profound impact on me? I'd have to say probably one of the first things was, in designing and organizing it, I made phone calls to over 300 CEOs and the promise or the potential of an invitation to a dialog with the Dali Lama was what gave me entree to getting many of these conversations or these appointments. I think the thing that most profoundly impacted me was the discovery in those conversations of how many of these people actually had some form of a spiritual practice.
Yes, and I'll say very briefly, very quickly what it was about the time with His Holiness that impacted me profoundly, it almost goes without saying, you spend that time that close with him and you're impacted. It started before that though and it was the nature and the depth of the vulnerability, authenticity, honesty with people I absolutely did not expect and some of them and I think this is a very telling and sad testament to some of what's happening in the world, said as much as I would love to come and join this conversation, for business reasons I can't.
For some companies, being perceived to have any kind of a connection with the Dali Lama, for reasons that I won't go into here, but were just, they couldn't. I was profoundly impacted by their, by the number of these people who had some form of a spiritual practice. Then I'll just say the second thing that just so profoundly impacted me in that experience was the time with him and forgive my trying to impersonate the Dali Lama but I just want to share this with you. I'll never forget, we're sitting in a circle, the group of us we're facilitating, the Dali Lama puts his arm, hand on my arm and he looks at me and he says, so what are we going to do?
I said, well we're bringing corporate leaders and NGO leaders together for an exploration around what matters and how together we can change the world. He looked at me and he had this cute little smirk on his face and he said, hmm, very, very interesting. Corporate, NGO, that's like putting lark head on sheep body, it make very funny animal. Then he said, so what does that make me, the yeti in the middle? It was really, really quite special.
To your second question about the, that connects more to my comment about the experience that my client and friend had in attending the workshop with Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge and Arawana Hayashi with what am I doing here to I'm confused to oh my goodness, something shifted in me. That program is so exquisitely designed to make people, well to take people through an arch of an experience, which starts in a place that is actually incredibly uncomfortable. My client, my friend, what I recognized in him in suggesting that he go was that he understands that learning requires you to get out of your comfort zone.
I was a little, I sort of recognized that, I wasn't entirely sure, it was a little bit of a, is he going to walk from this or is he really going to stick with it. He stuck with it and again, brief answer to your question, the arch of the design, the combination of experiences that incorporate head, heart and body, so embodying and movement. Arawana is the founder of a body of work called Social Presence in Theater and it is spreading around the world, so embodying and creating, for example, structures of where you create a sculpture, a body sculpture yourself of where you feel stuck in your life.
Having others then reflect on that and build on it, so a combination of embodiment work, body work, deep reflective journaling, dialog walks with others and then some framework, some intellectual tools. I mean, there's much more I could say about that and other learning experiences but I think that arch of moving from confusion to the potential for transformation in a learning experience, for me comes from a combination of those things.
Rish: Yeah, it sounds like there's a very well thought out approach to it that facilitates that.
Charles: Yes, and this is, again, this has been going on for 20 years.
Audrey: It's beautiful to hear these stories and the way you describe them. I feel like I can see your eyes lighting up. One of our callers, Josine, wrote in through the web chat and they mentioned, to do well and to do good, I take a deep look at myself. Some might say, looking deep within. To me, this requires knowing who I am and what truths and lies I might be believing in. When I have identified the lies I have accepted and put my faith in, which likely was done unconsciously, I can eliminate what's not working for me. The lies I have discovered I live by and open my mind to a higher power to help me refocus on truths about myself and life. I'm curious you mentioned in your meditation practice and kind of these elements of self-reflection, how did you begin to kind of engage in those practices or take steps in kind of that internal reflective direction? Have you always been open to it or did someone or something prompt you towards it or is it something you grew up with?
Charles: Let me first just acknowledge Josine's comment, I just, I love it, the practice of looking deep within to discover the truth and lies and in particular what are the lies I told myself that I might have come to believe in and then her last piece, discovering the truth. What is the truth in my life? It's absolutely beautiful, her reflection, her comment. I can't remember the exact, there was a workshop that I attended many years ago, I was not introduced to meditation in my early years. It was not something that was part of my growing up. My work with Robert Frist in the early '90s focused a lot on how important it is to understand and be honest about current reality, which in some ways connects to what Josine is saying, what are the truths and what are the lies. That was a very formative learning environment for me, working with Robert. Somewhere in the mid '90s I attended a workshop that started with a breathing exercise and just being aware of your breath.
That I would say began, I won't say a disciplined practice, but more curiosity and a recognition of the importance and value of calming and present and calming my mind and being just present. This is kind of a long winded answer to say it's evolved. There's nothing ... yes, yes, it's evolved and continues to evolve.
The one thing I'll say on that is my wife had so many different insights and metaphors for her own meditation practice that she shares with me and my children as well. There's so many different things I've learned from different people that I integrate in to my own practice of envisioning and meditating and breathing.
Audrey: You mentioned your wife and your children. How has your work influenced you as a parent? I was particularly struck by I think the question someone asked you, is there anyone you interact with that you don't see something good about? I'm curious if that feeds in to your parenting or even just the way you interact with your kids?
Charles: You'd have to ask them that. I know they don't like it if I pull out a flip chart. Time for a family meeting. I think more than anything, the practice of deep listening. Let me be very candid. So often the things you teach and you help others with are the things you need the most help with yourself. I've recognized that for a long time and the hardest place to practice, I think not as much anymore which might sound odd because I have a 20 year old and a 17 year old, that the hardest place to practice is with those closest to you. I'm actually finding now, and I think it's a part of my own evolution as well as theirs, that it's easier and I'll say just one other thing on this. I have learned more from my children and my wife than anyone. One of my daughters is, I am absolutely convinced, is an empath. Her ability to read energy and recognize my energy, especially when it's negative and point it out to me, is phenomenal and I'm so grateful for that.
I'll just say one thing on that note that I think is so crucial. When someone points something out to you, especially someone who's close to you like a child or a significant other, about yourself that might feel negative. She'll say, Dad, you seem angry. My immediate reaction used to be no, that's not true. Which actually negates her ability, her capacity to recognize that. It's so important to just acknowledge and say wow, you're right, I am feeling a bit angry right now or that's interesting. I'm not feeling it. What is it that's giving you that impression. I know there have been times in the past when my immediate reaction has been no, that's not true.
Audrey: That's beautiful. That's great insight just acknowledging what others bring forth.
Charles: Yes. Which can be hard, especially when it's true. You're right, I am, you're right.
Caller: You mentioned Peter Block in his book Community and then you mentioned how you break down people in to groups of 4 and how groups of 15 don't work to create that state. I'm thinking about how people form these communities and wondering if you've explored any ways to create the community that includes everybody in a way that nobody is outside the canoe. Everybody is in the same canoe. I'm wondering if you've explored that the larger communities that includes everybody, including our enemies.
Charles: You pose a great, really, really great question. Thank you. I really appreciate bringing the indigenous view in to that as well. I've an incredible opportunity right now to work with First Nations group here in Canada called Reconciliation Canada and they have in the Salish tradition a saying called namwayut which is we are all one. We are all in this together. I'm always fascinated to hear about other cultures that have a similar and I think all traditional cultures do have a similar either saying or word that speaks to oneness and the collective nature of humanity so that's really neat.
In more direct answer to your question, how to include those at the periphery, those at the fringe, those who are isolated, those who are, as you put it, potentially the enemy. I'll just give you a very current example. I mentioned the town hall that I facilitated on Monday for one of our government leaders, a member of Parliament. It was on a somewhat contentious issue and there was a demonstration outside the church by one of the groups that was a little bit against what we were talking about. They tried to keep them out. I made the suggestion that we should have a few of them in the conversation. I just kind of left it. As it turns out, four of the demonstrators were invited in and I was actually given a piece of their promotional material.
When I opened the conversation, I opened by reading a sentence from their promotional material that spoke directly to the essence of what we were there to do, which was create a space for learning with and from each other in a democratic process and thanked them for it. Then gave some suggestions around insuring that in spite of coming with positions, strong opinions that we hold, it's important that we share those. It's also important that we hear others. Then, I shared with the group, my job as the facilitator is really to do three things: Make sure that all voices are heard, make sure that we heard as a large group from as many people as possible and that we actually finished on time. When I left the session, in this session I did exactly what I had described earlier in this conversation, divided people in to small groups of four or five, gave them half an hour to have a conversation around the topic that they had selected they were passionate about, which, by the way, is a form of Open Space. That people aren't familiar with Open Space technology, it was developed by a guy by the name of Harrison Owen. It's a practice, you can check out. Then at the end of the time in their small groups we heard comments, we heard reflections. I don't like to say we heard reports out. I don't do reports outs when I facilitate groups and people on this call are probably familiar with the term of harvesting, what struck you, what insights.
When I left the session, the group demonstrating was outside, was still there and one of them called me over. The four who had attended were telling the others about what a powerful experience it was, how they felt respected, how they felt heard, how they felt included. Physically we couldn't have included all of them, there just wasn't space. They just said, "Thank you for creating space where we could talk to others." They didn't have to grandstand. They didn't have to make a big issue, they felt they had a voice.
I will often ask people that I work with, "Who are those who stand to be most impacted? Who are those who can potentially most impact? Who are those who might be against what it is that we're coming together to talk about? Can we let them into the room?" It doesn't always work.
Kozo: Beautiful. I'm just struck by something you said when you talked about each indigenous culture has a word and in Hawaii the word is Lokahi and Lokahi means spirit, but Hawaiian elders said, "Lokahi doesn't really mean unity, it means unbrokenness." What she did in that situation was ... There's a broken situation where you actually had a wall between you and these other people and you created this unbrokenness in it. That's just beautiful, that's a beautiful example. Thank you so much.
Charles: I'm getting shivers just ... Thank you. Lokahi, I will carry that now and the image of unbrokenness. That's awesome thank you.
One of the things that came out of very first Connecting for change dialogue was a comment about how this idea of six degrees of separation that we know someone who knows someone who saw someone, I think there is some movie about it. This idea of understanding Lokahi. I used to refer to it as zeo degrees of separation. I'm now taking Lokahi as a more powerful, because there's a story that can go with it about unbrokenness that we are all connected. Zero degrees of separation.
Audrey: Yeah, that's a great way to look at it. On that note, we have questions from Bangalore, India: "In a lot of these conversations there's a depth of listening required. How do you engage with people who maybe don't always listen as well? How do you prevent yourself from being pulled into that preexisting environment and remain mindful and aware in your own being?"
Charles: It's a great question. Two fairly common suggestions I make when I'm working with groups, is first and foremost, resist your own urge to be helpful. We have a tendency, especially people who want to have positive impact and want to help to listen to others from a place of solution versus a place of curiosity. I will often say to groups, "As you listen to someone sharing, for example the crossroads, somebody shares the crossroads they're at. Do not try and help them, just be curious, try and understand more."
I find the combination of a suggestion like that together with the question that is personal, ambiguous and anxiety-provoking enhances the likelihood that people are going to listen more fully. I'll use different suggestions with different groups. I always use stay curious, be curious, suspend your own judgement. I'll sometimes with groups say something funny, like when I teach listening skills workshops I had one guy stand up once and say, "Listening, that's really just standing around waiting for your turn to talk." I do different things to remind people about the importance.
Another one suspend your own judgement for at least one minute, just try doing that. If you have to suspend your judgement for a minute, it forces you to be and stay curious. Those are a few tips and thank you for that question. It does require the capacity for people to do it. If people are coming with agendas and emotionally charged and positional, you're absolutely right, it can be difficult. Another thing I'll say is, "Look, we're all here because we're passionate." That passion shows up in different ways and let's all respect it and harness it. Anger is a form of passion and I welcome it when people share their anger and we see it. We know they care.
I keep working on it myself. I think that's actually really bang on and it's something that I get. I often get feedback on from groups that I work with is ... I've had people come up to me and say, "Nobody's ever listened to me the way you do." Practicing it ourselves and being models for others is so important.
Audrey: That's true, that's great. That reminds me of the story of Gandhi when there is a mother with a young boy who had gone to see him. The mother just said the boy was eating too many sweets, too much sugar. She wanted Gandhi to tell the boy not to eat too much sugar, so she brought him to get Ghandi's blessings and Gandhi said, "Come back in a couple of weeks." The mother takes the boy home, takes this bus and that bus and walks this way and that to get home. Then a couple of weeks later comes back and Gandhi just says, "Don't eat too much sugar." The mother says, "You made us come all the way back just for that? Why didn't you say that the first time?" Gandhi says, "Oh, well the first time I was still taking sugar, I was still having sweets, so I had to stop eating sweets in order to say it to the boy."
Charles: That was good.
Audrey: Yeah. I know we just have a few minutes left in this call. We have a bunch of questions coming in. One question is from Nimi in England: "Thank you so much for your time today, Charles ... What's a crossroads you find yourself at in life right now?"
Charles: First of all you're welcome, Nimi. The crossroads I find myself at right now. I'm at a stage where I have been doing too much travelling. The crossroad I'm at is exploring and questioning and being curious about ... I would say what the next stage and evolution of my work is going to be in a way that I can be and stay closer to home?
The reason I love the question is, even as I'm saying it I see all the different ... There's something I didn't share earlier about the next question with the crossroads question. Every crossroads represents a possibility. What is the possibility that that crossroads represents? When I'm working with small groups, we have the crossroads conversation and then I will ask people to reflect on what's the possibility as they listen deeply to the person's crossroads? I could share a lot more about my crossroads and you would start to see there's the possibility of much deeper and more work with First] nations. There's the possibility of expanding and deepening my work with the Academy for Systemic Change, that is my work in corporations, there's my work with NGO. Here are the possibilities. Crossroads is an entry point to possibility. Thanks for your question.
Audrey: That's great. A comment from Mish in New York City: "Thank you Charles, for being a leader leading a beautiful web of connections for others that in turn enable them to create a worldwide web of love and connectivity. Deep gratitude."
Audrey: You shared that there's a lot of value to deep listening with all that's around you. It's a beautiful gift and a beautiful lesson that I feel like I'm learning from you in this conversation, so thank you. I think one last question we want to ask you is how can our ecosystem be of service to you? How can we support you and your beautiful work in the world?
Charles: It's interesting. Rish asked me to think about this question. I was in the middle of watering my flowers in my garden when he asked me and I was like, "I don't know." It was actually Mish's reflection that hit me. What you could do is think about two people you know who don't know each other, whom you think could benefit from being introduced to each other. Whether it's an email that is, "Hey, Audrey, there's this great guy names Rish, I really think you guys should meet. Let me share with you why. I may be off base, I'm not sure, but please, reach out and have a conversation." Or a phone call or invite them to coffee, but just think about your incredible network of people in your life and just think about two people to introduce, to connect for change.
Audrey: I love that. I will definitely be going into my weekend with that one. Rish, any last words or any closing comments?
Rish: I just want to add onto everything that's been said by you and others. Charles, thank you so much all for really sharing from the heart and being so generous, really, with your time, with your insights and hoping this can really grow in that way.
Charles: You're welcome. It's been a real pleasure, the two of you and those who have shared their comments and questions. You've made it an absolute joy. Thank you.
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