Talking story, from HI by AMB

all talking is stories, which contain:
– stories have a beginning, middle or end.
– what is the point or moral of a story?
– if you lose your way, pause + relocate [self]
– feel it through
– it may have things in common, with others, it is yours.
– be honest.

Omnipresent Identity

omnipresent: present everywhere at the same time. 

I have walked much of my 34 years in this life seeing myself, and the world, through the lens of race. My particular racial identity being mixed, mulatto, a half-breed of Black, white. There is a sprinkling of Native American blood in there, too — but I don’t live in a culture where we bother with one-sixteenths. There was a elementary school phase where i was name-called an Oreo; by a handful of white classmates (in an overwhelmingly white school). 2005 was the first time that I began to put my identity in terms of class. In June of that year, I had an epiphany that my white mother came from a working-class, white family. That was the first time that I had uttered that phrase. Seven years later, I am confident that ‘working-class, white family’ is a phrase that my mother will not use for the rest of her life.

I have entered into identity’s abyss in recent years. On Super Bowl Sunday of 2008, one of my two surviving grandparents passed. Dick Uhlenhopp had been in hospice for a month or so. Prior to that he had lived independently and on his own since Grandma Shirley died in October of 1987. Aside from my paternal/maternal great-grandmother, Buddy Jackson, my branch of the Jones/Uhlenhopp family trees had been spared death for the 21 years spanning from 1987 until 2008. What was different, in 2008, was that I was nearly 30 when Grandpa Dick passed. And I had been poking around family history, and asking quesionst hat had never occurred to me before, or topics that I had quietly agreed to remain silent about, as my siblings and others had. But with Grandpa’s death, I began to see how deeply identity goes. How many layers of an infinte onion, identity is.

Identity has become a doorway into personality, opinions, values, vantage and feelings.

I remember an exercise in college, where we were asked to compose a list of 20 or so identities for ourselves. Then we narrowed the list down to 5 by eliminating 15. Then we were told to whittle five down to one. In a room full of students of color, most of us had been selected for our leadership in student of color groups. Most of us settled with a singular identity emanating from our racial origins of Blackness, Latino/a lineage, API, immigrant or Native ancestry. That is, all of us saw ourselves as people of color. Except Sherman.

There was one guy who picked ‘friend’ as his one identity. He chose it over all others. I remember sitting near him, perplexed. Unable to fathom how a guy borne of two Chinese immigrants in Canada could see himself first as a “friend.” See himself only as a friend, especially when I saw his black hair, eyeglasses, toothy and nerdy smile wrapped in the skin and features that I had learned was Asian. I had even known that he was majoring in Economics, was raised in Saskatchewan, finished high school in Hong Kong, and had siblings. But at the time, all that I could distill Sherman down to was race.

How things have changed over a decade. I sense identity, multiple identities, everywhere (I suppose that I did with Sherman, too. But I placed a value on one identity over all others). I like to taste identity in the air, as if it is nectar of a flower or the smoke of a fire or from industrial pollution. Identity is that readily available. Identity is omnipresent. I listen to stories similarly to how a serious fan logs a baseball scoreboard. Identity has become a multi-faceted, nth-dimension in each of our souls and characters. Race and class are simply veneer for deeper stories, lives and identities that are buried within. I have come to see identity as including:

  • siblings: number of siblings, and place in sibling order (or an only)?
  • gender:
  • place of birth:
  • hometown: (do you consider this the same as the previous answer? that is indicative of something else)
  • place of current home:
  • closeness to mother/father/grandma/grandpa: relationship, distaste, struggles
  • favorite subject in elementary school: math, spelling, recess, science, p.e.
  • you get a high school diploma, GED or college degree:
  • more street-smarts, more book-smarts, or some of both?
  • math or literature: or as i like to say now-a-days, do you speak more fluently in numbers or letters?
    … aka, MS Word or Excel?
  • major or subject studied:
  • type of work:
  • reader: of fiction, current events, (even that distinct subpopulation passionate about) sci fi
  • paying rent or a mortgage, or multiple mortgages?
  • favorite author:
  • favorite vegetable:
  • favorite meal: breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Embracing more of our identities is vital in order to weave together stories that encapsulate more of the lives each of us has lived. I am unsatisfied with race alone, because as my father has pointed out, he finished high school in an integrated high school in West Virginia rather than attend a segregated school in Tuskegee. It wasn’t even his choice, but his parents sent him to live with family in Charleston, WV.

Back in 2005, I began to sense the nuance of identity by exploring the distinctions between each of my parents. My white mother has certainly had race privilege her entire life. Yet, I have come to appreciate how she lacked many of the class privileges that my father was raised with. Since then, I have explained it simply as “my mother had the race privilege while my father grew up with the class privilege.” The vestiges of my mom being the first in her family to get a four-year degree are alive today. In ways that I choose not to ask my extended family about, but alive, nonetheless.

Taking class identity and blending it with race identity has been an awakening experience. Class, is such an avoided topic, that what that means needs explanation. Middle class for me has been a father who’s entire career was as a white collar employee with the federal government. A father who had union representation, was trained as a lawyer, and has had comprehensive health insurance for as long as I can remember since i got my first physical the summer after kindergarten. I got a physical as a six-year old because the family was headed to Kenya. A gaggle of dependents and a diplomat for the US Embassy in Nairobi.

So I add:

  • health insurance coverage: any or out-of-pocket?
    … PPO, HMO, Medicare or Medicaid?
    … that you have on your own, or are a dependent on someone else’s?

I have honed how i tell my 1984 story, too. After years of telling the chronological story of living in six countries, four states in the country, three continents over 15 years, I now say how I finished kindergarten in Denver and began the first grade in Nairobi.

****

Last year, I was asked: Who are your ancestors?

Such potency in four words. There is a fits-and-starts fascination with history in this culture. For the most part, a historical amnesia when it comes to the history of families. How many people can tell where all four of their grandparents were born, grew up, and lived? How many of us readily know the years that our four grandparents were born, and died?

 I have a much lengthier answer than I did seven years ago because I have slowed down to ask. To explore, and to inquire with family members over the phone, and email messages as well as in person. The stories are too vast and invaluable to not ask now. There is a great risk in waiting until I will see my last living grandparent.

Why open space?

Open space is a way to break up the mundane, old ways of conferences. Just as we are realizing that rote memorization does not work in the classroom, and education needs to be shaken up. Our meetings and multi-day conferences need strong winds of new ideas and currents of new ways.

We do not need to leave the cool, non-traditional, people-powered ways to the techies in San Francisco, either. In fact, for the sake of our selves, our souls and our future, we need to harness our collective strengths. Open space (or Open Space Technology, as it can also be called. OST for short.) is one compelling way to do so.

Open space is not only about the topics that get discussed. The experience of open space is equally important. The experience of making choices and self-authorizing. The experiences of realizing that other people are co-creating ideas, having exchanges and addressing their own needs at the same time. In fact, others are doing so At. This. Very. Moment.

Open space is like communication. Just as 70% of communication is non-verbal, leaving 30% to be verbal. 70% of open space’s potency is how it feels, and 30% is what is said in the array of small groups.

Open space honors that we do not all learn in the same way. Open space embraces that we are all on different pages. Our being in different places is embraced, rather than viewed as being detrimental. It is actually, seeing a group of people as each one of us in a group is. Oftentimes, some people are ready to discuss some specific tangent, while others are seeking basic definitions and understanding of what is happening. Open space allows for the introductory and in-depth or tangential to happen at the same time. The people get to choose which one suits them.

During the recent BIN conference, I introduced open space technology as a version of “montessori for adults.” Go do what you want, as you want, with whomever else wants to do it. Or as they say in the Montessori camp, “go learn on your own, while being guided by a teacher.” Guiding happens, just with us guiding ourselves rather than relying on some typical teacher/facilitator.

****

I have attended too many gatherings and conferences where the energy of a group can swiftly change. The warmth, curiosity of the first-day-and-a-half pivots. Suddenly, people can begin to see that the multi-day funfest is has an endpoint. Questions arise: how do i carry this on next week when I am back at school/work/my home/my desk? How will the importance of this moment be sustained? Who is going to follow through on all that been talked about, identified, proposed and what i have heard?

Open space can be a pressure valve to let off some of the steam that expands in a contained space. Instead of trying to control it, open space provides a blank canvass for people to doodle, paint and illustrate. Old controlling tendencies get mired in question of what: what are we gonna paint? what are we using, watercolors, oils, pastels, charcoal? what is going on this canvass?

Instead, open space can be a canvass to the nth power. There can be as many canvasses as there are people who are ready to paint. Canvasses for whatever people identify a need for, and then commit to take it upon themselves to utilize. (if no one goes to discuss the place that open space identifies, then it quickly ceases)

Instead of saying, “oh no, we only have x number of slots,” open space enables, equips and empowers. People can say:
– You want a canvass to do what?
– Great. Go find some space and put a call out to everyone else so they know what you are up to.

The primary constraint in open space is our minds. By that, I mean the limits of what our human minds can fathom when we categorize, define and differentiate. Open space is a wiki for meetings and conferences. Some people can discuss topics and issues while others can figure out the building blocks of logistics, principles, leadership, communications. This is some of what happened when we devolved in Atlanta.

***

A year ago, I first introduced open space to another group. When defining it, I had to explain that it is not Free Time. Instead, it was a time for people:

  1. to go do what they need to do,
  2. to go where they needed to go,
  3. in order to take care of themselves.

That meant napping for some, and snacking for others. For me, i sat on a rocking chair on a large porch at the Benezet House of the Penn Center in St Helena, South Carolina. FOr most of the people present, it was a chance to jump in the car, ride 10 minutes to the beach where they took their shoes off, rolled their pant legs up, and strolled in the waves along the beach. They were doing what they needed to take care of themselves. They were right where tehy needed to be. And they got to do the things that we were all there to do: tell our stories, exchange ideas and experiences, compare notes.

As a little kid in me would say, it was so important that we got to do it outside, too. Afterwards, when i asked some people what their favorite part of our previous 2.5 days had been, they said it was their time on the beach.

***

That is some of what open space can allow for. What began as one person’s idea spread. It went from one car-full of people. To another. To a third. Just like that an idea found a group of people ready to spring into action. These ideas and such moments are all around us. The question is whether we can see them.

Rather than attempt to control them — control the ideas, control the moments, control the people — open space is one way to embrace ideas, moments and people.

3 questions when exiting

Got this three-part advice in my inbox this morning — To ask these three questions:
1) Can you tell me what happened for you?
2) What could I have done differently?
3) What do you need to feel complete?

[source: Heart of Business, by Mark Silver]

This third one stumps me as I cannot fathom how to answer it in an exiting conversation. Though, I am keen to learn and experience it in the realm of interpersonal relations.

Questions on spirituality and self

Back in May, I was privy to an exercise called Wisdom Question. 1.5 days into a training on … (1. the integration of spirituality and social justice, and 2. being less triggered/intrusive as a facilitator). Here are the list of questions that each of us asked as the most pressing question as we were two-thirds of the way through:

  1. What are the obstacles that I create, that are grounded in fear?
  2. What is the role of anger in spiritual activism?
  3. How do we embody authenticity? How do we know when we are feeling authentic connection?
  4. How to be skillful in dropping down in a moment?
  5. How to stay with love?
  6. How do I want to show up?
  7. How to share and build this place?
  8. How we live, embody and take [this] out to the world?
  9. What worked in my facilitation yesterday?
  10. How are people experiencing me?
  11. What do you see that I bring? What do you wish that I would bring?
  12. How do I keep [my tendency to] beat myself up for speaking harshly at bay?
  13. When is my posture or energy is closed or slouching?
  14. What can i let go of?
  15. How am I showing up?

Emotion and experience were recurring topics. As was body language, and what our behavior was telling others.

presencing.org: 12 Journaling Questions

Like Daniel Pink said, I clicked through 4 sites this morning. As a result, I got to a dozen questions of U Journaling Practice: A 18 Step Journey through Your Field of the Future:

1. Awareness: What experiences in your life made you aware of the deeper dimension of your personal journey?
2. Frustration: What about your current work and/or personal life frustrates you the most?
3. Energy: What are your most vital sources of energy? What do you love?
4. Crack: Where do you feel the future now?
5. Helicopter: Watch yourself from above (as if in a helicopter). What are you doing?
What are you trying to do in this stage of your professional and personal journey?
6. Footprint: Imagine you could fast-forward to the very last moments of your life, when
it is time for you to pass on. Now look back on your life’s journey as a whole. What
would you want to see at that moment? What footprint do you want to leave behind
on the planet?
—————–(Crossing the Gate)———————-
7. What advise have you been giving from Self to self?
8. Intention: Now return again to the present and crystallize what it is that you want to create: your vision and intention for the next 3-5 years. What vision and intention do
you have for yourself and your work? What are some essential core elements of the future that you want to create in your personal, professional, and social life? Describe as concretely as possible the images and elements that occur to you.
9. Letting-go: What would you have to let go of in order to bring your vision into reality? What is the old stuff that must die? What is the old skin (behaviors, thoughtprocesses, etc.) that you need to shed?
10. Prototyping: Over the next three months, if you were to prototype a microcosm of the future in which you could discover “the new” by doing something, what would that prototype look like?
11. People: Who can help you make your highest future possibilities a reality? Who might be your core helpers and partners?
12. Action: If you were to take on the project of bringing your intention into reality, what would you like to accomplish: over the next three years, three months and three days?

 

poetry in a mission statement?

a friend is launching a new nonprofit. some guidance that i gleaned online:

1. it can’t be said much more simply than this:

A Mission Statement should be a one-sentence, clear, concise statement that says who the agency is (the name, that it is a nonprofit, and what type of agency it is), what it does, for whom and where. Period.

2. to distinguish between a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement:

Vision
What are the values or beliefs that inform your work?
What would you ultimately hope to accomplish as a result of your efforts?

Mission
How do you plan to work toward this broad vision? For whose specific benefit does the organization exist?

    3. then to think of a mission statement as poetry:

    On a concrete level, how can we apply the craftsmanship of poetry to mission statements? Think carefully about each word of your mission statement, about the range of denotations and connotations it carries, and about the effect it will have on readers. As you write or revise, consider your mission statement a poem, that is, a carefully-worded piece in which every syllable holds meaning. Interpreting an existing mission statement as a poem can provide meaningful insight into your organization’s purpose and approach.

    On a “positioning statement” that is speaks to the value of your nonprofit:

    a one to three (only if they’re short) sentence statement that conveys what your org does for whom to uniquely solve an urgent need—the  value that your org delivers. Here’s a list of key components your positioning statement should  convey:

    • Who you are
    • What business you’re in
    • For whom (what people do you serve)
    • What’s needed by the market you serve
    • What’s different about how you do your work
    • What unique benefit is derived from your programs, services and/or products?

    Are you open or transferring misery?

    Substantial difference between being told/asked: What makes you miserable? rather than being asked … How would you describe how you feel?

    It was telling that misery was named. But who’s misery — that of the questioner, answerer, or someone that the questioner is thinking of?

    Questions, and how we ask them. Succinct questions elicit brief answers. Sloppily formed questions offer little cohesion, focus. And are more about the messy mind asking a question in the midst of their own declaration than they are about seeking the inner opinions of the person asked.

    Pops called and asked a question

    Just spoke with Dad for 10 minutes or so. [my sense of time is so screwy as I open, and embrace differently. Time is abundant. My following my heart rather than minding with my brain]

    Anyhow, Dad called twice yesterday. Both messages asked me to call him asap. Both times he said how he had a question for me. His question?

    Did I want he and Theopolis to come out and help me pack up?

    I am awestruck. Into silence. In such tenderness, generosity and love. Offerings that have not been a common occurrence with him. Rather than turn him down altogether, I pivoted the offer by saying that I’d like a raincheck once I’m settled in the Fall. He checked the raincheck.