Story by Paula Hendrick
A number of learnings and efforts came together to catalyze the creation of this document-in-process, Interhelp Community Guidelines for Tending and Mending the Social Web.
First let me define the Interhelp “we”: Throughout its history as a networking group focused on the Work That Reconnects (currently based in the northeast U.S.), Interhelp program participants and facilitators have mostly been white. I am white cis-female myself.
In 2017 many of us participated in an “Anti-Oppression Study Group for White-Identified Folks in the Work That Reconnects Community” led by Eleanor Hancock of White Awake. We learned about and wrestled with the history of racial oppression and genocide in the U.S. And now we understand a little more about the corresponding roots and pervasiveness of the white privilege enjoyed by most of us. This culture of white privilege was part of the pervasive common experience within which the Work That Reconnects (WTR) developed.
Our Study Group was sparked by the involvement of Interhelp Council member Aravinda Ananda in the WTR Network’s Evolving Edge efforts. Aravinda has consistently gifted us with her learnings and explorations, often gained at west coast events. She organized the Study Group and collaborated with Eleanor Hancock to deliver it as part of this dissemination and fertilization process.
Interhelp’s Race and Class Action Circle nominally began an exploration of oppression issues a few years earlier. But it was at a Facilitator Deepening weekend in August of 2017 that the “Tending and Mending the Web” Action Circle began to coalesce.
Participants in the August weekend included Sarah Pirtle, with her long history of anti-oppression work and conflict resolution skills, and Naava Smolash, a Canadian teacher and writer. Naava is on the leading edge of current framing of a broad intersection of oppression/privilege issues in academic and community settings.
During this Facilitation Deepening weekend, those present were attentive to noticing when harm and possible oppression issues arose. For me, and I think for others, the experience created a sense of urgency about learning methods and gaining skills to apply on-the-spot.
My thoughts went something like this: Okay, I’ve learned a bunch of critically important stuff about oppression; I care passionately about the Work That Reconnects and want to see its relevance continue; and most of all I want to stop being a contributor or silent witness to harm happening. And there’s no getting around it, harm happens in spaces that have evolved out of white privilege, regardless of our desire to understand problems systemically and to relate to others with respect and sensitivity.
Anne Goodwin and Naava and I met in a little break-out session, and Naava outlined a plan for moving forward, step by step: how to recognize harm, address harm when it happens, and employ a Repair Circle to “mend the web” when needed.
At our January 2018 meeting, Interhelp Council members declared a priority for 2018: creating a “Tending and Mending the Social Web” document and devising an implementation process. At that point our Interhelp work really began!
Initial volunteers for the Action Circle were Sarah Pirtle, Carol Harley, Aravinda Ananda and myself; we were soon joined by Kristina Orchard. In March, we posted the Guidelines and supporting materials (links below). These documents will always remain works-in-process.
The heart of our work is the set of Community Guidelines that you see here. Some may be be familiar, because they have often been presented as “agreements” at the openings of WTR workshops. Many are newer, created in response to our learnings.
In April, at our first Community Practice Day, we invited others to join us in skill-building and role-play practice. Another day is tentatively set for September.
Interhelp Community Guidelines
for Tending and Mending the Social Web
Suggested Guidelines for Workshop Facilitators and Participants
Balance care of whole group and care of self
- Show up on time for sessions. If you need to miss a session, let someone know so that the group is not waiting for you.
- Take care of yourself, attuning to and attending to your needs.
- As needed, draw on methods you find effective to calm and center yourself.
- Do not share someone’s name or other identifying characteristics in conjunction with speaking about what has happened during our time together, unless you first obtain their explicit permission to do so.
- If you wish to follow-up with someone later about something they shared during program time, ask their permission first. It is perfectly fine for someone to say, “No, I do not want to speak further about it.” You must respect their wishes, but do not take it personally or be offended by this choice.
Honor the experience and autonomy of self and others
- Bring awareness to what is going on with you physically, mentally and emotionally.
- Respect limitations and boundaries, for yourself and for others. Seek consent, especially around touch; attune to nonverbal communication such as tone and body language; when in doubt, ask.
- Do not take without asking – either from humans or any species, e.g., ask permission before borrowing from another culture or picking a flower.
- The following Council guidelines can be helpful when sharing in the whole group: speak from the heart; listen from the heart; apply brevity of words and get straight to the essence.
- Be mindful of what the person speaking may experience as respectful listening. In some cultures, respectful listening implies silence; in others a more interactive listening style is the norm. If in doubt, ask.
- Use your “inner tuning fork” to discern if something needs to be shared in real time in the group, or if it is best processed internally, or with someone at another time.
- Hold the intention of being kind in words (keeping in mind that “kind” doesn’t necessarily mean “nice”).
- As much as possible, speak from personal experience and use “I statements.” Avoid “we statements” that can inaccurately universalize your own experience and erase others’ experiences. If you use the word “we,” be sure to qualify who the “we” refers to, i.e. “We in the industrialized world of middle and upper class means bear greater climate responsibility.”
- Allow silence to happen. Silence can allow space for emergence. At the same time, be mindful not to be normalizing one communication style.
Strive toward an open mind
- You do not have to agree with all activities engaged in as a group or ideas that individuals present, but if it feels safe enough for you, try to be open-minded to others’ ideas, feelings, worldviews and ways of doing things.
- It is okay to disagree – respectfully, without blaming, shaming or attacking ourselves or others.
- Move away from judgment and toward curiosity.
Grow in awareness of group dynamics, and work toward equality of opportunity
- The intention is for all participants to have equal opportunity to speak, and for everyone’s voice to be heard.
- “Make space/take space” means that, if you have been socialized/conditioned to speak a lot in a group, you might try instead to consciously hold back in order to allow space for others. If you have been socialized/conditioned to not speak much, try speaking more frequently (assuming you feel safe to proceed). If you do not feel safe, consider raising the question of safety with a facilitator or with the group.
Safer space – reducing and repairing harm
- Deepen your awareness about – and attentiveness to – harm and potential harm (especially from social conditioning) that you may be contributing to. When you are aware of contributing to harm, commit to interrupt the dynamic and transform it.
- Empower/enlist everyone in the group to be aware of potential harm. Implement a process for pausing, noticing and shifting when harm is experienced or witnessed.
- The impact of our actions does not always match our intention; strive to be aware of both. If your action has a harmful impact, listen and see if there are ways you can change your behavior out of care for all.
- Be willing to exchange and receive honest feedback about the impact of your words and actions. For instance, a phrase you could say when receiving feedback is “tell me more.” (For more examples, see METHODS section below.)
Braver space: Commit to a learning community
- Be willing to take risks, be uncomfortable and make “mistakes.” All living systems evolve through trial and error, by taking in feedback and trying a new behavior.
- You can say “oops” (or a similar expression) to signal to the group if you recognize you may have done something hurtful or unconscious and you want to note it and own it.
- Honor what for you is your “comfort zone.” As you are ready, try pushing out of your “comfort zone” while not going beyond what is safe for you. Seek that middle space where you can risk, learn, and grow.
- It can be helpful to invite ourselves to choose to learn rather than to defend. In a learning space, seek your inner compass and act as your heart guides you. Accessing our heart helps us stay in that place of wanting to grow.
Grow in compassion
- Practice compassion for yourself and for others. No one is disposable – yourself included.
- As you are able to stretch yourself, especially practice compassion (including for yourself) and sensitivity when providing feedback and receiving feedback.
Honor different kinds/ways of leadership
- We are all leaders. We all have gifts to share. Leadership can look different ways, not just “front of the room” leadership, or top-down leadership.
- Leadership can be emergent when many voices are honored and emergence is valued, so group members are welcomed to contribute and offer feedback and input.
- Group members are also asked to respect and support facilitators in their role which includes making some process decisions for groups.
Paula Hendrick, who lives in rural Massachusetts, has recently joined the Work That Reconnects Network Weavers. She edits the Interhelp Newsletter. Other members of Interhelp’s “Tending and Mending the Web” Action Circle are Sarah Pirtle, Carol Harley, Aravinda Ananda and Kristina Orchard.