Around the World in Open Space: Progress, Peace, And Possibility
by Michael Herman
We live in an impossible time. Face impossible questions. Sleep with impossible uncertainty. Plan on impossible scales. Sit through impossible traffic. Process impossible data. Yearn for impossible care, impossible dreams, impossible deals, the impossible peace.
In the last year, it's been my great good fortune to with people in Alaska and Mississippi, Milwaukee and Singapore, Ireland and India, Hong Kong and Australia, Kathmandu and Peoria. School people, software people, church people, business people, government people. Young and old, rich and poor. People. All mulling the same questions... What can we do? Must we have war? Are peace and progress still possible? What do we really want for our work, our families, our future?
And then, without any real answers, they go do things. Impossibly good and powerful things. I saw this so clearly in Fairbanks, Alaska, where 250 youth and adults (ages 13 to who knows) spent four days last March, working together on 'Becoming Peacemakers.' It was a two-day conference run in OpenSpaceTechnology, in which 50 small-group working sessions were organized, facilitated and documented by the participants themselves, on all of the issues that they deemed most important, for making all kinds of peace.
One high school student posted the question, 'How do we keep people from hurting themselves?' The conversation continued in a more focused sequel session on 'suicide prevention.' And just when that second conversation seemed ready to end, after much candid discussion, this student leader challenged the group again: "But we haven't DONE anything about it yet!" This sparked two more sessions, a suicide prevention curriculum for the middle schools, a funding and implementation plan, and an Alaska-wide 24/7 youth crisis hotline that was up and running within weeks of the conference. Now that's progress.
In another group, the focus was 'Peace in Families.' Again, much candid and caring conversation, and a number of ideas and insights emerged. One young woman went home and tried out one of these ideas. At the end of day two, after all of the participants had already spoken in the closing circle, the sponsor of the whole conference asked this young woman to say more about what she had tried. When they passed her the microphone, she paused for a long moment, took a deep breath and said...
"A lot of you know that things are pretty bad at my house... (pause) ...actually, it's been this way for a while... it's me and my mom... it's sort of a power struggle... and now we don't really talk anymore... but after our session yesterday, I decided I had to do something. So this morning I was eating my cereal and my mom was reading her paper. As usual, we weren't talking. After I finished eating, I just said, 'Mom, I want to ask you something.' And when she looked over her paper, I said--I mean I asked-- 'Do you remember that I love you?' At first she didn't say anything and then finally she said... 'Sometimes I forget.' So I told her to ask me when she forgets and then she gave me a big hug... and that was it." Now that's peacemaking.
Six months later, the ripples are still fanning out, as reported by the conference organizer, after seeing this young woman: "When I saw her today she was beaming. Health and happiness oozed from every part of her. She told me she’s working on creating a new class in her high school called Peacemaking. She’s almost finished the curriculum, and has identified a teacher who will support her by being the teacher-of-record without taking over the class. The class will be student-led and dialogue-driven. My heart is doing cartwheels."
Immediately following that conference, we ran a two-day training and practice workshop to teach Open Space Technology and to support its use for ongoing progress and peacemaking. Sixty students, teachers, principals, and other participants attended that workshop. Six months later, they are holding 1-3 open space meetings per week in Fairbanks, with others happening to the south in Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. A whole bunch of new possibilities. OpenSpaceTechnology/FacilitatorTraining
Again and again... in Open Space meetings, workshops and conversations on the future of education in Peoria, Agile Software and Extreme Programming, Imagine Nepal 2020, the future of social service workers in Asia, the expansion of an Indian consulting firm, Udaipur as a Learning City, youth enterprise and employment, the transformation of public education in Queensland, Australia and the future of Himalayan villages... I see us learning the languages, processes and practices of peace. (See for yourself at the links below)
I got a phone call this morning from a colleague in Denmark who just met one of my Singapore workshop participants at a conference in Chile. Another friend teaches a course she calls 'Eating as a Political Act.' Eating. Driving. Cleaning. Resting. Speaking. Working. Writing. Smiling. It all matters. If you ignore this story, it matters. If you copy it and pass it on, it matters. If you add a link or two or six to the list below, it will matter. We save one life, embrace one other, thank, invite, and celebrate one small move at one time. And oh-so-impossibly, they add up to a world, this world, our world -- this one we choose together.
Everywhere I go this year, I am impressed, encouraged and inspired by the careful, conscious, wise and peaceful ways that all kinds of little individuals are making so many of these critical, political, everyday choices. It gives me hope that some of our worst CNN nightmares may yet be no more dangerous than a bad dream. May we all wake up soon!
So many apparently impossible good fortunes are happening now, it's hard to know just where or how or from whom they come, so I thank you just in case. I hope you are well and happy today. Maybe this message will give you some cause, some means, some possibility for making more happy, more often. Maybe you will have your own stories, thanks, links, invitations and reflections and send them along.
I wonder if it's possible to fill up that whole website with our stories, links and resources? I wonder what the new year brings, with workshops in Chicago, Phoenix, New York and who know where else? And what of world news? No answers, and no matter, really. Fact is, that any one, that EVEN one, of these things has happened, reminds us that progress and peace are possible. And that's enough, for now.