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Question of the week: What is trying to happen here?

February 17-22, 2011, Ann Linnea and I drove over the border into southern British Columbia in order to work with two Presbyteries of the United Church of Canada. We introduced PeerSpirit Circle Process as a way to conduct their church related business and support communities of faith in times when especially the rural congregations are more and more reliant on active lay leadership. The people were wonderful, the circle well-received, and the drive much longer and more strenuous than we anticipated—both in sheer distance, and in making our way over mountain passes in winter.

I think we were better “consultants” to these folks because we drove. The scenery was gorgeous, with sheer cliff faces sheeted in frozen waterfalls and forests of Ponderosa pine and Doug fir covered with shawls of snow.  We drove and drove, arrived and interacted with authenticity and depth, deposited the circle as a life-skill and storycatching space, drove on, and eventually turned toward home in a swirl of snow that followed us all the way back to Whidbey Island. That’s where we were when a new story broke loose in the United States.

We arrived home after five days of being entirely locally focused to global news of a severe earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, a city on the lovely south island where we had worked and vacationed in early December; to revolt in Libya where another population is willing to put their lives on the line to free themselves from dictatorship; and to Madison, Wisconsin, where a recently elected “Tea Party” governor finds his citizens in revolt against a bill that would strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Dare we notice that a stolid, stable, predominantly Caucasian and Christian, largely rural, blue collar, and farming state in the middle of the US of A has possibly been inspired to reawakened activism by the uprising of a Muslim nation?

Dare we notice that the principles that underlie the work of collaborative leadership that PeerSpirit offers through the medium of circle process are being expressed and lived in the occupation of the state capitol?

Yes. We notice—at least I’m noticing.

In a Reuters piece written by James Kelleher and published on 2/22/11, the reporter notes, “Like the people thousands of miles away in Egypt who set up a tent city in Tahrir Square…the protesters participating in the state capitol sleep-in here have quickly set up a little organized society—complete with its own simple rules…. Our principles: 1. The Capitol is our house! Treat it as such and clean up! 2. Non-violence: stay away from debates! Don’t hurt others. 3. No drugs or alcohol. 4. Keep noise down past 1am. 5. Have fun.”

The words transport me to dozens of times when I have participated with circles of people fashioning into their own words variations of the basic PeerSpirit agreements: 1. Respect each other’s stories—confidentiality unless permission to share. 2. Listen with compassion and curiosity—transform judgment. 3. Ask for what you need and offer what you can. 4. Choose a way to halt to the action and reflect, re-center, and then go on. We often refer to these as the “ancient laws of respect,” and when I read the similarities in the principles between circle and sit-ins, the commonality of respect absolutely delights me.  Wow—the global conversation movement and the methodologies of collaborative leadership are having an impact! The connection may be untraceable, yet emergent and self-organizing.

Twenty years ago, when Ann and I started formulating circle process out of the intuitive ways we had been teaching, we had a dream: that in moments of crisis when things were on the verge of breaking down or breaking open, someone would shout out—“hey, let’s circle up!” and others would know what they meant and would agree to this kind of dialogue, to “non-violence, staying away from debates and not hurting each other.” I know that cultural shift is made up of many complex factors, but it sure is a delight to feel a sense of connection between what we’ve devoted our lives to and what’s happening in Wisconsin.

May this truly be a turning point for our country. May we find in each other allies we never expected to meet. May “we” be entering an expanding experience of breaking out of the lies and lethargy that have bound us. May we awaken to radical activism on behalf of what serves the common good.

A local pizzeria in Madison volunteered to take orders on-line for pizza donations and deliver them to the protesters and orders came in from as far away as Cairo.

What is trying to happen here?