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My co-author Judy Zehr sent me a wonderful resource the other day.  It is a small e-book on how to bring people together to talk about difficult topics.  Of course, that’s right up my alley – and I hope yours!  I decided to make a simple summary out of an already somewhat simple resource.  I’ve included a link to the original resource that Judy sent me below (after my summary).
Hope you find this useful and applicable to some of your teams or groups that you are part of or lead.
Grounding Virtues
The guide starts with some “Grounding Virtues.”  These are values or principles upon which one’s group, team or community stands.  The key question to unearth the grounding virtues would be:

What do you most value? 

The discovery and articulation of the grounding virtues of a group can help to ground each individual in how each wants to be individually and collectively. 

In this guide, six virtues are listed.  Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, recommends 2 to 3 core values, principles or virtues to guide your group.  I prefer 2 or 3, as it’s easier to remember. 
So, out of the 6 in this guide, these are the 3 that jumped out at me as key to guiding any community gathering. Bring whatever meaning that comes to mind to each or use them as a springboard to have a dialogue with your own group about your collective virtues.  The 3 from the guide are:

  • Humility
  • Generous listening
  • Adventurous civility

Shaping the Space
The guide then talks about how to apply these grounding virtues to  “shaping” the space.  You can also think of it as the preparation required to create a generous community experience.

A core question for this task is:

How will you create a space where your core values can be enacted or lived out? 

If we are applying the 3 virtues we chose from the guide, how can you create a space where humility, generous listening and adventurous civility can take place?  Here are some more questions to help you with that:

• What guiding intention do you hold for the gathering?
• Who do you want to invite and cover the “bridge” folks, the elders, the diverse perspectives? 
• What preparation might you want folks to do before the meeting?
• What guiding reminders might you want to share – things like not having to “reach any resolution or conclusions.” 

That last one is an important principle the mediators I know bring into our work.  There’s no pressure to come to some definitive solution in a conversation, or pressure each other to agree.  It’s understanding that is being sought after, not conclusions. 

This is how the guide explains the space where the virtues can be enacted:

“It is about creating and renewing common life.  No one will be advocating to bring others to see things their way. No one will feel pressured to give up the ground they stand on. Stating this very clearly can be disarming, a relief for people. All of our favored cultural modes of engaging difference drive to resolution — winning the debate, getting on the same page, taking a vote. But there is value in learning to speak together honestly and relate to each other with dignity, without rushing to common ground that would leave all the hard questions hanging. We learn to speak differently together in order to live together differently.”

The guide then moves on to talk about what to do when you gather. For the gathering, the guide suggests starting with sharing some of the virtues.  There could be a dialogue about the virtues themselves, what they may mean to people about how they want to act at the gathering. Or there could be a communal discovery of what the common virtues or values might be of that group gathered there.  It’s a type of highest intention statement.

After a grounding in the virtues, offering questions to the gathering can help illicit the wisdom.  Here are 3 classics the guide suggests:

  • Why are you here? What longing or curiosity made you say yes to this invitation?
  • Where do you trace the earliest roots of your passion for this conversation?
  • What hope and fear do you bring to this conversation?

It’s also suggested if things get tense, to practice the “pause” – three breaths, in and out — to settle and reset. This is a beautiful practice that could be done at the end of each round.

Then, remember to close well.  Here are 3 questions the guide suggests that could be used:

  • Something you’ve learned from someone else during the meeting.
  • Something you’re still thinking about.
  • Something you want to talk more about at the next gathering.

I hope this summation gives you some inspiration for your own gathering.  This is a link to the guide.
If you want to dive even deeper into the art of gathering, this is a wonderful book.