What is the gift you have received from being part of the Occupy conversation?

Please help us start this dialogue now and then join the Cafe Call on Monday, 11/5 as well:

8-10a PDT | 11a-1p EDT | 3-5p GMT
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This theme will also inform our Tuesday "Connect2012" and Thursday "Occupy Heart" calls.

"Gifts" completes our cycle of the Six Conversations based on the model developed by Peter Block in Community: The Structure of Belonging, building on the "Dissent""Possibility", "Ownership," "Invitation" and "Commitment" conversations we hosted from May through October.  

Once again, we are delighted to welcome back co-hosts Eric and Elaine Hansen, who have worked extensively with Block, and are masters of this form.  Our deep thanks and appreciation goes out to them for collaborating with us over these months to bring forth some amazing conversations.  What a gift that has been!  Thanks also to Peter, for his wisdom, insight and humor in designing and sharing this "way of being."

Here is Block's take on the essence of the Gifts conversation:

In our attraction to problems, deficiencies, disabilities, and needs, the missing community conversation is about gifts. The only cultural practices that focus on gifts are retirement parties and funerals. We only express gratitude for your gifts when you are on your way out or gone. If we really want to know what gifts others see in us, we have to wait for our own eulogy, and even then, as the story goes, we will miss it by a few days.

In community building, rather than focusing on our deficiencies and weaknesses, which will most likely not go away, we gain more leverage when we focus on the gifts we bring and seek ways to capitalize on them. Instead of problematizing people and work, the conversation that searches for the mystery of our gifts brings the greatest change and results. 

The focus on gifts confronts people with their essential core, that which has the potential to make the difference and change lives for good. This resolves the unnatural separation between work and life. Who we are at work is our life. Who we are in life is our work. The leadership task––indeed the task of every citizen––is to bring the gifts of those on the margin into the center. This applies to each of us as an individual, for our life work is to bring our gifts into the world. This is a core quality of a hospitable community, whose work is to bring into play the gifts of all its members, especially strangers.... 

This means we enforce a complete ban on denying gifts and discussing weaknesses and what is missing. No human problem solving allowed. Often, people, so conditioned by the retributive culture that we have experienced, want negative feedback. This is packaged in the name of learning and growth. 

Don’t buy the packaging. The longing for feedback that we can “work on” is really a defense against the terrible burden of acknowledging our gifts and getting about the work of living into them, which we can call “fulfilling our destiny”––language so demanding and imposing, no wonder I would rather keep swimming in the morass of my needs and incompleteness. 

Community: The Structure of Belonging, pp. 139-141

Image courtesy Sindrome Feliz via the Group Works Deck

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I am looking forward to Monday's conversations. The Gifts Conversation is one of my favorites - next to the Dissent Conversation. I think they are the two conversations that people have the least.

It is so refreshing to look for another's (and even my own) gifts and strengths. Focusing on my deficiencies and that of others takes no effort at all...my mother trained me well. I'm in recovery now. But, it is all too easy to backslide.

Can't wait to discover what Gifts await.

Although the image we used for this discussion is from the Appreciation card  in the Group Works deck, it's the Reflection/Action Cycle card that is speaking to me right now regarding the context for this conversation.

It's been one year since Occupy Cafe launched (Oct 24, 2011) and a little over one year since the movement emerged.  Twelve months ago might have been the high point in terms of the positive energy that the encampments were generating--the gifts they were sourcing.

The critical, retributive frame is indeed our default all too often, and I see that with this movement as people wonder what might have been, what "mistakes" were made, why we still seem to have so far to go in this country and globally, and what we need to focus on to get there (or even if getting "there" is possible).

Here's a bit more from my man Peter:

The point is that an alternative future occurs when we capitalize on our gifts and capacities. Bringing the gifts of those on the margin into the center is a primary task of leadership and citizenship.

The distinction here is straightforward, between gifts and deficiencies. When we look at deficiencies, we strengthen them. What you see is what you get. When you label or  name me arrogant or quietly aggressive, which I am, that is what you are going to get. In this way, the focus on gifts is a practical stance, not a moral one. What do you want from me—my deficiencies or my capacities?

Community, p.140

What has Occupy been, if not a powerful exercise in "bringing the gifts of those on the margin into the center?"  I look forward to hearing your reflections on the gifts you have received, whether from the movement, this Cafe, or other aspects of the work that has been done in the name of systemic transformation over the past year.

And, with that context of appreciation in place, I am very interested in the ways in which you feel called into action going forward.  It took me a while to parse out this phrase from the quote in lead post for our discussion:

Who we are at work is our life. Who we are in life is our work.

I see so many of us (including your humble Cafe stewards!) struggling to find ways to offer our gifts to world when the world does not appear to be structured right now to support us in making a living doing so. And yet, as Meg Wheatley suggests in So Far from Home, when I am truly awake, I am compelled by the thought that “I can’t not do this.”

To find our gifts isn't easy or trivial to me.  I've done some thinking and dialogue about core values... thats difficult enough.  But, then core values seem related to one's gifts... and it may be easier for another who cares about you to help.  It's always been easier to see something in others than in myself, even if I know other personal stuff that no one else knows.

Although I can't necessarily see a friend's core values, I can often see their building blocks or foundation... attributes that I easily admire or aspire to... so that's getting close, no?

In a discussion about core values my wife Lynda didn't have a clue.  After some discussion and observations from several of us close to her she remembered even in childhood her affinity to want to help make peace between friends arguing.  Due to her sensitivity, it actually hurts her to experience human discord.  She was able to uncover her core values of Peace and Harmony.  I can attest to gifts she has (still difficult to define) that make her presence (e.g. in a room) significant in maintaining harmony (without others necessarily knowing it) because she's a very quiet person.

As for myself, I can name some attributes I consider might benefit others, but I would be reluctant to say for example that I'm generous... since I know inside that at times I give or help others without thinking.  But, at other times I'm selfish and think about my own convenience or what I'll get out of it, etc..  In other words it's a messy situation.  I'd much rather others would say what they see are my gifts.  And it's not necessarily due to a false modesty.  It doesn't feel natural, so I'm not so loose doling out my desirable attributes (in public) even tho I might know what they are deep inside. 

Thanks everyone! I have to drop off quietly...:-D

Patricia Kambitch graciously emerged on our Cafe Call with the gift of her graphic recording talents.  For those who want to know more about her work, her website is Playthink.com, her blog is SlowLearning.org and she tweets @playthink., where she describes herself thusly (echoes of Anthony Bourdain?!):

I listen. I draw. I clarify. I make the invisible visible. I show what you tell. Two parts sage, one part fool. Great big dinner dance party for all.

 Here are the wonderful images she created based on what she heard "walking the room" yesterday:"

How innocent and fulfilling is your work here, Patricia.  I'm fascinated by this form of expression... wanting to find ever more ways to use our natural gifts to express ourselves.  To me it most certainly takes all we got, and more than simply talk. 

For example I've dreamed of doing something like telling my story in performance using all possible forms of expression... my talking mouth, singing mouth, wailing mouth, sound & nonsense mouth. noisy mouth, shaping mouth, dancing mouth, silent mouth... adding dancing or body movement, shaping and stillness, mime and sync... combining with other sound expressions like instrument and vocal and made-up sound, poetry and recitations, manual rhythms and gestural dynamics, facial explorations, vocal story, body story, musical story, drawing, pictorial expressions, painting and collage, and combinations of all these and more.  This last piece of manual drawing to express has eluded me.  Your creativity is impressive.

Thank you for this demonstration of melding mind, hand and public expression with story telling.  I hope you will continue to explore with this audience.  It is refreshing to me, adding a completely new dimension to communication and to personal expression.  I'm hoping you and I can connect sometime too.  Dyck

Reading a bit more of Meg Wheatley's So Far from Home this morning, on the provocative subject of Absurd Heroism. She outlines something I have found to be a gift of participating in Occupy--the bold, defiant insistence of recognizing what is really going on, and that business, politics and even activism "as usual" will not create systemic change.  I still hear people saying "the Occupy movement" (as an aside, does anybody else get the same twinge of frustration I do whenever that term is spoken as if this is "a thing" that thinks, deliberates, acts and can be held responsible for outcomes?) should have made demands. Wheatley is explaining to me why that never made sense, and why what has happened does, even though it is hard for many within the mainstream to grasp. 

Absurd Heroism
As change agents, activists, concerned citizens, caring
human beings, we are attempting to change a global culture
that has emerged. How many people on the planet
are happy with what’s going on? Scarcely any. Most of
us are appalled by the aggression, materialism, and greed
now so commonplace. We know this global culture has
destroyed diversity and community; we see how it seduces
youth everywhere to seek satisfaction in material objects;
we witness how polarized we’ve become, how many enemies
there are now to fear; we know people and families
devastated by wars, natural disasters, and economic collapse.
We speak out against corporate power, the deterioration
of democracy, the loss of equity and opportunity,
poverty, diseases, the annihilation of species and cultures.

We do notice what’s going on, with sadness and despair.
But then we go back to our work, still believing that if we
focus on our part, if we fix this and that one at a time,
that we will be able to change the way things are. We
work harder; we amplify the importance of our cause; we
intensify our efforts. We know the world must change—it
simply must. We renew our conviction that we will be the
ones to change what has emerged.

Well, we can’t. The global culture, with all its tragedies
and injustices, is an emergent phenomenon. We have to
accept this terrifying fact. It came to be from the convergence
of many forces and now possesses characteristics
that weren’t there until it emerged. It has become a world
where the values of greed, self-interest, and oppressive
power emerged at a global scale and now supersede all
other values. Many of us, most of us, don’t want it to be
this way. We still aspire to work from values of justice,
community, compassion, love. And we need to keep on
with this, absolutely. But no matter how well we embody
these values, no matter how important our work is, we
have to hold it differently.

We will not change what has emerged. We are starting
over, basing our work on values and practices that are distinctively
countercultural, so outside the norm that most
people can’t understand what we’re doing. We need to
continue to persevere in our radical work, experimenting
with how we can work and live together to evoke human
creativity and caring. Only time will tell whether our
efforts contribute to a better future. We can’t know this,
and we can’t base our work or find our motivation from
expecting to change this world. (pp.33-34)

Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to share the passage from Meg Wheatley's new book.  I feel the "truth" of what she describes deeply in my physiology...in the "sick" feeling that has arisen in the pit of my stomach that feels like indigestion or perhaps even poisoning...and in the ache in my heart that feels like a heart attack.  She speaks a truth I have felt for several years...a truth I have tried to deny and finally must fully acknowledge and allow mySelf to feel...to just feel how this truth resides in my body.  The impulse to not feel is great...and the resistance to surrendering to what I "know" to be true because I can feel it is great.  So this morning... I am just being with the truth that I can feel...and all the unpleasant sensations that are arising in the acknowledgement of Just What's So.  I long for a different truth to cling to...a dream I can hope for...so as to not have to feel the pain of the truth that I know is "true".  I don't like how this feels and so this morning I surrender to it...and to the of allowing mySelf to "digest" the truth that creates the discomfort of "indigestion" in my physiology.  I don't like how this feels and part of me doesn't want to feel it.  It is taking effort to be with what I know to be true and what I wish with all my being were not true.

The world that Meg describes as having emerged is the world I see and feel...even though "I" don't want to see it or feel it.

Darn it...just darn it.

Heather, what you feel sounds to me like the process of dying.  A comment from Oct 8 Indigenous Wisdom discussion:

"The Earth owns us." was a quote by Ernestine on today's call.

In me Mother Earth evokes a construct of the unity, for the 'me-and-all-things' as earth and the heavens... I name it also...  intelligence, balance, harmony, love, infinity... among the many names for God.  Surely it's undeniable in nature- the endless, varying cycles that prevail and balance... that sustains life, creates anew, and necessarily destroys or ends it. 

(note, I limit this... but acknowledge that perhaps most connections are not directly observable even in the physical, also in the spiritual and the occult.)

Isn't Mother of all the seasons small and great... the ancient cycles of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva (Creator, Sustainer, Destroyer)?  And aren't seasons, to the best of our observation and experience, inherent of existence and inevitable?  To me, the cycles/Seasons is a comfortable construct... like being in the hands of Great Intelligence.  I repeatedly see and experience and 'know' the wondrous results of death and birth and growth... 

But for most, when I bring the 'me' into the idea of 'ending' there is resistance, conflict... fear, no?  "Why don't I want to end?"  Do I think I'm separate, exempt, special, not a part of this unity?  I'm confused and conflicted and so maybe in denial my whole life.  So, I suffer my submerged fears all my life, being in conflict with reality, and then even more as I near my actual ending of life... until the great teacher readies me to surrender and learn.

But, now it's obvious we must be within one or more of the Greater Seasons, no?.  And to me it seems our cycle has past the Sustainer and is within the Destroyer.  Why is this so bad?  Why would we, who are mere specks of dust, question the Great Intelligence with her endless no-strings-attached promise of abundance and love...

Maybe OUR job is simply to find our true selves... to our highest capability, learn to serve others and the earth....

... "and leave the driving to the Mother"

Are we all being thrust into kicking and screaming our denials of our imminent death?

To consider all this, am I worried about what others will think... or that others aren't ready for this 'radicalness'... or, about the children... or, that you don't yet know your purpose or meaning in life... or, that you don't yet have a construct of existence or of life after death... or, that you don't feel grounded in spirituality... or, that you're afraid?  I realize all this must be dealt with first.  And if we need to deal with our fear, lets do it... together trying not to cover it up.

Surely there is unbelievable beauty in reality... whatever it is.  Is it worth (the risk) to know?

Based on Heather's reply, I feel compelled to post the next section.  

Dark Nights of the Soul
Although I write these words as simple declarative statements,
I do not underestimate how difficult they are to
accept. It has taken me many years and several dark nights
of the soul to come to terms with what is going on. Nowadays
we label dark nights as depression, but in spiritual
traditions, this descent into darkness is recognized as the
journey into greater meaning. Dark nights are also excellent
examples of how chaos works to create more capacity;
like all living systems, we first have to fall apart before
we can figure out how to reorganize ourselves to fit the
new environment.9 This is the role of despair—it causes us
to fall apart. In the darkness, we lose all sense of meaning,
and this is always an extremely painful and isolating
experience. But then, with timing not of our choosing, we
find we have come out of the dark, able to once again find
meaning and purpose for our lives. I’ve asked many people
how they feel once they have passed through a dark
night. They report, and this is my experience also, that
they feel stronger and more confident. Having passed
through the refiner’s fire, they trust themselves to deal
with whatever life challenges them with next.

We need to feel despair that we cannot change the world.
It is appropriate and essential that we do so. And we need
to enter into the darkness, because it is the entry point for
transformation. From my own experience with dark nights,
I know that energy, strength and confidence become available
the other side of despair. Having personally made this
journey many times, abandoning my savior tendencies, I
am eager for you to discover this place as well. It saddens
me to see how many are still locked down by the belief
that if they just work a little harder, if they just collaborate
better or build a bigger network, if they just develop a new
approach, they’ll turn the world around. Can we please
abandon these self-destructive beliefs? Can we have faith
that capacity, strength and delight are available to us the
other side of darkness? (pp.34-35)

I am also mindful of some of  Wheatley's introductory statements about the way in which she intends this book to be used:

This book cannot serve you if you skim, scan, scroll, or flip
through its pages hunting for a few good ideas.

This book intends to provoke and disturb, to console and
affirm you. These strong responses require time and reflection.

Perhaps then, these excerpts are not the best way to share Wheatley's ideas and I should simply suggest you buy the book?!  

Ben - thanks for sharing this passage from Meg's new book.  Yes, to what Meg is saying. I/we need to be grounded in reality.  I heard Peter Senge say something like - a vision not grounded in reality leads to chaos.  We are in the midst of a huge transformation. It could go either way.  I am choosing to believe that it will land on the side of what is best in humanity - kindness, compassion, community, abundance, generosity, and more.

What Meg says also answers the commitment question, "what are you willing to do without expectation of recognition or reward for the well being of the whole?"

I say I am standing for creating a better world for the children and seven generations beyond.  

Isn't it deeper than forsaking "recognition and reward," Elaine?  I hear Meg saying we would do well to let go of the need for efficacy and success, at least at any scale that takes us towards "saving the world.".

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