During the opening circle of the Turtle Island Art of Hosting Practitioners gathering there was a memorable moment of interruption… a disruption. It was a surprising and uncomfortable occurrence for me. When I stayed in the discomfort, I could see how our calling question was manifest and alive. We had called in disruption and tensions related to power, privilege and race with our inquiry. Why would it be so shocking that they would show up from the get-go?
The next morning we developed a set of principles for convivencia during our time together. My partner and I were curious about ways that we can consciously interrupt and disrupt dominant power dynamics when we see them manifesting in small and large ways during our days together. We were clear that we can often become complicit in reinforcing the dominant (often biased, racist and unaware) systems by simply sitting still in our chairs with our mouths shut. The principle we posited was:
Practice mindfully disrupting/interrupting power imbalances and patterns of oppression.
And we asked: “What are the mechanisms we use to practice this kind of disruption?”
This was one of those principles that just would not leave us alone over the ensuing four days. THANK GOODNESS! I kept noticing when an interruption happened. But what I noted more commonly was when there was no disruption. When all of us just sat by even if some were aware that a person with power and privilege was taking up a lot of airtime with their contributions.
When the time came on the fifth day of the gathering to look at what we wanted to harvest from our time together, I just couldn’t let this one go. About eleven of us gathered around what Lina deemed the “Loving Disruption” table. We had an absolutely fascinating, multi-faceted and deeply meaningful conversation about what it means to disrupt the dominant systems in a way that allows for learning and growth while staying present in the discomfort and difficulty. We asked questions about where the impulse to interrupt was coming from within us. We asked if disruption always had to be loving. We talked about micro-aggressions. Some people were seeking clear definitions. Others wanted to be sure that we weren’t recreating binary rules about the “right” way and the “wrong” way to disrupt. Some tended toward the mechanisms for disruptions and others toward the many powerful questions that emerged in our conversation. The dialogue continued after the gathering with another powerful call.
Except for Wendy’s exceptional reflections on Loving Disruption within the framework of the Four-Fold Practice (page 7), we haven’t distilled this harvest much but I really wanted to share our notes and questions with the larger Art of Hosting community! So, here’s the raw harvest. What are the ways you’ve found effective for disrupting oppressive behaviors and imbalances of power in AoH gatherings (or other similar settings)? What burning questions do you have about all this? What are your experiences with loving disruption? What were people disrupting? What’s worked? What’s led to more connection and openness? What about disconnection and defense? I’m very curious to hear your thoughts! Feel free to leave them here in the comments section of this post!
Aerin and the Loving Disruption Crew
What and who is the Art of Hosting now?
Are we aligned with our core?
Are we evolving or resting on our laurels?
What needs to be let go?
What needs to emerge?
What is the stretch now that will continue to pull us into the future?
In May of 2018 in Columbus, Ohio, USA, Art of Hosting Practitioners met to dive into conversations on race, power and privilege. The room was largely white with about one quarter being people of colour. Participants came from as far away as Austria, Brazil, Costa Rica and Japan as well as USA, Mexico and Canada.
One of the breakout groups was to revisit the “DNA” of the Art of Hosting (AoH) through the lense of the conversations we had been having. To do this we referenced the summary of the 2005 gathering in Nova Scotia, which articulated the need purpose and principles of AoH. Although this document is not often revisited it is foundational and formative for the global network. Here it is:
It is important to test our foundations to keep our core, as a global network, alive and curious. Four key threads of inquiry came out of our conversation about the document above, which we would like to share into the global community:
Race, power, privilege are implicit in AoH Consciousness
The birth of the Art of Hosting in late 90s and early 2000s was a deliberate attempt to move beyond the dogma and discipleship of methodologies. We believed that underneath all the participatory methods was a pervasive consciousness and architecture. As we aspired to equip people to practice, design and deliver participatory leadership to fit their unique contexts, we also wondered:
What if we could train in this consciousness? What if we could make the architecture visible as mental models?
There is no one way that any of us can own all that Art of Hosting is. Yet we stand on a shared foundation that enshrines participation as a way to see and enact problem solving together. It’s sounds something like:
“Are we together? Is everyone here that needs to be here? If so, we can make things happen!"
This defining statement is powerful as an ideal, but what is not explicit is a tenet that all the stakeholders must accept and acknowledge before the process starts: power comes with participation. When you participate, you are automatically empowered to help make the decision. This is why community members participate: to exercise individual power, but more importantly, to realize collective power. If our clients, collaborators, and partners don't understand and buy into this, the ideal fails and so does our work.
Recognizing and working with power as a complex force and narrative in participatory engagement is critical praxis. In any given situation, methodology reflects and reproduces this consciousness and is always unique to context. It could be prayer, open space technology, theatre of the oppressed or affinity groups. It doesn’t matter. If it comes from the consciousness of participation as a way to craft a future that serves all – then it is Art of Hosting.
In our conversations we identified awareness of race, power, gender, hierarchy, wealth and class as an implicit part of this future driven consciousness. If you are not taking these things into consideration as you invite, plan, design and deliver participatory process, you are not doing Art of Hosting work. These forces are already shaping every context in which we practice Art of Hosting. Hosting conversations where we work with, and maximize, our differences requires our explicit awareness as we take the next emergent steps that will serve our grandchildren.
In the Columbus practitioners gathering we constantly experienced race falling off the table of the conversations. It is a practice to keep bringing it back in and inviting the consciousness to influence our work. It is a practice, just like taking a breath and finding our centre before we host a good conversation. It is a practice, like returning to the meditation cushion or Aikido mat, again and again, and yet again. The return requires attention and rigor and the commitment to stay with the discomfort instead of seeking to sedate or bypass it.
We all have to keep building the capacity to host the space for discomfort without fear. Safety and discomfort are not in opposition to each other, as the poster from the AoH North America gathering well articulates:
Authenticity for all!
Authenticity has always been a key ingredient of the hosting of and participating in any Art of Hosting event. Yet we must ask, who gets to be authentic in Art of Hosting spaces? Are the spaces we create allowing everyone to bring their full multiplicity into the conversation? “Whoever comes are the right people” can be a great principle for open space technology, but is insufficient as a broader community guide if the goal is meaningful and sustainable change.
The global AoH network continues to grow in numbers and diversity of practitioners, it is time to evolve and surface the diversity that has always been there in the field and to allow it to inform the presencing and invocation of the new. At the North American Practitioners gathering it was shared that many practitioners of colour declined to come because they felt that AoH in general does not invite them to fully participate. They did not want to bear the weight of educating white AoH practitioners on issues of race, power and privilege. Yet, the people of colour who did show up still had to bear the weight of much of the hosting, conversation and education.
What if we were to assume that doing Art of Hosting means making Art of Hosting gatherings more accessible so that everyone who comes can be authentic? We need a multiplicity of perspectives to be able to see our reality clearly, make the strategic choices about where we focus our actions and then act and learn as we go. If we do not have this range of authentic input it is impossible to achieve results that shift the status quo. Our ability to combine our hunger for authenticity with a practice of accessibility and willingness to remain uncomfortable is directly connected to our capacity to get results for positive change.
Notice who is with you and who is not. Then go ask someone else to notice who is with you and who is not. Notice what you did not notice and be curious. Go out build relationships! Meet people who are missing and ask what calls them. Co-create invitation that can hold the disruption of the status quo that authenticity often brings, and that can occur in one another's spaces. Seek invitation to visit each other's camps and build more relationships! Don't be nice, be authentic. We must get comfortable with being authentic in each other’s spaces.
Unity and Difference at the centre
Looking at the need, purpose and principles as they were articulated in 2005 we noticed a gap in acknowledging differentials among us. There are lots of pointers to ‘unity,’ ‘the field,’ ‘collective wisdom’ but very little reference to how our differences contribute to significant conflict or change. Unity and connectedness has long been at the centre of AoH work – we would like to also centre and honor differences, recognizing they make the community and humanity stronger.
Honoring differences in a field and realizing their necessity and value is morally important both for people who have experienced those differences as marginalizing or worse, but also for those who have overlooked or avoided the presence of difference. Recognizing, naming, and living the value of difference is a way to remove some of the burden from those traditionally carrying it.
Practitioners in Columbus talked about how they look at participants through a lens not just of race but also of power differential. This awareness shifts the design, the team, the framings, the methodologies, the harvest and more. We notice the themes and the outliers in terms of people and content. This is how we can deliberately shift and dismantle oppressive power structures to create the connection necessary to take steps on the critical challenges so many of us face.
Beyond celebrating diversity into empowered engagement and partnership.
‘Celebrate Diversity’ as a principle for the Art of Hosting is short-sighted and out of date. It does not respond to the complexity of working across difference in a context that is trending towards greater fragmentation, isolation, and social precarity. It is too simplistic, and lets us bypass today's deeper need, to move from diversity and inclusion to questions of equity.
Nor does the idea of celebrating diversity recognize the dominant linguistic and cultural lense that undergirds the frame itself. Who is defining what constitutes “diversity,” difference or ”otherness” in this principle? Who or what is being normalized? Why is difference imagined as a chasm to be crossed or bridged, rather than a point of contact and learning? What dimensions of diversity are cause for celebration, which are not, and who decides?
It takes effort to get people in the room--or for some people to enter the room. It takes more than a well designed and crafted pdf invitation to get the diversity of people in the room we need to tackle the complexity of issues on our doorstep. We must consider location, personal invitations, travel accessibility, price point, virtual involvement and more! What if it was a non-negotiable for all of our events to have 50% people of colour -- on the calling and hosting teams, as well? How would it change our conceptions of stakeholders, clients, and community? What if we held diverse representation to be as essential to the successful preparation of a gathering as finding space, lights, and heating? How would that drive our innovation and creativity? What might we then also be?
'Baking in' equity, race, power, and privilege considerations, is the only pathway to the results we desire.
Not a resolution but a next step
There is no resolution to any of the issues we have identified here. However, there are next steps that we can take individually and as a global network to integrate and adopt what we have been learning in Columbus. These are provocations to imaginging!
The primary ask is to be curious and brave. Ask questions. Engage in your own racial identity development work (in place, nationally, and globally), as a prerequisite for mutual interaction and relationships across difference. Begin or continue your own journey of cultural competency development.
Commit to serving your clients well by surfacing issues of race, racial equity, power, privilege and the relevant issues that attend these topics in every engagement, whether the client raises them or not. These matters are part of the visible and invisible human systems dynamic that we host in every group. Lean in with us and share what you learn.
Make visible those who are being courageous through their use of AoH to shift the conversations on race, power and privilege. Listen to their stories. Make this a part of the narrative of our global network.
There is great work happening already. Here are some people and initiatives you may want to meet and find out about that were part of our conversation:
Ashley Cooper - https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashley-cooper-a45b491/
Caroline Blackwell - https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolinegblackwell/
Going UpStream - http://www.goingupstream.net
People Potential - http://peoplepotential.org/
Wendy Morris - http://www.wendymorris.org
Marcela Sotela - https://www.linkedin.com/in/marcela-sotela-7a591b13/
Maurice Stevens - https://comparativestudies.osu.edu/people/stevens.368
The Outside - http://www.findtheoutside.com
Tuesday Ryan Hart - http://www.tuesdayryanhart.com
The biggest invitation is to stretch beyond who and what we know. Seek engagement with those defined as other. Develop relationships. Act together.
We must keep surfacing race, power and privilege at the centre of our work and implicit in our methodologies. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it means we will get more resilient and meaningful results.