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Guest Blogs on Worldwork and Group Work in
Process Oriented Psychology
Us and Them.
by Grzegorz Zieliński and Liz Scarfe
(2 voices speaking about shared and individual Worldwork experiences)
When I think about writing an article on Worldwork I see the first line starting something like…500 people from 43 countries…but then I get stuck, and I start wondering what experiences these 500 people might have had in common, because surely Worldwork is an incredibly unique personal experience. So I’ve come to thinking that there was not one Worldwork, but 500, and I can only write about mine.
‘What became more and more evident for me, especially at the end of Worldwork, is how much we are alike, regardless of the cultures we come from. On the first morning of Worldwork, Dr Arny Mindell spoke of his impressions on this topic. Many years ago, working with groups in different parts of the world always required the skills to adapt to different relational and communication styles arising from the culture, but now he noticed there are fewer differences, people seeming to become ‘international’. I was surprised, and wondering how it could be, with so many differences and historical power imbalances that divide us.’
Worldwork was touching. Simple and yet complex in that way that all simple things are. I learnt so many things at Worldwork, but the biggest learning was the importance of being touched, of contact. I don’t mean physical contact (although it’s incredibly important), but of making contact with each other, allowing ourselves to be touched, by those we are in conflict with. This applies to people we are relating with, and to the diversity within of ourselves (conflict seems to happen in both simultaneously).
I spent many years as a social and political activist and I remember feeling increasingly frustrated by the ‘us’ and ‘them’ nature of activism; “We are right and good; they are wrong and bad. If we win it will be better for everyone, if they win, it will be terrible!” I started to realise that ‘they’ are also ‘us’. Until we understand this, conflicts will continue to escalate, (sometimes to war) and people will continue to abandon such polarised activist movements. It was a great relief to me when I started to learn Process Oriented Psychology and how its theories of levels of reality shows us how to work with conflict. In particular, it validated my experience of how ‘they’ are in ‘me’ and how this view can be used to de-escalate and transform conflicts. It is so relieving to me to know I am never only on one side of a conflict, but also on the other.
How Worldwork/Groupwork works with Conflict
Worldwork showed me that when working through conflicts, the difference that makes the difference is not the steps we follow, or how hard we listen, or what concessions we make, but how much we let the experience of the ‘other’ touch us. Can we move beyond listening to someone’s story or opinion to feeling their experience and suffering? Can we bring in the depths of our own experiences and vulnerability so that we might touch others? Can we shift our measure of success from the quality of the outcomes, to the quality of the contact?
Worldwork provides a great opportunity to practice this way of working with conflicts and history. A unique occasion for a large group of people to jointly examine, experiment, and share their experiences, not only discussing the events, but also re-living the emotions. Being with so many people willing to meet each other across differences is what made this time so special for me, and made me feel ‘at home’ in such a big crowd.
Worldwork is not necessarily about resolving anything, but a chance to make contact across difference, across time and generations of oppression and hurt, across cultures, languages and history. An invitation to develop new ways to relate, and ways to relate to something new.
(How to co-author an article about an experience that is both shared and individual? One of the treasures of Worldwork is how we find common ground by exploring our diversity, without homogenising our experiences; so we’ve tried to do the same here.)
Liz Scarfe works as a therapist and facilitator in Melbourne Australia and is a Diploma student in the Australia New Zealand Process Oriented Psychology program.
Making Friends with Conflict.
Worldwork was developed by Dr. Arnold Mindell, founder of Process Oriented Psychology and colleagues. Worldwork is a small and large group Process Work method that uses Deep Democracy to address the issues of groups and organizations across the world. Worldwork conferences have been held all over the world in Poland, America, England, Australia and India etc. The next Worldwork will be held in Greece.
“Deep Democracy is the principle behind a community building process that hears all voices and roles, including our collective experiences of altered states, and subtle feelings and tendencies. It is a principle that makes space for the separable, the barely speakable and the unspeakable.”
Dr. Arnold Mindell
The following are edited excerpts on Worldwork in an Interview by Bill Say, MA. Psychology, Process Oriented Psychology Diplomate. (www.billsay.com and firstname.lastname@example.org) The interview is with Dr Amy and
Dr Arny Mindell ( http://www.aamindell.net/) after the recent Worldwork conference held in June 2014 in Warsaw, Poland.
What is Worldwork? To be brief, it is a way of working on world issues that is both inner, relationship oriented, organizational and large group work…. Even though democracy is a step, it does not always work well in the sense of reducing violent conflict.
Why? Because it teaches about sharing power but does not teach about relationship, which goes beyond power. The next step beyond power is developing more sustainable contact with others and the ability to work with one another. Thus, Worldwork is based upon what Arny called “deep democracy,” which stresses awareness and not only power. Awareness of interaction means more fluid relationships, awareness of voice and body signals, awareness of shared momentary and historical roles etc. The most outward and dramatic aspects of worldwork appear in large group work, as we just experienced in Warsaw. It is amazing to see 500 people from 43 countries working together…
We are most aware of the need to focus on solutions and social system change. But sustainable relationships are equally or perhaps more important. To achieve such relationships, some of us need to learn how to facilitate and be elders who know and participate on the various sides and various roles inside of themselves and outside in group processes. Such elders can turn conflict into fluid and creative relationships where people understand and work together…
The news is full of polarities as defined by our present consensus reality which depends upon the culture, people and country. Thus, the outer opponents may be one country against another or one people against another. What is not so obvious, is that there are always a few people who are able to feel into all sides. And what also is not so obvious is that present day conflicts are based to some extent upon unworked out, undiscussed historical issues which people prefer to forget instead of processing. This is understandable, everyone wants to avoid pain but we need more than this avoidance…Just now in Warsaw, the figures of the 2nd world war and the Communist era needed to be experienced and processed first before any understanding could occur between people…
The state of the world is a “state” that means a frozen picture which is supposed to be based upon whatever a group considers the good or bad. However, when we begin to process things inside or in organizations or groups, suddenly people realize that they often are not just frozen, but quietly feel a bit like the other side. When someone realizes this, she or he can sometimes switch roles and become more fluid, and help create a more aware community. When this happens, this fluidity allows for solutions, and relationships beyond any one solution…
Q. For our very different readers who may experience varying degrees of inclusion or exclusion, power or the lack of it, and yet are seeking better ways of living and working together, can you offer any general suggestions?
Yes, follow your own self, your own dreams. If possible, speak about conflicts with others, and demonstrate how you yourself can create conflict by being rank-unconscious. Each of us has some rank and power, stand for it, and then be aware that it can irritate and inflame “power struggles“ with others. In other words, take a stand, then understand the other, and be them.
When a group uses awareness and appreciates where people are at and use various tools, amazing things happen. People can be conflictual but with some awareness, groups can be amazing. We have seen this happen in connections with organizations, interest groups, Churches, UN groups, and people around the world.
Q. It seems that many people and groups would like to change, have impact or otherwise work with the world and yet may feel unsure of how to maximize their effect. Can you offer any ideas or encouragement to those struggling with how to best make a difference in this world?
Yes, enjoy any comfort you can find, then go into groups and cultures you don’t know much about, or where you feel uncomfortable, in order to learn about different communication styles and ways of being. Create more community among all peoples, do it your own way, but do it…
The key is to sometimes be the opponents arguing against yourself.
You can find the whole interview and more information about Process Oriented Psychology and Worldwork around the world at;
- Worldwork http://worldwork.org/
- Process Oriented Psychology in Australia and New Zealand http://www.anzpop.org/process-psychology
- International Association http://www.iapop.com/
- Dr Arny and Amy Mindell http://www.aamindell.net/
- Process Oriented Psychology USA http://www.processwork.org/
- Deep Democracy Institute. www.deepdemocracyinstitute.org
What Role Did You Play, Grandma?
Leadership, Conflict, Power, Bullying
by Rho Sandberg
I’ve recently been in Warsaw, as a member of the facilitation team for an event known as Worldwork. Delegates gathered to discuss, understand and address current and historic global conflicts.
Before leaving home many colleagues asked me why I was committed to attending Worldwork. Though it came in different forms the question was essentially the same: Why open the painful wounds of history? Why put yourself through all that trauma? As I return to life as usual, addressing that question seems even more important. Why go there? I’m certainly not the first person to suggest that if we hope to address global conflict we need to carefully study the lessons that both history and unfolding events, offer us.
Few conflicts develop overnight. Many ignite against a background of centuries of struggle, the pain of which is buried as soldiers come home from war and civilians try to piece their lives together. I understand that in the wake of unbearable trauma, when peace seems tentative, it’s sometimes too much to talk about what’s happened. Whilst we have new models such as South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for discussing the impact of atrocities, it sometimes falls to those generations who follow, to pick up and continue the dialogue.
The forces of war, and conflict in general are intense. If we are to have any hope of making smart decisions in the midst of turmoil, it’s important that we understand how rage, fear or the dream of something better can collectively overcome us.
Over the past week I’ve been witness to the children and grandchildren of Germans, Poles, Jews and Russians grapple with the roles that members of their families played in the second World War. There were stories of deep shame, as well as accounts of courage and humanity in the face of great danger. As a child when I listened to stories of war I wondered: What would I do? What role would I play? Whilst these questions may seem like idle speculation, in my experience they’re far from it. Though we think of these wars as part of history, the past is not the past. The circumstances that shape history continue to play out right now, with many communities dreaming of freedom and self-direction, while others experience the struggle for identity, for land or enough food to support themselves and their children.
Inequities in power and access to resources still exist. When the founder of an orphanage in Kenya spoke about his bid to save local children from starvation, even disputes about national sovereignty and land were silenced for a moment. I was struck by the hierarchy of desperation and need even within war.
In affluent countries, we tend to be caught up with first world problems such as our children’s education or how to keep up with the next generation of smart appliances. Sheltered from the harsher realities of life that many face on a daily basis, we assume freedom and abundance as our birthright. For me, Worldwork and other experiences like it are a chance to shake myself out of my own narrow sense of complacency and entitlement.
From this position of privilege we are often shocked by the boiling over of global tensions. Accustomed to monitoring headlines, we fail to see the warning signs, the indicators of pending disasters. If we were better equipped to recognise these warning signs, perhaps, just perhaps, we might manage to avert more crises.
One of the traps of our privilege is a sense that global tensions are separate from us. If we don’t belong to a population that is literally at war, we fail to see the connection between our own choices and action or non-action and the tensions that build. Most of us go about our ordinary lives in the belief that we are immune from the pain of intense global conflict.
Yet the sense of security we derive from keeping conflict at arm’s length is false. History has repeatedly shown that seemingly peaceful societies such as the former Yugoslavia can find themselves in the midst of war or civil war at frightening speed. Greek delegates at Worldwork spoke about unemployment, hunger, and the worrying rise of neo-facism in their own country. Experiencing oneself as oppressed and unheard by the international community is dangerous. It creates a pressure cooker effect. Rather than accepting growing violence as an inevitable norm, these women will bring Worldwork to Greece in an effort to engage the level some of the tension and pain building within the society.
9/11 proved a frightening wake-up call to the fact that whilst we may not see the connection between our foreign and economic policy and our purchasing decisions on the lives of those in other regions, it’s certainly not lost on them. When we are unconscious of our privilege it gives rise to resentment. Others see and feel it, even if we don’t. The tensions that are swept under the carpet or managed through social, economic or political suppression are rarely forgotten. They smoulder.
Of course, these dynamics are not exclusive to the world of international relations. The same is true in our organisational lives. When we use our power poorly or don’t see the impact of our behaviour on others, they usually find a way to let us know about it.
The question that fascinated me when I was young still stands: How will history judge my actions?
by Rho Sandberg. (M.Org Change & Conflict Facilitation, M.Cog.Sc. B.App.Sc. Dip.Couns.)
Rho is the founding prinicpal of CLE Consulting and works as an organisational consultant and
Worldwork. Less is sometimes More.
How Micro interventions can make a big difference
by Chris Allen
I’d like to talk about Worldwork and micro-interventions. I think of these as small barely noticeable interventions during group forums and in organisations. Recently a colleague and I were visiting an intentional community and retreat center focused on wellness and sustainability. Something difficult had occurred recently at the center, when a community member was in an altered state of consciousness and had threatened violence and was asked to leave. This was very unusual at this center and they wisely decided to hold an open discussion group about what had happened. We were temporary guests and not the designated facilitators.
We found it remarkable how well the community was processing the challenging and hot issues as roles that everyone had in common. Someone said “this person was coming out of a shell and people do that in different ways”. Someone else said “protection from violence is something I have not had enough of”. Eventually the group got stuck at a heated spot about why this person had been sent away from the community. Community leaders felt bound by privacy issues and were uncertain whether to share their deeper emotions. As with all groups when unresolved challenges are present, the atmosphere became uncomfortable in the room.
As visitors, we supported the leaders by sending non-verbal support through smiles and supportive nods, and by processing inside ourselves rather looking as if we had an answer. We didn’t have an answer, the group had the answer. I made a brief comment following up on what a man had said earlier about people coming out of their shells in different and often awkward ways. I also said I was impressed with this group and how they were sharing so openly on such provocative issues.
I had a little bit of contextual social rank as I had been introduced earlier as the director of a facilitation school. Just after I spoke, a woman who was also a trained facilitator asked if the leaders could possibly share more details about what really happened. She didn’t ask it forcefully, but as encouragement to go deeper in the process. At that point, the leadership team checked in with each other and decided a little more sharing would be acceptable. They shared their emotions about how they agonized about sending this person away from the community. They had made every effort to not stigmatize or humiliate this man, and that they believed in him completely. They emphasized they were in favor of this man’s overall learning process and shared some supportive things the man had said while leaving. They were going to stay in touch with him and maybe someday even invite him back.
Their sharing shifted the mood. The group expressed lots of support for how their community was trying to treat people with respect. Then people shared how this was related to their original organizational roots around supporting diversity and acceptance. This included issues like same-sex love and creating an atmosphere that was open to altered states of consciousness. I came away being grateful for how many people use their gifts as micro-interventions to move groups along through hot issues.
Thank you to Arnold and Amy Mindell and all those throughout the world who do so much to develop and apply Worldwork. Also to Sherry Marshall for creating this blog.
Chris Allen PhD, teaches Psychology and Processwork and is currently the President of the Process Work Institute in Portland, Oregon @ www.processwork.org. You can contact him at email@example.com
More Guest Blogs Coming Soon. Contact Sherry if you would like to write a guest blog.