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Youthful Exuburence

CAT Photo by Cal
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Young, passionate, and full of energy. While gray areas are recognized, she views the world mostly in black and white. That is, she has a clear moral standing and ethical responsibility towards, for example, our planet. She cannot understand why the rest of the world doesn’t get off its collective rump and do something about it. This passion fuels her many interests that connect people to land, food, and each other. She’s been warned to be cautious and wary of burn out. Let’s call her Linda.

I recognize I am an ageist. I have found myself discriminating against people younger than me on many occasions. I dismiss their carelessness or thoughtlessness because of their age. Someone close to me, when she reached 25 had some very careless assumptions about the world. When I parroted this experience to someone I respected I was reminded me, “Well, she is young.” I didn’t mean to take that explanation as an excuse to stereotype and discriminate against age, but I did. In the years following, I found myself using age as an excuse for mistakes, assumptions, or misgivings. I recognized the folly in these assumptions, namely because I am not much older than those I defined as “young.” What gives me the authority to not assume the same level of experience?

But Mommy's coffee works there?
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

So, when I met Linda, I was, first, taken aback by her responsibility. She is young, but responsible. She owns up to her mistakes, and clearly wants to do a good job at whatever task she’s been assigned. She interviewed well. Her references checked out. She has been wonderful to work with. And, for me, this is a humbling reminder of the folly of my discrimination.

On one hand, she reminds me of me a decade ago — taking jobs that suited my interests for one reason or another, finding my way, and seeing how they lined up with my passions. I am feeding off her energy, and I love it. I am reminded about the importance of cherishing youth and incorporating youthful voices. We all deserve respect because we are human and we share the same home. Youth, clearly, hasn’t been around as long, but youth see the world in a fresh light that us stodgy old folks forget about. (I say this lightly; I have experience, but I am not old.) Youth can be more innovative, willing to take risk, and simply try something new. The stodgy old folks get set in their ways and don’t often want to venture out of the house in favor of rote routines.

Moreover, this experience emphasizes the need for group wisdom. When we cherish and respect all the voices in the room… when we allow others to speak and share their thoughts with thoughtful dialogue, we all grow. We all get something out of the experience allowing our souls to evolve to that place of self actualization. The stodgy old folks can be given reprieve to innovate and the youthful babes can learn from the varied experiences of their elders. I am both humbled and energized by this reminder. Now, the lesson to learn, I believe, is to find ways to integrate, better, these intergenerational experiences so all can benefit from this diverse group wisdom. Truly, we do have the power to change our world — but first we must believe it, and then we must act on it. And, often, it’s youthful exuberance that gets that job done.

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Skiing is Fun; Skiing is Good Exercise

Soccer Levi
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

If you went to high school with me, and you’re reading this title, chances are you’ve been transported back to 9th grade where Mr. McMahon is trying to impart onto our youthful minds the importance of relevance. We were honing our writing skills in English 9-1. Mr. McMahon was giving us some basic instructions on how to frame our work. Mr. McMahon was giving us a lesson on being succinct and meaning what we say.

I often think of this analogy gifted me nearly twenty years ago. I especially think of this analogy in group dynamics. You may recall that I love the idea and structure behind utilizing group wisdom. In order for the wisdom to shine through, though, all voices within the group need air time. If one person dominates the conversation by shutting others down or insisting on their voice being heard overs others, because of ego or some other reason, then the positive effects of group wisdom cannot be realized.

The facilitator, I am learning, has a responsibility to the group to help keep conversations moving along and ensuring that the rest of the group has ample time to speak. However, a certain amount of self awareness must be realized by the speaker. Which is where I think of the skiing analogy. This all plays into my recent observations of various personalities with whom I associate, and my subsequent puzzlement over their actions. It’s amazing that these particular personalities are so self aware in some aspects but incredibly blind in others.

Mr. McMahon instructed us, that if we chose our topic to be skiing, to not tell us things we already know. We know that people likely generally accept skiing to be fun. We also accept that skiing is considered good exercise. So, if you’re going to write your paper on the topic of skiing – tell us something new. Tell us why you are doing it. Tell us about a unique experience or a revelation you had while skiing. The trick too, is to be succinct, which really means ensuring your words are warranted. It’s handy, nowadays, that Office gives us the grammar checks cuing us into sentences that are wordy. I’ve noticed, though, some people don’t have that same censorship when they speak.

They just go on … and on … and on.

Why aren’t they picking up on the cues around them? Can’t they notice the bored faces? Why isn’t their litmus test of success vibrant conversation? Why can’t they see they aren’t contributing effectively?

The follow up question, for me, is always how I can help? Non-violent Communication commands us to be aware. Not only of ourselves, but of those around us. NVC commands us to ask and sense others’ perceptions — not in a specific way, per se, but in a way that allows for dialogue.

Reader: I would like to call you to action. Let’s work on social self awareness beginning with ourselves. If you find yourself in a conversation where the other person isn’t saying much — check yourself first. Are you saying relevant things? Are you going on and on and on without allowing for input? Is your ego or some other reason preventing full group participation? Answer those questions, and then reach out — “You’re awfully quiet, friend, what do you think?”

We don’t, individually have all the answers. We each have different strengths and experiences to bring to the table, no matter how young or old. In order for us to create the society we want, though, we have to step back and allow others a chance to step up. This way, we can all go beyond the rote, “Skiing is fun; skiing is good exercise,” and towards exciting stories of barreling down the hill managing the obstacles.

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A Glorified Administrator

Timeline of Effeciency
Timeline of Efficiency. This is a theory of how efficient implementation of a proposal/vote/project is depending on the decision making model. Modified by Michelle Lasley based on concept from Tree Bressen,

I love politics. I can’t help it. I always have. I don’t follow everything religiously. I filter, listening for the things I am interested in. I enjoy conversing with people regularly and hearing what they believe. I like to see what people are paying attention to, interested in, and what they generally follow. We’re all different, and it helps the world go round. More significantly, because we are all different – we all have a story to tell that is very different from our own. Everyone has an opinion about politics, even if  they say they don’t like politics.

Politics is power, said the political science professor I had while attending Portland State. Politics is Power, thought I. Yes, I can buy that. Politics in work relationship, school group dynamics, intimate relationships, siblings – relationships are often about power. Man vs. woman, boy vs. girl, student vs. teacher, boss vs. subordinate – in one way we are vying for our control of what deem to be our power in the relationship. On the other hand, this is a morbid view of relationships because on other levels we want to love each other, show compassion towards each other, and generally get a long. When the gossiping begins, though, you know politics is at play. That is, power is at play.

We have to have relationships. Even if we define ourselves as hermits, at some point we will rely on someone else for something, which means at some point we will enter a relationship. I believe we’ll get more out of this world if we can get along and generally have pleasant relationships.

I’ve often sided with the underdog. Part of this is due to my upbringing with the part of Catholicism that preaches to do more for the least of us. Part of it is my mother’s input constantly teaching us to walk in another’s shoes before judging them. So, when “consensus” was introduced as a concept to me, even before I understood the definition, I knew it was a good fit. This idea that you work together with varied people to come up with a solution that works for everyone and everyone has a say in it.

The thing I really enjoy about group dynamics is the wisdom that comes from the discussion. This usually happens, in my experience, when people are open to change, open to listening, and open opportunities. You state a problem or a concern or a new concept, and then let the wheels move in motion. The ideas begin to flow, “What if this, what if that, what if this other thing.” The answers might be yes, no, maybe, yes again – or some variation, but the change that happens in the room is amazing. This, to me is consensus. This wisdom, this dynamic, this power to change our world. Politics for good.

At our consensus workshop Saturday, Tree offered a timeline. She suggested that of our three major ruling types, consensus has the quickest implementation. You have the beginning of an idea to the end of an idea: the proposal to implementation. How long does it take to implement an idea under an aristocracy, majority rule, or consensus? She was shown, years before, a version of this picture. Sure, the end result might be implementation in a similar fashion – but the path to get you there is very different. Under an aristocracy, likely you will have a fight and a lot of pull back from the populous if it’s an unpopular idea. Under majority rule, the majority wins if 51% say okay, again, you will likely have pull-back (think health-care or “Obama-Care“) if you don’t get the other 49% to buy in. Sure, you have an outcome, but it’s not something anyone wants. But, with consensus, the idea is that the process irons out that pull back until you work out the wrinkles to have 100% (or very near) buy in, so implementation is just the next easy step after you’ve made the decision.

How does politics and power look then? We’d all have the power. How does that work with Madison and factions if you really use those steps to iron out the differences? Would Federalist No. 10 even have been written? The first presidents were glorified administrators, and they had much less power than our current presidents. The power was held in the representatives to work out some semblance of consensus-majority-rule to create our country. They had a time line in ceding from England. I wonder what it would take to work towards rebuilding that consensus, breaking down the lobbying factions we have now, and get our president’s role back to that of a glorified administrator. If we did that, if we really moved towards a consensus society – I believe it would be beautiful.

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Consensus Validation

We're Makin' Bread!
We're Makin' Bread! Image by Michelle Lasley via flickr.

Today, we had our consensus training with Tree Bressen. Rather, it was a consensus workshop. Dynamic, fun, interactive, and incredibly informative – this was our day. From 10am – 5pm, hosted by Daybreak Co-Housing, we participated in exercises, asked questions, and learned about the consensus process. And, above everything – today was empowering in the decision we made to be in this process.

I think most people have an  idea of what consensus is, we learn about the concept when we learn about language. But, hearing it as a decision making tool didn’t happen for me until I started to learn more about coops. I started to learn more about coops when I wanted to learn more about food. There are a lot of things in life important to me, but the top three or four “passions” would be housing, food, and spirituality (no, friend, not religion).

Growing up, I happened to encounter a lot of people who wanted to tell me what to do and what was the best right way for me to live. True to my “know-it-all” nature (as dubbed by my sweet Sister), I found this contrary. If they are so smart, thought I, why do I feel differently about this decision? When I had the opportunity to Be the Boss at a  young age, telling others what to do never really felt right. They are capable, some much older than I, so why am I telling them what to do? It didn’t make sense, and I didn’t have the life experience or language skills to name the problem I was noticing.

Tom Atlee, however, has a name for it. He calls it “Co-Intelligence.” It figures that this vocabulary was gifted to me when I moved to the west coast. In fact, a fellow food clubber said the same thing tonight! (We both have family in the mid-west). This idea, this process, that we are all better together. But, more than that, when we let our ideas blend, when we have room for openness and change, we will participate in this thing called group wisdom. The whole is better than the sum of its parts.

A few times during our steering committee meetings, someone would ask after my post-giddiness, if it was some sort of “love fest.” No. It was just me, really enjoying this group wisdom. It’s such a joy to watch these changes. You come in with a stated problem or concern, maybe a few ideas of how it could look – then 13 (in our case women) people come together and say what about this and that and we can do it this other way. One of the participants in today’s training had a name for it: “both/and.” This idea that we don’t have to have one or the other, but we can do both and maybe more. In order to get there, though, you have to have an open heart. Open to change. Open to being changed.

I’m saddened I don’t have time to attend tomorrow’s workshop. Tree, however, will be doing a facilitator’s training in May. I’m very excited to be a part of that one.


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Consensus Training

Consensus plain 2
Image via Wikipedia

Our consensus training is finally upon us! I am very excited. Our group has been self-learning consensus for the past 10 months, and I think it will be good to have a seasoned user show us some things to do.

In May, it became clear that majority rule wasn’t a good fit for our group of bottom up thinkers. So, I suggested consensus, and we’ve been trying it on ever since. One of our members made a comment that she lived in community, with consensus, for almost three years. She didn’t feel she even began to understand how consensus works until she was at the end of her stay in community. This was a very telling comment to me, as we hadn’t lived in community, had been doing it for less than 7 months, and it has felt awkward to me. Her comment validated my concerns. For the third time, I was referred to Tree Bressen; so I called her.

I read the Tao of Democracy by Tom Atlee almost 6 years ago. What an eye opener! The belief that in empathic situations, people really are smarter together. Most of our food club meetings have shown this to be true. We state concerns, work through problems, and come up with a much more brilliant answer than any one of us could have come up with on our own. It’s a true consensus process, truly bottom up planning.

I am hoping that tomorrow’s training will kindly show us some tricks and traps and how to navigate through those traps. One of the handouts is “Nurturing Dissent.” I’m a terribly excited.

Stay tuned for more.

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My month of not wanting to write!

Steps of St Paul's
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

But, here are a few words anyway.

I am tired. Board meetings are tiring, sitting in those chairs. Conference calls from the ceiling are funny. Dramatic change is, well, dramatic. I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society. I have been doing that and I am working towards doing that more. We leave for Michigan in less than a month. Yea, vacation! Levi is excited to see his cousins and grandparents. We have consensus training for our food club on March 19th. Super yea! WordPress has another update. I think I have it figured out how to do it right, if only the plugins would cooperate. Why hosting service, why?

I am now going to marinate the lamb and read Cat among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie.

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Daily Post: Best 2010 Accomplishment

Levi & Peter admiring the view.
This is one of my favorite pictures of my husband and my son. Just look at them! Adorable! And, we're participating in a trash-pick-up to boot! Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Topic suggestion: What’s the single most important thing you accomplished in 2010?

After this topic, I will be caught up with the challenge, and lest I get behind, I will be posting once a day under this “Daily Post” / #postaday2011 tag.

I haven’t often reflected specifically on the previous year to analyze my accomplishments, and from them, pick the most important. So, let’s take a look at the highlights?

  • Continued to raise a beautiful, kind, energetic boy named Levi.
  • Continued to work on this crazy, myriad thing called marriage – enjoyable companionship and frustrating differences of opinion abound!
  • Finally the food club started and have played an integral role in its set up, even being named president.
  • Continued to volunteer at the Church as reader, {new} Eucharistic minister, and religious ed (Sunday school) teacher.
  • Got a Paying Job.

My gut says, “Say the job, it’s what they want to hear.” You know, because that’s how we value things, generally, in our society – by the pocketbook. So, if we are earning money to value our worth and our daily tasks, then that must be more important than the other things.

Food - 2
Levi helping me make bread. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

But, my gut also says, “Value Levi first!” I value Levi first, but is he my greatest accomplishment in 2010? He’s his own person now. And, seriously, what thought went into his creation on my part and my husband’s? Honestly, not a lot. Kids sometimes happen, and they are beautiful, wonderful gifts and surprises, but if a lot of planning DID NOT go into their creation – how can they be called a great accomplishment by the parents? Whatever Levi goes onto accomplish, and he’s had some super milestones this year on his own, will be his, and his alone. As his parent, it is my job to coach him along, help him figure out what values, morals, etc are important and explain to him why I think x, y, and z are the most important. But, is his being my greatest accomplishment? I have to give a resounding no.

Likewise, my husband and I are learning how to be married. Every year we evolve a little bit more. Every year we appreciate each other a little more, learn more about respect, about communication, about family, about love. We didn’t know many of these things when we stated our vows. No one really tells you what’s up in conversation. Can they? Could you hear? So, as a work in progress, is my marriage my greatest accomplishment? Again, while I’m glad we’ve come a long way, I can’t say that it is.

Volunteering at the church is something I do as a servant leader. I feel I must, and as I learn more about certain jobs, I want to do certain things less. Once I made the choice to reconnect with my Catholic Faith, I felt it was very important to act on it in the capacity I had. This meant, at first, reading at mass. As an over achiever, I wanted to do more, and somewhere along the way I mentioned an interest in helping with religious ed. At the church, over the last 5 years, I have helped decorate, fill in in the office when I could, read monthly or every two months at mass, now serve as a Eucharistic minister, and help with Sunday school. This is my second year helping with Sunday school, and I’m not actually enjoying it. Sure, the kids are great, but I have the hardest time explaining faith with the materials and lesson plan given to these young kids. The teenagers are a lot more fun with their questions and critical thinking. This year, none of the parents said evenings would work for them, so the time is still in the middle of the day. This means, we go to church, go home, then I go back. And now, it’s two Sundays a month, and with all the other things I’m involved with – it feels more like a committed burden than any sort of service accomplishment. So, although it could be argued it’s this noble thing I’m doing, I don’t feel like it’s a significant accomplishment.

That leaves the food club. This is where I feel we’ve actually accomplished something and where my greatest 2010 accomplishment lies.

December Frontier
Our largest club order in my living room, later to be transferred by our SUV to be sorted, and then returned to my home for pick up. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

In 2008, the idea came to start a wholesale group, buying primarily food together to cut retail overhead associated costs and make better choices with a group of close friends or neighbors. Well, things didn’t pan out like I thought they would. 2009 was a pretty dry year with buying, and it turned out that my friends weren’t the right people for a buying club. I have a limited network, so I tried to reach out where it was reasonable, and one place I reached was a local Food Coop, People’s Coop, where part of their mission is to assist new buying clubs and coops. Many coops start as buying clubs, so a network link was formed.

Still nothing really happened in 2009, we met, we heard the spiel, we made two orders. I got tired of sending out monthly emails reminding the few folks who found us through Google and Craig’s List that we’re still here, if you have an idea of a buy, let’s get it going! Then, this People’s connection did two things, only one of which I was aware at first. First, she asked me if I’d do an interview and answer five questions via email. I did this but didn’t know it got published until 6 months later. The second thing she did was suggest I become Facebook friends with another Portland Food person. This gal, at the time boasted the largest area buying club and in many ways was over capacity, so she put me in touch with another gal in my neighborhood who was already ordering.

Suddenly, I found myself within the realm of the right people. In many ways, it felt like the thing I was waiting for for so long was (like my whole life, but not really) finally coming to fruition. I was skeptical that this would work and treading lightly was very important. I hope I have accomplished that.

Those first few months were interesting. First, it was Kristina, Kimberly, and I talking, then just me and Kristina. And since no one else seemed to really want to do the talking, it ended up being me. I didn’t mind, this is the thing I wanted, so I wanted this role – this leadership role. We met monthly. Dropped Robert’s Rules as our mode of meetings and went for Consensus. We talked, implemented, and changed. I learned more about my meeting facilitation skills, and where other folks don’t have skills and how that is still similar to me.

Food - 3
Heirloom tomatoes from our 2009 garden. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I met this amazing group of women who could rule the world. And, mostly, I’ve tried really hard to make sure people’s assumptions don’t get the best of them and encourage judicious, fair thinking across the board to so we can create a sustainable community first within and then without and throughout the rest of the community. Those basic goals are common with the other members in our steering committee and the club.

The goals for the next year would be to increase club participation. We have about a 10% steering committee/buy organizer participation rate. If we could raise that to 20% (20 regular volunteering members instead of 10) we’d do a lot to increase voices and alleviate the work loads.

So, my greatest accomplishment of 2010 was realizing my facilitation skills and seizing the opportunity to practice them with a fantastic group of women who under the surface are itching to change the world.

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Social Dynamics

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

You ever have a conversation with someone about an idea that wants to be implemented, and then, at some point one or both of you say, “I never thought of that!”? I have. On many occasions. I like to think of myself as a pretty thorough person, and as I get to know a process, I pride myself in my competition to think of all those little things. So, then, when presented, the other person can be amazed at my thoroughness. Okay, so there’s my haughty side, and I’m telling you, I do this, state, “Huh, I never thought of that,” weekly, and sometimes daily.

This is why doing things in groups, and not solo, are often a good idea. I think many of us get that pull, when doing a thing, to say, “Forget it! I’m going to do it my way! This is too hard!” But, if we had a little patience, persistence, and peace of mind, I think we would see that the group way is the way to go. We are better together. We have better ideas together. We have more viewpoints together. We have more fun together.

As an Executive Assistant, it is my job to make sure, for example, that all the materials and logistics for a meeting are taken care of. Sometimes, time crunches, beyond my control, happen, and I need the rest of the players, the rest of the team, to help me out. Better together. When that happens, the positive synergy that results is magnificent. If you are aware enough to recognize it. People knowing their roles, willing to support a uniform cause, even if it’s as trite as running a meeting! The feeling you get, of being a part of a team, is wonderful and empowering.

Okay, so I entitled this post Social Dynamics, so what does that have to do with the power of healthy group thinking and action? Everything.

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

As an adult, I am amused at our insistence that journalists, for example, should be neutral and objective. Where did we forget that everyone has a bias? Everyone has a history. Everyone has a point of view. And, in some way, I believe that everyone has an agenda.

The agenda might not be dramatic. It might be dramatic. It might be for good. It might be for the good of one and the ill of others. Being able to assess the character and objectives of others in groups is very important, even if it’s just being able to recognize that one of your players as a specific agenda.

Our food club has agreed to decide things by consensus. Most of us, more than 90%, are new to consensus, but it has a few key elements that ring true to us. For some, they grasped onto the interpretation that majority rule subconsciously insights war. For others, it was the attempt at ensuring and empowering people to have a voice. For others, it was the very real way in which we make group decisions. One thing we did at our last meeting, for example, was to ask everyone to say yes, no, or why not when faced with a proposal. Just a Round Robbin, do you agree or not, and let’s list those concerns.

Levi picking up trash
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Being a staff person, a founding board member, a new board member, and a participant on various committees has given me an incredibly interesting look at these group dynamics. City meetings are run very differently than the board meetings where I am a relatively (into the 2nd year of my 2 year term) new board member. City committee meetings are run very differently than City Council meetings (familiar with red, yellow, green timing?). Meetings where I and a handful of others have meeting experience and the rest don’t are very different than meetings with established board members and staff. Yet, amidst all those differences they have some very core commonalities: the economy affects everyone’s budget, old problems are often new, and they are looking to a group for a reason, which is usually the varied viewpoints.

We are better together. When we are open to hear other points of view, other ideas, other ways of doing things – great things happen. You make the world in which you live your oyster, for the good of your community. You make change. You can make change. You can make positive, lasting change, together.

"Better Together"
Image by taberandrew via Flickr
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