Episode 1.19: The Circle




In episode nineteen, Tim and Tuesday tell the story of an improvised process in the middle of a three-day session. As facilitators, how can we orchestrate memorable, game-changing breakthroughs or surges ahead in understanding? What is the deeper architecture of participation?

Together, Tim Merry and Tuesday Ryan-Hart are THE OUTSIDE—systems change and equity facilitators who bring the fresh air necessary to organize movements, organizations, and collaborators forward for progress, surfacing new mindsets for greater participation and shared impact.

1.19 —— SHOW NOTES

  • Tues: Today we’ve got a story to share from the middle of a three-day strategic event. Things had shifted and we discovered that the needs were different. The day before we had gotten a lot of information in and we needed to turn the corner into developing strategy. We were missing depth. It was time to shake things up.

  • Tim: I tend toward strategy. I had a gut feeling that if we went straight into strategy we would replicate what we heard the day before. Needed to make it human and ‘felt’ in the room. So much of our lead up to this retreat was around beliefs. We need to deal with some of the fundamental beliefs that underpin the current system and tackle them. If not, it’s highly likely that we are going to replicate the very things we are trying to change. 

  • Tues: A depth of feeling was in the room but no collective sense of depth. And we were looking at a group of folks who had very deep, structural divisions within them. To move to strategy would have kept us in our camps. 

  • Tim: Idea of a fish bowl — it would enable people to witness each other from the different perspectives they were bringing in from the different parts of the system and then we began to think about working with that structure. 

  • Tues: I’d previously used fish bowls in anti-racism / anti-sexism work. They can bring perspective that you don’t hear often, however in North America it can really entrench people back into how they know how to talk about their experience. We asked them to speak from themselves and brought a different kind of question to fish bowl.

  • Tues: Physical set-up of fish bowl is a group of people in a circle in the centre and a second outer circle of people. For those of us in the centre, we were the circle. The conversation was only in the inner circle.

  • Tim: Part of working with groups is the ability to be strategic and being able to be tuned into the individual and people in the room and another bit that is energetic. 

  • Tim: Experience of holding the outer circle — if felt important for me to be incredibly grounded so I would close my eyes for long periods of time and open them for long periods of time. Very deliberate entering and grounding of myself in the room. The other thing that happened as I was sitting there I was getting a lot of really intense visual images with water. It was an important experience for me as a host.

  • Tues: We did the circle three times — started with the medium power group, least amount of power group and ended with the group with the most amount of power. In every group there was something incredibly moving. In the second group (least amount of power) at one point someone said “I think this group has the most pain” and that was a really important moment as it threatened to bring us back into ourselves and our typical divisions. So I stepped in and said there is a lot of pain in this circle and there was a lot of pain in the first circle as well. It allowed the whole group to feel the wholeness and reject fragmentation. Then at the end of that group, I had the inner circle stand up and face the outer circle and said “when we talk about these people” we are no longer talking in abstraction, we are talking about each other (these people) in this room. It was another moment of re-knitting into our wholeness. 

  • Tim: This process led us into a completely different quality of depth.

  • Tues: Depth and strategy are inextricable.

  • Poem: The Travelling Onion by Naomi Shihab Nye

    When I think how far the onion has traveled just to enter my stew today,
    I could kneel and praise all small forgotten miracles,
    crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
    pearly layers in smooth agreement,
    the way the knife enters onion
    and onion falls apart on the chopping block, a history revealed.
    And I would never scold the onion for causing tears.
    It is right that tears fall for something small and forgotten.
    How at meal, we sit to eat, commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
    but never on the translucence of onion, now limp, now divided,
    or its traditionally honourable career:
    For the sake of others, disappear.

  • Song: Waterfall by The Stone Roses


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Duration: 40:50
Produced by: Mark Coffin @ Sound Good Studios
Theme music: Gary Blakemore
Episode cover image: source