Day One – Mailliard/Swart

Stone Soup and the Wisdom of Not Knowing

Discussion Groups
Discussion Groups

Ward: We have a ritual that we’ve done, since the very first Chautauqua, and it’s called “Stone Soup.” I originally devised it as a ritual for the ritually impaired. Being myself somewhat ritually impaired, this was my defense against rituals that were too strange or I felt embarrassed by. So this is a very low-threshold ritual. There are a couple of parts to it now because we all have a tendency to embellish. Lulu would you pass this (basket) around, you can pick a large stone or a small stone out of the basket, depending on your predisposition. While she’s passing that around, this is a story that most people probably know. What I discover is that every year my interpretation of the story changes. I think something about stories, is that you can have the same story, but you can change your relationship to the story.

This is the story of a village that was starving. A strange shaman-like man walked into the village one day and noticed everybody was starving, and he called the people together and he said, “I have a magic stone.” He brought a stone with him, and he said, “With this stone I can feed the whole village. What you need to do is to get a big pot and put a fire under it, start boiling water, and I’ll put the stone in it, we’ll make soup for everybody.”

The villagers, given that they were starving, thought that was a good idea, and they built the fire and put the water in the pot and put the stone in the pot. And the stranger said, “You know, the stone will feed everyone, but you know what actually gives some flavor to this? Has anybody got an onion?” And one of the villagers raised his hand and said, “You know, I have an onion that’s under my house, it wasn’t any good for anything, we couldn’t feed anybody with it and we were saving it.” And so he went and got the onion and put it in the pot. And the stranger said, “That’s excellent. And what will even make this better is if anyone has a potato.” Well there was somebody that had a potato that they were holding back because it wasn’t enough to create a meal with, and of course this went on and we got some celery and a turnip and a carrot and so on. And by the time all this was done, and the soup was cooked, they were able to nourish the village.

Shantam, Bob and Kerrie
Shantam, Bob and Kerrie

As the story evolves for me, it is that when we come together, each question that we bring into the village is a form of nourishment. Because our not-knowing connects us in a way to reduce the starvation that we experience in isolation and separateness. We live in a fragmented world. We live in a world where we imagine that our welfare is not somehow inextricably connected with the welfare of others. I think one of the things on the South Africa journey recently with my students was that as we connected with people on the margins there, we discovered is how much they mattered to us and how deeply connected we were to them once the field of our humanity touched. I think this is a common story, that “connecting is healing,” and disconnecting is the ailment. So that when we bring our not-knowing, and we begin with our not-knowing, what we do is we are assembling in the name of the thing that makes us most essentially human. We’re assembling in our humility and our vulnerability, and that truly makes us human beings together. In the listening that comes from not-knowing, we nourish one another.

So the symbolic act of having a stone which has a question attached to it, is a way that we’ll nourish the village, because we will bring our questioning, we’ll bring our vulnerability, we’ll bring our humanity, and we come together as human beings, not as experts, not as people attempting to colonize other people with our good ideas. In fact co-opting others to our good ideas is one of the more pernicious things that we can do in our enthusiasm to make things better. Instead we can actually deeply listen to another human being, and to listen to their not-knowing without giving advice, without presuming that we would understand the complexity that each life is, but just to truly listen. As we are working together today we can to learn to ask questions of clarification rather than give advice. And of course one of the most important questions of clarification is, “Why does this matter to you? Why is this important to you?” And when we do that, we actually “listen” each other into our own answers. We know that any really true answer is going to come from inside.

Chene Swart
Chene Swart

This year when we were in India, we had the privilege of interviewing Samdhong Rimpoche who was the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile. We saw him in his final days of office after doing that for a number of years. The last question was, “Well sir, do you have any advice for us?” And his response was, “No.” (laughter) He said, “Advice is the easy way. This is something you have to reason out yourself, otherwise it can’t truly belong to you.” And so, in dialogue, we can reason together.

So, the exercise this morning is to think about a word that is central to your inquiry. This idea came from a conversation with Sara Truebridge who came down to visit me. She was the educational advisor to movie “Race to Nowhere.” We were having a conversation and I noticed that a word kept coming up, and suddenly it dawned on me that there are certain words that attract our inquiry. And those words change over time. What is the word that attracts your inquiry, the word that has a magnetic force for you around not-knowing or around aspiration and possibility and that’s the word I would like you to place on your rock. Now the really challenging part of this ritual is that after you’ve done that, the scary part is that you have to get up and put it in the circle, that’s the limit of your exposure on this, okay?

So take a few moments and be in reflection. Just sit and see what comes up and if it’s nothing, you may put a blank stone in there, and if you are really ritually challenged you can just stick it in your pocket, you don’t even have to get up. (laughter) So we have options here. As Peter Block says, “If you don’t have a ‘No,’ your ‘Yes’ means nothing.” So everybody has a “No.” here.

(musical interlude for reflection)

Chené Swart – Narrative Therapy

Chene Swart
Chene Swart

Chené: Thank you for giving me the space to speak. It is a privilege, and holy ground, always. My journey with the Narrative work started when my story was really stuck and I thought my world was so fixed, that I could not move. A good friend of mine said that he’s just come across this wonderful new kind of therapy, called Narrative Therapy. I said, I’m so stuck, just help me out. And it was the most wonderful experience to feel how my world opened and broadened, and how I could start to breathe again. So I was all in – and I thought, how on earth am I going to learn how to do this? The Narrative work is quite new in the world. It started about thirty years ago with Michael White in Australia and David Epston in New Zealand. At the Dulwich Center in Australia you can be trained as a Narrative therapist. I had a wonderful opportunity in South Africa to be trained.

Another good friend of mine said, “This work sounds lovely. Why don’t you try it in corporate world?” Oh, that was and still is a wonderful learning journey, because they would ask me, “Can you do de-briefing for our executive team?” And I thought, “What’s in a word? – A world…”  I would say, “Tell me about de-briefing. What does that mean for you?” And then I would listen and say, “ok, I think we can do that.” And so this whole new world of organizational (O.D) development opened up for me. There were words like ‘change management’ and ‘team building,’ and ‘check-ins and check-outs.’ This whole idea of “What is in a word, a world,” has been part of my exploration in the O.D. field. I find the world so fascinating and every opportunity an opportunity to learn from, or to be transformed by the other, by whoever’s in the room.

I’m going to give you a quick explanation of the Narrative work which I have been challenged to do by Peter Block often times in situations where I would have only ten minutes. I’ve been taught in my training within Narrative therapy that it takes a long time for people to understand these ideas. It is complicated and difficult.  Explaining these ideas within a limited time frame was a wonderful challenge for me, because I had to deconstruct the power of my own field and training to rework and explain what the ideas are about.

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Day Two – Block/Arrien/Inchausti

Day Two – Peter Block

Peter Block: This is always a homecoming, which is a wonderful thing. The word sustainability is popular these days, so we have to be suspicious of anything that’s popular. So I thought, a couple things – one is, if I was serious about sustainability, what might that mean? Is there a way I can relate to that? Why is it so difficult? And the second concern is just the fact the intimacy that you felt yesterday with a stranger – why is that rare in the culture, because the longing is so deep? The theme of this is about education. And why is intimacy and education seem at such odds to each other?

Back to sustainability – I was in Hawaii last week, and I was in a meeting Friday morning, and they said sustainability is life. For something to be sustained, it’s affirming alive-ness. Usually people say, “Well this has been great, how do we sustain it?” In other words, how do I bring into the future the experience I’m having in the moment? The answer to that is, “you can’t,” because otherwise you’re living a memory. And every time you reconvene you’ll want to recreate what you left behind, and it’s always disappointing. So I like the notion of aliveness – Maybe sustainability means, “How do I keep the quality of aliveness?”

The dominant modern culture is organized to consume aliveness; that education as we know it, is an industrialized design, and we’ve organized the school building as an industrial model. We’ve organized education as a feeder system – to lower labor costs for work places… Same with resume building like it’s never been before, and the order of the day is fifty minutes – sit in your seat, behave yourself, socialize yourself – even though we know that that’s difficult for young people. All the research says that if they start the day after 9am, their performance goes up a whole grade.

So it leads me to think, well this is the empire in action. The empire being in control, consistency and predictability, is what I want out of the world. I want to know what’s going to happen; which tells me that the idea of education reform is an impossibility. That you can’t use industrial means to de-industrialize experience.

What we’re doing now, we think better technology, more certification, better testing, better measurement – the state of Ohio is spending $26 million this year on better testing,  as if a hog did get fatter sitting on a scale. And all that is life consuming. All of that is life consuming – the idea that, “I want.” So I started thinking, so what is life giving? I also really believe that the conversation of education reform, health care reform, government reform, economic reform, has no chance of being a conversation of reform. It’s just using the disease to cure the illness. To give more order, more structure, lower cost efficiency – that is the language of empire.

“Empire,” meaning is that work is done in service of pharaoh (the emperor); in service of leadership, in service of management, in service of the teacher. So the teacher in most classrooms is the emperor of the moment – in charge. We just spent a billion dollars in Cincinnati on new school buildings, and they are up to date with 1944 designs. It’s just the windows are new, a little more light, the sight lines are a little more pleasing, the cafeteria is a brighter color; but the chairs are still lined up, the teacher is still in front of the room; all of that is still occurring. So you might say, sustainability is about the de-industrialization of, in your case, education. That’s how I see these gatherings, to support the experience of de-industrializing learning. So that’s one set of thoughts. The other thought is, what are the components of aliveness?

The Components of Aliveness

Notion of Mystery

One element of aliveness might be the presence of mystery – the “not knowing.” There has to be space for mystery. The system world hates mystery. It hates surprise – I grew up in the system world, and I knew that I could tell my clients anything, as long as I didn’t surprise them. So if I told them that the building that was destroyed over the weekend, and all employees have quit and moved to Mexico, their common response is, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me.” As if surprise is the only thing they’re truly worried about. In a system world, do anything you want, but don’t surprise me. The stock market’s that way. As long as you are on your projection, it doesn’t matter how bad they are.

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Day Three – The Return/Witnessing

Vulnerable Leadership

Ward: Welcome, Everybody, to our third day, which is classically, the Return. We have the Call, the Journey, the Return which is the process of witnessing and being witnessed. What I and witnessing or noticing concerns something that I think is very hard to attain. It has been hard for me to attain in the classroom, but something that I notice is very present in this gathering, in this community, and that is the act of vulnerable leadership.

Angeles Arrien and Peter Block
Angeles Arrien and Peter Block

In the Stone Soup metaphor when people bring that magic stone of their question, they’re bringing their vulnerability into the public space, and that makes room for everybody else’s gifts to show up, and for their humanity to show up. It was something that never really occurred to me in. In all my models of leadership growing up it was about having answers and being invulnerable, being right. My peers will tell you that that has been a long struggle in my life; the need to be right. It does clear the room, and it’s isolating, but nonetheless, addicting. (laughter) Yeah, I’m still not over it, but I’m in the struggle.

Vivian: It’s not going to get any better. (laughter) Declare victory.

Ward: I think we heard that from Peter, earlier, so I’ve actually quit working on myself.

Vivian: What’s the point?

Ward: Yes I’m no longer a fixer-upper, you have to take me as I am.

The act of placing that vulnerability in the center of the room to be seen, and I have to say, I have to credit Peter. From you I learned that when you lead with your vulnerability, you create trust, a ‘pipeline of engagement,’ and once that trust is established, the genius comes through. Because once there is that vulnerability of who I am as a human being meeting who you are as a human, and being in the space of our not knowing together, then the genius that is each of us shows up. And that creates a learning field like no other. This is just a brief commentary on what I feel and see in this room, that the genius has shown up through the vulnerability of not knowing. We avoid speeches, we avoid the experts, we avoid the knowing, and when we show up in that not knowing, that’s when I think we are most intelligent, we are most human. I wonder why vulnerability is not a subject, why vulnerability is not a practice. I think we have gifted teachers in this room, of all ages because people have shown up as who they are and in their vulnerability, and that is deeply inspiring and the source of great learning.

Angeles, and Peter, and Vivian and all of you; some people have this capacity to name it in a way that we understand it in ways we didn’t understand it before. I was talking to Kelly this morning about the South Africa trip, and she said “I don’t know if what I’m experiencing with the kids in their Return is something that germinated or came into being on the trip, or was already there.” I think the answer is it was already there. And the experiences that get created by our journey reminds us of the capacities that are already there.

I learned that from you, Angeles. We had a conversation one day, and I said “What’s up for you?” and you said, “I’m trying to create learning experiences, and to stop teaching.”

The gift here is that we all naturally showed up as that. That’s who we are. That’s probably why we are here and I just want to express my appreciation to everybody in the room for demonstrating such great teaching skills thought your willingness to be vulnerable.

Day Three – Mount Madonna Student Fishbowl

Facilitated by Peter Block and Angeles Arrien

Fishbowl Design

The final gathering of Chautauqua 2011 was to bring the 10 students who were attending together in the center in what is sometimes called a “fishbowl.” This is where a small group is witnessed in conversation by the larger group that sits outside the circle.

Peter had the rest of the participants choose one of the students in particular to witness so each student had a support group of four or five participants. Then the students sat in a circle with Angeles and Peter and the following discussion took place. When the first part of the discussion was complete, each of the students sat with their support group to discuss the process, and then reflected back to the large group what the experience meant to them.

Student Fishbowl
Student Fishbowl

Peter Block: So now we have the small question of what’s the purpose of this conversation? Angeles do you want to say something to that?

Angeles Arrien: One of the things that I think that would be wonderful for all of us to hear is, in coming to this Chautauqua, what have you learned, or what motivated you to come? And, how have you found it at this time? I know many of you’ve had this really deep experience in South Africa, and it’s still working you. You’re still being shaped, and re-shaped by that experience.

I know when Nelson Mandela was involved in the Truth and Reconciliation process, he asked the entire townships of South Africa to say this three line invocation every single day; said, “Let us take care of the children, for they have a long way to go.” That was the first line. The second line, “Let us take care of the elders, for they have come a long way.” The third and last line, “And let us take care of those in-between, for they are doing the work.” And this whole collective here is in those places. We have, “Let us take care of the children, for they have a long way to go.” Which we have the holy privilege of really hearing and listening to you today about your experience and what’s deeply working you and shaping you as a result of that trip, and also as a result of being here, as a part of the return. For those of us who are elders, we’ve come a long way, and still we continue to learn, from you. You are our hope. And for those in-between, for they are doing the work, and there is such learning in that work. So I’m so excited to hear what you have to say; and to learn from you.

Peter Block: What this is not, is a discussion of the trip. Otherwise, you’re living in the past. The trip was over, it was wonderful, it was well documented, and in addition, reports are always boring. Except to the reporter, and their immediate family. So I think, you said this beautifully, but what’s the experience you’re having being here today? So let’s just see if there’s something you came to say, and then I’ve got some specific questions to help. Sorry for putting you one the spot, but that’s the way it works.

McKenzie Caborn: I’ll just say a short thing about Africa. In Africa, one of the biggest lessons I think that I learned was, it’s not about going there to take care of people, or to help them, per say, it’s about going there and offering a support system for which they can take care of themselves; and just going with an open heart and loving them for exactly where they are at that moment. Coming back here, I’ve been longing for the same opportunity, and I think Chautauqua – has embodied that concept, because we all come here, we’re at different stages of our lives, and we’re all just embracing and open to new discoveries, and the unknown, and helping each other figure it out together. I don’t think anybody has come here from a place of authority, or coming here to help others, it’s just coming here to listen and provide a support system, which we can all take care of ourselves.

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Participant Reflections 2011

Peter Block
Peter Block

Angeles Arrien Response

“For the past seven years Chautauqua at Mount Madonna has been a gathering place for teachers, leaders, innovative business owners, healthcare professionals, parents and students to learn and grow from and with each other. It is a circle of engagement, which evokes the best of people’s gifts and talents to be shared. Each year in a fishbowl context, the students of Mount Madonna remind us how inspirational and important value-centered learning is. In this enriched learning environment which includes the integration of art, music, and reflection in small and large group interactions, we become a community to explore what matters most to us, and leave renewed and filled with possibilities and perspectives of how we can evoke the best in each other in all circumstances. Through Ward’s ingenuity, vision, leadership, and acute discernment, he extends annual invitations to explore different themes from diverse perspectives, that always ignite meaningful conversations which inspire creative application in different contexts that are important in our lives!” — Angeles Arrien

Peter Block Response

This gathering is notable for its humanity and egalitarian nature. It is as much about neighborliness as anything else. It is not about education, it is education. Learning from collage, music, thought and questions are the pedagogy. I attend because of the quality of the human beings in the room. The program features Ward who convenes and holds the intention, Larry brings an intimate literary instinct, Angeles the mysteries, Vivian a little facilitative wildness, Bob and Shantam the genius of chord progression and the breath in a song. We glimpsed the real thoughts of our mostly grown children, no small feat. The lesson is that education reform is in our hands. It is not about curriculum, or planning, or master teachers, or measurement. It is only about replacing performance with humanity and valuing relationship over competition.  I was driving in the suburbs today and saw the signage for Blue Ash, Ohio. It displayed the name of the town and the tag line underneath was “Aspire, Achieve, and Advance.” This shamelessly names the materialistic and divisive intention of the modern American classroom. The Chautauqua gives form to the original American Possibility of aliveness, freedom and the experience of joy. — Peter Block

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