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ODNE London and South East Gathering

Belonging, being in community in relation to others, feels so resonant in this time of lockdown. Having participated in six on-line sessions with Peter Block and 200 others, Sarah and Rhian shared their reflections of the experience, and invited everyone into conversations about our community, the one we co-create when we come together. We started with Sophia Thakur’s impactful poem that you can find here.

Each of the Peter Block sessions brought in poetry, music or art. The content of the programme was built around six conversations he holds as central to building community and belonging. These conversations put people in touch with each other and with what really matters to them. They create connectedness and help us move from problems of community to possibilities of community. Conversations of generosity, possibility and gifts not of fear or fault. Community can be work, civil society, a meeting – any gathering.

Each week focused on one conversation:

  1. Invitation conversation – inviting us to be explicit when making choices about participating in a community. When we speak to something we care about, we reclaim control.
  2. Possibility conversation – “What’s possible here, in this moment, in this community?” “What’s the future that’s just beyond reach?”
  3. Ownership conversation – about taking ownership for what is or could be in the community. It is about choice fully creating a different narrative for ourselves rather than the one we’ve inherited.
  4. Dissent conversation – about having ability to say no, to voice doubts. Being able to voice doubts frees you up to participate. If I can own my doubts, I’m not owned by them.
  5. Commitment conversation – what’s the promise you’re willing to make?
  6. Gifts conversation – we tend to focus on deficiencies, but the alternative is to talk about gifts. What you did that touched me/meant something to me. Receive it with a thank you, not with reason!

What struck us from participating?

  • ‘If you come, you will be invited to create an alternative future that is distinct from the past.’ It felt so powerful to realise it is a choice to step into an alternative future or remain in the past. Blame keeps us frozen in our own stories. We can rewrite these.
  • The questions are decisive, carefully crafted to take conversations to a deeper level. They are deliberately personal, made us anxious and were not easy to grasp (ambiguous). They demand our attention to really connect with what matters.
  • He was clear. In setting up the small groups of 3 (so there is nowhere to hide!), he says don’t be helpful. Be curious. Ask follow up questions to show you care.
    • It isn’t the answers but the asking of the questions that is important, so don’t invite report back, as those conversations are history, and will anyway be distorted by our individual narratives. Just ask: What struck you?
  • How it made me feel – small group work, impossible questions (ambiguous, personal, anxiety provoking)
  • The depth of connections – the questions Peter Block uses help create strong connections with strangers in-the-moment, safe and supported
  • The use of music, art and poetry adds even more depth and emotional connection
  • An insight about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and others. What stories am I telling myself that keep me struck? Asking myself that question helps free me up to choose a different story- about myself, or about why someone reacted like they did, or about what’s possible in this community. All change involves a shift in narrative – and a shift in narrative can drive change.

Here are some of the powerful questions Peter Block uses:
Invitation – “What is the crossroads you are faced with at this point in time?”
Ownership – “How valuable an experience do you plan for this community?”; “How engaged and active do you plan to be?”; “How much risk are you prepared to take?”; “How invested are you in the quality of the experience of those around you?”
Dissent – “What doubts and reservations do you have?”; “What is the no or refusal you keep postponing?”; “What have you said yes to that you no longer really mean?”
Commitment – “What promises am I willing to make?”; “What price am I willing to pay?”
Gifts – “What is the gift you still hold in exile?”; “What has someone in this room done that has touched you?” (Tell them how!)

What choices did we make to be here today and why are these important? “This is our “OD spa”! “I am so grateful to be part of this community. Somehow I am not struck by this perception as I have experienced before our feeling of community and yet I am struck at our capacity to recreate it when we come together again.”

And on the practical side…
We are a group of OD practitioners who come together to share practice and experience, offer questions and challenges. We are part of ODN Europe. The annual conference will be online this year; Peter will be one of the speakers. If you want to join the conference, you will find details here. To hear Peter talk about his work directly, try these short videos.

Our future gatherings will be on-line for a while longer. This year’s sessions will focus on inclusion and inequality, from the perspective of teams, of organisations or societies. In April, our theme will be gender, prompted by the work of Caroline Criado Perez. In our June gathering, we would love those of you who are working on inclusion or inequality to share your practice.

The dates of our next gatherings are:

  • 22 April (conference week)
  • 25 June
  • 10 Sept
  • 3 Dec

If you would like to join us in planning the next gathering, or to facilitate, or manage the technical logistics whilst we meet on-line, please say.

Thank you to everyone for making this such a vibrant and supportive community.

Good bye for now.

Sarah (Bond), Rhian, Maureen and Sharon (Green)

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