Sunday, June 26, 2016

Vacation Dialogue: Breaking Down Walls

Remember those times when you were SURE you heard what you heard, those times when you could practically recall word for word what was said?  What happened within you when it was discovered that you were correct?  Or, when you were proven to be incorrect, what were your thoughts or feelings... about yourself or the other person?

A few weeks ago in southern England, I was on a tour that included Corfe Castle, a castle that has a 1,000-year history dating back before William the Conqueror invaded England.

Corfe Castle, County Dorset, England
While on the coach, the tour guide gave a set of instructions of when and where to meet after seeing the castle.  When we were off the bus and at the ticket office, the guide gave what sounded like a different meeting place and time.  A number of us questioned or clarified what we heard, and then we went off exploring this historical site.

We learned that during the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell and Parliamentary forces used gun powder to destroy Corfe Castle, causing its defensive walls to fall.  As I climbed with tourists from around the world on the ruins of this once impenetrable fortress, I wondered about our use of walls: to defend and protect; to keep others out; to separate and divide.  And I reflected upon my own defendeness, those times when I react so strongly to anger, fear, embarrassment, and misunderstanding to keep others away.  Heavy insights as we explored the sites and wonders around us!

What would it take for me to lower my defenses?
And then the ponderings and tour merged...

My friend and I showed up at the designated place ten minutes before the arranged time, and waited.  No one from our group was around!   We waited, recalling the instructions we thought we had heard and understood.  Eventually, when no one arrived at the meeting location, we decided to head downhill to the information center where the bus was parked.  The group was in the bus, waiting!

As we encountered the guide and got on the bus, we were embarrassed, and wondered how we could have been the only two to have misunderstood.  Our defenses went up, ready to tell the guide what she said and what we heard and understood.  (Did you catch the blaming and projecting; the sense that we were right and the guide was wrong;  and the we-they language?!  Not pretty!) 

When do I build walls to defend and protect myself?
 Since that event weeks ago and comparing it alongside my Dialogue studies and practice of the last several years, I am reminded that humanity is full of many paradoxes:
  • Consider how our defensiveness (defendness) is used to protect us; but now that we are separated, we are weaker.
  • Reflect on how the human spirit aspires for freedom; yet because we react so quickly, we don't seem to pause and consider creative solutions that exhibit human transcendent freedom.
  • Look at how human ingenuity and imagination draw forth ways to improve and progress, yet these same inventions are used to destroy, terrorize and conquer.
Thus, as I try to understand what another person says, I am more committed to slowing down and considering that maybe I misunderstand the intent or underlying meaning.  I will try to Pause and check out the thoughts and feelings that are building my walls to defend and protect me.  And, I will hope to set down the bricks and mortar of pride, fear, anger, and embarrassment so that I may listen anew to what was meant to be conveyed.

Just image!  Impenetrable Corfe Castle with over 1,000 years of history had its walls torn down.  Maybe our journey this week will allow us to remove our much younger walls!

Larry Gardepie

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Vacation Dialogue: Interpreting a Comma

I have been home a week already, and the vacation memories and dialogues continue to cycle through my thoughts!

One story that deserves appropriate reflection centers on a miracle of discovery: that is, how we hear, interpret, and understand one another.  What with our different backgrounds, education, languages, and experiences, it is amazing that we communicate as well as we do!

Many destinations and ways to get there
At one point in our journey, one gentleman asked our guide if he could begin walking ahead of the tour group.  He explained that he walked slower and didn't want to hold up the group.  The guide gave what I heard as the following instructions: "Go to the square up ahead, to the right."

I had been in this area before, and I knew that there was a square around the corner to the right.  This is what I heard and what I understood.

Understanding the moves we make and why
The gentleman started walking ahead.  Within two minutes, the last person from our group arrived at the meeting point; we began walking together in the direction the man had taken; and we had arrived at the square (plaza).

Our guide stopped us at the square.  The problem became apparent to the rest of us: there were 5 different directions to leave the square, and the man was nowhere in sight!

Not seeing him up and down the streets, the guide took us up the center route and directed us to the waiting coach (bus).  The man's wife and I offered to help the guide search for him, while the others waited with the bus driver in the coach.

Using the lifelines available to us
Throughout the thirty minutes that we searched up and down the streets, the original meeting point, and the plaza, the guide stayed professional and calm, wondering out loud: where could he  have gone; his instructions were to go to the square on the right; he doesn't walk that fast; why didn't he wait at the square?

What barriers do we see or experience?
We eventually found him: up the hill, along the street to the right of the square, about a half mile from the square.  Upon seeing us, he immediately accused the guide of giving him incorrect instructions.  And, when we arrived back at the bus, he loudly told others that the guide was at fault.

I, and others on the tour, were surprised; some became indignant!  There was no sense of self-incrimination, involvement or apology.  Instead, the blame of another person was his focus.

This incident has stayed with me as I have considered:
  • How often I misunderstand another person or what is being said to me;
  • The barriers I put up to defend myself or keep others away;
  • Responses of embarrassment, fear or anger when different views are expressed, or when I may have misunderstood.
Rays of hope part the dark clouds that obscure
By the next day, "his story" continued to take shape, as he continued to blame the guide and reminded us of her mistake.

Through reflection, I see the defendedness of each person and I realize that this may be a situation of misinterpreting or misplacing a comma!  Seeing it through the intentions of the guide, she was describing that the plaza would be to the right.  She repeatedly explained that she expected our walking group would overtake him by the time we arrived at the square; she expected him to stay at the square and walk with us to the bus.  And hearing the comma through his reactions, it seemed that he understood he should go to the square, take the street to the right, and continue on until he found the bus.

When we misunderstand another person or a situation, maybe a ray of hope can be found by: slowing down; listening for a comma that may have been misplaced; and anticipating a new way of understanding.  Pausing and moving away from right/wrong, good/bad, and fault/blame reactions may allow the dark clouds to part and the light of recognition to stream through the situation.  Awareness and compassion will help us to see that it may simply be a misplaced comma which causes the separation between words which were meant to connect.

Our invitation this week is to listen for those commas, waiting for the miracle of discovery, new way of being and understanding!

Larry Gardepie

Monday, June 13, 2016

Vacation Dialogue: Stumbling into "Her Story"

Travel invites me to go beyond myself: I realize how much I don't know about other countries, peoples, and histories; I gain appreciation of the richness of other cultures; and I glimpse briefly the immense beauty of this world.

Grandeur of the open seas

As I return from recent travels, I find that I continue to reflect on the lessons learned through these Self- and Other- discoveries.  I assumed that being "on vacation" would allow time to practice the Dialogue Skills at a leisurely pace.  What with time and a slower pace of daily life, I thought that I could observe and reflect with more deliberateness.  But, life happens!

Sometimes life seems to be a chess game
I was surprised on my first day of vacation at how little I knew, and how difficult dialogue is!  After roaming around, taking pictures, and enjoying the new environment that would be "home" for the next several weeks, I was sitting with a friend enjoying dinner.  Midway through our meal, a couple sat down at the table next to us.  Almost immediately, the woman leaned over to talk.  I was expecting that we would share pleasantries typical of public dinner settings.  Instead, she told me "to tell him" (my traveling companion) to delete any pictures of her that "he" may have taken.  I was stopped short:  Who is this woman?  What pictures was she referring to?  Why didn't she talk to "him" herself?  What gave her the right to accuse and demand?

This first encounter seemed unbalanced, out of kilter, skewed.

Kubuswonig ("Cube Houses"), Rotterdam
With each of her monological statements, I found myself becoming defensive, leaping quickly up my Ladder!   Questions immediately came to mind but before these could be voiced, she finished by stating that she didn't have to explain herself, repeating that I should "tell him" to delete any pictures of her.  The conversation, if that, was all one sided.

I sat back confused!  Sometimes the dialogue we seek is a shadow of what is really happening.  How can we dialogue when another person doesn't invite questions?  How do we deal with our assumptions and the other steps of our Ladders of Inference while we remain blind to what another person is thinking, feeling, or attempting to convey?

Dialogue sometimes seems to be a "shadow"
Towards the end of the meal when we were getting ready to leave, I asked the woman if it was reasonable to expect a shipload of people not to take her picture?  She grabbed my arm and held me, stating that it wasn't up to me to question her request.  She was asking that "he" delete the pictures.  Again, my defendedness blinded me: "he" has a name!

Over the next few days I found that I was reliving the first day's encounter:
  • Why was I so engaged in what I considered an "unreasonable" request?
  • How would I respond if I encountered her again?
  • What would happen if we unknowingly took a picture with her in the background?
  • Should I change my behavior to accommodate her? 

Upon reflection, I realized that I oftentimes walk around burdened by the weight of my many Ladders.  The stories I create become his-stories, her-stories, my-stories and our-stories that separate and influence future responses.

As we journey through this next week - whether working, playing or vacationing, maybe it is time to look up, notice the Ladders we carry, and allow ourselves to see new realities.  And, instead of being silenced by the stories that separate, maybe we can let go of these shadows and come a step closer to accepting the request to delete these digital memories that have captured us.  There is freedom in looking up and letting go!

Ceiling of St. Peter's Cathedral (Trier, Germany)

If you travel this summer, be safe and enjoy moments of discovery!

Larry Gardepie

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Questions: Wisps of Clouds Reshaping Who We Are

Have you ever sat quietly in a room of people with the whole conversation centered on asking questions?  A few months ago, our Community of Practice was invited to "practice asking questions."  We focused our questions on the dialogue community itself, with some of the questions centering on:
  • Who are we?
  • Where are we headed?
  • Has - or how has - the Dialogue practice shaped or reshaped us?
  • Plus, any other question that an individual felt comfortable to ask.
The goal was simple: practice asking questions.  We were encouraged to allow the questions to sit quietly in our midst, with no intention of answering the questions or engaging in a dialogue or a discussion about the questions or topics.  Months later I remember how amazing that experience was!
Questions: wisps of thoughts floating in our midst
Reflections on that time together:
  • Our questions formed a conversation in and of itself.
  •  Many of the questions flowed together, overlapped or added to what others were asking; yet each question introduced a new idea or thought that enriched us.
  • How often we want to "solve" a situation rather than allowing it to "just be."
  • Sitting and listening to each other - without having an expectation to answer the questions - creating a freedom to listen more intently, outwardly and inwardly.
  • This moment of inquiry created a spaciousness that was sacred, expanding beyond any one person.
Questions illuminated our understanding
I wonder if that is how clouds feel?  Wisps of individual elements in the vast sky; joined together and moving beyond; forming into one shape that we seem to recognize, and then moving into different forms of individual and communal awareness.  Isn't it interesting how  Light can play on these wisps of gathered elements, drawing forth new beauty?

As I move into this new week - recalling an experience months ago, I am reminded to practice asking questions of myself, of you, and of us.  Phrases that may open us to new discoveries:
  • I am curious about...
  • I notice... and I wonder... 
  • I assume...
  • Help me understand... 
All of these are ways for me to enter into Spaciousness and Sacredness, to understand who I am in relationship with: You!

And so, I am left to wonder: what questions do you have of me? 

Larry Gardepie