The Use of "Panels" at Workshops and Gather-Ins

Almost all of us seem to wear distresses that perpetuate our isolation and separation from other groups of people. Much of this separation takes the form of lack of communication, of ignorance of other people. We do not seek or receive information about the lives, attitudes and thinking of people in other groups. This is certainly not our inherent nature. We are naturally profoundly curious and eager to learn about and know all the other varieties of humans.

The original impetus for such separation and resulting distress was undoubtedly the division of oppressed peoples to facilitate their oppressing each other and keeping them from uniting against the oppression. Such cultural patterns, however, once installed, seem to have a momentum and existence of their own. To undo such isolation and improve communication becomes very desirable for anyone who wishes greater unity among peoples or movement toward a mom rational society.

A simple device has been experimented with over the last two years or so in the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities. It has been attempted in several forms and I am sure new forms will be discovered for it. In essence it is very simple and easy to do and the results are profound. We've called this device the "Panel." It began as a means to expedite men's liberation. In particular, to attempt to get the women members and leaders of the RC Communities to understand the lives of men and their oppressions and as a result to make them more welcome in the Communities and offer them better counseling.

The men's panels, in the form in which we began them, take considerable time, so the numbers of men participating have ranged from three to thirty-three, depending in large part on how much time the particular workshop could give to the activity.

With the workshop listening, each man is asked in turn, "What was it like to be a male when you were an infant?" Some men will say they do not remember, and are then asked, "What is your impression of what it was like?" (Almost all of them have an impression.) At this and at subsequent stages when distress is reported I often ask, "Where did you turn for comfort?" (There is very little comfort in men's lives!) Then each man is asked, "What was life like as a male 'toddler' (two to five years of age)?" In the same way each man is asked the same questions about early elementary school years, later elementary school years, middle school years, (with a special question about life as an adolescent and relating to people of the other gender). Then, life in the workplace or in college, life as an established adult, and life at the present. On this last one, the counselor usually asks, "How did you first contact Re-evaluation Counseling and has it had any effect on your life as a male?"

The stories of males lives are fascinating to the audience and to the men themselves. It is very plain as the panel progresses that men have seldom been listened to in any detail, as a general cultural phenomenon.

If there is time each man is asked to repeat the men's commitment and then each man says what he liked best about being on the Panel. Finally, a number of members of the audience say what was most striking or moving to them about the panel. Where this has been done for the first time in a Community, fully half the women will say at the end of the workshop that the outstanding thing about the workshop was hearing what men's lives are really like, often adding, "I'll never again treat men the way I used to."

At the workshops and Continental and World Conferences in 1989, we evolved a simpler set of questions that goes faster, works well for any group, and allows each group to communicate well to all the other participants present. Such panels were used to great effect at the Continental Conferences and World Conference and brought a closeness and a mutual understanding to the whole body such as few of us had experienced before. Each panel member was asked the same four questions: (1) What is great about being a member of your group? (2) What has been hard about being a member of your group? (3) Has RC been useful to you as a member of your group, and if so, how? (4) How does your group's part of RC, and RC in general, need to improve to be more useful to you? After each person has answered each of the four questions, each person works on an appropriate commitment (if time permits), each person says what she or he liked best about being on the panel, and members of the audience say what they found helpful, enjoyable or remarkable about the panel.

These panels can be done for any group, any liberation group, any age group, any occupational group, any interest group. Such a panel will be a fine feature at any gather-ins that are held. Any group in the Community will enjoy their gather-in and help bring people to it. Having enough time is a difficulty at workshops, but if you stay up late the first night to let the oppressed minority groups speak through a panel, the unity and effectiveness of a workshop is greatly improved.

Until you have participated in such a panel or seen it operate, it will be difficult for you to credit what an effective communication device this is.

Harvey Jackins
Seattle, Washington, USA

Last modified: 2015-07-21 16:41:56+00