A Small Special Group at a Big Workshop

I'm fresh back from Julian Weissglass' Wide World Change Workshop. It was truly incredible! Julian's leadership is so thoughtful and thorough. He sets up a unique schedule to precisely meet the needs of the workshop, models a consistent commitment to correctness and awareness, is intentionally patient, reaches out to people with a personal generosity, and offers cutting- edge theory and practice in a spirit of relaxed expectation and confidence. These things combine to create a wonderful atmosphere in which taking on really difficult challenges seems both possible and inviting! Just right for wide world change efforts.

The large workshop (104 people) included three young women (ages thirteen to fifteen) who are well-grounded in RC theory and practice and were able to make good use of the workshop and play a visible and useful role throughout.

Because I was worried at the outset about having ample support for the young people, and because I didn't want to be one of only a few people thinking about them (particularly as I was the mother of one of them!), I convened a group at 7:00 a.m. every morning to give folks a chance to think and discharge about reaching out to them. It worked beautifully! Eight to eleven people showed up every morning, most of whom came back each time. The time was used partly for asking questions and sharing information, but mostly for discharge and goal-setting. People set specific goals (e.g., joining the young people for a meal, seeking them out for mini-sessions, spending break-time in their company, etc.) and then had an opportunity the next morning to discharge on their success or failure and set a new goal.

What occurred to me as I watched this little experiment unfold was that this structure might be useful in lots of workshops, in lots of ways, for example, convening a group of white people trying to think about and support the people of color at a workshop, or a group to think about and support people with disabilities or non-English speakers at a predominantly English-speaking workshop, or a group of women trying to reach out to men. And so on.

By meeting more than once, people had a chance to discharge early on in the workshop, go public with their goals, discharge their difficulties, and have a place to report back, discharge some more, and keep taking action over the course of the workshop.

I think that lots of us have very good intentions at workshops to help make sure that the workshop is useful for everyone present, but if the difficulties don't get discharged, the unawareness at the workshop goes unchecked. This structure worked easily and with good results. The young people reported back to me throughout the three-day workshop how day by day, more and more people were reaching out to them and how they felt increasingly a part of the workshop.

Personally, I intend to convene such groups from now on! It was great for me to be able to give people a hand toward improving their awareness level, instead of getting frustrated and resentful about their unawareness or inability to think about the young people. Providing this kind of support group sure worked better than scolding people or making them feel guilty! It's given me a whole new perspective on how to use that early morning hour before breakfast: for discharge and re-evaluation that will make the workshop go better and undoubtedly have ongoing benefits as well.

I'd love to hear what happens if others try this approach.

Randi Wolfe
Skokie, Illinois, USA

Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07