Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Good Lives – because it takes a village to raise a child

We’ve just run the fourth of the Good Lives weekends at Woodbrooke. We were looking at the broad areas of community and culture. A greener future must include, among many other factors, a re-created and re-enlivened localism. For sustainability, we need communities where most of what we need can be found within walking and cycling distance. This represents a huge shift from what the majority of us are accustomed to, and will require cultural transformation and revitalised, re-imagined communities. It will challenge many of our ideas of individual freedom and choice, and runs counter to all the trends in this country since the second world war. This weekend represented a small foray into this vast territory.

There’s a nice poster/postcard available on ‘How to Build a Community’.  The text on it reads:

Turn off your TV * Leave your house * Know your neighbors
Look up when you are walking * Greet people * Sit on your stoop
Plant flowers * Use your library * Play together
Buy from local merchants
Share what you have * help a lost dog * Take children to the park
Garden together * Support neighborhood schools
Fix it even if you didn't break it * Have pot lucks
Honor elders * Pick up litter * Read stories aloud
Dance in the street * Talk to the mail carrier * Listen to the birds
Put up a swing * Help carry something heavy * Barter for your goods
Start a tradition * Ask a question * Hire young people for odd jobs
Organize a block party * Bake extra and share
Ask for help when you need it * Open your shades
Sing together * Share your skills * Take back the night
Turn up the music * Turn down the music
Listen before you react to anger * Mediate a conflict
Seek to understand
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles
Know that no one is silent though many are not heard. Work to change this.

* * * * *

Below are some of the exercises we did with the group – the questions might be interesting for individuals reading this blog to think about, or maybe even to use with groups of people.

Exercise 1: experiences of community and culture
(this will take about an hour depending on the size of the group; if the group members are not already all known to each other, allow extra time for introductions)

What you will need:
- Tables to work at, if members of your group are unable to sit on the floor – enough tables for people to work in groups of 3 or 4
- Flip chart paper and felt pens for each small group

Divide the group randomly into small groups of 4; sit one group at each table (or space on the floor) with flip chart paper and pens. If numbers don’t work exactly, make groups of 3s and 4s (5 is too big for this exercise). Allow 5 minutes for this.

Ask everyone to think about ‘community’ and ‘culture’: what do the words conjure up? Write down words or concepts that you associate with these. Allow 10-15 minutes for this, depending on how the ‘buzz’ in the room is feeling.

With people remaining in their groups, but turn to face centre, share – group by group – what’s on flip-chart sheets; stick the sheets up round the room. Allow 5-15 minutes for this, depending on the size of the group.

Now form new groups like this (allow 5 minutes):
- One person in each group to remain seated
- The other three stand up and move on round the room: one person goes to the next group round, one to the group after, and one to the group after that. If you have only three groups, two people remain seated.

In the new groups, ask: what experiences have you had in the past of different kinds of communities? Have you had experience of different cultures? (both positive and negative experiences). What have you learned? Share in your group (no need to write this). Allow 10 minutes for this.

Bring the whole group back to one circle for open sharing time (creative listening / worship sharing style – see Appendix) – allow 15-20 minutes for this, depending on the size of the group and how the sharing is going.

Exercise 2: mapping our own communities
(this will take about 1½ hrs, depending on the size of the group)

What you will need:
Ideally you need a piece of flipchart paper and assorted pens for each person. If you don’t have this available, you could tape four sheets of A4 paper together, on the back, to form a larger drawing and writing area. Crayons are ok if you don’t have enough felts. If you have people who can’t manage sitting on the floor, you will need some tables.

Get people seated comfortably with their paper and pens – explain that they’ll be working alone and then sharing in pairs, so sit near someone they can easily turn to when it comes to conversation time. (If numbers aren’t even, allow for one 3 for sharing). Then (after people are settled) explain how the session will work: you’ll be asking a series of prompting questions – people can write, draw, whatever, to create a representation of their own communities

Allow 10 minutes for all of this.

Start asking the prompting questions below, leaving time between each for people to respond – keep an eye on the level of activity to judge when to move on. People will work at different rates, so you need a kind of average time. Allow enough time for people to have created a response, but not so much that they’ve finished and are getting bored – keep the pace moving.

- Where do you live? Talking here about your geographical local neighbourhood – ‘local’ meaning walking and cycling radius.
- What is it like? Eg: is it beautiful? Is there green space?
- Do you feel safe there?
- What facilities does it have?
- What is it like socially?
- What do you value about it?
- What does it lack (for you)?
(This is probably about 10-15 minutes)

Share with your partner – about 5 minutes

In the whole group (don’t ask people to move – just from where they’re sitting) – is there anything that anyone would like to share with the whole group? (not a go-round – just sharing as it comes) – write up key points on a flipchart if possible. Allow 5-10 minutes, depending on how much sharing is offered.

Return to working individually on their own sheets of pap

- What needs can be met locally?
- What do people have to go outside the area for?
- What do you choose to go outside for? (think about work, buying food, clothing, larger purchases; leisure and entertainment).
- What local resource are there? (think about shops, industry, farming).
- How much of your social/spiritual/cultural needs can be met locally?
(This is probably about 10-15 minutes)

Share with your partner – about 10 minutes
Pairs join to 4s to share issues arising – about 10 minutes

(if you don’t have an even number of pairs, there will have to be one 6; if it happened that you had a threesome, make sure that they end up in a 5 with a pair, not in a 7 with two pairs!)

Bring the group back together (this time physically move people into one circle) – is there anything that anyone would like to share with the whole group? (not a go-round – just sharing as it comes) – write up key points on a flipchart if possible. Allow 10-15 minutes, depending on how much sharing is offered.

Exercise 3: concerns about our communities
(This will take about 1½ hrs depending on the size of the group)

What you will need:
- Tables to work at, if members of your group are unable to sit on the floor – enough tables for people to work in groups of 3 or 4
- Flip chart paper and felt pens for each small group

Explain that this session is to look at concerns about our communities – concerns about aspects present or absent – and also to relate that to the wider national community/culture.

Split into small groups, 3s and 4s, according to the kind of place we live – eg: similar kinds of suburbs, or similar city centre areas; of if your group members are all very local, split into neighbourhood groups.

Write up some key ideas, prompt points, on a flip chart where everyone can see it, eg: safety, green space, beauty of environment, inter-generation interaction, friendliness, crime, litter, vandalism . . .

Allow about 10 minutes for all of this.

Discuss these issues in the small groups and record findings on flip charts
(about 15 minutes).

Everyone return to circle – each group share and stick up the flip chart sheets around the room.
(about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the group)

Working in the whole group in whole group: what about the bigger picture – national issues – list concerns and write up on a flip chart as they’re spoken.
(about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the group)

Draw the circle round to close it but make sure everyone can see the flip chart.
Using creative listening / worship sharing (see below):
- How much of this list are particularly Quakerly concerns?
- To what extent are our concerns from first-hand experience or from the media?
- How do people respond to the media – how do we apportion our energies? (eg: do we ‘keep up with the news’? or is that too dispiriting?)

Allow 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of the group

General discussion: if these are our concerns, what do we need from our communities? (what do we ourselves need? What do people in general need?) –in terms of practical issues, spiritual/inner fulfilment, other areas? (about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the group)

What about the good news? What is already happening that’s positive and creative? Is your local meeting involved in any of the ‘good news’ activities? (about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the group)

Exercise 4: our community and culture – imagining how it could be
(This can take anything from 1 to 2 hours depending on the size of the group, and on how long you want to let it run)

What you will need:
- You can work on the floor if everyone is able to, otherwise you will need a large table – large enough for everyone to be able to get round it at once. Depending on the size of the group, you might need to put twp trestle tables together.
- Using half a dozen or so (depending on the size of the group) sheets of flip chart paper, join them edge to edge with tape to make one large sheet of paper that will cover the whole of the table (or cover a suitable area of floor); after you’ve taped the sheets, turn the whole thing over so the taped side is underneath. If you don’t have access to flip chart paper, you might be able to persuade your local butchers shop to let you have some sheets of their meat-wrapping paper; or you could buy a roll of cheap wallpaper lining – two lengths of this, taped side by side, will work.
- You will need a supply of collage material eg: coloured magazines, bits of yarn and cloth, scraps of coloured wrapping or tissue paper, bits of shells, buttons, fir cones, seed pods . . . anything you can lay your hands on! Ask members of the group all to bring materials
- You will then need glue sticks (at least half as many glue sticks as there are people in the group) plus lots of crayons, felt pens of different thicknesses and colours, coloured pencils; if you’re in a space where it’s ok to use paint and water, then that’s also good, but most places aren’t suitable.

Set the room up ahead of the group starting time.

Explain that this session is to imagine the kind of community and culture we would ideally like to live in – let our imaginations be free. We can use words, images, abstract shapes, colours, patterns, pictures . . . whatever fees right for us. We’re all going to work together on the same big sheet of paper – we have to accommodate to each other in terms of how we’re going to do that, and discover as we go along how that’s going to work.

Then let people work for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the group and how it’s going – judge the right end point by the level of engaged activity in the room: stop while there’s still some buzz around, and most people are still focussed on what they’re doing, but maybe one or two people are starting to look as though they’ve stopped. Give a 5 minutes warning before stopping, so people can finish off what they’re doing.

Stop the activity, bring people to sit down and reflect:
- what was it like doing this exercise?
- what role did you take, what kinds of interactions did you find yourself in?
- are these your usual patterns?
- if not, how was it different?
(Allow 15-20 minutes for this, depending on the size of the group)

Invite people to stand or walk around and look at what’s been created together. Invite sharing: What is it saying to you? What did you try to put into it? What has been created?
(Allow 20-25 minutes for this, depending on the size of the group)

Bring the group back to a seated circle and invite general discussion:
- What are the issues arising for you?
- What would it feel like to live like this?
- What would be the benefits now?
(Allow 15-20 minutes for this, depending on the size of the group)

Session 5: examples of community

What you will need:
DVD player and suitable DVDs. The two we used were:
The Turning Point Film: a return to community
(available to purchase from http://www.theturningpointfilm.co.uk/ )
Witness (barn-raising scene) - this is a commercial movie, starring Harrison Ford, obtainable from your local video rental store or from Amazon (for example) for purchase.

Equally suitable would be The Power of Community: how Cuba survived Peak Oil, or In Transition: from oil dependence to local resilience. Both of these may be bought from the Green Shopping Catalogue

Show the DVD(s), followed by general discussion:
- what are the issues arising, for you?
- is this model of community appealing to you, or not? Why is that?
- how does community affect us – in terms chores, behaviour, etc?
- what holds communities together (eg: religious/spiritual)?

Exercise 6: taking it all back home – first steps, allies and coalitions, support and accountability
(this will take between 90 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the size of the group)

What you will need:
Paper and pen for each person

Introduce the session: we’re thinking about our ideal and the actual – the ‘actual’ being both our own local geographic community and our local Quaker community.

Form small groups of 3 or 4 (could be just a pair; not more than 4) by geography – ie: make groups with the people who live nearest to you.

Sit down in your groups with a sheet of paper and a pen for each person.

(Allow 5 minutes for all of this so far)

Share in group, in general conversation:
- what have you taken from this series of exercises?
- what would you like, as a consequence, to start doing, stop doing, do differently?
Allow about 20 minutes for this – more if the conversation is still animated after this time.

Now each person take some time alone, writing down responses to:
- what will be your first steps – one thing you can do
- who will be your allies?
- with whom can you form coalitions?
- what is achievable?
- what are the obstacles?
- what help will you need?
- how will you know if you’ve succeeded?
(Feed the questions in with pauses between; as you go through, write each question up so that people can read it to be reminded, in case they’re still thinking about the previous question when you speak; allow about 15 minutes for this)

Share your plans in your small group. Set up a buddy arrangement to support each other and also to offer accountability. Fix how that will work – who will contact whom? How will you be in touch?(Allow about 10-15 minutes for this)

In a go-round share one thing you’d like everyone to know about your next step.

Creative Listening / Worship Sharing
(adapted with thanks from Friends General Conference Advancement and Outreach)

Worship sharing is a kind of guided meditation. By focusing on a particular question, it helps us to explore our own experience and share with each other more deeply than we would in normal conversation. It seeks to draw us into sacred space, where we can take down our usual defences, and encounter each other in ‘that which is eternal.

The guidelines for worship sharing have been evolving among Friends for the past half century, drawing on a number of different sources. They can be summarised as follows:

1. The convener or leader should define a question as the focus for sharing which is simple, open ended, and oriented toward individual experience. It might be a question about the spiritual journey; or it might be related to an issue that is exercising or dividing the meeting; it might relate to a book you have been reading together. The question should be chosen prayerfully, to meet the particular needs of the group at that time. There are no stock questions.

2. The convener then explains the basic rules for sharing:
o Reach as deeply as you can into the sacred centre of your life.
o Speak out of the silence, and leave a period of silence between speakers.
o Speak from your own experience, about your own experience. Concentrate on feelings and changes rather than on thoughts or theories.
o Do not respond to what anyone else has said, either to praise or to refute.
o Listen carefully and deeply to what is spoken. Expect to speak only once, until everyone has had a chance to speak.
o Respect the confidentiality of what is shared.

3. Some leaders feel that going around the circle makes it easier for everyone to speak. Others prefer to ask people to speak as they are ready. Explain which practice you would like to follow. In either case, participants should know that they have the option of ‘passing’ or not speaking.

4. Allow at least half an hour for a group of five or six to share their responses to a single question, and at least an hour for a larger group. If you have more than a dozen people, it would be better to divide into smaller groups to make sure that everyone has a chance to participate.

5. Enter into worshipful silence, and begin.

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If you want to post a comment here, and are having technical difficulties, you can email your comment to me at Good.Lives@woodbrooke.org.uk and I can post it for you.

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The next Good Lives weekend (. . . because there is such a thing as society) will be 9-11 April. We’ll be looking at societal structures and processes, with a particular focus on Spiral Dynamics as a tool for helping us to think about society, structures, and the kinds of leadership we're going to need in a future shaped by peak oil and climate change.


  1. It sounds like a thought-provoking and inspiring weekend. Thankyou for posting the session outlines. I can think of several situations where I and/or others could use them.

    Will you be getting some of the postcards for Woodbrooke's bookshop or stall?

  2. In reply to Mindfulbeader ... I hadn't thought about the bookstall, but will now do so!

  3. Further to my comment above - we think postcards would be better on the shop than the bookstall. They have to come from the USA, so we're looking into the most economical way of getting them here.