"I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack s—. Yeah. That’s us."
It drives me crazy that we so often try to eliminate emotion from how we present ourselves to the world. Earlier this week I was in Toronto for a meeting of the Canadian Women's Foundation's Girls' Fund Advisory Committee. We provide funding to organizations that support and empower girls between 9-13 years old. At the meeting we talked about all kinds of awful realities that girls in Canada (and everywhere!) are dealing with - sexual exploitation and trafficking, self-harm and suicide, eating disorders and insane media pressures, sexual and other types of abuse, and on and on. It's heartbreaking stuff, and we should feel really sad about it. The fact that we're working REALLY hard to make those problems go away doesn't negate the fact that they make us sad.
At the end of this two-day meeting, working through these issues and how we can do our small part to help, one of the participants was asked to share a story of a recent visit to a First Nations community, to hear a bit about how their girls' program had gone. As she spoke about what a beautiful day it had been, and how moved she was to hear the stories about the participant girls, and especially as she recounted some of the challenges those girls face, she began crying. And it was fantastic. All of a sudden, her story seemed so much more important, because it was real. It was emotional. It was human, and she was offering her vulnerability as a vehicle for sharing that story. That is a powerful and generous gift. And yet, she was so apologetic for crying (even though nobody seemed uncomfortable about it) and I think this points to the reality that we are often made to feel that being professional means eliminating emotion from our behaviour.
So, that's why I'm excited about this Jon Stewart thing - he's role modelling emotional responses to emotional events, and I think we can all learn from that and try to bring a little more emotion, a little more heart, into our work.
Putting the Idea Into Practice:
For all of you facilitators out there, here are two ideas for how to bring emotion into the room when you're facilitating, and how to gracefully deal with emotional expression - I welcome your additional ideas and storie!
Opening An Event: Are You a Robot?
One thing I love to do, to get participant attention and set the tone at the beginning of a workshop or conference, is to say "Could all the robots in the room please raise your hands?" and then waiting for a beat as people think through the question and look at you like your crazy. Then I say "OK, please raise your hand if you are a human being" and, of course, almost everyone raises their hand!
Then I say something like "Seeing that we're all human beings, let's give each other permission, starting right now, to act lilke human beings. If you need to use the bathroom, use the bathroom. If you need to eat, eat. If you need to step out to deal with an emergency, by all means take care of yourself, and if you need to cry please let it flow. This is a safe place, and for the time that we are in this room together, we are a community and we must care for one another."
A Moment of Silence
Sometimes something happens in a meeting that just knocks you off track, because it is so awful, so terrifying, and/or so huge that you just can't go back to whatever is on the agenda without some kind of acknowledgement and healing. I've been in meetings where elders, after a lifetime of keeping it secreet, disclose detailed stories of sexual abuse in community meetings. I've been in conferences where young women ask for a moment of time to seek all of the participants' help in finding a missing loved one. I've been in workshops where someone fell out of their chair and we had to call an ambulance to take hinm to the hospital.
In moments like this, never be afraid (once the person has finished speaking/crying/loading into the ambulance) to acknowledge the weight of what has just happened, perhaps ask someone to share a prayer or healing song (if it's appropriate to your group) and take a good long moment of silence for everyone to reflect on what has happened. Sometimes you may also wish to get everyone to take some deep breaths or do another grounding activity to symobolically release some of the sadness and re-connect to themselves and the rest of the group.
If possible, it is great to have a lovely, soft chime (or small tibetan singing bowl, (thank you Aftab for that idea) to mark the end of a moment of silence in a more graceful way.
And, of course, don't ever be afraid to let emotion in to your facilitating. People will likely connect with you in a stronger, more authentic way, and you honour yourself as a human being, not a robot.
Much love to you, and if you get a chance please read Derrick Weston Brown's poem about Charleston - another evocative emotional response to emotional events.