By Tenneson Woolf
Originally Published at www.tennesonwoolf.com
Many of us live in a world that is increasingly being stripped of its context. Headlines captivate more attention than the article or report. Even the article or report captures more attention than the story of what actually happened and it’s many meanings. Facebook is loaded with oodles of good shares, but they too tend to be snippets, ultimately skewed to the delights-only aspects of people’s lives, scrubbed clean of real-life challenges inherent in the every day. Twitter has us not only sharing, but thinking in 140 character messages. The every-day requires a bit more space.
Make no mistake, I value clarity and brevity immensely. It is a skill of maturity, I think, to be able to find the essence of a story, or the principle of a paragraph. It is mad skill to be able to identify talking points rooted in principles or key questions that center a complex situation.
The problem isn’t the skill of summarizing. The problem is when the summary is so often taken out of context and without enough connection to the stories from which they originated. We human beings are starved of context in most of our environments as we continue to spiral ourselves further into a love affair with speed and efficiency that trumps pace and depth.
Let’s just interrupt that, shall we. Let’s just reclaim more of the expectation for context.
One of the things that I love about The Circle Way, is that it gives us a container to reclaim the need and hunger for context. It’s one of the ways that I’ve been introducing Circle lately, and then inviting people to tell a story. The Circle Way can be expressed and invited in many time frames. It won’t always be an hour or two together (this is what people often fear with circle, isn’t it) — sometimes the spirit of circle is practiced and enacted with two people in two minutes. Circle, however, regardless of time choice, gives us a way to paint more than just the edges of our lives and of our learning with one another.
Here’s a recent example, from Circle, Song, and Ceremony, an event with 26 people that I co-convened with Barbara McAfee and Quanita Roberson (pictured on the right above, along with Katie Boone, a wonderfully skilled practitioner based in Minnesota). Our opening evening, in which I’ve come to feel that the real job is to say hello to each other, to make the transition from “out there” to “in here” and being available to each other, had several exercises. Beautiful song. Some recommended agreements and commitments. Some questions that each of us brought to the weekend gathering. An exercise to express six words to describe the state that we were arriving in. The six words were spoken out loud. It’s a good exercise. It was a good exercise that night. These words, and the spirit in which they were spoken, helped to introduce us to each other. “Tired. Curious. Happy. Nervous. Ready. Lonely.” Great teasers for depth, right.
The next day, we invited more context to be spoken in the container of the 26 of us. Not six words, but maybe six paragraphs. In circle. “Who are you? Why did you choose to come to this gathering? Give us a bit of your story.” This circle got big quickly. In time. In content. It got full. And honest. We’d planned on it going for 60-75 minutes, and it did. Deliciously. Because, we had the weekend together, this was not time getting away from us. This was essential weaving together.
There were four things that I learned (relearned) in that circle.
- One, people are hungry to share context and to be heard in their context.
- Two, we learn who we are by sharing our story — as well as learning more of who we are by hearing other people share their stories.
- Three, the desire for story is in our DNA — it has been cultural practice for generations gone by, and even without direct experience, we recognize the need for context and story in the deeper places of our psyche and memory.
- Four, as Quanita referenced, one of the reasons that circles get big when invited to share story is that people are so starved of the opportunity. It’s rare. In that scarcity, many of us feel that we must say everything (more than even the six paragraphs permits) because this is our only chance. Argh!
I love Circle. As a form of meeting. As a way of being. As a container to re-insert context and honesty into these many encounters we humans have with one another, while trying to do good with the things and people that we care about.
Context matters. Essentially. The Circle Way gives us format to welcome it.