Whenever we create a safe space with “others” we learn to see possibilities and collectively choose our response instead of reacting through dysfunctional impulses. Even in erratic and chaotic situations, we learn to break bread together; share what we have without judgement or prejudice. We connect. Why? We are born with the tools to decode uncertainty and shape our response. In practice, we experience these tools as emotions.
Our emotions stem from complex bio-psychological processes that occur deep within our psyche and body. However, emotions don’t serve us so well when we feel threatened, confused or undermined. Here we opt for safety. A feeling of safety feeds our appetite to stay with a conversation despite the doubts that necessarily surface. Better to be inside looking out on the storm, you might say. Only when we feel safe, do we learn to embrace the gift of patience and it shows in our heart and on our face. That’s why we smile when we dig.
“I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning”Michael Foucault
So space making is as much about the past as it is the present if we are to access the buried narratives for today’s sense-making. We need to dig down through generational layers and feel for ourselves what those who went before us felt and see the way they saw because that particular vista is what brought us to where we are now. To excavate in this way is a courageous and vulnerable act that has the power to heal and build trust.
Sense of Self
It is an invitation for each of us to collectively embrace the frailties and flaws of human nature, to immerse oneself in the common. This deeply irascible instinct is part of what makes us human. When we feel together we heal together and this connection makes the idea of individuality somewhat intriguing because we also understand instinctively we are, in a real sense, very unique. We all have, you might say, our own point of view based on the sum total of our experiences up to the moment we are in at any given time and that’s part of the puzzle of memory and experience.
The intersection of our respective points of view is the space where conversations naturally occur. In fact, conversations are the means to bring together disparate points of view because it requires the participants to be emotionally present in the here and now in order to do the digging. You can’t phone it in or do it remotely. Through conversation, incoherent or missing data can be made visible and be in effect “repaired”, nurturing increased awareness and a balanced sense of self. In this context, conversations are an effective tool for sensemaking and fostering a deeper appreciation of what it means to be human. Each person’s point of view is held in equal regard and, of course, without fear or prejudice.
Conversations are also the key to knowing how we feel because we are biologically wired to connect with the human village. How we feel in any given moment is never a subjective question. It’s always familial and social. We’re OK if the “village” is OK. It’s a ring of confidence where shared responsibilities have primacy over individual needs. A perceived problem in the present may well have its source in the buried narratives of the past. Deep as they may be, they remain fed and sustained by an emotional umbilical cord that binds past and present into a singular moment.
How Are We Feeling?
Often the questions we explore together in such conversation spaces are silently and gently exfoliating the layers of dead skin in a sort of archaeological dig of mutual self-discovery. While the questions are revealing the narratives of past endeavour they also at the same time shaping the future by allowing new sensibilities to redefine what was once acceptable, ignored or tolerated. Transformation ensues. In recent years the “me too” and “black lives matter” movements stand out as striking examples of this new type of socio-cultural phenomena. Yet still, there remains one question we all struggle with and that is “how are you feeling right now?”
It’s a question we’re conditioned to avoid with stock responses that are supposed to represent a healthy boundary between the unspeakable and the unknowable. In other words, it’s complicated and we humans are not great with ”complicated”. As the volume of data we’re exposed to in our daily lives continues to rise, the past and the future are no longer far away, foreign places. They are in easy reach of simple inquiry and we begin to see more clearly why they are part of our here and now. The recalibrated sense of empathy that comes through careful listening and constructive questioning is the key to restoring the buried narratives of social inclusion and closing the generation gap once and for all.