Head, Heart, Belly

I’m thinking of creating an exercise that I might use in the coming weeks. It combines three layers of engagement with three most basic questions.

The layers of engagement are head, heart, and belly. When I think of these layers I still think of Jane Lindsay, a colleague and friend in Ottawa, Ontario that I worked with a few times five to six years ago. Jane would have people very deliberately speak from these layers. For example, “Say a bit about why being at this event matters to you.” In partners, I remember her having us pair up to speak first from mind. Then from heart, which tended to drop it down a bit. Then from belly, which dropped it even further. It was all a simple process of getting more honest with each other and with ourselves. There are many patterns to interrupt aren’t there — including just staying in our minds, albeit good minds.

The three questions I’m wanting to combine this with are some of the most basic in participatory process. Why talk? Why listen? Why harvest? I find that once people have had some experience with dialogue and engagement, the good experience of that is enough to compel them forward into this next layer of story under the story. They’ve tasted the goodness of good process together. They’ve typically tried some of it back in their offices or in their communities. They realize that they want to go just a bit deeper, and they begin looking for more explicit anchor points to those questions. It helps get rid of some nervousness. It helps ground the processes that they are leading.

I have a few anchors that help me with these questions. I think of them as four pillars.

If you want a system to be healthy, connect it to more of itself. This is a biological principle that I connect back to Humberto Maturana, the Chilean biologist and philosopher. Talking and listening are part of that, right. Telling stories. Sharing observations. Asking questions of each other. To create a healthy system, which is the work of leadership.

If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go further, go together. This is an African proverb that I learned in my early days with The Berkana Institute, where we were encouraging process to help us go together. To help us remember a kind of belonging together. Talking, listening, harvesting creates belonging.

People support what they create. This is a principle that starts to lead to action. It’s easy to get that people want to act together. People want to do good. Talking together creates essential condition for that action to occur in a more sustainable way. So does listening. So does harvesting.

Who we are together is different and more than who we are alone. This is one that I learned over and over with my friend, mentor, and colleague Margaret Wheatley. Sine the early 90s she has been encouraging people to see systemically, knowing that engagement with one another gives us access to the magic, or difference, of who we are together.

It’s basic, right. Sometimes, many of us just need a bit of permission to return to some basics to discover out loud, together, some of the things we already know. And that makes all the difference.

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