Learning With Community Organizers

Some of the people that have really influenced my learning on working with groups are Community Organizers. This is work that is about justice. About equity. Inclusion. Diversity. Power. Systemic things. These are people that are committed to pressing and important causes and initiatives. At the heart of it, community organizers are calling people to be in truth-telling together. Conceptually, and in the heart, and with boots taking steps on the ground.

Recently I was in a conversation with some of these organizers that I’m most closely connected to and that I most admire. It was a reflective conversation, that had me feeling a still quality, like that of this calm lake. We spoke to a simple question — what is some of your key learning about contributing health and well-being to community organizers? Below are a few highlights from what they shared. Next to each, I’ve added short reflection on a value that goes with such learning.

  • Sometimes the conversation that we thought we were going to have, or supposed to have, is not the conversation we needed. — This is true everywhere, right. Ability to get started, and then pivot with what arises, is part of the gift that we can offer with each other in groups and teams. To help each other find our way deeper to purpose.
  • Make learning as personal as possible. — This learning is an interruption to the patterns of meeting that falsely decouple what is professional and what is personal. It points us to welcoming the personal, insisting upon more integration rather than more separation. For those of us trying to get “others” in the room, showing up with more presence, our first job is to get ourselves in the room.
  • We have to be willing to face our tensions, and follow them through to the gifts that they uniquely have to offer. — Yes, which I would suggest includes wisdom to know that though tensions may not be resolved, willingness to explore and learn from them matter.
  • When clear on what we can’t hold, we get clear on what we can hold. — Clarity will always matter. Honesty will always matter. Removing ourselves from imposed narratives of “can’t = failure” matters. Rather, I would suggest we are all doing our best to contribute. Humility from the “can’t” gives us power in the “can.”
  • If you think the work is only healing “out there,” and not “in here,” you’re really wrong. — So many organizing institutions have focused mass energy on what is out there, neglecting the inner world of people involved in the good work. Are there times when the boots on ground work overwhelms? Of course. We do our best. Yet, as pattern, if we hide our inner work, supplanting it with outer work, eventually we reach dead end roads. The inner work that includes self care, reflective practice, gives us more through-roads to continue the journey with wholeness and healing commitment.

It is powerful to me to see such a competent and powerful group of people affirming the essentialness of inner work that helps sustain the outer work. It is powerful to see any of us in learning that grows capacity to connect the longer arc of things with the present moment, with the 15 minutes that are in front of us. It is powerful to witness smart and intelligent leaders stand for not just doing, but for the wellness that is being.

With gratitude to Darsheel, Stu, Bianca, Prentiss, Quanita.

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