Is Art of Hosting a Thing?

In nearly 20 years of practice with Art of Hosting, “Is the Art of Hosting a thing?” has been the question most often not spoken, but most present behind many AoH related questions. It seems that many people who first learn of AoH, and who are drawn to how deliciously useful it is, have impulse to concretize what is meant to be fluid. Such is one of the challenges of the times in which we live, that have become so overrun with default disposition toward transactional reductionism.

To be clear, if you live in these times, chances are, you are both rebelling against the reductive tendency, and, contributing to it. I do. But that is what so often defines a transformative translation dance. You get some right, or closer to what is most accurate. You get some wrong, or that move further from what is most accurate. In my graduate school days, I learned from one friend and professor that words themselves are a “representative system of symbols.” Words themselves are a tool to give us one way of accessing what really is. But words, fantastic as they are, are still only symbols that reflect reality — not the reality itself.

So, with that said, here goes another version for me to point to more of what is more accurate when I bump into others, or myself, thinking about Art of Hosting as a thing.

Art of Hosting is no more a thing than a family, a community, nor a city is a thing. You don’t “do” a family if first encountering it (I’m thinking of meeting inlaws, or getting to a once-a-decade family reunion). You don’t “do” a community (there is so much that is varied and unfolding real time). You don’t “do” a city when you have 3 days to visit it (you can plan a few highlights to see, but truth is, at best you encounter a city, some of it).

With each of these above, and with Art of Hosting, in the “not thing” version, I would suggest that you get to know a few people as you create a beginning of a relationship. You begin a practice of being in relationship in a different way that changes who you are, who “they” are, and who “we” are. You enter an arena in which the illusion of separation is momentarily dropped, to recall an already existing connective tissue together. And that changes the landscape. Not as a thing — it isn’t buying frying pan. But as a way of changing, and I would say, making more healthy, the irrepressible changes that are ahead.

Art of Hosting isn’t done. It too, is encountered in a way that creates the connective tissues of mutual attraction, creativity, animation, awareness, and contribution. Not a thing. A practice that is the full range from tools, to communal way of being, both, and all in between, to be used with creativity and innovation that is so much beyond “thing”.

I’m grateful for the practice of 20 years that continues to grow and change me and those that I’m with.

Conversation – Connection – Resonance

I continue to appreciate the work that many practitioners offer to help create a narrative for what many of us are up to in the work of circle-based change. The story shapes our attending, individually and collectively. The attending, collectively and individually,  shapes the story.

My story of what many of us are up to has been very influenced over the last 20 years by Margaret Wheatley (organizations are living systems), and Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea (circle as first and future culture). My story of what we are up to continues to be shaped by day to day interactions with colleagues. Some of these are brief moments, a long overdue phone call over tea. Some of these day to day interactions are with colleagues with whom I speak regularly.

No matter the narrative, and no matter the story, it will always be code for something more. The shadows in Plato’s Cave are only representations that give us something to work with.

This morning I read David Gurteen‘s definition of conversational leadership. I don’t know David personally. But I know more of myself through his words.

Conversational Leadership is about taking responsibility for the changes we wish to see in the world, recognizing the extraordinary and underutilized power of face-to-face conversation and adopting a conversational approach to the way in which we live and work with each other.

Beautiful, right. Why talk? To take responsibility. To connect with live-giving intelligence. To integrate work and life. Yup, that’s good.

“Why talk?” is foundational question — check out this post on “Four Pillars” that I use often.

I often position my work through The Art of Hosting as “conversational.” Yet, it is my experience over the last ten years in particular, that I cringe just a bit when I hear my own words. Why? Because when I look beyond the shadows in the cave, I keep seeing more layers, all good, and yet all incomplete. I would suggest that incompleteness, by the way, is not a failure, but rather, a disciplined way of living into the future.

For me, “Conversational” is code for “connectional.” There are, after all, many ways to connect. Words are a very important part of that. But so is silence. So is play. So is song. So is doing the dishes together. The leadership part of this for me is most often oriented to developing better ability to tend at the layer of the system. When my teen son wants to skip out of school and feigns a bit of sickness so that I’ll pick him up, there is more at play than just this moment. Trust, in the system that is he and me, is the long game.

“Connectional” is code for “resonance-based.” In the dimensional world that is time, space, and gravity, we are bound to many more mechanical images that masquerade over equally needed relationships with things less visible. It has become one of my most trusted operating principles, that there is always more unseen than seen, there is always more unknown that known. This orientation of layered representational symbols, is known through resonance with each other — that feeling of “this shit really works.”

I’m grateful for colleagues and practitioners who continue to clarify the story. Some stories loop around, coming to prominence for a time, then drifting to distant awareness for another time, then back to acute poignancy.

The circle-based work I continue to evolve with good colleagues continues.

This is the work of us as practitioners to influence the story and practice of our times.

Four Pillars — Why Talk?

Over the years, I’ve come to claim four pillars — four weight-bearing columns — that help me respond to people asking the question, “Why talk?” Sometimes the question is nuanced — “Why engage with a group?” Sometimes, the question is buried beneath piles of assumptions and efficiency habits — “Talking is nice but isn’t it really a waste of time? We don’t have time to be nice here.”

These pillars are simple. Yet have significant impact to dialogic design and encountering the subtle energy and less visible belief systems that accompany people into a room. Pillars. Not two by fours. Not willow sticks. Pillars hold up very large structures. In this case, the very large platform of trusting the imperative of working together, not just separately (though this too is essential within working together).

  • Who we are together is different and more than who we are alone. This is one that I learned over and over with Margaret Wheatley. Since the early 90s she has been encouraging people to see systemically, knowing that engagement with one another gives us access to a magic, or difference, of who we are together. It is a principle of “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
  • 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. In human systems, talking and listening are part of that, right. Telling stories. Sharing observations. Asking questions of each other. Creating a healthy system is the work of leadership. For the long term.
  • 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. Dialogue is a way to create together. To create thought. To create perspective. To create purpose. To create a narrative arc to hold many, many snippets of experience.
  • 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. It takes courage to go together. Patience too. But it’s not grand news to most of us. It just takes perseverance to undo a paradigm of entrenched thought and hallowed habit of individualism.

I love asking people to reflect on these pillars. And to ask them to notice their own pillars that guide their work. Consciousness of story, found in pillars, will never sell you short.