April 7, 2009

Action In These Difficult Times

This Living Room Dialogue was the fourth in a series on the economic downturn, following evenings during which participants explored how the economic climate has impacted individuals, communities, and the world at large. In addition to the topic in those meetings, the groups practiced various dialogue methods.

The dialogue method introduced at this meeting was one called "Appreciative Inquiry." At the opening of the meeting, the Network's program director, Pamela Zivari, explained some of the theory behind this method. It assumes that every community and every person has untapped skill and energy. It also assumes that it is best to approach change from a positive perspective. Instead of identifying what is wrong in a situation, Appreciative Inquiry affirms what is positive in what exists and what is best in us as we look forward.

Pamela gave the group three questions which were examined one at a time as participants passed a "talking stick" around the circle from one person to another.

Question 1. (Discovery) Introduce yourself. Then, without being modest, describe what you value most in the current economic situation. This can be what you value most about yourself and how you are responding to the situation, what you value in the community or world at large and how it is responding to the situation.

Some respondents said they appreciated the revelations about the truths about the countrys banking system that have been exposed, showing that the emperor has no clothes. This has led, others indicated, to people re-evaluating their ways of living, moving from a throw away economy and material values toward one which fosters closer relationships with friends and family and a revived interest in spiritual values. Volunteerism is increasing as unemployed people find ways to be of use while looking for new sources of income.

One person noted that advocates for alternative sources of energy and other environmental changes are now receiving more attention and enjoying a new credibility. Another person said she thought the financial losses some have been experiencing for the first time are making them more understanding of the struggles of poor people and a heightened awareness of our connections with people all over the world. One person said she thought the crisis can be a great equalizer in that respect.

Several people said they have appreciated the changed leadership in the country, especially change in the values that the President has been articulating and the overall rhetorical tone of the new administration.

Question 2. (Dream) What might be some enjoyable or productive actions you might envision in this current economic climate? These could be taken by your or anyone.

This question led one participant to reflect on Martin Luther King and the dream of equality he described. She said theres now a person in the White House who is trying to keep his promises, does not resort to name-calling and shows respect for people and nations.

Other dreams that were expressed included more room in peoples lives for reflection and creativity, and perhaps more opportunities to choose satisfying work based on following hearts rather than on financial advantage.

A person who owns a house welcomed the possibility that some people who were not able to consider buying a home in the recent real estate market might now be able to find something affordable. A third person raised a bigger question about private property by saying she had never understood why owning a piece of land entitled the owner to the oil, minerals or water underneath it. Her dream would be that ways would be found so such blessings of the earth could be shared among all people, be conserved and used thoughtfully.

After expressing a desire for more private incentive that would support brains and courage, one person said she thought poor people needed to change their attitudes and to be educated to earn their keep.

At the same time, another person dreamed of playing a small part in helping people in the U.S. to understand our own history better, especially how wealth came to accrue to white people. This would make it possible for more people to realize how people of color are unable to fulfill their dreams. For a period of our history, for instance, only white people could be landowners, a policy that excluded slaves and other minorities. To this day, she said, for every $100 in wealth white people hold in this country, an African American has 10 cents.

Question 3. (Design and Destiny) Imagine your community or world ten years from now when everything is as you wished it to be. What is different? How have you contributed to it?

A person who works with poor people said in her new world every child would live in an environment where their potential could flourish. Their parents would have good jobs and the schools would have small classes and opportunities for creativity. She would contribute to this through teaching in a college or university.

Refusing to limit herself to what might be possible in ten years, one person imagined a world where there were no nuclear weapons being held over our heads and where the planets resources were being shared among nations, avoiding wars of all-against-all in a battle for survival. She wanted to find ways to work toward that world.

Holding more realistically to what might be possible in ten years, another person envisioned universal health care, good schools available all over the country with well prepared and well paid teachers, and pay differentials between executives and workers reduced to 16 to 1.

In one persons world, all the automakers would have failed by 2010 and lots of people would be riding bicycles. People would live close to their work, with local neighborhoods offering great child care centers with parents sharing responsibilities.

Many in the group imagined a world with adequate housing, health care, and superior education, but one person called for a different consciousness as well, one in which it was understood that diversity does not mean adversity. It would be understood that all persons have hopes, whatever their backgrounds.

In a final evaluation, participants who spoke said they liked the process. As one person put it, using the talking stick slows things down, allowing time for reflection. Participants also liked thinking about the times we are in without getting mired in bleakness. The thinking of the group showed hopes and good energy.


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