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Oct 15 11

How Madness Transforms into Love

by eloepthien

I’ve always wondered why it is a part of our nature to argue in ways that hurt – even though this seemingly never makes anything better, especially not in the long run. Brain research and psychology have been telling us for many years now, that we as humans are social beings that strive towards connection. We benefit each other and ourselves most by cooperating, mutual supporting and showing kindness to each other.  Yet there is hurt happening between us all over the place and it sometimes seems to hold us captive in vicious circles of hate and hate back.

Just recently I stumbled across a video training lesson by the Robbins&Madanes Training Center, talking about relationships and trust. The message in there really struck me.

Because of past and present experiences we sometimes lose trust in our partner’s ability and willingness to love and support us.

Now nature has come up with an amazing gift that allows us to re-build trust within a very short time – even when it had gotten lost over the course of many days or weeks or months.

This gift is our ability to hurt, to argue and to fight. As when we show such “bad” behavior we actually offer our partner the chance to prove his trustworthiness by showing us that we are loved even when we misbehave so badly.

Our longing to be loved unconditionally can only be proofed fulfilled by NOT complying with what our partners would like to get from us right now.

The greatest trust is formed in moments of difficulty and stress

So when it feels like our needs are not getting met in a relationship, we start to test where we are really at. Children do this all the time, like my little son on the picture, who wants to know if he is loved even when he is fighting with a spate.

Our partners and friends do it as well. By seeing their disturbing words and actions as what they really are – a cry for love, support and appreciation – we can actually turn an argument into a source of deep trust and allow it to serve the purpose that nature might have intended for it : to rejuvenate and strengthen our relationships.

The first step here is to respect our partners true intentions. Many times we just misunderstand their perspective and don’t ask the right questions to find out what is really going on for them. When we can find the good intention in the other person, we will understand all the rest to and can go on together.

At the same time we can be more conscious with how and why we start to argue. Maybe we are so tired and angry from feeling worthless and not loved now or as a child, that arguing has become our constant mode of relating.

In this case it can help to ask ourselves some questions and to feel into what deeper need is expressing itself inside:

  • Are there areas in my relationship where I don’t feel trust?
  • Were there moments in my life when love was taken away from me? How did I react?
  • How would I know if my partner loved me?
  • What needs to happen in order for me to feel loved? What do others need to say or do to make me feel loved?

You can watch the video for free at the Robbins&Madanes Training Center.

Jun 2 11

All About Connection

by eloepthien

When we connect “[…] we experience a resonance of our two brains, our two limbic systems, and our central nervous system begins to calm down. Our brain is the only organ that does not regulate from within, it regulates on the outside through another brain. We need each other to regulate our brains.“ Hedy Schleifer at TEDxTelAviv

Just listened to Hedy Schleifer’s TED talk. She and her husband Yumi are psychologists teaching a unique integration of philosophy, appreciative inquiry, relationship skills, re-evaluation counseling and much more. You can find their website at

She describes three invisible “connectors”:

1.     The SPACE between us all

Quoting the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber: „Our relationship lives in the space between us. It doesn’t live in me or in you or even in the dialogue between the two of us. It lives in the space that we live together. That space is sacred space.”

Hedy Schleifer says that if we don’t know how to live in this space, we will actually pollute it. This happens with a word, look, reaction, withdrawal, criticism or judgement. All this is making the space uncomfortable, even dangerous, until we can stand it no more and start to react – by either exploding or withdrawing. We are reacting to the danger and pollution that we have co-created in the first place.

How can we change this dynamic?

2.     The BRIDGE to the other being

We would need to bring our full presence to the other person. First we ground ourselves, calm down, breath deeply and get present. Feel thankful for being alive in this moment. We then need to walk consciously und deliberately and leave behind on our side whatever we think we are.

Hedy Schleifer tells us to not to bring anything from us to the other side of the bridge. Instead listen with an open heart and see with new eyes and mirror back what we are hearing and seeing: “I hear you say…, did I get you…?” This is where the true encounter starts, she says.

3. Meeting the ESSENCE of the other

Next thing we know, we experience resonance of our two brains. Creating a connection leads to our two limbic systems resonating together. As a result our central nervous system begins to calm down. Our brain is the only organ that does not regulate from within, it regulates on the outside through another brain. We need each other.

Our mirror neurons become alive during the encounter and the plasticity of our brain allows it to grow more empathetic and relationally intelligent.  All this happens on the measurable level of biological facts.

The Other Dimension and “Goldberg’s Survival Suite Story”

Now what is this essence of ours? What is our soul? Hedy Schleifer tells a Jewish story to illustrate it:

Mr. Goldberg the tailor is visited by a customer who wants to buy a suit. The man says to him: “Oh, this sleeve does’nt fit at all.“ “Yes, answers Mr. Goldberg, for that sleeve, you need to hold your hand like that.” “Oh, ok”, says the man and holds his hand like he is asked to. “Well, but look at this arm, and this leg, they do not fit either.” Mr. Goldberg gives him more instructions how to position his other arm, leg and shoulder, and being fine with the result, the man pays and leaves the store.  As he walks out, a woman passes by and sees him. She bursts out: „What an amazing tailor! Look, he made something for a man in this condition and the suit fits him perfectly!“

We are this man, says Hedy Schleifer. We have accumulated so much stuff around our essence and think this stuff is us, whereas in reality this is just a survival suit. Inside this stuff and our polluted thinking and feeling we are our essence. Now in the moments when we truly connect, our spirit is being nourished and our essence becomes revealed.

Transformation needs Connection

To me this moment carries the potential for transformation for both people, the one who is witnessing as well as the one who is witnessed. By crossing the bridge to another being, we are able to see things that we did not even know would exist. Our horizons can expand in unexpected ways, transforming our way of looking at the world, each other and ourselves.

Connecting to Nature

And this connection is not only possible between human beings, but also between us and nature. Everyone having a pet knows that. Animals help us to cross the bridge without our survival suit because they often don’t wear one at all. They show their essence freely, witness our essence first and help us open up and clear the relational space between us.

The same thing happens when you’re outside in nature in an open, aware and somewhat meditative state of not thinking very much, instead letting in what surrounds you. For a child this means self-forgotten, unstructured play outdoors or gazing at a fire like the boy in the picture. For an adult it can be sitting still, laying on the back to watch the clouds or gardening. All this has the same calming effect on our nervous system and the reason for me is that it is as well connecting in a deep way, meeting the essence of another natural being, may it be a plant, a cloud or our mother Earth.

Connections – Connectors – Connectivity

It seems that the more we connect with others and with nature, that for one, these individuals and beings can reconnect quicker and quicker. When I go to my sitspot at one particular tree, the moment my body touches the trunk I can feel my own essence stronger again. This tree has become an anchor for me, just as my best friends, who make it easier and easier for me to cross the bridge and leave behind what is not serving me nor them.  The beings I connect with often have become especially powerful connectors in my life. Also the beings that I generally spent more quality connection time with than having just random interactions, which is evident when I meet people again that I have seen only once in my life, e.g. when traveling, or when I go to places in nature where I deeply immersed myself, even if it was just once.

The other effect I have observed, is that when I connect more often, my connectivity seems to be heightened even with new persons and beings. As if with more and more visits to the essence, the pile of stuff in between becomes smaller and smaller. And in children as well as adults I can see how connecting is possible even beyond the realm of conversations, by creating a thoughtless open space for an encounter, something we often just call “play”.

Culture of Connection

At a program where connection is being fostered, it almost seems like a field is being created that makes it easier for anybody to open up and cross the bridge to one another. To me this proves that connection is really contagious AND that a culture of connection is actually possible. If it works on this micro-level, why couldn’t it work for a whole tribe? A whole nation? It reminds me of many stories I heard about the San bushmen of the Kalahari who survived centuries of oppression keeping an incredible lightheartedness. Their childlike happiness often used to be disregarded as naiveté, until they started to share about their complex spiritual world view with researchers like Bradford Keeney.

Like many indigenous cultures they regard connection as a core element in the universe. They see all beings as connected through ropes that go from belly-button to belly-button. These ropes get thicker as the connection is growing.

Clearing the Cluttered Space

What the San also have is a sophisticated system for clearing the cluttered space. In a recent conversation with nature connection mentor Jon Young, who visited the San in the last two years, he explained to me that the bushmen’s trance dance can completely clear the air from any tension among the people. Other indigenous people have rituals around grief and anger, too, like this grieving ritual of the Dagara people in Burkina Faso, shared by Sobonfu Somé who lives half a year in her traditional village and travels the rest of the time teaching people in many other countries of the world.

At a workshop in California in spring 2010 she emphasized how essential it is that grief needs to be witnessed by others. So here again we have the need for connection for us to be able to see and feel our own essence as well as the essence of the people around us.

Honoring the Bridge

Hedy Schleifer closes her TED-talk with the vision of an International Day for Crossing the Bridge, starting some time in fall 2012. My idea is to take some time every day to reflect on how and to whom I have crossed the bridge and to also talk to my 4year-old son about his daily experience with me and with other people and the beings in nature.

A really powerful tool to use among people can be two questions to ask your friends:

When do you feel connected to me?


When do you feel disconnected?

A Blessing from Neuroscience

According to the German neuroscientist Gerald Hüther connection is one of two primary life experiences that already an unborn baby makes. We are wired to re-seek this experience throughout our lives and it will always be one of our deepest longings as well as greatest pleasures.

The other primary experience is growth, our ability to meet challenges. Now isn’t it amazing that we can actually grow best right when we are connecting?

…and from Eastern Philosophy

In Taiji I heard was the idea of a mysterious Silver Line in the yin-yang symbol between the swerves of black and white. It was said to be at the essence of the Taiji practice and it reminds me of the Sacred Space mentioned in the Martin Buber quote in the beginning. Sobonfu Somé calls this third entity the “Spirit of Intimacy”. To me it is a magical place in between you and me and all of us, where all creativity is born.

Jan 23 11

Turn the Action Learning Wheel

by eloepthien

This is a model for an Action Learning cycle for designing projects and learning experiences.

I merged this model from two sources for personal growth and learning, which I have been using a lot in the last few years:

1.       The 8 Shields Model that is based on indigenous Medicine Wheels and was created by Jon Young and other specialists in Nature Connection Mentoring (find more information here)

2.       Five components needed for effective Action Learning, as applied by Gaia University International.

Let’s take a look at the wheel, starting on the right side in the East, and read below the graphic for details of each direction.

East – Inspiration, Questioning, Conceptualization

When I get inspired and electrified about something, I love to pull in theories, models, myth and metaphors that feed the germinating seed of my inspiration. I try to come up with questions that really matter (also see this post on the Art of Questioning). I follow my intuition and draw from my logical and systems thinking as well as from the diversity of teachings and projects that are already out there to generate meaning and arrive at understandings of how to proceed. The ultimate goal is to bring whatever I am inspired about into my live or into the world around me.

South East – Active Experimentation/ Rapid Prototyping

Be playful and inventive! Here you design and operate a pilot or trial project, a rapid prototype that is easy to start and get’s you going quickly. Use this to keep the risk low and still be able to check the validity of your (project) idea, before rolling out full scale projects.  Instead of getting stuck in thinking things out to the n’th degree we can get into a getting-things-done-mode quickly, which allows for a smooth and gradual transition into the next phase

South – Concrete Experience/ Awareness in Action

Focus on the realization of your project while constantly balancing action and thought. Choose thoughtfully and intuitively when and how to act and make modifications as you go. Look for the opportunities in all constraints you are facing and remember to build good relationships with the people involved as you are progressing.

South West – Reflective Observation

Take a break and relax. Create the time, space and alliances that you need for reflecting what you did and where you’re going. Look thoroughly and from different perspectives and ask for other peoples’ feedback.

West – Appraisal of Outcome

Remember to celebrate yours and your teams’ and collaborators’ success. Give thanks to all the known and unknown contributors and party.

North West – Depth and Meaning

Take time to ask deeper questions: Why did I pursue this project? What does all this have to do with my lineage, my ancestors? What are the wounds that can be healed by me doing this? What is left unsaid/undone?

North – Integration and Critical Thinking

Merge everything you did, experienced, perceived, learned and understood. Are the insights arising from your own, first-hand experience in balance with the thinking of others in relevant fields? What is different and why? How can you enrich other areas in your life, your community or the field with what you came up? How can you scale up to make this available for more people to benefit?

North East – Vacuum and Vision

This is the moment where one action learning cycle ends and a new one begins. It might come with some dark emptiness which you might look forward to or fear, but which will eventually give birth to a new vision for a new endeavor.  You are asked to surrender and to potentially let some old paradigms and patterns fall apart, in order to create space for something new.

How do you like this model? I would love to hear your comment, especially if you’re going to try this model in your personal or professional lives. Any ideas are welcome!

Nov 23 10

Sisters in Spirit

by eloepthien

“[…] no rebellion has been of like importance with that of Women against the tyranny of Church and State; none has had its far-reaching effects. We note in the beginning; its progress will overthrow every existing form of these institutions; its end will be a regenerated world.
Matilda Joslyn Gage (zit. in ROESCH-WAGNER 2001)

Unequal Sisters

What was the origin of the women’s movement? According to Wikipedia the equality of the sexes came first up as a topic during the French Revolution. However, the first wave of feminism started in the USA and found its political expression in 1848 in the Seneca Falls Declaration, which was the result of a first large women’s gathering and a milestone towards women’s right to vote.

The vision of equality for women was revolutionary. Where did it come from? At that time the women had hardly more rights than slaves, no own possessions, no right to be with their children, no right for protection against violence and rape in their marriages. The vision seemed to have come literally out of nowhere to the women that were so enslaved.

What history did not tell us so far is now finally being published: The source of inspiration for the first feminists were other women, women that had more rights than their white sisters would dare to even dream about – the women of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) (ROESCH-WAGNER 2001).

In Balance

In the Haudenosaunee culture men, women and children had the same spiritual, human and political rights. Everyone could anytime voice their opinion and know that their voice would be heard, describes Jeanne Shenandoah in her introduction to the book „Sisters in Spirit. Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influence on Early American Feminists“ von Sally Roesch Wagner. Back then there was lively exchange and friendship happening between women of both cultures. A few early feminists had even been adopted into the indigenous tribes and had native names in addition to their European names. What was it like for them to experience so much freedom and sovereignty in their neighbors?

Today it is almost impossible to imagine how different life was for women in these two cultures:

Euro-American women had to cope with:

  • children being the sole property of their fathers
  • men having the legal right and the religious responsibility to physically discipline their wives
  • unhealthy, restrictive, even dangerous clothing
  • drudgery home work, done in isolation from other women and under the authority of the husband
  • losing the right to own their land, bodies or children when they got married
  • hardly any opportunity to earn money so that they would be forced to get married
  • their own religion defining that women are fundamentally flawed and therefore need to be subordinated
  • no feminine deities and a spirituality that was totally removed from the earth
  • being not allowed to even speak in church
  • no right to vote and no right to hold political offices
  • all decisions being made by men and majorities

In contrast the Haudenosaunee women enjoyed a live as equal members of their tribes and nations:

  • children belonged to the clan of their mothers
  • violens against women was no part of the culture and seriously dealt with when it occurred
  • clothing fostered health and secured freedom of movement and independence
  • women held responsibilities that had a spiritual basis
  • their work was satisfying and done communally with other women
  • they were responsible for agriculture as well as home life
  • work was done under the direction of other women, and many women were working together
  • each woman controls her own personal property
  • ”Sky Woman“ was a spiritual being that was understood as a catalyst for the world we see
  • Mother Earth and women were seen as spiritually interrelated
  • Women held responsibilities in ceremony and these were in balance with those of men
  • Women chose who would become Chief
  • Women held key political offices (e.g. clan mothers)
  • The Law of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy ensured women’s political authority
  • All decisions were made by consensus, everyone had a voice

Where are we at today?
Where are we at in our society at large and where within our smaller cycles of influence and community?

Sep 20 10

Hawaiian Conflict Resolution Cocktail

by eloepthien

The Hawaiian islands, that offer so much abundance and beauty on a tiny space, are a source for great wisdom for community living. The Hawaiians, who spent months in one canoe with their whole families (including mother in laws), know how to embrace conflict and harvest the sweet fruits of connection and creativity that are hidden inside of it.

At a recent workshop in Waldenburg, Germany I met the Hawaiian teacher M. Kalani Souza*, who is one of the few natives that were taught the old ways. Among a wealth of other things, he shared some quick steps and principles for embracing conflict. It is best to practice these standing up with movement. As in the moment of crisis we need to have a trained response reflex in our bodies that prevents us from backing away.

Become a Cowboy

Stand with your legs shoulder wide apart and put your right hand into the back pocket of your pants. Imagine an offense and pull out your hand as quickly as possible, like a cowboy his colt. Hold it up with your palm towards your face. “Write” a message onto this hand, remember it always and read it out aloud as you pull the hand up:

“Conflict is an opportunity for positive change! Or in short: Conflict is a chance.”

These statements are true, as most of us have experienced at least a few times. They help us to not shrink back when the heat arises, but to stay and get ready to work it out. Only when we stay, we will be able to harvest the sweet fruits of opportunity that this conflict brought to us.

Now keep holding your hand up and turn it around, so that its backside is facing you. “Write” the second message on this side of the hand:

“People are reasonable! If they act unreasonably, it is for a good reason.”

It is especially hard to embrace a conflict with a partner that is acting irrationally angry or hurt. Yet this is a reaction that has a reason and that makes perfect sense for that person in that moment. Open your heart to listen to what that person says, so he or she can get a chance to decompress. Let them tell their story and keep asking the question “Why?”. If not to them, ask yourself, what the reasons for this could be. We will experience that after the storm peace comes and even gratitude. Your partner will be grateful for you bearing witness for his or her emotions that needed to be expressed.

Now, while keeping your right hand up, pull your left hand up, too, the palm towards your face. Connect this side of this hand with the third message, copied from a Rolling Stones’ song. You can say it aloud or even better sing it:

“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you may find that you get what you need.”

We know what this means. It is at the same time hard to accept as well as a big relieve to see that what we want isn’t always what we need. It is important to know as clearly as possible what it is that we need, because that need is fundamental for the resolution of our conflict. Being really transparent about your needs can save so much time and energy.

The last step is to turn that left hand around, too. The backside, that is now facing you, stands for two questions that help you determine your strategy. Look at your hand and say aloud these two questions:
1. What relationship do I want with this person?
2. What is my goal?

Practice this routine as often as you can, to get it into your body. And read on for an intro to

The Five Strategies in Dealing with Conflict

1. Avoidance: The turtle pulls head and legs in and is just not available. This makes sense when neither the relationship is important to you, nor you are pursuing a special goal. Total strangers that cut into the line in front of you could be an example for this.

2. Competition: The shark has a high priority goal, which is to eat you, and it does not care about your relationship at all. Playing the competitive role feels rude and in my opinion it mostly is, but in situations where your goal is important and the relationship is not, it might make sense.

3. Accommodation: The teddy bear has big ears as in good listener and his mouth cannot talk. It says “whatever you want is fine with me” all the time. Someone that always plays out this strategy will suffer from loss of self-worth. In situations when you do not have an important goal in mind and you care a lot about the relationship, it could be a good choice to accommodate.

4. Compromise: What is often called the ideal way to solve a conflict is in fact just postponing the battle. The fox is smart and keeps suggesting new compromises to get someone to give up what they really need. In reality compromise often means that although everyone focuses on his or her own needs, nobody’s needs get met in the end, so frustration will be the result.

5. Collaboration: In any situation where we value the relationship AND want to reach a goal, we should go for nothing less than collaboration. The owl has big eyes and can see in the dark depths of the conflict. It is the one that keeps asking “Why” and thus it will find out the needs of the other person. A collaborative solution starts with one partner actually caring for the needs of the other more than for his own needs. This seems like a courageous step, but it is likely to work and trigger a response of the other caring back for our needs.
This whole set of movement that have a meaning is a great tool to be practiced playfully with adults and, in a varied form, with children as well.

* M. Kalani Souza is the chairman of the Indigenous Knowledge Hui of the Pacific Risk Management Ohana, a collection of federal, state, county and non governmental agencies who work primarily to mitigate and respond to disasters in the greater pacific region. He also serves as a cultural competency consultant for a variety of other organizations and networks and has many years of experience in practicing and teaching conflict resolution all over the world. As a “puna hele”, one who drinks from the source, he carries the ancestral knowledge and traditions of the Hawaiian people. You can find more information about him here:

Jul 24 10

A Pattern Language for Community Building

by eloepthien

The age of the leader as a person of charisma and fatherliness is over.

The present asks for community conveners who are able to create structures that give all power to the people.

Our collective intelligence and wisdom are the main resources to heal our human state of being and our relationship with the earth. So how can we unfold them?

The author and consultant Peter Block works mainly in the field of citizen empowerment and the reconciliation of community. In his book “Community. The Structure of Belonging“, he melts a variety of sources into a pattern language for creating structures for community building.

John McKnight

  • Focus on people’s GIFTS instead of their deficiencies and problems
  • Realize the limitations of professional systems that are capable of service, but not able to care. Instead create space for ASSOCIATIONAL LIFE, where people get together voluntarily to do good.
  • Have faith in the ability of people to identify and solve problems for themselves and support them in discovering their own POWER to act.

Werner Erhard and Landmark Education

  • A shift in speaking and listening is the essence of transformation. If we want change, we need to CHANGE OUR CONVERSATIONS.
  • By changing our relationship with the past and accepting the fact that our stories are our limitations we can CHOOSE A CONTEXT that better suits who we want to be.
  • By making a declaration of what we create every time we show up in the world we bring a POSSIBILITY into being, something that occurs on a moment to moment base.

Robert Putnam

  • Foster SOCIAL CAPITAL, which refers to social networks, norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance and trustworthiness.
  • Instead of solely relying on bonding social capital (networks that are generally more inward looking and composed of like minded people), it is important to focus on BRIDGING social capital that encompasses different types of people and tends to be more outward looking.

Christopher Alexander

  • Make sure that a quality of ALIVENESS is present in each step in the design and creation of the structure, for it to be present in the final product.
  • A sense of WHOLENESS grows out of a collection of seperate “centers”. Each center has a life or intensity which depends on the life or intensity of the others.
  • In architecture there are 15 patterns that create whole and alive centers, e.g. Deep Interlock, Ambiguity, Contrast, Roughness, Simplicity, Inner Calm, Non-Seperatedness and more
  • Transformation can only happen in an UNFOLDING way, wich means we need to give uncomfortable importance to every small step we take. Each DETAIL can become a center.

Peter Koestenbaum

  • Value ambiguity and anxiety as a natural condition of being human and APPRECIATE PARADOX.
  • Be willing to reframe, turn and even invert a QUESTION that creates depth and an opening for change to happen.
  • Acknowledge your FREEDOM to influence/create your own experience and accept the responsibility that goes with it.
  • Choose to BE ACCOUNTABLE and support others in accepting and acting on their freedom, too.

Large Group Methodology (e.g. The World Café)

  • People need to PARTICIPATE in deciding and creating something to become accountable and committed. And most people involved have access to the collective wisdom that can solve a problem.
  • Create any gathering or process always in such a way, that it is A LIVING EXAMPLE of what we want the future to be. This way the future already shows up as we are gathering.
  • All voices need to be heard but not necessarily all at the same time. Almost everything important happens in a SMALL GROUP first (six to twelve people).
  • Peer-to-peer interaction is where the most learning takes place.
  • Cultivate a BIAS TOWARDS THE FUTURE. Give little or no time to discussing the past or to areas where there will never be agreement anyway. One of the most powerful conversation starters to bring about self-organisation is “What do we want to create together?”
  • How we STRUCTURE THE GATHERING is as worthy of attention as the content or direct result of it.

David Bornstein

  • Sustainable changes in community occur locally, grassrooty and on a SMALL SCALE.
  • They happen SLOWLY.

Allan Cohen

  • EMERGENCE: Effective change strategies begin with a sense of purpose and the commitment to bring something into the world. Then you need to acknowledge that organizations are evolving by always learning and adapting. So as you are creating, watch what emerges, pause, reflect and correct the course.
  • Consider to CHANGE THE CONDITIONS that an intention is acted upon. An example would be to “herd” cats (which is considered impossible) by tilting the floor.

(PHOTOGRAPH: Community Conversation as taken by the author at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, CA.)

Block’s book is rich in more tipps, details and real life examples. You can find out more by clicking the link below.

Jun 25 10

Tribal Team Magic – The Secrets of Amazing Group Experiences

by eloepthien

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can
change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Some group experiences in my life felt
just as transformative and magical as falling in love. Why? Bellman and
Ryan studied the secret ingredients of extraordinary groups – made of
perfectly ordinary people.

What a Group Needs

We all share the instinct to group
together. To make it a nourishing
experience there are three interconnected and dynamic needs to pay
attention to.

1. Growing towards ones Potential
Let all members know who they are and support them in expressing and
appreciating     themselves.
Help each other to sense one’s full potential and support each other in
growing towards your better selves and possibilities that lay ahead of
you. Allow each other to jump in with enthusiasm, even beyond set
roles. Celebrate when the actions are passionate or even chaotic. Look
out for unexpected learning along the way.

2. Joining for Purpose
Develop a shared sense of identity by knowing who you are together and
creating safe space for each other. Each one is playing their part. The
leadership is shared and individuals take on responsibilities mutually.
Create little but just enough structure, so that the members can move
forward with confidence.
Be present for the reason that you came together, move in the same
direction, influence and count on each other .
Facilitate your group process towards a joint purpose, bring lightness
and humor and use conflict as a source of creativity.

3. Creating Change together
Be alert to the world around you, let yourself be intrigued and
understand and accept it as it is.
Set the intention to make the world a better place and get ready to
act. Find a purpose so compelling that the group project becomes a top
priority in the lives of its members.
You can be powerful together and you need each other to make a
difference. Set clear goals with flexible plans. Face into adversity
and resistance by keeping the group together.

A Source of True Transformation

As in Margaret Meads quote above I truly believe that small groups of
people can have a tremendous impact on the world. They certainly had in
my life. What are the groups that you are involved in right now? Can
you point out which of the group needs they are meeting and what is yet
missing? How could you influence these groups to create a more
transformative experience for everyone involved?
Find out more about Bellmann & Ryans book: “Extraordinary Groups –
How ordinary Teams achieve amazing results”

(Article originally published at Photograph
“A Tribal Team in a Tree” by T. Jackson 2010)

May 23 10

Clear the Air by Apologizing

by eloepthien

(This article was originally published on

An apology is the superglue of life.  It can repair just about anything.
Lynn Johnston

Lingering conflicts are certainly among the worst burdens in our professional and personal lives, don’t you think? Still we sometimes procrastinate clearing the air and uttering an apology seems to be the hardest thing in the world.

Aaron Lazare [1], professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been researching the psychology of shame, humiliation and apology for many years. In an article for the Berkeley Greater Good Science Center he offers four very simple steps that will make it easier for you to ask for forgiveness, while you will more likely be able to achieve release.

An effective apology consists of up to four parts (which might not all be needed depending on the situation).

1. Acknowledge clearly and completely the offense that you  have caused.

2. Explain where you came from, so that it becomes clear that an offense was neither intended nor meant personally, and that it is therefore unlikely to recur.

3. Express  remorse, shame or humility, to show that you as the offender recognizes the suffering of the one that felt offended.

4. Compensate in a real or symbolic way for your mistake.
When you are following these steps, you should be able to meet some of the psychological needs of the offended person. Keep in mind these goals:

1. Restoration of their dignity

2. Affirmation that you  share values, so that in this case you can agree on that the committed  harm was wrong.

3. Validation that the “victim” was not responsible for the offense.

4. Assurance that the offense will not happen again.

5. Reparative justice and  reparation when the offending party goes through some suffering or humiliation by admitting the wrongdoing and offering support or compensation.

6. Self-expression of the victim’s feelings toward the offender and about their losses.

Lazare’s insights seem to have been  known to the traditional Hawaiian people as well. Their  conflict resolution method is called Ho’oponopono, which means “making things more right[…] so that good relationships among the family […] can be re-established and preserved”.  During the elaborate process, the  mihi (the asking for and the granting of forgiveness) plays a very important role for the solving of larger and smaller conflicts. An authentic and earnest apology that will be rewarded by forgiveness is the first step and followed by finding together an appropriate form of compensation or resurrection.

Take the Time to Release – and Celebrate

After the the problem is solved, the offense was apologized for and got forgiven, the Hawaiians take a moment to fully release the conflict. This step is called kala. The air is clear again, the bond between the people is even stronger than before  and  creativity can flow freely again.

In our family we like to savor this moment by giving each other kisses or high fives. After all, the conflict turned out to be a gift  for each one of us, leaving us more connected and with greater understanding for each other than we had before.

What are your rituals around apologizing and forgiveness?

1 – Aaron Lazare, M.D., wrote an article about this for the Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley in California in 2004. He is chancellor, dean, and professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is a leading authority on the medical interview, the psychology of shame and humiliation, and apology. His most recent book is On Apology (Oxford University Press, 2004).

2 – Victoria Shook. (2002): Ho’oponopono. Contemporary Uses of a Hawaiian Problem Solving Process. University of Hawai’i Press. Honolulu. Page 10

Feb 15 10

Asking Questions with Power

by eloepthien

Based on “The Art of Powerful Questions” (Vogt et al. 2003). This Article was originally published at

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
Albert Einstein

How much time to you usually spend determining what the important questions are? I am frequently noticing that I take action too quickly, realizing only later where the greater opportunities of a situation could have been found. As many other people today, I am trained to come up with answers quickly, instead of looking for a question that might lead out of the mind’s box into the yet unknown.

Take the Time to Ask Powerful Questions…

Finetune the Three Dimensions of a Question

1. The CONSTRUCTION of a Question

Use open questions; no yes-or-no questions and no either-or questions. Play with the varying power they get by beginning with WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHICH, WHY or HOW. Find an example and make up different options right now.

2. The SCOPE of a Question

The scope should match your needs. Look at these four questions:
A) How can we best design our garden?
B) How can we best design our street?
C) How can we best design our town?

D) How can we best design the world?
Whereas the last question takes the listener outside of the scope of (most) people’s ability to act effectively, the first questions are empowering and invite someone to expand his or her thinking to what is possible.

3. The ASSUMPTIONS within the Question

Be aware that you are transporting assumptions and paradigms with each question you ask. Compare the difference between these two questions:
A) What did we do wrong and who is responsible?
B) What can we learn from what happened and what possibilities do we now see?
By reframing a question in this way we can leave our own paradigms behind and create completely new possibilities for action.

Checklist for Powerful Questions

(Adapted from S. A. Rot, Public Conversations Project c. 1998, in VOGT et al.)

  • Is this question relevant to the real life and real work of the people who will be exploring it?
  • Is this a genuine question—a question to which I/we really don’t know the answer?
  • What “work” do I want this question to do? That is, what kind of conversation, meanings, and feelings do I imagine this question will evoke in those who will be exploring it?
  • Is this question likely to invite fresh thinking/feeling? Is it familiar enough to be recognizable and relevant—and different enough to call forward a new response?
  • What assumptions or beliefs are embedded in the way this question is constructed? Is this question likely to generate hope, imagination, engagement, creative action, and new possibilities or is it likely to increase a focus on past problems and obstacles?
  • Does this question leave room for new and different questions to be raised as the initial question is explored?

Examples of Powerful Questions

Questions for Focusing Collective Attention on Your Situation

  • What question, if answered, could make the greatest difference to the future of (your specific situation)?
  • What’s important to you about (your specific situation) and why do you care?
  • What draws you/us to this inquiry?
  • What’s our intention here? What’s the deeper purpose (the big “why”) that is really worthy of our best effort?
  • What opportunities can you see in (your specific situation)?
  • What do we know so far/still need to learn about (your specific situation)?
  • What are the dilemmas/opportunities in (your specific situation)?
  • What assumptions do we need to test or challenge here in thinking about (your specific situation)?
  • What would someone who had a very different set of beliefs than we do say about (your specific situation)?

Questions for Connecting Ideas and Finding Deeper Insight

  • What’s taking shape? What are you hearing underneath the variety of opinions being expressed?
  • What’s in the center of the table?
  • What’s emerging here for you? What new connections are you making?
  • What had real meaning for you from what you’ve heard? What surprised you? What challenged you?
  • What’s missing from this picture so far? What is it we’re not seeing? What do we need more clarity about?
  • What’s been your/our major learning, insight, or discover so far?
  • What’s the next level of thinking we need to do?
  • If there was one thing that hasn’t yet been said in order to reach a deeper level of understanding/clarity, what would that be?

Questions That Create Forward Movement

  • What would it take to create change on this issue?
  • What could happen that would enable you/us to feel fully engaged and energized about (your specific situation)?
  • What’s possible here and who cares? (rather than “What’s wrong here and who’s responsible?”)
  • What needs our immediate attention going forward?
  • If our success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose?
  • How can we support each other in taking the next steps? What unique contribution can we each make?
  • What challenges might come our way and how might we meet them?
  • What conversation, if begun today, could ripple out in a way that created new possibilities for the future of (your situation)?
  • What seed might we plant together today that could make the most difference to the future of (your situation)?
  • What questions are we not asking ourselves about (our situation)?

A good question can greatly enhance your projects and personal life. It can also be a beautiful gift for somebody else, empowering that person to discover possibilities yet unknown.

You can find the original article on the World Café Website by following this link.