Whale to human transformation mask (Haida)
Harrison Owen, the guy who invented Open Space Technology, in replying to my post about stories, put some words around it ï¿½ gave me the story in fact ï¿½ and so I realize now that the reason I love practicing OST is that it really does invite an organization or a community to embody a new story about itself – or to rediscover very old ones. Harrison wrote:
There used to be a day when the power of these deep stories was appreciated, but in recent times they are dismissed with the light thought that they are ï¿½just a story.ï¿½ And of course we all know that only the ï¿½factsï¿½ will do. And when it comes to myths, these are not only dismissed, but dissed. Worse than a story, myth now means lie and falsehood. How the world changes. And of course, for enlightened people such as ourselves, we have long since thrown off the bondage of myth. How sad. And we never really do ï¿½ throw it off, that is. We simply develop new ones, and they of course, are understood to be The Truth, or better yet Scientific Truth. But it is still a story, now dressed up in different clothes. We call them ï¿½Theoriesï¿½ ï¿½ but at the end of the day, these Theories are simply likely stories which help us interpret our world. So our essential nature hasnï¿½t changed ï¿½ we are still story tellers whose life expectations are shaped by the stories we tell. Myth by any other name. What is different now is that the formative power of these tales is somehow out of our awareness. And when the stories are warped, distorted or partial ï¿½ the world and our space in that world is distorted and shrunk. Of course, we could tell a different story. . .And I think that new story creation is a major part of what happens in Open Space. But it is not so much telling a story as being a story.
This is really important in a lot of the places I work. In indigenous communities and other places where colonialism has done its work, the story of how and what we should be is so deeply informed by the colonial culture that it is very rare that an Aboriginal organization or community actually gets to embody and manifest an identity that is NOT constrained by the colonial story. In our communities of course this is most visibly seen by the way local First Nations governments organize community meetings by setting the room up as if it is a school room, with the experts at the front and the masses in rows of chairs. Even if the government is trying to embody an inclusive style by holding consultative meetings with the community, I often wonder if the form of the meeting, the process itself is doing more harm than good. And when the subject of the meeting has something to do with the recovery of our cultural resources, or land rights or something else that is so closely aligned to indigenous identity, then it school-room type public meetings become almost too painfully ironic for me.
As groups working in Open Space, we get to try out a new story, and this is largely the process benefit of the one-off or event-based OST meeting. I realize now that I usually close these meetings by inviting people to notice how the quality of the room has changed, how relationships have changed, how the same people we looked at in the opening circle suddenly seem different after only a few hours together. The people havenï¿½t changed of course, but our stories about them and about how we can relate to them, have changed. Itï¿½s nice to leave people with a question in their minds about how that change took place and how easy it might be to recreate it.
In that sense OST is a powerful tool for decolonization and healing in our communitiesï¿½that has largely been my experience. Some people fall into OST like it is a feather bed – they just seem to enfold themselves in the dynamics. Others find it hard going, and some hate the process. And still others, and I count many of the ï¿½results-basedï¿½ cynics among them, change and transform and open their eyes to new possibility.
Here on the west coast of North America, many indigenous communities have stories of transformation. You may have seen elaborate transformation masks that feature one animal splitting in two and another coming forward. Those new creatures come forward fully formed from within the original being. The dances and stories that accompany these masks talk about a time in the world when animals and spirits and humans could change easily from one form to another. It is a reminder of both the interrelated nature of all beings and the ancestral time when these happened regularly.
For me too though it is also a reminder that the story of transformation lives very powerfully in these communities and cultures. Whenever we talk about transformation here on the coast, I invite these stories and see what they can offer us about transformation of our organizations and ways of doing things and perspectives about work, results and process. Often they invite us to uncover the real core story that lies fully formed beneath the unconscious exterior.
Recovery of these tools and stories is critical to recovering authentic expressions of community and organizations that nestle naturally within the indigenous context. Because after all, at a very deep level, indigenous cultures and world views are still here and still alive although they may be glazed over by the patina of a century or more of contact, sharing and transcendence.
Open Space invites us to go deep and rediscover the foundations that inform all of our process work and which, in the end, does get results. So it becomes an elegant BOTH/AND thing. We can foreground parts of the contemporary “results-based” story that help us do work and “make things happen,” and we can also choose to foreground the stories that show us how we live in relation to one another and to practice living and working in full acknowledgement that our lives are dependant on those connections.