I’m off to Estonia on Saturday to run an Art of Hosting workshop with Toke Moeller and Piret Jeedas. To say I’m excited is an understatement.
First, this is only the second trip to Europe I have made since I left the UK in 1981 after living there for three years. It’s interesting to see how things have changed in Europe over 30 years. On this trip I am intending to connect in London, during a brief stopover at Heathrow, with one of my school buddies from those days, who I last saw when I was just 13 years old.
But the real highlight of the trip will be the time spent in Estonia, a nation that has one of the largest traditional repertoires of folk songs. Only a million people live there but there are tens of thousands of songs that are shared and sung by everyone. So important are these songs that it was through music that a cultural movement was born in the 1980s that led to Estonian independence from the Soviet Union without a single drop of blood being shed. There is a terrific new eponymous movie about The Singing Revolution which we watched last night as a family. The essence of the film was that Estonian culture, language and tradition formed the basis for a slow and patient awakening of cultural sovereignty and pride that led to mass meetings and gatherings, and the singing of traditional songs of affection for the nation. From that current flowed the courage and will to establish political sovereignty that resulted in the self-liberation of Estonia from more that 50 years of occupation by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
To offer a workshop on the Art of Hosting powerful conversations in a nation that has done that seems a trifle hubristic. But the Estonian story is one that lauds the power of vision, courageous commitment and self-government and it provides both a tremendous ground for our work and inspiring lessons for those of us whose nations are still labouring under colonial administrations. With so many First Nations in Canada clinging to language, culture and music, what I am about to learn in Estonia can provide me with some important lessons about how cultural expression, skillful dialogue and courageous participatory leadership can result in profound social and community transformation.