We have just been through a challenging municipal election here on Bowen Island. At issue was a referendum on whether we wanted to see a National Park established on the Crown Lands on our island. Also in the air was a level of distrust and animosity between some citizens and some of the candidates and the incumbent council.
In the midst of things I made it a practice to see what it would be like to actively facilitate quality of conversation. This meant a number of things for me. It meant finding kindness for those who not only thought differently than me, but who actively took aim at me with ad hominem arguments. It meant finding factual bases for assertions about the past, while paying attention to how speculation about the future could be held in respectful and non-fearful ways. It meant challenging the idea that there was a massive rift in the community (natural considering the use of a yes/no question on a complex topic).
Subsequently, it has meant holding space for grief and outrage from those of my friends who felt hard done by (our Island rejected the Park and elected Councillors that many of us didn’t vote for). It has also meant inviting people to check their gloating, that somehow this was a victory that actually privileged one world view over another. It didn’t. It was really about small differences in the larger scheme of things, which were inflated because the choice we made was one of those that, had we voted yes, would have radically changed the view of our future.
The thing about living on an island is that you know where your boundaries are. Holding space within those boundaries, where differences are exacerbated by our closeness to each other is the most challenging work of hosting. Being an active member of the community, with opinions and thoughts but also equally interested in the meta-level of conversational quality and resourcefulness is challenging, but that was the learning journey I was on for the past few months, and one I continue on. Being active and hosting within the field is fraught with difficulties. What gets me through is a practice and focus on that sweet spot.
For me it comes back to the balance for ensuring that the community is working, learning and tending to relationships in equal measure.