Last wekk I was working with some good friends – Kyra Mason, Thomas Ufer, Ruth Lyall, Jennifer Charlesworth and Nanette Taylor. Together we designed and delivered a one day workshop on what we called “Chaordic Leadership in Changing Times.” The focus of the workshop was collaborative leadership practice and we were asking questions about collaborating around a movement in the child and family services sector in British Columbia.
Collaborative leadership practice has a couple of key capacities. First is the ability to be in and hold space for conversations that matter. The second is the practice of developing and holding a centre. Conversation practice is important because the nature of the systems we are a part of is entirely determined by the quality of the relationships between people in those systems. Quality relationships are important and central to those are quality conversations. That is why I put a lot of emphasis on helping people talk together creatively, generatively and with excitement and energy.
But to build a movement, it’s important to share a centre. That centre is both an individual centre as well as a collective one. In our workshop we were playing a lot with the idea of building a centre, especially as it related to children. We began by learning that the Kwa’kwa’la word for child is “Gwaliyu” which means something like “precious one” or “treasure of my heart.” It implies a treasure that you would give your life for. We began our day by asking people to imagine what it must be like to have that definition of a child in mind every time your used the word “child.” In our workshop no one in the room could describe the etymology of the English word “child.” We had devoted our lives to a word and we weren’t even sure what that word meant. So to find our own centre, the place to which we could always return, we began the workshop with an exercise. We asked people to first write on a piece of paper what the treasure about the children in their lives. We next asked them to write, on another piece, what those treasures expect of them. The first piece of paper then became a definition of child that we could really sink into “curious, innocent and playful” and the second sheet of paer contained our mission statement in the child and family services world: “to make safe space for children to grow and flourish.” It’s simple but what it does is to help us find a centre that we can return to especially when things are pushing us around. From this centre it is a simple matter to come to a conversational space in which we invite a similar set of principles to be at our centre.
This is how, over the past year we have settled on “Children at the centre” as a basic organizing principles for the work we are doing with the Vancouver Island Aboriginal Transistion Team as we build a new system for Aboriginal child and family services. What would a system look like that put children in the centre?
The founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba was famously quoted as saying that his advantage in a fight was his ability to return to his centre faster than that of his opponent. In the body, the centre lies just below the navel, in the area the Japanese call the hara, or what Koreans called “tan jun” or “tan tien “ in Chinese. This is both a pivot point for the body’s centre of gravity – a fact well known to martial artists and athletes – as well as the central point from which one’s life force – “ki” or “chi” is projected. Likewise in a group, which is just a body operating at another level, the centre is the pivot point around which we act – our purpose or intention – and the source to which we always return.
Today I am on board a plane heading down to the Navajo Nation to work with a wonderful community of Navajo facilitators involved in health promotion. We are looking at, among other things, these concepts and I have much to consider about the notion of centr ein Navajo thought and practice. I am most curious about how this can be brought to the simplest form of knowing, in the body, heart and mind, to be useful for leadership and hosting practice.