Today I ran into an interesting situation. I was in a conversation about a community process I have been designing and a potential participant took me aside and said that she would love to participate but that one of the people who had already agreed to also participate had committed some serous abuse against her partner. She wondered how I would do to resolve the situation.
That was a good one, a little bit out of the blue and somewhat unexpected. I thought for a moment and then, putting my best collaborative principles into practice said “I don’t know. What would you do if you were in my situation?” She wasn’t expecting this answer, but to her credit she stopped and thought about it. We stood next to each other in silence for a few moments.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Well then,” I said. “That makes two of us. Let’s think about this together.”
We shared a little laugh and then I started thinking out loud. I mused about the fact that we needed many perspectives in this process, and perhaps even the perspectives of “abusers” whatever that means. Having all voices in a process does not come cost-free. I also acknowledged her needs for both safety and a way to contribute to the process. The truth of things, as Christina Baldwin has said, is that as a facilitator I can’t guarantee anyone’s safety, but I can help a group create the conditions that would look after its own safety. In that spirit I invited her to join our process and be in dialogue with me about co-creating the conditions of safety and participation that would meet her needs and keep the group functioning well. This was an agreeable proposal to her and so we will be in conversation as our process unfolds to make sure that the group is doing its best possible work. She has taken some responsibility for helping us to understand her experience of the situation and we’ll deal with whatever comes up with inquiry, curiosity, imagination and patience.
It is a great gift when individuals in a group step up to take responsibility for co-creating conditions of safety and efficacy in their dialogic container. It pays to be honest with people and as for help when you don’t know what to do, and see if proposals forward can be co-created. I was reminded today how important that is to adopt as a world view and not just a facilitation trick.