The Golden Rule: a principles setting exercise
Collaboration, Complexity, Facilitation, Featured, Organization
One of the quotes I keep rolling out all the time is this one from Christina Baldwin:
No group can prove itself safe by the definition of one member; it can only prove itself healthy and responsive to the the needs of different people over timeChristina Baldwin, Calling the Circle, p. 172
I sometimes reframe this quote as “No one person can be responsible for safety in a group, but a group can learn to take responsibility for its own safety.”
For a group to work well, especially if it is confronting challenges, uncertainty, complexity, or conflict, it needs to be safe enough for members to freely share and contribute, and also challenging enough that ideas that no longer serve can be questioned, stretched and broken to make space for the new. Rather than saying “we will create safe space” it’s useful to take some time to explore the polarity of safety and danger. We often talk about “safe enough” or “brave space” or similar terms that capture this space of leading and facilitating.
So the way to do this is to enlist the group itself in co-creating the conditions that create a creative, generative, challenging and supportive space. I usually do that by facilitating this process that I call The Golden Rule Principles Setting Exercise.
The Golden Rule, of course, is the principle that underlies the perennial tradition of many religious and spiritual traditions. In Christianity it is worded as “Love your neighbour as yourself.” It recognizes our interdependence with others and it invites us to practice offering to others the same things that we ourselves need.
The process is very simple.
- Invite people to reflect and discuss these two questions: During this meeting how do I want to be heard? During this meeting how do I want to be spoken to?”
- It’s good to do this in pairs and folks can record some of these needs and place them on stickies or a virtual whiteboard or chat log.
- Have the pairs share a few of their needs into the whole group.
- Next invite people to reflect on how to offer to others what they want for themselves. If I need to be allowed to ramble a bit uninterrupted because I think out loud, I can put this need in the centre and also commit to not interrupting others.
- Have people commit to a single practice that they will endeavour to live up to, one that they may even be willing to be accountable to, and place it on a sticky note.
That’s it. Except under very specific circumstances, I don’t ask the group to vote on these principles, or approve them in any other way. Rather, I trust the people to do their work. From time to time of course as a facilitator one needs to step in, but usually when this process is put into play, I need only offer a period of silence and reflection on the commitment for a group to restore its collective responsibility to care for the container.
As a way to begin a meeting, this is a first foray into co-creation of something that the group all needs and is therefore an excellent way to set the tone for collaborative work, creating a space that can hold the range of emotions that show up in complexity work
I love this! Filing it away in my “ideas to put into practice” file!
This is really great. I’m not even in that space and I can feel how different the vibe would be. Hosting space for emergence and safety.
Quick question about process: In your experience what tends to work best when inviting members to break off into pairs? Self selecting their partner or…??
It depends of course. Online I usually randomize pairs unless there is a good reason to keep people together. Face to face I just invite people to pair up and that way they have much more control over who they are with. It’s an important degree of freedom to ensure that people feel comfortable with who they are working with.
One of the things I appreciate most about this exercise is the invitation to slow down and spend time thinking and talking about how we want to be with each other. That alone models the kind of practice that challenging conversations benefit from.
Adheres to the principle of “leave more community than you found.”
Powerful…worth introspecting upon.
Sometimes the leaving is an act of ghosting or “absencing” when these circle understandings are never made explicit. Implicit expectations do a lot more harm to the community, especially when they dont meet often.
Makes sense. Thx
I ran this exercise with a group of SF practitioners this morning. They found it deeply insightful!
Fantastic! That’s for letting me know.
Thought-provoking and practical as always, Chris.
The slowing down, reflection, and intentionality you describe here are part of what make facilitation (and other similar professions) radical. Many people have never asked themselves what they need to do their work. Once these questions are “out there”, they tend to ripple.
There IS going to be discomfort. It can come from speediness, plowing through, and being reactive, or from slowing down, taking our time, and thinking/feeling about where we’re going and how best to get there.
Chris, the Golden Rule is simple upfront, yet Im rather baffled when I read it from the perspective as a “Teacher” or “Learner”. Does presenting challenges and comfort lead to progress? For instance, any serious disciplinary learning commands total immersion and commitment and its serious social implications are necessary to understand through tough practise. This rigour cause hurt, discomfort and to an extent tolerance to humiliation and disappointment. Would this be considered torture or training? Since students or learners do not have the same perspective as a teacher. Learning also requires adapting to surprises and shocks, that may not necessarily be exactly what the Goldren Rule suggests. Not sure if I have expressed my concerns as well as I should.
In summary, might the Golden rule apply to all contexts including relationships with power differentials? Have cited Teacher-Learner as one such example there are many that exist within polar dynamics….parent-child, client-consultant, employer-employee, Senior worker-junior worker, minister-citizens etc.
Yes I think the golden rule might apply in pretty much any context. But of course when we’re discussing contexts for action and learning we have to be conscious that we are often working in a space where there are polar dynamics. Or perhaps better still, polarities. In these spaces in which we work we have control over the constraints that we use to design the container. Sometimes, such as 11 as an adult and one child is a toddler, then these constraints can be quite tight and perhaps not so cocreated. But in groups of adults, I don’t see any reason why participants themselves can’t create a kind of boundary condition that holds some generative space. It’s all about an appropriate response to context.
Thanks so much for your comment.
Thank you Chris! Guess we had a magical exchange as it spun off some serendipitous finds in my deeper exploration about the Golden Rule and the nature of polarities and constraints. What makes things clearer in your generously worded response is the word and goal of “co-creation”.
Often we/ I forget that whatever work we do is always in service of this co-created world/ reality. When one dwells upon this further, it becomes clear that co-creation can be anchored on mutually agreed principles and conditions, wherever it is possible (might not be expected to be universal, as in the case of a toddler and their parent/s). Where the principles fail to prevail, it is time to reconsider the co-creative purpose and rework on the principles, without violating the Golden Rule. The cost/ price of violation can have snowballing impact in diverse contexts, circling back to us.
The serendipitous nugget was finding an email about Robin, sharing here with you as I found a summary video of her book: Braiding Sweetgrass….”Summary of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer | Free Audiobook in English”
Thank you Chris and its always a joy to read your blog articles.
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