The second significant outcome of one-to-one work in this phase
can be a glimpse of what Martin Buber called I-Thou.
can be a glimpse of what Martin Buber called I-Thou.
As the other person’s story emerges, we experience the field of energy enfolding us, present to us as we talk. We begin to sense being held in that flow, which can increase our focus on each other’s story. We become more open, more available to the power of each other’s story and being, more trusting. For each of us, the other person, no longer an object, is becoming a subject, with a unique identity, spirit, and mystery.
Deep changes are going on, in both the with and the within. Power-among and inner power are both present to both persons. We experience power as energy doing its work between and within each of us, converting one level of understanding, both outer and inner, to another, deeper level.
The conversation draws out our public and personal stories, in life-changing ways. The energy of that connection slightly alters each of us in our self-understanding; this may take the form of making us more aware of the limits of our own false self, opening us to the emergence of the true self. When that happens, we move forward more deeply into maturity, with wider connections to all aspects of reality, and less anxiety about both our inner world and challenges from the political economy.
At times in these encounters, we have a sense of something deeply yearned-for and unique, something truly special; we might even use the words soulful, spirit-filled, or sacred to describe that experience.
This brings us to the third significant outcome in this phase. When we conduct these meetings within and among local organizing communities, we organize through teams.
Those teams, selected and actively supported by the community’s clergy, president, senior educator, or NGO leader, move through a series of leadership development workshops, and then conduct an extensive series of relational meetings.
I’ll treat the stages of team development, and the qualities of leaders, in another place. Here, I want to remain focused on the relational meetings themselves, except to say one thing: Once or twice a year, each team invites potential and current leaders into the leadership development workshops. This ongoing, highly intentional and invitational process aims at creating a culture of relational power, over a period of 3-5 years, in each local community participating in a contemporary broad-base.
I don’t want to suggest that any I-Thou experience lasts more than a few seconds or minutes. It’s a transformative glimpse, but just a glimpse. However, living in a culture where, because everything is increasingly objectified and commodified, we find ourselves numbed to I-Thou experience. As a result, much of our experience becomes I-It, utilitarian: the other is for my use.
But these conversations, when they mature and move into I-Thou moments, show us that the deeper dimensions of reality are, in fact, present and available to us. They point out that it may be our anxiety and stereotypes that prevent us from experiencing more of the compassion and creativity that actually surrounds us all the time. As well, doing this quality relational work over time may re-wire some of our mental patterns, so that we experience I-Thou epiphanies more often.
Even without such a big break-through, often when we end a relational meeting, we experience some deepened awareness or sensitivity: we find ourselves saying, silently, something different and important happened here. And with it comes a new kind of energy moving us forward. We find ourselves responding, again silently, to the other person’s story: I’ve got to do something. Obviously, not something to “fix” the other person, but to keep building power-among-and-within so we can get leverage on the deeper causes of unease within both of us.
No longer are we strangers to each other or spectators to public decisions.
It is that power-with and power-within, drawn from the large numbers of individual conversations, that forms the organization’s negotiating agenda with decision-makers or protagonists, over policies or programs, government or corporate, that require changing. Within negotiations, one of the outcomes may be the conversion of power-over to power-with, as both sides develop relationships, discovering common interest that well serves both sides.
This intentional relational work is a kind of drawing-out process, which yields part of a power analysis, about how institutions and their leaders, using power-over, maintain their interests and positions; and how, together, they form a system, at the local and larger levels. Obviously, active research and study provide other key aspects of a power analysis. But the point here is that we learn a great deal about power-over from the gathering “cloud” of each others’ stories.
Active research and negotiations also involve local leaders recognizing, first, a specific institution or interest in the political economy, then gradually growing into understanding the whole system and its root drivers, as both system and story. Conversely, as the organizing effort and leaders’ collective maturity grow, important segments of the political economy recognize these leaders and their organization. Mutual recognition begins to grow in the arena of decision-making, or polis.
As well, all of this growing understanding and mutual recognition feed into the ongoing internal process of relational work. Individual stories and questions continue to expand, explore, and agitate. Deeper understanding of public events long hidden emerges into visibility. As a result, people continue to grow into maturity, and the organization stays fresh, at the edge.
In our maturation, local people are participating in both internal and external aspects of organizing; both aspects are intentional. No longer are we strangers to each other or spectators to public decisions. Across the board, we are participants in mutual recognition—which could have the effect of drawing upon the deeper, fresher waters of story, energy and imagination available to us in our time.
Continue on to Part 2 >>
Download the annotated print version of Part 1 HERE.