Surprises from a Florida day (p.2)

Continued from “Surprises from a Florida Day, Part 1.”


After lunch, I led the group in a game of “We Can.”  Developed by my colleague Cormac Russell and Inclusion Press, this game impressed me when I played it for the first time at the Toronto Summer Institute in 2012.  (you can find and download it for free on the ABCD Institute’s Toolkit page.)

To play, sitting in circles of 10-15, people go through a deck of cards listing various different skills and capacities (installing windows, starting a business, organizing a block party, knitting, applying for grants, etc.) and sort them into three piles:

“Things we CAN DO,”

“Things we KNOW SOMEONE who can do (and would do if we asked them),”

and “Things we CANNOT DO and DON’T KNOW ANYONE who can do them.”

We spent a little time before the action predicting where the cards might fall–some predicted 80-90% to land in the first two “CAN” piles. Others estimated lower, at about 50% in “CAN” / “KNOW SOMEONE” and 50% in “CAN’T.”

After I yelled, “Go!,” the groups jumped into action, self-organizing to move as quickly as possible through their card stacks. In about 15 minutes, the first group excitedly yelled their victory.

Once everyone had finished, we compared results.  Can you guess what they were? ONLY ONE GROUP had ANY cards (2) in the “CAN’T” pile.  TWO groups had ALL of their cards in “CAN,” while the other two had all (save two) in “CAN” or “KNOW SOMEONE,” with the extreme majority in “CAN.”  Beyond all expectations, 98% of the skills in those stacks were already present in the 14-16 people sitting in circles in that room.

Even though I knew what to expect from my own and others’ experiences, this STILL blew me away–along with everyone else who played.  Not only were folks shocked and delighted at how much capacity they and the people around them had, but several folks were struck by the profound truth that, rather than sticking to the “one man’s an island,” highly individualistic culture of doing things many of us have inherited, it makes SO much sense to team up with other people rather than trying to do everything alone… and, how much is possible when we do so.

*  *  *

As we pulled chairs back to tables after the “We Can” game, I was feeling a bit muddy and stuck in how to best transition us to the next topic.

On a whim, I asked if we had any singers in the room. Actually, I KNEW we did, because the game cards each listed “Sings” as one skill, so we had to have at least one. Two or three people tentatively raised their hands. I called on the boldest hand, which belonged to Joey, a New College student who was attending as part of Dr. Brain’s practicum class about Homelessness. “Will you sing something for us?” I asked.

“Um, OK. What should I sing?”

“Anything you like. Whatever comes to mind.”

Joey got up on stage and confessed that he actually has a song that he has WRITTEN–and, that he is kind of a ham. Joey, we’d discovered earlier, is actually a natural “rover” who loves to go around town by bike and discover hidden treasures in place and people. He’s also really in to geography. So, he’s written a song about all of the counties in our fair state of Florida, set to the tune of another song (I forget which).

Joey proceeded to sing, with full theatrical flare, his entire, amazing song to us. The buzz of delight and surprise was so thick in that room, erupting when he finished into crazy applause and hooting. Later, someone came up to me and asked if I’d planned that. “No!” I replied honestly. But, I added, these are the kinds of amazing things you get when you start asking about gifts, and asking people to give them.
~ My final favorite thing about the workshop was how it created space for me and Mary to meet other people like us–connectors and “rovers”–who never realized that the way they are is such an asset and a tool for change. Specifically, Cory (our first room layout consultant) and Joey approached each us at different points and asked with piercing sincerity how to “Do” this work? Cory’s question was, “How can I be that one person who affects the many?” I was a bit taken aback by such a big question, and stumbled with my answer–something like, work on seeing, celebrating and connecting what people are good at in your immediate group of friends and influence here where you are.

“Well, that’s the problem,” he said. “I am not really part of any one group here. I kind of float between cliques but am not a real member of any one of them.”

He added, “I’m like a reflector–I reflect wherever I am and whoever is around me.”

I could tell he was describing these qualities as something bad or weak, or as barriers to influencing others. But as he was talking my joy grew as I realized he was also describing me, and those things I’ve often felt are weaknesses. So, it was with total confidence that I told him how these qualities are GREAT, and exactly what you need to be a great practitioner. Because asset-based thinking and practice is all about seeing, using, celebrating what’s ALREADY there, “Reflecting” is one of the most important things we can and should do. Also, not being a fixed part of one group is great, because as he reflects back the abundance he finds in people and groups, he can easily move between them in ways other people can’t and become a bridge, mirroring back and forth to different groups the great things about the others which they probably cannot see.

The coolest moment came when, a little later as most people had left the workshop and Mary, David and I were cleaning up with Leon and Cory’s help. Some other guys, “clients” of the program, had come in to start setting up for that evening’s event. Cory came over to me excitedly–almost dancing–and said, “I just tried it! I tried it here with these guys, and it worked!”  In hindsight, I wish I’d asked him exactly what he’d done, but in that moment I was just too overwhelmed with joy–to see someone experiencing exactly what I’d experienced in meeting other connectors and being affirmed in my own weird traits.

I have found that, more than anything, it’s been my friendship with other connectors as peers in practice that has been my greatest resources and fuel for growth, both in my personal and professional life. So, to be one part of that moment of self-realization and bonding in another gives me a rich sense of surprise, satisfaction and good, long-living power outside myself that I struggle to compare with anything else.


Continued in Part 3

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