Responding about “Maximizing Willingness”

by Miki Kashtan

This post and the next are a response to Dave Belden’s comment on part 3 of my Personal Growth and Social Change mini-series. Dave Belden is the editor of Tikkun Daily, where I am cross-posted. I believe what’s below will make more sense if you read part 3 of my mini-series and Dave’s comment before reading what’s below.

When I wrote the section on willingness and group functioning I was well aware that what I was writing would not be practical. What would be needed in order to put any of this into practice is beyond the scope of what a blog entry here and there could support people in doing. Instead, I was reaching for enough clarity so that the ideas and images could inspire some people to want to explore, learn, experiment, and ask questions. At least to hope instead of be resigned to how things are. We are much more often motivated by fear and anger than by hope in our actions, and I want to contribute to more hope if I can.

All that said, I would like to address at least partially the specific questions that Dave raised, because I treasure the opportunity for more depth and clarity they provide. This leads to a few key points.

The Significance of Decision-Making
Dave asks about starting and running groups or projects with the tools I point to. In truth, I don’t know of any groups or organizations that are operating fully in line with the principles that inform my writings in this blog. I am heartened by knowing that BayNVC, the organization I co-founded, approximates such operation to an extent I feel moved and happy about, and functions most of the time smoothly and without endless meetings because we have a high level of trust. Perhaps some stories about BayNVC operations will arrive in future posts.

So far I haven’t really given Dave much. Instead of the full stories he is asking for, I want to address decision-making in two ways. One is at the highest level, which has to do with the overall operations of a group or organization. Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication, suggests that the most important decision to make collaboratively is the decision about the process of making decisions. If all agree that certain decisions are made by one person, then that person is likely empowered and entrusted. If, however, that one person decides to make those decisions, and others don’t have a say, they will likely experience the same behavior as imposition or domination. I suspect that many groups and organizations have implicit agreements about decision-making rather than explicit, and that can interfere dramatically with the experience of trust in working together. At BayNVC we have looked at these questions several times, and from time to time have reviewed who makes what decisions. I don’t think we have a perfect solution. I do have a sense that most people within the organization trust that their needs and perspectives are valued in arriving at decisions that affect them and the organization.

The second point is on the lowest level, which is the moment by moment functioning of a group or organization. Especially in meetings, everything that happens is decisions. Some of them are content decisions: which action is a group to take? What service is an organization to deliver? What product will a company create? Some of them are about what happens in the group as content is discussed: who will speak next? How will the group know when a topic is complete? How will the ultimate decision be made? What will happen to those who are unhappy with a decision? Facilitators who are skillful in this art create trust by handling these and the many other small questions that arise in the moment skillfully, such that movement is prioritized at the same time as everyone’s voice and needs are held with care. Such trust allows for willingness to be experienced within a context of everyone mattering, which makes all the difference in the world when the hard decisions arrive.

(even this post, only a response to a comment, is turning into two entries [here’s a link to the second one]. Can you tell that this topic is a deep passion of mine?…)

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