Information availability is taken for granted, especially among the younger generation who have grown up in the midst of the Internet, 500-channel cable TV, blogs, and a growing array of online communities. It’s very difficult to hold our attention with information. This isn’t surprising when we can get info on demand practically anytime and anywhere.
During a past discussion with a professor, I was introduced to the idea that a new kind of literacy was emerging. Consider that as technology continues to grow, providing any information we need (soon in response to our vocal requests), what will it mean to be literate? Will reading and writing still be necessary?
Consider the time before reading and writing when some of the greatest classical works, like the Hindu Vedas, were transcribed from an oral tradition. Were the carriers of this tradition illiterate? No. They were considered the scholars of their time. How were people able to commit to memory what turned out to be thousands of written pages without the ability to read or write? It turns out these texts came primarily through poetic verse. This mode of communication dives a bit deeper into our mental firmware, touching our hearts and souls on its way across our synapses. Hymns and poetic verse draw on our broader cognitive and emotional capacities for recall.
What does all this mean to us as facilitators, trainers, and group leaders? While information has been the coin of the realm in teaching and training rooms for centuries, this is changing. Among the media channels available, which are the most popular? Smart phones, blackberries, and online communities are the tools of a new revolution. Now called Web 2.0 on the Internet, what do these things have in common? Two “C” words come to my mind–Connection and Collaboration.
We humans seek affinity and affiliation. Distanced by our own technology, we find ways to reconnect and work in new ways. So what are we to do? I say, it’s time to sing a song, tell a story, and write poetry. These modes of communicating are rich and deep. They touch us during a time when we are lacking touch in a big way. They bring wonder, beauty, and mystery back into a world that has everything summarized, encapsulated, and homogenized for us on demand. They show us ourselves as we reveal ourselves to others.
Balance Information with Self-Awareness
I once attended a week long spiritual retreat in Southern California that included a rich array of experiences at all levels. One of the things we were asked to do during our first morning was to write a poem. Not only that, we were told that we’d be writing a poem every morning for the next six days. I’m supposed to write a poem? Every day for six days in a row? I don’t think so. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to write, but poetry? I’m not so good at that…or so I thought.
As it turns out, I actually was pretty good at it. Though my poems wouldn’t win a Pulitzer Prize, they were acceptable and they weren’t all that hard to write given two basic rules. Namely, select a theme (we were given one each morning), then write around that.
Writing poetry is quite a different experience from the writing we’re used to. We can make up our own rules of grammar, rhyme, and verse and not be accused of a misdemeanor, or worse. Writing this way, we are not so much seeking to share information and to share ourselves and our experience. We’re called to allow ourselves to be touched by our experience of life and while transmitting this, move others.
How can you bring this or another form of “art” into your groups? Try writing story and verse yourself, or ask your groups to do this around the topic of your training or the challenge of your task. Here are some ideas:
Suppose your group is stuck at an impasse. Ask them to concoct a story that describes this experience and moves beyond it. This separation may give them the freedom they need to find their way past the barrier.
You’re training a group on sales skills. Have your students write a poem of their journey through the past as a sales person. Have them write another of their future as a sales person. What does this show them about who they wish to be in this role?
Your group is creating a vision for their future. Have them write it in the form of a story. Stories paint pictures and a single pictures says a thousand words. A story can convey far more than simple information. A story can express the multi-sensory, multi-dimensional journey of the soul and touch people at deep psycho-spiritual levels.
For a recent class I wrote about the important distinction between task, process, and relationships that a facilitator must manage. I chose to write a poem to encapsulate this and share it with my students. I share this with you. And again, it’s not a prize winner, so be kind, but hopefully the spirit of the message comes through. A tall order at times in a word awash in words…
Facilitator–Juggler of Contexts
You’re not a magician, an actor, nor a pope,
Though you may don these roles leading groups to hope.
But as facilitators of groups, there’s one thing you must do,
You must learn to juggle, what, how, and who.
Keep your eye on each ball,
If you drop one, no crime.
Just pick it up and notice, what’s happening this time.
While it’s not easy, with practice, you’ll see,
Facilitators are emissaries for task, for process, for you and for me.
How can you bring this or another form of art into your groups? Please share your story, challenge, or perspective on this topic in the comments section below.