Philip Booth’s last job was being part of a Community Building team in Gloucestershire. Philip suggests there are some perspectives on community building that can be useful for Wigwam. In this blog he looks at some of the work of Bruce Anderson, a community activist, leadership coach, co-founder of Community Activators and the Core Gift Institute (i).
Building our Wigwam community
Our Wigwam community is growing, but what do we need to give attention to if we are to build a resilient community?
I have been fortunate to join community activist, Bruce Anderson on several day workshops to explore what makes a community welcoming and strong. His work with many people has led to identifying 'three glues’ of community that interrelate:
1. Everyone has unique gifts and capacities.
2. It is the responsibility of the community to welcome those gifts.
3. Creating hope.
It is when each of these three glues get attention then building community becomes easy. People want to connect. In this blog I want to cover them briefly as I think they have a big part to play in how we run our Wigwam groups.
Joining a new group or attending an event can sometimes feel unnerving. We may not know the rules, the other people attending seem to already know each other and we might be anxious about making mistakes. If we are having a difficult time in life in general then this can make attending a new group or event even more difficult.
In many places, the power of recognising and welcoming someone new can be overlooked. The “welcome” seems to have been lost, reduced to insignificant gestures: a duty rather than something much richer. Perhaps like some of the hospitality industry where strangers are welcomed only if they have the money and credit cards. It seems we have moved somewhat away from the original old English meaning of welcome: ‘Wilcuma’ – to accept the stranger with pleasure.
Yet in some cultures the power of ‘welcome’ is still held held in very high-regard and the stranger on the doorstep is welcomed as one of the highest deities; there is, for example, an Indian saying that ‘Guest is God.’ Author and Patron of Yes to Life, Sophie Sabbage (ii) describes the Zulu greeting ‘Sawubona’, which means ‘I see you.’ The response is ‘Ngikhona’, said looking into the other’s eyes, means ‘I am here’ (iii). As Sophie says, this is about how ‘our hearts need to know we are visible to others as acutely as our bodies need food, water and rest.’
Creating welcoming spaces is a key step to ensure we can all feel a sense of belonging and worthiness. Shining a light on our welcome can help us uncover, restore and re-grow our welcome. Parker Palmer, a world-renowned writer and activist (iv) says that it is not about training people to be welcoming and hospitable, you just have to uncover people’s barriers to it - or rediscover it. We sometimes need help to do this; 'to see again with fresh eyes'. We are often too busy and have other things on our mind, but by recognising and removing the barriers we can rediscover the full wonders of welcoming.
One woman who spoke to me about the Wigwam Support Groups said she had not had the courage to phone for some months. She shared that she was not sure what to expect and whether the groups would be right for her, whether she knew enough or would fit in. Yet when she managed to get over her initial concerns and talk to one of us, the fears melted away. She even said it was the 'warm welcome’ that helped her take the next steps. Now we don’t get that right all the time, especially as what one person might find welcoming, may not be right for another.
Definition of Welcome (Bruce Anderson): ‘The initial and ongoing interactions, with people and environment, that result in a feeling of belonging, and a willingness to engage.’
Bruce Anderson’s work with organisations around welcoming often starts with looking at where we learnt how to be welcoming and a chance to share a story when people felt unwelcomed. Employees are given the space to look at many different aspects of welcome. For example, signage; if the place is not welcoming on the outside, then people arrive on edge wondering how it will be. Is it easy to know what to do when you arrive? How are the phones answered? Similar questions can be asked of any groups including Wigwam even where they are already providing a warm welcome. There is often more we can do, especially thinking about the welcome to new members (v).
To welcome means to really ‘see’ the person walking through the door, to see their gifts and to be open to receiving help, wisdom and guidance from the person we are meeting or helping. There is a wonderful piece of old wisdom that says that helping is similar to breathing; you have to breathe in as much as you breathe out if you want to sustain your life. Indeed I have in the past thought I was there to help someone, only to find that it was my life that was being changed by the interactions.
Bruce Anderson writes on his website: “Cultures and faith traditions, many centuries old, used specific methods to identify and use gifts in their members. Now, modern neuroscience and positive psychology have backed up older wisdom traditions by proving that individuals thrive when they are able to find meaning in their lives by knowing and giving their gifts.”
What are gifts? They are all those things that makes us unique; our passions, interests, experiences, skills and more. They are the tools that help us grow our community. It can take time to recognise gifts and support to help people offer them - all the while remembering that “A gift is not a gift, until it’s given.”
“Every living person has some gift or capacity of value to others. A strong community is a place that recognises these gifts and ensures they are given. A weak community is a place where lots of people can’t or don’t give their gift.” Jody Kretzmann, ABCD Institute
I have been struck time and time again by the warmth and generosity of Wigwammers; their willingness to share their experiences and knowledge, to support one another, our many Forum experts offering their time free, people writing blogs for us or sharing social media. How can we do more of this?
The third ‘glue’ of communities is hope, and how you can sustain it by placing it at the heart of the whole community. This could be a whole blog in itself and is such a key part of going forward.
To take one example, many of us at Yes to Life and Wigwam have been excited by the huge healing potential that is offered by an integrative approach to cancer care. We see signs of change; this month is the first Integrative Oncology UK Conference and we saw over 700 come to the Your Life and Cancer event last year looking at integrative approaches. This is not just about hope for more changes and improvements to cancer care, but also bringing hope to individuals.
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”. Vaclav Havel
This blog hardly does justice to the idea of these three glues but I hope it gives some food for thought as to how we can continue to build our Wigwam community. We are open to suggestions, thoughts, ideas - and of course ‘gifts’. In further blogs it would be great to explore more about how we can create safe spaces for people to share and grow.
Notes & references
(ii) ‘Lifeshocks, And How to Love them’ by Sophie Sabbage 2018
(iii) Terry Tillman writes about this connection and the use of this greeting in the Sci-Fi film, Avatar. He says: ‘The eyes are the windows to the soul. When we connect with the soul, who we truly are, all things positive are present—joy, acceptance, compassion, understanding, cooperation, loving, peace of mind, humor, ease, simplicity and more. That is the nature of the soul. And isn’t this what we truly want, a positive experience in life? Add these moments together more frequently, and for longer periods and we have more of what we want.’ See more at: http://www.finerminds.com/consciousness-awareness/samburu-greeting-terry-tillman/
(iv) See more at: http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/
(v) ‘Our Door is Open: Creating Welcoming Cultures in Helping Organizations’ audio cd by Bruce Anderson and Community Activators. There is also a much earlier paper which doesn’t, in my view, fully capture the richness and possibilities that are covered in the audio: ‘Creating Welcoming Places Workbook’ (2004) by Bruce Anderson and Dean Paton: http://www.communityactivators.com/downloads/WelcomeWorkbook.pdf
Bruce talks about how a leader is needed to champion this welcoming work, but that it is also crucial that everyone agrees with the aim to be more welcoming. Bruce sees four domains or areas of focus that are crucial in helping to build a welcoming culture. Here are some notes from his work to give a flavour of those domains:
• Storefront and building interior; if the place is not welcoming on outside people arrive on edge wondering how it will be. Is it easy for them to know what to do? How is the signage? Do the signs describes what to do, not what we don’t want people to do? How is the entrance? Water to drink, flowers, paintings, cleanliness, lighting and more can all be important. How welcome would you feel?
• Customer processes; this is all the interactions with people, like how the phone is answered, the first greeting, how accessible is information about the group or organisation and whether waiting times be reduced. As Bruce says, ‘a person feels welcome to the extent they feel respected’.
• Community Engagement; how welcoming is the group or organisation to other businesses and others in the community?
• Employee support; employees have to feel welcomed in their own organisation if they are to be welcoming; this is about recognising gifts, induction processes, rituals for leaving, and how to challenge employees who do not act in a welcoming way.