“chaos , confusion, conflict”…or open space and self-organise.

The following comes from Open Space facilitator Christine Koehler which she sent to the worldwide OS facilitator community recently. With her permission I wanted to share it with you.

“I came across the story I wrote just after the Paris attack in 2015 and that I told when opening space for the Practice of Peace.  Reading it again after those years, I believe it is too long a story to be used to open space.  However, I remember how meaningful it was for me at that time to be able to connect the terrible events I had gone through and the hope I had (and still have) that opening space might be one very meaningful way to act when dealing with events that bring sorrow to life. How meaningful it was also to be able to share my story with you.

This summer, while attending an Art of Hosting gathering, I met a man from Austria whose son was deeply injured in the next attack, in November of the same year, in Bataclan, the club where 130 persons were killed.  His family is still today heavily impacted by those terrible days. This made me think that those stories may still be worth sharing.

Here it goes.

“To begin this seminar and welcome you I could offer you the story of this year theme “Opening Space for Peace and High Performance in Work and in Life: Navigating Chaos, Confusion and Conflict ». The first part « Peace and High performance » comes from Harrison [Owen – creator of Open Space Technology]. As he loves to tell stories, I am sure he will be delighted to tell it to you when he will be there this afternoon or in the coming days. And if you forget to ask him, just read his book « Wave Rider: leadership for high performance » where the story is being told.

Instead I will tell you how strong those words echoed for me in the past days, as we in France went through as you all know those terrible moments.

I was in my office on Wednesday, January 7, a  grey winter day in Paris, preparing to receive guests I had invited via Twitter to listen together to the launch of an online course some of you may know : Otto Scharmer’s U lab, dealing with Transforming Business, Society, and Self. A theme dear to my heart.  That’s at that precise moment that I learned that our satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, has been attacked and that many of “them” were dead. You may know what happened in those dreadful days: the initial 13 deaths,  the tracking, the shooting of several police officers, the Jewish supermarket assaulted, more deaths and the killing of the 3 gunmen.

I have seen this going on in front of my eyes. The supermarket is 15mins walk away from my apartment. Charlie Hebdo’s newspaper is close to the university where my daughter is studying. One of the supermarket clients studied in the same business school than my husband.  All those horrors sounding suddenly so close. So during those days, I experienced a large, very large palette of emotions: shock, anger, sadness,  fear, doubt, confusion, more fear for the future: would our society split into opposite camps ? would this lead to more chaos?

After Charlie Hebdo’s shooting, a minute of silence was decided in all public spaces. Private places did the same. Schools did the same. As they did so, we suddenly discovered that there were some classes were children would not silent, would not be shocked by what had happened but found it absolutely normal. Suddenly the kids showed what we all knew was there and had tried to forget.  Kids repeat what they hear at home. And so we all heard via radio or TV that there are some places in our society where the killing of others brings joy and comfort. Even if a minority, it shows us that something has gone wrong.

How was it possible? how did we go together to such a situation where there is such madness? Will we ever be able to change this? Can we define the problem, imagine a solution and just press a button to fix it? Obviously, we won’t. This is not the kind of problem that can be fixed. We already tried, and obviously, those killings showed us that we failed.

Then on Sunday, in some places on Saturday, marches were organized all around France. Everybody was invited to join.

I don’t participate often in protest marches because I don’t like big crowds. I am afraid I could be trapped in a sudden moment of violence.  But this Sunday, it did not matter. Maybe there was a risk, I feared it and I was scared. But one thing I knew for sure was that I cared. I care for being able to live a peaceful life with everyone around me, no matter if they are white, yellow, black or red, if they believe in Jesus, Mahomet or don’t believe in any kinds of gods, if they speak, act ,fight or keep silent. So because I care, I went to the march. And so did 1 and half million people, including governments leaders from all over the world (including some whom we may question the way they understand the word “freedom” or “peace”), representatives of a diversity of religions. I saw babies, toddlers, teenagers, as well as old people needing a stick to walk. I saw people from all corners of the society, rich and poor alike.  I had never seen so many people all around the Place de la Bastille. We couldn’t walk to place de la Nation, the final destination of the march, because of the many barriers to protect the government officials. But we self-organized, walking in nearby streets, finding our ways that were no direction or goals but as a way of being present. we walked, not quite silent all the time, singing, or saying poems aloud.

The effect on me was incredible : being there and feeling that all of us were there to show respect, solidarity, support was comforting. More than once I had tears in my eyes. Like finding a steady point in our hearts again we could lean on. Maybe we’ll be able to do it, after all, maybe we’ll be able to fix the problem, if so many of us care,  consider ourselves as relevant and affected, there should be hope. There is hope.

For me this is exactly the story of open space. We live in a complex world, that is becoming more complex every day, or where we see more and more complexity every day, everything being interconnected, because people write, talk, travel, use the internet. One action here impacts the whole. One drawing, one satirical cartoon impacted the world. This shooting impacted the world. Maybe this peace march impacted the world.

We live more and more often in chaos , confusion, conflict.

No great man can now save the world, even if deep inside I would love to believe in this kind of magic. The magic in fact is elsewhere : It depends on us all. To invite those who care. And let flow the energy of love.

Did anybody tried to organize and control those 1.5 million people in the streets of Paris, a city full of narrow streets? I don’t think so.  Someone who cared made an invitation. Those who had the authority prepared the place: initiated a place of origin, a place of destination, advertised 2 roads to follow. It ended up with the place de la Nation, supposed to be the final destination, being full from early morning,  and many many more than 2 roads with people marching. I bet the police just secured the minimum, for the officials, and then self-organization took place, every responsible person doing his job, and surfing chaos. Some shops had closed for security reasons. Restaurants and café re-opened and probably had one of the best turnover of the year. I bet if anyone had tried to organize and control 1,5 million people, they would have failed. Just letting us self-organize  worked perfectly well. And doing so, without even realizing it, we opened the possibility for peace and high performance, because when we care and take responsibility for what we care for,

And thus comes peace.

During those 3 days you’ll discover or re-discover –for me it’s a discovery every time- a way to experience this, you will experience in your own bodies how it feels when you take responsibility for what you care, in work and in life.

— Christine ”

Thank you to Christine, and all those who use Open Space in ways to bring peace between communities.   On 20th Jan 250+ of us will gather for the annual 3 day conference on the performing arts and theatre which kick-starts so many of our creativity for the year. Devoted and Disgruntled is in its 13th year, and many of the conversations are about practical theatre things, but they also explore peace, reconciliation, talking to power, working with families and communities, serving young people, healing the planet one tiny step at a time, and the way in which theatre and the entertainment industry can raise energy around an important issue. You don’t have to be Oprah Winfrey to make a difference (but wow ) – you can open space anywhere and self-organise something –and whatever it is will be the only thing it could be.

Hope to see so many of you Sat 20th January at D&D or maybe tonight at the opening of Lobster at Theatre503 which comes from its premiere at the Catalyst Mountview festival last year.

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