Fw: indigenous teaching

Peg Holman pholman at email.msn.com
Fri Jul 23 13:54:43 PDT 1999

There is a conversation on the Appreciative Inquiry listserv right now about
creating safe space.  Here
a little history:

It was sparked by the story that follows.
Michael Holstock then asked "how can we create safe space?"
I, of course, responded, you can create safe space with Open Space.
He then asked: "what element creates safe space?"
My response is below.  It got me thinking that I'd be interested in how
others in the OS community would answer this question because I think it is
an important one.  So, how do others see this?  What creates safe space?

Peg Holman



In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or
unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered.
All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a
large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe,
regardless of age, begins to talk out loud to the accused, one at a time,
about all the good things the person in the center of the circle has done
in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with
any detail and accuracy is recounted. All his positive attributes, good
deeds, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. No one
is permitted to fabricate, exaggerate or be facetious about his
accomplishments or the positive aspects of his personality. The
tribal ceremony often lasts several days and does not cease until everyone
is  drained of every positive comment he can muster about the person in
question.  At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration
takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back
into the tribe.

-----Original Message-----
From: Peg Holman <pholman at email.msn.com>
To: ailist at business.utah.edu <ailist at business.utah.edu>
Date: Friday, July 23, 1999 1:40 PM
Subject: Re: indigenous teaching

>>The myth **I** had heard wwas that harrison cooked it up based on the
>>observation that most creative works and real communication took place in
>>the coffee breaks.
>The story on coffee breaks is also true.  He was hosting a conference that
>took a year of planning and the feedback was the conference was great and
>the best part was the coffee breaks.  That was what caused him to think
>about a different way to do things.  He then drew from his experience in
>West Africa to create OS.
>>What is the element that creates the safe space?
>>In OS, for the Pelli and the Dagara peope?
>I think elements that go into making space safe in open space are simple
>profound.  First, there's the circle itself.  (West Aftrican villages are
>laid out in a circle.)
>A quote from the first edition of the User's Guide:
>"My experience tells me that the circle is the fundamental geometry of open
>human communication.  There is no head or foot, higher or lower, simply
>people being with people -- face to face.  After all, we do not have a
>square of friends and on a cold winter's night it is nice to be part of the
>family circle.  Place people in rows and they all face the source of power
>and authority, and it is clear who will talk and who must listen.  In
>squares and rectangles, there is separation wich may be useful to keep
>compative parties apart as in negotiation, but genuine, open, free
>communcation tends to be at a minimum.  Circles create communication."
>I have personally been astonished through the years how the simple act of
>putting chairs in a circle with only space between people changes the way
>they interact.  Subtle put very profound.
>The act of bounding the circle (one way of doing this is by walking it once
>very slowly) is another element of safe space.  I don't personally have as
>much language around this, but my experience is that the act of bounding
>creates a connection among the people in the circle.  Somehow, it reminds
>that we are, at some level, all one.
>The other element that I think helps create safe space is intention.  What
>is the underlying intention that brought this gathering into being?  From
>the facilitator's role, this is in part about ways of being rather than
>of doing.  Again, subtle stuff, but what I bring to the party and what the
>sponsor brings to the party affect the quality of the space.
>By the way, what happens in safe space is spirit emerges, individually and
>Peg Holman

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