Maiking "SAFE SPACE"

Richard Charles Holloway learnshops at
Sun Jul 25 09:13:52 PDT 1999

Brian's reflections connected me with two analogies that seemed worthwhile
to share.

The first analogy concerns the night campfire in the wilderness.  After the
sun sets, there are all manners of beast that roam upon the fringes of our
imagination.  Some of these beasts are real, some are not.  Some give voice
(the scream or roar that emerges dramatically from the night) while others
cause our ears to prick at every crack, snap and crunch from the sounds of
stealthy feet (paws, claws, hooves, and bellies) from somewhere out there in
the night.  Within the light of this campfire, we connect to one another.
We plan, create and intend our next day.  We are safe and alive.  The person
who tends this fire through the night, and remains alert to the outside for
danger, serves the others by keeping the circle safe within the light.

The other analogy speaks to how we may develop the capacity for autonomy in
others through the use of boundaries.  We begin by explicitly defining these
boundaries (authority, responsibility, expectations, resources, purpose),
and nurturing the person and the process within the boundaries.   As the
person learns to master her or himself within the boundaries, we extend
them.  This is a safe space for learning and growing.  Capacity increases,
and the boundaries move in response.  People who live responsibly
(collaboratively and creatively) without boundaries are most often those who
developed their capacity for this autonomy within boundaries.  The elders
within the communities (organizations, families, schools) become the
stewards for this developmental process...tending the fire that burns within
the circle and remaining alert to the outside for danger...serving those
within by keeping the circle safe.


"Our first teacher is our own heart." -a saying from the Cheyenne People

Richard Charles Holloway -
P.O. Box 2361, Olympia, WA 98507 USA Telephone 253.539.4014 or 206.568.7730
Thresholds <>
Meeting Masters <>

>From  Sun Jul 25 15:47:28 1999
Message-Id: <SUN.25.JUL.1999.154728.0400.>
Date: Sun, 25 Jul 1999 15:47:28 -0400
Reply-To: lpasoc at
From: Larry Peterson <lpasoc at>
Subject: Re: Maiking "SAFE SPACE"
In-Reply-To: <379BB729.262F at>
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Brian:  I loved your clarity with regard to making space safe. I think you
are right on in describing how the process and principles do create a sense
of safety. The facilitator's personal presence is also critical.

This safety is of a certain kind, however. It is creating safety for "truth"
to emerge. That truth still requires risk and personal openness or it may
not be experienced as "safe". It may challenge preconceived ideas and power
arrangements, and those who have had the power may not feel as "safe" as
they did before the space was opened. This does not mean a challenge to
physical safety in most cases.  However I have seen it lead to some people
who were in the room trying to regain control of what has been unleashed
after the event is over. (Particularly in the church and voluntary sectors.)


Larry Peterson
Associates in Transformation
41 Appleton Ave., Toronto, ON,
Canada, M6E 3A4
Tel:/Fax: 416-653-4829

lpasoc at

-----Original Message-----
From:   OSLIST [mailto:OSLIST at LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU] On Behalf Of Fr Brian S
Sent:   Sunday, July 25, 1999 9:17 PM
Subject:        Maiking "SAFE SPACE"

Dear Peg (Holman)
Some reflections - for thinking about and agreeing with or otherwise -
about what makes the space we use in OPEN SPACE "safe", as I see it.
1.      The CIRCLE is a boundary with space inside it which creates
acceptance and allows/encourages active presence by those present.  As we
use it, that space is always "open" or "empty" and uncluttered by any
meeting things like desks, chairs, tables, etc - its real space.

2.      There is therefore freedom to move about within that boundary, in
and into groups and between groups.  The "permission" given by The Law Of
Two Feet realizes this.

3.      Accepting other participants' "issues/passions" relating to the
theme, and acceptance of my "issue/passion" relating to the theme - and
even acceptance of the absence of an "issue/passion" relating to the

4.      The clear option/invitation to explore one another's

5.      Someone is there to focus on the "space" of the circle within a
"time" context - i.e. there is a finite end to this space of time.  The
"space-maker's" role is vital.

6.      Within that space/constraint, there emerges an evenness of
participants which then allows focus on issues and outcomes.

7.      It's just like the safety of a coffee-break - I can do whatever I
think is worth doing and has value (until the end of the coffee break).

8.      Other formats and structures set out - often consciously - to
contain and control the spirit of a group (which can't be permitted to
get out because it will likely create "problems").  Experience shows that
the circle, set up in Open Space fashion, actually encourages the
emergence of spirit and the relevant creativity.

Respectfully submitted and contributed.    BRIAN S. BAINBRIDGE

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