whatever happens...w/ World Bank

Raffi Aftandelian raffi at BK.RU
Thu May 10 16:51:08 PDT 2007

Dear John (and all),

This "whatever happens..." thread reminds me of the first point at which I
"got" OST a few years ago. As an extremely slow learner, I only had my first
"aha" in understanding OST/os at my 10th (!) time facilitating a meeting, a
strategic planning session for an NGO doing innovative work with at-risk youth.

In the closing circle, just about everyone expressed disappointment,
sadness, dissatisfaction, or dis-something. And, in hindsight, perhaps
because many of them were trainers and facilitators themselves, they were
sophisticated enough to know that their feelings had nothing to do with my
performance, nor the process, and had everything to do with them and the
state of their organization. They had seen themselves in the mirror and
didn't like what they saw. Shock and anger on the grief cycle.

Six months later in a follow-up meeting I saw an entirely different
organization. It had more of a buzz, it had established procedures for more
(appropriate) accountability, heck the offices had a new, fresh look!

This experience has since informed how I often explain "whatever happens..."
in the invocation:

We have the opportunity to consciously perform at our very best because the
conditions have been created to take responsibility only for what we love.
And right now we don't know where we will be at the end of the conference.
We don't know what we will be feeling. Experience does show that sometimes
for something new to be born, we have to let something die. And we may feel
sadness...We have never gathered before quite like this, nor we will gather
like this again. And since you are here today perhaps this gathering is the
most important thing in your life right NOW. We are the ones we have been
waiting for...

On language
To back-translate from Russian how I've translated this principle into
English it would sound "Whatever happens, happens." And yes, Harrison, I
don't think it's about descending into the rabbit hole of semantics. My
personal preference is to keep the principle (or "fact of life," as it were)
as much in the present tense to invite an expanded now.

On culture
Somewhere I read, if I recall the wording correctly, that the only place
where Appreciative Inquiry has not been known to work straight off has been
in Haiti. Why? Because apparently there is so much fatalism as a consequence
of a difficult history that it is a stretch to think appreciatively. 

Perhaps, then, it's a matter of speaking directly to the fatalism with which
this fact of life might be understood and to frame it in a way that invites
not only the inevitable fatalism (but more consciously) but also something
that engages the hearts and minds of participants?

On new wording
I hear something like "oops, I fell face first into a patch of fresh cow
dung in "learn and move forward." I hear less space for celebration - the
most common condition in my experience of OST- in "learn and move forward."
 Might "learn..." invite more of a sitting with regret? 

Other interpretations are possible too, I imagine. And I'm sure everything
works. Because as you reminded us, John, the spaceholder is the real tool
here, the words are secondary.


San Diego, USA

skype: raffi_1970
raffi at bk.ru, raffi_1970 at yahoo.com

p.s. congratulations on your facilitation at the World Bank, John! Thank you
for the openness, the pictures, and the story. Would've loved to be a
(ghee-)fly on the wall (or at the table)!

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