Notes on the Workshop at Uralla Community Centre NSW from 17 to 21 January 2018.
There were 18 participants in the workshop. This is a summary of the event to give those not present an idea of how it went and what themes emerged.
Wednesday 17 January
After the opening meal, the group gathered for introductions and an outline of the timetable and ground rules. Each person had around 3-4 minutes to speak about their background and interest in the workshop. Around half the participants had never attended a SDN workshop.
Thursday 18 January
Environment and our Future.
We are part of the destruction and reconstruction of life in the universe, and can choose to create or block change. Religious and cultural narratives need to evolve in a changing scientific environment. Our goal is to learn what has to be done to save the environment. In small groups, the participants were asked to identify different aspects of our experience and insight – spiritualty, sensations, physical attributes, cognitive abilities, actions and behaviour, and feelings.
Art in Relaxation. A participant used long experience as an artist to go through the complex stages of preparation and execution of a design. This showed how artists are adapting to using modern technology to enhance their work, while recognising the importance of being aware of tradition and basic skills.
Power and Trust in Groups. The principles that characterise more human-oriented structures:
- Intentionally produce counter-culture.
- Systematically distribute care labour.
- Make explicit norms and boundaries.
- Keep talking about power.
- Make inclusive decisions cheaply.
- Balance agility and chaos with rhythm.
- Write your own laws.
Responsibility to others. A personal story of abuse led to a focus on moving from a parental approach that leads to poor responsibility for the world to one which respects the child and fosters a sense of responsibility to others. This can lead to a sustainable and lasting outcome of share goals.
Friday 19 January
Place-based Community Development. This session covered ways in which Indigenous communities maintain their traditional culture. There were examples of several initiatives taken to help highlight the stories of the people over the generations, as an inspiration to those alive now. Through community development activities, and research into Aboriginal living conditions, activism is supported so as to influence government policies. The priority is to maintain communication among local people about their needs and experience with a view to encouraging action to counteract the negative effect of policies that are based on racial identity, mainstream funding, and emphasising the individual rather than the community.
Restorative Practice. Ned Iceton first became interested in the 1990s in the power of restorative practice to heal/restore relationships after harm was experienced. Seeing its transforming cultural application as an alternative approach to punishment, he supported members of the SDN to learn more about it and promote it in their fields of interest and influence. Initially its importance in the area of justice and education was emphasised. Its broader application as a way of living and cultural change is now being realised. It has developed from a primary focus on young people within the legal system to a community-wide process to foster ‘restorative cities’. In small groups, participants discussed their knowledge and experience of RP. This highlighted the wide potential for its use in schools, welfare, health and community development.
Ethics. The Humanist Society has helped develop an ethics program for schools in Victoria. This was followed last year with assisting curriculum development for teaching Humanism as a world belief system in Victorian schools (in conjunction with the 5 main religions). This year the Humanist Society focus is on programs to allow secular ‘spiritual counsellors’ into hospitals.
Tarot. It was shown how Tarot can highlight the complexities of human understanding and learning. The group looked for interpretations of the Tarot cards they had drawn so as to highlight different personal characteristics.
Nepal. A visitor gave a story of living in Nepal as a trek guide in a village in the mountains of Nepal. Traditional ways of life are strongly maintained. Poverty is common among the 80% of people who live in villages, and food exchange and sharing are common. The country’s political history has seen periods of rule by one family and then by kings. A popular uprising led the king to cede power 28 years ago to politicians. But a Maoist rebellion occurred between 1996 and 2006 because of dissatisfaction with the rulers. Finally a new constitution emerged and a coalition of parties. The earthquake of 2015 had a devastating effect on the people and the recovery process continues.
Life Journey. One participant led the group through their life journey, using as a touchstone a script analysis done by Ned Iceton many years earlier and subsequently revised/reviewed. The story highlighted some of the changes that occurred in balancing work and family, and community involvement as an agent of change.
Saturday 20 January
Inclusion and Exclusion. The group used a creative listening process, with a talking piece, to take it in turns to speak about the theme from their own experience, without ‘discussing’ what others had said. Some of what emerged included:
- Awareness raising exercises may help change behaviour (e.g. the blue eyes/brown eyes experiment used by Jane Goodall to highlight prejudice).
- Cultural sensitivity can counteract divisive tendencies and power games that seek to divide.
- We can build an alternative narrative that enhances the opportunities offered by a diverse community.
- Words and phrases like humility, acceptance, listening, going beyond our comfort zone, and humour, can all be part of creating a more inclusive society.
- Religious ideals such as loving one’ neighbour can be helpful in pointing the way.
Appreciative Inquiry. It is a way of living – a capacity to ask questions about what we value and like. There are five core principles – constructionist, simultaneity, anticipatory, poetic, and positive inquiry. There are five processes – focus on the positive, life-giving stories, themes arising from stories, creating shared images for a preferred future, and ways to create a shared future. Applying this approach to an organisation means changing the culture in a positive way. Wide participation from all levels is needed to make this possible. It is an inclusive process involving dialogue for transformation. It takes people from the head space to the heart space
The afternoon and evening were spent in free time, local visits and a gathering over a meal at the local pub.
Sunday 21 January
The morning was taken up with the annual business meeting and its various elements.
Communication. A participant felt that the space offered by the workshop was an encouragement to share thoughts and feelings. They shared their deep concern about language and longstanding commitment to the international language of Esperanto. Its philosophy of humans joined as humanity as a hope for the future remains an inspiration.
To end the gathering, the group spent time in reflective mode using a talking piece to share their responses to the following questions:
- What feelings, images and thoughts are with you from this workshop?
- What images and possibilities are you seeing emerging into the future?
The responses affirmed the value of the workshop and the personal connections made.
Notes by David Purnell