World Values Day Blog - A Journey of Values and Dialogue

I was asked to write a blog post for the World Values Day website and World Values Day last week, reflecting on our dialogue series this year. World Values Day may just be once a year but like all these ‘days’ it is to highlight and encourage us to try and think about and live our values every day.

“It is a process which explores an unusually wide range of human experience: our closely held values; the nature and intensity of emotions; the patterns of our thought processes; the function of memory; the importance of inherited cultural myths; and the manner in which our neurophysiology structures moment-to-moment experience…Such an inquiry necessarily calls into question deeply held assumptions regarding culture, meaning and identity.”  

-David Bohm, On Dialogue

Following on from a revealing taster dialogue session with members of the UK Values Alliance at the end of 2017, we decided that dialogue is an ideal practice to explore, think about and reflect upon personal and shared values. This year we will have hosted 4 dialogues, preceding World Values Day, exploring values in relation to the self, others and the world around us. They have been enlightening and thought provoking as well as creating spaces for deeper connection and understanding. These dialogues are also the inspiration for the downloadable resource, available on the World Values Day website, that provides instruction and guidance on how to host a values-based community dialogue.

The practice of dialogue that we have been working with throughout the year and in the resource is Bohm Dialogue. David Bohm (1917-1992) was a theoretical physicist, most known for his theory of the implicate and explicate order. In his later life he developed a philosophy of dialogue which grew out of his observation that one of the reasons for the many crisis’s we face as a global society is fragmentation. Our societies, organisations and even ourselves are fragmented; we have lost sight of the whole and that all livings things are interconnected, interdependent and interrelated.

As Bohm’s contemporary Einstein famously said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create it.”

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This is why Bohm recognised that what we so desperately need is new thinking, and that we struggle to arrive at this new thinking because we do not create the time and space to come together and meet in a meaningful way or create the conditions in which we can allow new thinking to occur. Values are so intrinsic to a dialogue practice and combined they provide us with a potentially powerful tool for positive change.

As local and global communities, we are being held back by divisive, argumentative and accusatory ways of communicating. Dialogue presents another way of communicating with each other; allowing us to connect through meaning and values and to generate new ways of thinking about the people and the world around us.

In today’s complex times we need to come together in dialogue in order to listen, connect, understand, learn and grow. As communities we find time and space to come together and think and act on things that are important to us. Communities share common interests, and they give us a sense of belonging and participation. We can also find this sense in dialogue together.

We often get stuck; stuck saying the same things, thinking the same thoughts or acting the same way because we can’t get beyond our traditional modes of communication: those of monologue, debate and discussion, to arrive at a deeper level of meaning and understanding. Dialogue allows us to reach this deeper level, and create new ways of thinking by sharing meaning together. This shared meaning has been abundant in our dialogue series as we went on a journey of values and dialogue.

In our first dialogue we explored and shared meaning around personal values: what they are, where they come from, how we action them, what can challenge them and what meaning they bring to our lives. It generated some interesting thinking and areas for further exploration such as  whether value based behaviour is a choice and what can compromise it, often creating the value-action gap we are striving to close; and what are the small things that we can do to live our values, starting from smiling at people in public places and asking those who serve us daily, ‘how are you?’

“We are relating to each other at a very deep level and that’s a very powerful thing” -dialogue participant

In our second dialogue exploring values and others one of the topics we arrived at was litter, which was given as an example of behaviour of others that is hard to understand and tolerate. Why would someone choose to litter our shared environment, and equally what drives others to pick it up when it is not theirs. This proved a very good example and raised two further points around the values of acceptance and understanding. Some felt that acceptance of the person who had littered was part of understanding the human condition; we are all doing the best we can, with what we have. Others raised concern that an acceptance of people dropping litter was parallel to doing nothing and becoming apathetic. For some acceptance means non-action, for others acceptance leads to action; for is it possible to encourage the person that litters to stop littering if we show them anger and aggression or if we meet them with acceptance and love.

“There can’t be understanding, without understanding. – dialogue participant

In our third dialogue we set out to explore values and how they influence our relationship with the world around us. One powerful reflection by a participant was on the distinction between operational values that drive day-to-day behaviour and idealistic values that might help him aspire to and become to the ‘next best version of myself,’ and asked how we could support the tension between ‘who I am today and who I could be tomorrow.’ The ability to see ourselves and our values as dynamic and evolving allows us to face challenging situations or people with compassion and create the space and conditions for change. The question of whether ‘bad people’ have values arose in the dialogue and it was suggested by some that it is not a case of judging people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but instead meeting them with understanding, empathy and compassion. When we become focused on the lack of values in others, we can also lose touch with our ability to respond from a place of our own personal values. If we want others to change we need to ask ourselves whether they are likely to do so when met with judgement and blame, or with love and understanding.

“Values are in reality all defined by how you interact with other people and the way you behave in the world.” – dialogue participant

In the dialogue series we have experienced first-hand some of the benefits to individuals participating in a dialogue, which can be; to feel valued by participating, being listened to, seen and accepted; to understand themselves better by reflecting upon and speaking their thoughts; and to understand others better by listening without judgement, to different points of view and other people’s experiences.

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Equally there are collective benefits to communities that take part in dialogue, such as, to be able to move beyond conflict and challenges by uncovering assumptions and unconscious biases; to gain insights and spark ideas that help form solutions that benefit everyone; and to improve relationships by building trust, empathy and understanding.

If you feel part of a community it is likely that there is something that binds you together, through common interests, values, and a sense that it is important enough for you to care about and give your time to. When something is important to us, very often we have different reasons for its importance. Without good communication it can be challenging to express this importance within the group, or to people outside of the group. This is why we need dialogue: in the same way that possessing a strong sense of values can strengthen community, being in dialogue together can also strengthen community.

We tend to jump to defend what is important to us. When we defend an opinion we inhibit our ability to be able to ‘think together’ because our energy and focus is going into defending, we become closed. In dialogue we need to be able to stay open, noticing what is occurring in us, whilst bringing attention to what is being said by others and the group.  We all have things that are important to us, and these are shaped by past experiences as well as familial, cultural and social framing. Therefore, it is important to realise that very often our opinions are intrinsically tied up with our sense of self and identity. We fear that if our opinions are challenged, our very sense of being and who we are is challenged also. Through dialogue we are able to see ourselves as a unique part of a whole community, to understand that what we see in others, whether we like it or not, is also in us. We welcome all thoughts and feelings because to dismiss, ignore or exclude something or someone is to fragment the community, and deny something, if only a potentiality, that is also within us.

If you are part of a community and have a desire to think about the potential of your community and what you would like to apply it to, to improve the lives of yourself and others, then please use our values-based community dialogue resource,  and let us know what meaning you create together!

The World Needs Dialogue - Inaugural Conference

For three days this week I had the pleasure of attending the first ‘The World Needs Dialogue’ conference, hosted at Roffey Park by the International Academy of Dialogue. The conference drew 80 people from around the world who have been working with dialogue in a variety of sectors, from healthcare, criminal justice, organisations and societies, some for many years. The wealth of experience, expertise, passion and warmth was a source of great inspiration and motivation that dialogue can bring about positive change in our many fragmented and polarised societies and organisations.

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A number of themes emerged for me from the dialogues that I attended and I make some attempt to summarise them and identify the further questions they raised.

‘HELPING’ OTHERS

In the first dialogue I noticed a question arising about how our natural human instinct to help others can often inadvertently render the very people or person we are trying to help, to become helpless. It became apparent to me that it is important for us to understand the intention and projection of our desire to ‘help’. There is a danger in thinking that we can ‘help’ others, in that part of us thinks this way because we think we have more skills, intelligence or ability than the person or people we are trying to help. Have we asked ourselves whether the person or people need or want our help, or whether we have a authentic and legitimate relationship to their community or context. If we think we know ‘what is best’ for someone are we actually disempowering them, by not supporting a situation that allows them to discover and create their own answers and solutions for themselves, with their own personal or collective power. We are very often moved to help because the situation touches something in us that we have experienced or felt. Perhaps if we look for ways to connect with the person by sharing these motivations or offering ourselves in service to their needs, then we can create a more equal starting point in which we can work together to solve problems or affect change. Finally it is important that we empower each other to be able to ask for help, from a place of ownership of own individual needs. Creating spaces for each person’s voice to be heard equally and with respect, as in dialogue, is a space where we are able to ‘help’ each other simply by being ourselves.

I want to be connected but I also want to be different, I still want to be me
— -Dialogue participant

POWERLESSNESS

Following on from the first dialogue, the second was within a prison and criminal justice context. One participant shared in the check-in that for them, prisons dehumanise people. This led me to build on the theme of help, to one of power and powerlessness. When we dehumanise people we take away their personal power, we render them powerless. Prisons are by their nature structures of power and control. However, if our prison service is committed to reform and rehabilitation then must we find a way to give back to prisoners a sense of their personal power and the responsibility that comes with it.

RESPONSIBILITY

The themes of conflict and responsibility arose in the three dialogue I took part in. Conflict was explored in two ways; the conflict that can arise in a dialogue in the present moment, and the conflict that is bought to the dialogue with the hope of dissipating it. It is very often that in situations of conflict one or both sides are placing blame and judgement on the other. When we are forced to start from a position of defence it is unlikely that we are going to open ourselves to an exploration of possible solutions to an issue in a positive and conducive way. This blame and judgement is very often exacerbated by the roles that people wear: if you have a role of responsibility then you can be held accountable to that role. But what do we really mean by responsibility? Who or what are we responsible to or for? By participating in dialogue we can learn to view responsibility in two forms: one, that we are responsible for, and to ourselves; for our thoughts, feelings and responses to others, and for how and when we use our voices and how and when we listen: and two, we begin to feel a sense of collective responsibility for the group; for what we are creating together by sharing meaning and co-inquiring. Lastly, it became clear that by taking on roles or wearing labels we very often restrict ourselves, and by doing so limit what we can offer to each other in organisations or in society. If we meet from a place of ‘I am ‘ versus ‘my role is’ can we act from a greater place of freedom and energy to offer our skills, passions and interests to others.

ROLES

The theme of roles emerged in the next dialogue as well. We were exploring together ways that we can manage emotions that arise from participants in dialogue. It became clear that the roles we wear can often repress us, and when we take them off, we can show our full range of emotions and connect with each other from a place of common humanity. In a dialogue we are responsible for our emotional responses, however, my offer to the group was that it can be helpful to equip people with the language of feelings and needs, so that they are able to take ownership of their emotions in a way that does not require shame of experiencing feelings that often perceived to be ‘negative.’

Emotions bring the life to the dialogue
— -Dialogue participant

POWER

The final dialogue I participated in was exploring power and fragmentation in organisations. The energy that arose in the group was a clear indicator for me that there is a lot of energy around the topic of power. This is because we have all experienced the expressions of power in both positive and negative ways. Power can be spoken about, and thought about, but ultimately we experience power, we feel it, and its consequences. We very often ignore the power dynamics that are at play and present in every situation, and relationship. This can often be because of hierarchical power structures that are in place that create fear of the repercussions of naming power. From where do we find the courage to name and speak to power. For me it happens when there is something personal at stake, when we recognise that something is important to us in relation to our values, when we have a history with the person, people or experience, and when we are able to take a risk. We all experience power differently in relation to these factors and we are able to experience and witness that in a dialogic context. Our experience of power is also influenced by the quality of our relationships and the intention we bring to them.

Final reflections

The conference provided a very rich experience and reaffirms my passion and belief in dialogue and its ability to bring about change and healing in the world.

Dialogue creates a space that allows us to be seen, heard and appreciated: these are basic human needs that we all have and that are often not met in us.

Dialogue allows us to Be together, which is vital for good quality Doing.

We bring our history/experience, the roles we wear, our responsibilities, and what’s important to us to a dialogue and we can learn by sharing these and listening to others.

We may be able to operate in the world as an individual well but we have forgotten how to be together well in groups. Dialogue allows us to witness and experience how we are together and inquire into the group dynamics that arise. The structures we exist in are all made of groups: organisations, communities, families; and we have to ask ourselves what would we gain from learning to be together well because ultimately we are all one group, and dialogue allows us to reconnect with that feeling and create new meaning together, that can create action that serves each member of the group.

UK Values Alliance -Dialogue 4

Last night was the last in this year’s dialogue series with the UK Values Alliance. It has been an incredibly interesting and thought-provoking series, and thank you to everyone who has taken part.

The final dialogue was an opportunity to reflect on the upcoming World Values Day and the dialogue took us to many different points of exploration.

We began the dialogue with two short framing exercises, the first to look at the image of the earth from space and spend two minutes writing all the words that came to mind. The second was to draw or describe something that we see on a frequent basis in our everyday lives that is of value to us.

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Values conversations are so valuable because they are what is truly going to connect us with what’s meaningful.
— Dialogue participant

Both these exercises produced interesting and varied responses from people, which prompted one participant to begin the dialogue with a sharing of feeling flabbergasted that two people could have such different responses to the same exercise. This lead us to explore what it actually means to feel flabbergasted, which interestingly, according to one of my favourite online sources, etymonline.com, is a word of uncertain origin. Whilst I wasn’t aware of this during the dialogue, it seems fitting, given that looking at the earth from space reminds us of amongst other things, the uncertainty that comes with living on a rock in an infinite universe!

The dialogue continued and touched on how we label, mainly focusing on male/female, feminine/masculine, and the new pronouns that the younger generation are using for people who choose to identify as non-binary which led to further questions of why do we need labels; why do Latin language prescribe gender to inanimate objects; why does ‘Mother Earth’ have to be female; why do we humanise the Earth. As with any dialogue it takes time to process the questions that arise and seem important to us. The question of why do we humanise things that aren’t ‘human’ to me seems to stem from our interrelationship with everyone and everything around us. When I look at a photo of the earth I feel a sense of connection, and therefore, I personally understand my need to relate to all that is within the world in a way that makes sense to me as a human, and also beyond being human. In the same way as I feel connected, I also feel that the Earth is our Mother. The strong feelings that arise in dialogue when listening to others can provide us with deeper understanding about our beliefs and the values that contribute to and arise from them.

The question of whether humans are ‘fundamentally flawed’ or not was raised and created some fragmentation in the dialogue. This again showed the power of perception and language to shape our actions and values. How do we perceive humanity, do we believe humans are born fundamentally good -as in some indigenous beliefs -born into original beauty, or are we created flawed? Do we acknowledge that very often the words we use are loaded, that they can create discomfort in others by their perceived or experienced meaning. This part of the dialogue again allowed us to explore the relationship between values and beliefs.

Values are energetic concepts and when we label them they collapse into something much smaller than what they are, and that’s the limitation of language.
— Dialogue participant

We talked about the need for inter-generational dialogue, recognising a frequent tension between the generations. Very often the older generation is seen to be comfortable and secure at the expense of the planet and resources: why would they want to compromise or change their comfortable lifestyles for the sake of the future of the environment or younger generations? We noted the obsession in the UK to own a home and asked why this is when in other countries renting is more common. Considering the property and rental market in the UK led us onto greed and fairness. We asked why Britain is perceived and experienced to be a fair country and where did that notion come from or begin, because we historically have not had a fair society in the past. Within this was also questions around ‘mistakes’; what is the difference between a mistake and unintended consequences; do we need to own our mistakes in order to share the learning from them; are we making assumptions about what people perceive to be a mistake; is part of our very nature to make mistakes throughout each generation in history.

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As with every dialogue we arrived at more questions and it is for each individual participant to choose the question that needs exploring further for themselves, in a way that will create meaning. This felt like perhaps the most challenging of the four dialogues, separation and fragmentation were both topics of discussion and felt at points throughout the dialogue. Could it be that by looking at a image of the world we feel there is more at stake? Our values help to give us meaning in an unknowable and uncertain world, but we need to do more than name our values, we need to share the meaning of our values to create a space where language can meet experience, and shape collective action, and it seems a powerful way to do that is to meet in dialogue.

World Values Day & Values-Based Community Dialogue Resource

World Values Day takes place on October 18th and individuals, organisations and communities are invited to take part across the globe.

There are a number of ways to take part, from sharing a value and an action that you will take to live that value, to resources that provide information on hosting workshops and dialogues.

As part of my work facilitating dialogues and as a member of the UK Values Alliance I have created a downloadable resource to support communities in hosting values-based community dialogues. 

The resource is available to download from the World Values Day website, where you will find lots of other information and resources to help to be a part of and contribute to a more values-based society and world.

UK Values Alliance Dialogue - Dialogue & The World

‘Dialogue requires the principle of participation-by creating a common mind we are able to recall ways in which we are an intimate part of the world around us.’

In this third dialogue in the UK Values Alliance series we set out to explore values and how they influence our relationship with the world around us.

We chose to frame the dialogue with consideration of five core values that participants would like to see lived out in their societies. This was followed by discussion in pairs, on the values chosen, in comparison to the below 'British Values.' These five values were set out by the government in 2011 and have been promoted and embedded in British schools since November 2014. 

 Source: http://vle.newbury-college.ac.uk/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=2175

Source: http://vle.newbury-college.ac.uk/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=2175

What became immediately clear as we began the dialogue is that the framing exercises provoked quite different reactions in the participants; some reflecting that to just pick five values that one would like to see lived out was nonsensical as it cannot be limited to five alone; some stating that the 'British Values' were not values, but rather systems or processes; some finding familiarity in the British Values due to working with them in schools, and being able to relate their chosen values to the language of the British Values. These different and somewhat negative reactions showed us three things: one that the language hugely influences how we connect or are disconnected to ideas or messages, two: that without that connection we often stay stuck in a head-based, discussion, that inhibits our ability to listen and create meaning together by reaching a deeper level of understanding, and three: that it is not possible to impose values on others in a way that allows them to be felt and lived from a place of authenticity and personal truth. 

Removing the British Values from the focus of the discussion allowed us to progress to a deeper level of dialogue, whilst reflecting on the reactions and thinking that had arisen.

The realisation that it is not possible to impose values led to some discussion on how it is that we discover and form our values, and the dynamic nature of values; it being possible to acquire new values when influenced by new contexts or cultures, or to prioritise certain values over others depending on the situations we find ourselves in. One participant reflected on the distinction between operational values that drive day-to-day behaviour and idealistic values that might help him aspire to and become to the 'next best version of myself,' and asked how we could support the tension between 'who I am today and who I could be tomorrow.' The ability to see ourselves and our values as dynamic and evolving allows us to face challenging situations or people with compassion and create the space and conditions for change. 

This need for flow and the conditions to discover and connect with our values is an important point. Once values become institutionalised or collectively held, the danger is that they can become a rule that is rigidly held. Whilst we need support and guidance, we also need the space to take responsibility for our own values and how we live them. As one participant suggested, if we stay in a parent-child-like relationship to create our values then we risk the child-like reaction of rebellion. 

The question of how do we create the conditions for people to connect with their values and change was explored through the idea of community, family and leadership. If we agree that we cannot impose values then how can we come together to share values? It is only in coming together in situations like dialogue or meaningful interaction in other ways that this can be done, which requires the time and willing participation of individuals. If we are to aspire to any sense of community or societal values then it is important that those promoting them are also able to model this behaviour back.

The question of whether 'bad people' have values arose in the dialogue and it was suggested by some that it is not a case of judging people as 'good' or 'bad' but instead meeting them with understanding, empathy and compassion. When we become focused on the lack of values in others, we can also lose touch with our ability to respond from a place of our own personal values. If we want others to change we need to ask ourselves whether they are likely to do so when met with judgement and blame or with love and understanding. 

Values are in reality all defined by how you interact with other people and they way you behave in the world.

It is clear that when considering the relationship between values and the world there is a constant interplay between the internal and external, between the individual and the society in which they live. Often to live our values we have to overcome fears, develop strategies to get our needs met, raise our consciousness, remember that we are constantly evolving, extend the values we aspire to treat others with also to ourselves, and create humanised environments where we can align values with systems and processes in a meaningful way. Connecting with each other and our values can take us beyond polarisation, beyond judgement, to a place of common humanity. 

Identify what your individual values are, and then live them, and create the world that you want to see.

 

Rewilding at Knepp

This month I found some time to spend four peaceful days with Mother Nature and no technology at Knepp, one of the largest rewilding projects in lowland Europe.

Our ecosystems are broken and nature is struggling – with 56% of species in the UK in decline and 15% threatened with extinction. Biodiversity needs space to flourish.

Across Britain, many places where you would expect wildlife to thrive have been reduced to wet deserts. The seabed has been smashed and stripped of its living creatures. We’ve suffered more deforestation and lost more of our large mammals than any European country except Ireland.

We can’t build natural processes but we can help them re-assert themselves. For example, by reducing high populations of grazing animals to help natural woodlands grow. Or by reintroducing missing species to plug crucial gaps in the ecosystem. Or by letting rivers meander and follow their natural paths.

We need nature. We desperately need nature in Britain to recover

Source: www.rewildingbritain.org.uk

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By far the best introduction to this inspiring project is to watch their short video that explains how they made the transition from intensive farming to extensive farming and giving their 3,500 acre estate back to nature, and in doing so, gave a gift to us all.

This was my first solo camping trip, and whilst I was at a camp site with other people, I felt in relative solitude in comparison to my normal day-to-day life. To further this feeling of solitude, I turned off my phone on arrival on Friday morning, and left it off until Monday lunchtime. Without a watch, turning my phone off also meant I disconnected from what I came to refer to as my 'time-telling device' in my journal writings. Losing this connection to time as we are accustomed to it in the modern world, was probably the most notable difference in my weekend experience. I did not miss other features of my phone: emails, calls, social media, entertainment; but it did feel strange to not know what time it was. I trusted that I could have a good guess by looking at the position of the sun, and other than that I had to settle into just 'being.' After some restlessness I began to adjust to my new way of being and started to really take notice of my surroundings and experience.

notice (n.)
early 15c., “information, intelligence,” from Middle French notice (14c.)

My mind is trying to tell me to do something
My body wants to be still
My energy is the go-between
The channel of confusion
Between doing and being
Being and doing
The chatter that I am trying to silence
The feelings that I am trying to let go of
Maybe I should stop trying

To stop trying
Is not to give up
Or give in
It is to flow
To attune
To notice
And know when to do
This is not the time for doing
I don't need my time telling device
To know that
Nothing is also
Everything
 

One of my favourite things about Knepp are the majestic oak trees, surveyors of the land for hundreds of years, you can feel their wisdom in their wide trunks. There are a number of viewing platforms that have been considerately built on some of these trees to give better views of the landscape. I found myself in ceremony with some of these trees; walking around them, meditating with them and feeling a sense of pain and mourning for all the destruction that they have borne witness to.

Another joy I found was the act of lighting my fire and cooking in the outdoors. It conjured up images of primitive times, and after my restless first afternoon, I found cooking my first meal grounded and settled me into my sense of place. The ritual act of lighting the fire to cook, gave a rhythm to my days that I looked forward to.
Another blissful experience was the treat of having an open-air bath! Knepp has created a little bit of rustic luxury with outdoor baths and showers, where I discovered that there is not much that can compete with lying in a warm bath on a summer's evening, looking at the blue sky, vibrant green leaves of the trees and listening to the birds sing.

This is truly an inspirational place. It has been beautifully and thoughtfully created for visitors to relax and spend a peaceful and blissful time in nature. There is a map of the estate with four walking trails that are easy to follow and take you through different areas; from the shade of woodland, to meadows, rivers and ponds, and shrubland. It is unlike any other area of nature I have seen in my own country; the wildness reminded me of other parts of the world I have visited such as Sri Lanka, where nature is allowed to run her course, and humans live more in harmony with the land. 

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Meditation with an Oak Tree

We breathe together
In a cycle of breath

We breathe together
I feel it now
The solid trunk
The rustling leaves
In a cycle of breath
Life and death

We breath together
My exhale is
Your inhale
The wind blows
And we both know
In a cycle of breath
The web of life
Weaves it’s net

We breathe together
Life giving life
The energy of creation
Is wet between my legs
Giving back to
The Earth that made me
In a cycle of breath
Brings renewal
Life and death
 
 
 
‘Connectivity’ is very important to us. Nationwide, and across Europe too, ecologists are concerned about the isolation of habitats. In order to protect biodiversity and and populations as a whole, species need to be able to move from one area to another if they are going to be able to respond to adverse factors such as pollution and climate change.
 
The Knepp Rewilding Project aims to demonstrate how areas of high biodiversity can influence the countryside in general, stimulating species expansion and colonisation in other areas. We see Knepp as a much larger picture, where diversity hotspots can be linked with larger areas, creating what ecologists call a ‘Living Landscape.’
 
Grazing animals are the prime ‘movers’ of regeneration. The breeds of animals we have at Knepp longhorn cattle, fallow, roe and red deer, Exmoor ponies and Tamworth pigs-imitate the herbivores that would have grazed this land thousands of years ago. The various species affect the vegetation in different ways helping create a mosaic of habitats such as open grassland, regenerating scrub, open-grown trees and woodland.
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As stated on the Rewilding Britain website, rewilding is about wildlife returning and habitats expanding; people reconnecting with the wonder of nature and communities flourishing with new opportunities. Knepp meets these three aims, and any visitor will experience the wonder of nature. I am very grateful for being able to spend time in this magical place; from the birds singing, to the majestic oak trees, ancient paths and wild animals, it was a lesson in slowing down, noticing and appreciating. 

 
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"The sustainability of the environment we live in is the ground of our sense of worth...A psychology of liberation must also be a psychology of ecology. The environment tells the body how much our lives are valued." - Truth or Dare, Starhawk

The 3 ways we listen in dialogue

In dialogue we are practising listening three ways, which can seem quite hard at first, but with awareness and practice becomes possible.

 
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Listening to Self

Firstly we need to tune into and listen to ourselves. This includes sensing any emotional responses to what is said in our bodies; Our emotions are felt before they are thought and it is often something that is overlooked. Our bodies give us the first sign of how we feel about something; do we have a tight nervous sensation in our stomachs, do we feel nauseous, has our heart started beating faster, do we feel tense? Once we begin to notice these physical sensations we can start to learn the language of feelings to name them. This takes some practice; sometimes we don’t feel anything. We can use our breath to connect us to our bodies, searching within for subtle signs and exploring them. Perhaps what we thought was anger is actually pain. Don’t forget that it is also possible to conjure up emotional sensations by recalling past experiences and feelings so, whilst it is important that we notice these too, we can bring awareness to whether it is something felt in the present moment or a consequence of some past thought or feeling.

Once we have become more in tune with our emotional and physical responses we can bring our attention to our minds. Can we inquire into why it might be that what is being said or happening right now is causing these sensations. Can we trace our thinking back to similar past events or words. Or bring understanding to past experiences that may have developed certain learnt behaviour or habitual thought patterns. What is the tone of the voice inside our heads? Is it our inner critic putting us down or a more compassionate, kind and understanding voice. Often we don’t notice our inner narrative; there are many voices in there, as there are many facets to ourselves. It can be helpful to name them and make friends with them; you don’t need to cast your self-doubt aside but perhaps give him or her a hug. Once we give light to all the elements of ourselves we can better see what lessons they have to teach us, or what needs they might have to become a better version of themselves.

 
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Learning to listen to ourselves can be one of the hardest elements of a listening practice; sometimes we don’t want to listen to the chatter in our heads; we find constant distractions to keep us from those voices; the what ifs, the buts, and the if onlys. We don’t need to tackle them all at once, you are on a lifelong journey, and one that is flowing in constant change, so be gentle and take steps towards knowing yourself a bit better each day. There are many ways to explore ourselves but noticing is a good start. Notice what makes you happy, what makes you feel most alive, or what makes you sad or angry. All feelings are welcome, and are in direct relation to our needs, whether they are met or unmet needs. Learn to pause, take time and reflect. Notice what you are feeling moment to moment; emotions are fleeting so give them space and as you come to observe them they will start to change: no one can stay angry forever, and we all know happiness is fleeting. All emotions are an expression of life, so we don’t need to judge them as good or bad, just accept that they are there, and learn to be with them. If we don’t allow the flow of emotions they will find somewhere to settle in our bodies, festering, ready to surface at the most inopportune moments, where we still might not understand them.

Listening to others

When we think about listening to others there are a few things to consider first. What is our intention for listening? This might sound strange but actually why is it that you want to listen to this person? Do you even want to listen to this person? Do you think they have something of value to say? Do you need something from them? Do you think they should be listening to you but you don’t need to listen to them? Or do you simply want to honour and respect them as a fellow human being and listen with the intent to understand and connect with them. Once we have given some thought to our personal intention we also need to give thought to what the person or group we are listening to needs. Do they just need to make sense of their own thoughts by speaking them out loud. People speaking their problems do not always need a answer, advice or solution from us, in fact, sometimes that is the least helpful thing we can offer them. Maybe they just need the silent acceptance of another human being to hear them and see them for who they are and what they are experiencing in the moment. This of course requires that we are able to suspend our judgement of whatever it is that person is saying, so that they feel open and secure to really speak what is true to them.

 
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Practising non-judgement is an essential part of listening to understand, both for ourselves, as we are often our harshest critics, but also for other people. If you have ever been listened to fully, without judgement, you will know that it is a beautiful, liberating feeling. Listening without judgement does not mean that we will never get to a point that we make a judgement, but it means that we are able to hold that judgement lightly, and really inquire into what is being said, with curiosity and empathy. There is a dance that plays between us when we speak; someone says something we don’t like and we feel our defences raising, ready to jump into action; to attack or defend. Can we stop to notice and inquire into what has caused this reaction? Or perhaps what the person is saying has got us all excited, we can’t wait to jump in, interrupt and say our part. Either way, it is essential that we practice a slow form of communication; one that gives spaces for these feelings to settle and the causes to emerge, to strengthen our understanding of ourselves within the context. There are of course other reasons why someone may need us to listen to them. Perhaps they do indeed need something from us, maybe they need us to mirror back to them what it is we have heard; so they can feel listened to and understood. Or maybe we have some vital knowledge that they need, in which case, have we given them enough time and space to ask the vital questions. Are we delivering knowledge or are we exchanging it? It is also important that we take into considerations the conditions in which we listen, both in ourselves and our environments. Do we listen well when we are stressed, hungry or in a rush? Do we listen well in a noisy room full of distractions? Can we make an assessment on how these might affect the levels of listening required and suggest we move to a different location or speak at another time.

Listening to the group

Finally there is listening to the group. This means listening to the flow of meaning that is emerging from our collectives voices and thinking. When we are in a successful dialogue, this flows naturally from one voice to another, building or reflecting on what is being said until we start to build a picture of what the group thinks and feels on a particular topic. As each voice, experience and insight is added, we start to see things with fresh eyes and new perspectives. We start to transform. When we are speaking and listening to the group there is no real need to speak at or to one another, because we are speaking together, speaking to the meaning that is forming at the centre of the circle. A collective intelligence begins to form in the circle, and it is this intelligence that can give us insight and understanding to complex problems, can answer questions that seemingly had no answers, and can provide direction for taking next steps.

 
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That is not to say that when communicating together this way we will not experience or feel disturbance. What is being said may create emotions that conflict with our feelings and beliefs. It is important in a dialogue to accept that our opinions and beliefs are assumptions, based on our experiences, and that we each have a unique set of experiences that have shaped us. There is value in all our experiences if we can share them with the spirit of fellowship and trust. We can learn to live with our differences because we have come together in our humanness. We can discover understanding, where previously there may have been anger, indifference or frustration. We begin to realise what is lost when we lead from the instant judgements of someone; that person doesn’t look like me, doesn’t sound like me; couldn’t possibly relate to me. What we gain from communicating with each other in this way is a feeling of connection and a sense of what it means to be truly human. We don’t necessarily all have to be convinced to have the same view but we can come to a coherence and shared meaning of our collective views.We are a reflection of Mother Nature; with the vastness of her diversity, we are also diverse in our beliefs, likes, dislikes, cultures. Mother Nature is an ecosystem-each plant and animal has their role to play to maintain balance and harmony. So when listening as a group we can take inspiration from Mother Nature, tune into our intuition, listen deeply from our bodies, hearts and minds and allow our collective intelligence to emerge from the centre.

 
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UK Values Alliance Dialogue - Values & Others

Last night was the second in the series of four dialogues I am facilitating for the UK Values Alliance. Following on from the first dialogue exploring Values & The Self, last night we met and took time to consider Values & Others.

After a brief check-in and mindfulness exercise I asked the participants to find a pair for the paper tear exercise. After silently taking turns to tear the paper, I gave them two minutes to write values that are important to them on the pieces of paper, and once again place them down in front of their partner. A lively ten minute discussion followed, as the pairs discussed why they had chosen those values and compared meaning of any shared values.

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After this quick warm-up we entered into the dialogue. Following on from the exercise people commented on how they found that even if they had the same word as their partner, they did not necessarily share the same meaning of that word. This highlights the sometimes limiting nature of human language to express and put into words something that is often felt and sensed in our bodies before it is 'thought' in our minds. The value of beauty was an example of varied meanings from the group; from nature, to mathematical equations, to chaos, to every human being as beautiful. 

This led on to an exploration of whether we act out our values unconsciously, or consciously. If we take time to consciously consider our values and become more aware of them, might this in turn affect our consideration of other people's values. This also requires an understanding of how conscious we are of our thought patterns, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It may be that we have different values or different meanings of the same value because we are all shaped by our experiences, and our experiences can create habitual thought patterns and learnt behaviour that can cloud our ability to meet people and situations with fresh thinking and non-judgement. Equally we all have an internal hierarchy of values, we all have different values and we prioritise them differently.

The example of litter was given as behaviour of others that is hard to understand and tolerate. Why would someone choose to litter our shared environment, and equally what drives others to pick it up when it is not theirs. This proved a very good example and raised two further points around the values of acceptance and understanding. Some felt that acceptance of the person who had littered was part of understanding the human condition; we are all doing the best we can, with what we have. Others raised concern that an acceptance of people dropping litter was parallel to doing nothing and becoming apathetic. For some acceptance means non-action, for others acceptance leads to action; for is it possible to encourage the person that litters to stop littering if we show them anger and aggression or if we meet them with acceptance and love.

This part of the dialogue was neatly summarised in the check-out by Alan, who discovered the need for understanding to understand what is driving the other person to litter.

'There can't be understanding, without understanding.' 

The dialogue flowed to and from what it means to be human; are we inherently 'good' or 'bad'. What assumptions do we have about human nature and how that drives and shapes our different engagement with values both intellectually and emotionally. Does a more conscious awareness of our values give us the ability to see 'you in me' - what is in you in also in me, the equal capacity for 'good' and 'bad.'

One beautiful example was given of the sun that shines within all of us, covered by clouds that we put there through social conditioning and experience. Our values are the rays of sun shining out through the clouds, connecting us to each other, to our common nature and to the values within all of us that we all share.

'...the exercise, being in the present the power of the group,the support really makes it possible to go deeper and to connect, (with) what I still believe is common, all these values are common to all of us, they don't always get expressed, but they're there, available.'

We were given profound stories of forgiveness and empathy; to be able to pray for forgiveness of enemies, see the suffering in those that harm us and look past all the problems, listen without judgement but with love and ask the most relevant questions.

We also touched on the difference between community values and individual values. We had mostly spoken from the perspective of our individual values and how we use these to relate to and understand others and their values, but we did not explore the values that a community can share and act on together. The same applies to organisations looking to embody their company values. 

Perhaps we find it harder to extend our thinking to community values because we give such little time and space to coming together to reflect, share and think. Being in dialogue with groups demonstrates how if we take time to pause, create stillness and space, we can begin to understand each others values, and the thinking and feelings behind them. For me it felt like we were sharing a dance of values and left me with the question of how we become more in rhythm with each other, the flow of life and our values in it.

'The part that I found most useful was in a group the way we are, there is a real openness, and that has allowed people to speak more from the heart not just the intellectual part. 

Exploring Freedom at Cumberland Lodge

Just before the Christmas break I was lucky enough to be invited to the majestic Cumberland Lodge to run a session for the International Student Christmas Retreat on the theme of Freedom.

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Cumberland Lodge is an educational charity that seeks more peaceful, open and inclusive societies. We tackle social divisions by equipping and inspiring people to engage in constructive dialogue.
— cumberlandlodge.ac.uk
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Every year Cumberland Lodge invite international students studying in the UK, who are not able to be with their families over the Christmas break to take part in festive celebrations and some thought-provoking sessions. 

I was tasked with running the first session of the day, with over 50 students to engage at 9am in the morning! I started by asking them to sit on the floor in two circles, easier said than done, for a group check-in, with the question, 'what have you been most grateful for in 2017.' People and opportunities seemed to be the most popular answers, demonstrating that relationships and fulfilling our potentials come high on our list of meaningful things to be grateful for. Then after a short mindfulness exercise we moved to the next room for a paper tear exercise. I love this exercise to start off a session as it helps build relationships, relaxes the group, whilst also showing individuals how they relate to others and to tasks given. It is natural that some embrace their creative and playful sides, whilst other more task-focused individuals rush to 'get the job done.' After the first part of the exercise I challenged the students to write as many words that they associate with freedom or feeling free on the paper. Below are some of the results.

After the pairs had discussed their differences and similarities on the topics of freedom and feeling free we went into a Knowledge Cafe style discussion, with three rounds of conversation building on what had emerged in the first exercise. I introduced this by sharing with the students the root meaning of the word free, a meaning that surprised me when I was researching for the workshop.

 Source: etymonline.com

Source: etymonline.com

To frame the further discussion on the topic of free with the idea that it originated with the words love and friendship, among others gave a new energy to the room. I also shared an excerpt from David Bohm's book On Creativity

The tendency to “fall asleep” is sustained by an enormous number of habitually applied preconceptions and prejudices, most of which are absorbed at a very early age, in a tacit rather than explicit form. Therefore, whoever is really interested in what it really means to be original and creative will have, above all, to pay careful and continual attention to how these are always tending to condition his thoughts, feelings, and overall behaviour. After a while, such a person will begin to notice that almost all that is done by the individual and by society is in fact rather strictly limited by such largely tacit and essentially mechanical constraints. But as he becomes sensitively aware of how the whole process works, in himself and in others, he is likely to discover that the mind is beginning to come to a more natural state of freedom, in which all this conditioning is seen to be the triviality that it really is.
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After a very lively Knowledge Cafe we met again in our circles to check-out with our reflections and thoughts on what had arisen in the conversations, and any new perspectives that were discovered. It was a rich session and we created much new thinking in a short space of time. Thanks for having me Cumberland Lodge!

 

 

 

The Value(s) of Dialogue

Here is my second blog post for World Values Day

“A society is a link in relationships among people and institutions, so that we can live together. But it only works if we have a culture-which implies we share meaning; i.e. significance, purpose and values. Otherwise it falls apart. - David Bohm
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David Bohm was a quantum physicist, a contemporary of Einstein, whose work focused on his theory of Wholeness and the Implicate Order; believing that our reality and consciousness form a coherent whole. In his later life he developed a friendship with Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti, and during this time developed his theory of Dialogue; a form of group communication that has the potential to create new ways of thinking by sharing meaning together in a non-judgemental and free-flowing space.

“At the heart of the art of thinking together is an exploration of the underlying motives and intentions of the people concerned.” -William Isaacs

Bohm believed that one of the main causing factors of the challenges we face in the world is fragmentation: fragmentation of our societies, organisations and even ourselves. Dialogue in fact, starts with the self; ‘how successful am I at listening to and speaking with myself?’ Listening is the first principle and a leading value of dialogue. First we must set the intention to listen to others with respect and the intention to understand; secondly we must listen to ourselves, to the resistance, defenses and patterns of thought that occur within us when listening to other people; and thirdly we must listen to the group, for the shared meaning and collective themes that are unfolding as the dialogue flows. Non-judgement is the second principle of dialogue. It requires an openness and honesty that allows us to share our truths with the spirit of fellowship and trust. To listen from a point of non-judgement it is important that we accept that our opinions are assumptions, based on our previous experience. In a dialogue it is not necessary that everyone be of the same opinion, what is important is that we share our opinions and experiences and are able to suspend any judgements that may arise, long enough for the group to be able to inquire into them and create new knowledge from the sharing of meaning.

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“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weaknesses.” - Brene Brown

Bohm was concerned with the thinking process and the awareness that allows us to notice what is happening from moment to moment. For many of us we rely on habitual patterns of ‘thoughts’ that rush into our minds when we are faced with familiar or challenging situations. In dialogue, if we are able to suspend and become aware of our thoughts and judgements, we will be able to create space for new ‘thinking’ to form. Discomfort can arise from this space as we have the time to reflect on why it is we think a certain way, the root causes of this thinking and how it may relate to our sense of self. To engage in dialogue therefore, requires both vulnerability and courage.

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“It is our values and attitudes that drive how we speak and listen” -Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard

A key value of dialogue is the principle of participation, a desire to work with the collective intelligence of the group. To be open to the energy of the group, that allows for individual freedom, coupled with shared responsibility. Through dialogue we are able to see complex inter-relationships and form new ways of thinking together about how the world works. The guiding values for a successful dialogue can be felt and experienced as  listening, trust, openness, respect, honesty, awareness, courage, vulnerability, participation, inclusion and creativity. However, we each bring our own leading values to a dialogue, which will inform how we participate, and may even shift within or after the dialogue as we open ourselves to new perspectives, possibilities and the experience of relating well to each  other.  For the ultimate goal of dialogue is creative motion, to recognise that we are dynamic free-flowing beings, interrelated and interdependent.

“We voluntarily change our minds and our behaviour in response to our own internalisation of new values and thinking. This is much more likely to occur in an environment that supports exploration of new thinking and behaviours.” -Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard
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This article originally appeared on the World Values Day website here.

Values: A Foundation for Sustainable Thinking

As a member of the UK Values Alliance and in celebration of World Values Day I was asked to write about values and why they are important to me and my work. Here is the first of two blogs.

Disposable fashion - disposable values
As World Values Day approaches I am considering my own personal journey to spending more time considering and living by my values. I first began thinking deeply about values when I was tasked with writing a research essay during my masters course; Fashion & The Environment. The fashion and clothing market has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and is now the second largest polluting industry globally. Currently three quarters of UK consumers admit to throwing away clothes, rather than recycling or donating them. This results in 235m items of unwanted clothing ending up in UK landfill per year. For something to be thrown away so easily, it is often because we deem it to have little or no value. With disposable fast fashion clothing, we have been conditioned to perceive the value in the low cost price, with little consideration to the person who made the garment, the impact of its production on the environment, the quality, longevity and emotional durability in our wardrobes and what happens with it once we have tired of it. Our society has changed from values of make-do- and-mend to that of instant gratification and disposability.
With the realisation that without a strong foundation of value based thinking and behaviour, this value-less, throw-away consumption is likely to continue, I began to consider how it is we form our values and how in turn these chosen values affect our identity and actions.

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Challenging Our Value Systems

In a bid to look at ways that we can make sustainability issues more engaging and relevant to people’s lives, I began to design and test a series of workshops exploring emotional sustainability. On realising that until we increase the discourse on values, we will struggle to increase the discourse on sustainability, I naturally started with a workshop helping people to explore their personal and shared values. Acknowledging that values are not something that is frequently considered amongst many people, I chose to begin with a simpler question: what is it that you need to survive, and what do you need to thrive? This became a powerful pair of questions and ones that I have returned to again and again. Not only does it help participants consider whether their basic needs are being met, and what they can do to empower themselves to reach their potential. It also highlights our differences and similarities, and the reasons for these. And finally it often shows that we take for granted the basic gifts of the earth and mother nature: water, sunlight, air, earth-things that are increasingly compromised by pollution and climate change. From the conversations that arise in dialogue from this exercise, it becomes a natural progression to speak about values and begin to understand what is important to us and why.

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As part of my research I also conducted a small questionnaire on sustainability and behaviour change. On asking those surveyed, what bought most meaning to their life, the overwhelming majority of answers were: spending time with family and friends, doing something creative and spending time in nature. Answers not linked to material value but the the value of time spent doing things we love, with fellow human beings and our environment. It is true that there is often a value-action gap in what we say is important to us and how we act. In the same survey I asked people what they thought were the biggest barriers to sustainable living, the majority answered: time, convenience and cost. So what happens between the restraints of time and
cost, and that which brings meaning to our lives? When it comes to living more sustainable choices, there are some small changes that are simple; like carrying a reusable shopping bag and reusable water bottle to reduce our plastic consumption. But how many of us have given up our smart phones due to knowledge that the raw earth minerals inside could have be mined by children? Where does our responsibility as consumers end and the designers and manufacturers responsibility begin? And what about our joint responsibility as global citizens on a shared planet? If we consider these questions using our personal and shared values as a starting place, we can move from a position of guilt for not doing enough and feeling powerless, to one of empowerment through the knowledge that we know how we want to live our lives and what kind of world we want to live in together.

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This article was originally featured on the World Values Day website here.