We recently ran the first part of our Practitioner Training and introduced participants to the importance of sharing values, gaining support and building connection when forming communities. Together with our partners at The Relational Center in California and Relational Matters in Australia, we refer to this educational curriculum as the ‘Relational Movement’. This blog features comment from one of the participants with responses from another participant, Lucy Chamberlin and course leader, Sally Denham-Vaughan.
I am someone who has had contact with the Relational Movement now for about 18 months, and had been asking myself the question, what is Relational Change? What is it doing now and what does it want to do?
I have some thoughts and feelings about that which I’ll share in a minute, but firstly I’d like to tell a short personal story. I’m opting for anonymity because I have a hunch that it would be easy to too quickly lose touch with the disenfranchised inside myself and others too.
Yesterday evening, the evening of the day after the Relational Change Practitioners course run by Sally Denham-Vaughan and Mark Fairfield, was a cold, bright, starry Tuesday evening. I was feeling tired from four days of listening, reading, speaking, but also expanded, inspired and committed to the ideas that underpin this movement. I then had two separate conversations with two people, and as I spoke to them in turn, I learnt that both had either been profoundly damaged by groups or were in the process of being so. One was a family member on the phone, and the other a stranger at a bus stop. Their stories are personal and painful.
I got home after a lovely evening, and yet felt dazed, particularly by the memory of the distraught look on the pale face of the person at the bus stop. So, now I am sitting here realising that, curiously, during the last 18 months, this seems to have been my fate – to meet many people who reject even the thought of joining a movement, any movement, or any group which holds ideals, even profoundly philanthropic ones. And then I remember that not so long ago I too was anti-group.
Here we are, at the start of a group coming together which has a very high purpose of forming non-profit making, and hopefully very often, free groups – Mark and Sally call them ’villages’ – that will evolve the capacity to hold people so that they have less need to take drugs or medication, self-isolate, and endure unacceptable levels of accumulating stress.
Here we are at the start of something which if carried through ethically and with good intention will mean that there need be no risk, or very little risk, but rather peaceful attunement to the goodwill and gratitude that comes with good-enough village belonging.
And clearly many people will be frightened by what we are saying, and the fact that we are saying it.
Perhaps in part because we are already not the only ones saying it. Other established cultural and political groups know what we know and are already putting the same ideas to use. Shiny, optimistic village-like impressions of where McDonald’s meat comes from, for example. Or only last week a village fete setting for the last episode of The Great British Bake-Off (viewing figure – 9.1 million).
So, how are those of us who have come to believe in the fundamental values of the Relational Movement going to make contact with those amongst us who prefer isolation?
First response: Lucy Chamberlin
It seems that almost everything I read and hear echoes how essential connection is for our well being and what the effects of isolation from our ‘village’ can be and I think Mark and Sally were explicit about that. Complex theoretical models for addiction, eating disorders, depression all evidenced by neuroscience, neurobiology and evolution all highlight social dependence and the need for connection as the key to restoring health. So, if we know we need to feel connection, if we have all this information that spells out that the cure is free – it is connection, what are we going to do with this information?
If it were bottle-able, well I think it would be marketed, advertised everywhere, every child would recognise the symbol that represented it – CONNECTION something we all need! But how can anyone make money from it – CONNECTION – we can all do it, it's free. So why aren't we? Is it drowned out by impostors?
I think I heard that actually many of the participants at Relational Change are already working relationally, living relationally in awareness of how they bring that Relational living and working to their ‘villages’. For me, I am at the very beginning, learning to be relational in my own personal space, understanding the effect of isolation I felt in my family of origin, the isolation I have felt over the years. As I become even more aware of the impact of connection after my first explicit introduction to Mark and Sally's work I initially saw the gain for myself and my family, my clients, but now I feel I might graduate and start to really pass on that connection, in full awareness.
So next, I learned that Relational Change can offer that connection point, joining other villages already doing amazing relational work, in awareness, and expand that to offer connection to other communities. Relational Change may offer a space, a base to reach for the breadth of connection, to expand the reach to ensure we are not working in isolation, but creating a larger village connection point, in full awareness, making explicit our connection in the world and around the world.
Second response: Sally Denham-Vaughan
I think I know many people you are describing: fearful, mistrusting & disliking of groups & not attracted at all to villages. Groups and villages may have proved dangerous spaces and/or individual space and freedom are valued more highly. Our vision of ‘villages’ therefore has to have many freedoms, no pressure, an open door and space for those who prefer their own company for some, or even much, of the time.
So as we create the Relational Movement, we need to distinguish enforced confluence and/or high sociability from our vision of ‘Relational’... the latter of which certainly has space and capacity for individuals who are fearful or mistrustful, wanting adequate personal space and need an exit. That is a key part of our strategy and a reason to be highly creative as we mobilise, recognising that each individual’s need for connection and personal space are different and variable. As a minimum however, we believe we need to cultivate communities that are committed to shared values, cultivating compassion and pursuing a social justice agenda: communities where we have opportunity and are supported to reflect on the impact of our actions for ourselves and others. In particular, we want to learn and share our experiences of connecting and see what we can offer to support healthy communities.