I’m Calling a Session! (part ii)

I think we have some tools to come to some preliminary suggestions as to whether Devoted and Disgruntled is primarily a conference or a community. My conclusion, however, is based on one last observation and realization that I came to whilst at DandD and that is the overwhelming articulation of loneliness and lack of organic relationships with each other as artists.

I have experienced the freelance lifestyle and my personal impression was that it was a lonely existence interspersed with intense intimacy for short periods of time that, over time and repeated frequently, left me alone and scared of intimacy and commitment. I wanted others to know me deeply and to be vulnerable in my work but my experience told me that my interactions with others fed me for a time but everyone, in the end was using me, just as I was using them for personal fulfillment.

This is a process called individualization and it’s been noted frequently by sociologists and cultural commentators as the major destructive force within a consumerist, capitalist society. Add to this society a vocation that requires collaboration on deep ‘spiritual’/‘emotional’/‘human’ expression which itself requires a large amount of vulnerability on the part of the person and the group, it is no wonder that the theatre, as a collective of artists, is full of people damaged, lonely and deeply confused as to what it means to be a person.

I bring up this individualization because of this connection it has to our attainment of personhood. Here ‘personhood’ is distinguished from human being. John Zizioulas, an Orthodox theologian, conceives of the human being, purely as the biological entity of skin and bones, etc. To gain personhood one must develop, or allow to emerge, a deeper ontology. This, he proposes, is in our connection to others and to God. Let us make a massive side step for the moment on the subject of God but look at the ‘person’ stemming from our essential sociality. I have written a lot recently (Big Bible blog) on our identities being inexplicably linked to our sociality and I use those arguments here as a basis of my point. From my experience as a freelancer the more isolated and emotionally distant I became from people the more lonely and desperate I became. My inner parts cried out for intimacy but society was shaped that I would be individual and so I sought intimacy in the temporary and associative relationships with others without knowing I needed an organic relationship.

When I got married I publicly and contractually denied my individuality by agreeing to remain in communion with my wife; we became ‘one’. This meant that I could not have emotional barriers between us, vulnerability was a deliberate act every day. If I couldn’t be vulnerable on every level of my life then I was individualizing again. This may come across as aggressively extreme but I think its important to speak in these terms to depict the problem we find ourselves in as a society.

For DandD to be a community there needs to be a vulnerable connection between the parts. Each ‘individual’ needs to take the risk and participate in an intimate exchange of selves, willing to be shaped and impacted by the other. With the numbers present at DandD7, this would be impossible to achieve, hence why I want to know if it was ‘primarily’ a community. Was it my experience that, at DandD7, people were showing signs of being determined by others or by the ethos of the whole? I cannot say for I was not at each connection or able to be intimately engaged with every part all of the time. Is it possible, in the context, to experience that intimacy, etc.? I would say only if it is assumed that it is a possibility.

The principles that Open Space use, however, may help us to discern whether the intention is to establish a community or if they only will achieve, at best, a committed group of conference goers.

The Principles are

  1. Whoever comes are the right people …reminds participants that they don’t need the CEO and 100 people to get something done, you need people who care. And, absent the direction or control exerted in a traditional meeting, that’s who shows up in the various breakout sessions of an Open Space meeting.
  2. Whenever it starts is the right time …reminds participants that “spirit and creativity do not run on the clock.”
  3. Wherever it happens is the right place. …reminds participants that space is opening everywhere all the time. Please be concious and aware. – Tahrir Square is one famous example. (Wherever is the new one, just added)
  4. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have …reminds participants that once something has happened, it’s done—and no amount of fretting, complaining or otherwise rehashing can change that. Move on.
  5. When it’s over, it’s over …reminds participants that we never know how long it will take to resolve an issue, once raised, but that whenever the issue or work or conversation is finished, move on to the next thing. Don’t keep rehashing just because there’s 30 minutes left in the session. Do the work, not the time.

There is also one law: ‘The law of two feet’ or ‘The law of mobility’,

If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing: Give greetings, use your two feet, and go do something useful. Responsibility resides with you.

This law creates a vibrant environment of exchange in ideas and ‘bumble-bee’ cross pollinations. My own critique would be that this law has an inherent individualization underlying it.

“I am in control of my own experience”

Phalim McDermott, Artistic Director of Improbable and chief convener of DandD, believers that the law of two feet is not just about leaving,

Sometimes people concentrate on “The law of two feet.” as being about leaving somewhere: it might be a session, a person who is dominating a conversation, a topic that goes off somewhere you are no longer interested in, all these are things one might want to move away from. However it’s good to remember it’s a law of TWO feet….Maybe if you focus on where you are going to or where your presence has gone.. Then you could realise it might be rude to have already left a less than present self amongst the group. Or perhaps it’s even arrogant to assume people will even notice that you left.

What the law of two feet does do is enable the whole to function and feed itself. The parts need to be attuned to where the information may need to be passed to in order to grow and develop and create. When this happens then the second foot is an important engagement of the individual with the whole. It is not clear, however, if this indeed is how it is used.

In conclusion, I want to say that DandD has the exciting potential to be a community; an enduring organic whole which determines individuals and creates persons who can dare to be vulnerable and dependable with each other. At present, however, due to its size and it essential nature as a task orientated event it remains, for me, primarily a conference. This is not to deny its community aspect of intimacy but those relationships are fostered and grown elsewhere. This is a positive thing and I am so glad that communities are forming around these principles and the ethos of openness outside of DandD but it, on its own is not primarily a community.

I am willing, even hoping, to be corrected. This conference was such a blessing to me and to the people involved and has the potential to do so much more constructive and life-affirming work for the participants. There’s only simple stps that need to be made if DandD wants to pursue the primacy of organic rather than associative but most participants seem to engage on the associative aspects due to their continual fear and acceptance of our individualized society .

Can church ever use Open Space Technology? You’ll have to read my dissertation. What can be said at this time is that Church is also both organic and associative but, like DandD it is, sadly, primarily an associative social structure and not a space for intimate connections and freedom to vulnerable explore what it means to be connected as a person.