“What are the pressures on our families?”
This is one of the initial questions that leaders and organizers use in building broad-based organizations. It can also serve as the first of several steps toward understanding how the Great Destruction impacts our families and mediating institutions.
Imagine that you, along with 30-40 other interesting people, are in a set of leadership development workshops; everyone is at a table with five or six others; each person is from either a congregation, a local labor union, or a local school community.
In the workshop’s first exercise, the people at each table tell the stories of the current pressures on their families. These days, the list of pressures usually includes: insecure income, costs for housing, commute, food, health care and utilities; debt for education, credit card and mortgage; media and peer pressure; lack of time; an image of our children’s future, where will well-paying jobs come from? How much debt will they have? What will they face from collapsing ecology or impacts from climate disruption?
The table leader or convener draws a circle on a wall-sheet; at the center of the circle is the family as institution; each pressure that a person names becomes a thick line, “coming in” on the family, like incoming artillery.
These pressures are the public aspects of each person’s family story; they are not invasions of privacy.
Naming these pressures together leads participants to discover relationality, common interests, and common passions. The process begins to break down the dysfunctional culture, of isolation and program-or task-focus, of so many of our institutions.
In the second exercise, the people of each table tell the story of pressures on each generation in their family, going back 3-4 generations, or as many as they know about. Key questions here are: Where did each generation live? Why did they move from one place to another? What was their work? What was their debt load like? What was their relationship with the land?
Here, participants begin to discover the common experience of migration to and within this country, the power of story as it helps us frame our own larger, historical context, including grief as we view the intergenerational struggle, for example, in bad times or war, ethnic or gender discrimination, or ecological failure, such as in the US Dust Bowl of the 1930s. These stories also make us aware of the public aspects of our story, our involvement in larger systems and their stories, both over time and now.
In the third exercise of this first workshop, we grapple with these questions:
Is your congregation, union local, or local school community organized so that its members can tell, and hear deeply, these stories with each other?
What is a “mediating institution” and what is its purpose?
Here, the convener often draws another “circle” on the wall sheet, this time just beyond the circumference of the family circle. We can see the mediating institution, when it is healthy, as a membrane of protection and nurture from the incoming pressures on our families. Think of the mother’s uterus around the early child.
In my view, this process of story-telling can begin to bring new health, new energy and imagination to our mediating institutions; this work helps us look at the Great Destruction without becoming completely overwhelmed, because we take each step, not in isolation, but together.
In Notes for Breathers #3, we’ll look at the impacts of these pressures.
1© Dick Harmon 2013. All rights reserved.
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