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May 27, 1993

KEY NOTE ON COMMUNITY

ADPCA KNOXVILLE

 

Ruth Sanford

 

 

When Ken Newton called me about ten days ago and asked me, for the

committee, if I would give the Key Note address for this conference,

my first response was, "This bowls me over! Key Note address at a

person-centered conference? How is that possible?" From there I

went to the question, "How can I strike a key note which would ring

true for me but might not for many others in this nonorganization

organization?."

Then I remembered that on another occasion I had expressed doubts to

Carl about making a presentation at a large conference in Phoenix.

He had said, "Just be yourself and say what you want to say." At

that point I said yes to Ken. It was only when I remembered that the

more personal is the more general that I could begin to think of ways

in which I could strike a note that would be close to my heart and

was close to the stated purpose of this conference "On Becoming a

Community." I could draw on my deep commitment to the person-

centered approach and upon my experience and thus might speak to the

hearts and experience of many others here.

I would like to speak about community out of experience that I’ve had

and ways in which I have seen a sense of community brought about.

The shortest time was in two hours on a stage in an auditorium with 

about six or seven hundred people in Johannesburg, South Africa. I 

think the longest one was 17 days. That was the one to which Carl 

referred in I think it was chapter eight of _On Personal Power_. The 

theme of that was building community.

In a letter I wrote to RENAISSANCE some months ago, I quoted at some 

length from that workshop and some of you are familiar with it. I 

may touch upon it briefly without going into too much detail tonight 

because I do feel, along with Joyce, that our time is precious 

tonight and I want it to be our time, all of our time. I don’t want 

to take too much.

I also want to acknowledge that all of you are here on a day when 

many of you have been travelling a long way. You must be tired and I 

want each of you to have the time that you want or need to bring 

yourself into this community which is in the process of formation.

In some ways it feels that we are already there but I know we’re not. 

Every group we have found in all the experience that I’ve had working 

with Carl and with others, is that every group has much diversity. 

Even in a culture we say we come from one culture but we come from 

different values, different backgrounds and different families. We 

come from different objectives in life and we have never been 

together before as a group so we have made some beginnings toward 

community but we start at the beginning here tonight for the next 

four days.

 

I think I’d like to start with what happened in that small group on

the stage in Johannesburg. We had insisted on diversity in an

apartheid country. Carl had refused to go there for several years

because he didn’t want to be invited only by the White population and

be hosted by a White university. We insisted on having

representation from all four classifications - the Black, the White,

the Indian and the Colored and they were present in that great

auditorium that night in Johannesburg.

We realized that some of them, particularly the Black members of the

group who volunteered, could be putting themselves in jeopardy by

appearing - in jeopardy from the police and in jeopardy from their

own people when they went back to the homeland for having hobnobbed

with White people - being traitors. But several volunteered and we

had a representative group on stage. Carl had mentioned quite

casually that it had long been a dream of his and he would hope that

it might come true here but he realized that it was almost impossible

to have such a group on stage. So, we invited people and found that

we had a group of about 12-13.

I remember what seems to me the kind of facilitation that Carl and I

tried to offer and I think did offer to a large extent to that group,

that it was necessary in order for people to speak out their real

hearts, their real selves, realize what it meant to those people -

the White as well as the Black, the Indian and the Colored. It

seemed like a very risky thing to do but what we did was to invite

them to speak as openly as they could at the beginning. We tried to

be open about ourselves, how we were feeling at the moment and then

as I looked back on it and listened to the tape, I found that the

greater part of the facilitation which we did was to acknowledge when

someone spoke in some way, either by facial expression, by our

posture, our leaning forward to listen to them, by words, to let them

know that in that group at least two people were listening. It

wasn’t long before people began to speak and to respond and to

listen.

Another way in which we felt that we could help create a safe place

was to listen for the very soft voices, the shy ones and in one case

a young, Black man had said nothing but I noticed that several times

he had made this kind of gesture as if he wanted to say something but

he couldn’t get the words out. I spoke to him very quietly and asked

if there was something he would like to say and he said, "Yes. This

is the first time I have ever spoken with White people, excepting to

say, ‘yes, boss.’"

As the group progressed there were sharp interchanges in which hate

and anger, as well as fear, were directed by one member of the group

to another, listened to, responded to and worked on.

I feel that that group of 12 or 13 people in two hours became in a

very real way a community of caring and of listening and of having

real respect, one for another. I think we left at the end of those

two hours feeling that none of us was a stranger to the others. That

community will never meet again. But the individuals within it would

never be the same again because of their experience in those two

hours.

It was temporary but I’m reminded of what Carl said when in 1972, he

accepted the award from the American Psychological Association for

Outstanding Contribution in his professional field. He stood and walked to the podium

and said, "I'm always surprised at how widely the effects of my work have spread in

the world. I believe this is an idea whose time has come.

It is like throwing a pebble into a pond and waiting for the waves

to reach out and out and out to the farther shore."

I remember another occasion, in Brazil, of which Carl spoke.

They had designated a staff of facilitators and the staff tried

always to do many of the things that I was speaking about just now -

to listen to the angry voices and acknowledge them; listen to the

timid ones; encourage the shy ones if they seem to be giving evidence

of trying to speak and not being able to. One woman spoke up in

great anger, furious with the staff for some reason and there was

silence. John Wood went to the microphone and he called her by name

and he said, "I have not responded to you until now but I want you to

know that I have heard you. I have heard your anger and I care about

you. I have heard you." The woman, feeling that she had been heard

and responded to, made a different kind of contribution to that

meeting.

Carl pointed out that the facilitators in that instance were, each of

them, there for that purpose. I’m thinking that it may be easier

when facilitators are designated as facilitators. It may be easier

for them to be present and participants in the group but also to be

well aware that they were also there in order to help create a

climate for people less experienced than they, to feel safe enough to

be real.

We, members of ADPCA, without designated facilitators may forget that

others who have little or no background in the person-centered

approach feel lost, frustrated or like an outsider. They may feel as

if they’re closed out and that this is a kind of closed society and

they don’t have a real part. I would like to hope that maybe we here

in ADPCA Conference in May of 1993 might be able to discover another

part, another way of facilitating. I make this as a suggestion.

It might speed and smooth the process if each of us being a

participant could be committed to be as fully as possible present

ourselves but also to be present to hear and to be with others and to

care about all of us together, being able to break through the

barrier of fear of being too vulnerable, the fear of saying the wrong

thing, the fear of speaking and not being heard, being ignored,

feeling like an outsider, whatever. If it were possible for us to

move in that direction and all of us feel the responsibility as well

as the freedom, not that we’ll all do it and not that everybody will

want to do it probably, but that there is the opportunity for us to

be not only participants, fully present for ourselves, but also to be

present as facilitators for ourselves and for others.

I know that we do this in our groups but I’m feeling in some way an

urgency. I think we find our own reward when we get close in

community. But a certain amount of fear and distrust at the

beginning is inevitable. I know there are times when I feel I’m not

quite ready to be as open as I would like to be and I’m sure

it’s a common experience but having a place where you know that

people may differ from you; they may have sharp differences with you

but they’re going to listen to you and they care about trying to

understand is important and it speeds the process.

I used only these two illustrations. I could use many more. I’m

thinking of the time that was referred to in _On Personal Power_. I

was at that conference. It was a 17-day workshop. I remember how

people sat like this (over a hundred people) and how many were

clustered on the floor, sitting on the floor in order to be in close.

There was a time when all of the 136 people were wanting to speak and

were passionate about their concerns, their commitments and what they

were doing in their communities. I remember Vicente spoke up. He

was from Mexico. He was in despair for his people, people with whom

he had been working, the very underprivileged and he spoke with great

passion and with tears. When he sat down someone spoke up in another

part of the room and I heard Vicente just say in a very low voice,

almost a whisper, "I wasn’t finished." But the competition to be

heard started all over again. It was all very real for them but

after a while, Carl said in the account, Ann spoke up and said, "I

want to hear Vicente because a few minutes ago when he sat down, I

heard him say, ‘I wasn’t finished,’ and I want to hear what Vicente

said and what he has to say now." There was silence and a long

pause. After Vicente spoke, one by one people began responding and

as Carl said, it seemed at that point that that group of 136 people

began becoming a community.

I note that Ann did not speak up immediately and I’ve done that many

times - not spoken immediately when I wanted to respond to someone -

but even after she had waited, she still was able to come back and

say, "I want to go back and I want to hear because I heard his pain

and I didn’t hear any responses. I want him to know I heard him."

It seemed to be a turning point in that workshop of 136 people. The

thing which feels so important to me about the place of community in

the person-centered approach is that in groups like this we have the

opportunity to practice creating a place where people can listen to

one another and can respect one another regardless of the sharpest

kind of differences and can accept anger directed at us and still try

to understand where that anger is coming from before coming back

defensively by way of protection, which is a perfectly easy thing to

do.

If we can learn someway to develop the commitments and the skills and

thereby the experience of getting better and better at it, then I

feel that there is so much room in this world in our own communities,

our own geographic communities. It may not be real community because

they are not communicating with one another but they live in the same

area which is one definition of community. Of course, we’re going

deeper than that.

This is the connection. I feel this is the pebble in the pond,

that we are in one of those waves moving out and the more I know

about the work being done in Japan and in Europe and in Mexico and in

the United States, the more I feel that we may be on to something

that could be really valuable and helpful in this world that we live

in. As a matter of fact, our plan in South Africa was to go back the

next year (that would have been 1987). Initial plans had been made

for representatives of our group to meet with political leaders of

different convictions and to try to help them to listen as opposing

groups have been able to listen in our workshops.

We also planned to do the same thing in returning to the Soviet

Union, this time to involve political leaders in the type of

communication that we establish in our communities. Carl died before

he could do either of those and the plans just didn’t materialize. I

feel the world lost a great deal in that time and somehow I feel that

there are ways in which we can help to do what was missed that time

around. I would like Ed to read what Chuck Devonshiresaid about community and

then what Carl said in the last statement that we had.

Chuck Devonshire:

"Cross-cultural communication workshops throughout Europe have

convinced me that we can look to the future with renewed optimism for

better communication and understanding across many boundaries that

are surmountable within a climate of mutual commitment, empathic

understanding and genuineness. The evidence is overwhelmingly

positive among persons who have committed themselves to the process

of discovering and creating solutions to the communication problems

of our times."

Carl Rogers:

"I have not thought of these workshops in casual, superficial, or

even professional terms. I think of them as having the potential for

profound international significance. If we find in these

intercultural groups that it is impossible to understand each other -

truly to meet each other as persons - to grasp the meaning and

beliefs of each other - then I would suppose there is not much hope

for our world. But if it does prove possible genuinely to meet and

discover each other as persons, actually to empathize with and

understand both the cultural beliefs and political views of each

other - then I think that our obscured future may be penetrated with

some clear rays of light and that we may realistically hope for a

better world."