Walking (on) the Talk

by Community Blog on September 21, 2013

Author: Sarah Zoutewelle-Morris

Walk Out Walk On is not just about communities in poor countries. The issues arising on these journeys are hyper relevant to anyone wanting to live and act more consciously in these times. I’ve read the book, and studied it in detail because so many points resonated for me. In order to digest as well as share the material I’ve also written fairly extensively about several topics (leadership, start anywhere follow it everywhere) on my blog. But the acid test comes not from writing about it, but living it. I got my chance when asked to join a small group of neighbours to try to remedy a dangerous traffic situation locally.

So here I am, having faced my tendency to be a ‘heroic’ leader — one of those people in the group that can’t wait to tell her clever answer first. This time around I’m determined to listen and let the answer emerge from the group’s wisdom.

But wouldn’t you know, there is someone else in the group that can’t wait to tell us all how it should be and what the solution is. Whoa! How to handle that!

What’s more, there is another person who flagrantly disregards any kind of group ethic, who walks in halfway through a meeting, interrupts the flow, and stands in the middle to pontificate; and who regularly spoils the atmosphere with negative, discouraging stories about how we will never succeed, etc. etc.

My normal response in these situations is to call the other person on their ‘wrong’ behaviour. But looking back, I realise that doing so has never achieved anything other than antagonise others and isolate me from the very harmony I’m seeking when working in such a group. Another subtle dynamic is that I often feel that others are too polite or timid to call someone on their antisocial behaviour, so I will voice what I sense everyone else in the group is thinking but doesn’t dare to say. This is sometimes a correct assessment of the situation, but often it is totally mistaken and I end up being seen as negative and critical.

So I just watch all this going on and say nothing. The conclusion I’ve come to is this: the real purpose of the group isn’t to complete the mission no matter what, but to somehow work well together. To hell with the goal if it means creating conflict to get there.

I know Deborah has said that conflict seems to be an inevitable part of any process involving people working closely together, but these are my neighbours, we have to keep living here, and my strategy right now is to avoid seeding conflict by being intolerant and judgemental of other people’s behaviour. I also am learning to chose my battles. So far these things are irritating but workable.

The experiment continues, wish me good luck, and I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this.

Editor’s note: If you want details on how to contact Sarah, check our Find One Another map. She’s based in the northern region of the Netherlands.

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