Ten Ways to Love your Group, Family and Community
Robin Clayfield 24/6/14
Being involved in a healthy, vibrant and effective group and playing a role in enabling it to be so, supports a positive world, a cared for planet and a co-operative culture. Assisting groups to work harmoniously together is one of the most important ways we can contribute to social, environmental and political change at this time and also one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. So many of us are part of groups and community organisations. Our family units are also a ‘group’ and deserve our love and attention to social design and group dynamics. Often, when a group is functioning really well together it becomes as a ‘family’. How do we create the dynamic that supports a group or family to stay together, grow together and make a positive difference in our world? Love our Groups, Family and Community, simple! Here’s my take on the 10 most important ways to do that.
1. LOVE YOURSELF
It’s said so often these days that we can’t fully love and care for others if we don’t love and care for ourselves. The more we are in harmony, balanced, centred, full of life and joy… the more we are able to share with others from a place of fullness.
Think of it this way:- we take all of ourselves to a meeting, even if we’re doing our best to cover it up or ‘park an emotion or issue’ till we leave the meeting – the busy day we’ve just had, the headache, the fight we just had with our partner, the worry about a sick child, the feeling of just falling in love… it takes a lot of awareness and skill to leave these kinds of stresses and feelings at the door and not let it effect how we relate to others or contribute to the positive outcomes of our group.
In Permaculture we have a Principle called ‘Zones’. When we apply this Principle to gardening it may look on a map like concentric contour type lines that radiate out from the house with Zone 1 being the vegie garden, herb gardens, compost, worm farms, clothesline and other things that need visiting and tending regularly. The outer zones need less attention the further out we go from the house. The House is Zone 0 and often begs for much of our time. Anything to do with the people is Zone 00, the ‘Inner Zone’. It makes sense to me to give ourselves and our family the most energy of all, that way we can work out from a healthy, central core.
There is also the principle of ‘Sectors’ which looks at and designs for the energies coming into or moving through the site – the wind, cooling breezes, sun and light, fire, noise, pollution, even the marauding goats from next door!!! In social design we can use this principle to ask “What support, energies, activities etc are flowing in to nurture and sustain our bodies, minds and spirits?”
ACTIVITY – How do you Love and Care for Yourself? Spend 3 minutes Brainstorming onto paper all the ways you Love and Care for yourself, including the ways you let Support into your life. Alternatively, do this exercise with a friend and have turns sharing.
2. CARE FOR OTHERS – Our Group, Family, Community and Our World
Caring for others, especially our family and the members of the groups we’re involved in, engenders a culture of love, support and positive action. When there is care, we tend to relax and feel more able to be ourselves, share ourselves and give to the community because many of our needs are met through caring and having other people care about us. When we care about our beautiful planet and our world, it is hard to do anything other than take responsibility for supporting the nourishment of all species, all the elements, all aspects of a healthy, sustainable and balanced planet including our human habitats and systems.
Two of Permacultures’ Ethics are ‘Earth Care’ and ‘People Care’. When we have ‘Care’ as a guiding motivator, especially when it is our first response, our care gives strength to all the groups we are involved in. Many of them will be groups that have an environmental purpose – Permaculture, Deep Ecology, land care, bush regeneration and restoration, forest preservation, school gardens, city farms, healthy waterways, seed saving, Transition initiatives, animal protection and liberation, alternative power, lobbying against mining, coal, uranium etc… and so many more. With ‘People Care’ woven into the ‘Earth Care’ in these groups, we, the people, thrive and stay motivated, inspired and committed.
Many groups have a Social and Community purpose, supporting and caring for people’s well being in so many ways. With a high level of care ingrained in the community culture it seems natural to trust that it’s more likely people will expand their caring out to the wider world and our planet.
ACTIVITY – How do you care for others? How do you care for the groups you’re involved in? How do you care for our World and Planet Earth? Spend 5 minutes answering these 3 questions or alternatively, work with a friend by spending 5 minutes alone writing down all your responses then have turns sharing.
3. BUILD TRUST
The more trust we have in ourselves, of each other, for the group and for the process, the more likely we are to stay involved in the group. Problems and conflicts will be more easily resolved, creative collaboration and team work will flow more easily and we will be more likely to offer and expand ourselves and our skills in a supportive and trusting environment.
ACTIVITY – Brainstorm all the ways you can think of that will build trust in your group, family or community. Alternatively, do a survey of your friends to gather many perspectives on how to build trust. Here are some examples from a Brainstorm…
‘Calling’ (speaking about) behaviour that doesn’t build trust
Connect with eye contact
Sharing and Checking In on feelings
and I would add…
Trust games and exercises
Setting group agreements, shared agreements, shared goals and visions
Working together on a task or in a crisis
Solving problems fairly and consistently
‘I Statements’ and self responsibility
Connecting personally with everyone in the group before beginning any business is one of the best ways to build trust and support in the group. By creating a space to share our feelings, our concerns, what our needs, hopes and joys are and generally how we are going on the journey of life, creates a container to divest ourselves of the things that can sometimes get in the way of our relating with others. Instead of letting our emotional challenges inform our relating or our past childhood wounds with a parent play out with a group member, being honest and sharing in a formal or even loose ‘Check-in’ process can go a long way to solving personal conflicts and issues before they even arise. People can receive support in a crisis or time of struggle and feel more relaxed in the group because needs are being met and they are able to express themselves and not bottle it all up. ‘Checking-In’ is one of the most fundamental ways to build trust in an group and can lead to a family like connection over time. Even in a family, where people may have settled into patterns of relating that mask or ignore issues, feelings and potential problems, having a weekly ‘Check-In’ can support more love, trust and connection within the family and support a sense of team work.
ACTIVITY – At the beginning of your next group meeting place an agenda item at the beginning that gives everyone one minute to ‘Check-In’ if this isn’t a regular part of your meetings already. Go round the group one at a time having given the instruction that when the person is talking no one interrupts until they signal they are finished and then the next person shares. No discussion is entered into. In a course or workshop start the morning with a ‘Check-In’ each day. As a gift to your family suggest a night once a week for a ‘Check-In’ when every member of the household will be home.
For the moment, simply stop, relax and ask yourself “How am I feeling at the moment?” Be really honest with yourself and write down your answers or have turns sharing with a friend.
5. FIND AGREEMENT
Working together to establish group agreements and shared understandings gives a common grounding for everyone to hold on to and work with together. Agreeing on the aims and purpose of the group, developing shared ethics and principles plus putting goals, visions and things like vision plans, strategic plans, project management plans and mission statements in place that everyone agrees to, supports a group on many levels.
If there are issues, problems, conflicts or questions about the foundations, direction and functioning of the group it becomes an easy process to revisit any of these agreements.
When new people join the group they can acquaint themselves with the agreements and have a smooth transition into the group through having a better understanding of where everything stands.
Having goals, visions and plans guides the way forward and gives people confidence in the group and the future together. It also gives a clear map that supports people to gain an understanding of where they can contribute and fit into the whole scheme of things and also to be able to spot for any gaps in skills, activity, planning or experience.
ACTIVITY – Undertake an assessment of what kind of agreements there are in place with your group, family or favourite community organisation. What group agreements or shared understandings are in place and agreed on by everyone? How are they recorded or documented? What are the ethics and principles that the group holds in common, if any? Are there any ‘unspoken’ agreements or norms? Is there a vision or a mission statement? What is it? Do you and others in the group remember it? Does the group have a future, business or project plan of any kind? When was the last time it was reviewed or updated?
If appropriate, bring these to the group for revision, reaffirmation or renewal.
Communicating with Love, Honesty and Respect is pivotal in all human relationships and especially in groups who work together. How we communicate as a group and personally as individuals within the group can be one of the core agreements that supports the healthy functioning of the group and the continued growth, awareness and empowerment of the members.
Using ‘I statements’, active listening, sharing circles with a ‘talking stick’ or ‘talking stone’ to have uninterrupted turns, NVC (Non-violent Communication) and using good facilitation and creative discussion and decision making processes all help and support healthy communication in a group.
ACTIVITY – Does your group, family or community use any of the processes listed as examples above? Have you ever thought about how you are as a communicator? Take a few minutes now to think about that and write down a few key words that describe each aspect of how you feel you are as a communicator, both positive and not so positive. For example, I’m comfortable as a communicator, I used to be shy, I am sometimes overly ‘Nice‘ in a way that I can ‘try’ and please others and tip toe around them with my words’, I am Compassionate and feel that I am caring with my words, I can be intense and repetitive with my words if I don’t feel heard, I am aware of the words I’m saying and what they really mean and how they impact others…
Invite everyone in your group or family to have some reflective time for themselves and then hold a sharing circle where each of you have the uninterrupted opportunity to share how you are as a communicator. Sharing in this way can give understanding of each others communication styles and in the future mean people have more empathy and tolerance for each other in rough times as this self awareness has been acknowledged. It may mean in the future people catch themselves more easily in a dysfunctional communication pattern or can ‘call’ each other gently instead of getting frustrated or upset.
7. GIVE FOR GIVINGS SAKE
Giving time and energy, gifts, resources and money, suggestions and input builds and grows any relationship, be it a personal, family, business or group relationship.
Giving of one’s self and being in service simply for the sake of giving, giving without any hopes or expectation of receiving anything in return, is one of the most powerful gifts one can give.
It’s a reminder to enjoy the journey and not be too caught up with the destination. It’s great to plan, have a vision for the future and set goals and it’s also important to find a balance with achieving them so that we are giving and serving from our heart as well as giving to and looking after ourselves and our deeper connections at the same time. The key is to see the end result, vision it clearly, set the intention then surrender in trust that it will be taken care. Give of ourselves because we want to, because it fills us to be in service, because we are in our joy and at peace with our service. This has so much more power and energy than if we give simply to get something done.
ACTIVITY – Invite your group to all bring a special gift to the next meeting or gathering. Ask that the gifts in some way reflect what the group stands for or what people are thankful for about the group. Suggest they are gift wrapped and anonymous so when they are brought together they are secretly collected into one container. At an appropriate time offer the gifts to the group as an acknowledgement of service and suggest that everyone trust they will receive the perfect gift and to not have any attachment to the outcome, nature or the monetary value of the gift. Once all the gifts have been chosen and opened you can take this a step further and suggest that people can now offer their gift to someone else if they feel it would honour another person and suit them. Also encourage people to keep the gift they chose to honour the gift of receiving.
8. USE CREATIVE, FUN and INTERACTIVE PROCESSES
Processes and activities that involve everyone in decision making, planning and co-creation, especially if they are fun and engaging, have great potential to empower every person involved in the process.
Skilling up with tools, processes and ideas plus building your confidence to offer creative and interactive activities and lead groups is one of the best ways to love, care and give to your group or community. Groups tend to flounder, loose energy and motivation and dissolve into personality clashes or hierarchical power struggles when there is biased, unskilled or no facilitation and group leadership. Clear process and creative strategies that supports everyone’s learning style, weave in everyone’s voice and move the group through their plan or agenda in a way that builds momentum empowers every individual and the group as a whole to achieve at their very best while meeting human and organisational needs.
Using creative and interactive process builds dynamic, productive teams much more effectively and enduringly than if conventional meetings and processes are used. Working in a circle rather than rows, undertaking participatory planning and design, making things or doing things together, celebrating decisions made or milestones achieved, honouring the contribution of members in a creative way… there are so many simple and powerful group building tools that can contribute to a ‘Dynamic Group’ and a vibrant family or community.
Here are a few suggestions brainstormed by 25 people at a ‘Ten Ways to Love Your Group, Family and Community’ workshop offered at BellBunya Community recently. The group consisted of Permaculture, L.E.T.s and Community group people who were asked to “Write down a creative process that your group has done together (or you’d like them to do) to encourage more support, fun, cohesiveness, trust and empowerment”.
Grow a colourful garden for kids
Sharing extra vegies (home grown) with neighbours
Connect with a horse through simply being in their essence
Telling a progressive story that each person develops and builds on
Cooking something yummy together
Massage chain – sit behind each other and massage
Finger paint each other
Make a banner together
Put ‘post it’ notes on the mirror in the bathroom so everyone who looks in the mirror is inspired to smile and feel good about themselves
Plan a fun day by the lake
Working Bee in cleaning a park in the bush
Left foot, right elbow……little figure?
Make a dance up
Turn up the music and dance!!! Preferably around the fire
Building an insect hotel
Grow food together
Asking the group to take three deep breaths
Have a music night together
Play ‘Have You Ever’ (Musical chairs type game) – sharing and fun
Maintain eye contact with another person for five minutes (without speaking)
Go on a four day horse riding camp
Going to the beach, collecting stuff and making a sculpture, painting or totem from it together
At school plant trees after nurturing seedlings and continue to watch them grow over their primary school years
Screen print T Shirts and other items for membership
Bring healthy yummy food to share
Speaking enlightened conversation
Play music with the dawn chorus of birds
Sing a song
Create a garden
Sing a song together
Wild dance on a moonlight night
Dance by moonlight
Do fun workshops like making mead and drinking it
ACTIVITY – Write a list of processes and activities that would suit your chosen group.
9. GIVE THANKS
Expressing acknowledgement and gratitude for one another, a good job done or a fantastic outcome boosts peoples self esteem and encourages them to do more of the same, supporting a culture of nurturing, honouring, team work, motivation and continuous improvements.
Being grateful for the learning opportunities when there are mistakes, miscommunication or problems supports personal and collective growth, learning and a united group energy as opposed to people feeling bad because they have done the wrong thing or felt shamed for being ‘told off’.
Opening up opportunities for everyone to express gratitude on a regular basis, not just for others in the group, family or community but also for ones life and all the things that each person is personally grateful for. This reminds people how blessed each of us actually is, even when things may seem gloomy. It encourages more positivity in the group generally and can motivate people to ‘Turn problems into solutions’, turn negative thinking around into positive statements and watch the mind for times when we can get caught in negative thinking about ourself , others or the group.
If the group is hesitant to launch straight into offering gratitude it can be very useful to use a creative gratitude process facilitated in a way that everyone feels involved and naturally able to express gratitude either verbally or on paper.
Ask yourself “What things am I most grateful for about my group, family or community?”
ACTIVITY – With coloured pens and a sheet of paper each, invite everyone in your group to write down all the things they are grateful for about the group and their life, all onto one side of the sheet of paper. When all are complete suggest they make a paper plan out of their sheet of paper and when everyone has done this offer them a few minutes to fly their paper planes up into the air, sending all their gratitude out to the world and the universe with joy, freedom and an open heart, saying “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for everything”.
Remember to celebrate the journey, the achievements and milestones, the friendships, the beginnings and endings, the holidays, birthdays, rites of passage, the outcomes achieved. At every opportunity find a way to celebrate both the individuals and the group as a whole. Gratitude and celebration can be woven together with some creative process and unconditional giving to bring many aspects of cultivating a healthy, happy and effective group together.
Celebration raises energy and if you can do this without alcohol the energy will be clean and focussed on the purpose of celebration. It also brings closure to projects or phases of the group and can support people to move on easily to whatever is next.
Name clearly the reason for celebrating, take photos and keep a record of all the celebrations. This documents history, gives people a sense of belonging in the group and can be a bridge for new people coming into the group.
Celebrations also help people relax, surrender built up energy and get to know each other in a more social context which is great for group bonding and team building.
They can be light with a party atmosphere or more sacred with ceremony or a ritual included. They can be led by a facilitator or be a group affair or a mixture of both. They can be convened in a special place to give a sense of there really being something special to celebrate.
Including beautiful food, either as a catered meal, eating in a restaurant or everyone bringing a dish to share is almost a prerequisite of a celebration.
ACTIVITY – Ask everyone in the group to contribute to two different questions that are written up on separate sheets of paper. “What kinds of celebration would you like us to have as a group/family/community?” and “What types of activities, processes and elements would you like included in our Celebrations?”
Most of all, enjoy your group, enjoy the learnings, the friendships, the activities and enjoy the journey. Joy and Love go hand in hand to make the difference for any group making a difference in the world.
with Love, Joy and Gratitude, Robin Clayfield