Dancing Without Leading: Making Space for New Steps

As practitioners in community building efforts we are constantly looking for ways to better connect to and engage residents. As part of our Network-centric approach – we focus on the practice of “weaving” as a way of building out our network of interconnected people.

Weaving, the principal leadership practice in Network Organizing, is an intentional practice of helping people connect to information, opportunity, each other and, most importantly, their own personal power. Weavers do this by opening new moments and new spaces for co-learning and co-investment to flourish.

Weaving is a way of Being and a process of Doing that seeks to bring the best kinds of genuine human caring and curiosity into a given moment when people meet new people;  in a meeting, at the doorstep, when people walk into the organization for the first time. It is  the process of creating open and fertile space for relationships to develop and for co-creation and co-investment to take place  – in places and at times when it normally can’t or won’t happen – that is…most of the time and in most places!

What is meant by “space?”  Why is “space so important? What does a weaver do to create this space and make it fertile for relationship building and co-creation?


First, everything happens in space – especially  creation and choice.  Second, space can be created. It is not static, neutral or or finite. It is created by the presence of energy and the absence of form. It is produced by movement, construction and deconstruction.  Space happens when the presence of dominant forms is diminished or eliminated. In architecture this looks like the absence of walls or floors or ceilings or furniture. In our world of community building it feels like the absence of protocols, positional power roles, traditions, habits as well as certain attributes of physical space all those things that tend to proscribe the boundaries of behavior in the moment. These forms live large in the moments when we meet or are greeting new people. Most of the time we are not even aware of these dominant forms.  The presence and power of these forms act to close space – to eliminate or narrow the opportunity for co-creation and relationship building.

So the first task in creating space is to notice, and then work to deconstruct – or lessen the power of these dominant forms.

These forms – and the powers that come with them – come from many places: tradition, habits, honest efforts to create clarity, and yes, from darker places like prejudice, intolerance and fear. Many though, spring from genuine efforts from people to help other people. These are the hardest to see but they are also some of the most powerful and the actionable. Here are some examples of the kinds of forms, and the powers that they bring to close space and limit creativity and relationship building:

The Power to Detach and Dehumanize through ‘Professionalism’.” The last 40 years or so have seen the proliferation of  “caring professions” in everything from community organizing to social work to health care to juvenile justice etc etc.  The ‘caring professionals’ try to compensate for the lack of caring and support that people have relied on family and friends for in the past BUT they also serve as the delivery system for official caring – the services and support that the public sector and philanthropy have deemed important to people in need.  This role – and the legal and political liability that comes with it – has driven a process of professionalization and standardization among caring professionals that is chock full of the kind of dominant forms mentioned above.  Most of these forms are predicated on the need and desire of the caring professional to bring consistency and excellence in services to clients. Often times however, establishing the ‘standard’ has resulted in processes predicated on detachment between the care giver and those he or she is caring for.  Often this detachment is seen as a necessary and/or desirable.

There are aspects of this ‘professionalism’ that one cant argue with. Standards for serving those in acute distress are good. But often these boundries causes the suspension of our human intuition. In other words, professionalism offers us the  permission to set aside alot of what we know about humans and replace it with a different framework.  it is as if things like human compassion and empathy gets freeze-dried in professional training and then is re-thawed as clinical insight. Professional, effective caring is a critical part of quality of life for many of us. The problem is that the technical, fear-based, liability-based clinical ‘habits of detachment’ that are helpful in acute care have swamped all manner of institution-based and place based human to human engagement.  I often say that there will be time to help, time to bring in the big guns, time for the the big intervention, time to develop the case plan. But what people need and want when they first meet you – is the time to say hello and be noticed.

The Power to Diminish through the use of Institutional Space: Physical spaces speak to us. For instance, on almost every small town commercial mainstreet in America – no matter how small the town – there is one building which stands distinctive among the storefronts and corner drug stores. The bank. You know its the bank because of its marble or concrete columns extending up two full floors, the latin words etched in its facade and the huge windows. It sits on mainstreet as if it had always been there and as if  the mainstreet grew up around it. It claims a status as an anchor of the community.  Now, today many of these building are no longer banks. But years ago when, on payday you were to bring your check for deposit, stepping inside that space you would immediately be made aware of your smallness and its bigness.  By the vast vaulted ceiling which towers over gleaming counter tops. By the echo of your footsteps as you cross the marble floor.  By the well dressed tellers with their straight backs and attentive looks. By the impossibly thick heavy vault door made intentionally visible to customers from the lobby. You, carrying your little deposit into this vaulted fortress.   This is “confidence building” architecture;  columns hinting at the ancient – always here – enduring. It’s quiet heaviness – immovable. Its formality – efficient, competent.

So What do you feel when you walk in here? Small yes, but also safe perhaps – in good hands?  A good feeling to have when you have to leave your life’s savings somewhere!!

Physical spaces are environments that we are hard wired to absorb and react to. As sentinent, aware beings we lead with our amazing set of senses to almost instantaneously “feel” the spaces we enter. And we enter every space with one central question. “Is this a good place for me?”  Is it safe, healthy, aware of my presence? Does the place embrace me, reject me, care less about me?  Does it increase my fear – close me up –  or does it increase my trust and open me up?  We feel our way to answers to this question long before we can think our way to answers.  We react to light, colors, smells, materials, presence or absence of other people, the size and volume of open space etc etc. In a recent excercize with a large group in Cleveland Ohio, when asked to relfect on ‘spaces’ where they had felt comfortable in their lives, the range of elements was astounding: from things like bright colors to the presence of animals. But interestingly, the most dominant feature was smell – comforting smells from childhood. This tells us that long before we are delineating the design elements of a space to understand its impact on us, we are sniffing places out like every other mammal on the planet.

Institutional “helping” spaces are not so much intentional in their efforts to diminish people – they are just focused on other things: efficiency, safety, confidentiality, uniformity, consistency. As a list of attributes there is nothing wrong with these elements. But lets look at what a space – crowded with these “forms” – both feeds and starves. It can feed anonymity, compliance, routines, acquiescence. It can starve individuality, spontaneity, co-investment, flexibility. A professional social worker recently told me that thier agency’s “safety protocol” required that there be a desk between a worker and a client at all time.  That the safety imperitive alone drove a key element of the design of the space for having conversation is telling. Giving “safety” so much dominance as a form  foreclosed so many other options, for instance a side by side seating arrangement which alone can shift the nature of the invitation to that moment. In essence it placed all the trappings of the “institution” between people involved and reinforced the positional power that exists between the worker and client, with even more situational power.

Awareness of the physical environment and of the ‘dominant forms’ at work in that place is a critical aspect of weaving.

The Power to Foreclose  “Invitation” Through “Expertise” Recently at LCW, as part of an evaluation of our “Network Guides” program (a cohort of stipended member volunteers who train and practice as “weavers”) we uncovered an interesting phenomenon. That weavers trained in the nuances of creating welcoming space and building relationships will, over time, drift toward taking on the positional power role of being “experts.’  In our situation there was  a conspiracy of factors involved.  First, we realized the embedded in our training were subtle but powerful messages about the ‘special status’ of the weaver, not the least of which was that the weaver had to be more informed than the average member about what was going on in the Network.  In addition the weavers had their own place in the Lobby of the Our House center which was meant to be a home-base but evolved into a traditional looking reception area! Weavers also have special white polo shirts with maroon embroidery which they love and which tag them as “network weavers.”

We realized that we had – unwittingly – filled the space that we had created for weaving with dominant forms that reinforced the idea that the weavers were experts – they had positional power. This led to a different kind of dominant form that tends to fill up space. Language. The language of the helper. The language of the expert. The assumption of the dance in this moment is that person A comes in to the space with a question and a need and connects with person B who – presumably – has the ability to answer or deliver help. This gets quickly reinforced with language in very subtle ways. For instance – “can I help you” is generally seen as the language of good customer service. But that phrase reinforces the presumed dance. Replace “can I help you” with “its so nice to see you” and see what happens. Person A asks there questions and person B feels like they have to try to answer – often without all of the information that is needed.  What if the response of person B is …”hmmmmm…I’m not sure, but lets try to find out together.”  Well, in our early experience, guided by a mantra “Your Question is My Question”, this response has the dual advantage of both ‘opening space’ for other things to happen and diminishing the presumed positional and situational power in the moment. My Colleague Audrey Jordan often quotes a friend, Ms. Annie Giles, talking about how she connects with people who show up to help her. She says “I need to know how much you care before I care how much you know.”

So, weaving is actually mostly a process of understanding and recognizi ng the presence of dominant forms such as these and then the work of deconstruction and subtraction –  eliminating or nuetralizing these forms so they have less power at the moment of connection. We do this to create a different kind of Invitation. But this requires intentionality. We  practice  intentionality through the use of small contrivances which are designed to make that now-open space suitable for relationships to take shape.

“Contrivance’  – “an artificial rather than natural selection or arrangement of details, parts, etc.”

If enough of these spaces could form on their own – they would. They dont and so we have to prod them with devices or contrivances. A door knock is a contrivance. An ice breaker is a contrivance. A meeting is a contrivance. A mantra is a contrivance. A welcoming greeting is a contrivance. All these things — and all the others that we dream up — are only contrivances. They are not genuine moments. They can lead to genuine moments and knowing when the contrivance ends and the genuine organic moment begins, its the deep art of the weaver. Next installment – The Art of the Contrivance.



A Note on Space;The Landscape of Opportunity

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Hockey’s “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky

My apologies ahead of time to those who hate sports analogies! Lean into it for a few minutes OK?

Former NHL hockey great Wayne Gretzky could not see the future. What he could see – better than most and before most – was the opening of new space. Why is this  important? Because space is the landscape of opportunity.

All things happen in space. The leader of action, of innovation, of the adaptive environment, is most effective when engaged in recognizing,  creating and  preserving space.

As a player Gretzky was acutely tuned to the dimensions of the space that he inhabited, and of the other forms which inhabit that space with him: his teammates, the opposing team, the nets, the boards, the puck, the blue lines and the red line, the officials and the nets.  And while most players are  able to effectively track the coming and goings of all the other players in that space, Gretsky was able to do that and be  interested in what they have left behind and where they havent gone to yet –   these are the spaces that remain outside of and around the “action. ”

What a player like Gretsky understands is this: in a constant-motion sport like hockey, the most important thing that is happening is that space is opening and closing at a rapid rate, and therefor the opportunity for things to happen are both emerging and foreclosing at a rapid rate. That Gretsky can comprehend, react to and anticipate this emergence and foreclosure better than most makes him the master of that space and therefore the purveyor of opportunity – for himself and for his teammates. An amazing advantage; this ability to see and appreciate space! What many of us could only see from 50 yards away while watching a pee wee hockey game, Gretsky can see at 10 times the speed while he is inhabiting the same space!  being an inhabitant rather than a witness is important because an inhabitant can deploy himself in ways to take advantage of open space, create open space and preserve open space – all in service to his team’s ability to take advantage of opportunities and see results.

All things happen in space. The leader of action, of innovation, of the adaptive environment, is most effective when engaged in recognizing,  creating and  preserving space.

Life in the modern age is a constant-motion sport, and the pace of that motion is increasing all the time. We live in a time of constant change at rapid speeds with expanded numbers of variables and the need for constant reinvention and adaptation is clear.   But few of us are “Gretsky’s” and in these environments it is easy to get lost in the swirling, ever changing conditions and overwhelmed by the crowded and frenetic pace.  We cope by trying to find order in chaos.  As humans we are constantly summing, measuring, framing, arranging, codifying – all in the service of finding a logic model, a critical path in the midst of a chaotic and dynamic world. Sometimes we  feel that if we can PowerPoint It we can pin it to the wall – immutable.  But then ….change happens. What we often dont realize  is that when we try to make order of chaos we behave in ways that shut down the opportunity for action and create – we are closing space without even knowing it by reinforcing the domination of forms – habits, positional power roles, traditions, fear-base behaviors. Take planning for instance….

Some days it feels like the payoff of planning at all has never been more marginal.  Today, disruption is inevitable and comes swiftly. And disruption-to-the-plan causes not one but three problems.

First and obviously, the “plan” quickly becomes irrelevant and useless to us.

Second and somewhat obviously, it takes most of us a long time to realize that the plan has become irrelevant and useless to us and in the meantime we are making bad decisions and spending precious time and money in the process.

Third and not so obviously, there is vertigo and even trauma for the humans involved when  a plan dissolves into uncertainty. Vertigo and trauma are fear mills which in turn produce risk aversion and wariness. This risk aversion and wariness pops up at exactly the time when boldness and decisiveness are most needed – when we need to adapt to change.

In hockey this is often spoken of as being a half-step or half-stride behind the play, which is just enough drag to be irrelevant on the ice and useless to your teammates. There are many reasons why one may be a half step behind the play: being injured or out of shape or too old or just not skilled enough. But there are other non-physical reasons as well. There are some  players who – no matter their fitness level- are always a step behind. Why?  Because they are thinking the game, not playing the game; they are too inside their own heads, and most importantly – stuck with a mental model of how they think the game should unfold, rather than being able to react to the moment – how it is actually unfolding!

In a planned environment, change disrupts creation, change causes fear – Fear Closes Space – closed space limits creation.

MORE ON THIS SOON: Finding ways to generate space for co-creation: Willful acts of deconstruction and addition by subtraction.

The New Weaver Network; LCW is Re-Thinking, Re-Designing Our Network Organizing Practice and Learning

Over the past 6 months, staff and members have been taking stock of our Network Organizing approach as operationalized through the Collective Action and Mobilization (CAM)  and Network Organizing Forum (NOF) Units.  The results? Significant shifts in programming and in our training and collective learning approaches.  These shifts are largely about four things:

  • Creating more space for adaptation and flexibility in our approaches for application in a range of evironments
  • Being more intentional about understanding, supporting and communicating the practice of “weaving”  – our core leadership role in the network
  • More firmly grounding all of our practice in our core value of “reciprocity”
  • Integrating Network-Centric practice – and the learning around the practice – more organically into Network life for members and staff.

These shifts have also involved changes in the way that CAM and NOF work together and the way that other network units are engaged in shaping Network-Centric practice and thinking. The following is an outline of the major shifts underway

1. The Weaver Network ( Formerly Known as the NOF!)

The Network Organizing Forum has a new name – The Weaver Network!  Beyond the name change, the Network has a fresh mission:

“The Weaver Network is a program of Lawrence CommunityWorks designed to advance the thinking and the practice of Network Organizing – a form of placed-based community organizing and community building – both within the LCW network and in the larger world.

Network organizing seeks to shape new environments where people living under challenging circumstances and/or taking on challenging issues can build relationships of trust and value, and subsequently rely on those relationships to achieve positive results for themselves and their communities. These environments are grounded in the idea and active practice of “reciprocity.”

Weaving, the principal leadership practice in Network Organizing, is an intentional practice of helping people connect to information, opportunity, each other and, most importantly, their own personal power. Weavers do this by opening new moments and new spaces for co-learning and co-investment to flourish.

The Weaver Network is a learning community founded by the members of Lawrence CommunityWorks, which brings individuals and organizations together who are exploring and developing he thinking and practice of Network Organizing. “

2. The PODER Leadership Institute

PODER is the Network’s powerful premier leadership development experience, begun in 2003. Traditionally, PODER has been an intensive 4 month Saturday workshop series. Beginning this year, PODER will operate as a year long Cohort approach, where the group will be meeting as a cohort 3 times throughout the year but will also be participating in other trainings and activities that will be ALSO be open to the full membership.  The cohort will also work on group projects between mandatory sessions and share their progress online through the TWN website.

The 3 Manadatory Cohort Days

Day One:

v  Morning:

  • Understanding leadership in a network environment: Weaving.  Members will learn about weaving as a leadership quality and about their own leadership style.  This training will incorporate elements from the first Weaver training session.

v  Afternoon:

  • Space and environments:  members will learn about the power of environments: how the influence and affect our decisions and interactions with each other.  The session will include evaluation exercises and role play to illustrate the concepts.
  • Project:  Photo montage:  members will share photos of their favorite place in the city and their least favorite space in the city.  They will evaluate those online and will explain their choices.  They will also make recommendations about the best use for those environments, or what changes they would make to them. (permission forms will be given to use photos, if needed)

Day Two:

v  Morning:

  • The Myth and the fact: Class participants will meet at Lawrence Heritage State Park and view a film on the City’s labor history, called “Collective Voices: The Bread and Roses Strike.”  We will discuss the history, the myth, and the current reality of Lawrence.  Class members will then build on their analyses of power, leadership and economics to build their own theory of why things are the way they are in Lawrence.

v  Afternoon:

  • Power of ideology: What role do the media play in shaping the way we understand events and how we respond to them?  This class includes a viewing of the documentary, “The Revolution will not be televised.”
  • Project: Interview-perceptions of Lawrence (needs development, ideas)

Day three:

v  Morning:

  • Understanding power: The class will put “leadership in context.”  Class members will discuss four types of power – political, economic, social, and ideological – as well the theories behind them and how these types of power are exercised in Lawrence.  We will also take a look at social change movements to understand how people have gained power and expressed leadership to make change.

v  Afternoon:

  • Developing your personal power: Members will explore the kernel of power theory and then discuss how we can each identify and use our kernel to be more empowered. Members will also discuss how to help others identify and claim their kernels and how that can help in building communities.  Members will learn about the kernel of power and the power of intentional storytelling to build relationships of trust across lines of difference.
  • Project:  TBA

Additional PODER Sponsored Workshops Open to Membership:

Asking the Right Question

Guest Speaker: Luz Santana, The Right Question Project

In this class, participants will learn a model for formulating questions and discuss theories of adult learning and consciousness-raising.  By looking at decisions made by public institutions that affect our daily lives, participants will learn to develop the questions that can guide our analysis, advocacy and organizing.

Collaborative Leadership

Both formal and informal leaders need to view leadership as service, respect the value and diversity that each person brings, and share power and decision–making.  The practice of this is called “collaborative leadership.”  In this intensive 2-day workshop, PODER members will use group exercises, discussions and coaching to learn about and develop the skills and tools central to the practice collaborative leadership.

Analysis of the Economy

Class participants will improve their economic literacy by exploring the causes of the widening income gap in this country – What are the institutions and systems that create wealth for some and poverty for many?  We will also look at the state and local budgets – Where does money come from, how is it spent, and who decides?

Other activities will include movie screenings, panel discussions, participation in on-site or offsite immersions and additional workshops.

3. NeighborCircles

NCs continue to be a powerful and effective strategy for local engagement and relationship building, membership generation and local action. However, over the past several months, CAM staff, NOF staff and members have been undergoing an evaluation and redesign of some aspects of the approach.


The traditional Circle is 3 consecutive dinners and we are still using this approach in many situations. However we have added a 2-dinner and 1-dinner version of the Circle in circumstances where 3 dinners is too much of a commitment or in communities-of-interest where the Map Exercise is really what is needed. For instance we are working with the Home Ownership Center to offer all its participants (especially first time homeowners) a one-time dinner facilitated by our NC facilitators for hosts that are interested in meeting their neighbors.  We are calling these dinners ‘Neighbors Dinners’ and they are offered as a benefit of being a HOC participant/member.

Roles: Host and Facilitator

The role of the host has remained the same. However the role of the Facilitator is now more oriented to that of a network weaver.  We have found that the Circle facilitation will drift toward encouraging action over relationship building.  For this reason we are re-shaping the training and support to genuinely and consistently emphasize relationship building – weaving. The goal of course is to have each and every neighbor walk away from their NeighborCircle feeling they have made new and valuable connections to other neighbors and to the Lawrence CommunityWorks network.


We are still working our network relationships to find new hosts and facilitators. However we are also doing a few things more intentionally.

  • Asking hosts to invite friends who live in other neighborhoods to come and observe during a NC.
  • Offering a modified version of NeighborCircles. Just recently HOC and CAM agreed to offer all HOC participants a one dinner modified version of NC for homeowners to meet their neighbors and learn a little about LCW.  At the end of that dinner the facilitator will offer the participants the opportunity to expand to three dinners (a full NC) but it is up to the participants to take advantage of this opportunity.  This idea emerged out of the challenge to get new homeowners to commit to hosting a NC.  In our experience, new homeowners are less likely to host a NC because they are relatively new to their neighborhood and want a little be of time to adapt to their new home (maybe even make some home improvements) and figure out who is who in the neighborhood before inviting them into their home.

Tracking :

Data for each NC (host, address, number of participants, individual participant information, etc.) is now entered into Sales Force. Com our CRM data environment.


NC participants now complete a NC evaluation sheet at the end of the third dinner.  On the evaluation we asks mostly questions about the quality of the experience (did you like the experience?Did you find it helpful? How many neighbors did you meet for the first time? Would you recommend NC to a friend? etc.).

Facilitators Training/Support:

  • NC facilitators now need to complete a 2-day (about 14 hours) NC training before they can facilitate a NC. This training is heavily weighted toward weaver skills building.
  • All NC facilitators meet once per month to coordinate outreach, share their NC experiences, provide mutual support to each other and in many cases improve the practice.

Follow up:

  • NC’s that decide to work on projects have the option of receiving technical assistance and support from LCW. NC’s working on projects can apply for mini grants of up to $300.00 to support their projects.
  • NC participants are invited to LCW open house so they can meet other members and get connected to other opportunities in the Network.
  • NC participants are invited to end of year celebration where they get to meet other NC participants to share, celebrate and learn from each other experiences.

4. Memberlink Program

MemberLink is the layer of Stipened Member Developmental Oportunities available in the Network. These include the Guides program, the Reviviendo Fellowship, The NOF Internship, Peer Leaders program and NeighborCircles Facilitators and Hosts. All in all, in any given year, there are 12-18 MemberLink opportunities. Members can only participate in any given MemberLink opportunity (with the exception of the NeighborCircles Facilitators) and each opportunity lasts one year. In this way we can continually open these opportunities up to new members.

MemberLink is a wonderful and effective element of the network – increasing our capacity to steward the network while providing genuinely valuable opportunities for profesional and personal development for members. We intend to continue to invest in making MemberLink an exceptional approach. The following are some of the recent shifts in practice:

The “Guides “program is now The “Weaver” Program: Evaluation and observation told us that over the past year or so the Guides program had drifted somewhat from a focus on the practice of “weaving” to a more technical role as a greeter and referral role in the campus Lobby (ie ‘reception’.)  This is due to several factors: The move to the campus and the creation of the Guides “station” in the lobby, the pressure to ‘cover’ for reception in the lobby because of budget cuts,  and a less than ideal level of attentiveness to program support and training.

Looking at the program, we realized something else – that there is a natural tendency – drift – to the “expert” role and a replication of the  ‘positional power dynamic common in most ‘intake’ or reception environments.  In our view, this is not an effective relationship building disposition. Over the  past few months we have decided to take on this ‘drift’ dynamic and go deeper into the nuances of the practice of “weaving”.  Not only have we changed the name of the program but we have been developing and experimenting with new appraoches to mutual learning and exploration of this role – principally around the concept of using language, physical movement, and physical space to do a better job of  “creating space” for relationship building at the first contact and through the affiliation moment.

New level of training and Support: In the past, each of the MemberLink programs operated in a slightly different annual cycle with separate training. Starting this summer we will be providing an overall orientation to Memberlink and more extensive Weaver training and on-going support throughout the year.

The MCA’s; The Movement City Awards!

Movement City, LCW’s Youth Network held their end of the year extravaganza – The MCA Awards Night! Complete with the red carpet, the dazzling gowns, the paparazzi and lots of music dance and poetry. The 2 hour show was MC’d by the lovely and talented Kaovani Holquin – former MC member and now a Berkely College student – and dashing MC staffer Chris Benitez. Nominees for such awards as Best Female Vocals, Best Short Film, Best Music Video, Best New Fashion Design were featured in a video presentation and winners names were ripped from sealed envelopes in dramatic fashion. Winners were then interviewed back stage. It was an amazing night and a great reminder of all the incredible talent in Lawrence and in the Movement City Youth Network. Congratulations to the MC staff and all the young people who made this year a great one and a fun one.

The Essence of Weaving

Hi All.  I wanted to expand a little on what I see as the essence of weaving..which i think can/should inform our Weaver roles and training at LCW and perhaps in other environments.

This is my definition: Weaving is the intentional practice of helping people to build – and connect to – more relationships of trust and value., mostly by virtue of being genuinely interesting in building and connecting oneself to more relationships of trust and value. The generosity inherent in the act of weaving can only come from one place – the genuine caring and curiosity of the weaver…the motivation to want this person in your network. If that is the case, the weaver is able to open up all kinds of space for relationship building, action and reciprocity.

In weaving, as in all else, we need to be mostly conscious of the need to “create space” for good things to happen. The act of weaving threads or yarns into fabric is an apt metaphor in this regard; the action of weaving happens in and through space! So, the prerequisite for weaving among human relationships requires first – the opening of space.  All “rooms” (spaces, moments) speak to our aspirations and fears in very specific ways. When I enter a new environment (room) – a meeting, a building, and event, a classroom, a program – as an aware human being I am both ‘feeling’ and thinking but feeling happens a lot faster than thinking. Literally I am sensing clues to figure out whether this is a good place for me; Am I welcome? Do I belong? Is this place safe?  These spaces and moments are best understood simply as ‘human environments.’  All environments feed certain things and starve other things. Weaving is a critical element of the room in that it can be something that helps feed aspiration and mitigate fear, opening space for good things to happen.

For instance, when I go Christmas shopping I usually have to go to the mall 3 or 4 times. The first time I go it must look hilarious because I am walking really fast in and out of stores. I go in with a degree of curiosity and a general sense of pursuit of value yes? But those sensibilities quickly get snuffed out by a whole host of things…. the most powerful of which is my own fear. And Fear closes space more than any other single thing. Fear forecloses options and opportunity. In this case my natural fear of the retail environment gets quickly amped up by the smiling sales person who makes a bee line for me. Aggressive movements, facial expressions that are out of proportion to the situation (ie the salesperson “so happy to see you smile” ) the sense that this person is going to make me make a choice before I am ready etc. – all these things conspire to close space and foreclose my ability and desire to stay, linger, taste, look, smell , engage, buy. So…. I book it out of there as fast as possible.

Now our organizations are not retail stores and our weavers are not salespeople, but we are trying to create environments that people will linger in long enough to find value a bring out their best stuff. In a retail environment – bringing out our “best stuff” means spending a lot of money. In our environments, this means something very different – our time, our energy, sometimes our money yes. But even more importantly, our best stuff is our generosity of spirit, our hopefulness, our trust, our tolerance for difference and change, our caring selves, our not fearful selves. Weaving is the genuine human caring and love that feeds and encourages these good things.

So…Here are some of my core reflections about weaving:

First rule…weaving is not about acting..it is about being. Our aspiration is that Weavers don’t do…. Weavers are, and weaving is a practice that comes from a genuine place of curiosity and caring. In my view the most important thing about weaving is that it is a practice..not a program. As a practice it is something we can all/should all experiment with, get training in, get supported doing – so that we can all get better.

This leads directly to the Second rule…As a weaver…as I meet you and get to know you….”I am not an expert…I am not a friend..I am not a professional..I am not, not a professional.”  This is what I am – “caring and curious and here, right now.” Lucky you, lucky me, lucky us!

The Third Rule of Weaving is:  practice Reciprocity. Treat people as you would be treated. This includes having expectations of the person you are engaged with. Expect respect/offer respect. Egage with your whole person as a way of inviting engagement from a whole person.

This leads to Rule Number 4: The core capacity for weaving is self-knowledge; Understand and work to break down your positional power.  As a Weaver you do carry positional power – if for no other reason than you occupy the space that others are coming into for the first time…you wear a special shirt etc., you are sitting at a table that they have to approach..you are a different color…you are already an inhabitant where they are a visitor. Positional power dynamics close space – if you are perceived as the powerful one and they as the needy one you have already foreclosed dozens of opportunities for good things to happen. You have taken small measures of space and closed it up. You must move quickly and genuinely to break down the positional power/one-way-street expectations and assumptions that they might have and that you might fall into and open space. There are many of these expectations and assumptions we can explore, but the most seductive of these is the “expert-learner” dynamic. You are the expert in this environment, I come to you with a question.

Because of this dynamic, our practice of weaving starts with one essential mantra: “Your question is my question.” If we practice nothing else, the practice of feeling this, believing this, expressing this at the point of contact will do so much to shatter the ‘expert-learner’ dynamic and open space for relationship, growth and reciprocity. This can be very subtle.

Ms. Palombo comes into Our House. She has heard there is a youth program but knows nothing about MC. She comes in and – expecting this to be the usual social service place – starts asking the guide about “how to apply…how much it costs…when does it start…etc.)

Scenario #1 – Guides expectation is that he/she has to be the expert. Starts answering questions…but a little unsure of some things…will (as we all do) get somethings wrong..state things that may not be true..get flustered….go internal, where the voice in the head starts saying “what do I say next” as opposed to ‘what do I want to know about this person – this situation next.” This quickly becomes an unsatisfying conversation for both parties AND we still don’t know anything about Ms. Polumbo.

Scenario #2 – Guides expectation that they are a weaver. Starts by saying..Hmmm not sure, been wondering about that myself…maybe we can find out together what the situation is. I call this  “going sideways”: using language and physicality to open up space for a variety of encounters to take place, as opposed to closing space. So the weaver says..lets go find out together, and starts asking Ms. Polumbo questions about herself and kids. The weaver also gets active…gets up and walks her around to the computer.  Moving together, talking together, exploring together.

Scenario #1 closes space by establishing or reinforcing a static power dynamic, one way conversation and dependency. Scenario #2 opens space through invitation – to walk, talk, explore.

Stay tunes for the next installment – a reflection on the nature of space and description of things that open space and things that close space.



A Night in the Life of the Network: A Quick Tour of OUR HOUSE

Recently the Board of Impact Silver Spring in Maryland, one of our partner networks, asked if we could “Flip Video” the Our House Campus at LCW to give them a better sense of how we use space to support the life of our Network. So this past Friday night, December 18th 2009, I took a little walk through the space. A little background before you look at the video:

OUR HOUSE Campus is comprised of 2 buildings and 2 parking areas which have been reclaimed by Lawrence CommunityWorks after almost 25 years of abandonement and deterioration. The buildings are a part of the old St. Laurence O’Toole Parish which was built around the turn of the last century. Our House is a 4 story former elementary school – a $5Million gut rehab – which has been restored as a green building with lots of historic details intact. It is partially powered by PVC and Geothermal and made extensive use of recycled materials. That building houses the Movement City Youth Network, Family Asset Building and the Homeownership Center. The large lobby and first floor meeting rooms are also used for a wide range of Network functions and activities.  The Hennigan Center is a 19th Century Queen Anne “mansion” which began as a home and then served as the rectory for priests in the parish. LCW renovated that building for use as a business office and the home for the Community Organizing, Real Estate, Network Forum and Resource Development Offices. It is also the home for the Movement City Residency Program..7 congregate style living units for recent college grads from the Lawrence and Boston area who teach young people at Movement City. These young 20-somethings get free housing in exchange for spending a part of each week as instructors, mentors and tutors.

The campus is the centerpiece network space and was 6 years and almost $7 million in the making!!! It took the hard political, fundraising, planning, and physical work of hundreds of network members over a long period of time to build this home..and now it will be OUR HOUSE for generations to come. Welcome to Our House!

LCW Wins “Housing for Everyone” Award in Massachusetts

November 19, 2009 – Boston, Mass. –  Lawrence Community Works (LCW)  received the TD Charitable Foundation’s annual “Housing for Everyone” Award along with a $75,000 grant which will be used to support affordable housing initiatives in Essex County. Now in its fifth year, the “Housing for Everyone” Award competition offers housing non-profits a chance to win funds for projects that help to stabilize the housing environment in communities where TD Bank does business. Grants ranged from $10,000 to $100,000. Lawrence Community Works was the 1st Place Winner in Massachusetts!! 

Lisa Torrisi, Director of Resource Development for LCW commented, “Lawrence CommunityWorks is thrilled to win this award – TD Bank has been a great partner and a strong supporter of our homeownership education, affordable housing development, and financial literacy work for many years. Recognition for the impact our work is having in the community and funds to support our programs come at a critical time when much of the funding available for these programs has been cut. This award will help us to continue building a better future for the families of Lawrence.” 

LCW’s approach to community revitalization is built around a three-pronged neighborhood stabilization strategy that focuses on investing in both the social and physical landscape of Lawrence, Mass. They provide real estate development, asset building, and foreclosure mitigation programs designed to revitalize the physical, economic, civic, and social landscape of Lawrence. Through the “Housing for Everyone” program, the TD Charitable Foundation donated a total $2 million in 2009, and has invested nearly $5.3 million in affordable housing to date.

About the TD Charitable Foundation

The TD Charitable Foundation is the charitable giving arm of TD Bank N.A., which operates as TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®, and is one of the 15 largest commercial banking organizations in the United States. The Foundation’s mission is to serve the individuals, families and businesses in all the communities where TD Bank operates, having made over $53 million in charitable donations since its inception in 2002. The efforts of the Foundation are coordinated locally through TD Bank’s community relations departments and are focused on the areas of affordable housing, education and financial literacy, and the environment. More information on the TD Charitable Foundation, including an online grant application, is available at www.TDBank.com.