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July 2009

Chapter 1: What is your gift? Why is knowing your gift important?

Pua In the past fifteen years I have developed exercises which are part of a community-building and conflict transformation process I call, “Building the Beloved Community.”  In one of the anchor exercises I call, “Guts on the Table,” I ask people to tell three stories.  The name of the exercise,“Guts on the Table,” comes from the Hawaiian understanding that your na’au, your gut is the deepest place from which you think:  it’s the place where your mind, heart, intuition and experience come together.  It is the place where mana, your spiritual core lives.  The Hawaiian  word for thought is mana`o.

This is a formal process, a ritual.  The methodology is simple:  create a safe space and help people to find their stories and to tell them.  This exercise was designed to help people get deeper, faster.  People sit in a circle, on chairs or on the floor, and each person will tell their stories, one-by-one.  In this exercise, I usually begin [one of the core principles of doing this work is that you should never ask someone to do something that you haven’t done or aren’t willing to do first].  So, I as the facilitator will tell my stories first, and then the circle moves to my left and continues until it circles back to me.  Within the past 15 years, I have been part of over 1,008 circles.  Here are the stories people will tell:

1.  Tell the story of your names, all of your names.  Usually, we just introduce ourselves with our first names and leave out all of their other names which contain much of our personal histories.  People tell the story of how they were named or who named them; the meaning of their names or how they feel about their names.  When you tell the story of your names you tell the story of your people, your family, and what you feel about your name(s).

2.  Tell the story of your community, however, each participant defines “community.”  When people tell the story of community, they tell the story of how they live as part of a group. 

3.  Tell the story of your gift(s).  This is usually, the most difficult story for people to tell.  The belief is that if you talk about your gifts, then you will be “bragging on yourself,” which in many cultures is not appropriate behavior.  The emphasis is for people to tell what their gift(s) is/are,  rather than their skills.  The importance of this story is to enable them to wonder what their family, organization or community would be like if it were gift-based and not just skill-based.  (Most of us, when applying for a job, have only been asked to detail our skills and experiences, not our gifts.  My theory is that gift-based organizations do work that is more spiritual and satisfying and long-term.)

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Chapter 4: The Story, "Story" and the Ides of Iraq

William_Cleveland_Photo Stories can be fun, or frolic or amuse.
But, they are also nimble, tricky, malevolent, and …
well, you fill in the blank… 

Some say, “If you own the story
then you hold the power.” 
Others say, “Defining the story” is defining the future 
and that subjugation is story killing.

What we do know is that every
individual, every family, every community
is defined by their stories.

And, If we don’t tell our stories

we lose our dignity,
our humanity,
our souls,
as in South Africa, under Apartheid;
as in the Yugolslavia, with Milosivic;
as in Cambodia, during the Khmer Rouge times

as in Iran

These particular stories teach us that
tyranny is story subjugation driven by fear. 
Here’s how it works:
1.    Keep them from telling the story.
2.    Ignore the story.
3.    Control the story by altering or editing it.
4.    Romanticize the story
5.    Simplify the story,
6.    Trivialize the story
7.    Buy, then sell the story
8.    Kill the story

9.    Kill the story teller

But, you know, these stories do not die.
They morph and mutate
like love, like friendship,
like the blackberry canes and kudzu
that swarm the land and climb our fences

And you all know that story about friends and fences.
Good fences do make good neighbors …and…
good stories too.
And, of course, when those good stories migrate and join
at the intersection of self interest and common ground
no matter how stifled, those tall tale siblings
become democracy zygotes

Yes, Democracy is the art of collective story making.
Democracy says:
“Here is the story to this point—Let’s decide together what’s next.” 

What we call “the arts” are the tools humans use to craft stories. 

Words, music, movement, symbols, color, metaphors,
they all get into the act.

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