Unlike distance talk about techniques, clearness conversations about identity tend to make us vulnerable.
Clearness conversations need to be accompanied by new ground rules for dialogue; rules that will help us respect each other’s vulnerability and avoid chilling the conversation before it can even begin.
The rules for clearness conversations is set up against 3 norms that tells us how we are suppose to talk to each other.
1. the norm of ‘making nice’ to be polite, don’t intefere with other’s business, giving others the benefit of doubt.
2. the norm of (academic) competition to question each other’s claim, think oppositionally and be ready to fire a quick response.
3. the norm to ‘fix-it’, give advice and save each other.
If we want to support each other’s inner lives, we must remember a simple truth: the human soul does not want to fixed, it wants simply to be seen and heard.
This truth honours a powerful but paraxdoxical pair of beliefs:
First, the human soul does not want to be fixed by community because each of us already have an inner teacher that is an arbiter of truth.
Second, yet the human soul want to be seen and heard by community because each of us needs the give-and-take of community in order to hear that inner teacher speak.
Quaker social structures offer community to help a person discover the guidance that comes from within and builds ground rules to prevent that community from invading the individual’s inwardness with external agendas and advice.
With a problem in mind, the focus person invites 4-5 colleagues to become members of his clearness conversation.
Before they meet, the focus person is to write a few pages about the problem for his colleagues to read. Format: a) a clear statement of the nature of the problem itself, b) details about its relevant background or prior experiences about it. c) details about its relevant foreground and consequences that it brings.
Penning the problem on paper is probably the most important step towards clearness. Doing so forces us to winnow our feelings and facts, allowing the chaff to blow away the fears and doubts into the light of day, rather than recycling them endlessly inside our minds.
The committee then meets, seated in a circle with the focus person for 2-3 uninterrupted hours, and the members practice the discipline of giving undivided attention to that person and his or her problem.
The focus person becomes the great thing at the heart of this small version of community of truth, the scared subject, worthy of respect.
Undivided attention means letting the focus person, and his or her problem, be at the centre of the circle wihtout trying, as a committee member, to put yourself there.
Undivided attention means forgetting about yourself, for just a couple of hours, acting as if you had no other purpose on earth than to care for this human being.
The meeting begins with the focus person briefly restating the issue, then the members of the committee begin their work, guided and constrained by 3 basic and nonnegotiable ground rules:
1. Members are forbidden to speak to the focus person in any way except to ask that person an honest, open question.
The intention of the question is for discernment, not cross-examination. The pace of questioning must be slow, respectful and gentle, allowing ample silence between a response and the next question. The focus person usually answers each question aloud, but always has the right to pass, leading to the next question and response.
After the meeting process,
2. Whatever was said in the group must remain within it.
3. Members may not approach the focus person with comments or suggestions, for to do so would violate the spirit of the process.