What We Tie Our Intentions to Matters

Million Person ProjectWhen I decided I wanted to write about facilitative leadership, I made a list of all the facilitators I know who are creating space for our creator selves to show up.  Julian Mocine-McQueen and Heather Box, two amazing humans and the founders of the Million Person Project, were high on my list. The first time the three of us had a chance to facilitate together was a storytelling workshop for organizers in South Africa at the UN Climate Talks.  Heather and Julian were in the early days of a journey around the globe to ignite the power of story with organizers building community power. And now, nine years later, they are on a journey around the US giving talks on their new book, How Your Story Sets You Free.

I had the chance to talk with Julian not too long ago about facilitation, storytelling, and what’s happening at the intersection of the two.  With ease and joyful laughter he broke down some deep shit. He is seeing a shift that I think a lot of us are seeing - a shift towards relationship, to be humans first before focusing in on a shared target.  Julian said... read more

When I decided I wanted to write about facilitative leadership, I made a list of all the facilitators I know who are creating space for our creator selves to show up.  Julian Mocine-McQueen and Heather Box, two amazing humans and the founders of the Million Person Project, were high on my list. The first time the three of us had a chance to facilitate together was a storytelling workshop for organizers in South Africa at the UN Climate Talks.  Heather and Julian were in the early days of a journey around the globe to ignite the power of story with organizers building community power. And now, nine years later, they are on a journey around the US giving talks on their new book, How Your Story Sets You Free.

I had the chance to talk with Julian not too long ago about facilitation, storytelling, and what’s happening at the intersection of the two.  With ease and joyful laughter he broke down some deep shit. He is seeing a shift that I think a lot of us are seeing - a shift towards relationship, to be humans first before focusing in on a shared target.  Julian said,

“In the last year, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating processes at Oregon State Penitentiary, at the Climate Strike in partnership with indigenous communities from all over the world, in the food justice movement… And what I am seeing is a deeper commitment to building relationships as we do the work, to be humans first before we are team members, to identify and connect with our shared humanity before we look at shared purpose and outcomes… There is a shift towards relationship that is palpable.  We don’t do anything else until we can see each other.”

And this shift isn’t just about what feels good, it’s about what works.  As Julian sees it, what we tether our intentions to matters. “If you tie a balloon to a leaf, it will fly all over the place, but if you tie that same balloon to the roots of the tree, it can stand the winds of change so much more.” Stories allow us to anchor our collective intentions to our shared humanity.  And we are so much more likely to stick together, no matter the weather.  

Centering our stories makes the work more real.  Through story, Julian says, it is much easier to see the connections between environmental justice, economic justice, and ending mass incarceration.  Through story, we can better understand the roots of the injustices our communities face, and the solutions that get at the root of the problem. Through story, we find shared language and narratives, a clearer sense of the complexity of communities, and a sense of mutual accountability.  “Our work is so much around personal narrative and bringing those narrative points into the space… When I know what guides you and what you’re really standing for, and you see me and how I know and see the world - then we see the power we really hold.”

Narratives like these can emerge when we create the space for them.  Holding space is such an abstract concept for anyone who doesn’t call themselves a facilitator, so I asked Julian what “holding space” means to him.   He offered some beautiful insights. Holding space means...

  • A shift in my own perspective -instead of focusing on the finish line, I am present for what’s right in front of us
  • The capacity to trust the people in the room
  • Creating a space of exploration and possibility - this supports people to open up and recognize there are infinite possibilities, 
  • And finally —confidence in one’s own brilliance without having to take up much space in the room

I was curious how Julian prepares to hold space in the way he does —with such a generosity of his own vulnerability combined with humor, and openness to whatever might happen next.  Here is what he said…

As a man of color, of mixed background, preparing to hold space for diverse groups means connecting to my lineage, to my ancestors, to my family, and what we’ve been through.  I find a lot of power and energy grounding in that. The honor of my dad being willing to sit down and tell us their story, recognizing that when I walk into a room my ancestors are there with me… This has become so real to me with the birth of our son, Roman… So many signs told us our ancestors were in the room when he was born.”

Right now, Julian, Heather, and Roman are on the road together, visiting bookstores, schools, and coffee shops to share their new book with the world, How Your Story Sets You Free.  Don’t sleep! I ordered mine this week and just got a notice from Indie Books that it is on its way.

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published this page in Zine 2020-01-17 10:04:10 -0800
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