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How can Gathering Groups peacefully and effectively discuss controversial issues?
As Pathways Connect Gathering Groups are becoming established around the country, facilitators have begun to contribute their insights and ideas for the Pathways Connect Gathering Guide, as well as share their concerns with discussing “controversial” issues in groups. While the Gathering Guide provides a new group with tools for communicating compassionately with one another, as well as energizing icebreakers that help us to get to know each other and just have fun, the purpose of the groups, ultimately, is to empower one another with the experience of honest exchange in a safe community setting.
The unique Dialogue and Resource Guide that accompanies every new issue of Pathways magazine provides a group with a treasure trove of resources to explore together, as well as thought-provoking Talking Points and Dialogue questions—designed for peaceful, not antagonistic, exchanges. In a conscious living community, how we talk to one another is just as important as what we are talking about. And sometimes what we talk about can be intense!
Leah Deragon, co-founder and CCE of the Birth Roots center in Portland, Maine, knows which “hot button” issues are the most difficult to explore as a facilitator of parent groups. “While we say one size doesn’t fit all, there are issues that can be predictably challenging to discuss. The big three are vaccination, circumcision and co-sleeping. Do you have any advice for how to approach these topics in our Pathways Connect group?”
I was grateful for Leah’s honest question and the opportunity to answer it. In my experience of working with families who tackle informed choice making, the take-home message over and over is this: The orientation of the parent determines the question asked, and the question asked determines the answer found.
Simple enough, right? Well no. Not if you start out, as most of us do, feeling dis-oriented and scrambling to find answers to questions you never considered before becoming parents.
How do we participate in our own orientation, also known as a worldview or paradigm? In social science theory, the idea that we understand the world through framing is a scientifically acceptable way of describing the filters that allow our brains to create or reject reality—especially when confronted with new information that challenges our preconceptions, much less our entrenched views. For a true inquiry into any issue to occur, and for new information to be integrated into a typically resistant brain, an individual must develop awareness of her brain’s filters and a reframing process needs to take place.
In the world of conscious living, this process is called paradigm shifting. It’s when we become aware of the limitations of our own understanding and social conditioning, sense the empowering possibilities on the other side of these old habits of thought, and then summon the courage to ask new questions and take responsible action. Paradigm shifting is the necessary first step in the informed choice making process.
The process of making informed choices is a learning curve, one which we grow into with experience and knowledge that matures our confidence, wisdom and trust in the intelligence of our intuition—our innate impulse toward wholeness and wellness. In the beginning of this learning curve, parents gathering in groups might believe the question they are there to discuss and want answered is, “Should I vaccinate/circumcise/co-sleep?” The beginning is a fine place to start, and the reason Pathways Connect exists: to help parents initiate paradigm shifting and navigate the informed choice making process! Unfortunately, starting down a road of personal or group inquiry with this sort of oversimplified, misleading question can only lead to highly charged, emotional exchanges that will doom any attempts at supportive, respectful discussion…much less lead to a confident, personal choice.