The Many Meanings of Our Words

Heartbeat - by Nancy White

You may find this an odd post from me, but bear with me. There is a point. But it takes a bit of a twisty path.

My friend Susan Partnow (of “Compassionate Listening” fame) passed along a note in an email list  about a translation of the Christian “Lords Prayer” that struck me in a number of ways. First, the translation from the  original Aramaic had echos of holy lines from other religions. It had for me, personally, a more universal feel and I could recognize its power in an open and less dogmatic way.  For example, it resonated with the end of yoga-class greating of Namaste, “may the light in me greet the light in you.”

Second, it led me to reading a number of translations of the prayer that reminded me of the ease with which we both fall into our own ruts and the difficulty with which we can come to a shared understanding of a set of words. In the online world, this is our ongoing challenge with misinterpretation and frequent lack of shared meaning. In the world of multilingual people, this is an everyday practice – figuring out what is really meant be a word, and not relying on direct translation. But most of us don’t question the words we read or hear that carefully, nor are we attuned to such nuance.

Susan’s note had two other resonate pieces. The first was her picking out of this particular bit of translation that seems well worth reproducing in whole:

From a direct translation of the Lord’s prayer:

“Untangle the knots within so that we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to each other.”

translated (note – site auto plays music) by Neil Douglas Klotz

These lines are most well known as “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Referring back to the Aramaic, which is a language in which each word has multivalent meanings, the complexity of a deeper level of causation is illuminated.

If we take up the work of untangling the knots within as the basis for forgiveness then we are empowered to develop a courageous heart. A courageous heart is helpful for the world is bound together by long lines of causation which are often modified by grief and pain that has not been processed through the collective body of mankind. Facing the ancient wells of deep pain takes courage…

The tangled web of grievance lives as a energetic structure in the subtler bodies of our being. It can be most pervasive and colors our interactions by creating a field of demand that is a form of displaced power. As long as hurt is a nest of our most common return then we approach our human family with a disempowered heart. This weakened state binds us into an attentive scanning of “other” in order to either protect ourselves or draw towards us the unfulfilled part of our own heart.

These knots tend to bind relationships into the expectation of the diminished heart. A view of ourselves and others from this state of being has difficulty releasing into the interconnected truth of our existence. In fact i have seen the diminished heart actively fight the  implications of a more expansive connection.

“Our hearts simple ties to each other” is an elegant invitation to rest in the truth of our human family. We are here to love. In loving we find the power to comb out the tangles of our own
grievance and affirm the cradling of existence by its own capacity to nourish.

This idea  of entangled hearts popped out at me. I see it in organizations struggling with their own dysfunction and amplified in challenging times. I see it on email lists, blogs and online forums. I see the power of heart disentangling when I watch people who are deeply skilled at conversation, listening and facilitation, both of themselves and with others. Both matter.

The second was her interpretation of the prayer in terms of both Compassionate Listening and Non Violent Communication. Susan wrote:

It seems to directly address what we work for in Compassionate Listening (and I think provides an interesting way to differentiate from NVC (non violent communication), which focuses on needs and thus may be dwelling on the unfulfilled tangles)

For those of you reading who are facilitators… a little food for thought. And here is Klotz’s translation. Enjoy…

The Lords Prayer
Oh Thou, from whom the breath of life comes, who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.
Let Your will come true – in the universe (all that vibrates) just as on earth (that is material and dense).
Give us wisdom (understanding, assistance) for our daily need, detach the fetters of faults that bind us, (karma) like we let go the guilt of others.
Let us not be lost in superficial things (materialism, common temptations), but let us be freed from that what keeps us from our true purpose.
From You comes the all-working will, the lively strength to act, the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.

Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with my entire being)

Dave Snowden on Rendering Knowledge

Dave Snowden has updated his principles on “Rendering Knowledge” on Cognitive Edge  These are worth reblogging. I encourage you to go in and read the full post for all the context. I have added a few comments of my own in italics. I can’t resist the meanings of the word “rendering.” At the farmer’s market last week, I could by leaf suet (rendered pig fat), candles made from rendered fat, and all sorts of things that have been transformed through heat. What is the heat of knowledge sharing?

  • Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. You can’t make someone share their knowledge, because you can never measure if they have. You can measure information transfer or process compliance, but you can’t determine if a senior partner has truly passed on all their experience or knowledge of a case.  So for me in practice, this means creating conditions where people are more apt to volunteer. Or perhaps better said, recognizing those condtions. I don’t think we can always “create” them!
  • We only know what we know when we need to know it. Human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires stimulus for recall. Unlike computers we do not have a list-all function. Small verbal or nonverbal clues can provide those ah-ha moments when a memory or series of memories are suddenly recalled, in context to enable us to act. When we sleep on things we are engaged in a complex organic form of knowledge recall and creation; in contrast a computer would need to be rebooted. In practice, I’ve found the introduction of multiple modalities, especially visual and kinesthetic practices, allow us to stimulate recall better than just words – written or verbal.  This is not about flashing a slide, but using visuals in the charting of our knowledge.  I’m not sure how to describe this, but I am experiencing it a lot lately. 
  • In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. A genuine request for help is not often refused unless there is literally no time or a previous history of distrust. On the other hand ask people to codify all that they know in advance of a contextual enquiry and it will be refused (in practice its impossible anyway). Linking and connecting people is more important than storing their artifacts. I suspect there are layers of cultural implications when we look at this one. Any readers with a deep knowledge of the cultural implications of knowledge sharing? 
  • Everything is fragmented. We evolved to handle unstructured fragmented fine granularity information objects, not highly structured documents. People will spend hours on the internet, or in casual conversation without any incentive or pressure. However creating and using structured documents requires considerably more effort and time. Our brains evolved to handle fragmented patterns not information.  Some people are better at fragments than others. Does the current online environment favor global vs linear thinkers?
  • Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success. When my young son burnt his finger on a match he learnt more about the dangers of fire than any amount of parental instruction cold provide. All human cultures have developed forms that allow stories of failure to spread without attribution of blame. Avoidance of failure has greater evolutionary advantage than imitation of success. It follows that attempting to impose best practice systems is flying in the face of over a hundred thousand years of evolution that says it is a bad thing. So we had better get more compassionate about failure if we really are going to learn, and not hide from it.
  • The way we know things is not the way we report we know things. There is an increasing body of research data which indicates that in the practice of knowledge people use heuristics, past pattern matching and extrapolation to make decisions, coupled with complex blending of ideas and experiences that takes place in nanoseconds. Asked to describe how they made a decision after the event they will tend to provide a more structured process oriented approach which does not match reality. This has major consequences for knowledge management practice. All I can do is nod vigorously in agreement. 
  • We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down. This is probably the most important. The process of taking things from our heads, to our mouths (speaking it) to our hands (writing it down) involves loss of content and context. It is always less than it could have been as it is increasingly codified.

The next interesting thing would be to explore these items and see how they show up in individuals, groups and networks. The same, or variations?

GEWR Online Event After Action Review

This past January I helped facilitate on online event that used DGroups email list and Wikispaces wikis to enable a global, multilingual online event. The After Action Review (AAR) of the event is now up on the wiki if you are interested! Gender Equity and Women’s Rights Online Event After Action Review

Here is the text:

Reference materials:
DGroups site:

Event description
A 2-week online event to discuss what individual and groups were doing to mark the World Social Forum 2008 Global Day of Action and to begin considering how to impact and participate in the WSF 2009 global gathering in Belem do Para, Brasil. Participants from groups concerned about women’s rights and gender equity were asked to join the event. They then subscribed to the main Dgroup and, according to their stated language, either an English, Spanish or French breakout DGroup email list. The agenda was developed collaboratively by Megan, Els, Janet and Nancy. The DGroup was augmented with a Wikispaces wiki to enable quick capture, summarization and machine translation of the group emails.

Note: The survey data reported below represents a small sample due to low completion rates (10 respondents, one of whom is an organizer).

What did we intend to do?
There were 3 overarching goals plus one that emerged during the planning:

1. To find out what groups were doing for WSF 2008
2. To find out interest/plans for WSF 2009 in Belem- what are the common interests where we can collaborate, to what extent can we create a common strategy, how to proceed in Belem? How can we put gender equity on the agenda in the best possible way? How can we influence the agenda, make gender visible, not just in separate sessions?
3. Generally, to reinvigorate the group of people who had been subscribed to the Dgroup. Up until now it had been focused on content and information dissemination. Now the thought is we could revive the community and help shift their perception of the Dgroup – not just a tool for disseminating information, but a community building space. If the community had enough energy and focus, it could be used for planning and participating in WSF 2009
4. From a process standpoint, we also wanted to explore how to have these community conversations and interactions across and between languages, so we also wanted to experiment with tools and process to help with multilingual conversations.

So what did we DO?
Towards our three goals
1. WSF 2008
a. We had reports from 17 groups and one individual on what they were doing both for WSF and in general. Some submitted extensive information, others just brief mentions. The summarized list can be see here:
b. In the post event survey 67% found the updates very useful, 33% found them somewhat useful.
2. WSF 2009
a. Initially the main thrust of the 09 conversations was around how difficult it is to find funding to attend. But after the official end of the event, a robust discussion has emerged about building a shared proposal for both impacting the agenda and finding funding for participation.
b. We surfaced some face to face networking opportunities that might not have been apparent. These reinforce our online interactions w/ F2f and offer opportunities to keep momentum going
c. In the post survey, 60% found the discussions on WSF09 useful, 40% somewhat useful.
d. It is those who are most interested in moving something concrete forward who are continuing. Whittled down to a smaller group of posters. Backchannel messages support that point.
e. There still needs to be follow up to turn the conversation into tangible outcomes.
3. Community building
a. 22 people posted personal introductions. The summarized list can be see here:
b. Did people get to know each other better? We aren’t sure. People shared quite a bit of personal information. This helps bring a personal element beyond organizational stuff, and find out what motivated participants personally
c. Getting a sense about the person beyond the org which can help in networking over time
d. In the post event survey, 80% found the introductions very useful, 20% somewhat useful.
e. Some members very enthusiastically added to the conversation while others dropped in and out. Those who participated less often apologized for being late due to lack of time or internet access, showing the diversity of online habits of the group. This is important to keep in mind for future events. Two weeks is probably not long enough for those who are online less frequently. It is hard for them to keep up with the very active participants.
f. A few members reached out to each other via Skype. Megan noted a Skype conversation with Tran from SPERI.
g. The event revealed potential for ongoing community building.
4. Working across languages and tools
a. We spent quite a bit of energy trying to create a multilingual part of the event. The language sub groups were the most utilized, and few reported using the wiki/Google Translate option (80% did not use it, but the 20% who did found it useful. Nancy found it very useful as facilitator.) 78% felt they had enough opportunity to participate in their own language, and 22% did not, but we don’t have demographic data on the survey respondents to really understand what this means. The respondents may have been primarily English speakers.
b. People responded positively to cross language summaries.
c. What about the break out groups? We don’t know for sure. Due to travel and availability we were not always actively facilitating the groups. The French group was only 2 people – maybe too small to get any traction. Although ten women had signed up for the Spanish group, only two of them posted messages during the breakout. Also, although different Latin Americans reconfirmed their interest, their participation remained limited and in the weeks following the event there was complete silence from their side of the world. Taking into account that many will be going to Belem, it is important to try and find out how we can get them more involved (is it the language problem?). We wonder what would have happened if we did NOT have the breakouts. And we wonder if the breakout process was confusing. In the survey, 50% thought the language break outs were very useful, 50% somewhat useful. But does this reflect the diversity of the group with only 10 respondents?
d. We are not sure who was using the technologies, and for whom it is new technology. The wiki has given us, as organizers, a nice overview, but it appears that not many participants used it. 44% did not look at the wiki, 44% used it and found it useful and 11% found it difficult or confusing to use. The overall wiki page view does show a doubling in traffic during the event. To the right are the page views from the event pages.
e. We only know who is posting, but we don’t know who is “listening” so it is hard to come to too many conclusions about participation, particularly participation across language. It might be nice to follow up with some one on one conversation with some of the participants.

Did anything unexpected happen?

• There was a very wide range in people’s level of participation. We expected that some would only participate a little bit, but less expected the few very strong participants, even when the discussion was not that active
• We were startled by one individual’s energetic participation, particularly since she was new to the group. We wonder who else is out there but whom we did not reach who might have enjoyed/benefited from participation. This raises the issue about how to market the group and such events.
• We wonder about how much people do or do not feel the need to engage beyond one’s local context.
• We went beyond the initial 10 days. Clearly 10 days was too short. In the survey, for 90% it was not enough time, 10% said it was.
• We wonder about what level/kind of engagement do people need to see before they jump in and commit to participation. What unmet need does it fill?

What would we do again (what worked)…
• The bios and introductions were good and we’d use them again. As a follow up, we should put the bios in a word doc and upload it to the DGroups site. For future, keep offering people the chance to introduce themselves, point back to event intros, and add to the “introductions” document.
• It is good to start off with general questions such as “What kind of activities are you doing” then “what would you like to do.” Initially we thought the questions were broad and vague, but we got pretty detailed responses. Some people discussed it in their organization like Leonida’s.
• It is important to find ways to let people participate in their own languages, and then build translation and interpretation bridges across them, even if this means volunteer or machine translation. Those who could not understand frequently asked for translations, demonstrating need.
• Even though not many people looked at the wiki, it was a cool format for sharing and looking at the information. Quite a few people shared bios there. (Nancy also copied and pasted many of them in from the DGroup email thread.)
o It was a good way to introduce a tool
o It was a pity that people didn’t use the map to locate themselves, but it was probably “gadget overload” and not that intuitive to use.

What would we do different next time? (And next steps)
• Focus on fewer gadgets and options, and introduce the options gradually. We got overexcited
o Attend to the balance between the number of conversational and technical options compared to the length of the event.
o Do a tool training call about Skype or other tools.
• Explore more deeply what is “critical number” of participants for both the full group and the language sub groups.
o Think about what we can do differently with outreach to get more participants.
• Timing. Try and figure out both the length of the next event, and when it should be held.
o Past experience is that African online work habits are less online and need a longer time frame.
• Seek to understand better what is nice to know but not NEED to know.
o We want to focus on things that people say “this is worth my time and attention”
• Contact and follow up with those who might be key people for contributing and participating

How would you share your knowledge about online community?

You may have noticed that yet again I failed to post my Monday Funnies Video. Hey, sometimes you just have to wait until inspiration hits. My sister passed along the link to this amazing performance by Anita Renfroe. There are many versions on YouTube, but I picked this one because in the information box there are the lyrics. Take a listen: YouTube – The Mom Song Sung to William Tell Overture with Lyrics

Of course I enjoyed this both as a mom and as a daughter.
Anita nails it. What an act of knowledge sharing!

But the video inspired more.

I have been thinking about how to evoke the history online community as a thread of our current and future practices. My emerging idea is to look at the intertwining between personal stories about online community along with the technology development that has enabled this new form. I’m not so much interested in the precise history, but the intertwining between our desires to connect, our practices and how the technology community has responded to those pushes and pulls. From the early internet connections through BBS and email, to today’s microblogging and social networks. How might this more evocative retelling inspire our next practices and developments? I had initially thought about this in terms of a set of visuals. But after hearing Anita’s paean to a mother’s advice, I’m expanding my possibilities. Yes, I’m probably about to get in even deeper over my head and may capabilities. That’s why I need you.

Stories + Advice + evocative visuals + some sort of performance art. Can I pack that usefully into a 45 minute presentation at Community 2.0? Will it be USEFUL? I figure I’ll start by exploring each of these, then keep what rises to the surface.

I’ve asked you for your stories. (More still appreciated). Now I’d like you to give me any and all of your advice about designing, building, being in online communities. The shorter and pithier the better. I’ll try and do a version of Anita’s song. Can you help me? Post them in the comments or on your blog and put a link back to this post and I’ll find them. I’ll be, as always, in your debt.

Just as inspiration, here are Anita’s lyrics

“The Mom Song”

Get up now
Get up now
Get up out of bed
Wash your face
Brush your teeth
Comb your sleepyhead
Here’s your clothes and your shoes
Hear the words I said
Get up now! Get up and make your bed
Are you hot? Are you cold?
Are you wearing that?
Where’s your books and your lunch and your homework at?
Grab your coat and gloves and your scarf and hat
Don’t forget! You gotta feed the cat
Eat your breakfast, the experts tell us it’s the most important meal of all
Take your vitamins so you will grow up one day to be big and tall
Please remember the orthodontist will be seeing you at 3 today
Don’t forget your piano lesson is this afternoon so you must play
Don’t shovel
Chew slowly
But hurry
The bus is here
Be careful
Come back here
Did you wash behind your ears?
Play outside, don’t play rough, will you just play fair?
Be polite, make a friend, don’t forget to share
Work it out, wait your turn, never take a dare
Get along! Don’t make me come down there
Clean your room, fold your clothes, put your stuff away
Make your bed, do it now, do we have all day?
Were you born in a barn? Would you like some hay?
Can you even hear a word I say?
Answer the phone! Get off the phone!
Don’t sit so close, turn it down, no texting at the table
No more computer time tonight!
Your iPod’s my iPod if you don’t listen up
Where are you going and with whom and what time do you think you’re coming home?
Saying thank you, please, excuse me makes you welcome everywhere you roam
You’ll appreciate my wisdom someday when you’re older and you’re grown
Can’t wait till you have a couple little children of your own
You’ll thank me for the counsel I gave you so willingly
But right now I thank you not to roll your eyes at me
Close your mouth when you chew, would appreciate
Take a bite maybe two of the stuff you hate
Use your fork, do not burp or I’ll set you straight
Eat the food I put upon your plate
Get an A, get the door, don’t get smart with me
Get a grip, get in here, I’ll count to three
Get a job, get a life, get a PHD
Get a dose of,
“I don’t care who started it!
You’re grounded until you’re 36”
Get your story straight and tell the truth for once, for heaven’s sake
And if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you jump, too?
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said at least a thousand times before
That you’re too old to act this way
It must be your father’s DNA
Look at me when I am talking
Stand up straighter when you walk
A place for everything and everything must be in place
Stop crying or I’ll give you something real to cry about
Brush your teeth, wash your face, put your PJs on
Get in bed, get a hug, say a prayer with mom
Don’t forget, I love you
And tomorrow we will do this all again because a mom’s work never ends
You don’t need the reason why
Because, because, because, because
I said so, I said so, I said so, I said so
I’m the mom, the mom, the mom, the mom, the mom!!
Ta da!!! (less)

Language, usefulness and exclusion

I work a lot inside of communities of one sort or another and they often have their own insider language. You know, jargon. People complain that jargon is exclusionary and it sure can be. But it is also useful short hand within a community and can convey succinctly something with specific meaning. The challenge for us is using that language either outside our communities or with intent to exclude.

But dang, it can be useful. Here is a great example from travel guru/insider Joe Brancatelli who does a lovely decoding for us outsiders. This time it is about talking to gate agents at the airport.

One example: When you don’t see your plane at the gate, don’t ask the agent if the flight is on time. Ask, “Where’s the equipment?” That will force the agent to go to the computer and find out where your aircraft is and when it will actually arrive. If the plane is already at the gate, ask, “When are we scheduled to push back?” Looking for an upgrade? Don’t blindly inquire about your chances. Ask, “How are the loads today?” The agent will tell you how many seats are empty and your number on the upgrade wait list.

What kind of insider language do you use? How do you interpret it for others?

Amazing chocolate airplane and photo by Stevepreneur on Flickr