The Truth about Life Experience

By Richard West

At the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), we see ourselves as “The People of the Question”.  For me, the question was “How is the whole world going to live?” Being in farming, I helped raise corn and soyabean. Then I became aware that countries like India were self-sufficient in food. My world opened to new possibilities of engagement. Questions clarify the gap between beliefs and what’s going on in life. They help us discover the change needed.

ICA Taiwan is hosting a series of dialogues called “The Truth about Life” Experience (TAL). It began as a monthly book study. It focused on coaching and mentoring, which many of us were doing. Our concern was effectiveness, especially in maintaining a facilitative stance. We explored a many topics over the last 10 years. The group has grown as well. Books and articles are a starting point. Anyone can suggest topics and questions. That keeps the dialogue fresh.

We explored various arenas: community; making a difference; healing;  wellbeing; context; political/economic/cultural systems; and power versus force: levels of consciousness. The underlying question is: “What’s the truth about life for you now in arena X that wasn’t true for you before?”

The 150-minute session begins with a provocative question. Each person gives a quick response as a way of checking in. This set the stage for the dialogue. Its direction is influenced by whoever comes. At the end, we pick a topic for the next session. Some topics generated so much energy that we continued them for months. We are never short of topics. The ground rules, from the Open Space Technology User’s Guide, are: “Whoever comes are the right people. Whenever it starts is the right time. Whatever happens is the only thing that could. When it’s over, it’s over. Be prepared to be surprised!”

TAL is a personal research event. Participants have varying contexts and reasons for coming. One said he felt more free at TAL to talk about his thoughts and beliefs than in other group, and that what he said was always accepted. We are diverse. We learn from the values and thoughts of each person.

So, how has the question “How is the whole world going to live?” changed for me, 45 years later? The difference has to do with new and changing relationships, information, contexts, ecology, technologies, connectivity and more. The world has to be inclusive enough for all. We can’t limit it to an either/or situation.  

There are many methods to support significant engagement . Yet, they sometimes limit or divide, restricting our awareness of reality and choices. “Facilitation” is an approach the ICA pioneered. For me, it has to do with asking explorative questions rather than teaching or declaring. Context is crucial. It not only needs to change, it does so whether or not we are aware of it. Reflecting on this is essential. Discovering what others think in a safe and open environment is more important than getting my own ideas out. As John Heider admonishes in Tao of Leadership, “Facilitate what is happening, not what you think ought to be happening!”

Richard West (icataiw@gmail.com) is executive director of ICA Taiwan

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