Activism 101

Finding your voice and deep listening through Council rituals

Post by
Giacomo Tabacco
Finding your voice and deep listening through Council rituals

My (and our) problem in finding a voice and deep listening to others’ voices

Like many of you out there, I tend to have a problem lately. As I get more and more involved in a variety of discussions both online and offline, I have a hard time finding my own voice and understanding others’ voices.

It is now urgent to discuss about big issues

Today, societies are transitioning little by little toward post-COVID and climate-emergency times. Simultaneously, never as much as before, we have been disposed to scope out our circles and question how we have previously done things. A wave of vocal critical thinking, either genuine or opportunistic, runs into most communities and workplaces. This circumstance often multiplies our chances to raise big questions, imagine different futures and build more egalitarian and sustainable societies.

Many chances to discuss, fewer chances to make a profound connection

The opportunity to look at important matters is actually a good thing. But let’s go back to my problem. In many cases, having the chance to discuss doesn’t necessarily equal achieving profound expression and attentive listening. In other words, I often find myself sitting in a meeting where the exchange of ideas is encouraged. Conveners and participants tend to mean well, and genuinely value others’ thoughts and constructive criticism. However, I feel disconnected from the group, I struggle to share my stories and I’m unable to phrase my perspectives. In many cases, ingrained prejudices or overbearing attitudes get in the way and eventually disrupt the meeting.

More than a communication tool, Council rituals can boost communities’ interactions

If you and your community members can relate to this problem, the Council rituals may represent a solution. Councils are practices to connect to the wisdom of the group. Daniel Christian Wahl, an established sustainability mentor, considers Councils as one of the three pillars to nurture regenerative cultures, in conjunction with the practices of mindfulness, namely connecting to the wisdom within, and solo time in the wild, that is connecting with the wisdom of nature. As non-hierarchical forms of deep communication, the Councils empower each person to speak via genuine self-disclosure and encourage attentive empathic listening.

Councils are rituals that co-create a container of trust and deep listening

In their Introduction to the Practice of Council, Jack Zimmerman and Virginia Coyle create the framework for the Councils. They emphasize that Councils have the attribute of rituals drawn from Native American traditions. This ritualistic anchorage includes sitting in a circle, identifying two facilitators, choosing a “talking stick” to pass around, and not preparing contributions before receiving the “talking stick”. The idea is that the ritual setting allows to co-create a safe space of trust end openness that surrounds those who share the talking pieces.

Unsplash: Renny Gammara

Councils feel like magic

Once participants generate a circle of devout listening, willingness to take risks in what people share and non-attachment to personal, the magic can happen. Councils offer the opportunity to experience our own and other’s unpredictability. Humor, tears, wisdom or vision may spring to mind. As circles practice reinforces, participants let go of their prejudices, introversion and overbearing attitudes. They share what moves their hearts and listen to the whole. Eventually, Councils can also reinforce collective intelligence, help to mediate conflict non-violently, and contribute to making decisions.


Offline and offline efforts to make every voice matter

The Councils embody the efforts to recognize that each voice is gifted, needs to be empowered and has to be heard. They also offer a pathway to rebalance the asymmetries of power that often persist in meetings. In a way, Councils were originally intended for in-person exchanges. However, as we all know, some meetings may continue to happen online, also because gathering virtually as opposed to face-to-face has the potential of dramatically reducing our carbon footprint. I want to ask you something: would you accept the challenge of adopting the Councils practice, offline and online, to help everyone to find her or his voice and be truly listened?