By Jodi Clark
How should we be behaving in beloved community? What are the practices? How do we even start the conversation? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his infamous call, inspiring so many with his vision of how to live in celebration of our diversity every day: “Our goal is to create a beloved community and his will require a qualitative change in our souls and a quantitative change in our lives.” The key, like with so many shifts in our world, is to start with ourselves.
I am a part of the faculty in the management program at Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies, along with Lori Hanau, who is also a co-chair of the program. The program is one of blended learning, including online studies and monthly residency weekends. The residency weekends are the one time a month in the academic trimester where the students, staff and faculty (along with occasional family and friends in the mix) convene in person. Being cognizant of building a vibrant community, both on line and in person is a core value at Marlboro. We eat our meals together. We share what is happening in the rest our lives, take short hikes on the trails, have the occasional dance party and otherwise make space for impromptu shared moments beyond our coursework.
Flash to January 2017’s opening trimester residency weekend. Our deep community time is always a priority no matter the weekend.This residency had a particular weight to it, being both the opening of the new trimester as well as coinciding with the Million Woman March on Washington. Both impromptu and designed community time was filled with space to take in both the national and local events including viewing live coverage of the march along with some members attending a local Sister March Vigil. In the middle of the Residency on Saturday, we held Community Circle in the Management program. This practice, a rarity in any academic setting, is one of our core community building practices. Imagine masters program students, staff, and faculty, guests and family including children along with the occasional and very welcome dog coming together in the middle of a rigorous academic day to taking time to share quiet meditative moments, reflections, challenges, celebrations, and generally focus on being together rather than doing together. We embody our values of seeing each other as equal learning partners in our shared humanity first and foremost. Our value of wholeness is served when we open with silence and sometimes integrate moments of play, such as an improv game. We practice our value of collective wisdom when gathering input on challenges that are offered into the group of us by any of us attending. We always share about ourselves through an opening inquiry after the silence and/or play. This time, we were sharing around the circle in response to the inquiry of: What is inspiring you to action in this new year?
I was facilitating this Circle. I am deeply honored to show up in this way for the community. It is a sacred space. It is also the practice that inspired me to join Lori in the work of shared leadership out beyond Marlboro. I do not take the responsibility lightly. Given the weight of what was already in the room, I knew that holding a strong space was key. I was open. I made certain to make gentle eye contact with everyone. I was tuning in while each member shared. Then it was my turn. I said that what was inspiring me was how my communities were generously sharing and acting together in a time filled with uncertainty. And what I am inspired to do is remind us that in the midst of intensity and our deep community work, we remember our joy.
Within moments of my reminder of lightness and joy dropping out of my mouth, Lori leaned over and proceeded to tickle me, whispering, “So be joyful! My goodness, if you could see your face!” Busted! I was so busy being strong, I completely left joy by the wayside. Not only that, joy and playfulness are things I stand for, or rather, tend to instigate and giggle along with. I had totally forgotten.
Observing myself over the following weeks, I realized that not only had I forgotten it in that moment, but I had been forgetting it elsewhere in my life. I had been saying the words, but my words and my actions were not aligned. I was forgetting my humor, my easy smile, my groan-worthy puns, my playfulness.
Laughter and joy are strong. I had gotten so caught up with getting this time and other times perfect that I was leaving out a major portion of myself. This is another key role of beloved community. We can help each other to remember and see what is best in us. Doing this with joy and laughter, we can move a step further into lifting each other up along the way.
Comedian Negin Farsad said recently in a TED Radio Hour, entitled Painfully Funny, that “the way humans get through these really terrible times is by flipping the script on themselves.” By remembering to laugh. Point taken. But how does that make a difference for a whole community? Sandi Toksvig from the same TED program reflected that, “When we laugh out loud and we realize that there are others who think the same as us, then we feel better. And maybe it encourages us to keep going and not to just sit at home and lock the door and think, I’m not coming out till this is over. . . I saw that when I was in the theater last night, and I heard 700 people all laughing together, and I thought, we don’t even know each other but we’ve been brought together by that wonderful noise.” In our beloved communities, let’s remember to make some joyful noise together.
Here are some simple ways to bring in joy that we practice at Marlboro that can bring some instant joy to a work day elsewhere:
- Be mindful of how you greet everyone. Offer gentle eye contact. An open expression. Smile when it feels authentic. Words may or may not even be needed. Rather than say “How are you?” Which can carry an unintentional expectation to respond, “I’m good, how are you?” whether we are in fact “good” or not. Smiles are authentically contagious.
- Start a meeting by asking: “What made you smile recently?” The contagion of smiles around the room will light everyone up and help your meeting start off on an undeniably joyful note.
- Take a 5 minute dance party break. Not only is this a great little workout, you can learn more about your group very quickly, getting to know the types of music individual members love and the memories they have associated with those songs. Here is a guide on how to host and integrate them into your work day.
- Share a corny joke, especially one from your children or your childhood. When are we ever too old to enjoy these? Whether you are groaning together or laughing or a little of both, it provides a moment of deeper connection to your whole self. Can’t quite remember a corny joke in the moment? Here’s one from my four-year old “messy food obsessed” brain to get you started:
Bologna all over your head!
We will share more ideas and practices during our Building Beloved Community Webinar session: Making a Joyful Noise on April 25, 2017 11:30 am-12:4 5pm ET
What ways do you bring joy into your workplace? Share your favorite practices and stories with us in the comment section below!