by Beth Gulley
This week I am preparing to return to school for the summer term. As I have anxiously thought about meeting 50 new people, I have been reflecting on the 10 touchstones from Formation, an educational philosophy advanced by Parker Palmer. The touchstones have helped calm my fears, and helped me to think positively about meeting new people. They help me so much, I thought I would share them here in my column.
Touchstones: Ideas that increase the likelihood of our working together productively.
1. Be 100% present, extending and presuming welcome. Set aside the usual distractions
of things undone from yesterday, things to do tomorrow. Bring all of yourself to the work. We
all learn most effectively in spaces that welcome us. Welcome others to this place and this
work, and presume that you are welcomed as well.
2. Listen deeply. Listen intently to what is said; listen to the feelings beneath the words. As
Quaker writer Douglas Steere puts it, “Holy listening—to ‘listen’ another’s soul into life, into a
condition of disclosure and discoverymay be almost the greatest service that any human
being ever performs for another.” Listen to yourself as well as to others. Strive to achieve a
balance between listening and reflecting, speaking and acting.
3. It is never “share or die.” You will be invited to share in pairs, small groups, and in the
large group. The invitation is exactly that. You will determine the extent to which you want to
participate in our discussions and activities.
4. No fixing. Each of us is here to discover our own truths, to listen to our own inner teacher,
to take our own inner journey. We are not here to set someone else straight, or to help right
another’s wrong, to “fix” what we perceive as broken in another member of the group.
5. Suspend judgment. Set aside your judgments. By creating a space between judgments
and reactions, we can listen to the other, and to ourselves, more fully.
6. Identify assumptions. Our assumptions are usually invisible to us, yet they undergird
our worldview. By identifying our assumptions, we can then set them aside and open our
viewpoints to greater possibilities.
7. Speak your truth. You are invited to say what is in your heart, trusting that your voice
will be heard and your contribution respected. Your truth may be different from, even the
opposite of, what another person in the circle has said. Yet speaking your truth is simply
thatit is not debating with, or correcting, or interpreting what another has said. Own your
truth by remembering to speak only for yourself. Using the first person “I” rather than “you” or
“everyone” clearly communicates the personal nature of your expression.
8. Respect silence. Silence is a rare gift in our busy world. After someone has spoken, take
time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words. This applies to the speaker as
wellbe comfortable leaving your words to resound in the silence, without refining or
elaborating on what you have just said. This process allows others time to fully listen before
reflecting on their own reactions.
9. Maintain confidentiality. Create a safe space by respecting the confidential nature and
content of discussions held in the formation circle. Allow what is said in the circle to remain
10. When things get difficult, turn to wonder. If you find yourself disagreeing with another,
becoming judgmental, or shutting down in defense, try turning to wonder: “I wonder what
brought her to this place?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me?” “I wonder what he’s
feeling right now?”
Prepared by formation facilitators with considerable help from the writings of Parker Palmer and the Dialogue Group. http://www.league.org/league/projects/formation/files/lustrum.pdf
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