Friday, February 18, 2011

An Intensive Institute Campaign (Or Some More Thoughts on 28 December 2010)

I was asked, the other day, to assist in the planning of an intensive Institute Campaign. How, I wondered, does one go about this? Well, obviously "one" doesn't; a group does. But still, I wondered, how does "group" go about this? What is involved? What should it look like? What is the purpose of a campaign such as this?

These were only a few of the questions I asked myself after being told that I was going to be one of the organizers / facilitators.

Filled with such questions, I did what any sensible person in my position would : I asked my wife.

And said wife being sensible, she told me to look in the guidance from the Universal House of Justice. Well, she didn't just tell me that. She pointed me to some specific passages in the recent letters, for which I am very grateful. Most of this article is written from my own perspective, but please understand that it is actually the result of the two of us sharing a few thoughts while Shoghi played in the background.

Looking at the 28 December 2010 message, the Universal House of Justice talks about "extending to other modes of operation the mode of learning" we have been engaged in, as well as employing "with a high degree of coherence the instruments and methods" we have been using. This is our starting point. Everything else falls under these points. We are trying to learn how to learn, and we are trying to learn more about coherency at the same time.

In paragraph 5, they refer to the idea of turning stumbling blocks into "stepping stones for progress". This can be demonstrated in a campaign such as we are designing by listening carefully to everyone as they reflect on what they have learned. It is certain that obstacles will identified, and that there will be some common obstacles, which can be loosely seen as the group's. Once some of these obstacles have been identified, it is fairly straightforward to find a relevant section in the Ruhi curriculum that addresses that issue. Of course, that requires a thorough awareness of the various sections, but chances are that, as a facilitator who has worked with people before, you can probably guess what a few of those obstacles might be. This would enable you to look through your books ahead of time and be prepared in case those obstacles do actually arise. (Oh, if you did that, and people didn't know it, then you'd really look good.) (But you should be humble at the same time. Tough, I know, but true.)

When we get down to paragraph 8, we notice a few things that may seem a bit off topic, but I think they're part of the mindset we need to further develop. They talk about "structures being forged" that "take on the requisite characteristics". To me, this means that things are being done not merely for the sake of doing them, but because they are necessary. In other words, in a campaign such as we are doing, we don't study the guidance merely because we need to study something, but we study it because it is necessary for what we are doing. It is like the idea of a teaching committee. An Assembly doesn't appoint one because a teaching committee is a good thing. They appoint it because the work of the Faith in their area demands it. It is a similar concept here.

In that same paragraph, they also talk about the courses being "conducive... to universal participation and to mutual suport and assistance." I now realize that it is not only amongst the participants who are going through it for the first time, but also amongst the tutors and organizers, who are learning to support each other.

Then they talk about all of our work being "undertaken with a humble attitude of learning", which, to me, helps me understand that, as an organizer, I cannot merely try to presume to tell the participants what to do. No. I feel that my job is to learn from them, try to understand what they are facing in their teaching, which is likely similar to what I am facing, and have their needs help shape where this particular campaign goes. Of course, the overall guidance is coming from the institutions of the Faith, but the particulars will be dependent upon the needs of the participants. It is for this reason that, although we can use the structure of other campaigns, and learn how to better design it, the specific Writings chosen will perhaps be a little different. They will respond to the individuals in the campaign and the particular obstacles they encounter. "In this way will the impulse to over instruct be quieted." Well, at least that's how it seems to me right now. Perhaps I'll have a different understanding as this particular campaign goes on.

In paragraph 10, I noticed that they talk about this learning from other's experience, but that "continued action, reflection and consultation" is the only way "that they will learn to read their own reality, see their own possibilities, make use of their own resources, and respond to the" needs that they encounter. This all re-inforces what seems to go before it.

It is by putting the experience of the friends in the group at the forefront, listening to their triumphs and challenges, the learning and the questions, and contextualizing it all within the Plan that we will be "methodical but not rigid, creative but not haphazard, decisive but not hasty, careful but not controlling". This is a marvelous observation that they offer us, and at the same it is a caution.

We have to have a schedule, and a goal. But within that schedule, we need to have flexibility. Within the goal, we need to be open to seizing new opportunities that arise, without allowing ourselves to be distracted.

With the schedule, one way that we have found to do this is to schedule everything with a timetable, but allowing about 10 minutes of every hour open. For example, we tell the facilitators that they have 30 minutes to do something, even though it says 40 on the schedule. If all goes according to plan (and it never does), then we can stretch out a few items and finish on time. If not, we generally have about 45 minutes to an hour of time to address the needs that come up that were not anticipated. We stick to our schedule, which is very important to some people, and yet we still have flex time to do what needs to be done at the moment.

Being "creative but not haphazard" implies, to me, that everything has a purpose. We can be creative in that we try new things, but every new thing we try should still have a purpose that we can state. If we want to go into the study of the Writings after our devotions, that is great, but the Writings should be relevant to what follows. If we choose to hear the experience of the friends since the last session, that is fine, too. It recognizes that the action component of the "action, reflection and consultation" occurred out of the session, and allows the consultation to be based on the reflection of that action. Both are good, and each have their purpose. If we choose another framework for the schedule, there is nothing wrong with that, but it should still have purpose.

Most important, though, is unity. The unity of the organizers. The unity of the group. And the unity of the project. Of course, unity does not mean that we are all doing the same thing, for that would be uniformity. It means that we all support each other in our different endeavours, encourage each other in our activities, are aware of what everyone else is doing, and help each other out when and where we can. Sometimes it can be that all-important phone call checking to see how someone's coffee date went, or other times it can be joining the other person as they do that home visit for the purpose of presenting some aspect of the Faith.

Whatever it is we are doing, we are doing it with the love and support of each other, sometimes while they are physically present, and other times when they are not.

And whatever it is we are doing, it is not on our own. We are all contributing to the growth and development of the Faith in our cluster. Those two people I met the other day who want to take Book 1 will most likely join those people you met who also want to take a more active role in raising up a new civilization. And they all will go on to begin transforming the devotional character of their own lives, and neighbourhood.


Sounds good to me.

I guess I'll find out how close I am to the mark over the next few weeks.

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