Occupy San Francisco members accompany a health inspector at their encampment, with mainstream press and lifestream coverage.

How “safe” are your groups for diverse people, operational styles and opinions? How safe do you feel in groups? How about right now? The concept and importance of safety in group dynamics can be elusive. We might be looking for a definition we can all depend on, but in fact, safety is defined by the person who doesn’t have it. It’s individual, subjective and momentary.

It’s also seated in the gut. So much so that we’re often not intellectually aware of our safety or lack of it. We’ve all felt those hairs on the back of the neck sound an alarm. Safety can be as physical as a fight-or-flight situation. But for some people, often people who lack privilege, the absence of safety is a low grade static state. It might be marked by what the person doesn’t say, what the person doesn’t do.

Some people are eminently safe in groups. They’re often the first to speak and often have the “great idea” to solve a problem. But even these individuals can fall out of safety in moments.

Many people don’t think of themselves as “out of safety,” but during meetings they speak very little because “it’s just not worth it,” or “someone else will say it,” Or, maybe as a woman or person of color, or anyone who’s seen repeated group dysfunction, they view a group as “nothing new/same-old-same-old” in which others are oblivious to what life is like for her/him.

In the groups you belong to, do newcomers check out the group but leave after a few meetings? In meetings, do the same 3 or 4 people do most of the talking, with 3 or 4 others speaking once, and the rest just listening, as if watching a TV program? Does it seem like a tiny core group do 80-90% of the work of your group, with a large membership who are just “tourists” or “consumers,” enjoying the fruits?

Most people say that these dynamics are just the nature of groups, that this is to be expected. But are you sure? Have you ever interviewed a new member who left your group? Would that person tell you the truth? Is there a way to increase participation? How significant is the question of safety?

Fiopa Consensus Collective

I wrote the handout above as a conversation starter for small groups at the beginning of a workshop we held at the library in Chico, California. I’m not really blogging these days but I have been cleaning up my computer files and thought I’d share some writings here. You’re welcome to share the above, only if you credit Wren Tuatha & Fiopa Consensus Collective, and do not alter the content.

–Wren Tuatha

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C.T. and I have been in our log kit home in the Sierra Nevadas for just over a year now. Reflecting on nearly two decades of cooperative living at Heathcote, I still long to be back in an Intentional Community.
Has it happened organically around us here?  ”We have eleven mouths to feed every day,” C.T. just [...]

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Enter The Green Butler

Wren on March 31st, 2015

C.T. Butler Launches New Eco-Friendly Cleaning Business
If the economy is recovering, the wave hasn’t hit our house. As C.T. pursues work as a personal assistant, I have wondered how I could contribute. Since my health prevents me from working, I can pass my skills on to others. Enter The Green Butler!
Early in my time [...]

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Hello, TRIBErs! The following is the text of Fiopa Consensus Collective’s brochure on our facilitated process to help groups identify, define and use their commonly held values in a Values-Based Consensus process.–Wren Tuatha

The Initial Values Process
How a Group Identifies and Defines Values Held in Common for Values-Based Consensus
You are beginning a journey, an experiment. No [...]

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Nice Review of Consensus for Cities

Wren on February 19th, 2015

Thanks to Pablito of Reclaiming Quarterly for this positive review of C.T. Lawrence Butler’s Consensus for Cities! This is a pre-Occupy Wall Street review, of the proof edition C.T. circulated. He had planned to further edit it before the final print. But when we got involved with Occupy, we sold out of/gave away the [...]

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Food Not Bombs and Polyamory

Wren on February 7th, 2015

I’ve been working with my partner, Food Not Bombs cofounder and consensus author C.T. Butler, on writing about his life. We’ve been mapping the overlaps of activism and personal life. Of course for C.T., the personal is always political and the political is immediate and personal. He tells stories of the first Food Not Bombs [...]

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Moving Company Scam

Wren on July 30th, 2014

Life lessons, sigh. I had never moved across the country before. C.T. and I made the decision to lessen our work and stress by hiring professional movers, even though our money was beyond tight. In my Internet searches I got lists of moving companies and reviews, most of which I now realize are fake, written [...]

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The first thing I read about Livestock Guard Dogs barking is that the last thing you want to do is stop them from barking. Well, fine, but the rancher who writes this advice must be amid a thousand acre spread somewhere in Oklahoma. She or he doesn’t have my very sleep deprived neighbors!
Kids will be [...]

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Humans Are Exhausting

Wren on July 3rd, 2014

Dana, our Akbash Livestock Guard Dog pup, is getting used to people. When she came to us a week ago, she had mostly bonded to the goats and dogs in her herd of birth. She came with two of those goats and she quickly made friends with our bottle baby goat and our eight month [...]

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And Introducing on Guitar…

Wren on June 28th, 2014

Meet the new members of our ragtag little band! Our brush goat herd got three new members this week: Story, a doeling; Dana, an Akbash pup; and Guru, a mature wether to put all these young ones in line! Thanks to our friend Mandy for generously contributing these animals to our project. The poison oak [...]

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