This past weekend I had the immense pleasure of attending the Hardwood Summit at Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Hosted by The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, it was intended to be a space for innovators across the country to come together and share ideas and reflect on their works and accomplishments.
The first night was very low-key; we had a brief (optional) session on the Harwood approach, which is essentially “turning outward,” that is, using the community as your reference point in your organization instead of the members within. Oftentimes, when decisions are made for the community it comes from looking within, instead of hearing and using the voices of the community (besides, who knows more about the community and their needs than…the community?). After a brief break we had a reception and dinner, where I ate possibly the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever eaten before in my life!
During the dinner, we had the first of many discussions for the weekend, where our facilitator Mike Wood gave us a phrase to reflect upon: On Looking. Participants had a mixture of thoughts on this phrase, but the one that stood out among all of us was the idea of “looking versus seeing;” anyone can look at a situation and gather his or her perceptions just by looking at it. However, it takes a lot of courage and will to understand in order to “see” a person, situation, or community. Looking is a passive verb, while seeing involves action and empathy.
The next morning, we had a small series of small group discussions that we could choose from. I personally chose the “Presidential Race 2016” and “Race, Equity, and Inclusion” groups. The night before was the night of the Trump rally shutdown, so it was the focal point of our Presidential Race discussion. We discussed the role of the media and the Parties on the election this year. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that all of the unrest surrounding the elections this year can only be remedied by reconciliation and depolarization of our citizens. In the Race, Equity, and Inclusion group, we discussed etymology and how language is purposely crafted for people to buy into an idea (e.g., “family values” or “No Child Left Behind”). We also discussed how certain points of history are epitomized instead to telling the full truth, which in turn gives us a perception of history that is distorted. Most importantly, we discussed power, how we need to define who has it (who is “they?”), and understand where we are on the power spectrum. Once we do this, we can determine our effectiveness.
After the discussions and a small break, we had a Common Session where we discussed what we do to restore hope. The first thing that we discussed was inclusion, which cannot happen without public comment, public meetings, evaluation, engagement, and power. If you miss any one of those things, you do not have inclusion. Also, acts of kindness restores hope because people see the good in it, which inspires them to pay the act forward. Also you can never forget your community, because systems by themselves don’t fix things, so you must help people realize that they are the ones that build that system. Following that we had a break where I got some much-needed sun, and the dinner later that night was amazing, especially the clams!
On the last day, our last exercise had us break down into small groups of two or three, and we were given an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s On The Pulse of Morning:
Today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,Come, you may stand upon myBack and face your distant destiny,But seek no haven in my shadow,I will give you no hiding place down here…You may stand upon me,But do not hide your face.
- “Today the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully” – What in your own life are you being called to do now? What has led you to that call?
- “Come, you may stand upon my back and face your distant destiny” – What does it mean to stand up and face your own future? And when does stepping back make sense?
- “You may stand upon me. But do not hide your face.” – What does it mean to hide one’s face? And what does it mean to make yourself visible?
As it was a personal discussion, I won’t share the details of what was discussed in my group. However, I will list some important things that I grasped and will use for myself:
- Time is not only short, but valuable.
- Take time to write a handful of statements that give you a sense of purpose and says, “This is who I want to be.” For example, “I strive to live in a manner that…” or “I try to…” and read them to yourself on an as needed basis.
- Everyone has value and something to offer to the world. Live in your power.
- To be visible, you must be vulnerable.
- Do you make yourself visible by making someone else invisible?
- “If I have seen further, it was by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Sir Isaac Newton
Eventually we came to a close, where participants were asked to give personal reflections on the weekend. Generally everyone agreed that this was a much-needed time of reflection. I believe that everyone that participated felt rejuvenated, and was able to step back and reestablish their sense of purpose. I was happy to be able to share such a relaxed, positive, and informal space with educated, like-minded individuals who were just as eager to engage me as I was to engage them. I came back home refreshed, clear minded, and ready to continue the path that I’m on to make my community a happier, safer, and healthier place.
To learn more about The Harwood Institute, you may visit their website here.