Reblogged here because some bits seemed relevant.

Think Tent

This is a term that gets thrown around a lot in reference to Red Tents. Google search results for “red tent” and “safe space” (both in quotation marks) numbered over 16,000, so it’s safe to say that this is a very important term in this particular sphere. However, there is a problem in some groups that stems from this very thing.

First of all, we must ask just what (the hell) “safe space” even is. What do we mean by safe? Who is safe? Safe from what? How is this safety ensured and maintained? Let’s begin by covering a few of the working (or rather not-so-working) definitions of “safe space” from the impossible to the workable.

The Ideal of Safe Space
or
You guys know what safe space is, right???

This is probably the least functional, least safe definition of “safe space” and sadly it might also be…

View original post 1,932 more words

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Announcing the New Red Tent Blog

Upon creating A Crazy Intersection in Massachusetts, I didn’t expect to write so many Red Tent related posts. With this realization, I am heretofore posting future Tent-Posts in my new blog, Think Tent.

All my previous Red Tent posts will still be here but will also be copied over to Think Tent under the same titles with the exception of ‘Don’t You Dare Try to Compliment Me On How I “Birthed” This Blog’ which is copied over under the title ‘Don’t You Dare Try to Compliment Me On How I “Birthed” This Blog (Either!)’

Check it out. Like it. Follow it. Share it.

One Crazy Cat Lady and Three Behaviors that Could Kill The Red Tent Temple Movement’s Credibility

This is a still-developing story out of Florida, news of which appeared on the  public Red Tent Temple Movement Facebook page from whence it was referred to me.  It begins with a Delray Beach woman who runs a business called “The Red Tent”, a women’s wellness center offering a range of services, many of which are geared toward pregnant women. This woman and her business are facing the possibility of eviction due to her choice to feed a colony of upwards of 17 feral cats on the property and created a public event page to garner support for this.

Now, I have been involved with the RTT movement for almost four years and while for personal reasons I haven’t been as actively involved as I once was, I still respect the movement very much and think that it has some admirable goals. I understand that we are not a very uniform movement which may be a benefit or a detriment depending on the situation but the overarching idea is the same, right?

I saw this story and very nearly threw my hands up and said “Nope! Red Tent? I don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t know these people! Never been to one! Don’t wanna go!”

After calming down and realizing that I am in fact not personally associated with a bubbling swamp of insanity, I went from horrible embarrassment at this display to a more manageable frustration and disappointment. Some of this is indeed personal as I quite literally could not wait to shout from the mountaintops how much I do not, not, NOT endorse this crap. I can only speak for myself as I have no meaningful information or guesses as to who else endorses what, but I do NOT endorse THIS. As outsize and glaring as this incident may be in its absurdity, this would not be the first time I had seen small degrees of this sort of behavior in the context of this movement and I did and still somewhat do fear that such nonsense has officially gotten out of control or will soon. This brings me to the first thing in this instance that is destructive to the movement especially if replicated elsewhere:

1. Inappropriately tying causes and values to unrelated things.
The first issue at work in this is using one’s cause to support or excuse irresponsible behavior. Some of the logic that comes up here is that since this woman is providing all these wonderful services to women in the name of this grand virtuous cause of supporting women, any resistance to anything else she may do is an attack on this cause and an attack on women. Doing women’s wellness work in the same space as your festering health hazard doesn’t make that health hazard more dangerous but apparently justifies the health hazard…somehow. Any negative consequences to her behavior may now be written off as conspiracy and male backlash (and conveniently enough, her landlord is a man…COINCIDENCE???!!!). Does this logic sound too convoluted and disjointed to be for real? The event page, aptly entitled “Modern Day Witch Hunt, Evicted for Feeding Pooties, Seriously?” (no really, that’s the title. Go look.) contains a survey asking “What is this REALLY about?”. Available options to vote for currently include:
“Money” with 14 votes
“Woman haters” with 4 votes
“Animal haters” with 4 votes
“Fear” with 3 votes
“Ignorance” with 2 votes
“Major Intimacy issues” with 1 vote
and “The shift”, whatever that is, with 1 vote

I am by no means saying that this type of defense, no matter how fallacious, is unique to this case or to the RTT movement. It’s not even unique to New Age. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds of situations in which people align themselves with a cause. One example of this would be an incident involving my city’s chapter of the Occupy movement, which came to an awkward start with one of its first occupations taking place on the public city common; a place where unbeknownst to the Occupiers, a permit was required to be there past 10pm.  Despite simply doing their job of enforcing local laws and ordinances by asking them to leave, this did not stop people from viewing this incident as a grave and intentional injustice by the hands of the police. To many in the movement, this was a sign that the humble Worcester Police Department; an agency laden with more pressing concerns in this not-so-big but troubled city; was really a gang of Wall Street cronies looking to dissolve opposition to big banks and corporations.

This is one of the hazards of identifying oneself with a cause. In response to being called on acting ignorantly, irresponsibly and/or in violation of laws, the defense by some is that because they are aligned with what they believe to be a higher cause, the rules should either not apply to them or should be thrown out entirely. If you support the cause, you need to support these people in ALL they do, no matter how stupid or unrelated to the cause it is, else you’re a defector. It is unlawful to feed colonies of stray animals in Palm Beach County, FL where this incident took place. The animals’ presence was creating a nuisance to other tenants and placed the landlord at risk of penalty for this illegal activity. In an interview of the woman in question in this news clip, she tearfully laments that her “life’s work” is in jeopardy now. Well, she shouldn’t have bet that life’s work on whether she could get away with illegally harboring a huge colony of feral cats. To hide this reckless behavior behind a women’s cause and call this man a “woman hater”  because he doesn’t want  crazy- cat-lady numbers of stray felines on his property is as wise as strapping your newborn to your chest to make sure cars will stop for you as you play hopscotch in the middle of the freeway.

In rhetoric like this, we the observers are not meant to see this eviction case as merely the unfortunate consequence of a bad idea. We aren’t even meant to see her as simply a good person who made a bad choice in the moment, which I believe to be true in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it appears we’re led to believe that the central issue is that this woman and all 17+ cats are being nailed to a cross in martyrdom for supporting a women’s cause…or something. While as I said, this tactic is not unique to this sort of situation, adding the New Age factor definitely makes things more….nebulous and…weird. Which brings me to the next movement destroying factor:

2. Attaching cosmic importance to minor events

This reveals itself first in this one dispute between a landlord and a tenant being referred to as a “Modern Day Witch Hunt”. Another blogger took it a step further citing this incident as “Old vs. New Consciousness; Happening Right Before Our Very Eyes!” implying that a conflict involving a problematic tenant and her landlord is an example of progress toward an enlightened, new way of thinking that all humankind must and will soon adopt once “the shift” is complete. This only serves to make this incident look exponentially more important than it actually is and to skew perceptions of the incident by associating it with a more dramatic narrative. This is no longer just a landlord/tenant dispute. Not because of the magnitude of the absurdity of it all but rather because this is a sign of the sweeping cosmic events to come in accordance with prophecy, thus sayeth the Lord….ess. Sadly, this is by no means unique to this one case. Many people in the RTT movement subscribe to some degree to the idea of now being the time were women rise up, taking back what they’ve been deprived of by centuries of patriarchy. This idea, in and of itself is fine. However, there are some who tie it inappropriately to things it really doesn’t apply to and/or who use it to justify having unrealistic and grandiose notions of what is at work in their personal difficulties and achievements. It works as an ideal but not as an excuse to maintain and encourage delusions of persecution or grandeur where they are absolutely not warranted. The event page is littered with references to this being an example of abuse of “male power” with those working with the landlord referred to as “henchmen” and “minions”. This is great for one’s sense of self importance but terrible for the credibility of any movement or the credibility of anything at all really. I understand the idea of small cumulative changes and the micro affecting the macro but sometimes a situation is just plain irrelevant to whatever bigger idea it’s being attached to. Which brings me to:

3. Supporting a point or cause with nonsense

When I say “nonsense” in this case I do not simply mean a case of mistaken or faulty logic. I don’t mean “nonsense” in the sense that the NRA calling for more access to guns everywhere to prevent mass shootings is nonsense. I mean NONSENSE. Nonsense quite nearly to the exclusion of all else. The issue is quite literally being supported with gibberish. Just check out this little gem from the event page:

“Stay posted here everyone on the case VERY important, when light shines darkness disappears . This video outlines my defenses for sad pathetic eviction case, I have compassion for the attorney/puppets in this case that have to go public with BS about about toxoplas…something. http://youtu.be/YsgP8LkEopM

For those not interested in watching, what supposedly “outlines [her] defenses” for this case is a link to a hippy dippy new agey spiritually flavored song. I hope she played it or at least quoted lyrics in court. Can we PLEASE address this apparent war on rationality here? And the wacky conspiracy-theory logic illustrated by the fact that she openly and flippantly decides to maintain the ignorant stance that toxoplasmosis is just BS that lawyers/the government/the CDC came up with to persecute her and isn’t actually something very dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn children. If I were pregnant, I’d pay money NOT to go to this place.

Another gem:
this made me cry…she talks about the spiritual meaning of feral cats and people who don’t like cats or are allergic. 100% TRUE this is all displaced anger and emotions…I love you [landlord] I do. http://www.anaflora.com/articles/about/interv-sharon5.html

Again, for those too lazy or disinterested in what’s on the other side of this link, we are now invited to peer into the bruised psyche of this woman’s landlord. Apparently if you are allergic to cats or don’t like cats or aren’t willing to do everything short of hump cats out of your deep spiritual love for cats, you have a serious problem with intimacy and need to go fix that post haste so that innocent crazy cat ladies don’t have to suffer at your cold, brutish, overly masculine hands. Also if you fix your intimacy issues, your allergies go away. Think I’m kidding? Go read it.

So instead of the facts of the situation we are left to ponder the symbolism of stray cats and the landlord’s psychological traumas and emotional issues or disturbances in his energy body and chakras. We are left to ponder EVERYTHING except for the facts of the matter.

If we strip away all the new agey diversions and fog, we’re simply left with the fact that a guy didn’t want someone illegally harboring almost 20 stray cats on his property creating a public health hazard at a business serving pregnant women. Not so compelling and dramatic now is it? The situation almost seems simple and understandable.

Why the Women’s Spirituality Movement Needs to Quit Whining About Women in Business Suits

This is one of the things that has made me want to set certain women’s gatherings on fire. Particularly at some Red Tents, women’s workshops and retreats, particularly of the new age bullshit variety, you’ll often hear something like this somewhere in the conversation or introductory blurb:

I’m talking about people lamenting the perception that since the women’s rights movement “women have been taught to try to imitate men in order to function in a man’s world.” The idea is that any woman who becomes successful in the arenas of business or politics has made a tragic sacrifice with the “loss” of her “femininity”. These women, under this belief are “out of balance”. They need to give men back their business suits and “come back” to “the divine feminine” and “reclaim” their “true selves”. (Pardon my horrendous overuse of quotation marks but I really had no choice.)

The first of many problems with this stupid idea is the assumption that all or even most of these women even had any such “femininity” to begin with. One of the biggest, most obvious problems in the women’s spirituality/goddess movement is the blatant denial of the existence of women who are what we would traditionally call “masculine” naturally. In some circles, an unsubstantiated, tired lamentation like the above will be the only place where women who are not traditionally feminine are even mentioned at all. So much for any semblance of being welcoming and accepting of women “as they are”.

Nearly no one, however would deny the myriad benefits the feminist movement has brought to our society and to the betterment of women’s freedom; FREEDOM being the operative word. In its context, the feminist movement seemed to have contributed to the rise in number of women in traditionally male-dominated fields in two main ways:

1. It helped women who were looking to be esteemed and respected as effective and important human beings by giving them access to roles and occupations our society deemed more respectable (which, does indeed encourage a shift toward “masculinity”, but this is the fault of what our culture values, not of feminism).

and 2. It gave women who didn’t fit the traditionally feminine mold opportunity and license to be themselves. THIS is the part people don’t seem to get.

Here is what perhaps infuriates me most about this. In this context of discussing internal and external “gender” balance and its effect on the world at large, why is no one complaining about MEN in business and politics, or more to the point, business and politics in general?

One of the chief errors in new age thinking and in women’s spirituality is to entangle “masculine and feminine qualities” (as if those existed) with the sex of an individual, while separating these qualities from physical men and women where convenient, referring to them as “masculine and feminine principles” as if there were no reference to human men and women whatsoever. Yeah, it’s kinda dumb. I prefer to refer to ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ as those terms don’t try to wedge themselves into my private parts quite as much.  So let’s have a look at business and politics in that context:

So let’s assume we agree with the idea that we all have “masculine and feminine”  or “yin and yang” qualities (well then they aren’t masculine and feminine anymore if we all have them, now are they?), and that we agree that balancing these qualities is important for everyone regardless of sex or gender.

Now if we apply the idea of yang with its qualities of being active, goal-oriented, dominating, hard etc. to business and politics, we see that both those fields as we know and practice them today are pretty heavy on that yang stuff. So what of the men who as part of a corporate domination of the world, contribute callously and selfishly to the destruction of economies across the world and to the increasing poverty here and abroad? Are they not “out of balance” as well? Are not the men who give themselves license to exploit other human beings while preserving their insensitivity by insulating their humanity in bureaucracy also denying their “femininity” if all sexes and genders indeed possess this as the saying goes? Could it be that these power structures as we’ve constructed them are too “yang” even for men?

Furthermore, how misguided are we when in the midst of all of the immense injustices generated by politics and big business, what we see as the biggest tragedy is the fact that it made a few women stop acting like mommies? Change your own diaper. We’ve got bigger problems.

Don’t You Dare Try to Compliment Me On How I “Birthed” This Blog

This is another trend that irks me in circles having to do with womens spirituality and other related things. I understand the relevance and why folks might decide to use this particular terminology for things, but quite frankly I do think the subculture has gone a little womb-crazy; hysterical if you will.

I’m talking about the use of birth metaphors for every accomplishment any woman makes. I’m not saying it’s a terrible thing entirely. I’m just saying that there are several good reasons why some folks may not appreciate it. I certainly don’t. Here’s why:

First news flash: There are plenty of women out there who really don’t want anything to do with birth. Startling, I know. Whether by lifestyle choice, economic necessity or just because we really just despise the idea of anything of that size popping out of our crotches and sucking up our resources for 18+ years, some of us just really aren’t crazy about birth. This is not an indictment of people who do think birth is great and wonderful. I just don’t think it’s that awesome. I’m actually quite bored by the idea. That’s just me and my belief doesn’t affect you in the least. Whether I change my mind in the future is equally irrelevant. If I for some reason lost my mind and decided to have children, I’m sure I would still like my bloggings and my birthings to be separate, please and thank you. Moving on.

That said, when women and other uterus-carriers like us accomplish what we DO want to accomplish, some people still feel the need to stick birth metaphors to it. It’s as if as childless females, our accomplishments are consolation prizes for not having had children. Kids would have been the best but a non-profit initiative is okay too they suppose. And because nothing a woman contributes to the world is worth anything if she didn’t squeeze it out of her uterus, we say she “birthed” that non-profit initiative. With that in mind, having childbirth as the gold-standard for the female experience alienates a hell of a lot of people and under that ideal, childless females just never quite measure up no matter what they do.

I don’t know about you, but I refuse to be seen as a uterus with a nameless person attached to it. I really don’t want my uterus stealing credit for my accomplishments. With the trouble it gives me, I really have nothing but contempt for the little flesh balloon as it is. I kinda hate it. If my uterus manages to upstage me, I believe this means I have officially failed at life.

“But it’s your creative center, Lennnyyyy.” says the New Ager.

Anatomy Lesson: No it’s not.

I don’t write, type, paint or think with my uterus. If you can make music with it, get it to hold a paintbrush or, stuff a typewriter up your vajay-jay and birth an article, congratulations on your abilities. That’s really frigging impressive. I can’t do it. My uterus just isn’t that talented.

Note that we don’t use such silly phrases for when men accomplish or create. With all the uterine hoopla, you’d think men weren’t anatomically equipped to create things. But they do. For centuries they’ve been the most well recorded creators and doers. They got all the attention up until recently. They just accomplish things and that’s good enough. There’s no need to dress it up and marinate it in metaphors. We don’t say that a man “sired” an organization or “fathered” a painting. Men just do things. Men themselves. Not their scrotums. Not their prostate glands. Men do creative work and accomplish things as full and unfragmented people. It’s apparently just part of being a man, which may be why when women accomplish things of a certain magnitude people might feel the need to divine-feminize it up. Don’t want to make it look like we’re screwing around with the roles here. Men achieve. Women “birth”.

The other bit of reality people in these circles seem to be ignoring is that for some of us, our wombs really play no important role in our lives and never will. For some women it may be the center of their universe and that is fine too. However, there are those of us for whom this organ is just one step above an appendix in terms of usefulness or importance. Many of us are fine with that and don’t appreciate people trying to shove it into our consciousness or make it important when it’s simply not. That kind of talk makes me want to rip mine out, fill it with helium and have the whole crowd watch my uterus float away as I carry on blogging, drawing, painting and doing all the other things I did before, gleefully yelling “Look mom! No uterus!!!”. The truth is that as long as we get it checked out when illness arises and know any signals that alert us to when we may soon make a bloody mess on something, there’s really no other reason for many of us to pay any attention to it. Sorry if that upsets anyone. If you think I’m being cruel to my uterus for thinking this way and would like to adopt it and have double the divine-feminine woo-woo powers for yourself, you’re welcome to take it from me. I’m not using it.

Who Defines Womanhood?: Examining Aversive Racism, Heterosexism, and Cis-Sexism in Women’s Circles

What’s a woman? No, really. What do we mean when we talk about women’s issues, women’s experiences, things we do and things we are “as women”? What kind of experiences are we talking about and whose are they?

These questions and more continually reveal themselves to be worth asking in groups that are ostensibly for the purpose of women sharing their experiences. An example of the relevance of these questions was my experience in trying to initiate a discussion about welcoming transwomen into the women’s circle I once attended. A common response I received from women I spoke to was something to the effect of “We can’t detract from what we’re doing.” or “Well, we can’t turn Red Tent into a gay issues forum.” I’ve seen similar responses to women sharing their experiences with homophobia and racism in some circles where their issues are treated as being outside of what we were “supposed” to be talking about.

Here’s an important thing that people need to know about women of color, LGBTQ women, immigrant women, and even white and heterosexual women. This is the basic truth of intersectionality and is in fact true of every human being on this planet:

Our lives are not arranged like TV dinners. We are not built with compartments for all of the different aspects of ourselves and our identities.

This means that women of color’s experience as women and experience as people of color are inseparable. Gay women’s experience of being gay and being women are fused together in the experience of being a gay woman. A transwoman’s experience as a woman comes as a package deal with her experience of being transgender. Many genderqueer females such as myself bring some very non-female things with us wherever we go. None of us can dissect ourselves and isolate one attribute based on the expectations of our contexts and still consistently give a full and meaningful account of our experiences. One element of our makeup may be more prominent or relevant in any given situation, but this does not mean that in that situation we temporarily cease to be the rest of what we are.

This becomes an issue when we come  to a point where we try to achieve what I believe to be the futile and impossible task of narrowing down and distilling the definition of “woman” in order to decide what a women’s group is or isn’t “about”.  When people say “This is a women’s circle. This isn’t about race.” or “This is a women’s group. This isn’t about LGBTQ issues.”, what is revealed here is that those who are seen as the exemplars of womanhood in is supposed purest form will invariably be white and heterosexual. Having their race most often be a negligible characteristic, their sexual orientation taken for granted and their gender being presumably self-evident, womanhood becomes confined within a white, heterosexual, cis-gender range of experiences. Anything outside is thereby declared an extraneous, unrelated issue.

When a group implicitly or explicitly takes this sort of attitude with the experiences of its minority women, even if they mean well, they send the message that the group is uncomfortable with or unwilling to hear about experiences that are outside the scope of the majority of its members. It tells minority women that the group will not be comfortable interacting with them until they can be made entirely oblivious to any part of their minority status. Any assertion of these groups’ inclusiveness is based solely on the rickety foundation of them not explicitly excluding anyone. This is not an inclusive or welcoming stance and people who are vulnerable to exclusion will notice and feel it. Groups like this may not be excluding these women’s physical bodies from the group, but they are excluding their experiences and excluding their voices. They are indeed “welcome” so long as they keep quiet about certain things. This self-censorship does not, however, make the uniqueness, complexity and interconnectedness of their experiences go away.

This often leaves a very narrow and superficial range of things that are left for these women to talk about without risking being written off as being bundles of “outside” issues. We haven’t heard them speak yet, but we assume we already know enough about them and their experiences to conclude that we cannot sufficiently relate to what they might have to say. This is one of the characteristic beliefs involved in aversive prejudices. The prospect of making women’s groups more receptive to these women often evokes the mental image of minority women full of nothing but minority issues abruptly and awkwardly de-railing the collective “women’s” experience by dominating it with all of their “unrelated” issues that the majority women could presumably never relate to in any way whatsoever. Of course, women of color have families. Transwomen have jobs and social lives. Gay women want to be healthier. Queer women are a mess if they go without their morning coffee. Any kinds of women can also have or lack any of these things in any combination. We all have some common ground, even in places where we don’t expect to find it, and even so, each of us in spite of such common ground experiences life differently.

Audre Lorde said “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Meeting regularly to talk about how exactly alike we are would become boring and repetitive very quickly anyway and is another reason why I think distilling and essentializing womanhood is a terrible idea in the first place.  I’d contend that we’d all learn a lot more from each other if we would convene not solely on common ground but also on our uncommon ground and unique experiences under the womanhood umbrella, or perhaps even those not under the umbrella if parts of us genuinely aren’t covered by it. Unfortunately, a lot of people are very uncomfortable with having to learn. This may be because some of us are set in our ways and attached to our worldviews and definitions. This may be because some of our attachments to being open-minded and tolerant make us believe that we are terrible, ignorant people if we don’t already know everything. In either case, the result is the same. Potentially valuable lessons,  and potentially valuable people are left ignored.

How to Keep Power Trips from Ruining Your Red Tent

For about three years, I was part of a regularly meeting women’s group that for a long time was exemplary in the quality of its attendees’ experiences and unmatched in its regulars’ enthusiasm and dedication. Many of us, myself included were deeply positively affected or changed by the supportive environment created therein. We did a lot of good work for the women who joined us and for ourselves too. I unfortunately had to witness the initially slow but accelerating deterioration of this group, but did my best to gather some lessons for the present and future from the experience.

This group, in classic Red Tent Temple format, was for the very open-ended purpose of creating safe space for sharing, giving and receiving. This was an easy way to build community and allowed plenty of freedom to accomplish almost anything if you could find willing or able women to help you with it, which was rarely a problem. It ran seamlessly. Once we had set up, there was nearly no need to arrange for things to happen. Tent happened.  You asked for something you wanted or needed and if you had something to give, you offered it. That was it. Simple. Easy. Not complicated. Effective. Beautiful.

Despite some of our attendees’ tendencies to idolize and idealize our facilitator, or to do so with facilitators and leaders in general, it was our regular, core women who were the heart, brain and backbone of this group. Our facilitator merely owned most of the setup equipment and gave the introductory blurb and the rest was taken from there by the women in attendance. Things could very easily go on as planned in her absence. She was very nearly absent most of the time anyway. She was less like the Führer and more like the furniture. She did not dictate what happened once things had begun. That was up to us. We didn’t ask for her permission. We just brought what we had to the table and did things.

At some point later, a few women decided that they didn’t like the way our facilitator “ran” this Tent. To me, this was absurd because our facilitator did basically nothing in terms of what actually happened at Tent meetings. I had brought my concerns about inclusiveness to her directly when I had them but as for the sharing, giving and receiving this was supposed to be about, blaming her for its ineffectiveness seemed a bit like blaming the flight attendant for turbulence or for the awkwardness of the conversation with your seatmate.

So instead of bringing concerns or ideas to the facilitator, offering what they wanted to share or asking women in-group to help them with what they wanted to do, they resorted to underhanded and subversive tactics such as coercion, trying to secretly rally people into overthrowing the facilitator by popular demand, outright lying or some combination of all three. What ended up happening was basically a whole lot of complaining and not a lot of action on the complainers’ part. Some left in an indignant huff, never once bringing their concerns to the facilitator nor asking others for help with those matters specifically. Some got tired of this drama and stopped coming back. Even some women who were once devoted regulars left with nothing but contempt as their contributions were ignored in favor of the perceived lack created by imaginary conflict with someone who had virtually nothing to do with the outcomes of any given Tent. Enthusiasm waned on every level and BOY did it show.

So to facilitators, leaders and attendees, I leave you with the following advice:

Remember what it means to “facilitate”.
Facilitators help groups understand their common objectives and the ways they can achieve them. They don’t dictate. They give guidelines. They don’t lead per se. They make it easier for others to lead themselves. They don’t control or micromanage. They help create space for things to happen naturally. It’s not about them. The real work is done by the attendees. If this is not what is taking place, what is needed is either a different approach or a different title.

Cultivate assertiveness.
The grand irony in the spectacular failure of my former group was that a group about sharing, giving and receiving was torn asunder by women who refused to voice their needs. Also ironically, despite all the femininity-flapdoodle surrounding Red Tents, in order to achieve the objectives of a group like this, the group must encourage what many view as the typically “masculine” qualities of assertiveness and directness. If those words sound too intimidating and penisy, call it something else. Call it honesty. Call it openness. Call it communication. Call it whatever works. Not only does that very premise depend on it, but conflict resolution within the group depends on it. Therefore, as facilitators and as attendees working to create safe space, we must ensure that it is made abundantly clear and abundantly true that it is safe to be direct and open and that one’s requests will be treated with sensitivity and respect.

I come from a culture that values assertiveness and considers it impolite to be indirect, passive-aggressive or evasive in trying to meet one’s own wants and needs. You either ask for it or get it yourself. Either way, it is emphasized that if you cannot take responsibility and admit to wanting something or take action toward getting it, you shouldn’t have it. The assumption is that being dodgy about what you want is as good as confessing that you’re up to no good. This is why directness comes easily to me and I try to engender less harsh versions of this wherever I go by making honesty okay and safe. I have to wonder if people’s reluctance to ask for things stems from a belief that they really shouldn’t have or want whatever it is.  This is a good starting question to open a discussion on the topic and make it safer for people to be open about what they need.

Set and follow conflict resolution procedures.

One of the worst mistakes any group can make is to assume that conflict will simply never happen, leaving the group sorely unprepared for when it inevitably does. Having procedures for dealing with conflict, complaints and concerns not only makes it easier for these things to be resolved quickly. Having an openly provided framework for dealing with these also creates one less excuse to resort to more covert and underhanded means of resolving them. Instigators, power trippers, gossip mongers and mutiny conspirators have one less reason to be tolerated.

Stay in your power.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” I know I must sound like I’m in AA with the frequency with which I use this, but it applies. Be mindful of your role in what happens in your group. Be aware of what you have full freedom and ability to do and to change. Start with yourself. If you can’t make your desired outcome happen alone, ask for help. If you simply declare yourself powerless, you leave the work of creating what you want up to everyone else and up to the chance of them intuiting your wishes. In the pursuit of what you want, you become your own dead weight. Don’t assume that just because someone is “facilitating”, they must do it all for you, or that they somehow confiscate your freedom and agency to create what you want to happen. They are there to help you. They are there to make things easier for you. Don’t make it difficult to make things easier for you.