Wednesday, 3 October 2012

FCC: Setting the Stage for Self-Reflection, Food Identity and the Rest of the Year's Colloquium

Over the last four weeks of the Food and Culture Colloquium, navigating the acceptance and celebration of logistics, risk-taking and motivation has been a fun and tiring challenge in my world to undertake. And it's moments like today's session presented by Molly McGravey of Residential Education and Housing that continue to provide an opportunity--a space and time--for guided self-reflection, to pause from the world around us and to create a memory that will forever impact in some way the manner in which we view our selves, our life and our purpose. Hmmm, for me at least, this sounds like the influential power of food, no?

Okay, so perhaps I'm embellishing a bit with the above description, but in all actuality Molly's presentation which from the onset was made clear didn't have much to do with food upon first appearances highlighted very well our campus-wide theme of "Creativity & Courage." In addition, she set the stage (albeit perhaps unknowingly) for the next four weeks of the colloquium which will focus on food identity through the lens of intersectionality; this approach will take the form of studying the impact of food as seen very specifically through ethnicity and language; religion and spirituality; nationality and citizenship; and gender and sexuality. But before I get too caught up in the future, I'll continue with this brief post by sharing that Molly's presentation was principally built on two texts that have influenced her own life and work: Frances Moore Lappé's You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear and Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey's Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.

Threading components of both texts throughout the presentation (though it would seem more accurate to call this a guided dialogue), Molly prepared us all to talk to each other, within the context that generally speaking we struggle in our fast-paced culture to take the time out of our daily lives to stop and articulate the changes we want to see in the world, to give voice to what we truly care about. To get us to that point, Molly cited the work of Kegan and Lahey and asked us to share with a neighbour something we have recently complained about. In so doing, we came to realise that "We would not complain about anything if we did not care about something." Part two of this deep listening exercise then was focused on taking a look at our complaint and to rephrase it in such a way as to complete this statement: "I am committed to the value and importance of..." In so doing, we would shift our communication from a language of complaint to a language of commitment. Furthermore, our response was to be shared with our neighbour who had been further instructed not to provide any reactionary gestures or voice; he/she was challenged to do nothing but listen. In all my experience with dialogue I found this experience to be a rarity in truly listening. I wasn't thinking about whether or not I agreed, or if I could speak from a similar experience or point of view. Listening allowed me to hear the parts of self and motivation my neighbour was sharing with me. And when it was my turn to share, I felt like I was being heard in a way I had never been heard before.


But whereas I perhaps feel more acknowledged and heard in certain respects through empathetic responses and visual and verbal cues, today's exercise carried into the overall scope of Molly's presentation in that the challenge is to hold onto and claim our values (as opposed perhaps to embracing an affirmation of the values we claim) , for in doing so give us the power and the language to be the change agents we seek (or should seek) to be. As we approach this challenge, the final prompt given to us was "what competes with our commitments?" What is it we fear? What is the "false evidence appearing real" that hinders us to actually change the static conditions which perpetuate a cycle of inaction and lack of change?

Today's presentation further revealed that we're stronger than our complaints, and emphasizes a challenge I've heard frequently throughout my few years in higher ed and which I would summarise bluntly in the following way: stop complaining or spending the time and energy claiming what's wrong; rather, think about what the problem is and claim what should be done to fix it. Reflecting then upon the work of Lappé--who believes in food as a democratic principle--there are clearly many injustices currently facing the global community. And in a culture that can be described as a culture of fear, it will certainly take creativity and courage to not only respond to the very things that drive our complaining, but to take in the cues within and around us to define who we are and for what we stand.

Suggested reading for this session:
"The Food Movement: Its Power and Possibilities" (Frances Moore Lappé, 2011)

For more information regarding the 2012-2013 Food and Culture Colloquium at Denison University, click here. To check out the album of photos from our October colloquium sessions, click here.

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