‘I never shop in Tesco’s. I always go to my local shop.’ This day was getting very radical and challenging for me. I was in a restaurant called The Farm. The young waiter told me it only used locally sourced food and drink. The wine was organic and the fish pie fresh. ‘I, err, used to do more of my shopping local but haven’t the time these days. Not if I want to do other things as well with my spare time. And Tesco’s is only a 5 minute walk away. I can do my weekly shopping in under 45 minutes and get out again. I thought of the local greengrocer’s I used to go to and Oddbins and hoped they were still there. I’ve not been shopping up the road for ages. Most of the shops have turned into coffee bars or restaurants. ‘I do go once or twice a month to The Windmill. It’s an organic cooperative food shop…’ The waiter looked at me inquisitively…but it’s a good 40 minute walk away, the other side of the park.’ ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘my shops are just around the corner’. I felt a little better.
I’d been talking with a young man from the Czech Republic. He was a waiter in the restaurant and I’d been telling him, as you do, about the workshop on Paulo Freire. We swopped radical talking points. He’d never heard of him and noted his name down and the name of Partners Organisation Dublin for another time. In exchange, he gave me two films to watch, Hungry for Change and Fork over Knives. I’d never shop in a supermarket again, he said, after watching them.
After a delicious fish pie supper, washed down with a large glass of relaxing, red wine, I made a space on the table, got my pen out and started writing about what I’d learned so far.
In our small groups, earlier on, we had identified three situations we wanted to explore. Each of them had arisen from someone’s in the group direct experience. The facilitators asked the three groups to come up with a code or an outline at least to help us see what the problem was .The first built an obstacle without words from a few chairs, covered it with a white sheet and moved about the room in silence. Some were mouthing words but no sounds came out. Others were whispering. One said nothing at all. All avoided looking at or going near the obstacle in the room.
In processing the code, the covered chairs, we felt that if someone did have an issue with the ‘elephant in the room’, then it could be volcanic, both for the individual and for the whole group. What if an issue is very raw for someone? Frank spoke of a time he’d been working on an estate. There was a local woman who had drink problems and people wanted to help her. There is great shame around being an alcoholic and such problems were more widespread than people were admitting. Frank likened it to people wearing masks when talking about the issue, ignoring it in their own lives while focusing on the woman. He was able to steer the code onto alcohol misuse in general on the estate.
The question of building the code while the group is still sitting in the room, watching, came up too? Bernie observed that the the people were contributing to their own culture of silence. Some had even taken part in ‘building’ it. There can be both advantages and disadvantages from putting it together in front of the group. It depends on the group issue and you learn by doing. You just have to find out what they are. But remove the code before processing it. Take it down, otherwise people are still involved in it, especially the participants. Let the group make the connections between themselves and the code. Don’t make them for them, otherwise it stops becoming meaningful. If they can’t make the connections, adapt or change the code.
The second group called their code ‘The Race’. It concerned a group of students on an Arts Foundation course who had to collaborate on a group project? Maybe because one of the tutors worked at the Arts’ college, they drew a picture of a podium with all three as winners on the same level whether 1,2 or 3 and holding a samesized cup. They were all winners was they message they wanted to convey.
When we processed this, somone suggested an alternative race. Why not have piggybacks, she asked? Some students are carrying others but they all get the same prize. All are involved in different ways. Is it fair that they all receive a cup? Another teacher spoke of her own experience as a teacher. The students seemingly being lazy and opting out said that they felt excluded by certain students who ‘took over’. In effect, they had given up. This only came to light when everyone’s voice had been heard.
Ben Affleck, Brendan told us, had just won an academy award for directing best picture, Argo. He had seen a skit on The Simpsons or Family Guy, he remembered, about Affleck and Matt Damon. They’d both become famous for co-writing and starring in the film, ‘Goodwill Hunting‘ but, in the intervening years, Matt Damon’s career had taken off while Ben Affleck’s had stalled. People had started saying it must have been all Matt Damon’s work and Affleck’s standing dived. Then, Argo was released and he’s a genius again. A clip of the animation would make a good code.
And the third group’s theme was Blame. There was a group of students in an adult centre, who felt picked on by the college management. A number of them were or had been involved in crime, it’s fair to say, and some also had drink and drugs issues. A 20 Euro note had gone missing, presumed stolen. The principal had gone out of her way to look fair but this only made it worse as they felt she wasn’t being genuine. What sort of code would help us illustrate this? I thought of Mario Ballotelli, lifting up his football shirt after he’d scored a goal for Man City with the words, ‘Why always me?’ written on it. A couple of mums in the group said that they remembered this being hugely popular with their kids and it had gone viral on Youtube. I told everyone my pigeon story. What has it got to do with blame? Well, if you substitute the word pigeon with, say, immigrant, black, gay…and read the story, it gives out a different message.
We were encouraged to present a code which illustrates the issue you think the group has. Use it sometimes as a testing device. And don’t be surprised if something works well one time with a group may but falls flat on its face with another. Frank ended by saying helpfully, I think, ‘If you’re saying to yourself, Have they got it?, they haven’t got it.’
Be the change you wish to see in the world is Ghandi’s quote. Change starts with you, now, in this room, perhaps even with a conversation…but it happens. We were invited to share a story in pairs of an experience we’d had. one which showed the world as we wanted it to be. And we were allowed to walk around the block in the gorgeous sunshine, just so long as we were back in 20 minutes. At the end of the exercise, we were invited to name the experience, as if it were a book or film. Here are a few titles:
- Can You Be Yourself?
- The Importance of Being Connected
- Right to Love
- Backgarden Communities.
We’d nearly got to the end. Next, Camilla summed up Freire’s philosophy and methods in a short presentation. Up came wonderful words – dichotomous, ontological vocation and my favourite, which I still can’t say, conscientisation. To understand what they mean, you may want to look at one of Paulo Freire’s books or go on one of Partners Organisation’s workshops. They’re not all in Dublin. They do travel.
The young Czech waiter came over to apologise. ‘I’m sorry but we only have apple crumble, not pie.’ ‘Crumble, really? Even better.’ I have greatly enjoyed sharing my food and drink and talking with you, Paulo Freire. I hope to have lots more conversations like this with other people to find my place in the world. And I hope many others do too.
More information about Freire, creative facilitation and the work of Partners Organisation, Dublin can be found at http://www.trainingfortransformation.ie/index.php/aboutus/organisation