co authored by Grzegorz Zieliński and Liz Scarfe

(How to co-author an article about an experience that is both shared and individual? One of the treasures of Worldwork is how we find common ground by exploring our diversity, without homogenising our experiences; so we’ve tried to do the same in this post.)

When I think about writing an article on Worldwork I see the first line starting something like…500 people from 42 countries…but then I get stuck, and I start wondering what experiences these 500 people might have had in common, because surely Worldwork is an incredibly unique personal experience.

So I’ve come to thinking that there was not one Worldwork, but 500, and I can only write about mine.

What became more and more evident for me, especially at the end of Worldwork, is how much we are alike, regardless of the cultures we come from. On the first morning of Worldwork, Arny spoke of his impressions on this topic. Many years ago, working with groups in different parts of the world always required the skills to adapt to different relational and communication styles arising from the culture, but now he noticed there are fewer differences, people seeming to become ‘international’.  I was surprised, and wondering how it could be, with so many differences and historical power imbalances that divide us.

Worldwork was touching.

Simple, and yet complex in that way that all simple things are.  I learnt so many things at Worldwork, but the biggest learning was the importance of being touched, of contact.  I don’t mean physical contact (although it’s incredibly important), but of making contact with each other, allowing ourselves to be touched, by those we are in conflict with.  This applies to people we are relating with, and to the diversity within of ourselves (conflict seems to happen in both simultaneously).

I spent many years as a social and political activist and I remember feeling increasingly frustrated by the ‘us’ and ‘them’ nature of activism; “We are right and good; they are wrong and bad. If we win it will be better for everyone, if they win, it will be terrible!” I started to realise that ‘they’ are also ‘us’, and that until we understand this, conflicts will continue to escalate, (sometime to war) and people will continue to abandon such polarised activist movements.  It was a great relief to me when I started to learn process oriented psychology and its theories of levels of reality and how to work with conflict.  In particular, it validated my experience of how ‘they’ are in ‘me’ and showed me how this view can be used to de-escalate and transform conflicts.

It is so relieving to me to know I am never only on one side of a conflict, but also on the other.

Worldwork showed me that when working through conflicts, the difference that makes the difference is not the steps we follow, or how hard we listen, or what concessions we make, but how much we let the experience of the ‘other’ touch us.  Can we move beyond listening to someone’s story or opinion, to feeling their experience and suffering?  Can we bring in the depths of our own experiences and vulnerability so that we might touch others?

Can we shift our measure of success from the quality of the outcomes, to the quality of the contact?

Worldwork provides a great opportunity to practice this way of working with conflicts and history. A unique occasion for a large group of people to jointly examine, experiment, and share their experiences, not only discussing the events, but also reliving the emotions. Being with so many people willing to meet each other across differences is what made this time so special for me, and made me feel ‘at home’ in such a big crowd.

Worldwork is not about resolving anything, but a chance to make contact across difference, across time and generations of oppression and hurt, across cultures, languages and history.

An invitation to develop new ways to relate, and ways to relate to something new.

This article was about Worldwork in Warsaw in 2014. The next Worldwork event is in Greece in 2017, all the details are here.


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