liberal transparency

one of the more curious chapters of my labyrinth life was my brief employ as campaign manager for Brad Blanton‘s catastrophically failed run against the demon spawn of US House representative Eric Cantor (who is majority leader elect).  Brad is responsible for developing and marketing the dwarf super meme of Radical Honesty.  As part of my training to work for him, i did Brad’s 8 day RH seminar, which was definitely responsible for transforming the lives of a number of people who attended the course.

While several disputes have led me away from Brad and his particular flavor of transparency, one of the most important things happening in my life these days is the collection of 3 transparency groups which i am involved with.  The way these groups differ from the Radical Honesty philosophy is mostly in scope.  RH encourages practitioners to be honest with everyone.  To tell your grandmother her pie tastes bad and your boss that she is making poor decisions.  These transparency groups while encouraging people to be more transparent in their daily lives, is primarily practicing it in the relatively safe space of the groups themselves.  These are comprised of people who have shared agreements about maintaining confidentiality and are committed to supporting each other in working out problems and disagreements (something which bosses often dont do).

This significant difference is scope has lead me to entitle this article “liberal transparency” as contrasted with Radical Honesty.  We are certainly less radical, and is often true, liberalism  is less dangerous and more accessible.  As a self identified radical, i often quip that the world will burn at the hands of the good liberals.  And as a pragmatist, i recognize that honesty (or transparency) is such a powerful tool that in this world of deception and secrecy if new practitioners are required to use it universally, almost all will be scared away from it.  This is a case where we need to test the meme on those we trust, before we release it fulling into our lives.

The rest of this post is about the three specific groups i am now involved in and some of the tools we are using.  And the important piece is that these strengthening groups are giving me a significant piece of what i have been missing at Twin Oaks for the last dozen years.  The term i use for it is platonic intimacy building, tho some readers may find this confusing.  What happens in these groups is people strive to show themselves more fully, share theie dark sides as well as the triumphs (which modest participants often have more trouble claiming than their shadow sides).

Not Forum: Network for New Culture uses a handful of techniques to help participants explore their own inner workings.  One of the more elaborate and powerful tools is the Forum (no relation to Landmark Educations Forum) developed by ZEGG community near Berlin.  The Forum uses a facilitated theatrical technique to play out what is current and alive in their lives.  For some months there was an active Forum group at Twin Oaks, but as often the case the weekly meetings had trouble holding a large enuf group to be cohesive.  So we decided to drop the Forum format and work with other transparency tools.  By not requiring trained facilitators and being more nibble in switching tools to meet the needs and desires of the group the new “Not Forum” group.  Some of these tools include:

  • Hot seat – where a single person is asked compelling and penetrating questions
  • Withholds – where you tell people in the group things which are holding you back from being fully present with them, often judgements or uncomfortable perceptions
  • “If you really knew me” – go rounds where participants offer insights into their own inner thinking and feelings
  • Cross Talk – where topics of interest or triggering comments are discussed between participants
  • Roll your own – tools we adopt on the spot to experiment with or try for individual situations

The change in format and adding of some new members transformed the lagging group into something very popular.  The group which was originally open to guests and visitors found that the material was becoming too sensitive and group cohesion too important to stay open to people we dont know dropping in.

Bolo: Bolo is technically a Twin Oaks labor collective.  Four members of Not Forum decided to take the opportunity to form a regularly meeting group which pooled it’s labor to collectively meet our obligation to make quota.  Bolo stepped into the new labor collective policy which had been pioneered by the Jack Vanzetti Labor Collective for the year before.  The labor collective policy was somewhat contentious within the community, a small but vocal and prolific minority of members felt like permitting people to pool their labor credits to meet their obligations was in violation of the spirit of our agreements.  After weeks of discussions (mostly in written format) the community planners approved a slightly modified version of the labor collectives policy.

The name Bolo has twin origins.  The first is from the anarchist text bolo’bolo which describes a new set of social arrangements and a more equitable community-based model for living.  Bolo is also the Portuguese word for cake and harkens back to a presentation ex-Oaker Kate Adamson gave at East Carolina University.  She was speaking on the topic of polyamory and one of the students asked towards the end of her presentations “Excuse me, but it seems like you would like to have your cake and eat it too.”  Dramatically Kate approached the students and replied “i like cake” and the classroom broke into laughter.  In this spirit of demanding the improbably, we named our group.

Using many of the same tools at Not Forum, the Bolo group deepens our understandings of each other and helps decode our troubles and generally provides support while we plot global domination.  Bolo consists of Twin Oaks members Marta, Clementine and Roberto.

Fuzz: The latest addition to this suite of transparency groups is fusing Twin Oakers and Acorners with folks from neighboring Charlottesville (most of whom have lived at Twin Oaks in the past).  We have only met once, but i am excited about the prospect.  And it has already lead to me clearing up one long past withhold from a Fuzz member, which if nothing else comes of the group makes it completely worthwhile for me.

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

15 responses to “liberal transparency”

  1. Sara says :

    I feel that I have transparency only in three or four of my friendships & definitely none in any group that I participate with. This is something sorely lacking from my life and I would love to create more of…

  2. Sara says :

    Left out part of my reply! (need more coffee) Thank you for the inspiration to create transparency in my relationships & looking forward to interacting with your groups in the future =)

  3. Abigail says :

    I like the differentiation between radical honesty v liberal honesty. I went from living in an intentional community that was quite focused on transparency and honesty, and a community of friends who are, to working in a mainstream context, it has taken me a while to negotiate (ie. if I am not being fully transparent, am I compromising my commitment to honesty?), and Ive often appreciated your help in the process.

  4. Susan says :

    When I was living in Nicaragua I was often astounded at the degree of beating around the bush required culturally. For example, the woman I live with had to tell someone else to tell me that the cat I had taken in had to go because she was crapping everywhere. I had to deliver the message that my housemate needed to increase what he was paying for laundry. This struck me as weird, in a culture that had no problem calling people “fatty”, “darky”, and “big nose”.
    The rule in Nica is that you can be direct about things that are readily obvious (physical characteristics), but telling someone that you don’t like their behaviour means you want to end the relationship with them.

    But I came to appreciate, finally, that there are benefits to being extremely gentle with the people you live with when you know you are going to have to keep living with them. When you are poor and live in a one room house with your extended family, telling them exactly what you think of them is not really going to improve anyone’s lives.

    At the end of the day, in this national culture and all its subcultures, and with an eye fixed on changing the world, I opt for pragmatism. Without lying, say what needs to be said, and keep to yourself what will only cause hurt and will not bring about any progress.

  5. srhoustn says :

    “I opt for pragmatism. Without lying, say what needs to be said, and keep to yourself what will only cause hurt and will not bring about any progress.” and this, Susan, is why you are one of those friendships that I have that transparency with and deeply cherish =)

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