Space for the Quiet

This week we're sharing some "Voices from the Summit." Throughout the week participants in the 2008 Summit will be blogging about their experience, their work and their thoughts. This reflection comes from Wendy Willis of the Policy Consensus Initiative. I've often asked friends and colleagues toiling in the civic engagement trenches if there is such a thing as "social capital poisoning."  While many of our fellow citizens are struggling to find meaningful ways to participate in public life, those of us who have turned our passion for engagement  into a vocation can find ourselves meeting and talking and collaborating ourselves straight into exhaustion.  Sometimes, we just want to be left alone.

It was in that state that I showed up at Skamania Lodge two Fridays ago -- depleted and unenthusiastic about more meetings -- even optimistic ones.  Everything in me wanted to hide out.  But, there I was -- nametag in hand -- so I put on my best introvert armor and headed down to the first set of discussions, determined to protect my zone of privacy.  What happened in that first discussion -- and throughout the weekend  -- was not what I anticipated nor was it what I was prepared to resist.  Yes, the discussions were optimistic and spirited and engaging, and I had to be grateful for being in the company of such creativity and hope.  But, the conversations and the facilitators that led them also asked us to do something more than just bubble over with ideas  -- they asked us to reflect deeply and quietly and to connect our inner lives with the outer realities of the work.  They asked us to think about  -- and then speak from  -- our core values and fondest dreams, and even to admit our darkest fears.

That marriage of reflection and conversation had obvious and immediate consequences -- deeper insights, more honest connections, grittier truths.  But it was also -- for me -- both regenerative and humbling.  It was restorative in that there was space for quiet, even in the face of such palpable creativity and enthusiasm.  But, it also put me right straight in my place.   I had been prepared to let myself off the hook -- to willfully withdraw even in the face of such generosity and warmth.   I was brought face-to-face with my own stinginess and tendency to withhold.  But, the better angels -- and the munificence of the gathering -- won out, and I was left filled with gratitude and not with regret.Wendy Willis,Director of Business Development and Engagement, Policy Consensus Initiative