Ward Mailliard: I just want to say a couple words about the learning journey; because part of being the stranger, is actually taking the journey. There are three stages of the journey – This isn’t something I made up, this is somehow printed in our DNA. The “call,” which is the preparatory stage – The interesting thing to note is that in the “call” stage, classically the hero or heroine always resists at least three times. One of the things that I have discovered is how much information there is in the resistance – We are called, everybody in this room has been – will be – is called. To note your resistance to the “call,” and actually my students when we were having a discussion about this one day, really I was stunned at how quickly they came up with all the things that cause us to resist. “It might not be worth it, I’m not good enough, or I might fail.” You know, we all have a story going that keeps us often from taking the journey from answering the “call.”
The “journey” itself is what I would call the social, emotional learning phase. You know we talk about social emotional learning, well let me tell you, that it is a full body engagement. Mind, body, feelings, senses, and that’s where this unexpected process occurs, this alchemy of being on the journey, and meeting with strangers, and being the stranger, and being greeted at the margins of different communities, and how powerful that is, how life changing that is.
The part that usually gets left out in the educational experience is the return. We have diminished those to “exams.” You know, “Did you learn what we expected you to learn?” But the return – This is also from Sobonfu Some. Vivian and I were having dinner with her one night, and she said, “You know it’s the job of the village to welcome you back from an initiatory experience.” Otherwise what results are isolation, alienation, and depression.
So when you have gone through an experience, it is very important that when you come back and you get asked the right questions, “What did you do?” is not the right question, “What did you see?” is not the right question. So the questions, “How were you touched and moved? How were you delighted? Where were you challenged?” This is something we are supposed to do for each other when we note that somebody has gone through an initiatory experience, or we have been through one ourselves. These are the three basic stages of the classic hero’s journey, the call, the journey itself, and the return.
That process of being the stranger, of meeting strangers, and being welcomed by communities reorients ourselves to the whole notion of the stranger – A gift that might be coming in to the community through the stranger, including the gift that you as a strange are bringing to the community, that is not already there. So one of the questions that came up in the dialogue that we had prior to this was, “What are the stories that would allow me to reconnect my strangeness to the community from which I feel isolated?” That one just caught me.
“What are the stories that would allow me to reconnect my strangeness to the community from which I feel isolated?”
Now you are not supposed to do anything with that, I just thought that was such a cool question. (laughter) Going to my own experience from at times feeling isolated from my own community by my own strangeness, What are the stories that would allow me to reconnect my strangeness to the community from which I feel isolated? Then some other ancillary questions that you are also not supposed to do anything with, but I think are useful in the context of the learning journey are: “What is the question that is calling me? What am I really curious about? What’s my resistance?” There is so much information in the resistance. “What is the story that no longer serves me? What is the learning or the liberating conversations that would have the effect of reuniting me with my community? Finally, what is my value as a stranger?”
So the learning journey, this year for me, deeply connects to this notion of Stone Soup. The questions that are calling us, the questions that we bring in to the community, sometimes they are not accepted by the community. Questions are destabilizing. The village really represents stability. It is the status quo. As long as everybody is fed and feeling nourished, change is very difficult. It is only when we reach a point where we have hit a forcing function where things aren’t working, only then we open up to new possibilities. How could we actually have a community that has as part of its aesthetic, constant renewal and openness to possibility, along with the stability of a community that was viable, that was stable? How can we have both of those things working together? So that in brief moment is the “learning journey” to which I’m sure everybody could add many ideas.