Ifirst heard about Sociocracy from a dear friend in early 2015, in passing reference, as a form of governance and conflict resolution for interdependent community living. He wasn’t too clear, but it made me curious about it. A year later I received an email from the said friend about a workshop on Sociocracy happening in Bangalore the following week. I liked what I read in the flier. This friend and his partner were going and urged me to come too. It seemed an impossible task for me to attend. The fees seemed steep and I wanted to bring the kids along with me for the three-day event on the other side of town – commuting everyday was out of the question, I was recovering from an illness. Then there was the dog and cat and garden to take care of while we would be gone. With no backup, it was a big deal!
Nevertheless, I felt compelled to find out more. I wrote in to the organisers, asking if the kids could attend with me. I was put in touch with Shammi Nanda and John over email. Shammi called back several times, till we connected. This was heartening. I don’t remember much about our conversation, what I remember is feeling like I was important and it mattered that the children and I had a fair chance of attending the workshop at a level of comfort that suited us. This felt promising. Everything fell in place for us to attend without much effort – this itself was an indication to me of alignment of the universe!
It started with acceptance
The three days of the workshop flew by in a flurry of activity and learning. The children were completely accepted by the community of 30 adults, including facilitators, as equivalent (more on that later) participants with full membership to all that transpired in spirit, thought and action. I understood later that this was as much a function of the Sociocratic process as it was of accepting adults.
The learning was intense. I have worked with the Gordon Model of Communication for many years. There was a lot that was common and familiar. There were some new names for things that I already knew, for example, the terminology of Equivalence vs Equal. Consent was a big deal at every stage. I revisited these concepts in a new context, with new energy, and deepened my understanding of them. It felt wonderful.
What I experienced as new was the idea of “rounds”. Everyone gets an opportunity to speak in turn. When one person speaks, others listen without interrupting, and no one speaks out of turn. We go round and round the circle. This ensures that some that speak more and tend to take over are restrained, and are made to listen to others too. And those that never speak are provided a safe platform and space to voice their thoughts.This way everyone is heard. Each is responsible for his/her contribution, even if it is a pass.
This is the one thing that I feel our family has benefitted the most from in the weeks following the workshop. As a parent, I considered that our children had an equivalent say (though I may earlier have used the word “equal” instead) in matters that concerned them and the family as a whole. I was wrong. I realised during rounds how mistaken I was. My son who is an articulate (at that time) nine-year-old in tune with his thoughts and feelings, takes time to get his idea out there. In a family with three others who are strongly opinionated, older and impatient, my nine-year-old was constantly being cut off by his sister, myself and his dad. The impatience in us became apparent while doing rounds. We would fill in words for him or plain hijack the conversation from him, finishing his sentences and moving on. Looking back, I wonder how he stood it all. We also did this for each other, without really listening to the end.
I remember the first family meeting where the four of us were problem solving around chores. My husband, who hadn’t till this point understood Sociocracy, was speaking over both the children constantly. My daughter fourteen and half years was facilitating this meeting. She was quite solid in her insistence of sticking to rounds. “It is not your turn Daddy. Let him (her brother) finish. You can speak when it is your turn. You will get a chance later.” I remember it taking several forceful back and forth between the two of them before Binay decided to comply. We finished the round, it took several minutes, with Rahul taking his time about saying what he had to say. When Binay’s turn came, I was ready for deluge of objections, arguments and thoughts from his side on all that had gone on before then. I was utterly surprised when he said, “I am good. I have nothing to add.” When I asked him how come? His response was, “My questions got answered already.” I don’t think I shall ever forget the lesson I learnt that day for as long as I live.
Learning to listen
Witnessing this episode while being cognisant about my own struggle with giving my children a patient and fair hearing, has stayed with me. I remember struggling with keeping to the rounds and not speaking out of turn, only where my kids were concerned. Holding my peace with adults came easier. With all of my training, reading, workshops – ones that I take and those that I facilitate – I was still not listening to my children enough. A huge wake up call for my husband and I, as parents. We don’t know as much as we think we know about our children: their thoughts, ideas, feelings and aspirations. And this is knowing that both Binay and I are more connected with our two than most parents are – this I can truthfully say. The better I listen, the more astounded I am at the grasp of life they have and their ability to navigate the world around them. The more I listen, the less I worry about them and their future. This is a gift that Sociocracy has given me.
This article was to be written by the children and I together, as a dialogue about the impact of Sociocracy in our lives. After about a week, my daughter shocked me by telling me, she didn’t think Sociocracy worked because we hadn’t really solved anything with it – not strictly true, since we then thought of several things we had resolved sociocratically. However, she is still not convinced that it was a working method, and clearly stated she was not comfortable writing about it since she didn’t feel it worked.
This brings me full circle to my main difficulty in the practice of Sociocracy, and really any practice of this nature. The magic in the method is as good as the madam (or sir) holding space in which the process takes place. In other words, I find myself falling short on ability to keep the process front and centre. Having seen Shammi and John in action many times and having watched them closely, I know that it works. I also know that their experience and ability to really listen, their commitment to the process and not to fixed outcomes, counts for a lot. With my children, I still find myself married to rigid outcomes and having a set agenda. The times when Sociocracy has worked for us is when I’ve been able to flow with the process. The times it has broken down is when I can’t be true to it. It is my own personal limitation. One that is begging closer scrutiny and letting go. I am hopeful though, because my kids keep me real and accountable.
So when my almost 15-year-old reckons that Sociocracy does not work, I put it down to teenage lofty idealism – an all or none thing approach. My 10-year-old is too busy building things to really give me a serious thought about it. My husband and I have seen big changes in our communication patterns. Even with my half-baked listening, there is a distinct before and after Sociocracy scenario in our home. The conversations flow smoother, the bonding is stronger than ever before. We talk more, we are heard more and we have a language in which to get our needs met.
Having the children do the Sociocratic workshop with me was one of the best decisions that I have taken, and I can’t thank everyone enough who made it possible.