Sunday, March 05, 2006

Trial by Ordeal

Accused witches were sometimes tried by being held under water. If they survived, they were presumably guilty of witchcraft and consequently were burned at the stake. If they drowned, their soul was proven pure, and they were given a Christian burial. Our participants go through a similar experience.

We have our own facilitation ordeals: crunch moments, difficult transitions, a hairy synthesis conversation, an obstreperous participant (or sponsor!). But we more-or-less know what to expect and take these ordeals in stride. Our participants don’t have it so easy.

If you have ever participated in one of our events (I have participated in about a dozen) you would know the excruciating anxiety of being thrown into a small team with people you don’t know (or worse, with people you do know) and being presented with an ambiguous assignment whose apparent relation to the task at hand is at best tenuous. You don’t know what to do, how to behave, what is expected, how others perceive you…. Participating in our events, particularly during Scan, can be horribly angst-ridden. This is both necessary and good.

As for any storybook hero, a journey demands some element of potential danger and personal risk. Otherwise, the sense of arrival is hollow. We don’t need to build extra pain or peril into our events – there’s plenty already – but we do need to be aware of how difficult this all is for our victi… ‘eh …participants.

Aristotle describes the emotional cleansing achieved through tragic theatre as catharsis. (The word itself refers to the relief one feels after shitting.) Though our events don’t need to be tragic, we do try to accompany our participants through an ordeal to help them see a different world on the other side.