By: Yuman Wang
CEF leadership philosophy encourages “meeting each other halfway” where members and advocates struggle side by side. As the boundary between members and advocates fade, personal matters become community issues. I realized that in the CEF community, leadership takes many forms, from the simplest gestures to dedicated efforts to help others get back on their feet.
“If you can’t get around it, get into it…. Having relationships in which we protect each other’s aloneness” – Parker Palmer philosophy reading
In the office, we work on tangible, practical aspects such as job searching, housing and anything else members need. It seems that we seldom directly help members probe their inner selves. But realistically, helping someone self-reflect is difficult and quite honestly, daunting. However, there are definitely snippets of Palmer’s idea in action, whether through exchanges between advocates and members or conversations in opportunity class. Sometimes it can be as simple as listening to another’s inner thoughts or figuring out why someone’s life has been the way it is. Even solving problems side by side can be very healing to one’s inner self.
I found that most of these inner discoveries are coincidental and natural outcomes of conversations. Once, I was helping a member make a decision that seemed straightforward enough: choosing whether to attend a school or not. However, the conversation turned to inward reflection when we started to list pros and cons of going to the school. When I asked my member for some possibilities, he struggled to pinpoint them. I realized that he never really thought through the decision. As we progressed further in analyzing the decision, he started to slowly realize that he makes decisions in a fast and absolute fashion. As a result, compromises were often left out of the picture.
This discovery was a mutual effort and as unintentional as it was, I found it extremely rewarding to be someone’s companion in inner reflections. For once, the external world is not the focal point and the member can finally sit down with himself and have a conversation. I realized that to protect this “aloneness”, I could not tell someone who he is or what he should do, but I can be there step by step, asking questions that may lead to self-reflection.
There was one line in Palmer’s reading that struck me as a very fitting description of CEF: “the community we share beneath the broken surface of our lives”. Many, if not all members have suffered tremendous trauma, but to gather in a small space to share stories and take steps toward recovery is a powerful communal healing process. As Palmer has stated, this community is the result of overcoming darkness and our care for one and another.
Of course, it’s not an easy feat, considering the danger of projecting shadows rather than light upon others. Projecting light is not challenging because it is a difficult concept but rather that it takes time and solidified trust between individuals. If I am not mindful of these aspects, I may fall into the path of “setting someone straight”. A better approach may be pausing for pockets of casual conversation during meetings with members, even if they seem irrelevant. Though it’s inevitable that I will project shadows from time to time, I want to leave a little room for mutual understanding and story-sharing. After all, those are the moments we remember and connect to the most.