Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Growing Participation is a kind of Participation

"Participation"is the head noun in the phrase "Growing Participation" and "Growing" is a modifier. We didn't choose this particular phrase as the name for our approach because it had a catchy ring to it. Both "participation" and "growing" are packed with meaning, and the meanings are not the ones that might come to mind for an ordinary everyday reader encountering the phrase for the first time. 

1) Participation

It may surprise you when I say that you never act as a lone individual. No matter what you do, you do it as a participant in your people group. (My own "people group" is AngloCanadian.) “But,” someone replies, “How about when I’m asleep. Surely sleeping is an individual activity.”  No! Your action of sleeping is also an action of participation in your people group! You see, you follow certain practices in sleeping—the practices of your people group. Those practices include where members of your people group sleep, on what they sleep, times for sleeping, sleeping attire, the conditions under which it is impolite to wake someone and much more. What is true of sleeping is true of all that people do. In other words, to be alive and to be human is to be participating in a people group! (We use the term practices, in the common everyday sense of, “repeated ways of acting”. That includes repeated ways of speaking and of understanding speech.)

As you participate in your people group, you always use various means of participation. There are those you think of as physical means for doing things (like hammers and cars). In the case of sleeping, these include (in the world of my people group) beds and beddings and pajamas. Alongside obvious physical objects such as pillows and pillow cases, the most powerful means of participation are the words that the group members understand and speak with one another. Words are part of our means of sleeping! What I mean is that having words and groups of words radically influences (some say “transforms”) the experience of sleeping in different people groups. Words as means of carrying out the practice of sleeping might include the words bed and pajamas, but also utterances such as Honey, I’m exhausted (which I heard a wife say recently as a way of getting her husband to discontinue a conversation and move toward sleeping for the night), or Honey, have you seen my pyjamas? which might be a hint that it is time for bed or just a practical tool for solving a problem standing in the way of my sleep: I seem to lack one of my essential means for sleeping and resort to words as means and other people as means for solving the problem. Can you see how “words as means for living” alter the very nature of what it is to live? The uniqueness of humans in creation has a lot to do with the richness of our participatory nature!

To live is to be participating in a people group. 24/7! (Some readers ask why we say “participator” and not “participant”. Well, we think participator sounds more active and willful than participant!) Once you are into your life, abroad you will continue to live much of it as ongoing participation in your home-world people group’s practices (the group you grew up in) whenever you are not with members of your host-world group participating in their life with them, following their practices. Often the balance between our home-world participation and our host-world participation needs to be shifted if we are to grow. We hope you are getting at least an inkling of why the “participation” we have in mind when we say  “growing participation” is at the core of the challenge we face in another people group. It’s about being truly alive with people in their world.

2) Growing

To participate is to become better at participating. People’s home-world life is always present under their skin, even in those times when they are focused on living their host-world life. However, there is a transformation going on inside them—a slow conformity (in a good sense) to the ways of people on the outside. Over time, as a result of the help of host people, not only do those people find the foreigners more and more like themselves on the outside, but the growing participators find themselves more and more like the host people on the inside (especially when focused on participating in their life with them). To participate is to grow. To grow is to take on host practices, especially following those practices in relationships with host people. Growing speaks of time. Over time 1) the number of host relationships grows from one main “nurturer” to many true friends; 2) the range of host practices that the newcomers follow grows (breadth); while 3) the way they carry out those processes becomes more “host-like” (depth). Their growth into host practices is never total. There will always be some practices we have not yet taken on, and others that we have taken on, but with a “strong foreign accent” (“foreign accents” exist on many levels besides pronunciation). The host practices they take on centrally include those that involve understanding speech and talking. (Remember the mention of words as means of participation.) There is also an ongoing transformation in how the newcomers understand the speech of host people, and in how they talk to and with host people. Thus when the newcomers first hear one of the host words and “understand” that word, they are usually understanding it in their home-world terms. That is, they may take a host-world word to mean the same as their home-world word for “woman”. Only with much participation (hearing many conversations, stories, speeches, watching other actions and reactions, etc.) will their understanding of that host-world word concept adapt and become host-like, so that when host people say the word, the newcomers understand them in line with their host concept of women and womanhood. As growing speaks of time, we teach six phases of growing in/through/with/ and by participation:

Growing Participation in Six Phases:
1.     Connecting (to a whole new world primarily through one of its members)
2.     Emerging (-- becoming “somebody” to a few people in the new world)
3.     Knowable (as someone with whom host people have the possibility of friendship)
4.     Deep personal relationships (with a few, making possible deeper relationships with many)
5.     Widening understanding (thus being seen more and more as “like us” by host people.)
6.     Ever participating/growing (such that to live is to participate is to grow.)

For each Phase we suggest special activities of “special-growth participation” which can profitably occupy growing participators for hundreds of hours of concentrated participating and special growing.