Need to Unify? Remarkable Ways to Create Community

On the second floor of the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC is a holy place. David Best’s Temple invites quiet contemplation in a huge ballroom completely dressed with intricately carved wood. Thoughts spill onto the surfaces as visitors are invited to take a small piece of wood and write what’s on their mind. These tiny placards are everywhere, expressing gratitude, fears, hopes and memories. Moving.

When a horrible crash claimed 16 lives, mostly from the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team in Canada, people across Canada and the USA placed hockey sticks outside of homes and businesses as symbols of solidarity.

Then there is AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides). Designers invited people waiting to cross the border between Mexico and USA to record their thoughts on a postcard, and then tie two pieces of rope together, representing their feelings about the experience. These knots were attached to one another to form a ‘quipu’, a visual tapestry connecting people on both sides of the border.

Whether through tragedy, to explore thinking, or express solidarity, people participate when invited. Symbolism eases the conversation. Doing something tangible feels good.

Changing Your Mind

Change stirs a range of emotion – from excitement to immobilizing fear – which needs an outlet. Providing a way for people to participate constructively creates a sense of unity, regardless of where they are coming from.

An instructor once invited participants to write on a red rectangle something they wanted to remove, defeat, or master in the course. These were taped to a board in the form of a brick wall. At the end of the course, participants were asked to knock holes in the wall by telling how the learning had helped them make progress towards their goals. Watching people walk up, pull their brick out and tear it up to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” made for an emotional moment. Regardless of where you started, moving forward was seen as a major success, celebrated by the community.

Now imagine if you made the same invitation to write thoughts on Jenga bricks, or to create a picture wall of people’s aspirations. Watch community develop before your eyes.

Next time you think ‘survey’, consider something more engaging and physical. Make the invitation – the participation might surprise you and open up a whole new line of dialogue for change.

Thoughtfully yours,

Jeff Skipper