In the Eye of the Hurricane
By David Bransky

In January of 1999, I was asked by some local community leaders to facilitate a "town meeting" in Ojai, California, where my family and I live. The meeting was being convened over the upset conditions surrounding the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl just before the past Christmas. The meeting was open to anyone and everyone in the community who wanted to attend, to explore and discuss the feelings and issues raised by this event in our valley. The shock of the murder and the circumstances around it were reverberating throughout the community, and many people were expressing wanting to come together, to move toward healing and understanding.

There were a number of community resource people in attendance (e.g., therapists, domestic violence specialists, drug and alcohol experts, teachers, etc.). Part of the evening involved allowing people to verbalize areas where they felt a need for assistance and allowing those connections to be made. Additionally, avenues were set up for making those resource people more known and accessible in the future.

Another big part of the evening was allowing people to articulate their upset, confusion, and deeper questions about raising and communicating with teenagers. People expressed wanting to feel a sense of security about their children being safe. It seemed like those who were most emotionally upset and in pain were also those who were looking to blame someone or something (e.g., the police, the schools, etc.). And since representatives from the police, the schools, and other community organizations were present, there were times when againstness would start sparking like a flash point.

My experience as facilitator of the evening was that there were times when it seemed like a wave of againstness started to build and it was those times that I felt myself most called forward to enter into the action. It was also those times where I experienced most of my new learnings coming forward.

Basically, I intervened gently and acknowledged the pain that the person was sharing and must be feeling in the situation. Actually, it was more than acknowledging for me. More than ever before, I felt as if I was "connecting in to their level of pain." Then, maintaining that line of connection and empathy, I would calmly suggest that blaming whomever or whatever was probably not going to take the person who was sharing where they really wanted to go. It seemed as though, through the empathy, people were opening to varying degrees, and then resourcing more response-able approaches. [Editors note: IIWP defines "responsibility" as "the ability to respond" or "response-ability."]

It's interesting to me that when John Morton (IIWP Director) invited me to write about the evening he said something like "sharing my experiences of the process towards Peace." When I read that, I realized I hadn't been framing my expectations of the evening in terms of peace; it was more like I simply saw the evening as an opportunity to serve and minister to the community. Even during the evening, my reference was one of serving - I just wasn't thinking about the concept of peace until after it was over.

At the end, one of the community resource people came up and shook my hand. He said he was into martial arts and he could tell that my work was peace, and he felt I had done a great job of bringing in peace. He said that he saw it like a tornado going on around me and I was in the eye of the storm and through that calm I was able to assist in dissolving the upset.

In terms of his evaluation of me doing a "great job," it is clear to me that I am learning to step forward and do my part as best I can; and that it is the that spirit of peace that is "great" and it is David who is grateful for the opportunities to participate.

It may be of some value for me to share a couple of other things about the "town meeting" evening itself.

It was apparent that although the conversation was mostly about teenagers, teenagers were noticeably missing in attendance. I encouraged the community to have another town meeting and do what it takes to make it "youth-friendly."

Lastly, as the evening was coming to a close, a story came to mind. It is the story about the weight of snowflakes, and that at some point it takes just one more snowflake to break a branch-with the moral being that maybe there is just one more voice lacking to bring peace to our community. And so it ended.



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