Little boy – can we?

This is a story of facilitation and self-deception

Our challenge as hosts and facilitators is how can we help ourselves and others to host the space and give room for self-expression, creativity, autonomy and activism. Can  we truly host space without taking space, but giving space? Can we help people be their best selves and include them?  Can we invite people to be part of the community and their life and to co-host, co-learn and co-create? Can we love ourselves and others as we are?

Once a little boy went to school.
He was quite a little boy
And it was quite a big school.
But when the little boy
Found that he could go to his room
By walking right in from the door outside
He was happy;
And the school did not seem
Quite so big anymore.

One morning
When the little boy had been in school awhile,
The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make a picture.”
“Good!” thought the little boy.
He liked to make all kinds;
Lions and tigers,
Chickens and cows,
Trains and boats;
And he took out his box of crayons
And began to draw.

But the teacher said, “Wait!”
“It is not time to begin!”
And she waited until everyone looked ready.
“Now,” said the teacher,
“We are going to make flowers.”
“Good!” thought the little boy,
He liked to make beautiful ones
With his pink and orange and blue crayons.
But the teacher said “Wait!”
“And I will show you how.”
And it was red, with a green stem.
“There,” said the teacher,
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at his teacher’s flower
Then he looked at his own flower.
He liked his flower better than the teacher’s
But he did not say this.
He just turned his paper over,
And made a flower like the teacher’s.
It was red, with a green stem.

On another day
When the little boy had opened
The door from the outside all by himself,
The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make something with clay.”
“Good!” thought the little boy;
He liked clay.
He could make all kinds of things with clay:
Snakes and snowmen,
Elephants and mice,
Cars and trucks
And he began to pull and pinch
His ball of clay.

But the teacher said, “Wait!”
“It is not time to begin!”
And she waited until everyone looked ready.
“Now,” said the teacher,
“We are going to make a dish.”
“Good!” thought the little boy,
He liked to make dishes.
And he began to make some
That were all shapes and sizes.

But the teacher said “Wait!”
“And I will show you how.”
And she showed everyone how to make
One deep dish.
“There,” said the teacher,
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish;
Then he looked at his own.
He liked his better than the teacher’s
But he did not say this.
He just rolled his clay into a big ball again
And made a dish like the teacher’s.
It was a deep dish.

And pretty soon
The little boy learned to wait,
And to watch
And to make things just like the teacher.
And pretty soon
He didn’t make things of his own anymore.

Then it happened
That the little boy and his family
Moved to another house,
In another city,
And the little boy
Had to go to another school.
This school was even bigger
Than the other one.
And there was no door from the outside
Into his room.
He had to go up some big steps
And walk down a long hall
To get to his room.

And the very first day
He was there,
The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make a picture.”
“Good!” thought the little boy.
And he waited for the teacher
To tell what to do.
But the teacher didn’t say anything.
She just walked around the room.

When she came to the little boy
She asked, “Don’t you want to make a picture?”
“Yes,” said the little boy.
“What are we going to make?”
“I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher.
“How shall I make it?” asked the little boy.
“Why, anyway you like,” said the teacher.
“And any color?” asked the little boy.
“Any color,” said the teacher.
“If everyone made the same picture,
And used the same colors,
How would I know who made what,
And which was which?”
“I don’t know,” said the little boy.
And he began to make a red flower, with a green stem.


If you recognize yourself in any of the roles in the story, I’d like to leave you with some questions to ponder.

Each and everyone of us might have been in the role of the little boy in some narratives and stages of life. Many of us walk the long distance to become teachers, leaders, hosts or become authorities in various other roles and positions.

When we are hosting, how do we know what we take for granted? What are our red flowers? If we feel we are responsible and experienced, we might think we know what is good for others and the group and start to make decisions on behalf of others. We want to help people draw red flowers in a proper way. In order to make this justified and manageable we start to subgroup people based on experience, position or based on other suitable factors. Some get the label of a participant, newcomer or apprentice and some are called designers, hosts or whatever. While doing this we might be excluding, passivizing and patronizing people who would and could be useful in many ways and make many beautiful colorful pictures.

When we make decisions and take responsibility on behalf of others without including them in the process or without their seal of approval, we might find ourselves in circles with people drawing red flowers with a green stem. We might also find ourselves in circles where people want to break and escape the circle in order to make all kind of pictures. When the outcomes are not the ones we anticipated even if we have acted in good will, we get confused.

How do we deal with our own insecurity and burden of responsibility to manage others in time of confusion? Do we fight by taking more control? While fighting and trying to help others and protect ourselves we are in risk of finding ourselves unintentionally sub-grouping and scapegoating. Or perhaps we escape and exclude ourselves. Some might freeze and start the painful dance with the shadows?

How can we help each others to host the space and give room for self-expression, creativity, autonomy and activism? How can we host space without taking space, but giving space? How can we help people be their best selves and include them?  How can we invite people to be part of the community and their life and to co-host, co-learn and co-create? How can we love ourselves and others as we are?

with love,
Jan-Erik Tarpila

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