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Newsletter, May 2007

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Facilitating flight

I grew up in my gap year, 1973-4. It was not the carefully packaged sort of gap year that our teenagers seem to have these days: I was given a one-way ticket to New Zealand and told to be back in time to go to university.

One of my strongest memories is driving along the coast road north of Wellington near the little town of Paraparaumu - not the sort of name you forget - when, high in the sky there appeared a series of brightly coloured triangles with people dangling from them. It was the first time that I, and to judge from the traffic jam beneath, most Kiwis, had ever seen a hang glider.

That longing to fly like a bird has stayed with me and last week I finally had my own opportunity to do it on a paragliding course in France. It was not a total success: the weather was disappointing and lingering flu left me unsure, even when I was on the ground, of which way was up. But it scratched that ancient itch and it also, during the pauses between flights, offered a potent metaphor for some of the work we do.

The week before Dialogue by Design facilitated a sensitive meeting to identify some ways ahead in one of the world’s trouble spots. Standing on the hillside in France waiting to launch myself into the air reminded me very vividly of how it felt going into that meeting.

But the reasons the meeting went well were the same as the reasons I didn’t break my neck last week. First, meticulous preparation: making sure there were no holes in the wing and the control lines were not frayed was very similar to doing the background research and making sure we understood the role and background of every participant.

Then there was the careful checking of the windsock and watching out for the sudden thermals that swirled up the valley; that equated to keeping a close eye on current events and being prepared to adjust immediately to changes in the circumstances.

However careful the preparation, though, there is a moment when suddenly the ground retreats and staying safely aloft means paying attention and doing the right thing quickly but not abruptly. The meeting equivalent is having a strong sense of where you are going but being alert to the currents and tides of emotion as displayed in people’s words and bodies.

Flying is not dangerous; it is coming back to earth that is the problem. So too with any meeting: timing the landing so that everybody arrives somewhere safe at the same time - ready to pack up and go forward for the next one.

Most of our work means keeping our feet firmly on the ground, but just occasionally we get the chance to fly - and there is nothing more exciting.

Andrew Acland

 

 
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